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The Economist Corner – essential readings

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Blog mining Scouring blogs for useful information / Mar 11th 2010 From The Economist print edition.

“I NOTICED that the doormat was at a slightly crooked angle. I reached down and moved the mat back into its correct place.” Thus began a recent entry on The dullest blog in the world. Although this publication is something of a satire on the internet’s inane blogs, scientists are finding—to their surprise—that useful information can actually be mined from the tedium of the blogosphere.

Andrew Gordon and his colleagues at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies in Los Angeles have been trying to teach computers about cause and effect. Computers are not good at dealing with causality. They can identify particular events but working out relationships is more difficult. This is particularly true when it comes to using computers to analyse the human experience. Read more here.

Data, data everywhere Information has gone from scarce to superabundant / Feb 25th 2010  From The Economist print edition.

WHEN the Sloan Digital Sky Survey started work in 2000, its telescope in New Mexico collected more data in its first few weeks than had been amassed in the entire history of astronomy. Now, a decade later, its archive contains a whopping 140 terabytes of information. A successor, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, due to come on stream in Chile in 2016, will acquire that quantity of data every five days.

Such astronomical amounts of information can be found closer to Earth too. Wal-Mart, a retail giant, handles more than 1m customer transactions every hour, feeding databases estimated at more than 2.5 petabytes—the equivalent of 167 times the books in America’s Library of Congress. Facebook, a social-networking website, is home to 40 billion photos. And decoding the human genome involves analysing 3 billion base pairs—which took ten years the first time it was done, in 2003, but can now be achieved in one week. Read more here.

The gods strike backFinancial risk got ahead of the world’s ability to manage it / Feb 11th 2010  From The Economist print edition.

“THE revolutionary idea that defines the boundary between modern times and the past is the mastery of risk: the notion that the future is more than a whim of the gods and that men and women are not passive before nature.” So wrote Peter Bernstein in his seminal history of risk, “Against the Gods”, published in 1996. And so it seemed, to all but a few Cassandras, for much of the decade that followed. Finance enjoyed a golden period, with low interest rates, low volatility and high returns. Risk seemed to have been reduced to a permanently lower level. Read more here.

Europe’s engineWhy Germany needs to change, both for its own sake and for others / Mar 11th 2010  From The Economist print edition.

ELSEWHERE in the world, Europe is widely regarded as a continent whose economy is rigid and sclerotic, whose people are work-shy and welfare-dependent, and whose industrial base is antiquated and declining—the broken cogs and levers that condemn the old world to a gloomy future. As with most clichés, there is some truth in it. Yet as our special report in this week’s issue shows, the achievements of Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, tell a rather different story.

A decade ago Germany was the sick man of Europe, plagued by slow growth and high unemployment, with big manufacturers moving out in a desperate search for lower costs. Now, despite the recession, unemployment is lower than it was five years ago. Although Germany recently ceded its place as the world’s biggest exporter to China, its exporting prowess remains undimmed. As a share of GDP, its current-account surplus this year will be bigger than China’s. Read more here.

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Written by Theophyle

March 25, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Posted in The Economist

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