" /> Coruscation: May 2016 Archives

« April 2016 | Main | June 2016 »

May 31, 2016

NY prosecutors: Rappers lyrics detail their credit card fraud scheme

"These kids have grown up with computers. They have been downloading movies and music since they were 10 years old, so it's not much of a leap to download credit card numbers."

-- said Lt. Timothy Fenfert, who leads the Police Department's Special Fraud Squad in Brooklyn.

May 30, 2016

Business attire

"There's a strain of thought that says an employee represents a company, and thus dress is not about personal expression, but company expression," Professor Scafidi said. "But there's a counterargument that believes because we identify so much with our careers, we should be able to be ourselves at work."

And that has led to all sorts of complications. One person's "appropriate" can easily be another's "disgraceful," and words like "professional," when used to describe dress requirements, can seem so vague as to be almost meaningless. Kanye West wearing ripped jeans and a jeweled Balmain jacket at the Met Gala: cool or rude? Julia Roberts at the premiere of "Money Monster" at Cannes this year in bare feet: red carpet pioneer or a step too far?

May 29, 2016

Bioregionalist culture

Throughout history, many philosophers -- including, for example, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Heidegger -- have believed that the land and climate of a particular region impart certain characteristics to its inhabitants, whose temperaments, language, and cultural production are heavily influenced by the topographical, meteorological, and botanical features of the place.

This bioregionalism resembles the French concept of terroir, a term used in agriculture and gastronomy to describe the relationship between flavor and place. But does the same hold true for humans?

Christy Wampole is an assistant professor in the department of French and Italian at Princeton, and the author of "Rootedness: The Ramifications of a Metaphor" and "The Other Serious: Essays for the New American Generation."

May 28, 2016

Chromebook 2016

Wait for 2016 they said. Toshiba Chromebook 2 (CB35-C3350) or Asus Chromebook Flip (C100PA-DB02)

Even if you buy into the Chromebook's premise, the execution doesn't really support it -- whether for a casual user or a business seeking to get out of Windows management. Maybe that'll change by 2016, if wireless broadband is truly ubiquitous and affordable, if Chrome OS and Google Docs finally support offline usage, and if somehow Windows 8 and the iPad haven't become the standard computing platforms of the day.



Tech coverage by geeks for geeks ?

Twenty-five years ago, tech coverage was the domain of geeks and trade reporters -- people who understood their way around a motherboard, were excited by it and wouldn't dream of crossing certain boundaries. Now, with tech at its zenith, much of the coverage of the industry is still done by enthusiasts. Combine this with the need to get the power players to come to the media's conferences and there is a real reluctance to look behind the scenes.

Elizabeth Spiers, who was the first Gawker writer and is now an entrepreneur, noted on her blog that the "tech press is largely fawning toward successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, and mostly unintentionally."

The result, she wrote, is "a sense of entitlement in the industry where denizens of Silicon Valley expect the media to actively support them and any negative portrayals are met with real anger and resentment, even when they're 100 percent accurate."

Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, tried to chart a middle ground between Gawker and Mr. Thiel in a series of posts on Twitter.

"Gawker is disgusting for outing people, publishing sex tapes, etc.," he wrote,

May 26, 2016

Party to violence predicted

The Chicago police, which began creating the Strategic Subject List a few years ago, said they viewed it as in keeping with findings by Andrew Papachristos, a sociologist at Yale, who said that the city's homicides were concentrated within a relatively small number of social networks that represent a fraction of the population in high-crime neighborhoods.

Miles Wernick, a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, created the algorithm. It draws, the police say, on variables tied to a person's past behavior, particularly arrests and convictions, to predict who is most likely to become a "party to violence."

The police cited proprietary technology as the reason they would not make public the 10 variables used to create the list, but they said that some examples were questions like: Have you been shot before? Is your "trend line" for crimes increasing or decreasing? Do you have an arrest for weapons?

Dr. Wernick said the model intentionally avoided using variables that could discriminate in some way, like race, gender, ethnicity and geography.

Jonathan H. Lewin, the deputy chief of the Chicago Police Department's technology and records group, said: "This is not designed to replace the human process. This is just designed to inform it."

The police have been using the list, in part, to choose individuals for visits, known as custom notifications. Over the past three years, police officers, social workers and community leaders have gone to the homes of more than 1,300 people with high numbers on the list. Mr. Johnson, the police superintendent, said that officials were increasing those visits this year, adding at least 1,000 people.

During these visits -- with those on the list and with their families, girlfriends and mothers -- the police bluntly warn that the person is on the department's radar. Social workers who visit offer ways out of gangs, including drug treatment programs, housing and job training.

"We let you know that we know what's going on," said Christopher Mallette, the executive director of the Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy, a leader in the effort. "You know why we're here. We don't want you to get killed."

Uncertain, for now, is the effectiveness. The RAND Corporation is evaluating the city's list, but results are yet to be published. Mr. Mallette said that 21 percent of the people they had succeeded in talking to had sought assistance, and that fewer than 9 percent had been shot since a home visit.

May 24, 2016

Describe young people as a broad collective or use data ?

What's most bizarre about efforts to describe young people as a broad collective is that technology has rendered such generalizations mostly unnecessary. Thanks to social media, smartphones and reams of searchable data, companies can now track their customers and workers in far more precise ways than simply noting their age cohort. They have your purchase and employment histories, your social media musings, your educational history, your credit report. Companies can break you down analytically, psychographically, financially and in just about every other way short of physically.

Joan Kuhl, one of the aforementioned army of millennial consultants, told me that one of her primary jobs these days was to undo companies' preconceived notions about millennials. (Oh, I should do that, too: It's not true that millennials don't read the news, as I implied above. Hi, millennials -- thanks for reading!)

"It's unbelievable the stories we hear," said Ms. Kuhl, 36, who runs Why Millennials Matter. "They all have stories about managers underestimating them, or recruiters having an impression that they can't live up to the demands of the job, or that they were a flight risk. People are perceiving them as the stereotype of their generation."

May 20, 2016

Identity recognition via social media pictures and sound

Biometric information like face and voice recognition has become a huge and potentially costly area as tech companies plow tons of money and powerful artificial intelligence technologies into photo and video applications that can identify people with an accuracy that would have seemed like science fiction only a few years ago.

Laws curbing these programs can be a huge burden for tech companies, because following the laws could mean slowing the arrival of new features or creating a patchwork of features that could be turned off and on in various states.

While the state violations are often small -- the Illinois act gives citizens the right to sue for up to $5,000 per violation -- potential liability can run to billions or even trillions of dollars once multiplied across hundreds of millions of individual users. That has made privacy law a lucrative new area for class-action lawyers who can extract multimillion-dollar settlements just by bringing a case.

Nevertheless, questions of how much tech companies should be allowed to do without notifying their users will multiply, especially as people adopt more live video and voice technologies that have already made it possible for tech companies to identify people who might not even use their services.

"It's basically a company creating the ability to capture someone's identity when they might not want to reveal their identity," Mr. Marc Rotenberg said.

The Biometric Information Privacy Act was passed in Illinois in 2008 and has quickly become the bane of social media companies. Under the current law, companies have to get a user's consent before turning on features that scan and store faces for identification.

May 18, 2016

SigFig robo advisor

SigFig, led by Mike Sha, was one of the earlier firms in the field but has not gained the sort of household attention that companies like Wealthfront and Betterment have achieved by focusing on younger, tech-aware retail customers.

Instead, SigFig is focused on offering its technology through financial institutions. The agreement with UBS will not prevent SigFig from forging similar agreements with other companies, said Mr. Sha, the company's chief executive.

New rules for financial advisers may give the automated companies an edge in the battle for investor dollars.

These rules are expected to encourage a rush of retirement savings money to low-cost investments and may also hasten formal alliances of banks or brokerage firms with the financial technology firms that have built robo-investing platforms.

May 17, 2016

When John Locke went to the mat with René Descartes over the source and nature of human knowledge

"Bing" is a word that Stuart Hameroff, the University of Arizona professor who organizes these mindfests, uses to describe the moment when the spark of consciousness lights up the brain. Imagine a mad scientist hooking together neurons one by one until suddenly they reach a threshold of complexity and -- bing -- consciousness emerges.

We all know the feeling, one that science has been powerless to explain. The audience seemed familiar enough with the words, and so they sang along in 4/4 time.

Before launching into the tune, Timbre Wolf played a recording of an eerie composition called "Brain Dance," derived from vibrations generated by tiny molecular structures called microtubules, which are part of the scaffolding of brain cells. The music, to his ear, was reminiscent of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Cuban rumba, Gustav Holt's "The Planets," and the visual rhythms of strange mathematical objects called Penrose tiles.

All of this, he suspected, had something to do with quantum mechanics and consciousness, an idea that Dr. Hameroff has long been pursuing.

There even seemed to be undertones of the Devil's Triad, a discordant combo of notes known since medieval times that forms the opening riff of "Purple Haze."

That all made for good metaphysical fun. More disconcerting was the starring role given to the New Age entrepreneur Deepak Chopra. Dr. Chopra believes that human consciousness (through epigenetic feedback) directs the unfolding of human evolution.

No one seemed to object as Dr. Chopra, whose Chopra Foundation was one of the sponsors, shared the stage with prominent professors who engaged with his ideas as if he were another esteemed colleague.

But that's how it is at Tucson. There were talks on psychic phenomena and retrocausality, the hypothesis that the future can affect the past through quantum emanations. Presentations that didn't make it into prime time were laid out in colorful posters attached to rows of bulletin boards: "What Might Cause a Star's Consciousness?" "The X-Structure: The Basic Nature of Life and Existence."

Also included in the lineup were presentations hypothesizing that dark energy could explain consciousness and that homeopathic medicine might work through nanoparticles and quantum entanglement -- as if homeopathy worked at all.

Beyond all of that, there was still plenty of serious theorizing. For a rapid-fire summary, you can hear Baba Brinkman, a rap artist who provided a daily report on the meeting, which he called "half science lab and half Burning Man."

Late one night at an event called Club Consciousness, Mr. Brinkman joined Dorian Electra and the Electrodes as the band regaled the crowd with songs like "Mind-Body Problem" (a reference to the age-old question of how something as seemingly ethereal as consciousness emerges from the brain) and "Brain in a Vat" (the idea that for all you know, you're just a brain kept alive in a laboratory flask and what seems like reality is an illusion).

"Chinese Room" was about a thought experiment that the philosopher John Searle claims to be a refutation of the possibility of artificial intelligence. But the big hit of the night, "Sensual," which has been made into a rock video, was about a famous intellectual conflict that has raged since the 17th century when John Locke went to the mat with René Descartes over the source and nature of human knowledge.

May 16, 2016

Gisele Bündchen reacts

Correction: May 14, 2016

An earlier version of this article misidentified the game after which Gisele Bündchen was videotaped reacting emotionally. It was Super Bowl XLVI, when the Patriots fell to the New York Giants. It was not Super Bowl XLIX, when they beat the Seattle Seahawks.

May 15, 2016

Great Peconic Bay

"Brooklynites get the North Fork, period."

-- Sheri Winter Clarry, an associate broker with the Corcoran Group Real Estate on the North Fork in Southold, also attributed the uptick in buyers from Brooklyn to the region's "laid back, chilled vibe" and its growing status as a family-friendly second-home haven for foodies and oenophiles.


The magnets that draw city dwellers include the area's burgeoning farm-to-table movement, new craft breweries and distilleries, wineries, farm stands, antiques shops and seasonal agri-tainment activities like apple-, berry- and pumpkin-picking. Niche farms offer locally raised meat, goat cheese, organic greens and hops for making beer.

"Farms have upped their game like crazy, vineyards have upped their game, restaurants have upped their game," Ms. Clarry said. "It's really translated into the North Fork coming into its own. The food industry has helped people not just day-trip, but fall in love with it and move out here."

May 14, 2016

Coalition of elite schools reshape college admissions

The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, a new organization led by admissions deans at top campuses, has announced an ambitious goal: to make applications more reflective and in tune with how students organize and express themselves. In April, it will offer free online planning tools and in July a new application, for the class of 2021.

Dean Paul Thiboutot at Carleton College, a coalition member, envisions chat rooms with his admissions officers or shopping-style prompts: "Could we send a reminder to someone that we responded to as a ninth grader who we didn't hear from? 'Remember, at one time you had Carleton in your cart?' "

With the Common Application now used by more than 625 schools, the coalition is marketing itself as a high-integrity brand. Coalition members must have a six-year graduation rate of at least 70 percent and meet students' full financial need or, if public, offer "affordable" in-state tuition (as yet undefined). So far, more than 80 of about 140 eligible colleges and universities have signed on, including all the Ivys, liberal arts elites like Amherst and Bowdoin and publics like Texas A&M and Miami University of Ohio.

Some criticism has gone to the very heart of the program: that drawing 14-year-olds into admissions tasks will make a stressful process more so. In an Oct. 13 letter to the coalition, 100 counselors from Jesuit high schools, many serving low-income and first-generation students, objected to pushing first-year students to think about college. They should be acclimating to high school, they wrote, and learning for learning's sake.

May 13, 2016

Evaluating men and women on different traits, Rate My Professor

Benjamin Schmidt, a professor at Northeastern University, created a searchable database of roughly 14 million reviews from the Rate My Professor site.

Among the words more likely to be used to describe men: smart, idiot, interesting, boring, cool, creepy. And for women: sweet, shrill, warm, cold, beautiful, evil. "Funny" and "corny" were also used more often to describe men, while "organized" and "disorganized" showed up more for women.

In short, Schmidt says, men are more likely to be judged on an intelligence scale, while women are more likely to be judged on a nurturing scale.

"We're evaluating men and women on different traits or having different expectations for individuals who are doing the same job," says Erin Davis, who teaches gender studies at Cornell College.

May 12, 2016

LendingClub is to ____ as FinTech is to Bank ?

LendingClub's problems this week, musings of Matt Levine:

LendingClub got in trouble for being too much like a FintTech -- a "financial technology" company -- and too little like a bank, focusing on algorithms and speed and coolness rather than the plodding legalistic work that is the actual business of finance.

LendingClub got in trouble for being too much like a bank and too little like a FinTech, with mission creep, conflicts of interest and "a complicated network of middlemen" instead of a pure technology-driven neutral platform.

May 11, 2016

Carl Barneyisms

The greatest tragedy in all schools today is the 'D.D.D.'" -- a dropout who is in debt and doesn't get a degree.

Many of his work ideas are cataloged in "P.D.s" (procedure directives), "D.L.s" (data letters), "I.L.s," (information letters) and "M.M.s" (management memos). "M.M. 302," for example, is titled "Student Satisfaction and Success -- S.S.S." and offers the antidote to what he calls the "dreaded D.D.D."

"If something worked, we then systematized it," Mr. Carl Barney said.

"P.D. 154 R" lays out a two-year training program for employees who want to advance to associate directors. Among other things, they will be expected to read Rand's manifesto, the 1,200-page novel "Atlas Shrugged," which depicts a rotted-out America where creative geniuses stage a nationwide strike against corrupt "moochers and looters."

So when a friend told him about the existence of for-profit colleges, he was struck. "Wow," he said he thought, "you could actually buy a college? That's what I want to do."

In time, he ended up buying and establishing several colleges including CollegeAmerica, Stevens-Henager and California College. He developed an online division, Independence University.

It was thinking about the future of that business and his legacy that Mr. Barney said led him to merge his colleges in 2012 with the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, a nonprofit that supports free-market ideas in higher education. The center bought all the schools for about $630 million.

The money came from Mr. Barney himself in the form of loans and tax-deductible donations. Today, the colleges are no longer considered for-profit entities, and the center supports programs at brand-name universities like Tufts, Clemson and Duke.

Mr. Barney has stepped back from day-to-day oversight, but nothing changed in the way the colleges are operated. "We woke up the next day with the exact same management team," said Eric Juhlin, who continued as chief executive.

The sale, which is awaiting Education Department approval, has its critics. Industry watchdogs point, for example, to a whistle-blower lawsuit brought by two former recruiters in 2014 that charges the merger was done "at least in part, to evade certain regulatory requirements that apply to for-profit schools."

Todd Zywicki, executive director of George Mason Law and Economics Center and a longtime trustee at the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, called the notion "insulting," saying "it totally misrepresents what we were doing."

Mr. Barney similarly dismisses the accusations: "I could be a billionaire today if I hadn't converted to nonprofit."

Not only does Mr. Barney understand the indignation about profiting off public funds, in one sense, he shares it. "I don't think taxpayers should pay for our students," he said. He says he believes that government should get out of student loans and grants altogether and leave the financing to the schools, potential employers and banks.

It is a view that is echoed in "Atlas Shrugged." In the novel, the legendary railroad titan Nathaniel Taggart is said to have tossed a government official down three flights of stairs merely for asking if Mr. Taggart would like a government loan.

May 10, 2016

Facebook as virtual world

In the future, Mr. Zuckerberg imagines that "a physical thing, like a TV, will just be a $1 app" inside virtual reality on Facebook, he recently told a conference of software developers building apps for Facebook. But that may be 10 years off, by Mr. Zuckerberg's own admission. People who do not work at Facebook might say it is a fantasy.

Facebook even appears willing to turn the price-crushing model on itself. To get virtual reality to every place in the world, Facebook's Oculus VR headsets, currently $600, may have to cost $5, said Mike Schroepfer, the company's chief technology officer.

Is that another fantasy? For Facebook, getting those costs down could mean controlling the next big communications platform, since Mr. Zuckerberg believes virtual reality may eventually supplant smartphones as a primary connection to the online world.

"The world is making enough phones. It's better for the world if there are fewer devices," Mr. Schroepfer said. "It's not totally obvious how all this shakes out -- whether we'll have lots of consumer products, or it all disappears into a couple of VR headsets."

-- The apocryphal vision of Facebook

May 9, 2016

SWSX considered discussing or lamenting #GamerGate

"By approving the panels in question, SXSW assumed responsibility for related controversies and security threats," a statement by Vox Media said. "By canceling the panels, they have cut off an opportunity to discuss a real and urgent problem in media and technology today."

The moves by BuzzFeed and Vox echoed a growing outcry on social media over the conference's decision.

The gathering has long aspired to be a forum for topical discussions about tech, rather than dry corporate speeches, and the two events that it canceled were sure to stir up passions. For the past two years, harassment in gaming culture has become a high-profile topic, after several female game designers and critics were targeted for criticizing sexism in games.

People hostile to their views rallied around the Twitter hashtag #GamerGate, accusing them and journalists who wrote sympathetically about them of being politically correct "social justice warriors."

Some of the people who have been targeted by GamerGate supporters in the past applauded the moves by BuzzFeed and Vox to boycott SXSW. But they said the conference should reinstate only the online-harassment panel, not the other, which they viewed as a forum for GamerGate supporters.

May 7, 2016

Khole branding deep think

Khole has deep think abound branding and trends.

May 6, 2016

ADHD: Long term treatment ?

Twenty years ago, more than a dozen leaders in child psychiatry received $11 million from the National Institute of Mental Health to study an important question facing families with children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Is the best long-term treatment medication, behavioral therapy or both?

The widely publicized result was not only that medication like Ritalin or Adderall trounced behavioral therapy, but also that combining the two did little beyond what medication could do alone. The finding has become a pillar of pharmaceutical companies' campaigns to market A.D.H.D. drugs, and is used by insurance companies and school systems to argue against therapies that are usually more expensive than pills.

But in retrospect, even some authors of the study -- widely considered the most influential study ever on A.D.H.D. -- worry that the results oversold the benefits of drugs, discouraging important home- and school-focused therapy and ultimately distorting the debate over the most effective (and cost-effective) treatments.

The study was structured to emphasize the reduction of impulsivity and inattention symptoms, for which medication is designed to deliver quick results, several of the researchers said in recent interviews. Less emphasis was placed on improving children's longer-term academic and social skills, which behavioral therapy addresses by teaching children, parents and teachers to create less distracting and more organized learning environments.

Showing their concern:

Ruth Hughes, a psychologist and the chief executive of the advocacy group Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

May 5, 2016

Ranking or classifying adjacent words

I came across WordRank -- a fresh new approach to embedding words by looking at it as a ranking problem. In hindsight, this makes sense. In typical language modeling situation, NN based or otherwise, we are interested in this: you have a context cc, and you want to predict which word \hat{w}​w​^
​​ from your vocabulary \SigmaΣ will follow it. Naturally, this can be setup either as a ranking problem or a classification problem. If you are coming from the learning the rank camp, all sorts of bells might be going off at this point, and you might have several good reasons for favoring the ranking formulation. That's exactly what we see in this paper. By setting up word embedding as a ranking problem, you get a discriminative training regimen and built in attention-like capability (more on that later).

-- Summary by Delip Rao.

May 4, 2016

Regional infrastructure lines and metropolitan clusters

Are regional infrastructure lines and metropolitan clusters are more important than 'states' ?

Britain is also in the midst of an internal reorganization, with the government of Prime Minister David Cameron driving investment toward a new corridor stretching from Leeds to Liverpool known as the "Northern Powerhouse" that can become an additional economic anchor beyond London and Scotland.

We don't have to create these regions; they already exist, on two levels. First, there are now seven distinct super-regions, defined by common economics and demographics, like the Pacific Coast and the Great Lakes. Within these, in addition to America's main metro hubs, we find new urban archipelagos, including the Arizona Sun Corridor, from Phoenix to Tucson; the Front Range, from Salt Lake City to Denver to Albuquerque; the Cascadia belt, from Vancouver to Seattle; and the Piedmont Atlantic cluster, from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C.

May 2, 2016

Whimsy of graphic designers -- an esthetic ?

You describe yourself as a design troublemaker, and I actually think most designers are troublemakers. But what does that mean to you? Why do you describe yourself that way?

I like to describe myself that way, especially in the context of Cards Against Humanity, because we are a silly brand. Our visual aesthetic is very pared down. It's a Swiss design dungeon, as we call it, of black-and-white Helvetica.

But because Cards Against Humanity itself is a humor product, it gives us license to do very unexpected things. So in my job I'm basically creating assets for pranks. In my year at Cards, we purchased a castle, and I got to create a website that allows people to issue ridiculous decrees, because 150,000 people get to be king of this castle in Ireland for three minutes online. I got to create a food truck for the Penny Arcade Expo--it's a big game convention that happens every year in Seattle--we made popsicles that had Cards Against Humanity cards frozen inside the popsicle; you had to eat it and then you got this sticky, messy pack of cards inside.

-- Amy Nicole Schwartz, Cards Against Humanity and Blackbox

Those all had funny names like "Mango Fuck Yourself" or "It's Too Late to Stop Climate Change Cherry." A lot of what we do is humorous, creating pranks and things that poke fun in a way that never punches down at people, but it's really just for laughs.

May 1, 2016

Christian Louboutin, branding more important than product

"Today it is not good enough to simply churn out product. An authentic and honest brand narrative is fundamental today, otherwise you will simply be edited out. It was time for a course correction in the fashion industry as the desire to go faster and faster simply to outdo the other became the driving force rather than putting the dialogue with the customer at the center."

Armando Branchini, vice chairman of Fondazione Altagamma, the Italian luxury brand organization, said that such a narrative could clearly be seen in Mr. Michele's creative vision, "the collections themselves, the environment in which he presents them, his advertising campaigns and store windows and his approach to digital and social media content."

"There is a consistent narrative that runs throughout, which connects strongly with the customer," he added.

As proof of Mr. Bizzarri's comment, sales at the Kering-owned Gucci have risen markedly since Mr. Michele's appointment early last year.

In exploring new fronts, Christian Louboutin has teamed up with his longtime friend Valérie Schlumberger, whose charity project La Maison Rose assists women and children in Senegal.

The result is the handmade Africaba tote, an expression of West African inventiveness and tribal artisanship. The bag's colorful beaded panels and straps are a contrast to Mr. Louboutin's signature stud detailing that also can be found on the bag charm, a small doll wearing the Senegalese region's traditional dress. Proceeds from sales will support the charity.