Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Seven interesting links

1. Big data tells us that are just 6 or 7 plots in literature.

"That little ambiguity, Jockers explained, is because the data collecting and sorting technique “involves picking at random from 50,000.”

“There's six about 90 percent of the time,” Jockers said. “Ten percent of the time, the computer says there's a seventh [plot shape].”

2. Meet the bail bond queen. Alongside entertaining material about criminals and so on, there is an interesting sub-plot (computer to confirm) about the positive side of the bail bond industry.

"Esquenazi’s good fortune is not lost on her, and she has a policy of hiring former clients whenever possible. Bail bonding, at least as Esquenazi conceives it, is also a privatized re-entry industry. It’s one of the few careers where a job applicant’s brushes with the law can prove an asset.

Take Samuel “Pa” Lapooles, whose unsmiling face, sometimes comically photoshopped on top of a Santa Claus outfit, adorns every Empire office. Lapooles met Esquenazi in 1995 when he was charged with felony assault of his daughter’s boyfriend. He worked at Empire until he died in 2008. His daughter, Ivy, is now Esquenazi’s right hand. Anton and JoJo, two of Esquenazi’s bodyguards, were also once her clients. At her office on a recent afternoon, a teenager with the word “SOLDIER” tattooed on his neck in Gothic script was making photocopies and fetching coffee.

“She gives people an opportunity,” said Ivy. “It’s up to you if you take it or not.”

3. Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.) talking about China as a diplomatic actor. Interesting comparisons with the rise of the US.

4. "Britain has prized the ideal of economically mixed neighbourhoods since the 19th century. Poverty and disadvantage are intensified when poor people cluster, runs the argument; conversely, the rich are unfairly helped when they are surrounded by other rich people. Social mixing ought to help the poor." But the evidence suggests that "Poor boys in the poorest neighbourhoods were the least likely to run into trouble. For rich kids, the opposite is true: those living in poor areas are more likely to misbehave." And as for education? "Children entitled to free school meals—a proxy for poverty—do best in schools containing very few other poor children ... [but] poor children also fare unusually well in schools where there are a huge number of other poor children. ... Thus in Tower Hamlets, a deprived east London borough, 60% of poor pupils got five good GCSEs (the exams taken at 16) in 2013; the national average was 38%. Worst served are pupils who fall in between, attending schools where they are insufficiently numerous to merit attention but too many to succeed alone." The Economist has this fascinating story complete with graphs here

5. Why worry about deflation?, asks John Kay. "In 1913, unlike now, a pound or a dollar would have bought the same goods as a century earlier. The longest semi-official price series we have reports a 140 fold rise in prices in the UK since 1750 — but even then all the increase up to 1938 is accounted for by inflation during the Napoleonic and first world wars. Indeed, while the price level roughly doubled during both these episodes, it fell slightly over the rest of the period."

6. Next, a piece about lifts and skyscrapers that is most interesting because of what it says about the skyscraper in Caracas that doesn't have a lift. "McGuirk describes life in the tower as “urban alpinism”: a constant struggle against gravity and the tedium of the endless stairwell. Despite this extreme inconvenience, the residents have developed their own strategies to cope. Using the ramp of an adjacent carpark building, goods can be driven a quarter of the way up on motorcycles. And small bodega convenience stores have appeared every two floors or so, selling essentials such as tinned food, pasta and toilet paper. McGuirk writes: “Only the invention of the elevator made skyscrapers possible, and so a skyscraper without one is, theoretically speaking, a useless typology.” And yet, the hybrid vertical village of the Torre David illustrates an alternative, “an urban laboratory for how cities might work differently”." It sounds like the premise for a rather depressing science fiction story: a world where people have lost the ability to maintain lifts and spend their lives on the high-up storeys of decaying skyscrapers, growing up, old and dying without ever setting foot on the ground.

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