Month: March 2018

Data ScienceHistoryMigrationPoliticsSocial Justice

Back to Mississippi: Black migration in the 21st century

The recent election of Doug Jones to the U.S. senate in Alabama — thanks largely to African American turnout — got me thinking: What if the Black populations of Southern cities were to experience a dramatic increase? How many other elections would be impacted?

Does that seem far-fetched? Over a tenth of the Black population of the U.S. left the South during the first half of the last century.

They moved from the rural South to the North and West, hoping to escape race-based terrorism and find economic opportunity. The featured image, from the U.S. Library of Congress, is an infographic made in 1950 by the Census department about the migration. My grandparents were part of this movement — they left oppression in small town Georgia and Alabama hoping to find a (slightly) better situation in Atlanta.

As the U.S. census figure infographic below indicates, this migration — one wave in 1910 – 1940 and another wave coming 1940 – 1970 — was epic. Isabel Wilkerson’s book The Warmth of Other Suns is a gripping history of this Great Migration.

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The Great Migration, 1910 – 1970 from: US Census Bureau. (2012). Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/dataviz/visualizations/020/

 

A trend towards a reverse migration back to the South has been noted recently. In a 2011 story, the New York Times reported that in 2009, of the 44,000 people who left New York City, over half moved to the South. A more recent report by the Times, provocatively entitled  Racism Is Everywhere, So Why Not Move South? explores some of the rationale behind this movement. The sentiments echo the recent paper Individual Social Capital and Migration by Julie L. Hotchkiss and Anil Rupasingha.  Improved social capital — the sense that you are a somebody in the place that you live, that your life matters (or could matter someplace) is a powerful catalyst for movement.

The LinkedIn Workforce Report for January confirms that Southern cities are gaining workers at the expense of Northern cities, and this Redfin analysis reports that there has been some North to South migration. According to the LinkedIn Workforce Report, southern cities are still among the top ten in terms of job migration (at least amongst LinkedIn members). Thriving African American communities in cities like Atlanta and Jacksonville, lower costs of living, and the rise of these cities as technology centers are powerful draws.

To look at the potential political impact of a new reverse migration, I ran a few simulations. I assumed a similar reverse migration rate of 2% per year over out ten years. In my simulations, I assume that the main states from which African Americans migrate are New York, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, and California — the main destinations of the Great Migration.  I assumed that the main destinations of the new migrants are among the states that people left during the initial Great Migration: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina. I could have arguably added Tennessee to this mix. I used a Dirichlet distribution to model the allocation of migrants to various destination states.

Let’s first revisit the 2016 election map

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Below are a couple of illustrative outcomes from my simulations. In most of the outcomes, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are the states in which the political outcome of the migration are felt most.

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Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are impacted the most

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There’s still hope for Mississippi

Again, I let 10,000 simulations play out, sampling the allocation of migrants to destination states from a Dirichlet distribution.

To make the point a bit further, below is a bar chart showing the number of outcomes for each state over the 10,000 simulations in which Black voters had a decisive impact upon the presidential election (i.e. allocation of electoral college votes) for that state.

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The point though is not really predicting the dominance of one political party or the other, it is understanding the implication Black voter empowerment — how Black people are empowered to participate in decisions regarding the health, education, policing, and economic viability of their communities. Further, beyond just Black and White, it speaks to me as an opening to think about participatory multi-racial democracy. After all, there was a flash of time between the Civil War and the enactment of Jim Crow racialist laws  in which Citizens of Color of the South were actively involved in governance.

Although these are speculative simulations — for me they contain the seeds of a certain kind of hope. Perhaps the future is the past — but maybe we can mold the future in ways that are universally empowering.

Uncategorized

Engineering Data Science at Automattic

Many useful gleanings from my colleague Yanir Seroussi — he has a plan to keep the interest on your A.I. technical debt real low.

Data for Breakfast

Most data scientists have to write code to analyze data or build products. While coding, data scientists act as software engineers. Adopting best practices from software engineering is key to ensuring the correctness, reproducibility, and maintainability of data science projects. This post describes some of our efforts in the area.

Data scientist Venn diagram example One of many data science Venn diagrams. Source: Data Science Stack Exchange

Different data scientists, different backgrounds

Data science is often defined as the intersection of many fields, including software engineering and statistics. However, as demonstrated by the above Venn diagram, viewing it as an intersection tends to be too exclusive – in reality, it’s a union of many fields. Hence, data scientists tend to come from various backgrounds, and it is common to encounter data scientists with no formal training in computer science or software engineering. According to Michael Hochster, data scientists can be classified into two types

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Mathematics

A good year for Robert Langlands

I just saw that Robert Langlands has won this year’s Abel Prize in mathematics. A month back I had noted that two University of Chicago mathematicians –Sasha Beilinson and Vladimir Drinfeld — had received the Wolf prize for work that builds upon Langlands’ ideas.

What are those ideas? Langlands has spent his life looking for connections between number theory and real analysis. The featured image is a rendering of an automorphic form, one of the kinds of functions that Langlands has been interested in. As far as I could understand, Beilinson and Drinfeld found ways of connecting this work to modern physics. Maybe a deeper understanding is my goal for 2018. This Quartz article is a good quick read as is this short piece on the fundamental lemma.

Or, you can let the distinguished Dr Langlands explain it himself.

Whether or not you have a liking for numbers, seeing an 81 year old still in the thick of things is infectiously inspiring. Perhaps you’ll allow him to re-acquaint you with Pythagorus?

I feel such a blessing to have the optimistic spirit of my 80-something mother still present to bring uplift, laughter, and fresh greens from the garden to us — all served with divinely channeled love.  I think of the many 70+ year olds who passionately hold the world accountable,  try to make a difference with their material success, fathom prime numbers like Langlands, weave saxophone melodies, and make the world a beautiful place with their wisdom and selflessness. Spring persists in the garden of the ageless mind. I’ll leave you with some Sonny Rollins

inclusionPhysicsTechnology

Mothers of invention, a parting nod from Stephen Hawking

We learned of Stephen Hawking’s passing today. I learned that one of the technologists behind the assistive technology that amplified the continuous flow of so many of his ground breaking insights is Lama Nachman.

Her story and the implications for better assistive technology is fascinating.

We are both mourning the passing of Stephen Hawking and celebrating Women’s History Month in the US (wait, so that mean’s the other 49% get the rest of the year?). It reminds me of the legions of Joan Feynmans (her brother got the spotlight), Vera Sóss (other Erdös-1’s seem to get the spotlight — wait can we get an Anna Erdös number? ), Katherine Johnsons (took a while to get that spotlight), Maryam Mirzakhanis that are working away, far from the spotlight, building and unfolding the universe.

MathematicsTravel

The geometrical beauty of Doha

As we passed through Doha on the way to Gaborone, I was amazed by the architectural beauty of so many Islamic inspired structures. It was truly a feast for the eyes and mind.

Though we did not have time to visit many of the older architectural treasures, I discovered that a lot of the buildings have received prestigious architectural awards over the last decade. The investment of Qatar in its country is amazing, and Al Jazeera is a gift to humanity.

There is even wonder in the Qatar airways “air sickness” bags!

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TravelVisualization

Making the subway more readable

Heading back from New York City last weekend I was amazed to see an updated station stop display (graph) on the E train to JFK. I don’t have a video, but you can see the how it updates the destinations (I didn’t notice eta) below — a list of next stops shifts to the right:

But wait, something is off!

My colleague Boris Gorelik had posted a piece entitled How to make a graph less readable? Rotate the text labels arguing that rotation of the axis labels imposes a processing cost on the reader. Keep the text aligned. Wouldn’t moving the destination labels up and down as Boris suggests save the jostled E train rider precious milliseconds?

Travel

The fractal beauty of Maun

We visited Maun with our family in December. Located near the eastern edge of the Okavango delta, it possesses a still, quiet beauty.

We took a short plane ride over the delta. As I look again at the images taken that day, I  am struck by the fractal quality of the images.

How do you assess the “fractalness” of an image? I suppose that it has to do with the degree to which the image can be described by a self-similar patterns, hints of the same regularity as you zoom closer in. It looks like natural landscapes exhibit fractal qualities only over limited scales — perhaps 2 or 3 dimensions at most.

Maybe the echo of patterns at different scales hints at complex interactions of life in the delta.

Does it matter? The beauty is simply indescribable.