Monday, August 27, 2012

The top 1% and what they do

I find this interactive graphic from the New York Times, though not new, to be very interesting.

It shows where the top 1% are occupied. It is interesting because the 1% is really spread out a lot. Of course if you are a lawyer or doctor or work with financial securities, you stand a good chance of being rich.

I find that discussion of income and taxes to be oddly affected by individual's perceptions about the rich. Either we have a strong feeling about it, because we feel that some people are earning more than is fair, or maybe we are against some policy, such as the estate tax, because we think that that tax will impact us personally, even though we are not likely to be in that category. I think that I flip flop in my own thinking about this often.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A self driving car

The Google Blog just issued an update about their self driving car program. Their computer controlled cars have logged over 300,000 miles without an accident. Now members of the team are going to use the cars to do some limited commuting, with only a single human within the vehicle. Previously the humans were in two person teams. This is very remarkable for a number of reasons.

1. Image recognition is very hard, and so I guess video recognition is also hard. That said, there is probably a reasonable subset of features that are critical for the computer to recognize, for example. A person can easily tell the difference between a horse, or a cow, or a deer is in the road, which the computer will find difficult. However to avoid a collision, we do not care what the large obstacle is, we just need to know that it is in our way, or on a path to be in our way. The computer is probably much faster than a human in responding to an identified obstacle.

2. This is a very bold move by Google. They started out as a search engine company, and now they do so many things. I try to avoid hyperbole, but they are probably the most innovative company around. Now it might be that they are just the best at buying other companies of interest, but this foray into big hardware is significant. For Google this is a high level of diversification.

The idea of boldly going after an innovation is inspiring. Now I do not know about the self driving car niche, so I do not know how much of the techniques and algorithms are borrowed from academia etc., but Google is most certainly picking up patents by the basketful as they are figuring out how to make this work. There is a lot to be learned by putting yourself out there and making the effort. At some point you have to stop talking and thinking and start making something. I would love to see the full story about the prototypes and simulations and failed tests that went into this effort.

Also, given human nature, I wonder when people or the regulators will feel safe about people giving control over to the driving computer in even larger numbers. At what point do we determine that it is safer than a human driver? I am certain that we could achieve that pretty easily, but it still might have its flaws, and would we require it to be perfect? It is certainly an interesting question.

Monday, August 06, 2012

I'm starting classes at the University of Michigan!

Well, not exactly AT the University of Michigan. I am taking Social Network Analysis through Right now Free virtual classes are all the rage. Online courses in general are nothing new. U. C. Irvine, for example has several computer science classes available online, but they are about the same price as the in-classroom version of the same material.

What Coursera (as well as a few similar businesses ) offers is free on-line courses from top universities. There is a good introduction to some of the offerings in the TED Blog.

I signed up for Social Network Analysis because I have an interest in social networks, and in data visualization, which it seems would be part of the class. I've heard that some courses allow you to pay at the end for a completion certificate of some sort. I am just happy to get the information.

The TED blog lists a variety of courses that include ones available through ITunes, and YouTube.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Biological Black Matter

Nathan Wolfe has an interesting TED Talk about the uncharted worlds of exploration within our own bodies. I find it interesting how the organisms that live within our bodies affect our health and well being. When Wolfe cataloged the DNA captured in a human nose for example, there was a significant amount of DNA that was not associated with known organisms! It was like a UFO in your nose (and elsewhere).