Monday, October 15, 2018

Three views of the southern tip of Manhattan as seen from Governors Island




A world’s fair for a world that’s permanently fair @3QD

I’ve got a new piece up at 3 Quarks Daily: World Island: Zeal Means Hope [The World’s Got Talent]. It’s about my friend, Jerry Greenberg, who now goes by “Zeal”, and his project to create a World Island, as he calls it, “a world’s fair for a world that’s permanently fair.” It was a wonderful quixotic idea, a $25 billion dollar city-within-a-city dedicated to peace and human flourishing. It was to be located on Governors Island, 172 acres in New York Harbor a quarter of a mill off the tip of Manhattan and only 100s of yards from Red Hook, Brooklyn.

The article tells the story of what happened between the time we meet in 2003 or 2004 and the time we had to deliver a proposal to locate World Island on Governors Island. The agency in charge of the island, GIPEC (Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation) was holding a competition for proposals. The proposals were due May 10, 2010. We made the deadline, with 5 minutes to spare.

Our proposal wasn’t accepted. No proposals were. I continued to work with Jerry on other locations for the project, Sierra Leone, and Athens, Greece were looking good at various times, and with other projects, such as WISE, World Investment Summit/Exposition. But this isn’t about that.

It’s about something else, about Jerry’s influence on others. He’s worked with a handful of people quite closely on these various projects, a very large handful. But he’s met 1000s of others and worked with some of them for a bit. How’d he change their lives?

Zeal's database system
In my own case, in November of 2007, a year and a half after the Governors Island proposal, I wrote a document, Jersey City: From a Skate Park to the World, and posted it to the web. I told that story in a post, How I Found a Home in Jersey City and Got Steve Fulop Elected Mayor, Part 3. That part about electing the mayor, that’s a bit tongue in cheek; but I did give a copy of that report to Fulop. It was about a park project, a two-and-a-half mile cultural corridor, through the middle of Jersey City. I figured it would cost a quarter to half a billion dollars, much cheaper than World Island, and would transform the city. Here’s the executive summary.
Jersey City has an unparalleled opportunity for developing park space and cultural amenities in a two-mile corridor running from the Powerhouse Arts District in the East, along the Sixth Street Embankment to the Palisades, then up the River Line to the Bergen Tunnel, and west through the Erie Cut-Bergen Arches to JFK Boulevard. What is unique about this strategy is that is builds on both abandoned railroad properties and on Jersey City’s status as a center for graffiti art of the highest caliber. By capitalizing on its graffiti heritage, Jersey City can attract tourists from around the world and establish itself as an international center of cutting-edge art.

This development strategy includes three park-garden areas: 1) Sixth Street Embankment, 2) River Line Walk, and 3) Erie Cut. A skate park is already being planned for the River Line Walk area. At full development the Erie Cut would have a series of small gardens in various national styles – Indian, Chinese, Spanish, etc. – and a conservatory linking the bottom of the cut to the street-level surface(Route 139). There would also be two modest museum complexes: 1) a graffiti museum at 12th and Monmouth, and 2) a railroad museum nearby at the Bergen Tunnel. These complexes would include restaurants and shops.

A thumbnail calculation indicates that these developments could bring new tourist revenue to the city in the amount $36 to $90 million (or more) annually. Other benefits include increased property values along the corridor and new businesses.
Crazy a way – where’s the quarter to half billion construction costs going to come from? – but not so crazy. It was a vision for the future, not a concrete plan. Visions work indirectly.

A couple years later I gave a copy of that report to Greg Edgell. Since then he and I, along with dozens of others, have been working on it in one way or another. We worked with June Jones (Morris Canal CDC) and skateboarders to get the city to agree to build a skate park, albeit in a different place from the one proposed in that report. More recently we started The Bergen Arches Project, which aims to complete another aspect of that proposal, and at a much lower cost.

The vision I projected in that report is thus coming to life. I wouldn’t have written it if I hadn’t spent two or three years working on the World Island project with Zeal.

Ideas have influences. Visions have consequences. Such is the way of the world.

The Whole Earth Catalog evolves

Sunday, October 14, 2018

How Science works

H/t Mark Liberman.

The latest tech: do it yourself mixed reality (thx Bryan)

Words, from "abysmal" to "incredible"

Optical Character Recognition for Japanese manuscript text

Saturday, October 13, 2018

In my first post (back in 2013) about the MacArthur Fellowships I quoted a 1997 New York Times article:
There are at least a few observers who question the very concept of the fellows program. Some of them, including Waldemar Nielsen, a consultant to foundations and a former foundation official, maintain that its primary job is to generate publicity for the foundation.
I went on to observe:
The late Waldemar Nielsen (he died in 2005) had directed major programs for the Ford Foundation, had been president of the African-American Institute, had written extensively about foundations, and “deemed them generally timid, inert and unimaginative”.

I don’t know what Nielsen was thinking that he made that remark, what his reasoning was, but I find it interesting and plausible. First, we need to remember that the MacArthur Foundation is a large foundation and that the fellows program is only one of its many programs, a relatively small one. In 2012 the foundation’s total budget was $212.2 million of which the fellows program was $11.8 million, or just under 6%. The program is small enough that the foundation can treat it as an overhead expense, as publicity if you will.
Of course, thing haven’t changed, how could they? The MacArthur Foundation currently notes:
In 2017, the Foundation paid out $255.7 million in grants and impact investments to organizations and individuals in the United States and around the world. Actual cash paid out varies from year to year and will differ from the amounts budgeted because of the timing of the payment of grants, including large grants and those involving multiyear funding. MacArthur's charitable administrative expenses totaled $49 million in 2017, about 14 percent of total charitable expenses.
The fellows program cost $13.8 million for 2017, which is about 5.4% of that $255.7 and is equal to 28% of administrative costs. We subtract it from the grants amount without affecting it very much, though it would make a noticeable increase in administrative expense if we were to add it there as overhead, increasing that amount by 28%. Which is probably not the thing to do from an accounting point of view, but that’s OK. The Foundation’s overhead remains relatively small.

My original point still holds:
The Fellows Program is small enough that we could easily treat it as publicity without much affect on the overall finances of the Foundation.
Let’s continue with that first post:
Note that Nielsen’s reading is plausible even if no one at the MacArthur Foundation asserts, believes, or even thinks that publicity is the point. It does generate publicity, lots of it. I’d guess the foundation gets more publicity for that program than for all of its other programs combined. How many people who know about the fellows program can name even one of the other programs? And, I would argue, it’s the publicity that keeps the process going. That publicity is the latent goal of the program, not its manifest goal, which is to fund exceptional individuals, to fund “geniuses”.

Now, let’s move beyond thinking of the program simply as publicity for the MacArthur Foundation itself. Surely some of that public relations glow accrues to The Elito-Meritocracy in general, to the whole network of individuals and institutions that coughs up this list [of Fellows] once a year. The list is produced in the name of The Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation, but it validates the philanthropic activities of [the Elito-Meritocracy] as a whole simply because it’s the single most visible foundation program in the country. In rhetorical terms, it’s a synecdoche, a part that stands for the whole.

Think of the MacArthur Fellows Program as a tax imposed on this brash young foundation by the older and more established members of [philanthropic world].
Nielson was right two decades ago. The Fellows program is publicity stunt disguised as a grants program. And it generates publicity, not just for the MacArthur Foundation, for the whole philanthropic world and the elite one-percenters who fund it.

Today's lesson



Friday, October 12, 2018

Tesla exists to help reduce risk of catastrophic climate change,

Friday Fotos: Wonderland by Night [JC back to the future]

It's Jersey City day at new Savanna, so I'm bumping this to the top. It's from almost exactly four years ago.

a little night grass.jpg

commercial traffic prohibited.jpg

Night-Digging Monster




Precision and Recall in TALENT SEARCH [+ leads qualifying closing]

First, a quick review of yesterday’s post, TALENT SEARCH: Generating leads, qualifying them, and closing [#EmergentVentures]. Second, a remark about the relevance of measures of precision and recall in text retrieval are relevant to the problem.

Generating leads, qualifying them, closing the deal (LQC)

Yesterday I argued that sales and searching for talent are alike in that both involve the search through a large population for a few items. In the case of sales you’re looking to close deals, to find people who will buy what you’re selling. In the case of talent search you’re looking to find people who can do something you value, whatever that is.

Given that, I suggested we examine talent search through the lens of sales process: generating leads, qualifying them, closing the deal (LQC). I then explored this suggestion by considering three cases: 1) finding the best sprinters in a city. 2) finding the best athletes in a city, 3) finding “breakthrough individuals”, if you will, in any discipline in the United States (the MacArthur Fellows program). I ended with an exercise for the reader: Examine the Emergent Ventures program in these terms.

What emerged from this exercise, at least I think that’ what emerged (I’m still thinking about it), is that as the criterion for judging a winner becomes more complex and subtle the time and effort devoted to applying the criterion tends to take over the whole process (not quite how I stated it yesterday). In the first case (sprinters) we can all-but ignore judging in generating leads and use and quick proxy for qualification. There is no ‘real’ judging until closing (running them through heats) and the criterion for judgment is simple and straight-forward (best time over distance). In the second case (best athletes) we have a problem specifying the relevant population at the leads phase, proxy measures are more complex (requiring more skilled judges), and the criteria for final judgment (closing) are deeply problematic.

In the last case (MacArthur Fellows) more or less the full suite of judgment criteria are in play through the whole process. There really is no explicit process for generating leads, but we can think of it as being implicit in the choice of anonymous nominators for a given year. Those nominators then find candidates that they nominate to the foundation, supplying the foundation with preliminary information about them. The nominators applying their own criteria for “breakthrough individual” in making their selection and the foundation then devotes most of its efforts to applying the foundation’s current sense of things to the candidates.

If I were to undertake an economic analysis of this process, I’d want to know the proportion of search resources that are devoted to each of lead generation, qualifying candidates, and closing on winners in each of those three cases. In the case of the MacArthur Fellows program, I note that, in effect, the foundation devotes ALL of its resources to the applying judgment criteria in the closing phase. How does it manage this? They externalize the costs of generating leads and qualifying them: the nominators are not paid.

An exercise for the reader: How does Emergent Ventures distribute its resources over the phases of LQC?

Precision and recall in document search

What can library science contribute to thinking about this problem? A central problem goes like this: We have a large, even a VAST collection of documents. Users of the collection want to find documents relevant to some particular interest. What’s the most efficient way of doing this?

That’s the same problem we’ve seen in sales and in talent search: searching a large collection of items (documents or people) for a few items of interest.

In the old days, before computers, we had card catalogues. Card catalogues had scads of small narrow drawers filled with cards, each listing an individual document along with some basic information about that document, including its location in the library. Typically one would find catalogues where items are listed alphabetically by: 1) author (last) name, 2) title of the item, and 3) subject (according to some standard system). In our LQC model, think of the catalogue as a tool for generating leads. If you know a specific title or titles you are seeking, that knowledge serves to qualify items. The same with author names. You then consult the relevant catalogue drawers to close in on their locations in the library stacks. This kind of search is relatively efficient.

Chilltown 2.0: Is Jersey City Ready for the World Stage?

JC_Rising BPA 5
I'm feeling feisty. This is from five years ago & I'm bumping it to the top of the queue.
* * * * *

For one thing, with immigrants from the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific, Jersey City is already ON the world stage. But is it ready to PLAY on the world stage, that’s the question?

The most obvious response is that the question is pointless. Jersey City is a mid-size city on the west bank of the Hudson River in the shadow of New York City. New York City, of course, is a major player on the world stage. But why should Jersey City aspire to be anything more than an appendage to New York City? And even if it aspires to be more, how could it do that?


Good questions, questions I’ll be thinking about in the coming days, weeks, and months. You should do so as well.

My basic conviction–and I’m just going to state it, not argue it–is that Jersey City’s long-term survival depends on it’s ability to actively take a role on the world stage.

In a recent column, I Want to Be Mayor, New York Times pundit Thomas Friedman argued that cities are where the action is:
In fact, if you want to be an optimist about America today, stand on your head. The country looks so much better from the bottom up — from its major metropolitan areas — than from the top down. Washington is tied in knots by Republican-led hyperpartisanship, lobbyists and budget constraints. Ditto most state legislatures. So the great laboratories and engines of our economy are now our cities. This is the conclusion of an important new book by the Brookings Institution scholars Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley, entitled: “The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy.” ...
exit from manhattan.jpg

Jersey City’s Mayor Steven Fulop agrees:
I really think that the opportunity today is not really at the federal level or even at the state level to make change. It’s really on the local level. You have all this gridlock at different levels of government and the most meaningful opportunity is at the local level,” Fulop said. “I saw Jersey City as a really special place that was under-achieving and a unique opportunity to really turn it into kind of the best mid-size city in the country.”
My point is that Jersey City can ONLY do that if it plays on the world stage. Returning to Friedman’s piece:
First, [Katz and Bradley] argue, the Great Recession blew up the deformed growth model we had settled into — one “that exalted consumption over production, speculation over investment, and waste over sustainability.” The new growth model ... focuses on creating networks that combine skilled laborers and knowledge workers, with universities and technical schools, with quality infrastructure and high-speed Internet, to do manufacturing, innovation, technology development and advanced services — with an eye to exporting all of them. That’s how we build a 21st-century middle class. “The best cities now understand that you need to a have a sector of your economy that is world class” in order to thrive, the authors argue.
What’s the world-class sector of Jersey City’s economy going to be?

That’s what we have to figure out.

* * * * *

As food for thought, look at these posts where I argue, in one way or another, the general point that the action is shifting away from (large) nation states and towards smaller regions: cities, municipalities, and small nations. And then there's my recent piece, Jersey City: A 21st Century Florence? Don't forget, back in the 15th Century, when Florence was on the rise, nations as we know them didn't exist. The action in Europe was in city-states. Finally, there's my report, Jersey City: From a Skate Park to the World, where I lay out a plan that will make Chilltown 2.0 a world destination.

misty morning graffs.jpg

Thursday, October 11, 2018



TALENT SEARCH: Generating leads, qualifying them, and closing [#EmergentVentures]

Generating leads, qualifying them, and closing the deal, what do they have to with finding talent? Aren’t they sales processes?

Same kind of process, I think. In any case, I want to see what, if anything, we can learn about searching for talent by thinking of it in sales terms. In both cases we’re looking through a relatively large population for a relatively small number of “deals”.

This is going to be quick and dirty. I’m keeping links and citations to a minimum. I want to get to the end as fast as I can.

I’m headed toward the MacArthur Fellows Program. But I’m not going to start there. I want to build up to it by stages, to establish a conceptual framework (LQC: leads, qualification, close) we can employ once we get there. Once we get there we’ll take a look at the new Emergent Ventures program by way of comparison.

Find the fastest sprinters in your town

Let’s start with a relatively simple talent search: Find the ten fastest sprinters in the town where you live. I live in Hoboken, NJ., though it doesn’t make much difference what the town is. We’re looking for broad-strokes principles, not details.

What’s a lead? For starters, let’s say anyone who can run. Once we’ve found a lead we have to qualify them: Is it worthwhile seeing how fast this person can run? If the answer is yes, they pass into the closing round and we run them through heats until we close on the top ten.

Assuming that we really do want the top ten fastest, the major problem we face in generating leads is making sure that we’ve searched the whole population. Hoboken is a city of 50,000 living in roughly 1.28 square miles. What we want is a list of the people living in Hoboken. The Census Bureau will have such a list, but it won’t be current, and even in those few years where it is more or less current, some people will not have been counted. Do we care? How much effort are we willing to exert to find the rest? You can answer those questions in what ever level of detail pleases you. All that interests me is raising the issue.

Now, how do we qualify a lead? I’ve said that anyone who can run is a potential lead. That’s a pretty low bar. We want a quick and easy way to eliminate a large majority of the population. If you look at me, for example, you’ll see that my hair is gray and that I’m fairly overweight. There’s no point in having me run heats. Can we eliminate, say, 95% of the population by a quick and crude perceptual test? What is it? Is there anything else we can do that’s quick, cheap, and reasonably accurate?

Once we’ve narrowed things down then, and only then, can we start running heats to close in on the best. I don’t know what’s the best (or at least a good) way to do that, but surely there are people who do.

Now, perhaps you’re thinking, this is stupid. There are already organized athletic programs in Hoboken. Use them.

Right, we should take advantage of them. What’s the best way to do that? Can we assume that, if we identify the ten fastest sprinters in those programs, we will have found the ten fastest sprinters in Hoboken? Why or why not? If not, how do we find the others? Hint, we’ve already been through that, no?

Find the ten best athletes

We’ll have the same three processes, generating leads, qualifying them, and closing on the best. But, within that framework, it’s a more difficult process.

Generating leads: Who’s an athlete? Of course, many people are athletes in several disciplines. That’s OK, though it brings its own problems. Anyone who participates in at least one discipline is a potential lead, but what disciplines count.

Does gold count? My father thought so, Tiger Woods thinks so. But a lot of people don’t. What about arm wrestling? Skate boarding? Base jumping? Ping-pong? Three cushion billiards? Shuffle-board? I assume we’re going to include team sports. Are there any “oddball” possibilities we have to consider? We have to define what activities count for the purposes of this competition. Or do we?

Given a possibly open-ended list of eligible disciplines, how do we qualify leads? The criteria will vary from discipline to discipline. In the case of team sports, do we qualify the team, or individuals? Do we need more sophisticated judges than we had for sprinting? More training?

Given a set of qualified leads, how do we close on the ten best athletes? What are the criteria of judgment for comparing, say, skateboarders with football line-backers? Where we can it seems like a good idea to look at peoples records. We’ll have such records for the high school football team, but not for the kids who frequent the skate park. The fact our search is confined to Hoboken means that we can use regional, national, and even international rankings where we have them. The fact that, say, a Hoboken diver is nationally ranked is important, as is playing on a state-wide soccer team.

My point is simple: Determining the top ten in this arena is much more difficult than in the case of sprinters.

Do the Most Important Artists Make the Most Expensive Paintings?

Galenson, David W., Do the Most Important Artists Make the Most Expensive Paintings? (October 2, 2018). University of Chicago, Becker Friedman Institute for Economics Working Paper No. 2018-73. Available at SSRN: or

Abstract: Art experts have disagreed about whether art markets accurately reflect artistic importance. This paper uses published surveys of art history to construct a critical ranking of the 30 most important American painters of the last century, then uses auction records to identify the most expensive paintings by these artists. The results show a strong positive association between critical rankings and auction prices: there is a high rank correlation between the critical ranking of artists and a ranking of the artists by their single highest auction price, and the top artists in the critical ranking are highly disproportionately represented among auction sales over $10 million, $30 million, and $50 million. Auction markets do recognize artistic importance: the greatest artists produce the most expensive paintings, and it is their most important works that sell for the highest prices.

H/t Tyler Cowen.