M.I.T. Establishes New “Big Data” Center!

Dear Commons Community,

Big data and web-analytics continue to capture the attention of corporations, government and education.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has a brief announcement about a new Big Data Center being established at the M.I.T.  As reported in the Chronicle:

“The Massachusetts Institute of Technology today announced a research initiative to tame so-called Big Data, sets of information that are so complex and fast-growing that they defy traditional methods of analysis. Examples are the data involved in online financial transactions of major banks or collected by social networks.

Key to the effort will be the creation of the Intel Science and Technology Center for Big Data, which will reside at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The computer-chip maker Intel will contribute $2.5-million per year for up to five years to support the research center. The lab also plans to work with other companies, including AIG, EMC, SAP, and Thomson Reuters, in the project.”

This is a most interesting field of study for a host of disciplines including computer science, engineering, mathematics, statistics, sociology, and education.



College Graduates – Gaps in American Cities!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article on college graduates and their importance to the economic development of American cities.  It examines cities like Washington D.C. (46.8%) and Stamford, Connecticut, (44%) that  have high percentages of college graduates versus Dayton, Ohio (24.4%) and Bakersfield, California(15%) that have much smaller percentages.  Much of the commentary refers to the cities that relied on companies like General Motors to provide good-paying manufacturing jobs that are now trying to redefine their economies to become more technologically and service-oriented but do not have the educated workforces to do so.   The article makes the point that:

“College graduates are more unevenly distributed in the top 100 metropolitan areas now than they were four decades ago. More adults have bachelor’s degrees, but the difference between the most and least educated metro areas is double what it was in 1970….

“This is one of the most important developments in the recent economic history of this country,” said Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who recently published a book on the topic, “The New Geography of Jobs.”

“There’s a relentless cycle in which knowledge breeds knowledge, but the flip side is that many places are left out,” said Alan Berube, a senior fellow at Brookings who conducted the analysis using census data from the American Community Survey.

Dayton lost about 1 percent of its college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds between 2000 and 2009 at a time when that group grew by 13 percent nationally, said Joe Cortright, senior policy adviser for CEOs for Cities, an economic development group. In Columbus, Ohio, about 70 miles away, the same group grew by 25 percent.”

In addition to economic impact, in a pattern that is part education, part family background, college graduates tend to have longer life expectancies, higher household incomes, lower divorce rates and fewer single-parent families than those with less education, and cities where they cluster tend to exhibit those patterns more strongly.



New Digital Divide Seen in How Young People Use Technology!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article today on a new digital divide based on how young people use media and online technology.  Citing a number of sources, the article comments:

“As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show.

This growing time-wasting gap, policy makers and researchers say, is more a reflection of the ability of parents to monitor and limit how children use technology than of access to it…

“access is not a panacea,” said Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft. “Not only does it not solve problems, it mirrors and magnifies existing problems we’ve been ignoring.”

The article cites a study  published by the Kaiser Family Foundation that found that children and teenagers whose parents do not have a college degree spent 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from higher socioeconomic families. In 1999, the difference was just 16 minutes.  Specifically the study found that children of parents who do not have a college degree spend 11.5 hours each day exposed to media from a variety of sources, including television, computer and other gadgets. That is an increase of 4 hours and 40 minutes per day since 1999.

Children of more educated parents, generally understood as a proxy for higher socioeconomic status, also largely use their devices for entertainment. In families in which a parent has a college education or an advanced degree, Kaiser found, children use 10 hours of multimedia a day, a 3.5-hour jump since 1999. (Kaiser double counts time spent multitasking. If a child spends an hour simultaneously watching TV and surfing the Internet, the researchers counted two hours.)

“Despite the educational potential of computers, the reality is that their use for education or meaningful content creation is minuscule compared to their use for pure entertainment,” said Vicky Rideout, author of the decade-long Kaiser study. “Instead of closing the achievement gap, they’re widening the time-wasting gap.”




New York City Immigrant Communities: Where VHS is King or If It Still Works – Use It!

Dear Commons Community,

In this age of streaming video and Blue-ray discs, the New York Times  has an article on the popularity of VHS videocassettes in the immigrant communities of New York City.  The article describes several neighborhoods as follows:

“The survival of the format may speak to a frugal strain among some immigrants, particularly those who are older, who seem more reluctant to embrace the throwaway, ever-modernizing consumer culture of America. Why upgrade to today’s technology? Those old cassettes do just fine.

“The immigrant very much values what they did not have,” said Orlando Tobón, a leader in the Colombian community of Jackson Heights, Queens, who runs a travel agency and tax-preparation office. “And if it still works, they still use it.”

In Harlem, a Senegalese-owned store stocks cassettes with movies from the expanding African film industry, and at least two shops in Queens, one owned by a Pakistani and the other by a Bangladeshi, supply Bollywood films on videocassette to the borough’s large South Asian population. Latinos with a lingering preference for the format shop at a Peruvian-owned store in Jackson Heights.

In interviews, the stores’ owners said videocassette sales and rentals, though now only a small and shrinking slice of their business, were sustained in part by older immigrants who seemed less inclined than the young to adopt new gadgetry.

A South Korean immigrant named Jesook Choi, 60, another customer at Hwang Jae Video, said she owned a DVD player but never used it.

“Whenever I want to watch, I cannot play it,” Ms. Choi said, as she rented two tapes, both Korean television dramas. Anyway, she added, using videocassettes “feels like an old Korean tradition kind of thing.”

This all makes sense to me.






Alan Simpson: Republicans Need to Learn to Compromise!!

Dear Commons Community,

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) criticized members of his party on Sunday for their unwillingness to compromise on proposed tax increases.

Simpson told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that Republicans’ rigid opposition to new tax revenues has hampered productivity and diminished the chances of reaching an agreement with Democrats on debt reduction.

“You can’t cut spending your way out of this hole,” Simpson, who was appointed as co-chair of President Obama’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in 2010, said. “You can’t grow your way out of this hole, and you can’t tax your way out of this hole. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, we tell these people. This is madness.”

Simpson continued: “If you want to be a purist, go somewhere on a mountaintop and praise the east or something. But if you want to be in politics, you learn to compromise. And you learn to compromise on the issue without compromising yourself. Show me a guy who won’t compromise and I’ll show you a guy with rock for brains.”

“I guess I’m known as a RINO now, which means a Republican in name only, because, I guess, of social views, perhaps, or common sense would be another one, which seems to escape members of our party,” Simpson said. “For heaven’s sake, you have Grover Norquist wandering the earth in his white robes saying that if you raise taxes one penny, he’ll defeat you. He can’t murder you. He can’t burn your house. The only thing he can do to you, as an elected official, is defeat you for reelection. And if that means more to you than your country when we need patriots to come out in a situation when we’re in extremity, you shouldn’t even be in Congress.”

Yes and thank you Sen. Simpson!


George Will: Donald Trump a “Bloviating Ignoramus”!!

Dear Commons Community,

George Will, conservative voice, Pulitzer Prize Winning Washington Post columnist, and ABC commentator  has a less than high opinion of Donald Trump.  On ABC’s “This Week” Will criticized Donald Trump’s role in Mitt Romney’s campaign calling the real estate mogul a ”bloviating ignoramus.”

Trump endorsed Romney in the Republican presidential race in February. He is scheduled to appear with Romney at a May 29 fundraiser in Las Vegas, even as the Romney campaign refutes his claims that President Obama was not born in the U.S. Trump recently raised his birther views again in a new interview.

On Sunday, “This Week” moderator Jake Tapper wondered if Trump hurt Romney’s efforts to convince voters to “take him seriously.”

“I do not understand the cost benefit here,” Will lamented. “The costs are clear. The benefit — what voter is gonna vote for Romney because he is seen with Donald Trump. The cost of appearing with this bloviating ignoramus is obvious it seems to me.”  Will continued, “Donald Trump is redundant evidence that if your net worth is high enough, your IQ can be very low and you can still intrude into American politics. Again, I don’t understand the benefit. What is Romney seeking?”



Ross Douhat on the Facebook Illusion!

Dear Commons Community,

There has been so much commentary on the Facebook I.P.O.  during the last two weeks that it was difficult to follow all of the comings and goings.  What started as the Wall Street deal of the century ended in a fiasco and many people losing a good deal of money.  Ross Douhat provides a sober view of all of this in his New York Times column this morning.  Here is a sample:

“I will confess to taking a certain amount of dyspeptic pleasure from Facebook’s hard landing, which had Bloomberg Businessweek declaring the I.P.O. “the biggest flop of the decade” after five days of trading. Of all the major hubs of Internet-era excitement, Mark Zuckerberg’s social networking site has always struck me as one of the most noxious, dependent for its success on the darker aspects of online life: the zeal for constant self-fashioning and self-promotion, the pursuit of virtual forms of “community” and “friendship” that bear only a passing resemblance to the genuine article, and the relentless diminution of the private sphere in the quest for advertising dollars.

But even readers who love Facebook, or at least cannot imagine life without it, should see its stock market failure as a sign of the commercial limits of the Internet. As The New Yorker’s John Cassidy pointed out in one of the more perceptive prelaunch pieces, the problem is not that Facebook doesn’t make money. It’s that it doesn’t make that much money, and doesn’t have an obvious way to make that much more of it, because (like so many online concerns) it hasn’t figured out how to effectively monetize its million upon millions of users. The result is a company that’s successful, certainly, but whose balance sheet is much less impressive than its ubiquitous online presence would suggest.”

Tough commentary for a lot of Facebook investors!



Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe – A Good Read!!

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading George Dyson latest book, Turing’s Cathedral:   The Origins of the Digital Universe.  It is a first-rate account of the early years of computing at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton.  All the key characters of the development of the first computers:  John von Newman, Alan Turing, Mauchley and Ekert, Robert Oppenheimer, and Edward Teller are included.  The book carefully provides insight into the relationship between the first computers and building of the atom bomb.  Dyson interviewed several people present at the Institute during von Neumann’s tenure there, including his own father, the physicist Freeman Dyson.  It also includes lesser-known but nonetheless important individuals such as Klári von Neumann (John’s wife), a socialite who became one of the world’s first machine-language programmers and committed suicide by downing cocktails before walking into the Pacific surf in a black dress.

In addition to the luminaries, it was fun reading about the trials and tribulations of working with punched cards, computers with 4K of memory, programs stored on paper tape, machine language coding, etc.   I am not ashamed to say I started my career with the same type of technology at Hunter College in the Bronx later Lehman College in the 1960s.

I highly recommend Turing’s Cathedral… as a good summer read.




New York State Approaching “Educational Insolvency”!

Dear Commons Community,

Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, has an opinion piece in the New York Times, criticizing Governor Mario Cuomo and the cuts being made in New York State education aid.

“Governor Cuomo has promoted himself as a leader in education policy. His mastery of Albany’s famously dysfunctional politics has made him one of the nation’s rising political stars. But the results in the classroom do not match his rhetoric — and unless our state government changes course on education funding policy, they never will.”

Easton provides the following example:

“In one recent, glaring case, the valedictorian of a rural school district outside Rochester was rejected by a nearby State University of New York campus — not because her grades were too low, but because her high school didn’t offer the courses needed to compete for college admission.

Such stories are becoming increasingly common across New York State. Poor school districts are being forced to cut electives, remedial tutoring, foreign languages and other programs and services to balance budgets. Many schools in less prosperous areas face what the state commissioner of education calls “educational insolvency…”

Simultaneously, Mr. Cuomo has been a proponent of trendy “market reforms,” like increasing the role of standardized tests in evaluating teachers and using the same tests to make school districts compete with one another for resources. These so-called reforms may be cheaper, but they are no substitute for proven programs that are being cut.”