champagne anarchist | armchair activist

New Year - time to delete your Facebook account?

Around New Year, people turn to Google for advice on how to accomplish their New Year’s resolutions. The chart below (an update of one I created earlier) illustrates this.

Around New Year, there’s is a peak in people googling ‘quit smoking’, but it appears that even more people to try to figure out how to delete their Facebook account. The parallel is not entirely surprising, given claims that platforms like Facebook are designed to be addictive.

Chart updated 1 January 2018

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Swearing will boost your cycling speed

In an experiment, scientists had people ride an excercise bicycle for 30 seconds. Every three seconds they had to either say a swearword, or say a neutral word. When swearing, participants produced an average power of 429W (peak power 570W), compared to 417W (peak power 545W) for the participants in the control condition.

However, participants in the swearing condition also were more fatigued. It appears that swearing will help you ride a bit faster, but only for a short while.

And 429W, is that a lot? I wouldn’t know, but here are some figures for comparison. According to Cyclist, German sprinter André Greipel can keep up over 1,000W for 30 seconds, while Cyclist’s resident crit racer can do 600W. For what it’s worth; this page has people bragging about producing more than 900W for 30 seconds.

Back to the experiment: with a topic like this, you want to know how the research was done. Especially which swearwords were used, but that’s not reported. Participants were asked for a word they might use when they bang their head accidentally. In the control condition, they were asked for a word they would use to describe a table.

Participants were instructed not to shout, but to use a ‘strong and clear voice’, and to remain seated in the saddle during the entire test. During the test, participants were encouraged by research staff.

You’d expect this to be a fun experiment to take part in, but apparently it wasn’t for everybody. Out of 35 original participants, six dropped out: two were unable to finish the protocol, one was taken ill and three withdrew.

Richard Stephens, David K. Spierer, en Emmanuel Katehis, Effect of swearing on strength and power performance. Psychology of Sport & Exercise 35:111–117. Due for publication March 2018.

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Ice-cream parlours, cheese stores and bicycle rentals

The centre of Amsterdam has 177 businesses targeting tourists and shops selling food and drinks for immediate consumption. Those include at least 23 ice-cream parlours, 24 cheese stores and 31 bicycle rentals, according to a list (pdf) published by the Amsterdam Municipality.

According to the Accounting Office, there were only 8 ice-cream parlours, 9 cheese stores and 13 bicycle rentals in 2008. After a peak in 2015, the number of tourist businesses seems to have declined a little, although it’s also possible that a stricter definition has been used in the latest count.

The list published by the municipality includes not only shops, but also tacky tourist attractions. Or, as the municipality defines them, facilities «targeting the desire of visitors for a (taste) experience, sensation and/or (group) entertainment, in which the possible artistic, historic or educational character is secondary and that are characterised by a for-profit operation». Examples are the Sex Museum, Madame Tussaud, various marihuana museums and BODY WORLDS.

In October, the municipality has decided not to allow any new tourist businesses in the city centre. The city says the quality of the centre as a retail location as well as its liveability are decreasing. Council members Jorrit Nuijens (GroenLinks) and Tiers Bakker (SP) had urged the municipality to take measures.

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Are trade unions important? Depends on who you ask

A majority of Dutch employees think trade unions are important or even very important, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reported. But there are exceptions. For example, very few general managers think trade unions are important. That shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

I combined the data with a previously published dataset on how satisfied employees in different occupational groups are with their salary. The results are shown below.

There’s a moderately strong correlation. General managers can’t complain about their salary and, as indicated, they could do without trade unions. On the other hand, cleaners are less satisfied with their salary, and they overwhelmingly support trade unions.

More interesting perhaps is the question which groups deviate from the pattern. Nurses appear to have a strong sense of solidarity: they are pretty satisfied with their salary, but they also attach great importance to trade unions.

The opposite applies to personnel officers. Personel officers are less satisfied with their salary than nurses, but that doesn’t translate into support for trade unions. Perhaps they think their job would be easier if workers wouldn’t organise.

Sources: opinion on trade unions xlsx, satisfaction with salary xlsx, number of workers xlsx.

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Left-wing collaboration in Amsterdam

This weekend, PvdA (social-democrats), SP (socialists) and GroenLinks (green party) have announced a left-wing pact. The parties criticize the ‘worthless’ coalition agreement of the new right-wing national government and opt for a city that is sustainable and characterised by solidarity. At the same time, the pact is an indication that the signatories want to form a coalition after the local election in March 2018.

Such a far-reaching form of collaboration is quite remarkable by Amsterdam standards. Have there been signs that such an alliance was in the making? An interesting indicator is collaboration on motions and amendments. Jointly presenting a motion not only requires that you agree on substance, but also that you get along well.

The chart below shows the percentage of motions and amendments that were presented by PvdA, SP and GroenLinks, since the previous election (in order to iron out seasonal effects, the chart shows the 12-month moving average).

The numbers aren’t very large, so we shouldn’t draw too firm conclusions from this. That said, it appears that PvdA, SP and GroenLinks have increased their collaboration. This started around May, not very long after the national election in March.

Have there been similar overtures among right-wing parties? The chart below shows joint initiatives of right-wing VVD and christian-democrat CDA.

It appears that VVD and CDA have also increased their collaboration since the national election. The majority of their joint initiatives are from Werner Toonk (VVD) and Diederik Boomsma (CDA), often dealing with education. If the collaboration depends on the people involved, this doesn’t bode well for the future: Toonk has ended his membership of the city council.

D66 (green and pro-market) is in a bit of a quandary. Nationally, they’re part of the coalition with VVD; CDA and ChristenUnie, and locally they have commited to defend the national coalition agreement. On the other hand, in the Amsterdam council, D66 appears to have somewhat intensified its collaboration with GroenLinks and PvdA.

All in all, it appears that the national election has been a catalyst for changes at the Amsterdam level. Left-wing parties have increased their collaboration, which has now resulted in a quite remarkable pact. Right-wing parties also seem to explore closer collaboration, but it’s too early to say how sustainable this will be.

Examples of left-wing collaboration

The council members most actively involved in PvdA-SP-GroenLinks motions are Jorrit Nuijens (GroenLinks), Dennis Boutkan (PvdA) en Tiers Bakker (SP).

Recent motions dealt with topics including a municipal tax on «hot money» (Bakker, Roosma, Boutkan), transparency regarding the remuneration of board members of organisations that receive subsidies (Boutkan, Groot Wassink, Peters) and a cap on insecure jobs at the municipality (Boutkan, Ernsting, Peters).

Motions and amendments filed until 27 September have been published.

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How to do fuzzy matching in Python

Statistics Netherlands (CBS) has an interesting dataset containing data at the city, district and neighbourhood levels. However, some names of neighbourhoods have changed, specifically between 2010 and 2011 for Amsterdam. For example, Bijlmer-Centrum D, F en H was renamed Bijlmer-Centrum (D, F, H).

In some of those cases the neighbourhood codes have changed as well, and CBS doesn’t have conversion tables. So this is one of those cases where you need fuzzy string matching.

There’s a good Python library for that job: Fuzzywuzzy. It was developed by SeatGeek, a company that scrapes event data from a variety of websites and needed a way to figure out which titles refer to the same event, even if the names have typos and other inconsistencies.

Fuzzywuzzy will compare two strings and compute a score between 0 and 100 reflecting how similar they are. It can use different methods to calculate that score (e.g. fuzz.ratio(string_1, string_2) or fuzz.partial_ratio(string_1, string_2). Some of those methods are described in this article, which is worth a read.

Alternatively, you can take a string and have Fuzzywuzzy pick the best match(es) from a list of options (e.g., process.extract(string, list_of_strings, limit=3) or process.extractOne(string, list_of_strings)). Here, too, you could specify the method to calculate the score, but you may want to first try the default option (WRatio), which will figure out which method to use. The default option seems to work pretty well.

Here’s the code I used to match the 2010 CBS Amsterdam neighbourhood names to those for 2011:

import pandas as pd
from fuzzywuzzy import process
 
# Prepare data
 
colnames = ['name', 'level', 'code']
 
data_2010 = pd.read_excel('../data/Kerncijfers_wijken_e_131017211256.xlsx', skiprows=4)
data_2010.columns = colnames
data_2010 = data_2010[data_2010.level == 'Buurt']
names_2010 = data_2010['name']
 
data_2011 = pd.read_excel('../data/Kerncijfers_wijken_e_131017211359.xlsx', skiprows=4)
data_2011.columns = colnames
data_2011 = data_2011[data_2011.level == 'Buurt']
names_2011 = data_2011['name']
 
# Actual matching
 
recode = {}
for name in names_10:
    best_match = process.extractOne(name, names_11)
    if best_match[1] < 100:
        print(name, best_match)
    recode[name] = best_match[0]
 

It prints all matches with a score below 100 so you can inspect them in case there are any incorrect matches (with larger datasets this may not be feasible). With the process option I didn’t get any incorrect matches, but with fuzz.partial_ratio, IJplein en Vogelbuurt was matched with Vondelbuurt instead of Ijplein/Vogelbuurt.

PS In case you’re actually going to work with the local CBS data, you should know that Amsterdam’s neighbourhoods (buurten) were reclassified as districts (wijken) in 2016, when a more detailed set of neighbourhoods was introduced. You can translate 2015 neighbourhood codes to 2016 district codes:

def convert_code(x):
    x = 'WK' + x[2:]
    x = x[:6] + x[-2:]
    return x
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Wikinews is a great idea, but is it viable?

I’ve decided to start reposting relevant Dutch-language articles from Wikinews on News from Amsterdam. Wikinews is a sister project of Wikipedia. Its contributors describe themselves as follows:

We are a group of volunteers whose mission is to present reliable, unbiased and relevant news. All our content is released under a free license. By making our content perpetually available for free redistribution and use, we hope to contribute to a global digital commons. Wikinews stories are written from a neutral point of view to ensure fair and unbiased reporting.

It would seem a bit naive to simply claim that your writing is neutral and unbiased. The strength of Wikinews rather lies in providing a place were the merits of a story and its sourcing can be discussed on the basis of arguments. In times of clickbait, hoaxes and fake news, that’s an interesting concept.

Wikinews operates without ads (which matters). Their website may look a bit austere, but since it’s all open source, anyone can resuse the content with a different layout.

For now, Wikinews mainly consists of syntheses of news published by other media, but the site also invites other types of stories such as investigative reporting; (photo) reports and opinion articles. This could also provide room for another goal of Wikinews, which is to cover stories that are underreported in other media.

But is Wikinews viable? The consensus seems to be that it’s not. As Jonathan Dee of the New York Times put it in July 2007: «Wikinews … has sunk into a kind of torpor; lately it generates just 8 to 10 articles a day on a grab bag of topics that happen to capture the interest of its fewer than 26,000 users worldwide …».

That was ten years ago. Since, activity on the English-language version of Wikinews has further declined, as the chart below shows. Meanwhile, there’s a remarkable rise in the number of articles on Dutch-language Wikinews.

Perhaps this is a temporary boost of enthusiasm, that will fade out after a while. Then again, maybe it’ll last and Wikinews will reinvent itself. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

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Charts on mobile screens - always tricky

The chart shown here is from Dutch national statistics office CBS and it was created with Highcharts (or at least that name appears a few dozen times in the source code). It shows working people with second jobs and it’s from this page.

There’s a problem with the labels on the x-axis: they have been abbreviated and only show the first digit of the years. This could easily have been avoided by showing fewer labels when the chart is displayed on a narrow screen. In fact, that solution is used in the other graphs in the same article. Apparently, Highcharts doesn’t adjust the number of labels automatically, or it doesn’t do so consistently.

It appears that CBS has chosen Highcharts because it’s an easy way to create charts with added functionality. And some of that functionality seems to make sense: I can imagine people using the option of downloading a PNG to use it in a report or share it on social media.

However, it may not always be a good idea to rely on standard solutions. Here’s another example where the labels have been abbreviated. It’s a bit of a challenge to figure out what they mean.

I know it can be a pain to get charts to work well on different types of screens (let alone network graphs). Apparently, you cannot simply rely on Highcharts to get it right. CBS should probably assign someone to edit each chart individually, making sure they are displayed properly on different screen types.

As for the contents of the charts: here’s why it’s not OK that more and more Dutch workers need to take a second job to make ends meet (in Dutch).

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How to make a d3js force layout stay within the chart area - even with multiple components

For a post on analysing networks of corporate control, I wanted to create some network graphs with d3.js. The new edition of Scott Murray’s great book on d3.js, which is updated to version 4, contains a good example to get you started. However, I was still struggling with some practical issues, as the chart below illustrates (reload the page to see the problem develop).

A large part of the graph drifts out of the chart area, and the problem only gets worse on a mobile screen. But I figured out some sort of solution.

As Murray explains, you can vary the strength value of the force layout. Positive values attract, negative values repel. The default value is –30. You could set d3.forceManyBody().strength(-3) to create a more compact graph.

Of course, the ideal setting will depend on screen size. You could vary the strength value according to screen width. While you’re at it, you may also want to vary the radius of nodes and the stroke-width of edges. For example with something like this:

if(w > 380){
    var strength = -3;
    var r = 3;
    var sw = 0.3;
}
else{
    var strength = -1;
    var r = 3;
    var sw = 0.15;
}

Now this may make the graph more compact, but it doesn’t solve one specific problem: components not connected to the rest of the chart will still drift out of the chart area. In my example, there are four components: a large one, and three pairs of nodes that are only connected to each other and not to the rest of the graph.

The way in which I dealt with this was to create four different graphs and attach the small components to a forceCenter at the margin of the chart area. For example, d3.forceCenter().x(0.1 * w).y(0.9 * h)) will put one of them in the bottom left corner. Here’s the result:

It’s still a lot of code - I can’t help feeling there should be a more efficient way to do this. Also, it’s slightly weird that the small components immediately freeze, whereas the large one takes its time to develop into its final shape. And the text labels could be improved. But at least it seems to work.

The network of Dutch firms

One of the ways in which firms are linked is through board members who also sit on the boards of other firms. Researchers use these board interlocks to determine which firms occupy a central position in the corporate network. This «is widely considered as an indication of a powerful or at least advantageous position», Frank Takes and Eelke Heemskerk explain in an interesting paper on the subject.

Two Dutch newspapers, de Volkskrant and NRC Handelsblad, have published visualisations of the Dutch (corporate) elite and their board memberships. You can use the data from those visualisations to create board interlock networks. Below is an example using data from NRC Handelsblad from 2017:

Darker nodes represent organisations with a more central position in the network, as measured by their betweenness centrality. Below is another example, using data from de Volkskrant from 2013:

The most obvious difference is that the second graph contains far more nodes (organisations) and edges (shared board members) than the 2017 chart. But there’s more. The 2017 dataset contains only nodes that have at least two edges - probably the result of a selection criterion used by NRC Handelsblad because of the type of visualisation they wanted to make. Further, the 2013 dataset consists of multiple components: three sets of organisations only share board members with each other; not with the rest of the network.

Given the differences between the datasets, would it still be meaningful to make comparisons between the two? The table below shows the top 10 of organisations with the highest centrality scores, for 2013 and 2017. The comparison is limited to organisations that are included in both datasets.

2013 2017
VNO-NCW VNO-NCW
DNB Ahold
Concertgebouw Concertgebouw
KLM KLM
ABN Amro Schiphol
Aegon NV FrieslandCampina
Concertgebouw Fonds Philips
DSM DNB
Philips Rabobank Groep
Heineken NV Vopak

Organisations like employers’ organisation VNO-NCW, the Concertgebouw concert hall and airline KLM seem to occupy a pretty stable position at the centre of the network. VNO-NCW has a huge non-executive board with representatives from a wide range of industries. The Concertgebouw has been described years ago as the living room of the [Dutch] elite.

Aside from these stable elements, there are substantial differences between the two rankings. The rank correlation is only 0.33 and not statistically significant. This may be due to differences in the way the datasets were created; the small size of the overlap between them (only 34 organisations) and other data quality issues.

On the other hand, some changes in the ranking appear to reflect genuine changes in the position firms occupy. Two examples:

  • One of the fastest risers is Ahold. Ahold merged with Belgian retailer Delhaize in 2016. It would seem plausible that this has strengthened their position in the corporate network.
  • ABN Amro disappeared from the top 10. The bank used to have a board with well-connected members like Gerrit Zalm and Joop Wijn (both have gone through the revolving door between government and the corporate world), Peter Wakkie and Marjan Oudeman (one of the most influential Dutch women according to various rankings). In 2015, chairman Wakkie stepped down over a commotion caused by excessive executive board remunerations (the bank was still state-owned after having been bailed out with public money in 2008). Subsequently, Oudeman, Zalm and Wijn also left the bank, for reasons partly related to its upcoming flotation. It appears the current board has a lower profile.

This type of analyses could benefit enormously from having a larger dataset available. This is yet another reason why the Dutch Company Register should be opened up as open data: this will allow for better understanding of the networks of corporate control.

Method and data

Both de Volkskrant (2013, 2014) and NRC Handelsblad (2017) have published visualisations of the Dutch (corporate) elite and their board memberships. Note that these board memberships not only include companies, but also employers’ organisations, cultural institutions and other types of organisations the collectors of the data deemed relevant for analysing corporate elite networks.

Before comparisons can be made, the names of the organisations need to be cleaned up. Beyond correcting typos and dealing with additions like N.V. (plc) and B.V. (ltd), this involves deciding when to consider units as part of the same organisation. Pragmatically, I decided to treat businesses that are part of the same corporate structure as identical. This may not always be the ideal approach; on the other hand, it’s not always possible to determine what unit a name refers to (e.g. ING could refer to the holding or to one of its subsidiaries). I did treat foundations (e.g. charities linked to a company) as separate from the company.

There are different ways to measure the centrality of a node in a network. Taking my cue from Takes and Heemskerk, I used betweenness centrality, which is based on how often a node is on the shortest path between two other nodes. I calculated centrality for the entire network, that is, before taking a subgraph. I included endpoints to prevent many nodes having a score of zero.

I used the Python library networkx to analyse the graphs (here’s the code and here’s the accompanying text file for cleaning up organisation names). I used d3.js to visualise the network graphs - here’s a description of the problems I ran into and how I dealt with them.

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