March 28, 2015

American research universities are rankable

The American research university had evolved into a complicated and somewhat peculiar organization. It was built to be all things to all people: to teach undergraduates, produce knowledge, socialize young men and women, train workers for jobs, anchor local economies, even put on weekend sports events. And excellence was defined by similarity to old, elite institutions. Universities were judged by the quality of their scholars, the size of their endowments, the beauty of their buildings and the test scores of their incoming students.

That created an opening for those who wanted to mimic the established schools. Buildings and scholars could be bought, and as long as the students were relatively smart when they enrolled, few questions would be asked about what they learned in college itself. Indeed, because the standard university organizational model left teaching responsibilities to autonomous academic departments and individual faculty members, each of which taught and tested in its own way, few questions could be asked that would produce comparable results.

So John Silber embarked on a huge building campaign while bringing luminaries like Saul Bellow and Elie Wiesel on board to teach and lend their prestige to the B.U. name, creating a bigger, more famous and much more costly institution. He had helped write a game plan for the aspiring college president.

March 24, 2015


Braverman's description of Taylor's system can be summarized in three principles:

first is that traditional knowledge is gathered into the hands of management,
second is that the planning of the task is separated from its execution so that management decides what needs to be done and the workers follow those instructions of orders, and
lastly, management must hold a monopoly over knowledge to control each step of the labor process.

March 21, 2015

Mapping NYC's growth

Mapping how NYC's housing market spurs population change.

CHPC NY's making neighborhoods map.

March 20, 2015

Street score media mit Citymap NYC

Streetscore by Citymap of NYC: how welcoming are those streets ?

Middle class in a 7 class nation

The new classes are defined as:

Elite - the most privileged group in the UK, distinct from the other six classes through its wealth. This group has the highest levels of all three capitals

Established middle class - the second wealthiest, scoring highly on all three capitals. The largest and most gregarious group, scoring second highest for cultural capital

Technical middle class - a small, distinctive new class group which is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital. Distinguished by its social isolation and cultural apathy

New affluent workers - a young class group which is socially and culturally active, with
middling levels of economic capital

Traditional working class - scores low on all forms of capital, but is not completely deprived. Its members have reasonably high house values, explained by this group having the oldest average age at 66

Emergent service workers - a new, young, urban group which is relatively poor but has high social and cultural capital

Precariat, or precarious proletariat - the poorest, most deprived class, scoring low for social and cultural capital

Continue reading "Middle class in a 7 class nation" »

March 18, 2015

Radar.oreilly on interface languages to data science

Radar.oreilly on interface languages and feature discovery.

March 17, 2015

Shape of city blocks

Travel to any European city and the likelihood is that it will look and feel substantially different to modern American cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, or Miami.

Ref: A Typology of Street Patterns

The reasons are many. Most older European cities have grown organically, usually before the advent of cars, with their road layout largely determined by factors such as local geography. By contrast, the growth of many American cities occurred after the development of cars and their road layout was often centrally planned using geometric grids.

But while the differences are stark to any human observer, nobody has succeeded in finding an objective way to capture the difference. Today, that changes thanks to the work of Rémi Louf and Marc Barthelemy at the Institut de Physique Théorique about 20 kilometers south of Paris. They have found a way to capture the unique "fingerprint" of a city's road layout and provide a way to classify and compare the unique layouts of cities all over the world for the first time.

Louf and Barthelemy began by downloading the road layouts from OpenStreetMap for 131 cities from all continents other than Antarctica.One objective way to assess road layout is to think of it as a network in which the nodes are junctions and road segments are the links in between.

The problem with this method is that the networks of most cities turn out to be remarkably similar. That's because the topology captures the connectedness of a city but nothing about the scale or geometry of the layout. It is the scale and geometry of the layout that seem to be the crucial difference between cities that humans recognize.

Louf and Barthelemy's breakthrough was to find a way of capturing this difference. Instead of examining the road layout, they look at the shapes of the spaces bounded by roads. In other words, they analyze the size and shape of the street blocks.

In a city based on a grid, these blocks will be mostly square or rectangular. But when the street layout is less regular, these blocks can be a variety of polygons.

Capturing the geometry of city blocks is tricky. However, Louf and Barthelemy do this using the ratio of a block's area to the area of a circle that encloses it. This quantity is always less than 1 and the smaller its value, the more exotic and extended the shape. The researchers then plot the distribution of block shapes for a given city.

But this shape distribution by itself is not enough to account for visual similarities and dissimilarities between street patterns. Louf and Barthelemy point out that New York and Tokyo share similar shape distributions but the visual similarity between these cities' layouts is far from obvious.

That's because blocks can have similar shapes but very different areas. "If two cities have blocks of the same shape in the same proportion but with totally different areas, they will look different," they say.

So the crucial measure that characterizes a city combines both the shape of the blocks and their area. To display this, Louf and Barthelemy arrange the blocks according to their area along the Y-axis and their shape ratio along the X-axis. The resulting plot is the unique fingerprint that characterizes each city.

When they did this for each of the 131 cities they had data for, they discovered that cities fall into four main types (see diagram above). The first category contains only one city, Buenos Aires in Argentina, which is entirely different from every other city in the database. Its blocks are all medium-size squares and regular rectangles.

March 15, 2015

How 2015 is not like 1999

In 1999 a dotcom with no revenue could burn $100 million in one year, with $2 million of that going to a Super Bowl ad. Its namesake website could offer a terrible user experience, and still the company could go public. Investors would chase the rising stock price, which would drive up the price further, which in turn drew more investors, feeding a textbook 'speculative bubble' that burst the moment everyone realised there wasn't any there there.

This kind of stuff isn't happening any more. It's not that the internet has become less important, or investors less 'irrationally exuberant' -- it's that start-ups have gotten cheaper. A web start-up today has almost no fixed capital costs. There's no need to invest in broadband infrastructure, since it's already there. There's no need to buy TV ads to get market share, when you can grow organically via search (Google) and social networks (Facebook). 'Cloud' web servers, like nearly all other services a virtual company might need -- such as credit-card processing, automated telephone support, mass email delivery -- can be paid for on demand, at prices pegged to Moore's Law.

Continue reading "How 2015 is not like 1999" »

Light up the room -- but don't overshadow others

Speak up -- but don't talk too much. Light up the room -- but don't overshadow others. Be confident and critical -- but not cocky or negative.

Continue reading "Light up the room -- but don't overshadow others" »

March 10, 2015

I would have to be looking for a way to wear down or tear down their No into a Fine, I Won't Stop You.

I would have to be looking for a way to wear down or tear down their No into a Fine, I Won't Stop You.