A lot of people use cell phones and other mobile devices. No news there. What is news is the increase in cases of personal injury resulting from people hurting themselves while using those gadgets. If there is something called distracted driving, there is also something called distracted walking. Hospital ER admissions for DW injuries have increased quite a bit, and it’s not surprising. You see folks starting down at their hands and you wonder why so many people are doing that until you realize that it’s not the hand, per se, that’s being observed, but what’s in the hand. People can get so caught up in this that they walk into poles, trees, benches, other humans who are also so caught up that they can’t avert the collision either. You may have seen the video of the woman coming out of a building, gadget in hand, eyes down, moving straight ahead until she ran up against and then fell into a fountain! The bit got a lot of play but they lady didn’t think it was funny. She sued, saying the video made her look foolish. The judge dismissed, saying, No, you made yourself look foolish.
Facebook is something I don’t get. I’m sorry. I guess it’s and age thing, but I just don’t want to put personal information up in some leaky digital archive, where I can be even more profiled, mined and otherwise processed for the benefit of people who want to sell me things. The quarterly earnings for FB were below what the mob expected: FB was supposed to be a money machine and make all its stockholders rich, rich, rich! Well, it may and it may not. An analyst I was half listening to on the way home said that the company’s problems are mainly two: its costs are very high and it has not yet figured out a way to bring in enough revenue to offset those and enrich shareholders. This second problem is said to rest on the failure to develop or buy a technique allowing ad messages on mobile phones. FB was planned with desktop/laptop devices as the user’s device of entry. But mobiles are quickly outpacing ‘computers’ as users’ devices of entry and being unable to exploit that is a problem for FB. Or so said the lady on Market Place, and she sounded pretty smart. The quick-paced ruthlessness of modern techno-capitalism means that some rivals smell blood in the water, or think they do, and are moving in to bite off some of the company’s user base. The link below takes you to a story in which five potential contenders for Facebook’s competition are quickly profiled. OK, everybody, let’s belly up to the bar and have a stiff shot of skepticism. Industry observers have to fill column inches or whatever they’re called nowadays. And there is no such thing as an industry observer who keeps quiet until s/he has something useful to say. Does not exist. Can’t. Reality (why do they call those obviously staged and atrociously phony programs “reality” shows? They’re as real as Ruritania. Anyway). Tuck this fact away for future reference.
The current issue of Nature has an article about the problem of false positive results, and how to minimize the fall-out from such events. It struck me as no-nonsense, even rather stern in tone. In effect, the message is that there will be cases of false positive results, and some of these will be published. Later work will show that the report was factually incorrect. So? So, deal with it! That’s part of the gig. No, it’s not pleasant to have somebody else inform you that your results are wrong, and it’s no fun either when you find it out for yourself. But, it cannot be avoided. However, maybe some, or even a lot, of the errors can be avoided by the exercise of more critical, sceptical thinking in the face of unusual results. Quality control and error checking are sometimes scouted in the rush to get what seems like a find out into the literature. But, face it; the odds are against you. So, be careful. Check, check and double check. Then write.
People who watch financial matters closely, and advise other people, have come to count on Apple. It’s the closest thing to a sure-fire, iron-clad winner you can bet money on. And, the company has delivered pretty consistently. Apple’s valuation is very high, I think it’s even the highest. Everybody on the Street loves Apple, yessir! Be A Winner, and everybody’s your pal.Until they don’t, and your not. Apple’s reported earnings were lower than what analysts expected and had predicted. So, what went wrong? How come the money machine didn’t deliver? Well, the sale of Iphones was down, rather considerably, and that depressed corporate earnings enough to annoy the Dark Powers. But, it seems that the customers’s expectations for the slated release of the Iphone5 are so high that the anticipation has swayed enough users away from purchase of the Iphone 4. The new gadget is supposed to come out this fall, I think, and people are deferring their decision until the 5 has come out, so that they can’t look at it before making up their minds.
Years ago, before television, and way before the Internet/web, people went to movies. The movies had rapidly devolved into several sub-genres: my father used to refer to them with various names, many ending in “er”. So, it’s a gangster picture, or a monster picture, a weeper (sentimental, romance,) an oater (cowboys). Each genre had its rules and canons, and it was expected that the story would unfold within these guidelines. What a bummer for creativity, you say! Well, it was more like Kabuki theater. You did it within the rules, and therein lay the art. In the detective or private eye picture, the Damsel in Distress would show up at the cop/gumshoe’s desk and explain why she felt threatened. Nine times out of ten, at some point in the exposition, she would exclaim: ” I feel like I’m being watched!”. Well, Malte Spitz is a German politician who was feeling that way too. Herr Spitz seems a jovial guy, but his “Gemuetlichkeit” evaporated when he began to wonder what his cell phone carrier was keeping in its files about him. He found out and began raising holy hell! Maybe we should follow his example.
And not just any writer, either. It’s Ursula K.Le Guin, the grande dame SciFi or SpecFic, whichever moniker you prefer. The lady is not happy about the way things are going in publishing and about the way writers are worked over by publishers and their marketing arms to have their books conform to some kind of standard that will please a certain ‘demographic’. That’s the word you hear a lot from increasingly frantic TV execs, trying to drum up hit shows, so that their networks can charge advertisers a bazillion bucks to air ads for deodorant or tooth paste or car insurance other life-enhancing product. So, her publishers have tired to sand bag her with ‘make it more like Harry Potter’ noises. She won’t bite. Amid the obiter dicta are some observations about the now defunct Google Book Deal. It may not be technically true that the deal is over, but I think for practical purposes, it is. In theory the parties to the suit could return to court with a revision that might satisfy the presiding judge’s many, many objections, but that’s not the way the smart money is betting. UKL is the author of a number of unusual SciFi books, unusual for their time, that is. She was a trail blazer for women writers in SpecFic. And she helped move it away from rocket ships and slimy green things on other planets. Now at age 82, she no longer conducts writers’ seminars. The economic outlook for writers is too bleak in her judgment to allow anyone from encouraging others to take up the pen as a vocation.
The Internet and American Life is a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, a foundation cum think-tank that studies various topics of concern, and reports on outlooks and trends. Their surveys are generally well-regarded and often listened to with attention by those in High Places. Recently, the project released a report on Big Data, a topic that seems to be on the minds of a great many people, and rightly so. Some of the minds are a bit late to the party. As is often the case, it takes a lot of wild gesturing to catch the attention of those who are preoccupied with recessions, wars, revolutions, and elections. And the urgency and immediacy may blunt concern about something that’s a bit abstract, either as a threat or an opportunity. The bare fact is that modern information systems allow the collection and organization of many details about individual persons who perform quite trivial interactions: buying shoes, or books or renting movies. Is it acceptable for companies or for government agencies to keep this information, organize, re-use it, sell it to some third party? Or is all this nobody’s business, and should all record of those transactions be purged? We don’t want to back into a posture, simply out of convenience, out of a habit of ducking difficult questions, which habit might one day it might no longer be possible to change.
The Economist reports that a new journal, with some very hitters as backers, is aborning. Named eLife, the mag is aiming high. It wants to crowd out Nature as Numero Uno. That is a tall order. The backers of eLife are Britain’s Wellcome Trust, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Max Planck Institute in Germany. This latter body is an umbrella organization that supervises many of that country’s major research sites. Based on an open-access model, the journal will be freely available to all, and will not assess a manuscript submission fee, at least for the first several years. The backers will pick up all manuscript processing costs. Other aspects of the current scitech journal business are also quickly reviewed in the article, so it’s worth a read.
This is the link to the eLife website, which states that the first issue of the journal is due this winter…no date.
Paradise, in this case, is the campus of the University of Virginia, founded by one Thomas Jefferson. And the particular venue for the Rapture of Book Nerds is the university library, where the Rare Book School takes place each summer. Today’s Arts section of the New York Times has an article describing the course of study, and profiling some of the participants and faculty. It can be a pretty grueling five weeks. Not only is Charlottesville hot and muggy, but the work is demanding. Instructors are drawn from the country’s major research libraries, and the university library’s own collection of rarities is exploited to teach the students all about it: paper, ink, the kind of presses used, how the pages were laid out, printed, folded and cut. In short, the works. Many of the items used in the session are rare indeed, and all originated in the period when printing was manual labor in the strictest sense. Mechanized procedures didn’t come into use until the time of the steam engine. All those processes had their own techniques, and all left signatures, so to speak, about who did what and when. Most of the participants are in the biz: librarians, book dealers, antiquarians, etc. But, a few are dedicated buffs who do it out of pure love.
Ars technica has a good story, written with the tongue firmly in cheek, about how the raw novice can get a start in the cool world of scientific fraud. The writer has studied the career of the person likely to walk off with the title of World’s Most Productive Fraudster, an anesthesiologists from Japan. The doctor’s body count is over 200…that is 200 publications withdrawn from the academic record. Based on a review of what the Doctor did, the AT author comes up with a handful of basic principles which will help Young Fakers everywhere get a leg up on the competition. Among these are: get co-authors, as many as possible, and from several institutions. Any misconduct investigation is undertake reluctantly, and with trepidation, so the more people, and places, in the the author line, the less clear it is about who should do what, and excuses for inaction multiply. Another is to publish perfectly unremarkable results. The worst thing for a fraudster is to have somebody say…”Hmmm, that’s odd”. It gets curiosity going and that’s bad. Never plagiarize. And, for Heaven’s sake, watch the images. Some perfectly good frauds were blown because of carelessness about images. Read it here: