Sunday, October 9, 2016

Hacker Factor: Automated Gender Assumptions

Can algorithms hone in on a quality like gender? How accurate are forensic experts who analyze emails, letters, ransom notes, and the like to create a writer profile (age/gender/education level/etc.?)

I first came across the Hacker Factor online website when it was mentioned in a video discussing the unusual case of Karin Catherine 

In an effort to determine whether the posts on Karin's profile were in fact written by a female, samples of her writing were copied, pasted, and submitted for automatic analysis on Hacker Factor. The results came back as having most likely been written by a male. The woman behind the FB video had the same results. I've now joined their ranks.

The site gives you a (potentially arbitrary) 300 minimal word limit on the writing samples sent in for analysis. You can of course submit shorter samples, but the site warns that the longer the sample the more accurate the result may be. In addition, the site initally cautions that there could be inconsistencies in the analysis when looking at informal vs. formal writing vs. a combination thereof, or whether a female's writing sample (say, a news article,) was edited by a man.

First, I analyzed one of my most recently written poems, "This is Not a Dirge." It determined that informally, there was no chance I was a female, the results stated 100% male. Interestingly, a formal speech analysis indicated a "weak female" result, and further it presumed that my style weakly suggested a European background. 

I put other pieces of my writing through its faceless scrutiny - including a portion of one of my short plays, an art criticism article, and a recent article I wrote about Prince (particularly about my love for him and his countless philanthropic efforts.)

One of the outlier results of these analyses occurred when I submitted text from an informally written Facebook Messenger conversation regarding my budding research into the Chris Dorner case and my interest in the fascinating content of his manifesto - how well that would translate into a script and how interested I was in further exploring this material and perhaps writing my own manifesto (an edgy and angst-filled but accurate roman a clef) parts of which could be used as monologues - kind of like post-mortem gonzo method acting journalism plus mental illness theatre. 

I saved this conversation, this passage I wrote to a particular individual, because the person in question seemed ready to pounce on my idea and essentially steal it, a claim backed up by a recent FB post wherein this same individual now suddenly claimed that they were now looking into the case and manifesto. 

That's funny to me, though not in a "ha-ha" kind of way because this person never once mentioned Dorner's name in conversation, much less as an idea for a script or story, and I've known this person for nearly a decade - certainly since before the Dorner incident even broke. If you're reading this, you know who you are. I don't play games, nor will I be polite enough to spare you the embarassment and omit your name next time. Stay in your lane. Take this under strong advisement, so to speak. 

(I've posted screenshots of several of these results above.)

Hacker Factor is an interesting concept and I'm itching to know what criteria is used in the analysis. Even when I purposefully included more heartfelt passages from my Prince article my results (especially in the "formal writing" analysis) concluded male. 

The site boasts of an over 50% accuracy rating. Not in this gal's case, but an intriguing tool nonetheless.

I'll be looking into this site some more and posting a follow-up. For now, I hope your curiosity is sufficiently satiated. :)

To check it out for yourself, visit:

Sunday, July 31, 2016

No One In The Whole Universe Will Ever Compare 2 Prince

Thirty years before his tragic and shocking death, Prince Rogers Nelson recorded the track "Sometimes It Snows in April." Never did that statement ring more true for myself and his millions of fans worldwide than it did on April 21st of this year, when it was reported that our modern-day Mozart was dead at the age of 57. 

Time seemed to stop, tears flowed like purple rain, and all the doves cried. I was in my native Miami when I learned of the news, and to say it snoweed on that day would be a serious understatement. If ever there was a day the music died, it was on that day. I was, and still remain heartbroken beyond words. I cried at least a dozen times on that day alone.

Every day thereafter I checked the news reports for updates about his cause of death. Through tears, I discussed the bitter irony of his body having been found in the elevator of his Paisley Park estate within the context of the opening track to his best-selling 1984 album Purple Rain, "Let's Go Crazy." Prince wrote "Cause in this life things are much harder than in the after world, in this life you're on your own/And if the elevator tries to bring you down, go crazy (punch a higher floor!) and in another verse, "We're all excited but we don't know why, maybe it's cause we're all gonna die/And when we do...what's it all better live now before the grim reaper come knocking on your door/Tell me, are we gonna let de-elevator bring us down?"

In the aforementioned "Sometimes it Snows in April," Prince sang "Sometimes life ain't always the way/Sometimes it snows in April." and "Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad/Sometimes I wish life was never ending/and all the good things, they say, never last."

To add to this, just days before his death Prince (who had been battling the flu) told fans that they should "wait a few days before you waste any prayers."

I didn't (and still don't) want to believe it was true, it continues to feel like a bad dream. I still can't hear or even think about several of his songs, including the Oscar-winning "Purple Rain" without crying, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I've cried several times just from typing these words. I lived through the deaths of several other lifelong heroes of mine, including James Brown, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston but for some reason none of these have impacted me as much as the death of Prince, my first celebrity love and (in my honest opinion) the most beautiful man who has ever walked the earth.

My earliest memory of my devotion to Prince was when I was in the third grade at Coral Park Elementary. My teacher, Mrs. Mills, required that we make nightly entries in our journal, which she would check on a daily basis. As an introverted only child, I mostly just read and watched TV (especially VH1, MTV and a motley of old sitcoms syndicated on local channels and Nick at Nite.) Mrs. Mills had cautioned me against purely writing about TV, so for my next journal entry I knew I had to jazz up the truth a bit, and I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was September 13, 1997 and my evening consisted of watching my beloved Prince on Muppets Tonight. So, I invented a story that involved a friend calling me and discussing several topics including what each of us were doing that evening. Naturally, this gave me the perfect segue to write that I was "watching my favorite musician, Prince, on Muppets Tonight" and that I would catch up with her in school the next day.

Luckily for me, Mrs. Mills was probably a Prince fan herself, because she didn't call me out on the BS I seamlessly weaved into my journal entry. Interestingly, not too long after this journal stunt I won a classroom dance contest that preceded a pizza and ice cream party. I look back on this and think that my love for Prince might have reached down into my subconscious to provide me with enviable style and rhythm. But I digress.

There is so much to say about Prince that a single article would not do him the justice he so rightfully deserves. I plan to write several follow-ups to this inaugural article, including a discussion of his numerous accolades, features about the most famous and infamous Prince moments as well as a more in-depth discussion of his musical impact, as well as his impact on the world of fashion. For now, I will discuss a side of Prince which remained for the most part a secret until after his death: his philanthropy.

Prince was a notoriously private person throughout his entire career, and this extended to his good deeds as well.

Human rights activist Van Jones has spoken at length of Prince’s philanthropic acts and how they forged a friendship that began in a slightly unusual way. While working on George W. Bush’s Green Jobs Act, Jones received an anonymous $50,000 check, which he returned only to have it sent back. After calling to check on the source of the donation, he was told “I cannot tell you who the money is coming from, but his favorite color is purple.” Jones responded by saying, “Well, now you have another problem, because now I’m not going to cash the check, I’m going to frame it.” News of this conversation got back to Prince, who thought it was so funny that he called up and befriended Jones.

"He wasn't red, and he wasn't blue - he was purple,” said Jones. “With one sentence, you would think he was Republican, because he'd be talking about the economy, and with the next, you'd think he's a liberal Democrat, because he was talking about the need to fight racism. It was a flow of insights and inspiration.”

“At the end of the day, it was purple politically. His cause was empowering and uplifting people. That didn't stop when he walked off the stage or out of the studio. It was a current of genius trying to move the human heart. He had a level of pure genius that he expressed through music, and people think, "Therefore he's a musical genius" No, he was a genius who expressed his genius through music, because he could express his genius through anything he wanted to," said Jones.

The Purple One and and Jones joined forces on numerous projects, including Green for All, which is dedicated to creating green jobs in disadvantaged communities, and #YesWeCode, an organization that helps urban youth become more familiar with technology.

Following the reports of his death, the famed Rev. Al Sharpton went public about an unexpected call he received back in 2012, in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting. “I will never forget when he called me and said he had some funds he wanted to give to Trayvon Martin’s family,” said Sharpton. “Just out of the blue. Just out of the clear blue.”

Prince did not want anyone, not even the family to know about his generosity.
In fact, #YesWeCode was born out of a discussion between Van Jones and Prince over the Trayvon Martin murder. Prince mentioned the black hoodie Martin wore and pondered why it was that  if a black kid wears a hoodie he's a thug but if a white kid does he's Mark Zuckerberg. Van Jones remarked that it was likely due to racism, to which Prince said, "Well, maybe. Or maybe we haven't produced enough black Mark Zuckerbergs. Why don't we focus on that?"

Following his initial call about funds for the Martin family, Prince called Sharpton to facilitate donations to numerous other causes. At Prince’s request, Sharpton arranged for Eric Garner’s family to attend one of his Baltimore concerts. Van Jones has discussed the numerous occasions in which Prince would perform shows in certain cities in part for the purpose of secretly meeting with local leaders and discussing potential solutions.

Sharpton remarked, “He would make social statements the way he made musical statements - at his own pace. He marched to the beat of his own drummer. He wasn’t the kind you called into a rally. He called you to something he really wanted to do. There is no way to measure how much he will be missed. We’ll never have another Prince.”

According to Daily Mail, a UK news outfit, Prince also donated tens of thousands of dollars to the NGO Physiotherapy and Rehabilitative Support for Afghanistan (PARSA), which supports needy women and children (many of whom are orphans) in war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Prince was also a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. He made a brief but poignant public remark about this in a 2015 speech he gave at the Grammys while presenting the award for Album of the Year: "Albums still matter. Like books and black lives, albums still matter. Tonight and always."
Prince was among the Tidal artists who performed charity concerts leading to $1.5 million being raised for the Black Lives Matter movement. Prince had previously opted to sign with Tidal, the streaming company Jay Z backed with $100 million of his own money. In his tribute song, “Baltimore” Prince sang the words, “Does anybody hear us pray for Michael Brown or Freddie Gray?”

A few of Prince’s other contributions include a $250,000 donation in 2011 to the Eau Claire Promise Zone in Columbia, South Carolina, $1 million to the Harlem Children’s Zone, and $250,000 to the Uptown Dance Academy (a gift which kept the organization from having to close its doors.)

"Just like he had a whole roster of musicians, he had a whole roster of intellectuals, a whole roster of political activists, a whole roster of change-makers," said Jones. "Just like he was a bandleader on the musical side, he was a bandleader on the social side."

Jones added, "Whether you know him or not, there are people right now who have solar panels on their houses in Oakland, California that Prince paid for and they don't even know it. There are people who are in hospitals right now who get anonymous gifts. He never wanted anybody to know how much of a humanitarian he was. He's a Jehovah's Witness. They're not supposed to speak about their good work. But, this is a guy who cared so much. If he wanted to be a politician he would have been king of the earth."

For me, the pain of Prince’s death was compounded months later when Muhammad Ali, one of my other major heroes as well as a hero to Prince himself, also passed away. I still cry for both of them, but I am deeply determined to do a small part to keep both of their memories alive as best as I can. In addition to my upcoming Prince features, I will also be writing about The Greatest in an article in the near future. Maybe this makes me a glutton for punishment, but a wise person once said "Legends never die" so while I may cry for them, while their deaths have made me (a lifelong non-believer) wish there were an afterlife where I could meet them, I'll carry on, pay it forward, and shine light on the issues some would prefer to keep in the shadows. Like the Purple One so brilliantly sang, “I’m your conscious, I am love, all I really need is to know that you believe."

Click here for a list of charities you can donate to in Prince’s honor:

Until next time, stand tall, stay beautiful, and remain strong.