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. . . .

Not knowing if you are a Christian

Picking up on some earlier discussion, I came across this list of ways that a person can know whether or not they have been truly saved.  They are from a book by Jim Wilson entitled (ironically, it seems to me) Assurance of Salvation:

1. The Holy Spirit seals, guarantees, and assures us (1 Jn. 4:13, Rom. 8:16-17, Eph. 1:13-14, 2 Cor. 5:5, 1 Cor. 2:11-16).

2. Change of Character: read the lists of the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:19-25. Which list characterizes you? Jesus saves out of the first list into the second.

3. Confessing Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3, Rom. 10:9-10, Lk. 6:45).

4. Obedience: People who are saved obey Jesus (1 Jn. 3:6, 3:9-10, 5:18, 2:3).

5. Discipline: If you are getting away with disobedience, you are not a child of God. If you are being disciplined, pay attention and repent (Heb. 12:5-11).

6. Loving Christians: People who have passed from death to life love the brothers and it’s obvious to everyone (1 Jn. 3:14, Jn. 13:34-35).

7. Loving Enemies: Sinners can act with civility; saints are enabled to imitate their Father in heaven (Lk. 6:27-36).

8. Jesus said so: If you hear the word of Jesus and believe in Him, then you have eternal life, you have crossed from death to life (Jn. 5:24).

via Assurances of Salvation | Having Two Legs.

The poster, Toby Sumpter, to his credit, adds Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to the list, but Heaven help us!   People aren’t sure whether or not they are Christians?   It’s not enough to, you know, have faith in Jesus?

I realize that Christians who don’t think the sacraments do anything have to make check -off lists, but how horrible!   I want to ask those who go by a list like this, how are you doing with these?  Has your character been changed enough?  How’s your discipline? How are you getting along with your fellow Christians?  How are you getting along with your enemies?

Doesn’t this circle right back to salvation by works?  Can this formula for attaining “assurance” do anything but drive an honest Christian to despair?

That can only be a good thing if it drives you to the Cross of Jesus Christ, who has done all of this for you!

The problem with such exercises is that they end up DESTROYING faith, whereas faith is exactly what those who are struggling with such questions need.  That is to say, MORE trust, confidence, assurance in the Gospel of what Christ has freely done for them.


Congress letting bureaucrats make the laws

Another practice in which Congress evades its constitutional responsibilities:  Passing laws that consist largely of vague frameworks and enabling bureaucrats from the executive branch to fill in the blanks with the substance of the law.  George Will on a bill that would put regulations back under Congressional scrutiny:

John Marini of the University of Nevada, Reno, writes in the Claremont Review of Books that the 2,500-page Obamacare legislation exemplifies current lawmaking, which serves principally to expand the administrative state’s unfettered discretion. Congress merely established the legal requirements necessary to create a vast executive-branch administrative apparatus to formulate rules governing health care’s 18 percent of the economy.

The Hudson Institute’s Chris DeMuth, in an essay for National Affairs quarterly, notes that Congress often contents itself with enacting “velleities” such as the wish in the 900-page Dodd-Frank financial reform act that “all consumers have access to markets for consumer financial products and services . . . [that are] fair, transparent, and competitive.” How many legislators voting for the bill even read this language? And how many who did understood that they were authorizing federal rulemakers to micromanage overdraft fees? In Dodd-Frank, Obamacare and much else, the essential lawmaking is done off Capitol Hill by unaccountable bureaucratic rulemaking.

via A check on the regulatory state – The Washington Post.

Classical Lutheran education conference

Come to  The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education conference, July 17-19, 2012, at Memorial Lutheran Church & School in Houston, Texas.    I’ll be there!   Here is a summary of what’s on tap:

Plenary Speakers
Rev. Todd Wilken of Issues, Etc., for discussions on essential matters of Lutheran education
Dr. Gene Edward Veith for insights and commentary on classical education

Session Leaders include…

Dr. E. Christian Kopff with a discussion of Milton’s essay, “On Education”

Rev. Dr. Steven Hein on matters of apologetics and Lutheran theology

Rev. Mark Preus on teaching Latin

Tim Merritt on teaching the Great Books

Dr. James Tallmon on the Trivium

Mrs. Jackie Veith on the Quadrivium

Dr. Gene Edward Veith in a session on the Family and Vocation from his new book

Janet Muth on Teaching Music Classically

Cheryl Swope on Classical and Lutheran Education with the Special-Needs Child

Rev. Stephen Kieser on Teaching History and Literature in the Home School

Kelly Rottmann on Efficiency in the Home School

Rev. Mark Grunst, Praying the Catechism with Children

Rev. Dan Praeuner with a cost-effective homeschool/school hybrid approach to
classical and Lutheran education

Jocelyn Benson from Wittenberg Academy

and more….

Registration covers sessions from noon 7/17 – noon 7/19, as well as membership
in CCLE, the Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education.

For more information, please visit,


HT:  Cheryl Swope

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!

The Juvenilization of American Christianity

The latest issue of Christianity Today has a brilliant cover story that accounts for much of what we see in American churches today.  A century and more ago, many Protestant churches adjusted their worship and their ministries to accord with something that at first was quite separate:  the revival meeting.  (My historical parallel.)   Now churches have adjusted their worship and ministries to accord with another separate activity:  youth group!  But, of course, there is more to it than that.  From the article by Thomas E. Bergler [subscription required, but here is the opening]:

The house lights go down. Spinning, multicolored lights sweep the auditorium. A rock band launches into a rousing opening song. “Ignore everyone else, this time is just about you and Jesus,” proclaims the lead singer. The music changes to a slow dance tune, and the people sing about falling in love with Jesus. A guitarist sporting skinny jeans and a soul patch closes the worship set with a prayer, beginning, “Hey God …” The spotlight then falls on the speaker, who tells entertaining stories, cracks a few jokes, and assures everyone that “God is not mad at you. He loves you unconditionally.”

After worship, some members of the church sign up for the next mission trip, while others decide to join a small group where they can receive support on their faith journey. If you ask the people here why they go to church or what they value about their faith, they’ll say something like, “Having faith helps me deal with my problems.”

Fifty or sixty years ago, these now-commonplace elements of American church life were regularly found in youth groups but rarely in worship services and adult activities. What happened? Beginning in the 1930s and ’40s, Christian teenagers and youth leaders staged a quiet revolution in American church life that led to what can properly be called the juvenilization of American Christianity. Juvenilization is the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for adults. It began with the praiseworthy goal of adapting the faith to appeal to the young, which in fact revitalized American Christianity. But it has sometimes ended with both youth and adults embracing immature versions of the faith.

via When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Bergler goes on to document how that happened, including the larger cultural trend of American adults in general becoming more like adolescents.  The cover story  (who can identify who is pictured on the cover?) includes some responses by a megachurch pastor, a researcher, and a cultural critic (David Zahl of, all of whom say that Bergler’s thesis is basically right (though Zahl, being a Lutheran fellow-traveler, issues some caveats about definitions of spiritual “maturity”).

The article is adapted from Bergler’s new book on the subject: The Juvenilization of American Christianity.  It is a ground-breaking analysis, one of those explanations that accounts for virtually all of the phenomena and  that seems so obvious, once you hear it, though you had never thought of it before.