Monthly Archives: June 2008

Offshore Drilling in California

This is the kind of stuff that really chaps me.

In 1984, when I visited Santa Barbara for the first time, the Santa Barbara Channel was dotted with oil rigs.

In 1994, when I moved to Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Channel was dotted with oil rigs. My residence, in Montecito, was sufficiently elevated that, at night, I could see the rigs, their lights, and the islands beyond.

As the Wikipedia link above reports, the 1969 incident may have been of the seminal moments of the environmental movement. The fact remains that there has not been another accident approaching that severity, and for at least 30 years afterwards, drilling continued.

Don’t think, for one second, that the California coastline has not been drilled.

Reality Mining

A while back, your scribe wrote about the inexorable march of progress, with all of its unexpected, yet rewarding, effects on our daily lives.

This quote appeared in that post:

The days of standalone GPS devices may be numbered. At least, that’s what cell phone vendors and service providers would have you believe.It turns out they may be right. In the span of about a year, we went from almost no GPS-enabled handsets to close to half of all available models including the navigation features. And that number will only increase, with GPS radios becoming standard in 2008 much like cell phone cameras became the norm back in 2004.

Today, the New York Times reports on the development of applications that are taking advantage of the ubiquity of GPS devices.

Via this story, we see that it hasn’t taken long for the engines of business to find ways to capitalize on the technology. A few tastes:

We’re in the midst of a boom in devices that show where people are at any point in time…

Such data could redefine what we know about consumer behavior, giving businesses early insight into economic trends, better ways to determine sites for offices and retail stores, and more effective ways to advertise.

Just this month, the journal Nature published a paper that looked at cellphone data from 100,000 people in an unnamed European country over six months and found that most follow very predictable routines. Knowing those routines means that you can set probabilities for them, and track how they change…

It’s hard to make sense of such data, but Sense Networks, a software analytics company in New York, earlier this month released Macrosense, a tool that aims to do just that. Macrosense applies complex statistical algorithms to sift through the growing heaps of data about location and to make predictions or recommendations on various questions — where a company should put its next store, for example…

Mr. Jebara, who is also an associate professor of computer science at Columbia University, says the key to drawing such conclusions starts with having very large sets of data that go back several years. Sense’s models were developed initially from sources like taxicab companies that let it look at location data over such a period. Sense also uses publicly available data, like weather information, and other nonpublic sources that it would not disclose. “We had three-quarters of a billion data points from just one city,” Mr. Skibiski says.

Mr. Jebara’s statistical models interpret those patterns and look at whether they correlate with things in the real world, like tourism levels or retail sales. The algorithms are complex. Even so, the model doesn’t work for everything Sense tries it on, often because more data is needed. But Mr. Jebara says that when it has the data, the model works well. Several hedge funds made an investment in Sense earlier this year.

The Macrosense tool lets companies engage in “reality mining,” a phrase coined by Sandy Pentland, an M.I.T. researcher who was also a co-founder of Sense and now advises it on privacy issues…

“The reality is that location data is new, and we don’t have 10 years of history to work from,” says Ted Morgan, the chief executive and founder of Skyhook Wireless, which sells a service that lets people use WiFi network access points to get information about their location.

“But if their algorithms can do the things they say, we’d probably do a lot with them,” Mr. Morgan says.

Read the whole thing.

Friends, things are about to get very, very interesting.

Cross-posted at Gates of Academe.

Why I Can’t Believe Politicians

I’m sure most of you have, by now, seen this bit of campaign advertising released by those moderate democrats at MoveOn, with a little funding by that other nonpartisan organization, the AFSCME, yes, THAT union.

Here it it:

Although I, again like most of you, have become somewhat desensitized by this kind of distortion and vitriol, it still reminds me that in politics, all is fair in war (Shame some of our more liberal populace doesn’t extend that bromide to, you know, real war).

So, with great interest, I saw this headline in today’s New York Times……an excerpt:

Senator Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he would not participate in the public financing system for presidential campaigns. He argued that the system had collapsed, and would put him at a disadvantage running against Senator John McCain, his likely Republican opponent….

With his decision, Mr. Obama became the first candidate of a major party to decline public financing — and the spending limits that go with it — since the system was created in 1976, after the Watergate scandals.

“The public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who’ve become masters at gaming this broken system,” he said. “John McCain’s campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs. And we’ve already seen that he’s not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations.”

Via the Weekly Standard, here is Obama breaking the news:

Dean Barnett goes on to say:

Now courtesy of the wayback machine, here’s Obama’s position on the same matter just four short months ago. Jim Geraghty calls our attention to the February 16 Washington Post:

AS RECENTLY as November, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was unequivocal about whether he would agree to take public financing for the general election if his Republican opponent pledged to do the same. “If you are nominated for president in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?” the Midwest Democracy Network asked in a questionnaire. Mr. Obama’s answer was clear. “Yes,” he wrote. “If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.”

Of course, John McCain is taking public financing.

So here’s the question worth pondering: Given that as of February 16 Obama looked to have an enormous fundraising advantage over any potential rival, was his agreement to take public financing ill-advised or, you know, a lie? Personally, I opt for the former. Taking strong positions without understanding their implications has become something of an Obama signature. Recall the fierceness with which he clung to his promise to conduct face-to-face diplomacy with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without “preconditions.” He later abandoned this promise when he discovered the magic of “preparations” and the loads of differences between “preparations” and “preconditions.”

Sounds like his side is already spending millions of dollars of special interest money to attack a candidate.

The Modern World

Just a moment to observe the unseen efficiencies in our modern world.

Several days ago, I took advantage of a renewed commitment to my cellular service provider to update our phones. As somewhat of a techno-geek, I subscribed to the shipping notifications of my package. I have, then, received email updates of the progress of my new phones.

Not 10 minutes ago, I heard a knock at my front door….there stood the FedEx man, box in hand. I signed for the delivery. Pretty cool, I wasn’t expecting Saturday delivery.

I put the box down in my den, and returned to the “learning center” so as to resume my studies. Not 3 minutes later, I received an email notification of the delivery.

Think about it….I signed the Fedex handheld, and 3 minutes later I received a notification that the process had occurred.

TrackingUpdates@fedex.com to me
show details 11:11 AM (8 minutes ago)
Reply

________________________________________________________________________________

This tracking update has been requested by:

Name: xxxxxxxxx
E-mail: xxxxxxx@gmail.com

________________________________________________________________________________

Our records indicate that the following shipment has been delivered:

Reference: 0474901_000485893
Ship (P/U) date: Jun 13, 2008
Delivery date: Jun 14, 2008 11:07 AM
Sign for by: jhkjhasdf
Delivered to: Residence
Service type: FedEx Priority Overnight
Packaging type: Your Packaging
Number of pieces: 1
Weight: 3.00 lb.
Special handling/Services: Residential Delivery
For Saturday Delivery
Indirect Signature Required
Tracking number:

960136525608

Pretty damn cool, and something likely taken for granted by most without appreciation for the thousands, if not millions of times this occurs every day, without error or confusion.

I Can’t Wait to Buy My Next Airline Ticket…

The latest aviation news is not good. Today, if I choose to fly USAir, I will pay $15 to check my first bag of luggage and I will have to pay $2 for my usual order of water……..the 4 ounce plastic cup with 3 cubes of ice that passes for a drink of water on planes these days.

It’s not enough to have to endure the traffic nazis at the Charleston “International” Airport, those lovely people poised at the arrival and departure parking areas to threaten, annoy, and further irritate us as we drop off or pick up our loved ones. The worse face of policing possible, in my opionion.

Then, it’s into the maw of the beast, where having navigated the confusion of the check-in, we can endure having our luggage (if we choose to take any) examined by the TSA.

Having been goose stepped into the terminal and had our fineries examined by anonymous functionaries, we then will have the “pleasure” of sitting in a terminal that is dirty, understaffed, and generally depressing.

If our plane is late, or if there is a problem, we will have to call friends that have access to the internet, because we don’t, in our airport, have free wi-fi, and good luck finding an airline employee in the departure areas.

But, if we can endure these travails, and the airline can get their plane to the gate, we face the prospect of loading onto an airplane that will be dirty, every seat taken, and the usual scrum to jam luggage into the overhead bins.

We may or may not take off on time, but we will not know until we are crammed aboard and the door closed. Only then will the airline deign to advise us of the status of the aircraft and the flight schedule.

Because the airlines cannot make money the old fashioned way, they have now added the additional luggage charge for ANY checked luggage and the ridiculous fee for ANY beverage bought onboard.

So, since the airline folks haven’t figured it out, let me predict that this means that the overhead luggage bins will, if possible, be even more jammed as travellers try to avoid that fee. We can also expect to see everyone board with their own bag lunch, now accompanied by each traveler’s version of the “Big Gulp”, so they can sip during the inevitable ground delay before we “slip the surly bonds” and head to wherever.

The mess will just get messier.

Yessir, air travel just got a little bit worse.