I’ve been writing things for years. Stories; poems; really, really bad poems; parts of novels; screenplays; this blog.  The funny thing is that in all the years I’ve been doing it, I’ve never had writer’s block.  I would just sit down, stare off into space (it looks like I’m goofing off), and after a minute or two my fingers would just start moving.  Lately though I’ve been off.  Not off in the sense of sour-cream that’s been left in the fridge for half a year and now has fungus growing out from under the lid, but more like cheese that has the flecks of mold growing on it that you know needs to be thrown out.  Since my last posting I’ve attempted to compose at least three posts, all of which I’ve deleted most viciously.

This is that point where I could let this blog wither and die a slow painful death as I post tripe, just quit, or I grind it out and go for the sweet stuff.  Not really a choice that.  First the world is just too bizarre and fun not to comment on, and second, what else do I have to do?

Take for example this story I stumbled across about keeping pot illegal in California.  Or if that is not your thing, you could try the poor guy who got hauled to court for having the audacity to drink coffee while naked in his own house.  I have to admit that both of these stories make me laugh.  The first one because for years pot growers have been working to have pot legalized, and now that they may get their wish, they realize they could just be killing the golden goose. And the second story, well you have to ask yourself, what the hell was the plaintiff doing that she was looking so intently into someone else’s house?  I guess that the saying “against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain,” is just as relevant today as it was in during Friedrich von Schiller’s lifetime

In thinking on it though, I realize that where I’m a bit dim, is that I have that very human drive to always want to put my best foot forward.  I can spend all day commenting on snippets of news, but ah…the lure of original content.  I enjoy throwing muck at pristine white paper, just to see what comes out.  It is almost an indecent thrill. And then I remembered something else.  In a recent(ish) post of mine, I commented on Calvin and Hobbes. Now I’m no Bill Watterson, but I like to think I always put my best stuff forward, and while I do not work for a syndicate or for money I am a perfectionist in my own way.  I always want things to be just so, and the end result of that truly is like this:

It be that way sometimes!

It’s true: all the best things in life are simply done for the joy of the activity itself.  You can’t take money with you—although I guess you could buy a platinum coffin if you liked.  Time also erodes the fame of all but a miniscule few, who are so lionized and to be dehumanized.  So it must be that as the bard says, “the play is the thing!” So here is to that most overlooked quality of being stalwart.  It may mean, in my case, putting something up I’m not happy with (hopefully not often) or it could just mean taking setbacks with equanimity.  On the upside though, it also means you get to cheer louder for yourself, because you become the dependable one.  And that is always worth a pip-pip!.

Oh, and if  you think this is just a little self-indulgent, here is the real punch line!

So true for bloggers as well.

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In this weeks edition of The Economist there is a fourteen page special report entitled “The Data Deluge.”  It’s an illuminating read about the ways that data mining can be used to predict everything from disease before the onset of common symptoms, to tracking what you buy so that a computer can suggest other purchases you might like. It also discusses the problems of storing the overwhelming amount information being generated and how that problem will only worsen with the passage of time.   Finally, the article also speaks volumes about how most of the data currently available for use is not reliable; why many of the largest collectors of online data (like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft) remain silent in regards to how they actually use and protect it; and the future of both governments and society when the amount of information available to the average person is literally on a scale so vast that it can only be compared to all the previous centuries of available data in terms of what the ocean is to a drop of water.

In reading the article there was one old adage that just kept popping into my head: “One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.”  Two quick examples from the article will suffice to illustrate: first, up is Walmart.  When the company applied its algorithms to figure out what it sold in stores just prior to a hurricane, a surprising item that made the list was Pop Tarts. It’s completely logical, as they are fairly tasty (albeit in a cardboardesque kind of way), can be eaten without any cooking, and are relatively cheap.  The trash in this case, was just the years of records they kept and sifted though.

What sifting though all that data really feels like!

Second, and I found this one way more interesting, is that Google accessed European Commission documents that had already been translated into twenty languages, as well as a myriad of other books that had already been translated so that they could break the translation down into a problem of the probability of one word matching another in a different language; English acts as a bridge if there is no direct correlation.  This overcame a difficulty that had thwarted (I love that word….TWAR-T-ED!) some of the best and brightest minds at companies like IBM, who had been trying to program translators to incorporate the grammar of languages, along with all the exceptions, into a program and then move on to the words. This latter method never worked, but Google’s method yielded results within two years of getting the programing up and running.

This concept of using old data to find new correlations relates to too many applications to be discussed by the likes of me, but what the hell!  The beauty of being human is that I can do things the computers say I should not do! The irony of course is that they could probably predict it if they knew my reading habits. One more reason not to read the Economist on-line and stick to hard copies! But that is both my point, and may be the greatest acknowledged escape of the “Big Data Age.”

As time goes by, more and more companies will begin funneling and channeling information in both useful and harmful ways, and it will be ever more difficult for individuals to escape the fact that they can be profiled by a computer in ways that are both wickedly accurate, but at the same time leave out that all important human X factor. This factor, I think, involves a good bit of disregard for logic, intuition, a dash of vim and vigor, the ability of the human brain to weigh ethical and moral gray areas in ways not quantifiable or measurable, and those gut feelings that could either be God or indigestion speaking to you.

I’m appalled and almost indecently turned on by the fact given a large enough data set, the proper metrics and analytics, and time, data can be mined to yield hidden connections in our world.  But I defiantly get hot and bothered by the fact that as the computers that cooked up all those crazy financial deals prove, you can have all the data in the world and it can point you to all the hidden connections you care to find, but at the end of the day, there still has to be a human to see what’s coming down the tracks.  Now, if we could just find some humans that were good at that!