Sunday, December 30, 2012

Media Week (V5, N51): New York Public, Big Data, Independent Bookstores, Denialbility

The end of the year...

From New York magazine an envisioning (without the hysteria) of what the rennovated NYPL will look like.
Now we finally have schematic drawings by Foster + Partners, and though they’re far from final, it’s wonderful to see intelligent architecture trump panicky rhetoric. Since the day the library opened in 1911, anyone, from the barely literate to the Nobel laureate, could pass between the friendly lions and climb the imperial-scale stairs to the third-floor reading rooms, with their profusion of sunlight and carved timber, and their great oak tables burnished by millions of elbows. But temples grow shabby, books decay, funds run short. The architects and administrators are tackling an inescapable trilemma: You can safeguard the library’s mission, its books, or its physical structure, but you can’t keep all three exactly as they are.

Recently, I clattered down a metal staircase into the claustrophobic and endless honeycomb where 4 million volumes molder away in a warm, damp fug. This is both the library’s heart and its skeleton. Thickets of iron columns and seven levels of tightly gridded shelves, held in place by ornamental cast-iron plates, support the upper floors. The library’s habitués harbor a great affection for this ink-and-paper habitat—or for the idea of it. The research collection’s stacks are almost mythically inaccessible: whenever a call number is dropped into the building’s bowels, a library page (aptly named) scampers down the aisles and places books on a conveyor belt like hunks of coal in a mine. None of that needs to change, except that the books — and the pages — will both enjoy a better quality of air.
Business leaders are beginning to see 'big data' as the fourth factor of production (FT):
As the prevalence of Big Data grows, executives are becomingly increasingly wedded to numerical insight. But the beauty of Big Data is that it allows both intuitive and analytical thinkers to excel. More entrepreneurially minded, creative leaders can find unexpected patterns among disparate data sources (which might appeal to their intuitive nature) and ultimately use the information to alter the course of the business.

More cautious, analytical leaders, on the other hand, might find solace in new and multiple sources of information to bolster an existing strategy, for example taking the temperature of the market by collating public opinion on social networks.

More often than not, effective analysis of Big Data involves both a subjective and an objective judgment, i.e both intuitive and analytical thinking. A hotel chain might already base its pricing on analytics, for example (setting prices by linking occupancy rates to the time remaining - much like budget airline price their seats). It might make the intuitive decision to raise prices for a special event, the London Olympics, let’s say.
ChaChing: Jury Awards Carnegie Mellon $1.17Billion in patent infringement case (Chronicle):
A federal jury in Pittsburgh on Wednesday found that the Marvell Technology Group and Marvell Semiconductor Inc. infringed on patents stemming from the work of a Carnegie Mellon University professor and a former student, and awarded the university roughly $1.17-billion in damages, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
How "mistakes were made" pervades everything even accidentally on purpose (The Nation):
As the first-ever government agency with deniability written into its charter, the CIA was from the beginning a storytelling machine. It was no coincidence that in its early days the organization was full of literature students and writers recruited by influential scholars of English, or that for decades it operated as perhaps the most generous literary patron in the West, funding scores of novels, translations and literary journals. And so it is oddly apt that most Americans know most of what they know about the covert sector—or, more accurately, half-know most of what they half-know—not from fact-oriented discourses like journalism, history and the law, but instead from novels, films, TV shows, comic books and narrative video games: in other words, through fictions, some of them quite outlandish, some chock-full of accurate information and insight, most somewhere in between, and all of them more or less dismissible as “just fiction.”

Melley’s boldest suggestion is that fiction about the covert activity assumes an outsize role not only for members of the general public, but also for most individuals within the covert sector. This is, he argues, a natural consequence of the secret government’s size and “hypercompartmentalization,” itself a natural outcome of its foundational obsession with deniability. The covert sector is so large, so fragmented into agencies, subdivisions, private contractors and shell companies—often competing with each other for funding and operational jurisdiction—that it can be difficult, if not impossible, for any one of the beast’s many tentacles to know what the rest have in their clutches. This is exacerbated by complex classification schemes that parcel out information—even of a single operation—piecemeal on a “need to know” basis, a process that can leave even those with high-security clearances in the dark. Often, Melley claims, those at the top of the totem pole are the most ignorant of all, because what is required of them is not knowledge but its opposite: public expressions of shock when, against the odds, this or that unsavory activity comes to light. Even if those technically “inside” the covert state know a bit more than John Everyman, it is certainly plausible that they hanker to know more—to view the monster from above, and to see its many tentacles writhing at once. Like the rest of us, some often have nowhere better to turn than fiction.

Such a proposition is difficult to prove, but Melley attempts to marshal compelling evidence. In the 1960s, he notes, CIA employees reportedly watched Mission Impossible each week in search of ideas for new gadgets. JFK loved Ian Fleming novels and wanted America to find “our James Bond.” The “ticking time bomb scenario,” so endlessly invoked in recent debates over the efficacy and morality of torture, has apparently never occurred in real life but famously first appeared in Les centurions, a 1960 French thriller in which French soldiers use torture to extract information from Muslim members of the Algerian resistance. Today, the book is a favorite of US counterinsurgency professionals, including (by his own admission) David Petraeus, until recently the director of the CIA. After 9/11, the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security started recruiting artists—
including thriller author Brad Meltzer—for Red Cell, a project dedicated to imagining how the terrorist attacks of the future might play out. The Pentagon ran a similar program. And in 2008, Defense Intelligence Agency recruits started training on Sudden Thrust, a video game written by a Hollywood screenwriter.
More about Ann Patchet's bookstore in Nashville (Atlantic);
Meanwhile, back in Nashville, Karen and Mary Grey had hired a staff, and together they washed the warehoused Borders bookshelves again and again while they waited for the paint to dry and the new flooring to arrive. In a burst of optimism, we had hoped to open October 1. Lights were still missing when Parnassus finally did open on November 16. We had forgotten to get cash for the register, so I ran to the bank with my checkbook. That morning, The New York Times ran a story about the opening, along with a photo of me, on page A‑1.

Imagine a group of highly paid consultants crowded into the offices of my publisher, HarperCollins. Their job is to figure out how to get a picture of a literary novelist (me, say) on the front page of The Times. “She could kill someone,” one consultant suggests. The other consultants shake their heads. “It would have to be someone very famous,” another says. “Could she hijack a busload of schoolchildren, or maybe restructure the New York public-school system?” They sigh. It would not be enough. They run down a list of crimes, stunts, and heroically good deeds, but none of them are A-1 material. I can promise you this: kept in that room for all eternity, they would never land on the idea that opening a 2,500-square-foot bookstore in Nashville would do the trick.

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