Slate.com writes about our upcoming study on Internet Research extending our findings presented in "Information Credibility on Twitter" [pdf].

Social media hoaxes: Could machine-learning algorithms help debunk Twitter rumors before they spread?

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In a new paper, to be published in the journal Internet Research next month, the authors of the Chile earthquake study—Carlos Castillo, Marcelo Mendoza, and Barbara Poblete—test out their algorithm on fresh data sets and find that it works pretty well. According to Meier, their machine-learning classifier had an AUC, or “area under the curve,” of 0.86. That means that, when presented with a random false tweet and a random true tweet, it would assess the true tweet as more credible 86 percent of the time. (An AUC of 1 is perfect; an AUC of 0.5 is no better than random chance.)

My guess is that a knowledgeable and experienced human Twitter user could do better than that under most circumstances. And of course, if a given algorithm became widespread, committed trolls like the Hurricane Sandy villain @ComfortablySmug could find ways to game it. Still, an algorithm has the potential to work much faster than a human, and as it improves, it could evolve into an invaluable "first opinion" for flagging news items on Twitter that might not be true.

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Source: Slate.com

Somebody told us you can find fresh vegetables and plants in Qatar directly from a producer that has lots of greenhouses. It is possible.

The place is worth a visit for a chance of seeing so much vegetation in such a dry place. Plants here are much cheaper than the price of the ones you find in the shopping malls. There is also a small selection of vegetables (the minimum you have to buy is one kilogram) that varies with the season.

Invernadero

We went on a Saturday morning and they closed around 12:30. I don't know what are the opening times in other days. You can only pay in cash.

How to get there:

The place is named "Arab Qatari Agricultural Co." the entrance is at these coordinates: 25.36681, 51.24544.

View Larger Map

Take Al Rayyan road towards the west. Continue on the highway to Dukhan past Education City on your left. Then you will pass a palace on your left, the Amiri guard on your left, then a large roundabout with a stadium (Al Rayyan Sports Club) on your right.

The next roundabout (a few kilometers ahead) is marked with signs for the Camel Racing tracks. Exit on that roundabout and immediately turn right, entering a road that goes back to Doha parallel to the highway and very close to it. Pass a Woqod petrol station on your left. Then you will find on your left the Arab Qatari place. There is a barrier there.

Ask them if they sell plants, they will say yes and open the barrier. Go inside, buy your plants and veggies, keep the receipts (they will ask for them on the way back), and enjoy!

Fotos: Foursquare, Fabiola.

Shortly before it caught fire, I visited the Villagio mall, one of the three largest in Doha. As far as I understand, it is a copy of a place in Las Vegas that intends to give the visitor the impression that you are in an "Italian village", including Gucci stores, a Venetian channel with gondoliers, etc.

I also had the opportunity to meet the (admirable) crazy cat ladies from "Cats in Qatar". Doha is full of abandoned cats. One of them is in this picture; we found her in the -3 parking of Tornado Tower, the maintenance people from the building took care of her for a few days and for now I am taking care of her.

Fortunately my immigration paperwork is done. This is a record. In Italy my resident permit took 7 months. In Spain it took 3 months, without considering the time when they expelled me from the country. Here it was only 5 weeks.

It is evident that the Qatar Foundation as an employer has a lot of influence. They put us in front of the queues at every step, and that saves entire days of paperwork. Queues are never well arranged, and often, you can not trust they will be respected.. In my medical checkup my queue was reversible. You could be at the beginning or at the end, depending on the decision of the security guard.

Through all the city you can hear the speakers of the mosques calling to prayer. SpeakerS, mosqueS, plural. From here I can hear at least three. To me it sounds like a cacophony of Gregorian singing..

Being without Fabiola is weird, I have had some critical days in which I don't even want to eat, specially on weekends. My work mates are practically all foreigners, many from Egypt and India. We hang out together a lot. I have gone a couple of times to the movies ... in sex scenes, they blank the screen and you can hear only the audio.

A little problem derived from the local customs is that in shopping malls and restaurants there are areas for "families". The meaning of this is that men alone can not enter these areas. This discriminates obviously against the poorer immigrants, because to bring your family here you have to have a well-paid job.

* * *

I met my neighbors, a British couple absolutely lovely, who believing I was not at home took my garden furniture. But they gave it back ;-) They are very nice, we went for a brunch to the Ritz-Carlton, where there is a free buffet and a free bar of sparkling white wine if you want -- meaning, the perfect place for getting drunk on a Friday noon (!) Here people work from Sunday to Thursday and Friday, specially Friday morning, is the most relaxed time of the week.

* * *

To get my driver license I have to do a mini-course of 12 sessions. I did not like the idea much at the beginning, I had hoped to just exchange my Chilean license for a Qatari one and maybe if I had insisted enough I would have done that. But the course has not been bad. The first two classes are in a simulator, which is fun because in the simulator everybody is very imprudent, they don't respect traffic lights, etc. I killed a guy in the simulator, who practically waited for me to get closer to throw himself to the street. But I saved a camel in the "country" scenario.

Then there are the practical lessons where you get ready for the exam (traffic signs and practical exam with L-parking, parking in a tight spot, and on-the-road test). I think I will get a PhD in L-parking. I am also practicing a lot defensive driving.

It is worth doing it. People are very aggressive when driving and they do stuff I haven't seen elsewhere. For instance, back from work a colleague who was giving me a ride cut in front of a Land Cruiser, unwillingly. Later the Land Cruiser came in front of his car and stopped suddenly, to make us crash against him. Fortunately, the other people in the car warned my colleague that this would happen, because Qataris know that in a trial between them and a foreigner, the foreigner always looses.

The instructors in the driving school work 10 hours a day and I think mine is always about to throw himself out of the car window out of boredom. When instructors are not giving lessons, they wait in a room with air conditioning and watch wrestling matches.

* * *

Last week one of my colleagues was speaking with the son of someone from the office, who was complaining about bullies in school. My colleague told the kid that he had to do like Napoleon, who studied a lot in school to be better than the bullies. His answer:

-- I am sorry sir, that is a bad example. I don't want to be like Napoleon.
-- Why?
-- Because I am Egyptian.

Pictured here is an adorable and playful 6 weeks old kitten, rescued from the -3 level (basement) of Tornado Tower in West Bay, Doha, Qatar.

She was stranded there for several days without food, and no sign of the mother. She has been de-wormed and given a clean bill of health by the Al Tamimi clinic.

She craves maternal care, loves to play, is quite mischievous and explorative, and is tidy with her litter :). She enjoys the warmth of someone’s body to sleep beside at times. I am looking to find a loving parent who can give her a long-term commitment, affection and the attention that she needs.

Please contact me by phone: +974 70194015 or by e-mail if you would like to see the kitten. If you know of a friend who might be interested, please forward him/her this webpage. Thank you!

Less than a week ago I moved for work to Doha, Qatar. I was rather worried, I have to say. The reaction from my colleagues was mostly negative: affectionate, but negative. The reaction from my friends was mixed: some found it excellent, other congratulate me, others said they'll miss us (and me to them!)

My first impression of Doha, is that I do not have a first impression ;-) So far I've only picked small clues about how things will be. Probably many of them are wrong. I write them here to laugh about them later.

The first things is that it is ridiculously hot, 40 Celsius during most of the day, and everybody says this is just a small preview of what is about to come in the next months, where it will go to 50 Celsius and "you won't be able to stand in the sun for 5 minutes".

The cats hated to travel. They spent 12 hours in the cages, with 6 of them flying. When they were "delivered" to me, I found them alone next to the luggage belt. The good thing: they still had water in their dishes, meaning they were not moved so much. The cats were weird after the trip, they did not want to eat and were searching for Fabiola, but now they are easier, eating and wanting to go to the backyard. That, I will let them do it later on when they are more used to this place. For now, Panterita and Trufa are a big chunk of my social life.

I was assigned a house in a gated community where there are mostly people related to education/universities, many families with kids. The community has its own pool and gym. The house looks huge compared with what I've experienced in the last years: Rome (a studio of 16 sq m) and Barcelona (flats of 48 and 64 sq m).

* * *

The other part of my social life are conversations with taxi drivers. Kind of groundhog day: soccer, where is Chile, where is Sri Lanka or Ethiopia, how hot it is in summer, etc. Language is a big barrier. At work everybody speaks English, many of them better than I. Outside work people speak little English or the minimum for basic stuff.

And my activity so far has been ... shopping ;-) To get the home ready, to buy food, a cellphone, etc. There is a mini-mall with a medium-size supermarket attached to the community and I've also gone to the City Center which is the largest shopping mall. Prices are similar to the convenience stores in Barcelona. Here is a sample with approximate prices:

  • 500g of pasta = 1 eur.
  • Colgate toothpaste = 1 eur.
  • Two liters of watermelon juice = 2 eur.
  • Shampoo HnS = 3 eur.
  • Small box of champignon = 1.5 eur
  • One cucumber = 2 eur.
  • Box of tea bags = 1.5 eur.
  • One lettuce = 0.5 eur.
  • Taxi from home to airport, 30 min = 10 eur.
  • Taxi from home to city center, 20 min = 8 eur.

The bills are quite decorated, and as I mix lila and blue I tend to confuse the bills of 100 qar (20 eur) and 1 qar (0.2 eur).

* * *

Most local women wear the Abaya (it covers the head and the body, but not the face) and about half wears a Niqab (a veil that allows you to see only the eyes). I have not seen any woman in Burqa (the one with the net in front of the eyes). Non-qatari women wear whatever they like: jeans, skirts (below the knee), t-shirts, etc. The only thing I saw was at the entrance of the Islamic Museum a friend of mine was asked to cover her shoulders.

On that count, I have not experienced a "cultural shock". I hope to postpone that as much as possible. Well, I was about to experience it: in the toilet at the shopping mall there was a place that looked like an urinal but it was to wash your feet before praying ... fortunately I was suspicious and did not use it for what I thought it was used ;-)

Besides, in many aspects it is a developing country and in that sense, to a first-class human (I am second class), Qatar may look more strange. For instance: my experience to pass some accompanied cargo through customs was strange: there are written rules, unwritten rules, people asking you for money around, it is not clear immediately what for, and in general something systematically dysfunctional. But it can be understood. The logic is that you elbow your way to the counter and shove your papers in front of an officer, smile, and wait. Finally you have to pay to the guys that asked you for money initially because they are legally part of this business, kind of para-officers of this place.

The good side: rules are flexible. For instance the shuttle bus in the airport stops anywhere.

* * *

In the city center there are very pretty buildings. I work at the Tornado Tower which is a twisted tower. Looking at all the funky buildings I thought they could have built a Sagrada Familia, just replacing animals and people by text and abstract motives.

From my office (now that I have an office) you can see buildings, cranes, and a piece of the bay. The work looks interesting, I am just starting to decide what exactly I am going to do, but there is a lot of energy, students, engineers, etc. I still don't have a good sense of what to expect of those around me. I don't care if it is much or little, fast or slow. I just want to understand the work rhythm and who are the reliable people.

* * *

What else can I say? I miss Fabiola so much. I have no idea how these two months without her are going to be. And for someone risk-averse as me, this situation is frightening at times. But I also have a lot of curiosity. I expect to satisfy that curiosity in the next months ;-)

Hugs for everyone. I don't tell you "everybody come to Doha!" because it will be a while before I am certain that it is a good idea ;-)

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