True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.
— C. S. Lewis

The limitations of big data

The New York Times has an excellent - if not critical - piece on the implications of big data, and the oft-inflated promise of it that many seem to believe. Humorously titled "Eight (No, Nine!) Problems With Big Data", of all the points made, these two (I feel) are the most important:

Big data can work well as an adjunct to scientific inquiry but rarely succeeds as a wholesale replacement. Molecular biologists, for example, would very much like to be able to infer the three-dimensional structure of proteins from their underlying DNA sequence... But no scientist thinks you can solve this problem by crunching data alone, no matter how powerful the statistical analysis; you will always need to start with an analysis that relies on an understanding of physics and biochemistry. 

...One last problem: the hype. Champions of big data promote it as a revolutionary advance. But even the examples that people give of the successes of big data, like Google Flu Trends, though useful, are small potatoes in the larger scheme of things. They are far less important than the great innovations of the 19th and 20th centuries, like antibiotics, automobiles and the airplane.

Succinctly put: Big data can provide very useful and, in some cases actionable, insights. That it can do so out of the chaos of gargantuan data sets only makes the process all the more poetic. But to do big data right requires a lot of good information, and plenty of context. Let alone individuals smart enough to look for the right things and make the proper conclusions. Individuals that are disappointingly in short supply.

...A lot of the other points made in the article are also valid, but they aren't terribly surprising, either. I wish they had elaborated more on the problem of using inconsistent or "junk" data to draw conclusions, since it is the root cause of a lot of the other issues they describe.

Short of resolving the talent gap, dramatically growing the pools of good information that we have is perhaps the best way to ensure that big data's potential can be fully realized.

SATA Express: Putting MicroUSB 3.0 to shame

Kristian Vättö, Anandtech:

Unlike regular PCIe, SATAe does not provide power. This was a surprise for me because I expected SATAe to fully comply with the PCIe spec, which provides up to 25W for x2 and x4 devices. I'm guessing the cable assembly would have become too expensive with the inclusion of power and not all SATA-IO members are happy even with the current SATAe pricing.

To give you an idea of the atrocity that is SATA Express ("SATAe"), here's a picture. And, no, that's not three separate cables; that's one SATAe interface.

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I don't think they could have made it worse if they tried.

Still, it's a shame that modern interface standards, "designed by committee", end up so poorly executed. And people wonder why companies like Apple introduce proprietary connectors that aren't completely impractical.

King files for IPO with $7.6 billion valuation

John McDuling, Quartz:

This morning [King] released an updated regulatory filing, setting the price range for the offering, which implies a valuation of up to $7.6 billion for the business. But before jumping to conclusions about what this says about the increasingly frothy-looking valuations among new tech companies, it’s worth pointing out that King is not just profitable; it’s highly profitable. The company made $568 million in real money last year.

As much as I can't fathom such a high price tag for a company whose future is quite uncertain, I readily admit that King's current profitability is worlds better than that of other valuations that demanded a higher-still price tag. (Yes, Zynga and WhatsApp, I'm looking at you.)

Even so, with the exception of Instagram, I would argue that these IPO's and acquisitions are rarely beneficial to buyers. Time and time again, we've seen that vast user bases can't overcome the pitfalls of monetizing "free" services - and even when an occasional company manages to do so, it isn't through any long-term or sustainable means. I can't see why King is different in this regard.

FTC to investigate Herbalife

Josh Lowensohn, The Verge:

The US Federal Trade Commission has launched an investigation into nutritional supplement company Herbalife following more than a year of scrutiny over its business practices. The Los Angeles-based company, which has been accused of being a multi-level marketing scheme, said it was being investigated today, briefly halting trading of the stock and putting its future into question.

It's about time - Herbalife's business model is practically the definition of a pyramid scheme. To the point where investors have made upwards of $1 billion in bets shorting the stock!

Thoughts on WIRE

I just wanted to share with you all some exciting news regarding WIRE's trip to the 2014 National Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS) conference. 

As you may know, WIRE was a finalist in five categories going into the weekend:

Content:

1. Best Liner/Sweeper: Justice Wright, Under the Radar

2. Most Innovative Programming: Maya Bloom, Freshman Beats

3. Best Specialty Music Show: Erik Pohl, Movin’ N’ Groovin’

Digital:

4. Best Website

Best Station in the Nation, by Category:

5. Best Streaming/Online Radio Station

The first three awards were particularly exciting for us, since they were for specific shows put on by our DJs. Although being a finalist is in and of itself a great recognition — it means you are in company of the best in the U.S. —  we were all thrilled to see that Justice Wright was able to bring home the award for best program sweeper! In the category with the most submissions, no less!

This win is a testament to his great production skills, which, as a team member working with our Production Manager, will soon bolster content across the entire station. Furthermore, both Maya Bloom and Erik Pohl were also able to bring home awards in recognition of their finalist placement, meaning WIRE now has three nationally-recognized programs under its belt.

But, most exciting of all, WIRE has bested all other entrants and won the award for the best internet radio station in the nation! This is simply an incredible achievement that took many of us (myself included) by surprise. We bested our fellow finalists at UIC, DePaul University, St. Peter’s, and even Simmons, all of which are schools with long-established stations, supported by broadcast programs, and academic departments.

In addition, considering all the time and effort put in on the part of myself and others, we were all quite vindicated in our winning of the best website in the nation! There is still much work to be done on it, particularly with our bare-bones player, but we have a great base to build a digital platform upon. Much of this work will be done in the summer semester, which means that we can look forward to enjoying an even more impressive web presence going into Fall 2014.

Furthermore, beyond putting us at the top of college internet radio, our placement also gave us a finalist award in the best national station outright, which is an honor only two other radio stations share with us.

I simply can’t communicate the pride I feel for my fellow Executives, DJs, and members of the station. It is through their hard work and passion that we have the selection of shows that brought us this recognition, and I am humbled to have been a part of this success. To bring these awards home to WIT is a realization of a desire to provide a compelling platform with which students have the freedom to express themselves and learn all sorts of valuable skills not always taught in the classroom. 

And, perhaps to an even greater degree, it is a milestone in WIRE’s path towards becoming a cultural hub for the Wentworth community, and a source of pride and prestige for the institute.


Many thanks are in order for this. To start, I’d like to offer my enthusiastic gratitude to Steve Rossi, WIRE’s Campus Life advisor. Beyond all of the work he has done over the past year for the station (incalculable hours, I am sure), he was the one who organized and facilitated just about every arrangement pertaining to our attendance of the conference - inclusive of the whole three-day weekend he spent with us throughout the trip. He has been an active and supportive advisor, a great advocate for WIRE, and a good friend with which I have shared many laughs. WIRE is very lucky to have him working with us, and for that we should all be truly thankful.

I would also like to thank Paul Lazarovich, who has been alongside Wentworth’s radio efforts for many years. His generosity and advice since my joining WIRE have been invaluable for myself and the station alike, and his contributions to WIRE across his tenure at WIT have helped to shape the image and core values of the organization.

Finally, our appreciation goes out to all of the faculty who have worked with us in any measure towards our goals of further incorporating faculty and community participation in WIRE’s broadcasts. As we continue to push for greater active engagement with everyone at WIT, it is you all that jumped at the chance to participate, and visualized what it was our radio station could become, given enough effort.

Though WIRE’s development has only just started, and there is much to improve and perfect, I think we are beginning to see that vision come into sharp focus. And that, above all else, is what is most worth celebrating.

Thank you.

Ambassador of the unknown

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This past summer, I spent a month in Nepal with a group of students, through a program run by Where There Be Dragons. Though I've found many opportunities to wax poetic about the trip, suffice it to say that It was an experience I sincerely hope to relive many times over.

Some time after my return home, I was asked by WTBD to answer a few prompts, so as to share my experience for the sake of students who were considering similar journeys. They wanted to create a collective of "Alumni Ambassadors" - people who represented the many students that had traveled the globe with them. Consequently, I sent them some responses, which I am happy to say you can now read on their website.

My favorite answer is to a prompt that asks why I seek the unknown:

...to become a better, smarter, and more empathetic individual through learning and experience. To immerse oneself in a completely unknown culture and language is to rediscover the magic and wonder of the mundane, in much the same way that a child can be fascinated as he or she learns about the world they occupy for the very first time. I absolutely relish such an experience of discovery and humility. 

If there is anything I can say to anyone even remotely considering this sort of thing, let it be this: It isn't for everyone, the preparation is challenging, and your comfort zone will almost certainly be challenged. But if you still have even a glimmer of interest, after understanding what it is you've signed up for, I promise you won't regret it.

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.
— Dalai Lama

John Legere is an eccentric man

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Chris Welch, The Verge:

Today T-Mobile itself is taking its ongoing war with AT&T to a new level — or what some might consider to be a new low. The carrier has issued a satirical press release blasting AT&T for a new promotion that offers T-Mobile customers up to $450 to switch providers. The official press release reads like something straight out of The Onion; it starts off, "T-Mobile US, Inc. today announced that pretty much everyone at the company is overcome with emotion and still kind of processing the decision by now-ex-rival AT&T to leave the dark side, step into the light, and join hands in supporting the Un-carrier consumer revolution."

I want T-Mobile to disrupt the US telecom industry as much as everyone else. And I can certainly appreciate the identity and mission that Legere is targeting with his often-times enjoyable antics. But I worry that T-Mobile will go too far in its mudslinging, and not far enough in its actual service.

Sure, people like to complain that their wireless bills are too high. But they pay them anyway, and, frankly, at the end of the day, service quality trumps all. And I don't think T-Mobile is yet at the point where it is a true value leader - that is, where the service is so comparably inexpensive that the drawbacks are worth it.

The company may currently be enjoying significant subscriber gains, but they better work on infrastructure if they hope to retain those customers in the long term

Daft Punk. Pharrell Williams. Stevie Wonder.

I didn't watch the Grammys (and don't ever really care to, if i'm honest), but this astounding blend of a live performance is worth watching, particularly during the last bit when Stevie sings solo. It's a great example of a mixture of genres that, at face value, seem incompatible.

Yet, two masters of their craft find a way to make something of impressive substance and, frankly, beauty. I wish there was simply more of this to listen to.

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Update: Perhaps unsurprisingly, the video was taken down. But a quick Google search will probably point to another one (*cough cough*).

The Mac Pro

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Ars Technica's Dave Girard writes (what I think to be) an exceptionally detailed, and well balanced review, of Apple's new Mac Pro.

My own computer is a first-gen Retina MacBook Pro, which handles my work just fine. But I have to admit that the new Mac Pro has, for me, become an item that is as desirable as it is totally unnecessary for what I do. Still, for what you get, it's a surprisingly good deal of a machine.

Apple was the king of industrial design before this came out, and there remains no real competition for that throne to date. Let's hope that changes, no?

A Brief History of WIRE

As many people know about me, I am the Station Director of Wentworth Internet Radio & Entertainment (WIRE), which is an online radio station that is run entirely by students. And, as many people know about the station I work for, WIRE has seen a great revitalization in the past few years, as a renewed and engaged group of students set about to make the organization a real centerpiece of Wentworth Institute of Technology.

Yet, though our online-only presence and renewed operations would suggest otherwise, WIRE has a fair amount of history that belies its modern look and feel. I would like to share a succinct version of that history today, in part because of the importance that, I believe, these roots hold, in terms of our culture and our outlook.

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See, way back before any current members were students at Wentworth, WIRE was, in fact, an entirely different radio station. As recently as the early ninties, we were broadcasting from the basement of one of the campus buildings, with our transmissions being fed through the sole tower in the vicinity. Old-fashioned speakers also littered the campus, playing back what we were sending out to the Greater Boston Area. In a sense, we were much closer to the image and means of most college radio stations at the time, or even today.

Of course, things changed, and, after a snafu regarding spectrum use and the FCC, we lost our over-the-airwaves privilages, which nearly ended Wentworth's foray into radio. For a period of time, up until the early 2000s, Wentworth had no active radio station, and only a (then dying) school newspaper acting as the cultural and social hub for the entire institute.

Luckily enough, however, enough students were concerned about this lack of cultural support that they worked with faculty to develop a new radio station, which would become an internet-only creation. This transpired in the first years of the new millennium, which is widely regarded as the point in time where Internet radio and podcasting at large really began to take off and become a significant force in the broadcasting space. WIRE, then the "Wentworth Internet Radio Experiment", was just one of many stations that were looking to use the medium of the internet to extend their reach, and establish themselves.

Still, few foresaw how extensive the internet revolution would prove to be in its permeation of almost every facet of everyday life, with radio being no exception. And, riding this wave of new media, WIRE found itself in a tumultuous and exciting decade, filled with the peaks of new shows and listeners, and the valleys of weak student engagement and limited funding.

In fact, by 2010, even with all of the shows and events that WIRE had performed, the organization had found itself in a functional and financial rut, with very little student engagement and a lack of the infrastructure needed to maintain operations... 

...Which leaves us with WIRE today, a full three years after new members and new ideas worked to bring the station back to relevancy and into the ranks of our fellow stations throughout Boston, and across the globe. For indeed, though we have a long and storied history dating back decades, it is the history and legacy we are building today that we hope will be best remembered by the following generations of broadcasters at Wentworth.