" /> Coruscation: June 2011 Archives

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June 30, 2011

Punctuation ~=, !=, /=, =/=, or <> uninformed by compsci or chess

!= is not equal, and ! is not. ?! Dubious move, NYT.

Classic style manuals generally decree that exclamation points be used sparingly. "But e-mails seemed from the start to require different punctuation," said Lynne Truss, the author of "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation." "As if by common consent, people turned to the ellipsis and the exclamation point. There must have been a reason for this. My theory is that both of these marks are ways of trying to keep the attention of the reader. One of them says, 'Don't go away, I haven't finished, don't go, don't go,' while the other says, 'Listen! I'm talking to you!' "

"Since the advent of e-mail, I have personally started all my messages with a yell," she said. "Instead of 'Dear George,' I write, 'George!' My belief is that when we read a printed page, we engage an inner ear, which follows the sense, the voice and the music in a linear way. We sort of listen to the writer. Whereas on a computer screen, we tend to pick out bits of information and link them for ourselves. The exclamation point is a natural reaction to this: Writers are shouting to be heard."

Unsurprisingly, the literati are particularly sensitive to, or particularly defensive about, the use of the exclamation point. "I'm definitely guilty of abusing it in e-mails," said Jennifer Egan, whose book "A Visit From the Goon Squad" won this year's Pulitzer Prize for fiction. And she notes a curious rebound effect: "The more exclamation points you use, the more you need to use in order create an impression of exclamation."

"I have long tried to swear off them," said Peter Godwin, whose book "When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa" detailed life in his native Zimbabwe. "I think they are the literary equivalent of canned applause. I hate the way they jostle you, and the way they prescribe, 'Dear reader, be amazed!' And while we're on the subject, there's the '?!' one-two combo. I suppose it is trying to say, 'My question is jokey,' or 'I'm embarrassed to ask it in the first place.' "

Diana Abu-Jaber, author of the memoir "The Language of Baklava," indulges in a prodigious use of exclamation points, with a chaser of self-flagellation. "It's sort of ironic and damning, considering what a total literary snob I fancy myself," she said. "It might have something to do with my new life of texting 20-year-old baby sitters. I think there's also a connection to having a non-native-speaker parent -- that whole thing of shouting to be heard."

A sense of punctuation may be imprinted in childhood, the way the Inuit heroine Smilla has a "sense of snow" in Peter Hoeg's novel "Smilla's Sense of Snow." "I think I first got interested in the exclamation point while watching the old Batman TV show as a kid. Kablam! Kapow!" said Meg Wolitzer, whose most recent novel is "The Uncoupling." "In a way, the cartoon aspect of this emphatic spatter of punctuation has stayed with me. I still feel a little uneasy when I use it, although I sometimes do use it because it feels appropriately sprightly."

"There's a case to be made that the exclamation point is the adverb of punctuation; if you have to put it in, then maybe the sentence didn't do its job," she said. "Then again, I'm also highly uneasy about ever using italics. If the exclamation point is the adverb of punctuation, then italics are the Ambien of typography. I guess my only rule is to use the exclamation point sparingly, like adverbs, italics and cortisone cream."

Walter Kirn, author of "Up in the Air," sees no reason to curb his enthusiasm. "The text message and the exclamation point are made for each other, and I'm glad they finally found each other," he said. "They're both one-note forms of communication, without music, without connotation and atmosphere, but they do have their uses."

"To me, there's no more shame in filling text messages with exclamation points," he added, "three at a time, if necessary, than there is in using strings of expletives while arguing politics at an Irish pub."

Talking (Exclamation) Points
Published: July 1, 2011
Mark Twain railed against abuse of exclamation points. Thank goodness he didn't live to see the age of e-mail.

June 29, 2011

Washington consensus on the ropes

The World Bank's traditional role has been to finance specific projects that foster economic development, whereas the I.M.F.'s goal is to safeguard the global monetary system. But many people, particularly in the developing world, have long questioned whether the economic prescriptions that these two lofty institutions hand down from Washington -- essentially: liberalize, privatize and deregulate -- have done anything but advance the interests of wealthy nations like the United States. That the I.M.F. is now championing deeply unpopular austerity measures for Greece, where street protests continued last week, only sharpens that point.


World Bank Is Opening Its Treasure Chest of Data
Published: July 2, 2011
Robert B. Zoellick, the World Bank president, argues that its most valuable currency isn't money -- it's information.

June 28, 2011

Information wants to be free

THE new frontier in government accountability is not faster responses to information requests. It is an era of open data in which government departments put their information online in usable, searchable formats. That would eliminate the need for many people to file individual FOIA requests -- and for agencies to undertake the labor-intensive process of answering them.

How to Break an Information Bottleneck ?
Published: June 25, 2011
Here's a pre-emptive way to shrink the backlog of requests under the Freedom of Information Act: put more information online from the get-go.

June 27, 2011

Dispersion trade: short correlation, long volatility

Dispersion trades are a way of betting on an end to the historically high market correlation that began during 2008, when shares of companies in various industries all rose and fell together, frustrating money managers who earned their keep by researching and picking individual companies.

In a dispersion trade, managers sell put and call options on an index such as the S&P 100 during market declines, when demand is heavy among investors who want to protect themselves from losses. They use the rich premiums received for the index options to buy put and call options on some or all of the stocks comprising the index.

SocGen has one take on this idea called Symphony - which is short correlation, long vega. Och Ziff seems to have bitten hard on this idea. It seems to add up as improvements in liquidity make the premise of the trade more compelling.

-- FT and Bloomberg.

June 26, 2011

Hamilton Heights to rise under Columbia ?

In the 1980s she lived on West 103rd Street in a one-bedroom co-op that she sold for $335,000 in 2002. Then, she said, Columbia built off-campus housing on her corner -- and in 2005 an identical apartment then sold for $500,000, which strikes Ms. Cabrera as a steep jump even in a hot housing market. She is now listing a four-bedroom 1901 town house at 470 West 148th Street for $975,000.

When the new Columbia campus is finished in 2050, Manhattanville will have a striking new look. Glass towers housing the business school, labs and classrooms will replace workaday brick structures, meatpacking warehouses and even a Studebaker plant. Sidewalks will be broadened and planted with trees. The $7 billion project -- designed by the architectural heavyweights Renzo Piano; Skidmore, Owings and Merrill; and Diller Scofidio & Renfro -- will create 6,000 permanent jobs, the university says.


The Heights stretches from the Hudson River to Edgecombe Avenue, from West 133rd Street to West 155th. It was named for Alexander Hamilton, whose clapboard-sided country house, Hamilton Grange, was recently moved a short distance to a prominent berth in St. Nicholas Park. The neighborhood's other claim to fame is the presence of City College and its more than 15,000 students, most of them commuters.

In addition to four subway stops, the neighborhood's amenities include two substantial parks. One is St. Nicholas Park, slightly overgrown, with stairs that zigzag through steep outcroppings. The other, Riverbank State Park, is across the Henry Hudson Parkway, and reachable by two footbridges. It takes a kitchen-sink approach to recreation, with a track, a secluded community garden, and a new restaurant with a patio on which to enjoy a beer while taking in views of the Hudson.

The high ground, relatively low density and low-slung housing stock, coupled with angled streets that break up the grid, often give the area a sunnier, airier feel than other parts of Manhattan.

Hamilton Heights: Awaiting a Bounce
Published: June 10, 2011
A new Columbia University satellite campus in Manhattanville is giving the neighborhood next door an extended turn in the limelight.

June 25, 2011


Some say Cabinet Magazine is interesting and on sometimes obscure topics.

June 13, 2011

Shanghai Hongqiao

Shanghai Hongqiao train station is brighter, cleaner than Penn.


June 12, 2011

business card is already close to extinct in places like tech conventions

Gina Trapani, founder of the influential blog Lifehacker, said the business card is already close to extinct in places like tech conventions. "I see people exchange Twitter handles, I see people scan each other's badges," and send one another quick e-mails from their phones, she said. "But I definitely don't see people handing out cards anymore."

An app for the business networking site LinkedIn.com makes it easier to share contacts in person using Bluetooth. Newer sites like Hashable.com, Contxts.com and About.me allow users to create and share virtual business cards.

Business Cards Go Paperless, or Almost
Published: June 10, 2011
Once ubiquitous, they are being transformed and even eliminated by QR codes and apps like the Hashable for iPhone that lets users exchange electronic "cards."

June 11, 2011

For-profit colleges that leave students with crushing debt.

though the for-profit system serves only a little more than a tenth of those in postsecondary education, it accounts for nearly half of student loan defaults. The losses are generally of little concern to the companies themselves, because most of the tuition is paid by federal loans backed by the taxpayer. The defaulting students often end up with their lives in financial ruin.

Bankruptcy makes it possible to escape credit card and gambling debt but nearly impossible to escape student loan debt. As a result, students who default on school loans may never be able to have that weight lifted and can end up with creditors garnishing their wages.

The Obama administration has tried to address these problems with new rules to make programs with especially high levels of student debt and very low repayment rates ineligible for federal student aid. But these rules are insufficient.

Subprime Education

Published: June 10, 2011
Congress needs to rein in for-profit colleges that leave students with crushing debt.

June 5, 2011

Middle class economy car: make less than $85k, drive an economy car

famous Prius owners just like driving a 50 m.p.g. hybrid even if they could commute via yacht and helipad. And even for many middle-class converts, the Prius's $26,000 median price is hardly a burden: Toyota figures the average Prius household pulls in nearly $83,000 a year, which is rather high for an economy car.

Those figures help to illuminate Toyota's logic behind the 2011 Lexus CT 200h. Is this deluxe hybrid hatchback a better car than the Prius? You bet. Is it really worth an extra $7,000 or $8,000? For a bargain hunter, no. But for a certain well-heeled, light-footed buyer, the Lexus should be a painless stretch.

The CT 200h won't quite match the Prius's mileage, but at a robust 44 miles per gallon in my own combined city and highway driving, it's close enough. And despite its pokey Prius-based hybrid system, the Lexus gives people good reasons to move up.

The CT is more luxurious, more quiet and feels more solidly put together. And its distinctive design, inside and out, may attract two types of customers: bored Prius owners who want something new, and people who crave high mileage but wouldn't be caught dead in a Prius, for either its econobox vibe or its granola image.

To make the body more rigid, Lexus bolts on a pair of "lateral performance dampers," an industry first designed with Yamaha. Instead of a solid link between suspension components -- such as a strut-tower brace that spans the left and right shock absorbers -- Lexus connects them with a hydraulic mount that limits body roll in turns and quells vibrations over bumps. As in the Lexus HS 250h hybrid sedan, the CT 200h also adopts a double-wishbone rear suspension, a slicker design than the Prius's torsion-beam arrangement.

But unlike the homely HS, whose sales have fallen short of expectations, the CT 200h is a striking, daringly styled hatchback -- a description not often associated with the conservative styling studios of Toyota or Lexus.

The Lexus projects confidence from any angle, from its wind-carved prow to its teardrop roof and the jaunty epaulets of its rear fenders. It also looks appropriately expensive, something that's not easy for a compact car to pull off. The CT's rich appearance easily matches the BMW 1 Series or the Audi A3.

Terrific paint never hurts, and my test car featured a color-shifting shade of purple-brown called Fire Agate Pearl.

Some previous Lexus hybrids, like the LS 600h L and GS 450h sedans, promised to revolutionize hybrids by offering the three-way benefits of luxury, performance and stingy mileage, but succeeded only on the luxury front. The LS, priced up to $120,000, became one of the epic sales failures of recent years.

The CT 200h's claims to sportiness also turn out to be marketing hoopla. Yet this Lexus is a much more legitimate hybrid proposition, because it nails two of the three attributes, with genuine luxury and high mileage.

Making a Hipper Hybrid by Gilding the Prius
Published: June 3, 2011
The Lexus CT 200h does not match the Prius's mileage, but it comes close. The CT is also more luxurious and feels more solidly put together than the Prius.

June 1, 2011

Hany Farid, photography forensics

Hany Farid, a renowned expert in forensic photographic image analysis. (Farid was consulted by the Associated Press in debunking the fake Bin Laden death photos, and has also teamed up with Microsoft to develop anti-child-pornography software.) Using compression data and metadata from millions of photos, Farid and his colleagues at Dartmouth have developed a database that matches photos to the digital cameras that took them.