Thursday, 6 February 2014

Who's on first? Performance order and judging bias in Lindy Hop contests

Making decisions is hard. Judging in contests is a hard form of decision making - there's so much to consider. What's worse is that your own brain will try and prevent you from making the best decision. For example every time someone has to decide on information being presented to them, the order of the presentation of that information can change their decision.

A variety of studies have found this 'performance order' bias in everything from the Idol series, Eurovision and figure skating and music competitions. This bias isn't inconsequential either, in events where careers can rest on the outcome performance order bias can have a significant impacts.

So what about Lindy Hop competitions? Does the order of appearance matter?
Judging - an unenviable task (photo by Jerry Almonte)
In the spirit of my previous post on electoral methods I've delved into the data so you don't have to. My source: results from the 2013 and 2011 European Swing Dance Championships (most of the other major contests I've looked at don't provide the performance order with the official results - if anyone has the data and wants to send it to me to include in the analysis I'd be happy to expand it). This provides a dataset of 30 contests with between 4 and 15 individuals, couples or groups in each contest.

For analysis I've converted all the placings into standardised scores to enable comparison between contests of varying lengths.

Here's what the data looks like:
You can see that the number of competitors in gets rather smaller for the larger events, but you can visually see a slight rising trend even when you discount the results in larger divisions.

To test whether this was just a statistical quirk I set up a multi-linear regression model with an order variable and two additional variables to see if there were any effect of appearing first or last in addition to to the performance order effect.

Here's the model statistics:

Estimate Standard Error T Statistic Pr(>|t|)
(Intercept) -0.35908 0.15729 -2.283 0.0234
First 0.29989 0.22564 1.329 0.1852
Last 0.08663 0.21062 0.411 0.6813
Order 0.06666 0.02848 2.34 0.0202
This table is only for statistics nerds - otherwise you can ignore it.

These data show that there appears to be a small performance order bias in these results - but though it's at the level of significance that could get you published in certain social science journals I'd be hesitant to say that it exists for sure.

On the other hand, beyond the performance order bias there appears to be nothing special about appearing first or last.

Converting out of standardised scores let's look at what these results could mean in an actual contest or let's say 12 people. If the differences between everyone's score is similar (which is not really realistic, unless there's a tight contest) - this effect could mean the difference two places if you appeared first instead of last.
From xkcd - full comic here
What could be going on here? Firstly it could very well be nothing. The order bias is only just within the normal 95% p value - which is not nearly as impressive as you might think. More data could cause the effect to disappear.

EDIT: But, not so fast, remember how there were only a handful of divisions with large numbers in them? There was only a single division with 15 competitors and only a single one with 12. What happens if we repeat the analysis with them removed? (and thanks to one of my FB friends for suggesting this analysis) Here's the results:

Max size Estimate Standard Error T Statistic Pr(>|t|)
15 0.06666 0.02848 2.34 0.0202
12 0.085237 0.034704 2.456 0.0149
11 0.07006 0.03885 1.803 0.0729
10 0.06518 0.05556 1.173 0.243
9 0.08808 0.06351 1.387 0.168
8 0.06139 0.07081 0.867 0.388
6 0.005641 0.124636 0.045 0.964
5 0.333 0.2568 1.297 0.202
 Again - tune out of this table if you're not a statistics nerd

Remove the two largest divisions and the order bias effect quickly disappears. So we can be reasonably confident that there is no performance order bias for competitions smaller than 10 or so entrants. For larger divisions we've really only got two contests to go off - this is really not enough data to be able to say one way or the other.
It's reasonable that if judges are affected by a recency bias then this may only appear in larger contests. But there are also other explanations besides a recency bias on the part of the judges. Audience reaction could change throughout an individual contest and this could subtly bias the evaluations of the judges.

So how could we find out if there is an order bias? More data on the largest divisions could help but the ultimate would be a controlled experiment. Judges would watch performances on video and in different orders for each group of judges. You could also implement this in actual competitions which would effectively control for any performance order bias present, but such a radical change to judging practices is unlikely to catch on.

If you're a competition organiser and you don't randomise the performance order of your competitors, you really should. If an order bias does exist then it's easily something that could build up over time and give some people (for example with names at the end of the alphabet) an edge in landing that all elusive international teaching gig. Releasing judge scores may also help - some research suggests that increased transparency, the idea of someone looking over your shoulder, can help reduce unconscious biases.

Sadly the major international lindy competitions aren't consistent in this practice, both ILHC and ESDC have posted individual judges scores previously but not for every year (and the ILHC results do not contain performance order - and appear to have been taken down), the National Jitterbug Championships, the US Open, the American Lindy Hop Championships, the Canadian Swing Dance Championships, The Snowball and Lindy Shock do not.
I'm not talking about that sort of bias
There are potentially a range of other biases that could be relevant to Lindy Hop competitions such as reference bias (where a judge gives a higher score to a person they are familiar with - though it's unlikely to occur at the highest levels where the competitors are all familiar to the judges), difficulty bias (where more difficult routines are scored higher, even if difficulty is scored separately), in-group bias (a close relative of reference bias - where a person is judged more favourably because they share the same dance school/city/country/race etc. with the judge), the halo effect (where one element of a persons character, such as attractiveness, influences assessments of other elements of their character), memory-influenced bias (where past performance influences current assessments) and groupthink (where a group of judges reaches a false consensus - this isn't a problem when each judge scores independently, which appears to be the practice for most international comps).

Finally I want to emphasise that I'm not suggesting that judges are behaving unprofessionally. The problem with cognitive biases is that we all have them, they can't be switched off and thus require a lot of cognitive energy to overcome. Awareness and acknowledgement of potential bias can go a fair way to moderating their influence.

For further reading check out this article "Natural Bias, the Hidden Controversy in Judging Sports" or if you're interested in cognitive biases and the psychology of decision making grab a copy of Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow".

If you've read this far congratulations! Have a picture of an echidna:

Thursday, 16 January 2014

5 Ways to put the Äwesome in Your Herräng

So registrations are open and it's crunch time (for HDC's servers at least - depending on what you want to go there to do there's still time to make a decision for yourself). In my last post I set out some of the reasons why you might want to reconsider going. I'm not going to rebut myself here (let's be honest, pretty much everyone else will tell you why you should go to Herräng) - I'm really more interested in how your time in Herräng can go off like a frog in a sock.

Image by Warky
So here's a few ideas both on and off the beaten path that might make your Herräng more Awesome.

1 - Research and Planning 
Ralf Brown: Herrang 2010 &emdash; Kuggen grocery store
There is no ATM (and occasionally other essentials) at the Kuggen (photo by Ralf Brown)
Do your homework. As Herräng is stuck out in (almost) the middle of nowhere being unprepared for your time there can really cramp your enjoyment. A good place to start is my list of Herräng resources. Also make sure you check out the Friday Night Parties for costume ideas. A great resource are friends and people in your scene who have been recently, there's also the forums and the facebook group.

Even if you've been before don't assume that important things. Things get changed every year, particularly with things like registration, camp facilities, safety and security. Make sure you have a good look through the materials on the website, read the booklet you get on arrival and attend the first Saturday night meeting.

Armed with your research, it's time to start planning. Friday party costumes is the big one that everyone works on prior, but if you've got an idea for something cool (like break-away stripper pants) you may need to bring materials (like velcro) or even start scheming with fellow collaborators (if you want a full all-male revue).

2 - Volunteer
The 2013 Crashdown crew (photo by Herrang)
There are many people who keep going back to Herräng and volunteering. I did three weeks last year and can't recommend it highly enough. It's a great way to meet people, learn how the camp works and find out some of the inside information on what's happening around camp (like secret blues parties). If you're the kind of person who likes to get involved and give back, it can be incredibly rewarding. It can also make your time at Herräng much more affordable.

In addition to HDC volunteering you can volunteer for a week in Heaven's Kitchen/Bar Bedlam/Blue Moon Cafe, help out with Mission Impossible (rumour has it that the floating dancefloor will make its long awaited début this year) or the decorations and planning for the Friday Night parties, other random happenings in camp or just generally helping out when there's opportunity.

3 - Take Private Lessons
Finding somewhere to do your private lesson could also prove challenging (photo by Lloyd)
Herräng has one of the largest concentrations of the best lindy hoppers and the best lindy hop teachers of any event in the world. But whilst they might be there, that doesn't mean they're teaching you. You might be in a different class track, unable to be there the full week or just not have those teachers in your stream. If the lindyverse doesn't align in your favour, take matters into your own hands and arrange a private lesson with your favourite teacher(s).

Besides, if you really want to supercharge your lindy hop, then private lessons are a great way to help make that happen.

Private lessons are something you arrange yourself with the teachers - and fair warning they might say no. But hey, you got nothing to lose by asking.

4 - Bring your creative side
People making art of people making music - illustration by Jimbino Vegan
Do you play a musical instrument, dance (something other than Lindy hop), act, paint, do puppetry, sketch, stand up comedy, make films, write, or any one of zillions of other creative pursuits? Then you're in good company. Herräng is replete with tonnes of creative individuals having jam sessions, making movies, doing photoshoots, painting, circus and more.

Collaborate with like-minded creative people, who knows where it might take you. If you need tools, instruments or materials for your craft then make sure you bring them along.

5 - Do something awesome

Ask someone who has been in the last couple of years about the goats (photo by Niko Huttunen)
Herräng seems to be more famous for all the shenanigans that go on there than the dancing. From All of the "This one time at Herräng" and "Only in Herräng" stories need people to make them happen. Sure a lot of the crazy is done by staff, volunteers or in association with the Friday Night parties, but that shouldn't stop you. In fact one of the complaints I heard from a few old-hands at the camp is that regular campers aren't bringing the shenanigans like they used to.

So make something awesome happen - it could be as simple as fixing random posters around the camp;
We never figured out who was doing these (photo by Lloyd)
Borrowing a costume from the prop shop and wearing it for pretty much the entire camp; or something more complicated, requiring a group of people and some planning; like random performances from an 'all-male revue'.

But you should figure something out for yourself. Herräng is a place where you can make ideas happen - enlist the help of some other campers, ask if you can borrow tools and materials from the No-No Box, or even get Mission Impossible involved. If you're idea's good enough you might even be able to get an announcement in the camp newsletter or the evening meeting. And I wouldn't be too concerned about doing something that's already been done - even if it has, only a small number of folk there will have experienced it.

Jazz and Lindy Hop are all about improvisation, well so is Herräng. So do whatcha wanna and have an awesome time.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Go To Herräng

The opening of registrations for the Herräng Dance Camp are just around the corner. Many people are getting ready to sign-up for their summer and plenty more are wondering if for the first time: "Should I go to Herräng?"

There's plenty of articles on the internet telling you why you should go to Herräng (especially if you've never been before) and most lindy hoppers you'll meet who have been there will tell you that you "must go".

But, though it's one of the (if not the) major events in the international Lindy Hop calendar, Herräng is not for everyone. I loved my time there and can't wait to go back, but if you're not going to have an awesome time there's not really much point in going - despite many people's regular (and somewhat culturally insensitive) comparisons of Herräng to Mecca.

So besides all the usual reasons (money, time, family/work commitments, a deep aversion to meatballs etc.) here's why you shouldn't go to Herräng.

1 - It's a Camp

With the growing number of hotel events Lindy hoppers seem to be becoming accustomed to living in the lap of luxury. Herräng isn't a hotel event - it's a camp.
Lloyd explores the exciting accommodation options at Herräng

You dance in a tent, eat in a tent and you may very well sleep in a tent.* Much of the common space is outside and despite mosquito countermeasures the bugs feast on many of the camps residents (I suspect that this year with Sweden's rather warm winter will make them particularly bad this year). Herräng can also become rather unpleasant when it rains, as there's little undercover area and mud gets everywhere (including on the dancefloors which make them very dusty). Most of the facilities are set up for just 5 weeks of the year and whilst their temporary nature adds a certain level of charm they don't necessarily function terribly well. Many of the facilities that are found in a city aren't present in a small village in country Sweden like an ATM, somewhere to buy liquor or even at times soap.
If the idea of roughing it for a week or more is not appealing to you, you may not find Herräng so much fun.

2 - It's Ridiculously Social

Free love and pancakes!
Communal showers, communal accommodation*, communal kitchen, communal common space. Herräng is a place where you're around other people all the time. Sure Lindy hoppers have reputations as socially awkward nerds, but that's not evident at Herräng (well the socially awkward part anyway) nor are you dancing all the time (see #4). It's a very social experience and not always easy to get some personal time. If it's sunny it's quite possible to head for the beach or the lake for some quiet alone time, but in inclement weather that's a near impossibility. If you're not a people person or you actually experience social anxiety, and especially if you're not coming with a group of friends, Herräng can be an incredibly intimidating place.

After my 6 weeks there I didn't really want to have anything to do with people for about a month afterwards, which certainly made my travelling through Europe a somewhat tricky business.

3 - The Herräng Flu

HAND SANITIZER from Tor Helmstein on Vimeo.
Everyone knows about Swing Flu - the illness you pick up at a weekend event because close contact with sick people + not eating well + sleep deprivation + disturbed circadian rhythms. These factors are generally worse at Herräng. But there's an additional factor in play at Herräng: When tonnes of people stay there for more than one week the resident viruses get established in the general population, meaning there's way more people who can infect you than at a shorter event.

Now the Herräng Flu (which in reality is probably a collection of sicknesses - i.e. you can get it more than once) may be mild or it may confine you to your bunk in general accommodation. If you're the type of person who normally gets laid out by the flu - this is unlikely to be a fun way to spend Herräng.

4 - You can't actually dance 24/7

Lloyd explores the many things that have been done for 24 hours at Herräng

Although Herräng itself is a 24/7 operation and there are things to be doing for pretty much all hours of the day dancing is not one of those. The evening dances run from 10pm to whenever they finish (somewhere between 4am and 9am) and classes only go for 3 or 4 hours a day. The other hours contain the Evening meetings, Friday party activities, shows, competitions, cultural activities, jam sessions and plenty of random shenanigans. Dance floors are often and regularly co-opted for other activities like cabaret, party activities, talks etc. Now it's all this craziness that makes Herräng Herräng and quite possible to be there doing stuff for a week and not even dance, but if you're the kind of lindy hopper who just wants to dance that could be a bit of a bummer.

5 - The Classes

Stock photo - Nothing implied about this class
Now this one's probably a bit controversial (and was not my experience - but I have heard it enough from others) but not all teaching couples will bring their A-game to Herräng, particularly if they've been there mulitple weeks and its at the end of the camp.

An alternative explanation is that if you've been there for much of the camp, you might be totally exhausted and not be bringing your A-game to classes either. This happened to me at the end of one of my volunteer weeks which was backing onto a class week - exhausted from volunteering I pulled an all-nighter at the Friday party, had a very long volunteer day Saturday and thus performed rather poorly in the peer auditions that evening. I was still happy with the class I ended up in but want to point out that it's difficult for teachers to be enthused when the students are all members of the walking dead.

In Conclusion

Herräng is really quite an amazing place - check out the links in my previous post for a better idea of the craziness. If you like camping, being social, doing all sorts of crazy shenanigans besides dancing, are strangely attracted to sick people (or have a strong immune system) and aren't there solely for the learnz then you're probably going to have an awesome time. If not, then it's totally okay to not go. Either way, make it your decision - not someone else's.

* I've had a number of people point out that you can stay in private accommodation which can offer significant improvements in comfort over general accommodation or camping (at a much higher cost too - and it's worth noting that not all private accommodation is created equal, if you're cramming people into your house/flat/cabin it may not be much more private than general accommodation. Also some private accommodation can be a significant distance from the camp and its facilities), but even if you're camping 'in a cabin' the rest of the camp experience is still there.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

An Open Letter to the Abbott Government

Now I normally don't write letters to politicians, but occasionally some things get my goat so much that I feel obliged to break my own rules. If you feel as I do you're welcome to use my text in your own letter.

The Hon. Tony Abbott, MP Prime Minister of Australia

Senator the Hon. George Brandis QC, Attorney-General
The Hon. Scott Morrison, MP Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

Dear Prime Minister and Ministers

I'm alternately shocked and saddened by the depths to which the Australian Government will plunge in its asylum seeker and refugee policy. I call on you to embrace the fundamental Australian value of a 'fair go' and reverse the un-Australian policies of this and previous governments.

The conditions that asylum seekers are being kept in are worse than those we keep people who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes.

We are now asking refugees to abide by standards of behaviour in regards to harassment, intimidation and bureaucratic compliance that even members of parliament would have trouble abiding by. Any person (citizen, refugee, resident or visitor) who breaks Australian law should be held accountable, but that is the purpose of the criminal justice system.

The worst part is that the 'problems' of boat people, queue jumpers and deaths at sea are largely of our own making. We've restricted the opportunities for people fleeing persecution to apply for a visa and enter Australia by air. We've confiscated boats and imprisoned crew, ensuring that only the most unseaworthy vessels are sailed and then abandoned.

By providing safe, alternative means to seek asylum we could largely eliminate these problems, for example through relaxing visa restrictions in known asylum seeker source countries. Processing asylum applications should be swift, transparent and fair.

Once here refugees should be given the opportunity to integrate into the community and contribute to our economy. The expense of welfare payments for refugees is exacerbated by not letting them work.
These policy measures may or may not be reducing the number of refugee arrivals, but that is beside the point.

This Government and its members have often preached about values and morals. The blatant disregard of individual rights, the despicable treatment of other human beings and the demonisation of a group of people who have few means to fight back all for the purpose of winning a few votes shows us the true morals of this government:

To win at any cost, even if that means selling the souls of the Australian people and condemning others to a hell on earth. 

PS for Ministerial and Departmental Staff: I'm not interested in a pro-forma response or one written by a junior bureaucrat, so please don't send me one.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Herräng Resources

Well I'm officially feeling nostalgic about summertime craziness in a small town in Sweden. Registration for 2014 ain't that far away so in the first of a few posts I may or may not write about Herräng I've put together this (incomplete) list of resources about the centre of the centre of the Lindy Hop Universe.
Official Sites
Official Website (I'll note that they've done a major revamp this year)

(and it would appear that Heaven's Kitchen has a website too)

Social Media



Blog Posts
I've tried to concentrate on blog posts that have been written in the last few years. There's plenty out there from before then.

Lloydian Dance - Reviews of every camp since 1999 (warning - reading these can be a huge time sink - especially if you've been to Herräng before. Lloyd is also a person of very strong opinions, so tune out if you're easily offended)

It's the Way That You Do It - What's Herräng and 10 Things to Know about Herräng 

Small Dancer Ramblings - Herräng for Dummies (also see this post on the 2011 camp)

Jazz up your life Singapore - The Ultimate Guide to Herräng 2011

Rikomatic's 2011 Herräng series - Day 2, Day 3, Swing Kids, Carling Family, Floorcraft, Flu, Final Day, Food.

Norma Miller's HDC 2012 Review

My World in D Flat - Its the Final Countdown! Herrang 2012.

Calle Johansson's Channel (the unofficial official Herräng channel)

Herräng on Vimeo

Tor Helmstein's Videos (a number of public service announcements and other videos shown in the evening meetings)

Lindybeige's Herräng series (more from Lloyd - this time in video format)

Chester Whitmore - Blackman and Reefer

Anthony Mak's Why We Lindy Hop - Video 1, Video 2, Video 3, Video 4

Film Festival videos (Herräng the Musi-Documentary, The Creeper, Herrang Hide and Seek if anyone has more upload them to Youtube)

Blues Dancing Educational Video

Yehoodi Talk Show's Herrang Show

Lonely Planet - 15 min Audio Documentary