Obama’s data mining

Yesterday we posted about mining “big data,” how corporations, politicians, and researchers are delving into Twitter, Google,  Facebook, and other online information to forecast trends, target customers, and gain various competitive advantages.  Well, it turns out that the Obama campaign is mining such data on voters on a massive, unprecedented scale.  Politico’s Lois Romano reports:

On the sixth floor of a sleek office building here, more than 150 techies are quietly peeling back the layers of your life. They know what you read and where you shop, what kind of work you do and who you count as friends. They also know who your mother voted for in the last election.

The depth and breadth of the Obama campaign’s 2012 digital operation — from data mining to online organizing — reaches so far beyond anything politics has ever seen, experts maintain, that it could impact the outcome of a close presidential election. It makes the president’s much-heralded 2008 social media juggernaut — which raised half billion dollars and revolutionized politics — look like cavemen with stone tablets.

Mitt Romney indeed is ramping up his digital effort after a debilitating primary and, for sure, the notion that Democrats have a monopoly on cutting edge technology no longer holds water.

But it’s also not at all clear that Romney can come close to achieving the same level of technological sophistication and reach as his opponent. (The campaign was mercilessly ridiculed last month when it rolled out a new App misspelling America.)

“It’s all about the data this year and Obama has that. When a race is as close as this one promises to be, any small advantage could absolutely make the difference,” says Andrew Rasiej, a technology strategist and publisher of TechPresident. “More and more accurate data means more insight, more money, more message distribution, and more votes.”

Adds Nicco Mele, a Harvard professor and social media guru: “The fabric of our public and political space is shifting. If the Obama campaign can combine its data efforts with the way people now live their lives online, a new kind of political engagement — and political persuasion — is possible.”

Launched two weeks ago, Obama’s newest innovation is the much anticipated “Dashboard” , a sophisticated and highly interactive platform that gives supporters a blueprint for organizing, and communicating with each other and the campaign.

In addition, by harnessing the growing power of Facebook and other online sources, the campaign is building what some see as an unprecedented data base to develop highly specific profiles of potential voters. This allows the campaign to tailor messages directly to them — depending on factors such as socio-economic level, age and interests.

The data also allows the campaign to micro-target a range of dollar solicitations online depending on the recipient. In 2008, the campaign was the first to maximize online giving — raising hundreds of millions of dollars from small donors. This time, they are constantly experimenting and testing to expand the donor base.

via Obama’s data advantage – Lois Romano – POLITICO.com.

Do you think all of this data the president’s campaign is collecting is a game changer or ultimately trivial?  Does gathering so much information about you for political purposes bother you?

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.

 


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