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August 29, 2016

Harpering on Harper: Canada, 2015

Harper is a master tactician. Knowing that there is a block of rightwing voters who have nowhere else to go, he has been willing to defy them in search of wider support: adopting liberal positions on abortion and gay marriage; veering leftwards to pump public money into the economy to avoid recession in 2008; reaching out to the migrants who now fill the suburbs of traditionally Liberal cities such as Toronto. He studies the stats. He makes the numbers add up. Harper has his roots in the same ideological soil as Thatcher and Reagan: cutting tax and rolling back the state; tough on crime and even tougher on the unions; boosting families and national pride; a solid economy that rewards those who work hard.


Harper has his roots in the same ideological soil as Thatcher and Reagan: cutting tax and rolling back the state
And then there were the tactics that were to attract such notoriety. They reflected the man's character - clever and harsh - moves that turned a democratic election into a mere sequence of manoeuvres. He learned from the master, Arthur Finkelstein, who had played the electoral game for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. One of Harper's early allies from the 1990s, Gerry Nicholls, captured in his memoirs the special cynicism of Finkelstein's will to manipulate the electorate in his dictum: "We have to convince Canadians to drink pig's piss."

-- Nick Davies

And it meant investing heavily in the politically profitable new science of microtargeting. This was the original reason for the Conservatives creating the Cims database, in which was stored every conceivable item of intelligence about voters. Other parties have since caught up, but at that time it allowed the Conservative party to target the "market segments" it needed for victory - not just with policy, but with favours. A $500 tax break for children to do ballet or hockey in the 2006 budget was good for a middle-class segment (this was doubled in 2014). A break for tradespeople's tools could buy another. The Canadian writer Susan Delacourt, who tracked this in her book, Shopping For Votes, told of the finding in the Cims database that people who owned snowmobiles were potential Conservative voters. The Harper government has pledged $35m to create new trails for snowmobiles.

These tactics have proved particularly effective in a world in which people are becoming alienated from politics itself. In Canada, nearly 40% of the electorate did not bother to vote at the 2011 election. Among voters under 24, more than 60% stayed away (compared with 35.3% in 2006). A poll in Quebec province two months ago found that as the federal election campaign was launched, 20% of respondents could not name the political party that was running the country. Delacourt cites one of Harper's political marketers, Patrick Muttart, saying that much of Conservative activity was aimed at voters who paid no attention to politics and who needed messages that were "brutally simple".

August 28, 2016

Canadian long-form census

Any Canadian who finds a long-form census on their doorstep in 2016 but fails to complete it could be hit with a fine of as much as $500 and a jail term of up to three months. The law requiring those penalties for non-compliance was never changed - it simply did not apply to the 2011 national household survey.

But Mr. Bains and Mr. Duclos either did not know, or did not want to discuss, what consequences would befall those who do not co-operate.

Reporters asked the ministers seven times to say whether there would be penalties for non-compliance and, each time, the ministers responded by discussing the importance of persuading Canadians to take part - or the fact that most people take it upon themselves to complete the forms. "If you speak to Canadians and you get them engaged in the process, they will fill out the information, and that's what we are focusing on because we need good, reliable data," Mr. Bains said.

Ather Akbari, an economics professor at St. Mary's University in Halifax, relies on census data dating back to 1981 for his studies of immigrants in the labour market. He said restoring the mandatory questionnaire "will help to set up evidence-based policy." And in his own work, he added, "it will help me draw meaningful comparisons from the past."

Alain BĂ©langer, Statscan's former assistant director, said the findings of the voluntary household survey distributed in 2011 were clearly skewed. If the government had opted for a voluntary survey again in 2016, he said, the results would have been even worse because bad data would have built upon bad data.

-- Gloria Galloway

August 19, 2016

Census.gov on people and wealth

The US Census is the original big data project.


Pew Research on some demographers are studying now: multiracial children, gender identity.

Public Use Microdata Area: PUMA1, based on the American Community Survey (ACS) .

August 18, 2016

NY Times' interactive 2016 us elections primary calendar and results

Fun while it lasted: NY Times' 2016 elections primary calendar and results, with delegate counts.

August 16, 2016

Lifehacking: Making small changes stick: daily routine for 30 days

Is there something you've always meant to do, wanted to do, but just ... haven't? Matt Cutts suggests: Try it for 30 days. This short, lighthearted talk offers a neat way to think about setting and achieving goals.

A daily task will make you mindful of time; a month will not pass unnoticed.


More in lifehacking.

August 15, 2016

Mind mapping

A step-by-step guide:

Plan on making your mind map in stages: a rough first draft to capture your ideas, an edited version of the draft to show their connections, and a final draft that groups information in an orderly way.

To make a mind map, you'll need a large, unlined notepad or an artist's sketchpad, and several colored pens, markers, or highlighters. If you take notes with a laptop or tablet PC, you might want to invest in software such as the Mindjet MindManager or Inspiration.

February/March 2006 issue of ADDitude

Apollo 11

First, pick out related ideas and categorize them by color. In the "Edited Draft,"

  • details about the crew are in red,

  • equipment in gold,

  • dates in black,

  • statistics in violet,

  • terminology in blue, and

  • interesting facts in green.

Next, look for an organizing principle. In our Apollo 11 example, the stages of the moon mission--Lift-off, Moon Landing, and While on Moon--stand out as a way to impose chronological order to the map. Add "Crew" as another topic, and you have four major themes around which to organize the information. (If a topic heading isn't already on the map, add it.) Number the topics to indicate their chronological order, and assign a different color to each.

August 13, 2016

Thinking and execution

Separate thinking and execution to think better and execute faster.

-- Sol Tanguay

August 3, 2016

Apple acquired Turi, a machine learning software startup

Apple has acquired Turi (the former GraphLab and Dato), a machine learning software startup. The startup formerly went by the names GraphLab and Dato.

Carlos Guestrin, cofounder and chief executive of the startup, serves as Amazon professor of machine learning at the University of Washington. Amazon has brought on machine learning talent in the years since 2012, when Guestrin got the position. The startup employed some former Microsoft employees, so it's fascinating to see Apple acquire it.

Apple has acquired several other machine learning startups recently, including Emotient, Perceptio, and VocalIQ.

Turi's competitors included Databricks, H2O, and Neo4j, among others. But because Turi has added artificial intelligence into its technology, it faced competition in that area as well.