Friday, September 30, 2011

Reclining Buddha - Bangkok

Another weekly image from my archive. Click on it to make it larger.

This is the important end of the reclining Buddha at Wat Po in Bangkok.  Timeless; but for the record this image is dated to 1998 which is when I visited Thailand for the first time since the early 1970s. Wat Po is a fantastic complex of temples and iconography and one of the first places tourists go on their visits to Bangkok.

My first stop is a slight deviation however.

There is also a Thai massage school (Wat Po Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School) where for a ridiculously small amount of Bhat you can get a really great Thai massage from someone who knows what they are doing.

Sawadee krup.

In addition to the images I've posted on Flickr and those I've periodically posted on PND, I have now produced a Big Blurb Book: From the Archive 1960 -1980 of some of the images I really thought were special.

I now have an iPad version of this book for sale ($4.99) on the Blurb site which you can find here: STORE

I have to say, even on the iPad the book looks pretty good.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

McKinsey Report on BIG Data

Recently consulting services firm McKinsey released a report that took a look at what BIG data is and what the potential gains could be from the use of BIG data. The types of benefits that could be realized are quite stunning:
MGI studied big data in five domains—health care in the United States, the public sector in Europe, retail in the United States, and manufacturing and personal location data globally. Big data can generate value in each. For example, a retailer using big data to the full could increase its operating margin by more than 60 percent. Harnessing big data in the public sector has enormous potential, too. If US health care were to use big data creatively and effectively to drive efficiency and quality, the sector could create more than $300 billion in value every year. Two-thirds of that would be in the form of reducing US health care expenditure by about 8 percent. In the developed economies of Europe, government administrators could save more than €100 billion ($149 billion) in operational efficiency improvements alone by using big data, not including using big data to reduce fraud and errors and boost the collection of tax revenues. And users of services enabled by personal location data could capture $600 billion in consumer surplus. The research offers seven key insights.
The executive summary is located here (pdf); however in their press release they also summarized some of the findings:

1. Data have swept into every industry and business function and are now an important factor of production, alongside labor and capital. We estimate that, by 2009, nearly all sectors in the US economy had at least an average of 200 terabytes of stored data (twice the size of US retailer Wal-Mart's data warehouse in 1999) per company with more than 1,000 employees.

2. There are five broad ways in which using big data can create value. First, big data can unlock significant value by making information transparent and usable at much higher frequency. Second, as organizations create and store more transactional data in digital form, they can collect more accurate and detailed performance information on everything from product inventories to sick days, and therefore expose variability and boost performance. Leading companies are using data collection and analysis to conduct controlled experiments to make better management decisions; others are using data for basic low-frequency forecasting to high-frequency nowcasting to adjust their business levers just in time. Third, big data allows ever-narrower segmentation of customers and therefore much more precisely tailored products or services. Fourth, sophisticated analytics can substantially improve decision making. Finally, big data can be used to improve the development of the next generation of products and services. For instance, manufacturers are using data obtained from sensors embedded in products to create innovative after-sales service offerings such as proactive maintenance (preventive measures that take place before a failure occurs or is even noticed).

3. The use of big data will become a key basis of competition and growth for individual firms. From the standpoint of competitiveness and the potential capture of value, all companies need to take big data seriously. In most industries, established competitors and new entrants alike will leverage data-driven strategies to innovate, compete, and capture value from deep and up to real time information. Indeed, we found early examples of such use of data in every sector we examined.

4. The use of big data will underpin new waves of productivity growth and consumer surplus. For example, we estimate that a retailer using big data to the full has the potential to increase its operating margin by more than 60 percent. Big data offers considerable benefits to consumers as well as to companies and organizations. For instance, services enabled by personal location data can allow consumers to capture $600 billion in economic surplus.

5. While the use of big data will matter across sectors, some sectors are set for greater gains. We compared the historical productivity of sectors in the United States with the potential of these sectors to capture value from big data (using an index that combines several quantitative metrics), and found that the opportunities and challenges vary from sector to sector. The computer and electronic products and information sectors, as well as finance and insurance, and government, are poised to gain substantially from the use of big data.

6. There will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of big data. By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.

7. Several issues will have to be addressed to capture the full potential of big data. Policies related to privacy, security, intellectual property, and even liability will need to be addressed in a big data world. Organizations need not only to put the right talent and technology in place but also structure workflows and incentives to optimize the use of big data. Access to data is critical—companies will increasingly need to integrate information from multiple data sources, often from third parties, and the incentives have to be in place to enable this.
Read the executive summary (PDF - 924 KB)
Read the full report (PDF - 1.91 MB)
Download eBook as ePub for Apple iPad, Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader and other devices
Download eBook for Amazon Kindle

Monday, September 26, 2011

MediaWeek (V4, N39): Robert Harris, Dickens, Cultural Decline (or not), Colm Toibin + More

A life in writing: Robert Harris: 'I've written a piece of fiction that suddenly starts coming true around me. The markets are crashing, people are blaming algorithms' (Guardian):
"Orwell has always been a huge influence on me," he says. "He first came to mind regarding this project about 12 years ago when I read a book by Bill Gates in which he said one day the McDonald's headquarters in America would know when a Big Mac was sold in Newbury and then a computer algorithm would work out when the cattle had to be slaughtered in Chicago. I got very interested in these ideas but couldn't find a way to make them work in fiction. Then came the financial crash and I realised I could marry the two things. These algorithms that were driving companies were nowhere more dominant than in the City. Was it more scary that banks were run by bad guys in braces smoking cigars, or by computers and mathematicians?"
Recently finished Claire Tomalin's Biography of Pepys which had long been on my shelf and which was ultimately richly rewarding. An interview with her about Dickens (Guardian):
She is confounded by this desire to preserve the Victorian image of Dickens as a monogamous and kindly husband. "When Anthony Burgess reviewed Peter Ackroyd's biography [Ackroyd, whose book came out in 1990, strikingly failed to acknowledge Nelly], he said, 'Now we know. Dickens was a good man. He didn't have a mistress.' What? There are other ways of being good. All writers behave badly. All people behave badly." She agrees with Dickens's clever daughter, Katey, who believed that in the second half of his life, when he rejected Catherine and cruelly forbade her children and even her sister, Georgina, to see her, the great writer went a little mad.

"The young Dickens was so alive, so self-confident, so funny. His wonderful glossy hair! His capacity for friendship, and for work! And then... yes, he went mad. But I know that people do go mad. I expect you do, too. Old biographers have got something extra: they've lived a long life themselves. They're more able to see things in perspective. It's not a matter of forgiving. That would be an impertinent thing to say. But it is a case of trying to understand.

The New Yorker: Changing reading forever (NewYorker)

“Cultural decline is not inevitable,” said Dana Gioia, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, upon the announcement that more Americans were reading books than in previous years. It was a small victory—“literary” reading rose seven per cent from 2002 to 2008, in part, Gioia suggested, because of programs like the N.E.A.’s Big Read—but it was a welcome one, because reading has been on the decline in our country for a very long time. The steady drop since the nineteen-fifties correlates directly with the rise of television and visual media, but much of the damage has been done in the past two decades, well after TV had solidified its place in Americans’ lives. Some of the recent bump must be attributed to the rise of e-readers, whose owners report an increase in their own reading habits thanks to the devices’ conveniences. But despite the small gains, a solid half of the country still rarely, if ever, picks up a book for pleasure. In the same press release, the N.E.A. said that “The U.S. population now breaks into two almost equally sized groups—readers and non-readers.”
Colm Toibin: 'The audience always want to know, what did you mean?' - video

From The Twitter:

Pew Media Study Shows Reliance on Many Outlets: (NYT)

EBSCO Rolls Out 64 New Ebook Subject Sets: (Link)

Bodleian Library shows off treasures, from Magna Carta to Shakespeare (Guardian)

Agatha Christie's real-life surfing thrills to be published (Guardian)

Could ebooks open a new chapter in legal publishing? (Guardian)

Are You Kidding? LJ Editor Francine Fialkoff's scathing response to Authors Guild's HathiTrust Lawsuit (LJ)

Apologies for the over reliance on the Guardian - I'm going to have to be more conservative.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

High Up Parking Lot

Haleakala Crater Parking Lot 1991
Another weekly image from my archive. Click on it to make it larger.

This is a parking lot. Seen in the background is the sweeping vista of central Maui which spreads out over 10,000 feet below where this picture is taken. As the sun rises, you can just about see the shadow cast by the mountain in the middle left of the frame.

It is pretty barren at the top of Haleakala crater but on most mornings there's a lot of life and activity. On the outer edge of the parking lot you can see the tourist bikers who have come up to the crater in a van to watch the sunrise and then ride their rented bikes down the approximately 35miles of road back to town. If you look carefully you can see they have color coded each group based on the colors of their rain slickers.

They have gravity working with them.

From this vantage point we did an about face and hiked down into the magnificence of the crater. No sissy bike riding for us. It's a parking lot but I like it just the same.

What makes a good school?

From the economist this week an in-depth look at the changing approaches to education. Very interesting reading for anyone interested in how children will (or won't) be educated in the coming years (Economist):

Above all, though, there has been a change in the quality of the debate. In particular, what might be called “the three great excuses” for bad schools have receded in importance. Teachers’ unions have long maintained that failures in Western education could be blamed on skimpy government spending, social class and cultures that did not value education. All these make a difference, but they do not determine outcomes by themselves.

The idea that good schooling is about spending money is the one that has been beaten back hardest. Many of the 20 leading economic performers in the OECD doubled or tripled their education spending in real terms between 1970 and 1994, yet outcomes in many countries stagnated—or went backwards. Educational performance varies widely even among countries that spend similar amounts per pupil. Such spending is highest in the United States—yet America lags behind other developed countries on overall outcomes in secondary education. Andreas Schleicher, head of analysis at PISA, thinks that only about 10% of the variation in pupil performance has anything to do with money.

Many still insist, though, that social class makes a difference. Martin Johnson, an education trade unionist, points to Britain’s “inequality between classes, which is among the largest in the wealthiest nations” as the main reason why its pupils underperform. A review of reforms over the past decade by researchers at Oxford University supports him. “Despite rising attainment levels,” it concludes, “there has been little narrowing of longstanding and sizeable attainment gaps. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds remain at higher risks of poor outcomes.” American studies confirm the point; Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington claims that “non-school factors”, such as family income, account for as much as 60% of a child’s performance in school.

There is also a sobering league table (if your children live in Europe or the US) in the article: