Showing posts from January, 2019

Using Twitter data to correlate power grid malfunctions

There's an increasing excitement about using new technologies - like social media and 'big data' - in research about disasters and emergencies. There are a large number of possible ways of approaching this question, though, so developing these methods first requires 'pilot' attempts at testing whether they actually work. In this post, I'll explore an article - Embracing Human Noise as a Resilience Indicator: Twitter as Power Grid Correlate - that attempts a proof-of-concept for one way of applying these tweets.

The article takes on three very different tasks, each of which feels a little disconnected from the previous. They (1) explore the contrasting definitions of resilience, (2) investigate Tweets as a way of measuring impact on a community, and (3) reflect on challenges with using Twitter data for this purpose. I'll discuss each of these in sequence:

The first thing the authors set out to do is to define what resilience means. As they rightfully point o…

Examining bushfire policy in action: Preparedness and behaviour

The past three years have felt remarkable for Canadian and North American observers of wildfire. In Canada, the Fort McMurray fire in 2016 was followed by two frantic years in British Columbia, each establishing records for area burnt. In the US, California has dominated the fire scene with blazes like the Mendocino Complex, Tubbs, and Camp making the flames visible and visceral to the public. This built towards a climax in and around Paradise, California, where over eighty people lost their lives in November 2018.

Traditional and social media, pundits, and the broader public discourse has emphasized the rapid onset and 'new normal' of these fires in reference to the past 3-5 years in North America. Yet, this is a terribly short-sighted view: big and destructive fires have always been with us. While these fires have indeed been unique in their own ways and notably catastrophic, an ahistorical view on the history of fire doesn't help us any in understanding how to live with…

Clarifying wildfire and public values

The term "values" is perhaps one of the most muddled and confusing terms in wildfire management discussions today. Sometimes it's used to refer to tangible things, as in "we should send a crew to do values protection" (i.e., we should send firefighters to protect that house). Other times it's used to talk about slightly more abstract - but still physical things - like the habitat of a particular species, land used for hunting, or a kind of ecosystem. And, in other situations, it's even more ambiguous, being used to describe things like what the public "values" (i.e., priorities like preventing smoke or reducing house loses or access to old growth landscapes).

In "Values of the public at risk of wildfire and its management," Kathryn Williams, Rebecca Ford, and Andrea Rawluk from the University of Melbourne take up the challenge of clarifying this messy and confusing term. They have a more specific goal as well, though: to identify a &…

Introducing the blog

I don't like "hot takes." In fact, I think the world is worse for having hot takes.

Hot takes, in internet parlance, are the commentaries, opinions, editorials, and other pieces of writing that spring up in the wake of attention on a subject. A Trump tweet, for instance, might spur on a bunch of commentary from talking heads, professors, and all sorts of other pundits. Or, a major event might result in an endless stream of Twitter rants and editorials as people feel the urge to weigh in while there's an interest in the subject.

I'm just as guilty of this inclination as everyone else. Earlier this year, for instance, I went on a Twitter rant about a Trump tweet on wildfire and why it was horribly misguided. The worst part? The feedback was near immediate and terribly positive. Over 250 people retweeted the tweet (it worked out to 70,000 views - a number that I'd love to show my Department as a form of 'public scholarship'!) and three different media in…