A new chapter

As I get prepared to a new chapter in my life, I started reading the book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. Although one can tell that she talks from a “very” privileged position, I could identify with many things she points out in her book. Of course, it will take me some time to follow her advices specially those of negotiating a salary even after you think you got a fair offer.

Here are some of the things I highlighted:

Throughout my life, I was told over and over about inequalities in the workplace and how hard it would be to have a career and a family. I rarely heard anything, however, about the ways I might hold myself back.

This is hold true for me too. Specially now that I am about to turn 35. Everything is related to how I should prepare myself to bring babies and cope with family.

Men generally earn more than women, so people expect  women to earn less. And they do.

When girls are reminded of their gender before math or science test, even by something as simple as checking off an M or F box at the top of the test, they perform worse. Stereotype threat discourages girls and women from entering technical fields and ir one of the key reasons that so few study computer science.

This is a bit interesting and I think it applies for certain cultures specially for the United States. As ironical as it may seem, Latin American women do not have much of an option. At least for my generation, you know that you have to follow a career that is relevant enough to make a living. Unfortunately, those career in Latin America are limited to law, medicine and engineering.


(to be continued..)



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Still I Rise

Ever since I came across democracynow.org , I try to listen to it every morning while I get ready. While listening to them, today I came across the story of Maya Angelou, she was an actor, poet (nominated for a Pulitzer price once) and civil rights activist. What is impressive is that she managed to be all that although she was raped when she was only a child (making her to stay silent for years). She took responsibility to rise a child alone and did not fear to become a pimp or a prostitute so that she can support her child. She did not fear to believe in her writing skills either so that later she can become a writer and poet.  Limitations indeed live only in our minds.  I love to know and hear about “real stories” of women who challenge life, who are born submissive or poor and that make it through by working hard and believing in themselves. I love to hear about these type of strong women who challenge everything, who do not fear (even becoming prostitute) to achieve freedom who can move on because staying paralyzed in the “place” society wants you to be is worse much worse.  I love to see women who made it through not for their beauty but for their courage.

“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.” Maya Angelou

Still I Rise

Maya Angelou, 19282014

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.


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ICWSM 2013

After a very difficult week I headed to Boston for the ICWSM 2013 in Cambridge, MA at MIT to present my paper “Cultural Dimensions in Twitter: Time, Individualism and Power” (honorable mention). It is my first long paper as a first author and felt very happy to have had the chance to present it in a great and prestigious university such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The conference had an excellent internet connection which sometimes is a problem in many conferences.  Maybe because of this, the participation of users in Twitter posting notes about the conference was very high.

The conference was opened with David Lazer address. He talked about complex contagion. The importance to invest more in interpreting data, understand semantics, at scale and evaluating result. 

Many great papers were presented,  among those,  “The Anatomy of Large Facebook cascades” by Dow et al.  In particular, they analyzed two kinds of cascades with high propagation: a picture of Obama hugging Michele and a humorous picture. I was wondering if highly propagated pictures within specific clusters should also be tracked. Many pictures shared among groups of friends tend to be related to to bulling.

“Families on Facebook” was a paper analyzing the communication of parents and their sons and daughters  in Facebook. I kept wondering, is it different the behavior of parents and children in different cultures when they communicate in facebeook?

The  best paper award was given to Sung et al. “ Booming Up he Long Tails: Discovering Potentially Contributive Users in Community-Based Question Answering Services.” What they did is to extract information from a korean social site similar to Yahoo Answers and detected those new users that will eventually become highly engaged users (and contribute in answering questions). They extracted several features from their profiles and ranked users better than the original automatic algorithm of the site.

Finally, the conference was closed by an excellent keynote given by Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg. They showed how they make art in visualizing data and obtaining information out of it at the same time (i.e., visualization of the wind http://hint.fm)

I also was fortunate to attend a tutorial given by Patrick Meyer, Carlos Castillo and Hemant Purohit : ” Crisis Mapping, Citizen Sensing and Social Media Analytics”. It is so great to attend a tutorial on applying computer science (IR, DM, ML, NLP, SN, HCI) to actually help people during crisis.

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Do multilingual people build bridges across countries?

Today Irene Eleta  from university of Maryland visited the lab with a seminar called   Multilingual Users of Twitter: Social Ties Across Language Borders or How a Story Could Travel the World.”  As me, she has been working a lot with Twitter for her PhD thesis. She is particularly interested in exploring the role of multilingual users in different social media platforms.  Among her challenges , she aims to find solutions in

  • classifying tweets in a certain language but quoting the name of songs/books/movies in another language.
  • Detecting automatic messages in different languages
  • Scripts of translators in arabic, jew, etc. (coding)

My suggestion in the first problem is to “ignore” single tweets where two languages are detected and only consider those that have a high probability of being only from one language. The reason is that many people use many english expressions without knowing English.  Users may be classified as multilingual when only they are using names of movies in English or using expressions etc.

On the other hand, (maybe what I was more interested about) was about the role of multilingual people in Information propagation.  The idea is to measure the real importance of these people in the moment of special events like protests, revolutions, crisis or catastrophic events such as earthquakes.  Some of the questions to answer would be:

  • Are previously classified multilingual people important somehow in propagating information in special events? My naive hypothesis would be “yes, they are.” Because they know other languages, multilingual people will care more about propagating information to the world so that the world can also understand what is going on….. and in particular, the language chosen to communicate with the world will be English. In order to explore this, temporal analysis will be needed.

Looking from another perspective, the detection of multilingual users and the study of their interactions can trigger the invention of new useful functionalities in many sites. For example, up to now I always have problems with language detections and spell checking using Gmail….wouldn’t it be nice if Gmail will know the “language” that you use with your friends and automatically change the spell checker? It seems for me that up to now Gmail saves the previously used spell checker…and it bother me a lot to be switching languages all the time to avoid those annoying red lines.

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Goodbye Aaron Swartz

Didn’t know much about Aaron Swartz until recently. He committed suicide after the fear of being in prison for almost all his life. He was a great programmer, activist, full of great  ideas about free information  and with many dreams. At age of 14 he co-authored the RSS 1.0 project. He seems to have been a great combination of good intentions, intelligence and fairness. He dreamed of freely sharing information, of finding a way around to the stupidity of patent laws (seriously some of them are truly ridiculous). Big loss for those who fight for fairness in this world.  There are two interesting blog posts I read so far about him, one from a someone who knew him personally  danah boyd  and other post arguing in his defense and the unfairness of the 35 year sentence. His family’s official statement is here, they blame MIT and JSTOR for this.

“Punishment sometimes don’t seem to fit the crime,” and definitely it was not fair to condem him for 35 years of prison just because he wanted to share the scientific articles of MIT to the world. People do that all the time. Sometimes you can get a scientific article just by asking the author. I feel saddened when these things happen, specially if it involves smart, creative and good people. Who knows the great things he could have done for humanity…  RIP for Aaron Swartz.

Good bye Aaron Swartz.

Here some explanation about some of the irony of Intelectual Property.

P.S: I refer to a great site in Spanish for “Hacktivistas y Cultura Libre” where a friend and former Scientist of Yahoo Labs! actively participates.


Update: Now, you can liberate knowledge in JSTOR LIBERATOR site! People like Aaron can leave this world but they will influence others to continue unfinished tasks.

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PhD, things to keep in mind.

There is a talk I heard a couple of years ago, it was Marisa Meyer (current yahoo CEO) IT commencement address at Standford.  I can now understand and fully appreciate when she said

 “Find the smartest people you can and surround yourself with them. Working with smart people means that you will be challenged to do your best. You have to strive to keep up with them and as a result they will elevate your thinking. When there are better players around you, you get better.”

It is hard though to realize all the things one have to do to cope with people we admire. I have been so lucky to meet so many “great” people here. It was exactly what I asked the world when I left my country. Keeping up with them is another story. I realized that my work methodology is chaotic and that it urgently needs to be improved. I am trying to do that this year.

So the things that I have learned observing people who do “good research and still enjoy free time” are the following :

  1.  Efficiency at work: no procrastination. Establish clear goals every day during work.   This is a big problem for me. I tend to multitask too much. Although it has been said that women multitask a lot, I think this is not good for research. I know there are people have different methods to cope with work. There are people at the lab even on Sundays but I guess that if one aims to have a “life,” so no procrastination and efficiency is a must.
  2.  Time management: Plan always the next action otherwise it will be hard to do everything you want to do…even the weekends.
  3. Team work: Finding a team to work. I think it is more productive and fun. If you code a lot, it would be great if you find a PhD partner who also likes coding , you can share work, discuss, motivate each other. If you plan to write two papers, one with your friend as first author and the other you as first author then even better.
  4. A good advisor: Advisors do not have time but comments from them are helpful. So in order to have a good feedback, you need to have results or hypothesis ready to show to your advisor. Their experience and help always are useful. I personally ask advice from people I admire.
  5. Love:  try to love what you are doing as much as you can.  This is  hard sometimes…an idea that you believe can be great and fun can turn out to be the worst nightmare. I feel it has happened to me but oh well… love “bites” sometimes, we have to keep trying.
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Loving your job

When I finished high school I was convinced that I wanted to study International Affairs. I grew up in an environment where the most common topics of discussion were politics, history and sociology. On top of that, my first boyfriend was a sociologist that would absolutely love to talk about politics, laws, religion, etc.

Years later, I was lucky to do an internship at the UN for the Ecuadorian mission in New York where I attended several conferences and meetings including the meeting  Women 2000: Gender Equality , Development and Peace where a bunch of women got together to talk about the progress that was done on gender equality.

Ironically, it was precisely at the UN that I got disappointed about it all. I realized with much grief that people would spend so much time talking about how to write the paper of a meeting or how important it was for a country to show in that paper what their representatives have talked…I had the impression that the majority of people there didn’t really care about the solutions and the actions of very important things, they cared more about the protocols, the papers and the meetings and connections. I also felt like many of those delegates were not the right people to be there … I mean, it was difficult for me to understand how the presence of certain people could actually help in something.

Given that I always had a fascination for math , logic and programming I changed my mind and chose other major: Computers. At first it was Computer Science and then I changed to Computer Engineering when I got back to Ecuador.

The truth is that protocols, procedures and writing processes are important in almost every field. Connections as well, sometimes they are fair, sometimes they are not. I do believe that if you are brilliant in something, people will look for you, if you are brilliant in something you are lucky! But if you are just someone who struggles hard and who can make a good job after a lot of effort then connections always help. The sad part is when you are bad at something and you still get a good position in something you are bad at because of the connections.

I also realized that in life you find few passionate and courageous people in their jobs …. I have the impression that everybody is tired the majority of the time regardless the field chosen to work in. Few are the ones who really love their jobs…

Do I love my choice? I don’t know…. I want to discover it. Can I be someone who makes a bit of a difference in this?

I must confess, sometimes I do not find any meaning in what I am doing …sometimes I think I will be doing something more productive if I plant potatoes in the garden of my house in Ecuador. But maybe I am not the only one thinking that. At the end, research is about discovery … maybe I will find my passion soon in the middle of the screen among Pig scripts. What I want to discover though…is something that could be used to help people…in anything, but to help people.

What I love about this new world (Research) though is that I find very interesting fellows …a lot of the people I have come across have different talents and interests…. and almost all of them share authenticity in their personality. In my lab , beside researchers, you find musicians, athletics, dancers and writers…

I love getting to know women in Tech, despite the fact that we are only a small percentage in this field, so far they all have made such a great impression upon me.

Tomorrow is the New Chinese Year, the year of the rabbit….please dear rabbit let it be my year of discovery.

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