Pages

Monday, August 18, 2014

Data Scientists Complain that No One Has Made them Obsolete Yet

In this corner, the New York Times:
"For Big-Data Scientists, ‘Janitor Work’ Is Key Hurdle to Insights"
"We really need better tools so we can spend less time on data wrangling and get to the sexy stuff,” said Michael Cavaretta, a data scientist at Ford Motor, which has used big data analysis to trim inventory levels and guide changes in car design.
And in this corner, Tyler Cowen:
"What are humans still good for? The turning point in Freestyle chess may be approaching
...even the most talented humans move from being very real contributors to being strictly zero marginal product.  Or negative marginal product, as the case may be.
And of course this has implications for more traditional labor markets as well.  You might train to help a computer program read medical scans, and for thirteen years add real value with your intuition and your ability to revise the computer’s mistakes or at least to get the doctor to take a closer look.  But it takes more and more time for you to improve on the computer each year.  And then one day…poof!  ZMP for you.
The data wrangling (or "janitor work") is the sexy stuff. Complaining that no one has automated 50%-80% of your job is an interesting perspective  why do you think they would stop anywhere short of 100%?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Tale of Two Countries

Sure, America is pretty awesome.

But did you know just how awesome?

Here's the U.K. version of Cher Lloyd's "Want U Back"


It's a song about girl who is upset that her ex-boyfriend has found someone new. Designed for a U.K. audience, she spends the video moping around her apartment (flat?), remembering how things used to be.

Now, what does that video look like when they release it in the U.S.?


Same song; same girl. But this time, she starts the video by assembling her crew, they confront the new girl at work, and it wraps up at the police station where she's facing criminal charges — but it was totally worth it.

U-S-A!
U-S-A!
U-S-A!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Brief History of Secrets

Rhonda Byrne's "The Secret" is anything but. The Law of Attraction principles on which her book is based have been widely published for over a century. Right now, Amazon has over 3,000 books on the "Law of Attraction." More than 2,000 of them have been around before Byrne's Secret.

Law of Attraction proponents are not unlike faith healers, only without the added bother of having to worship God. Be happy, and you attract happiness into your life. If it doesn't work for you, then you must subconsiously be sending out negative energy, the same way that some Christians will spend the rest of their lives in that wheelchair, because they don't truly believe.

Here are a few books from the genre:

Ask and it is Given, A New Beginning (I & II), The Law of Attraction: The Basics of the Teachings of Abraham, etc.
Written by:
Jerry & Esther Hicks, a pair of Hicks with an imaginary friend.
Admittedly influenced by:Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (1937)1.
Noteworthy because: Abraham, the spirit guide for Jerry and Esther Hicks is not one person, but a collection of entities that speak through Esther. Originally, he/they started talking through Esther by making her write with her nose, which was done out of love, not some malicious impulse to make her look silly. Honest. Now you can attend workshops to hear Abraham actually speak through Esther, for a modest fee.

Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting
Written by: Lynne Grabhorn, a quitter.
Admittedly influenced by: While she viewed the Abraham-Hicks books as "new but provincial teachings from [an] unlettered, unscientific family of teachers"(p.ix), she still admits that she's "reissued... the profoundly simple teachings from the Hicks family in Texas"(p.x).
Noteworthy because: After contracting a terminal illness, allegedly gaining a grotesque amount of weight, and living in constant pain, she committed suicide2. Detractors say that if she was so great at "manifesting," she should have used her power to heal herself. However, the truly faithful know that this is undeniable proof that she had become so powerful at turning her thoughts into reality that a moment's inattention manifested something incurable.

The Cosmic Ordering Service
Written by: Barbel Mohr, a boy-crazy German.
Admittedly influenced by: A "friend," who "had read a book about positive thinking and suggested that [Mohr] imagine the perfect man [...] and just ask the universe to send him"(p.1).
Noteworthy because: After losing his wife and his job, British "celebrity" Noel Edmonds read Barbel's book and wished for a new hit show3. He was later picked to host the UK's "Deal or no Deal," which means that Mohr's book resurrected 2 careers, Edmonds' and Howie Mandel's. However, Mandel has refused to recognize the book as being influential for his career, and without celebrity endorsements to cement it firmly in the minds of the American public, the book has not sold nearly as well in the US.

The Secret
Written by: Rhonda Byrne, the Australian who secretly hates us all.
Admittedly influenced by: The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles. (1910)4
Noteworthy because: It's the perfect storm of marketing techniques. It's packaged to look suitably old and obscure, like it really is a secret. It's well titled. "Think Your Way Rich" or "Visualize Your Dreams" can turn people off as too new-age, but everyone wants to know a secret. Plus, there's a handy DVD available, so sub-literate mouth-breathers never have to bother with the printed word. Once Oprah gave it her stamp of approval, the amount of money it made increased exponentially from obscene like a back issue of Hustler to obscene like retarded siblings fucking in costumes on stage at a NAMBLA convention.
A cynic might suggest that these were all calculated moves designed to make the book a bestseller, but the counter-argument is that Rhonda just used the law to attract savvy marketers who helped promote her book.


1 Discussed here, in an article that also describes the nose writing.

2 She even left a note.

3 Seriously.

4 Mentioned in both the linked article, and here.

I read all 10 books of the Mission: Earth series

That’s not meant to be boastful. I wouldn’t tell anyone else to try it, and in fact I am making this post as a cautionary statement intended to help others.*

I found nothing objectionable with the premise. A superadvanced alien civilization has established a timetable for the conquest of the universe. A routine scouting mission has realized that Earth civilization is so insane and backwards that by the time the aliens arrive to conquer it, humans will have consumed, misused, and/or destroyed anything worth claiming (I think that this was a problem for the aliens because they needed the planet in good shape to use it as a refueling base, or something). Without alerting Earth to their presence, the aliens have to keep us alive long enough to enslave us. Oh, it also won’t be too tough for them to walk among us since we’re visually identical, thanks to some throwaway sideplot about how life on earth was actually started by rebels fleeing the alien empire.

At first, the narrative device seemed innovative. The books start off as the transcription of a confession, and the primary narrator** is revealed to be a selfish, greedy, depraved wretch who worked for the “Coordinated Information Apparatus,” a government organization that covertly employs bribery, torture, and assassination nominally to protect the government, but actually to consolidate its own power (and its initials are CIA. Get it?). The CIA wants to maintain the status quo for their own nefarious ends, so the books are a first-person account their efforts to stop the hero who has been appointed to fix things.

From the point of view of the narrator, the graft, extortion, imprisonment, fraud, psychosis, and widespread corruption encountered in the alien society are unremarkable; it is then supposed to be funny when he is shocked to encounter extreme versions of the same on earth, as if we have let things get so bad that even an amoral psychopath thinks we’ve gone too far. Larded throughout are also grade-school crudities and efforts at toilet humor, like the two nymphomaniac circus performers named “Cun” and “Twa,” or the cross-dressing homosexual Russian “Colonel Gaylov.”

Observing the hero through the eyes of someone on the villain’s side is an interesting idea, and has been done before with positive results (see also: Black Company). The problem with the Mission Earth books is that both its narrators are completely devoid of any sympathetic characteristics, and both of them believe in relating the action by way of the “tell, don’t show” school of writing***. Conflicts and plot points are rushed and one-sided. The work’s flaws turn out to be an inadvertent blessing as readers are forced to endure:

-A rogue alien geneticist, who is sadistic and depraved (and we know this because we are point-blank told it by the narrator) is regarded as a leading light in earth psychiatry because he preaches that sex is evil, electroshock and lobotomies should be routine medical procedures, and pregnant women are so morally corrupt that they can only be redeemed by death.

-The narrator rapes two lesbians straight (only after being driven to it because they withheld his salary, and they bound him and tortured him extensively). These ex-lesbians love straight sex so much that they keep the narrator hostage in their home, insisting that he rape all their friends.

-One of the ex-lesbians “recruits” an underage girl who propels herself headlong into full depravity, eventually traveling from earth to the alien homeworld to turn all the children of the alien nobles and government officials into bisexual catamite thralls.

-The narrator is dazzled by a mysterious concubine who remains sexually distant and insists on making love with the lights off, and who is later revealed to be a man.

Every one of these sequences was a chore to read****. There are aliens, necrophilia, spaceships, bestiality, faster-than-light travel, sodomy, and erotic mutilation, all relayed in the most tedious fashion possible by a contrived narrator whose unconscious attempts to be funny are all too clearly conscious efforts on the author’s behalf.

While I am unable to discern the fine nuances differentiating satire and parody, I know that neither term apply to these books. I would instead describe them as a gross burlesque that thinks itself a madcap send-up of everything it perceives to be wrong with contemporary society. Big oil has a stranglehold on the planet. The wealthy have more power than governments. The public is gullible and willing to follow anyone with a slick message. When you include the book’s depiction of psychiatry as subverting the natural order of things to pursue a secret agenda, it begins to look less like a work of fiction and more like an extended soapbox rant.

Avoid this series, especially if you’re someone who can’t quit reading something until it’s finished.




*Specifically, others who need written warnings to keep them from doing things like giving the finger to a gang of bikers, selling drugs to grade schoolers, or licking electrical sockets.

**He changes to a secondary narrator for the last few books, for reasons that aren’t worth bothering to explain.

***My argument would be strengthened by actual quotes from the books, but I just can’t do it. I wouldn’t turn back through those pages for all the tea in China, black-market snack cakes in fat camp, booze at an Elks club meeting, etc.

****While it is fair to note that I have only chosen to highlight the most deviant sexual practices contained within the series, my counterpoint would be that there is little else in them that is memorable. All of the physical problems on Earth are solved by superadvanced alien techno-magic, leaving the hero and the narrator to grapple with Earth’s backwards cultural attitudes for the majority of the books.

Worst Book Misconception Ever: MAMista

PROTIP FOR PEOPLE WHO DO NOT SPEAK SPANISH: "Mamacita" and "Mamista" are two completely different terms, even though moderately filtered Google Image Search will deliver cheesecake photo results on the first page of the search results for both of them. The first is Spanish for "little mama," and the second is a shitty thriller by Len Deighton set in South America.

After misreading the title, I dug myself into a deeper hole by barely skimming the jacket copy, which mentioned Graham Greene. I always get Graham Green confused with Evelyn Waugh (don't ask), so I expected something like Scoop crossed with Our Man in Havana. The garish cover didn't help. It made me think of South American hijinks on par with a novelization of Club Paradise, where a plucky band of misfits topple a corrupt government and free a country from the yoke of big business, with wacky adventures and possible comedic subplots involving fake pregnancies, subverted gender roles, and mistaken identity.

I was very, very wrong. By the time I figured it out, it was easier just to finish the book. SPOILER ALERT Here's what happened:

The male lead? Dead.

The love interest? Dead.

The guerillas? Ultimately losing a war of attrition on two fronts against the government and the untreated afflictions of the pestilential rainforest, presumed dead.

The two Americans abducted in a guerilla raid? The civilian grinds up his eyeglasses and swallows the shards, dying a slow, agonizing death from internal bleeding. The other one, an undercover CIA agent, also ends up dead.

The idealistic college student who traveled to the country with dreams of helping the marxist revolution? Dead.

The enterprising South American who uses the student's ID to return to the states? Tracked down and killed in the hospital by mobsters because the student skipped town while owing huge debts to a loan shark.

I think the only people who don't die are the President of the United States and his aide, who are spliced into the end of the story to make some point about politics ignoring human suffering and developed nations exploiting the life-and-death struggles of the third world for their own gain.

This was, hands down, the worst comedy about sassy latinas turning society upside down in a tinpot South American dictatorship that I have ever read.

LJ: A Crystal Healer Hit Me in the Groin

Energy healers are not all tie-dye and hemp stink; some of them have elegant, professional operations rivaling high-end psychiatrists' offices. I visited one in Germany. It figures that the analytical, mechanically-adept minds behind Krupp, Braun, and the Luftwaffe would come up with a way to engineer new age mysticism for wire-rimmed glasses and expensive leather.

A friend took me to see the healer because I had a substance1 abuse problem. Everyone should visit an energy healer at least once, especially if the consultation is in a language you don't speak. It's a lot easier to keep from giggling in the face of the more... exotic claims when you can tell yourself it's just a bad translation. This healer owned a spa shop (think "Teutonic Bath and Body Works3") and ran her practice from a private office decorated in earth tones and stainless steel.

I didn't pay attention during the boring parts and just focused on the pretty colors. Did you know that you can buy a bottle of oil and water4 that will attune itself to your energy field? Not only will it help you bring your elemental vibrations into balance, but once it synchs up with you it will display any health problems you're experiencing as impurities within its liquid. It's presumably cleaner and more accurate than filling a lava lamp with your own pee. As an added bonus, the crystal liquid can be drank, or rubbed into the skin, I think. (The translation wasn't too clear on those points, and I didn't press the issue.)

Another valuable diagnostic tool, I learned, is the Polaroid photograph. The visual image of you remains frozen in time, but your photographic aura keeps pace with your real-world aura, showing any changes in your condition. Why shouldn't it? It did steal a piece of your soul, after all. (Don't worry, It'll grow back.) This means that a skilled healer can diagnose your ailments (and take your money) without having you visit their office. The diagnostic accuracy of a disposable photo combined with the fees of a CAT scan means that everyone wins.

I knew that smiling during all of this would lead to uncontrollable giggling, so I just tightened up my jaw from time to time in an effort to keep a straight face. Occasionally I would add a thoughtful stroke of the chin, to take a moment to grapple with the profound universal truth that had just been revealed to me. Then we got to the diagnostic wand.

The wand is sensitive to the most minute disturbances, moving in response to aura disruptions/vital energy imbalances/gewurztraminertrinkeneffekts. Just like dowsing for gout5 or tapeworms instead of water or gold. Rather than a forked stick, we were going to be using a small knot of crystal girdled by a steel band the diameter of a Pepsi can, wobbling at the end of a long, narrow stalk.

Looking at the wand, I tried to appear calm, relaxed, and serious all at the same time. I sat in the diagnostic chair6 and braced myself for awesome.

None of us were surprised by the initial wobbling. I assumed that it was because my degenerate lifestyle had already done its damage to my energy field. As the scan progressed up my legs, the healer and I noticed a consistent pattern of disturbance, and probably both began to expect that the general level of disruption would remain constant across my entire person. That's when the business end of the wand, which packs a surprising amount of mass, whipped upwards and slammed down on my inner thigh, about half an inch shy of pulverizing my junk. I curled into the fetal position while a flurry of discussion broke out between the healer and my translator.

In a conversation between two Germans, I can't tell which one is apologizing and which one is issuing orders to invade Belgium, but I'm pretty sure that the strike was accidental. How can your clients balance their auras and tune their vibrations if you strap them into a chair and pound on their nutsack, right?

Things wrapped up pretty quickly after that. I left with a fistful of prescriptions and instructions to get the monkey off my back. I didn't really have the money to keep up with the full course of treatment over the long term, but I have gotten better at moderation7.



1. Sugar2

2. No, seriously, I was told I drank too much soda, so we were Doing Something about it.

3. BrodelnundQuƤlen GmbH.

4. With crystals mixed in.

5. Caused by urine crystals in the bloodstream, I might add.

6. Not unlike a dentist's chair, but I'm sure crystals were involved somewhere.

7. I'd love to shoehorn in some kind of punchline here about a single-payer healthcare system and how socialized medicine still lets the rich buy the treatments they deserve, but frankly, I'm just too lazy.