On Social Network Analysis

Lunch with Arnold was wonderful. We went to Scarpetta in Beverly Hills. The bread was light and wonderful. We didn’t get there till two, so there were few guests left; it was quiet and peaceful. I was grateful. The hotel setting is actually lovely, even though it’s right smack in the middle of Beverly Hills.

I had creamy polenta, topped with an au jus sauce with mushrooms. It was absolutely scrumptuous. We both like polenta, and I’m pretty good at whipping it out. But I’ll bet they used half and half at least in this dish. No, not healthy for any of us on a regular basis. It went well with Arnold’s short ribs over hominy. And, of course, we shared. I definitely think the polenta is worth trying, without the half and half. But the au jus added a lot. I’ll have to experiment a little, although suggestions would be welcome.

I thought the waiter had brought the wrong dishes to the table when he served me grilled salmon, and brought Arnold a hamburger. I swear. A thick hamburger, on half a bun, with caramelized onions on the other half. And, can you believe it? a little dish of catsup! and a larger dish of french fries! I have never seen Arnold order a hamburger (Well, OK, at FatBurger or Pink’s.) I started to tell the waiter he was mistaken, when Arnold stopped me. He really did order it, because the chicken he wanted was actually a salad, and he thought he was hungrier than that!

It reminded me of Amsterdam, in the Hotel d’Europe. A lady corralled her little boy into  a small dining room and ordered a hamburger. Her son fussed and fumed that he wanted to go to MacDonald’s. He knew exactly what he wanted, but she assured him this was to be the hamburger of his dreams. When they brought it out, his disappointment was vocal and prolonged. Just like Arnold’s today, the little boy’s hamburger was on an open bun, one half holding the hamburger itself, with a slice of what looked like melted Swiss cheese; the other half holding the condiments, like Arnold’s caramelized onions. Frankly Arnold’s dish looked more like it could have passed in MacDonald’s than that little boy’s did. At least Arnold had french fries and catsup. As a matter of fact his luncheon plate looked like that lady’s or some other lady’s little son had had a MacDonald’s tantrum here in Beverly Hills at some point, and this dish represented the Beverly Hills answer to MacDonald fans in 2011.

I understand the little guy’s problem. Arnold has never stopped teasing me about the little cans of Vienna Sausage I had crammed into my suitcase when we got to the camp to greet the total eclipse in Zambia on Arnold’s birthday. Never mind that we were on a major tour. Of course, the tour plans went awry and we spent the night in a pup tent. But they really did feed us well.

He never stopped teasing me either about my fear in Russia. I couldn’t imagine how I would eat. I was frantic. And when we arrived in St. Petersberg,  the hotel was beautiful, restful, and had a great shiny restaurant, right off the lobby, that served fish and chips, and included french fries and CATSUP! I have never been so happy to have fish and chips. Of course, I spent most of my high school years surviving on french fries and coke, while my mother quietly sipped coffee and listened to how distressed I was that this afternoon, again, I had not managed to hit the tennis ball over the net even once.  No matter how hard I tried, I was always the last one chosen for any sports team. That somehow never dampened my enthusiasm for trying.

OK, I admit it. I did kick and scream through all those wild trips to far points. I was tired. Some of my classes had a hundred students. I was writing all the textual materials we needed. Now that my day job is gone, and I’m at least free to write as I choose, I find myself understanding us better here at home for all those four countries in 8 days trips he planned.

I remember that I used to gauge how long and hard we’d been tramping down every side street, with me shooting pictures and him prowling ever further. Then one day in London, exhausted, I insisted we stop for a bite to eat in small cafe. I nibbled, he probably had a hamburger. And as I slowly enough to tramp back to our hotel, I noticed damp rivulets around his neck. We was as hot and tired as I was, and I was using his energy level to assure myself that the exhaustion I was feeling was just a chronic problem that resting wouldn’t abate.

Funny, those wild month long races through cities far and wide. I always said that Arnold had dragged me kicking and screaming around the world. We left the minute school ended, and didn’t get back till the day before it began. Twenty years later, I’m still finding things that we had packed, and never found again at home. Cleaning this three-story cave after 35 years or so of teaching, is like going treasure hunting. But now I’m finding that treasure hunting amongst the treasures of long ago can be almost as much fun as lunch at Scarpetta’s.

Getting old . . . well, yes, at 76 I fear I must accept the label. No, I don’t look it. I’m always confused that my doctors can’t tell. But then, a doctor at Oschner Clinic in New Orleans, once told my mother that she could never have children, for she was too tiny. They told her this as I sat outside waiting for her at 12 years of age. But with age, although I never got the respect I knew was my due, the respect that honors the white hair with a blue tint, we none of us escape the frailties that go with age. But those are so few, compared to the wonderful memories, gathered over a lifetime that come back to illuminate more brilliantly what I have right here at home.

Lunch today was an epiphany. Amsterdam, London, St. Petersberg brought a richness to the scene that would have been missing without them. My expectations of always being too tired to unpack when we got home were accurate. I was too tired. But today all that bonded with lunch was the memories. And that’s been happening for a month or so now. My home is full of souvenirs. Some that I never unpacked successfully, so that they were never given away as intended. And that has heightened my assurance that all these fun things are a sign, a sign that we have never really found the answers we’re looking for in social network analysis.

I think it started when I ventured onto Facebook and Twitter. I wasn’t ready to launch our restructured website yet. I had yet to learn JavaScript and CSS. Books were arriving frequently from O’Reilly’s and occasionally Amazon.com when I didn’t want them on my Kindle, but in real hard copy. But I had knocked myself out, and been fussed at, for behaving foolishly when I tried to redecorate this three story historic structure all by myself. They were right. It took me several weeks to recover. Weeks in which I pored over programming, and how to stop making html do all the work of style and appearance and dynamic behavior, too. During this recovery period, that I’m not sure is really over yet, I thught I could explore Facebook and Twitter as social networks, learning how to present our community development project on public-sphere growth to those millions of users. I wandered for days through both those networks, and really couldn’t make a space for myself in whicih I was content.

The first thing Facebook did was ask me where I worked , where I did other things that might produce friends; friends that I should declare as friends on Facebook. I came looking for where I could find data that would let me decide where Dear Habermas belonged. Susan and I meant to instigate behavior, some on the Web, some in local communities. And having instigated it, we’d need to poke it to see what would happen.

To provide obstacles and stimuli, you must listen intently to what is being said, who is speaking to whom, who is listening to whom, and what kinds of actions result from all this. Then you must enter a new event or scene or character and see how the nascent social network reacts to the new stimulus. We call this grounded theory in sociology.

Let me see if I can make grounded theory clear with a story. I once asked a teacher what he meant by epidememiology. USC hadn’t been too clear on that when I was doing my post-doc there. He said that the best example he could think of was that the researcher was curious about chickens who got near the highway. So he took a truck full of chickens out onto the highway and let out all the chickens. The chickens raced clear of the rushing cars. Then the researcher said, “Now, look at all that chicken poop.” Now, that he said, is grounded theory.

Many years after pondering the meaning of that story, with which the teacher seemed quite content, I would put it this way. Little boys genuinely like their MacDonald’s hamburgers. They are not happy with substitutes from “haute cuisine.”  So the first thing we’ll do is hang around at MacDonald’s and listen to what the youngsters there have to say. We might listen to several conversations, and ask some questions, while visibly enjoying the grub ourselves. Then we would come away and analyze the data we’ve collected to see what the youngsters like and don’t like about hamburgers.

We’d probably want to go to a few establishments of “haute cuisine” to ask chefs what they would do with a youngster begging insistently for “a hamburger,” and we’d probably also ask some parents to bring their children along, so we could take note of how the children reacted to the chef’s MacDonald’s substitutes. You’d have lots of measures to choose from, but Susan and I are obsessive, and would probably try to do them all.

As we poured over all that data, we could pick our a few factors that seemed critical to a MacDonald’s hamburger, and other factors that weren’t much noticed by the youngsters. This would comprise out “grounded theory” of what you have to have to make a MacDonald’s hamburger out of your dish.  But then, we would have to test this theory. Yes there might be a lot of chicken poop on the highway, but would we want to compare that to the dead chickens who didn’t avoid the racing cars, or would we want to compare more poop to less poop? Whatever our conclusion in either case, we’d now have to test the theory.  Maybe we could introduce some firecrackers into the truck full of chickens, and release the chickens only once they were scared to death. Then we might see how different the ratio of poop to dead chickens was with normal chickens (who had supplied our grounded theory data) and with chickens who’d been scared to death.

In our case, with hamburgers that children will accept on a par with MacDonald’s hamburgers, we’d have to have children sample hamburgers at a variety of “haute cuisine” establishments, and take note of how they reacted. The grounded theory gives us some direction in how to set up the study that will answer the question we have asked. But the grounded theory merely narrows the field of inquiry, and gives us a clue as to how we might measure the factors that we believe will answer our question.

To answer my question about a growing understanding of expectations and how we are often fooled by them, I’d have had to search out all these memories. My memories are part of my apperceptive mass. and they affect the way I understand myself, and others. If I’m right, I’d like to see how social networks handle these differences in understanding. Susan and I are hoping that our research in public-sphere conversation might provide the in-depth data we need. The study might even give us a clue as to how we might stimulate and then collect such data.

And so back to my study of Python.


About Jeannie the Red Jay

Emeritus Professor, lawyer, physicist, mathematician, French teacher, Ph.D. in learning theory and philosophy. Artist, wife, mother, political activist. Teller of ever so many stories gathered along the way. Emeritus Prof. in sociology at California State University, Domingeuz Hills. Web Mistress for Dear Habermas in research study with Susan R. Takata of the University of Wisconsin, Parkside: Study of Social Network Analysis in Developing a Public Sphere in Local Communities, Real and Virtual.
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