Hal Varian on the Need for Data Interpreters

Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, gave a nice summary of a major need of our era.

Emphasis added:

“The ability to take data—to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it—that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades, not only at the professional level but even at the educational level for elementary school kids, for high school kids, for college kids. Because now we really do have essentially free and ubiquitous data. So the complimentary scarce factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it.

“I think statisticians are part of it, but it’s just a part. You also want to be able to visualize the data, communicate the data, and utilize it effectively. … being able to access, understand, and communicate the insights you get from data analysis —are going to be extremely important.”

Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist, 2009

Sam Altman and Y-Combinator

Tad Friend at The New Yorker has just published a great snapshot of Sam Altman’s leadership at Y Combinator. It is worth a read for anyone interested in topics like:

  • technology and human progress
  • generating the next phase of economic growth
  • A.I. and transhumanism
  • crowd-funding a smart city
  • etc.

The following excerpts give a hint at the full contents of the article.

On Altman’s ruthless enthusiasm for big, future-transforming ideas:

“Altman is rapidly building out an economy within Silicon Valley that seems intended to essentially supplant Silicon Valley—a guild of hyper-capitalist entrepreneurs who will help one another fix the broken world. Everyone has cautioned him against it.”

On A.I., human limitations, and technological possibilities (embracing the Singularity?):

“On  a daylong hike with friends north of San Francisco, Altman relinquished the notion that human beings are singular. As the group discussed advances in artificial intelligence, Altman recognized, he told me, that “there’s absolutely no reason to believe that in about thirteen years we won’t have hardware capable of replicating my brain. Yes, certain things still feel particularly human—creativity, flashes of inspiration from nowhere, the ability to feel happy and sad at the same time—but computers will have their own desires and goal systems. When I realized that intelligence can be simulated, I let the idea of our uniqueness go, and it wasn’t as traumatic as I thought.” He stared off. “There are certain advantages to being a machine. We humans are limited by our input-output rate—we learn only two bits a second, so a ton is lost. To a machine, we must seem like slowed-down whale songs.”

On the idea of a crowd-funded smart city:

“Recently, YC began planning a pilot project to test the feasibility of building its own experimental city. It would lie somewhere in America, or perhaps abroad, and would be optimized for technological solutions: it might, for instance, permit only self-driving cars. “It could be a college town built out of YC, the university of the future,” Altman said. “A hundred thousand acres, fifty to a hundred thousand residents. We crowdfund the infrastructure and establish a new and affordable way of living around concepts like ‘No one can ever make money off of real estate.’ ”

On the preference for action over caution:

“For Altman, the best way to discover which future was in store was to make it. One of the first things he did at OpenAI was to paint a quotation from Admiral Hyman Rickover on its conference-room wall. “The great end of life is not knowledge, but action,” Rickover said. “I believe it is the duty of each of us to act as if the fate of the world depended on him. . . . We must live for the future, not for our own comfort or success.” Altman recounted all the obstacles Rickover overcame to build America’s nuclear-armed Navy. “Incredible!” he said. But, after a considering pause, he added, “At the end of his life, when he may have been somewhat senile, he did also say that it should all be sunk to the bottom of the ocean. There’s something worth thinking about in there.

Redesign Underway!

You know what they say about the plumber’s house — always the last to get its plumbing fixed. Something similar with this part-time web designer’s blog. I’ve had a design in the works for awhile … and now I’ve just decided to speed the process by taking it live and living dangerously for a few days.

Holy smokes look out!

Bugginess may ensue. Occasional ugliness must be forgiven.

(But what a rush!)

Let me know if you spot something strange.

The goal: Clear, enjoyable, easy reading.

Under the hood

  • A custom fork of the Roots theme, with
  • Bootstrap, of course
  • Font Awesome (not much in use yet)
  • lessphp for autocompiling my LESS updates

So far it’s proving to be a nice combination. More details to follow.

New Content Coming …

Hi everyone,
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the popularity of the Bootstrap, Roots Theme, and jQuery tutorials I posted last spring. I want you to know I’m laying plans to get back to it and ramp things up a bit. Currently, I’m working on an upgrade to this website, and soon I’ll be teaming up with a partner to start planning and producing next tutorials. Expect new content to start flowing in the coming weeks. And I’m hopeful that 2013 may be even more productive around here.

Thank you for your comments and prods to more activity. I enjoy this project and look forward to getting it rolling again. Soon.

Best regards,


jQuery Form Validation with Styles from Twitter Bootstrap

Feb 5, 2013

This tutorial, the demo, and the jQuery code have been updated in light of excellent recommendations made by commenters.

Thanks all!

jQuery Form Validation ScreenshotThe jQuery Validate plugin by Jörn Zaefferer is a fantastic tool for providing users with immediate feedback while completing a web form. Used by Newsweek and others.

Here I’ve put together a working example, integrated with markup and styles from Twitter Bootstrap’s excellent front-end framework. The demo and sample files include markup, CSS, and JS.

See the Demo

Get the Sample Files

Small Cameras, Great Images: Sony NEX-C3 and Olympus PEN EP-3

New Sony and Olympus Cameras

In an exciting review, David Pogue walks through some of the features of new cameras by Sony and Olympus, specifically, the Sony NEX-C3 and the Olympus PEN EP-3.

To provide a succinct summary, key selling points of these cameras include:

  • “set new records for speed and photo quality”
  • “turn this camera on, focus and snap in under a second”
  • “an autofocus lamp which beams out enough light for the camera to use for focusing in dim situations”
  • “a brilliant OLED touch screen … [that] lets you do things like double-tapping to zoom in during photo playback, tap to show where you want to focus, and even tap to fire the shutter”

Not a Dream – Small Cameras, High Quality Images – _ State of the Art – NYTimes.com