Mining “big data”

An interesting article by Ariana Eunjung Cha on how financiers, politicians, and researchers are mining data from Twitter, Google, Facebook, and the like to identify trends and forecast the future:

From a trading desk in London, Paul Hawtin monitors the fire hose of more than 340 million Twitter posts flying around the world each day to try to assess the collective mood of the populace.

The computer program he uses generates a global sentiment score from 1 to 50 based on how pessimistic or optimistic people seem to be from their online conversations. Hawtin, chief executive of Derwent Capital Markets, buys and trades millions of dollars of stocks for private investors based on that number: When everyone appears happy, he generally buys. When anxiety runs high, he sells short.

Hawtin has seen a gain of more than 7 percent in the first quarter of this year, and his method shows the advantage individuals, companies and governments are gaining as they take hold of the unprecedented amount of data online. Traders such as Hawtin say analyzing mathematical trends on the Web delivers insights and news faster than traditional investment approaches.

The explosion in the use of Google, Facebook, Twitter and other services has resulted in the generation of some 2.5 quintillion bytes each day, according to IBM.

“Big data,” as it has been dubbed by researchers, has become so valuable that the World Economic Forum, in a report published last year, deemed it a new class of economic asset, like oil.

“Business boundaries are being redrawn,” the report said. Companies with the ability to mine the data are becoming the most powerful, it added.

While the human brain cannot comprehend that much information at once, advances in computer power and analytics have made it possible for machines to tease out patterns in topics of conversation, calling habits, purchasing trends, use of language, popularity of sports, spread of disease and other expressions of daily life.

“This is changing the world in a big way. It enables us to watch changes in society in real time and make decisions in a way we haven’t been able to ever before,” said Gary King, a social science professor at Harvard University and a co-founder of Crimson Hexagon, a data analysis firm based in Boston.

The Obama campaign employs rows of people manning computers that monitor Twitter sentiment about the candidates in key states. Google scientists are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track the spread of flu around the world by analyzing what people are typing in to search. And the United Nations is measuring inflation through computers that analyze the price of bread advertised in online supermarkets across Latin America.

Many questions about big data remain unanswered. Concerns are being raised about personal privacy and how consumers can ensure that their information is being used fairly. Some worry that savvy technologists could use Twitter or Google to create false trends and manipulate markets.

Even so, sociologists, software engineers, economists, policy analysts and others in nearly every field are jumping into the fray.

via ‘Big data’ from social media, elsewhere online take trend-watching to new level – The Washington Post.

That’s very impressive, to be sure, but do you think all of this “data” is really equivalent to a natural resource?  The stock trader who buys when the Twitter traffic is happy and sells when it’s sad has been making money, but why not buy when people are sad (picking up bargains when people are giving up on the world and dumping their stocks for cheap) and selling when they are happy (taking advantage of their irrational exuberance)?  That is to say, is his data mining resulting in an application that is all that scientific?  And in what sense is a Twitter tweet necessarily equivalent to hard data?  Can one control for irony, sarcasm, and jokes?  I’m not denying that there may be some very useful information amidst all of the clutter, but still. . . .

The history of air conditioning

Washington, D.C., turns into a sweltering swamp in the summer.  It has been said that our problems with a too-big government began with the invention of air conditioning.  Before that, Congress and government officials only stayed in town a few months and was anxious to leave.  Since air conditioning was invented, they stick around all year, passing laws and running things.

I don’t know about that, but Monica Hesse, in an article about how air conditioning makes offices too cold, gives us the history of this great invention:

The blessing of modern air conditioning was bestowed upon us 110 years ago this summer by Willis Haviland Carrier, a young Buffalo native with a prominent nose on a handsome face. Carrier worked for a heating company in Upstate New York, and in 1902, was tasked with devising a solution for a printing company whose equipment was going haywire because of the summer humidity. His proposal involved fans, coils and coolants, and it worked.

His invention spread widely to movie theaters, but it took nearly half a century for air conditioning to reach workplaces. In pre-World War II architecture, buildings were designed so that every room got a window, air and light. This led to sprawling structures that took up a lot of land and cost a lot of money, which was impractical in urban areas like Washington. It would have been much more economical to put workers in giant block buildings, except, of course, that the buildings would be dark, sticky hellholes.

Enter air conditioning, says Gail Cooper, a Lehigh University historian who wrote “Air-Conditioning America: Engineers and the Controlled Environment.”

“Air conditioning and fluorescent lights made block buildings possible,” she says.

Really. You shouldn’t have.

What’s interesting about the introduction of air conditioning in the workspace, Cooper says, is that the development was tied as much to architectural design — making square, cheap buildings practical — as it was to climate. It was hard, at first, to sell employers on the notion that their workers deserved to be comfortable during the day, so air-conditioning companies tried to frame it as a productivity issue.

And productivity was an issue. As the implementers of incremental process, the federal government had contrived a mathematical formula to determine whether it was too hot for its employees to work. When the outside temperature plus 20 percent of the humidity reached 100, workers would be sent home — a sort of reverse snow day policy that could have drastic effects in a place like Washington. In 1953, the city slogged through a week-long heat wave that resulted in illnesses, heat stroke and at least 26,284 federal workers being sent home.

In 1956, the General Services Administration got a large appropriation to retrofit all federal buildings with air conditioning. A quarter of that went to buildings in Washington.

Salvation had come to the city.

via Donning sweaters and Snuggies to combat the office’s deep freeze in the heat of summer – The Washington Post.

I like it cold.  If electricity were no object, I’d crank up the air conditioner until my breath fogs.  And at night I’d make it colder, then pile on the blankets and comforters to keep warm.

So here’s to you, W. H. Carrier!

Hacking into the rest of our technology

One of those darn kids invented a monster.  It is called Shodan.  And it threatens everything connected to the internet, which is now pretty much everything:

It began as a hobby for a ­teenage computer programmer named John Matherly, who wondered how much he could learn about devices linked to the Internet.

After tinkering with code for nearly a decade, Matherly eventually developed a way to map and capture the specifications of everything from desktop computers to network printers to Web servers.

He called his fledgling search engine Shodan, and in late 2009 he began asking friends to try it out. He had no inkling it was about to alter the balance of security in cyberspace.

“I just thought it was cool,” said Matherly, now 28.

Matherly and other Shodan users quickly realized they were revealing an astonishing fact: Uncounted numbers of industrial control computers, the systems that automate such things as water plants and power grids, were linked in, and in some cases they were wide open to exploitation by even moderately talented hackers.

Control computers were built to run behind the safety of brick walls. But such security is rapidly eroded by links to the Internet. Recently, an unknown hacker broke into a water plant south of Houston using a default password he found in a user manual. A Shodan user found and accessed the cyclotron at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Yet another user found thousands of unsecured Cisco routers, the computer systems that direct data on the networks.

“There’s no reason these systems should be exposed that way,” Matherly said. “It just seems ludicrous.”

The rise of Shodan illuminates the rapid convergence of the real world and cyberspace, and the degree to which machines that millions of people depend on every day are becoming vulnerable to intrusion and digital sabotage. It also shows that the online world is more interconnected and complex than anyone fully understands, leaving us more exposed than we previously imagined.

via Cyber search engine exposes vulnerabilities – The Washington Post.

Royal blood for America

A vial of Ronald Reagan’s blood was going to be auctioned online.  After a time of outrage, the person who owned the vial–which was taken from the hospital that treated the president after the assassination attempt–had second thoughts and donated it to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

But, as Dana Milbank points out, that means that the blood is in conservative hands.  With the genetic material found in the blood, wouldn’t we be able to clone Ronald Reagan?

All Republican candidates, seemingly, present themselves as Reagan come back.  Why don’t we just take advantage of genetic engineering and come up with the real thing?

Milbank, a liberal, makes the case that today’s conservatives wouldn’t really want another Reagan, that the old one himself would prove too liberal by today’s standards, inasmuch as he occasionally raised taxes, passed environmental regulations, expanded Social Security and Medicare, and often compromised with Democrats.

I think the difference is that conservatives trusted Reagan when he found it necessary to do such things and they don’t trust anyone else.

I suspect it is true that character, let alone politics, is not exclusively in the genes, that it is shaped by life experiences and personal convictions.  But let us assume that by cloning Reagan’s blood, we could get another Reagan.  He would have to grow up first, of course, but in the meantime we could keep cloning so that we had a new version of the same man every eight years.

Such a mindset may account for the archaic notion of “royal blood”–the assumption that the son of a good ruler will be like his father, who, in a sense would still be present in the bloodline.  But cloning would allow us to make a new kind of royal blood.

We could make the Reagan clone a king, in this sense, or we could retain our republic and just vote in another of his clones every four years.  Or, to keep it fair and to keep democracy alive, we could also clone great Democrats.  I’m sure FDR’s hair is on some brush of his in some museum.

This would be the solution of the common complaint today that there are no great leaders today anymore.  We can just use modern technology to manufacture some.

Clone one for the Gipper? – The Washington Post.

New online classical Lutheran school

One of the promising developments in homeschooling is the advent of on-line courses.  Parents can now enroll their children in an entire on-line school or in individual hard-to-teach-on-your-own classes.  A promising venture that many Lutheran homeschoolers are excited about is  Wittenberg Academy, an online classical Lutheran school, featuring strong confessional theology and an academically-rich curriculum for high-schoolers.  After long preparation, Wittenberg Academy is now taking registrations for the Fall.  (Sorry, for the “Michaelmas Term.”  Isn’t that cool, having a “Michaelmas Term”?)  Here is the notice I received:

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! It is with exceeding joy that I share with you the news that registration for the 2012-13 academic year is live!

After much ado about much, we decided to go the simple route for the time being and explore better options in the future for accepting online payments, etc. For now, you can go to http://www.wittenbergacademy.org/registration.html and fill out the online form. Once we receive your registration, we will email you with payment options and a summary of your registration.

As the form is very simple, be sure to check out http://www.wittenbergacademy.org/2012-13course_descriptions.html for any prerequisites and in which term a class is being offered.

At each step of this journey of bringing you the best in online Classical Lutheran education, we trust God for his timing and provision. While our timing would have included live registration several months ago, we trust that this is God’s best for Wittenberg Academy and thank you for your patience.

Here are a few items for your consideration: Michaelmas Term runs September 4, 2012- November 21, 2012 Christmas Term runs November 26, 2012- March 1, 2013 with Christmas break from December 22, 2012- January 6, 2013 Easter Term runs March 11, 2013- May 31, 2013 with Easter break from March 28- April 1 and no class on Memorial Day (May 27)

Each class is one credit with the exception of the Paideia courses, which are three credits. Each credit (class) is $400. Thus, all classes, with the exception of the Paideia courses, are $400.

The Paideia courses are $1200. If you have any questions about registration, be sure to contact me! Again, we thank you for your patience and look forward to partnering with you during the 2012-13 academic year!

Jocelyn

Mrs. Jocelyn Benson, Head Teacher Wittenberg Academy

mrsbenson@wittenbergacademy.org www.wittenbergacademy.org

Courses offered this term include Math (Algebra I, pre-Calculus, & Calculus I&II), Languages (Latin, Greek, & German), Science (biology & chemistry), Liberal Arts (beginning and intermediate courses in grammar, logic, & rhetoric; also several music courses), Theology (“Liturgical Theology & Sacramental Piety”), four levels of “Paideia” (an integrated humanities curriculum, studying history, literature, philosophy, etc.), and electives (Physical Education, Psychology, & Personal Finance).

Another option is for parochial schools to supplement their offerings with some of these online courses.

 

The new religion of Kopimism

A new religion, born of the internet age, is seeking legal recognition:

A Swedish religion whose dogma centers on the belief that people should be free to copy and distribute all information—regardless of any copyright or trademarks—has made its way to the United States.

Followers of so-called “Kopimism” believe copying, sharing, and improving on knowledge, music, and other types of information is only human—the Romans remixed Greek mythology, after all, they say. In January, Kopimism—a play on the words “copy me”—was formally recognized by a Swedish government agency, raising its profile worldwide.

“Culture is something that makes people feel much better and makes people appreciate their world in a different way. Knowledge is also something we should copy regardless of the law,” says Isak Gerson, the 20-year-old founder of Kopimism. “It makes us better when we share knowledge and culture with each other.”

More than 3,500 people “like” Kopimism on Facebook, and thousands more practice its sacred ritual of file sharing. According to its manifesto, private, closed-source software code and anti-piracy software are “comparable to slavery.” Kopimist “Ops,” or spiritual leaders, are encouraged to give counsel to people who want to pirate files, are banned from recording and should encrypt all virtual religious service meetings “because of society’s vicious legislative and litigious persecution of Kopimists.”

Official in-person meetings must happen in places free of anti-Kopimist monitoring and in spaces with the Kopimist symbol—a pyramid with the letter K inside. To be initiated new parishioners must share the Kopimist symbol and say the sacred words “copied and seeded.”

The gospel of the church has begun to spread, with Kopimist branches in 18 countries.

An American branch of the religion was recently registered with Illinois and is in the process of gaining federal recognition, according to Christopher Carmean, a 25-year-old student at the University of Chicago and head of the U.S. branch.

“Data is what we are made of, data is what defines our life, and data is how we express ourselves,” says Carmean. “Forms of copying, remixing, and sharing enhance the quality of life for all who have access to them. Attempts to hinder sharing are antithetical to our data-driven existence.”

About 450 people have registered with his church, and about 30 of them are actively practicing the religion, whose symbols include Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V—the keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste.

via Kopimism, Sweden’s Pirate Religion, Begins to Plunder America – US News and World Report.

We see, of course, what the Kopimists are doing, seeking the legal protections given to religion so that they can pirate music, movies, and the like with impunity.  And when they are prosecuted for internet piracy they can claim religious persecution!

And yet, isn’t this the pattern for the way many people approach religion today?  Their theology is based on what they “like.”  (People don’t like the concept of sin, judgment, and Hell or anything else that would restrict their behavior so they don’t believe in them.)  The Kopimists are simply reasoning backwards, starting with what they like to do and building a religion around it.

What might be some other religions people could construct as a way to justify their bad habits?

How could courts distinguish between these bogus religions and legitimate ones?


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