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Category ArchiveBlog

Data Literacy

The New Literacy: Data Skills

In today’s ever-changing technological market, what’s the difference between business success and failure? According to the experts at data.world, the answer is data literacy.

 

Your business is already affected by data literacy. From the challenges of cross-functional collaboration to the most important decisions a company can make, data literacy is now the difference between success and failure.

—data.world

 

How does your company measure up? Are you falling behind your competitors because of an inability to correctly interpret and apply data? Perhaps data wrangling and interpretation is not your thing, and that’s fine because that’s where we come in. We can do all the heavy lifting for you, mining, cleaning, analyzing, interpreting, etc., all the data that are important in ensuring your business growth and success.

 

If your business is going to compete and succeed, you need ways to keep up with the speed of those changes. In this digital age, technological shifts are disrupting how we present, get and interact with data, and it is only by having the key set of data skills that businesses will be able to navigate this disruptive force. Your business is already affected by data literacy, but it’s not too late. Get on track and take control.

Concordance: find a single word in the text and get context.

NLP & Text Analytics

We work with a lot ot text; really, a lot. And a big part of what we do is text analysis. Text analytics, in a nutshell, is the conversion of unstructured textual data into more meaningful data.
 
Here at Atelier Acosta, we perform a lot of Natural Language Processing (NLP), and we have the pleasure of analyzing various types of text; various types and various sizes. In addition to measuring customer opinions, we also perform analysis of customer reviews, customer feedback, text clustering, sentiment analysis (how customers feel about your product or service), link analysis, visualization, entity & relationship modeling, etc., in order to provide insight and inform fact-based decision-making processes.
 
Lexical Dispersion Plot of Macbeth
 
We work with and provide meaningful insights into just about any type of text including, Web copy, blog posts, customer feedback and reviews, customer complaints, email, Word documents, books, news, etc. We also work in various languages including English, German, and Spanish.
 
Call us at 619-344-7513 or contact us today, let’s discuss how we can help you gain greater business insights and make decisions based upon how your customers really feel about your products and or service.

Using Linear Regression to Gain Insights Into Building Energy Efficiency

Using Linear Regression to Gain Insights Into Building Energy Efficiency

With this project, our aim was to answer the following question: How should we design buildings (with respect to heating load) in the future?
 
Some additional questions that needed to be answered include:
 

  1. Is there a relationship between building features and heating load?
  2. How strong is that relationship?
  3. Which are the strongest contributing features to heating load?
  4. Can heating load be predicted given a particular building design?

 
Features Information
 
The dataset contains eight attributes (or features, denoted by X1X8) and two responses (or outcomes, denoted by y1 and y2). Our aim was to use the eight features to predict each of the two responses. More specifically:
 
X1 Relative Compactness
X2 Surface Area
X3 Wall Area
X4 Roof Area
X5 Overall Height
X6 Orientation
X7 Glazing Area
X8 Glazing Area Distribution
 
y1 Heating Load
y2 Cooling Load
 
NOTE:
 
Feature names were changed to facilitate human readability.
 
Upon completion of our regression analysis, we made some interesting discoveries and gained insights into the relationship between the features and responses in the dataset. We also arrived at conclusions that could possibly impact future architectural designs, or at least, be of use to those faced with similar considerations and decisions.
 
Relationship between heating load & relative compactness
 
View project here.

Road Bridge Condition (2013)

Road Bridge Condition

A simple interactive bar chart using the C3.js data visualization library to plot the percent of all structurally deficienct and all functionally obsolete bridges across all US states in the year 2013. The same can be done in Python using the C3PyO wrapper for the aforementioned data visualization library.

Classified Ads-Writer

Warning! Warning! Beware of Predatory Ads

 
You never really realize just how difficult finding freelance writing work is until you realize that you have spent the last 40 work hours plowing through Website listings looking for ultra-elusive good gigs. And while there are meaningful and even financially rewarding jobs available for the intrepid freelance writer, there is an even greater cesspool of ads that constitute the ocean of job search frustration and despair. Hopefully, the advice in this article will help you navigate those waters and negotiate the terms of your next gig.
 
Without further ado, keep an eye out for these six red flags:
 
1. All for Nothing Ads: Companies that seek only the best (for themselves)
 
Some of the terms and phrases that are frequently used in these types of ads include, “we seek only impeccable writing,” “research and write 2000 words in one hour,” demands that require your needing to “have your finger on the pulse,” and the need to “be able to identify social trends and be able/willing to adapt consistently,” “social media specialist,” etc. Also avoid time burglars that expect you to hope to get the gig by submitting:
 

  • A statement explaining why you are the best person for this position
  • A resume, cover letter, salary history, and relevant writing samples
  • A link to your LinkedIn account
  • Links to all your social media accounts
  • Link to your portfolio
  • Links to examples of content that you think is like what we expect you to do
  • Explain why you chose this content
  • Write a 300 word sample on [topic]
  • Give us 5 titles of possible topics you would write if we hired you

 
Be especially careful with the last bullet point above; people will purloin your ideas. I have actually had the misfortune of this happening to me many years ago during a time of utter desperation. I was dealing with a surge of serious, sudden, and unexpected health problems and needed work while I convalesced. Desperate and vulnerable, and in an effort to maintain my sanity by taking my mind off my illnesses, I began corresponding with a company that, I later realized, was stealing and implementing all the ideas that I suggested. I discovered the unsophisticated ruse only because they kept communicating without offering me the job and due to the spasmodic nature of the correspondence, both of which were contemporaneous with each other. This prompted me to visit their Website. That’s where I saw, already being implemented, all the thoughts that I had shared up to that time. Lousy bums.
 
Additionally, don’t get euchred by the emotive language often used in some of these ads. Listings that use non-quantifiable phrases that begin with “If you are the best” or “If you are a rock star writer” and end with “then we’re looking for you,” are designed to dovetail with your personal beliefs and manipulate your ego. You were not “born to write”; no one was. Ads like this are worded so as to lure you into responding and choosing to work for the company. The reality is, for these companies, it’s a numbers game and they will most likely hire anyone who applies. Think about it: if I asked you to name 10 rock stars, you could probably do it in ten seconds or less. If I asked you to name five freelance writers of universal fame and acclaim, could you? No. Rock stars are famous, they generally entertain large crowds of people, and are often rich. If your writing aim is pelf and fame, don’t write; find a different profession.
 
2. Underpaid or No Pay Work
 
If you are an adult responsible for a mortgage or rent, children, family, automobile payment, bills, providing food, fail-safe provisions for emergencies, etc., reject any listing that uses any equivocating phraseology, such as:
 

  • Recent college grads or current students welcome
  • Startup hoping to pay writers soon
  • In lieu of payment, we will (blah, blah, blah)
  • Build your portfolio
  • Get invaluable experience
  • We start paying at (any too-small monetary value) but you can move up to (any fantastic monetary value) after whatever short period of time.

 
Generally, listings of this type mean that you will not be able to make ends meet, you will, at some point, begin to feel undervalued, and you will eventually begin resenting your decision.
 
That being said, feel free to barter at your own risk or willingness to do so. I have worked pro bono for non-profit organizations many times before (I still do), and I have also done “free” work that had value beyond financial compensation. The fact is, I chose these assignments (some of which lasted for years) for the value that they brought to my life and or my career as a writer.
 
3. Beware of Ads On craigslist
 
DISCLAIMER: This is in no way an indictment against craigslist.
 
Regrettably, there are many entities that tend to abuse the Website for selfish gains. Many of the ads that I have seen listed include companies or individuals that are trying to scam you or who want you to work for free, individuals who want you to “collaborate” on their project, or those who want you to proofread, edit, and help write, correct/rewrite their manuscript for $20-$100.
 
I have never actually gotten a gig after responding to an ad on craigslist. I have, however, received a lot of unprofessional responses; wasted a lot of time in fruitless communication; not received any follow-up to my responding to listings; have had to deal with individuals who simply stopped communicating upon receipt of my writing samples, etc.
 
4. Reject Time Burglars
 
As mentioned above, Red Flag #1, if the ad listing even looks similar to the listing below, reject it outright.
 
Provide the following with your application:
 

  • A resume, cover letter, salary history, and relevant writing samples
  • A statement explaining why you are the best person for this position
  • A link to your LinkedIn account
  • Links to all your social media accounts
  • Link to your portfolio
  • Links to examples of content that you think is like what we expect you to do
  • Explain why you chose this content
  • Write a 300 word sample on [topic]
  • Tell us 5 titles of possible topics you would write if hired
  • Familiarity with [list of software titles]
  • Bonus points if you are familiar with this [list of terms]

 
Applications without all the requirements will be deleted.
 
Bull Session: “marketing experts” writing classified ad.
 
Bull Session: "marketing experts" writing classified ads.
 
I sometimes think marketing experts’ ad writing sessions are very similar to the method illustrated in this comic strip.
 
Image attribution: [Porter Mason]
 
Freelance work can be difficult enough to find as it is. Spending an inordinate amount of time on a single application for any company is simply not worth the time or the effort, especially given that you may not get a response much less hired, anyway. (This has actually happened to me before.) Use your time more wisely by just looking elsewhere.
 
5. What’s Good for the Goose, is Good for the Gander
 
If extremely high-quality standards are good for them, shouldn’t it also be good for you? Work is supposed to be rewarding; commit yourself to your standards, not theirs, and the work will come. This is advisable, perhaps especially, under circumstances of ever-increasing desperation. Be cognizant of the potential pitfalls involved with responding to any job listing with a euphonious description; they are designed to benefit the one doing the hiring, not the freelancer. Also, keep in mind that if what they demand is not in alignment with what they have to offer, it’s probably best to just walk away.
 
6. Expand Your Options
 
Being a freelance writer can leave you feeling like a tiny fish in an immense ocean, but it doesn’t have to feel this way. In fact, you should try to reverse the feeling by finding your niche. Try to identify one or two areas in which you are or can become an expert and work exclusively in those areas. In this manner, you won’t have to worry about looking through the innumerable ads that are available online. More importantly, it will be easier to locate Web sites, specialty and trade magazines, journals, etc., that cater specifically to your area of expertise. This will facilitate the process of finding related work, increase the likelihood of finding long- or longer-term contracts and gigs, as well as reduce dramatically, the time spent in the job search process.

Freelance Writing: A Hard Knock Life

 
I was six years old when I wrote, what I would consider, my first thoughtful, meaningful collection of words on a piece of paper—a song of loneliness written on a yellow steno pad. As I grew older, I continued to write more and more. Starting at around 11 years old, I even began writing a novella of sorts; on weekends, my younger brother and I would act it out, each playing various roles. I worked on it for the next four years. I said all of that to say this: writing, even when one does not have any expectation of payment or as a freelancer, can be incredibly rewarding. There are high and low moments; moments when one wants to stop but cannot; a lot of meaningful work; financially rewarding work (if that is the desired objective). That brings us to the point of this entry: Conversely, there can also be a lot of financial, emotional, and psychological suffering associated with writing and the writer’s life. This entry is about some of the insights into that suffering.
 
Writing: Indispensable yet Undervalued
 
Everyone needs the written word. In fact, I am willing to go as far as to say that the world simply cannot properly survive without it; people would go crazy if they could find nothing to read. The unfortunate thing about being a writer is that although the craft and talent needed to write well is indispensable, freelance writers are grossly undervalued. There are many factors, I believe, that contribute to this problem, among them, the popularity with content farms and mills, as well as the overabundance of so-called SEO and marketing experts that have propped up all across the Internet landscape. For the most part, it is clear that the individuals running most of these dime-a-dozen companies do not know anything about writing, much less, about good writing. They are not writers, and this creates a very complex problem. For like so many other companies, they simply want money; money for themselves, not for any individual who helps them get that money. They each need the same thing: content. They all want top-tier writers, want only the best and most original content, etc., but, they do not want to pay for it. And because they personally lack the necessary skills needed to write (well), they cannot see the significance and value in paying for good writing. Companies and individuals like this undervalue good writers due to their own ignorance of the craft. And since they are aware that there is any number of “writers” who will willingly commit themselves to their projects, there is no compulsion driving them to invest in the best.
 
There Are Too Many Writers and Not Enough Writers
 
The abovementioned problem leads to the second problem; i.e, due to their own ignorance, the individuals running these companies are ill-equipped, too, to identify horrible writing/writers when they see it. There are many complexities associated with writing, one of which is that there is a tremendous difference between what may be considered excellent, decent, average, and terrible writing. Adding to the problem is that these companies, for the most part, have no particular interest in those differences, they simply want “content.” Quality is of very little interest, and, I suppose, that is also why there is a tendency to hire horrendous “editors” alongside horrendous writers. Content is the hot-button keyword, faute de miuex; content is the buzzword that is used to convince organizations, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and similar entities to pay for their service. The truth, however, is that in essence, what all of these (perhaps) unsuspecting entities don’t realize is that they are paying for a third-party service. The writer is the middleman. Clearly, this is a gamble; if they are aware that there is a middleman, the only explicable reason to elect one of these companies is simply the bottom line—sacrificing quality work, often at the expense of their own customer’s intelligence. The vetting method involved, generally speaking, with the hiring processes of these companies range from little to none; few and far between are companies that have an extensive or fairly extensive process of weeding out bad writers and or editors. This problem may be attributed and is exclusive to the company of “experts” not to the unfortunate recipient—the client.
 
Overworked, Underpaid
 
Another problem is having to deal with being overworked while simultaneously being insufficiently compensated. It is not at all unusual to find any number of companies willing to pay you $12 or less to write 1000-1500 word research-based articles. There are companies that pay as little as 0.01% of a penny per word. As supplemental income, and even if it were a full-time income, it would be impossible to eke out a suitable living on such meager sums. A typical practice of these companies is to say some tongue-in-cheek rubbish such as “All of our writers make $12-$16 per hour, and our best writers earn $25 per hour or more.” Not true. To write a research-based article of at least 1000 words requires more than writing: research has to be done; facts have to be checked; sources have to be checked and verified for credibility; not to mention the writing which—if you are truly a writer and you take pride in your work—in addition to being grammatically pristine, also has to be free of typos, misspellings, etc. That being said, there are ways to make a wonderful living as a freelance writer, but this is not one of those ways. In fact, by writing for any of these types of companies you will never be able to make a decent standalone living and you will barely do so as supplemental income—if you choose to continue on that path.
 
Not Knowing Your Worth
 
One of the most nefarious ways in which these companies prey upon freelance writers—and it can be effectively reduced to a predator/prey relationship—is by taking advantage of the fact that many writers, especially neophytes, are willing to accept low paying gigs in a misguided effort to feel validated as a writer, but that comes at a tremendous expense. The fact is, very little if any validation will ever be derived since most of these companies take credit for the work produced—good or bad. Freelancers who write for these predatory companies very rarely get a byline. (Having bylines on the work produced for a content mill, generally, is not a desirable thing; many of these companies have a bad reputation and are often not taken seriously as the producers of worthwhile content.) Of course, the lack of a byline in these instances is clearly a boon to the bad writer, but it certainly does nothing but prove injurious to the careers of the more skilled writer; the writer looking to advance their career with a solid portfolio of published, clips, samples, etc. These companies, too, are also aware that there is oftentimes a sense of desperation that many freelance writers wear like a ratty, unwanted coat because they still need to work. Unfortunately, most of the available gigs are low-paying; gigs can sometimes be sparse and difficult to attain; across the board, the work has a history of being notoriously inconsistent; many companies either do not pay in a timely manner or simply do not pay the writer at all; mortgages and bills still have to be paid; and so forth. But, writers need to work, and so they assume these paltry roles. This can lead, however, to an even bigger and more damaging problem—burnout and psychological strain. Accepting gigs like this may result in an ever-increasing amount of frustration, disgruntlement, anger, and doubt. They may even lead to unemployment if the writer realizes their worth and quits, or if they quit, but only after having submerged too deeply into self-doubt about their career choice. Whatever the case, the end result is often not good for the writer. If you are a good, solid writer, you will end up feeling a tremendous loss after pouring your self into another’s brand and not having anything to show for your efforts—literally or figuratively. Perhaps the worst part about writing for one or more of these companies is that you may become in-deep-rooted because of the inexplicable desire to write, the desperation attached to financial burden and anxiety, or the desperate need to earn a living. Ironically, these are the very forces that leave many a writer feeling woefully crestfallen in the forlorn landscape of freelancing.
 
Some Advice Based Upon the Insights Listed
 
The so-called experts running these companies, especially those responsible for hiring personnel are not writers and usually prey upon freelance writers. They don’t care one way or another where you are from, how good of a writer you are, or even if you can actually write; they simply need bodies to make themselves sound impressive when trying to get client’s work. With that:
 

  1. Don’t sell yourself and your craft short by accepting work that will leave you feeling used, unappreciated, undervalued, underpaid, and or overworked. There are tons of meaningful jobs out there waiting to be undertaken. Exercise the diligence necessary to find these jobs instead.
  2. Try to find jobs that carry some meaning for you personally; it will shine through the work you produce. Writing for these companies is nothing more than pouring out a flat, pedantic stream of consistently uninspired, unimpressive work; there is nothing literary or interesting about it. You are constrained to a box from which you are never permitted to leave. Don’t compromise your own artistic integrity. (See bullets five and six below.)
  3. Don’t be deceived by these companies and their promises of making $24-$36 per hour or any similar claim, it just won’t happen. In addition to the reasons listed above as to why it’s just exceedingly difficult, keep in mind that the freelance life is one fraught with interruptions and disruptions: unexpected loss of electricity, cable/Internet access; delivery personnel at the door; having small children at home; having to collect children from school; appointments, phone calls, social media, TV; cooking and other household responsibilities may all play a part in the reality of your day.
  4. Clients pay, these companies don’t. (See bullets seven and eight below.) It is quite possible to earn a very good income as a freelance writer, making $4000-$5000 per month; I know, because I have done it and continue to do it. That being said, I have also, on a few humbling occasions, attempted to write for some of these companies, hence my insight. Financially or otherwise, these companies are not worth it. Supplemental income is good but really good, consistent supplemental income is better.
  5. Be truthful with yourself. Not even the best writer can or wants to write about “anything” or “everything.” If you describe yourself as a writer capable of writing about anything, you should take time to reevaluate your career and reexamine your goals (assuming you have some). Furthermore, this is the kind of language used by these predatory companies to get you to bite; they all somehow seem to have an endless flow of “interesting” topics ranging from legal to perfume; from truck tires to goldfish; from tech culture to celebrity gossip; news, music, and everything in between. Be forewarned: A very common occurrence is having to select a task prior to knowing what it actually is; in all likelihood, you will probably end up writing about the many exciting ways to cure a head lice infestation instead of something more meaningful.
  6. Compromise on your terms only. As it relates, you will more than likely have to “dumb down” the writing to which you are accustomed since you will undoubtedly be writing for an audience as wide as the Pacific ocean. The companies, understandably, have an obligation to their clients to cast as wide a net as possible; the writer, as a proxy, assumes the same obligation.
  7. Clear your own path. Content farms, mills, “expert” SEO and marketing companies, etc., are everywhere today, but so are all the clients that they attract. Try to find your own clients; clients that you can work for directly, either on a one-off or on a contractual basis. Moreover, in addition to other diverse lagniappe, clients usually provide continued and consistent work, frequently refer you to other potential clients, and often have related, albeit smaller projects, that they may like you to work on.
  8. Do excellent work, provide excellent customer service, and try to develop long-term relationships with said clients.
  9. Avoid the mire of a lifetime of tyranny and servitude. If you achingly need writing experience or if you find yourself in a desperate situation which necessitates your simply having to make some money, do what you must then get out. These parasitic companies change, often; they change their names in an effort to avoid the stigma of being recognized as content farms and as a way to attract new writers; they change their image to attract new clients; they “change” the definition of writing (astonishingly, some tasks don’t include any writing whatsoever). Fortunately, there is usually no contract involved so you can simply walk away whenever you please.