Who's Counting: Jobs, Health Care, and Twitter

Incidentally, the recent addendum to the stimulus, the jobs bill, costs a measly (in this context) sum of $15 billion, so most job creation over the last year is a result of a weak natural recovery and the much bigger stimulus package, ARRA (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009).

Twitter, Small World

Let me twist a bit and turn to Twitter and other social media and the notion of six degrees of separation, the idea that any two people are linked, on average, by a chain of intermediates that numbers six. The number of intermediates varies considerably depending on the assumptions made.

One general point that's been established is that including a few random connections between people greatly reduces the average number of links between people. Related to this is the fact that if you're linked to some well-connected person (President Obama) by a chain of, let's say, four intermediates, then you're connected to everyone he knows (for example, Vladimir Putin) by a chain of, at most, five. Social media from Facebook to Twitter to Chatroulette certainly knit us closer together and have gone some way to shrinking our world to that of a global village.

One downside to living in a village is that everyone tends to know your business, a condition that most people are only slowly coming to realize.

Facebook and Netflix have had privacy lawsuits filed against them; the Italian authorities have also sued Google over its Google Earth street scenes. And, of course, Google was recently criticized when, in an effort to compete with Facebook, it released Google Buzz.

In the first incarnation, Gmail users were automatically "followed" by those people with whom they were in most frequent contact. Many Gmail users worried that their followers could see each other. It's not hard to imagine situations in which a person who corresponds with both X and Y may not want X or Y or others to know this. Google later changed some settings and eliminated the auto-follow model.

(Irrelevant to privacy, but perhaps interesting is the number of possible tweets. As I tweeted recently at twitter.com/johnallenpaulos, the number is staggeringly humongous: Each tweet can be 140 characters long, each character one of about 100 possibilities on most keyboards, so there are 100^140 or approximately googol^2.8 possible tweets, where a googol, from which Google derives its name, is 10^100th power, one followed by 100 zeroes. Of course, almost all tweets are nonsensical.)

Olympic Scoring

The Winter Olympics are over, and the medals have been bestowed. Watching them was alternately pleasurable and perplexing, and, in the case of curling, both simultaneously.

Too focused an emphasis on which country was the "winner" was disturbing to me, since it seems inconsistent with the ethos of the games. It also ignores the myriad ways the national rankings can be achieved.

If total medals won is the criterion, the U.S. was the winner. If total number of gold medals won is the criterion, Canada was the winner. If we take account of a country's population, some much less populous countries, among them Canada, Germany, Norway, and a few others, beat out the U.S. (Although the maximum size of every country's team is the same, the best athletes from bigger groups will, in general, be better than the best from smaller groups.)

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