Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Charles Simic’s “Portable Hell”

In his latest NYRB article, Simic describes grimly the kind of hell “that can fit comfortably inside your head, despite the vast crowds of the damned and all that fire and smoke, is what you end up with after reading the world news these days.” Yes, the news these days can be a bit hard to digest, or even follow faithfully with so many depressing “stories” unfolding simultaneously around the globe. But there is an easy solution to this. All Simic needs to do is spend more time reading the “Fixes” blog on the NYT web site, and follow people like Bill Gates, Jeffrey Sachs, and Steven Pinker on Twitter, etc. – as opposed to watching obsessively all the endless images of dead children and grandparents he mentions.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

For Big-Data Scientists, ‘Janitor Work’ Is Key Hurdle to Insights

This is the title of a new NYT article reflecting the view from then data trenches. It says “data scientists, according to interviews and expert estimates, spend from 50 percent to 80 percent of their time mired in this more mundane labor of collecting and preparing unruly digital data, before it can be explored for useful nuggets.” One data executive, “whose sensor-filled wristband and software track activity, sleep and food consumption, and suggest dietary and health tips based on the numbers,” complains how little this aspect of data analysis is appreciated by “data civilians.” The solution? But, of course – (almost) full automation of data collection, an effort spearheaded by a few promising startups. And how about all the research suggesting that insight is linked to intuition, and excessive analysis and overthinking – and particularly formal modeling – tend to suppress these “softer” aptitudes? I suspect most “data scientists” will hardly worry about this.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tyranny of the #algorithm?

A NYT article carries the following ominous title: “As Work Shifts Vary, Family’s Only Constant Is Chaos.” And this is the teaser which appears online under it: “Increasing numbers of low-income mothers and fathers are at the center of a new collision that pits workplace scheduling technology against the routines of parenting.” No prizes for guessing the ultimate winner…

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Comedic genius and mental illness

The Scientific American web site carries an article/blog post under the following title: “Robin Williams’s Comedic Genius Was Not a Result of Mental Illness, but His Suicide Was.” The author, Scott Barry Kaufman, is a recognized authority on creativity. I am wondering why he didn’t think/write of Shelley Carson’s “shared vulnerability” theory to which he has referred in the past.  In a nutshell, Carson’s theory (which she recently outlined for the lay public in Scientific American) states that extremely creative individuals and those suffering from schizophrenia and a few other mental maladies have similar neurosomatic predispositions. I guess after each suicide or semi-suicide by a particularly gifted celebrity Shelley is tempted to sigh: “I told you so!”