CURRENT AFFAIRS

08.17.2009

Want an imaginative, empathetic career as a story-teller? Become a statistician!

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Imran Ali of GigaOM's WebWorker Daily has got me thinking in a new way about the future of work. "It's Data, Baby," he writes in the New York Times.

I'm trying to get my head around two ideas he presents that seem in irrevocable conflict. One is the counterintuitive notion that in 10 years the sexy job description will be "statistician." The other is the equally counterintuitive notion that, because we are drowning in data, the future of work lies not in the logical, data-oriented left brain but in the right brain--calling on intuition, imagination, story-telling, empathy, and an ability to synthesize disparate ideas.

And then a recent example of just that sort of analysis popped right into my right brain, and probably my left brain too.

Remember the excitement a few days ago when the US unemployment figures appeared to nudge down a hair? The headline on the Associated Press story was typical. It read "Surprisingly strong jobs data signal turning point." Hooray!

But keep reading and reading and reading. Not until paragraph 13 do we find out that employers are expected to continue cutting jobs, so the unemployment rate will probably go up again.

And then, finally, in paragraph 14(!), we get the real dope: "In fact, the main reason the unemployment rate declined last month was not an inspiring one: Hundreds of thousands of people, some discouraged by their failed job searches, left the labor force."

So the teeny apparent dip in the jobless rate is a total mirage. If it dipped at all, it was because the government simply stopped counting hundreds of thousands of unemployed folks who would love to get jobs but have come to believe it's hopeless. And we had to wait until paragraph 14 to find that out!

Continue reading "Want an imaginative, empathetic career as a story-teller? Become a statistician!"

Posted by Tam    Category: current affairs
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08.14.2009

Has the recession brought the US birth rate down?

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The US birth rate appears to have gone down 2% in 2008, according to the government. That's more than 70,000 fewer babies than expected.

The figure is not quite firm, since lower immigration could also explain why the birth rate did not increase for the first time since the turn of the millennium.

The experts are saying that the poor economy is a possible explanation. Although as I do the math it's clear that would mean lots of women decided against pregnancy for financial reasons as early as the first half of 2007--a time when even few experts foresaw that we were headed over a cliff.

So I'm wondering, could decisions about childbearing be a leading indicator of an economic downturn? Monitoring the actual birth rate would come too late to help with forecasting because we are just getting the 2008 data now, when the worst already appears to be easing a bit.

But it might make sense to track behavior that figures into the initial decision not to get pregnant--number of contraceptive prescriptions, for example. Or Plan B purchases. Or possibly condom buying, although the increasing (I hope!) use of condoms for disease prevention would muddy that data.

Do you suppose tracking marriage rates might be useful, even though marriage and having babies are no longer inextricably linked? Sales of bridal gowns? Business ups and downs of wedding planners? Or, here's a thought, could sales of bridesmaid dresses and rates of shoe-dying turn out to be a leading economic indicator?

Thanx to Allison Bond over at 80Beats, who rounded up some news items about the birth rate data.

Posted by Tam    Category: current affairs
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06.26.2009

Every girl's dream: the weightless wedding

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It wasn't exactly a wedding in space, which I told you last year will happen in 2011. But it was a weightless wedding, probably the first to be held in the 30-second periods of zero gravity possible when the G-Force One aircraft flies loop-de-loops. Cost: $7500 per person, not counting the photographer.

Thanks to Jennifer Ouellette at Twisted Physics, who provides technical details on the nuptials. For a more traditional account that covers how bride Erin Finnegan and groom Noah Fulmor were dressed, plus a photo gallery, see Australia's Daily Telegraph.

Posted by Tam    Category: current affairs
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06.18.2009

Billboards that Know What You Crave

Soon those roadside billboards will be able to tell if they should be promoting those brand new radial tires or a relaxing trip just by looking at you. Thanks to A *Star, Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology, and Research, there will soon be a gender recognition program that will change the way advertising is done.

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Using a complex batch of formulas and algorithms, the program can tell the difference between men and women and respond in kind, displaying the appropriate ad. The current version of the program can only scan faces that are facing the camera but the agency is hoping to release a more fleshed out version later in the year.

Via Crave CNet

Posted by sherri    Category: current affairs
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06.17.2009

AT&T iPhone 3G S uprade pricing change

If you're one of the many people who've decided to wait to buy the iPhone 3G S until they are eligible for the best upgrade price, you may be in luck. Due to complaints from early adopters who bought their iPhone 3G when it first arrived last July, AT&T has slightly revised their upgrade pricing. Now if you're one of the people who would qualify for the upgrade pricing later this June, or sometime in July, August, or September of 2009, you can get your iPhone 3G S at the highest discounted price of $199/$299 for 16 GB/32 GB now instead of waiting a couple of months or paying more and fuming about it.

If you've already pre-ordered your iPhone 3G S, you don't have to do anything. If you're picking up your phone at an AT&T store, the price will be adjusted there. If you're getting your phone delivered from AT&T, you'll be issued a credit. If you pre-ordered from Apple, it's not yet clear if the price will be slashed at the store at the time of pick-up, but if you're eligible, you will get the credit.

This is great news, and kind of a hahaha to all the people (probably eligible for the upgrade already themselves) who have said the complainers were whining unreasonably. My view is that Apple/AT&T breeds the early adoption longing, and for re-upping your contract, complete with hefty data and texting fees, you should get the partially subsidized price. After all, at some next year, you may be able to get an iPhone that's not tied to AT&T.

My complaint? I have a three iPhone family plan, bought the iPhone 3Gs (that's plural, not the new model) last July when they came out, have a HUGE bill that's well over $300 a month, have never been late on a payment and yet somehow I am not eligible for the early upgrade, and won't be eligible for the full upgrade price until December. Why? My cynical side says that my billing profile screams someone who will impatiently buy the iPhone 3G S anyway, without financial incentive. This seemingly arbitrary system of awarding upgrades at different times, with vague explanations of a "formula" is definitely incentive enough for me to consider going elsewhere with my iPhone, as soon as I can. Also, stupid AT&T- I and I would think most people who pay their bills on time, can't afford a $700 phone.

The online eligibility tool to determine your highly individualized, seemingly random date of obtaining your iPhone 3G S at the upgrade price will be updated at some point tomorrow to reflect the new, less harsh upgrade policy.

2 Days to go! And I will be reviewing the iPhone 3G S (harshly, haha), just not buying one on Friday.

Posted by Mia    Category: cell phones | current affairs
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06. 8.2009

iPhone 3GS pricing weirdness

I know I'm rah-rah about the iPhone 3GS, but my ridiculous geek parade is being rained on, it seems. If you have an iPhone 3G, then the earliest you could have started your phone plan is July 11th, 2008, so you will not be eligible for the upgrade pricing of $199/$299 for the iPhone 3GS. At best, you may be able to get "early upgrade pricing" which is $399/$499 for 16 GB/32 GB, respectively. At worst, you'll have to pay full price: $599/$699.

It seems very odd, as most of the features of the new phone will be available in the free software upgrade, and only the most eager/geeky would care that much about the differences in the 3G/3GS. How many super-geeks don't have an iPhone 3G already?

Weird. I think June 19th just freed up for a whole lot of people.

Posted by Mia    Category: cell phones | current affairs
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06. 8.2009

Pre-order your iPhone 3G-S

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I'm obviously a tad over-excited about the whole iPhone 3G-S news, but here's a new tidbit that will make eager beavers like me a bit calmer: you can pre-order your new iPhone 3G-S, and be assured that you will have your phone in your hand on June 19th! Starting at about 5 PM EST this evening, you can go into any AT&T store and pre-order your phone. AT&T stores will open early, at 7 AM, on June 19th, just for those pre-order-ers, so you can pick up your phone before everyone else. Later tonight, online pre-ordering will also begin, and the online pre-orders will be received in the mail, rather than in-store pick-up. I am getting confirmation now about whether online pre-orders will be delivered by June 19th. This is a first-come, first-serve sale so availability may be quite limited.

You can also pre-order your iPhone 3GS at Apple retail stores.

The AT&T pre-order site will be open for orders later tonight.

Full press release:
AT&T Pre-orders for iPhone 3G-S

Update:
I've confirmed with AT&T that if you do your pre-order of the iPhone 3G-S online, your phone will be delivered on June 19th. At the mercy of FedEx, perhaps, but you won't spend hours in line.

Update #2:
Oddly, I've gotten emails/calls from people telling me their AT&T stores are not only not yet doing the pre-sale, but have no idea what they're talking about. I called a local store and was told to call the nearest Apple store. Wondering if the online pre-sale will go live, as promised, at "some point tonight".

I'm confused, but looks like the online site is taking orders:
Buy your iPhone early

Posted by Mia    Category: cell phones | current affairs | devices
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06. 8.2009

iPhone 3G-S D-Day- June 19th!

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Another summer, a new iPhone model. The highlights:

- Much faster phone in general, so apps will load faster, run better, less crashing.

- Way better battery life: Up to 12 hours of talk time on the 2G network (still 5 on 3G), 9hours of wifi Internet surfing, 10 hours of video playback.

-Voice dialing and Voice Control of iPod functions.

-3.0 Megapixel camera with video, at last, and in-phone video editing. MMS (multimedia messages with photos and video) will be supported but won't be available until the end of the summer.

-Built in compass (in addition to the GPS, of course) to further help the directionally challenged.

-Spotlight search: search across the entire iPhone for any search term- you don't have to look separately in your calendar, contacts, etc...

Bottom Line- Do you need it if you have an iPhone 3G?
I think yes. But I'm crazy and I also have an Android G1 phone, the Palm Pre, and, um, a few others. The improved battery life of the iPhone 3G-S is reason enough for me to upgrade. The added processor speed (makes the phone about twice as fast) helps too, if you're a power user or use a lot of apps. The compass is good if you can't find your way out of your own house, like me.

But... other than the battery, processor, compass, and voice controller, most of the upgraded features will be included in the iPhone 3.0 firmware upgrade, which will be available for free on June 17th. This uncommonly gracious move allows iPhone owners to play around with the new features before deciding if they need the upgrade to the new hardware.

Continue reading "iPhone 3G-S D-Day- June 19th!"

Posted by Mia    Category: cell phones | current affairs | devices
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05.27.2009

Woman who named Pluto dies, aged 90

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Mrs Venetia Phair, who used to be Miss Venetia Burney (what a great name, like something out of a Roald Dahl novel) died at the end of April, according to reports.

She thought the new celestial body discovered in 1930 should be called Pluto - not after a Disney character but after the Roman God of the Underworld. Her 11 year-old self must have been thrilled when her suggestion was taken seriously. Sounds like the talent for naming ran in the family, though - her great-uncle Henry named the two dwarf moons of Mars. (Phobos and Deimos, though I'm sure I don't need to tell you that).

Posted by Diane    Category: current affairs | science
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05.26.2009

The contraceptive sponge is back. Again

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Once more women will be calculating whether the men in their lives are sponge-worthy because the Today contraceptive sponge has just returned to drugstore shelves.

The sponge, and sponge-worthiness, became famous due to this episode of "Seinfeld," where Elaine hoarded her dwindling supply, vetting prospective bedmates severely to decide if they merited using up one of her precious sponges.

The contraceptive sponge, once the most popular barrier method of birth control for women, is made of polyurethane covered with spermicide. No prescription needed. It has twice disappeared from the market, although not for safety reasons. Natasha Singer's New York Times article explains the complexities.

Posted by Tam    Category: body | culture | current affairs | devices | wearables
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