Capitol Words

I was recently asked what type of digital corpuses are available to track word frequency changes over time.  In addition to Google’s N-gram I would recommend their Insights project, which allows for a more recent and detailed picture.  Though the time span is considerably shorter (’04-’12), Insights is a remarkable tool, since search queries have a more democratic tinge to them than publications.  It reveals what populations are curious about and willing to seek out.

Then just this morning I discovered Capitol Words, a project by the Sunlight Foundation.  As they describe it,

Capitol Words scrapes the bulk data of the Congressional Record from the Government Printing Office, does some computer magic to clean-up and organize the data, then presents an easy-to-use front-end website where you can quickly search the favorite keywords of legislatorsstates or dates.

The new version now allows users to search, index and graph up to five-word phrases that give greater context and meaning to the turns-of-phrase zinging across the aisle. Where we once could only track individual terms like ‘health‘ or ‘energy,’ now we can break down the issue further into ‘health care reform,’ ‘renewable energy,’ ‘high energy prices‘ or however you wish.

Such a site promises to be a playground for rhetoricians.

Now go play.

data, aesthetics, and rhetoric

I ran across this very cool visualization of debt statistics (from David McCandless’s Information is Beautiful collection) yesterday:

Cool, right? It’s a smart way to present the info, well-executed, even charming for Gen Xers. It’s the Tetris narrative (enhanced by the accelerating tune) that seems ripe for rhetorical effect, I think. But when I showed it to my (logical) partner, he immediately called out the problem: It has no argument. The numbers, while striking in contrast, have unclear relationships and have been selected, or at least arranged, without seeming to have a point… which may not have been the goal of the creator, obviously.

But imagine the kinds of sweet rhetorical work could be done with such creative approaches to representing sharing data…


Have you gotten Apple’s email about the new iPod Touch? Allow me to direct you to this part advertising their new FaceTime application:

Now, is there not a better marketing strategy here? Seriously!? Part of the point of using an instant messenger is that it is text based. Some people like the fact that they don’t have to talk to or see the other person. It makes it more convenient if you’re, say, in the middle of a meeting or in an extremely noisy place. There is a reason why instant messenger still exists and is used.

Why, why, why would you use commentary that points to people that are not likely to use that particular application? Wouldn’t a better appeal have been, “Hey, you can use FaceTime on WiFi, which can dramatically reduce your phone costs!” That’s the thing that intrigues me. Also the idea of a Skype-like conversation, but without the bulk of an entire computer is quite tempting, but I’m of the population that likes Skype. My IMs? I stay hidden in every single one.


So, I like ProfHacker. For realsies, it’s one of the few blogs where I read 75% of the posts (it used to be a lot more before they changed their rss feed to only preview the articles). Part of what I like about that blog is that they deal with what I’m going to call, right here, right now, without knowing if there is actually a term out there: counter-persuasion.

It’s like this: our things (supposedly, at least) are made to engage us, but when these things are too engaging we can suffer from the consequences of being distracted from the things we’re supposed to be accomplishing. When I avoid writing because I’m on facebook, it’s because, well, facebook is just so engaging. Or email. Or tv. Or whatever. So, ProfHacker posts such articles as “6 Ways to Avoid Letting Your Computer Distract You.” This article is specifically reporting on programs which aim to reduce or eliminate the technological things that lure you into using them: email, internet, social networking sites, etc. The distracting devices/services/sites cannot persuade you into interacting with them because of these programs which eliminate the distraction altogether. You know where I’m going with this. That’s right, say it with me now: counter-persuasion.

These programs are made specifically to counter act the persuasive temptations that exist with current technology. If you could see the image in my head when I think about this, it looks something like this:

Freedom software knocks email's block off

Original photo via Bruce Turner, flickr

But, I digress.

More or less, I like the cyclical idea here that the software itself is persuasive because it’s reducing the temptations and persuasiveness of other softwares; that the use of counter-persuasion is persuasive itself. It’s a bit convoluted, I grant you, but cool nonetheless.

Synthetic Identity

If your friend, co-worker, family member conveniently leaves their facebook open, resist the temptation to mess with said friend, co-worker, or family member by posting odd/offensive/misrepresenting posts or blocking them out of their account. According to Time, a mother was fined for getting into her son’s account and then blocking him out of it. Of course, as with most things, there seems to be more to their relationship than just this instance as the mother “is also no longer allowed to see her son, who has lived with his grandmother for the past five years.”

By this point, you probably understand that I find facebook utterly fascinating. In this instance, she was charged with harassment, but why not fraud? Or defamation of character?

Just to get this part out of the way, I do not believe that having this woman convicted will mean that parents everywhere will have no supervision over their child’s internet activities. This particular case seemed to have a particularly high level of what was determined to be harassment. The actions appeared to be severe and, therefore, the punishment matched. Forbidding a child to use or post certain things in his or her facebook would not be the same thing.

But on to my thought. Wouldn’t inhabiting someone’s profile and misrepresenting them be fraud more than harassment, because your profile is like a synthetic being? There is this thing out there that stands in for you–it tells everyone who you are and connects you to the people you know, but in Invasion of the Body Snatchers style, it can be jacked and then suddenly, it does not represent you. It does not communicate what you want it to and you have no control over that. Perhaps the charge should be identity theft?

Of course, yes, in this case, it was harassment, but I certainly see the case for identity theft, but, perhaps, this is just semantics?

Proving You’re Human

Are you human? from on Vimeo.

Captcha is a necessary evil. It takes up time and makes users go through more steps than they’d necessarily want to in order to do whatever it is that they want to do: post a comment, sign up for a service, etc. Without it, though, one’s site can fill up with all kinds of spammers. What makes this project so interesting is the application of proving one’s humanness in the physical world. What does that communication of something purely technological into a physical presence convey to passers-by? Do they get it? How do you prove that you’re human in this situation? There is no input field. I would love to see someone interact with this. Maybe they could break it apart to form a real word or copy the captcha below it. Well, something more interesting and creative than that would be better, but I think the captchas are just begging to be played with.

via F.A.T.

Hunting, Tracking, or just Locating Family

Verizon’s Family Locater is the latest surveillance technology allowing parents (anyone really, but family is the audience being targeted ) to locate their of children through their phone’s GPS device. The commercial shows how happy a parent is to know her child’s location. So parencentric. The commercial forgets kids and assumes that kids are arhetorical and won’t use manipulate this device more successfully than that old school technology—trust.

At any rate, I figure this new technology offers some rhetorical lessons for kids to learn. For instance a kid might practice pareuresis as a way to avoid surveillance—“Sorry, Dad. I was in a rush to get to school and left it at Katie’s house. I didn’t want to miss the physics lecture .“ Nice work here “physics lecture” or school as a primary excuse is a good rhetorical move for “forgetting.”

I can even imagine kids being rhetorical about stashing the phone some place where it looks good and responsible while they make there way to the well, the quarry, or the R rated movie for some real fun. At least that’s what I’d do.

Of course parents will make there own rhetorical maneuvers in response. Maybe a parent would try perclusio—“If you forget your phone again, you’ll be grounded. Then I’ll know where you are.” Or the parent might practice adhortatio—“You need to carry your phone because I love you—carry it because you love me.” In other words, encourage the child (audience) to practice good Locater decorum through threat or guilt.

At any rate, I am going to treat this blog like a public service announcement for parents. Can anybody think of any other ways kids can be rhetorical in their phone use to avoid being tracked…hunted—I mean located? Please make an offerring in comments.