Cumulus Partners

5. November 2015 17:57

Five Reasons to Love Data Science

5. November 2015 17:57 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

Like its cousin, “big data,” data science is a fuzzy and imprecise term. But it gets the job done, and there’s something appealing about appending the word “science” to “data.” It takes the sting out of both words. As a bonus, it enables the creation of another wonderful and confusing term, “data scientist.”

At least the term “data scientist” has a slightly subversive tone. Indeed, the early definitions of data science included hacking as a foundational element in the process. Maybe that’s why many writers find the term “data science” intriguing – it conveys a sense of the unorthodox. It requires intelligence, fearlessness and deep knowledge of arcane rituals. Like big data, it’s shrouded in mystery.

That’s exactly the sort of thinking that gets writers excited and drives editors crazy. So let’s bring some clarity to the matter! Here’s a list of five simple ways data science will improve our lives in the next five years:

1.       We will be healthier and live longer. Instead of guessing about what makes us sick and which treatments are most likely to help us, we’ll have clear evidence for making the best choices.

2.       We will become better educated because teachers and professors will use techniques that make it easier for us to learn and less likely to fail.

3.       We will become better athletes, musicians and actors thanks to programs that analyze our performance and offer real-time coaching advice.

4.       It will be easier to obtain credit and approval for loans. Easy money is a two-edged sword, of course, but data science will make it less risky for lenders to loan more money to more people.

5.       Energy use will fall dramatically as data science is applied to design a new generation of super-efficient vehicles and machines.

Mike Barlow is the author of a new book, Learning to Love Data Science (O’Reilly Media, 2015)

10. August 2015 04:44

I can hardly keep up! Another O'Reilly Report! Wow!

10. August 2015 04:44 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

My newest O'Reilly Report focuses on the Industrial Internet of Things and the rise of smart machines. Everything you need to know about the future. Free download, no drones required! Enjoy!

30. July 2015 02:46

New O'Reilly Ebook: Building Development Teams for the Internet of Things

30. July 2015 02:46 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

If you like photos of small frogs looking furtively around the leaves of trees in what appear to be Amazonian rainforests, then you can't go wrong by downloading my newest O'Reilly ebook on building development teams for the Internet of Things. Yes, there's a photo of a cute little frog on the cover. Additionally, the contents of the ebook are fairly interesting. But don't take my word for it. Download the ebook and let me know what you think. It's totally free, and O'Reilly is a good company. 


22. November 2014 07:32

New O'Reilly Report: When Hardware Meets Software

22. November 2014 07:32 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

The nice folks at O'Reilly (Tim, not Bill) Media have published "When Hardware Meets Software," my incisive, mildly humorous and entirely free white paper about the Internet of Things. It's a good read, and fairly useful in case someone approaches you at a party and starts talking about the IoT ...

Here's the link:

Enjoy! It's free! Cheerio!

28. September 2014 17:17

Plan B: Instant Karma and Lesson Learned

28. September 2014 17:17 by mike barlow | 1 Comments

Yesterday, I sent emails to several friends and asked them to post comments about my Culture of Big Data white paper. What happened next is either a case of instant karma or a life lesson learned. Or both at the same time. At any rate, I began receiving emails from my friends. They had downloaded the paper, written comments and then discovered the comments function wasn't working. My initial response was to blame the publisher. I wrote myself a note to contact them today.

When I woke up this morning, I realized that I should have simply shifted to Plan B. If I had accepted responsibility immediately, instead of "blaming" the publisher, I probably would have come up with a workaround yesterday. Instead, it took me until this morning to realize that I could have simply asked my friends to leave their comments right here, on the good old Cumulus Partners web site.  

So, friends and loyal readers, if you can remember the cool stuff you wrote yesterday, please scroll down and leave your comments here. As the great philosopher Dorothy Gale once remarked, "There's no place like home." Thank you.

27. August 2014 22:08

Airplanes are built to fly, cars are built to crash

27. August 2014 22:08 by mike barlow | 3 Comments

I read an interesting story in the New York Times recently about why we don't have flying cars yet. The author of the story noted that while almost all aircraft are designed to eliminate every unnecessary ounce of weight, car designers have a bit more freedom around the weight issue. It's a good article and worth reading.

Here's my perspective, as a pilot and a driver: The culture of driving and the culture of flying are very different. A car is built with the assumption that at some point, a driver will do something idiotic and the car will be involved in an accident. An airplane is designed with the assumption that every pilot will do his or her utmost to avoid an accident. Cars are basically "crash worthy," and airplanes, which are generally built for maximum "lightness," are not. As a pilot, you learn that difference very quickly, and as a result, you try to fly carefully all the time. That said, I suppose it's only a matter of time before a "texting while flying" accident occurs ... 

27. April 2014 07:09

Fred and Ginger in "The Great Gatsby"

27. April 2014 07:09 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

On Friday night, we watched "Red River" on TCM. It's a truly great movie, worthy of comparisons to "King Lear," with John Wayne as Lear, Montgomery Clift as a fascinating Edgar/Cordelia fusion and Walter Brennan as, of course, the Fool. Texas and Kansas serve as the blasted heath; Lear's kingdom is a temperamental herd of 10,000 cattle.
The story qualifies as tragedy in no uncertain terms, but director Henry Hathaway lost his nerve and tacked on a happy ending that is so patently bogus that it can't taken seriously. It's as bad as the ending of any Perry Mason episode, and even worse, since it comes less than two minutes after Wayne's character has murdered one of the movie's principal characters, played by John Ireland.
That got me thinking: What if Fitzgerald's publisher had insisted that he write a comic ending for "The Great Gatsby" and as a result, the comedy version was the only version we knew? Then the movie version of the book would have made a great vehicle for William Powell and Myrna Loy ...
Even better, it would have made a great foundation for a series of light romantic musical comedies with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers!
Fred would play Gatsby, Ginger would play Daisy, Edward Everett Horton would play Nick and Erik Rhodes would play Tom Buchanan as an Argentine millionaire playboy. I can hear Rhodes saying something like "I theenk that Gatsby fellow is making eyeballs for my leetle Daisy," to Horton, and Horton reacting by dropping the tea cup he's holding.
At any rate, I recommend "Red River," which is worth watching, despite the bizarre ending.

5. January 2014 07:38

Storytelling, content or IP? From a writer's perspective, they're all the same ...

5. January 2014 07:38 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

I remember when I first heard the word "content," I was happy because it suggested that people other than storytellers were taking storytelling seriously and that bean counters were consciously assigning economic value to stories.

That said, things spiraled out of control fairly quickly afterwards, and it wasn't long before the term became genuinely wearisome. But that's cool. Some clients still prefer to see the word "content" in a contract and wince when they hear me talk about "storytelling." I have a client who will only refer to content as "IP," which I find really irritating. As long as his checks don't bounce, I can live with it, no matter how silly. From a writer's perspective, words such as "storytelling," "content" and "IP" all pretty much translate into the same thing. And that's fine with me!

10. November 2013 13:23

Writing about big data and its impact on the real world

10. November 2013 13:23 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

Way back in October 2012, mere days before Hurricane Sandy filled our basement with five feet of water, the nice editors at O’Reilly Media asked me to write a white paper on the emerging architecture of big data. That paper was followed by two more, one about the emerging culture of big data, and another about the impact of big data on the traditional IT function.

You can download the papers from the O'Reilly website. They're free, and the folks at O'Reilly will appreciate your interest. If for some reason you cannot access the papers directly from O'Reilly, you can click on the images at right and download them. Either way, they're free! 

Despite my attempts to make all three papers seem wildly different, they all share a common theme or subtext, namely that the technology of big data is evolving far more quickly than the people and processes of big data.

In other words, the tools are more advanced than the organizations using them. At least that’s my takeaway. After interviewing dozens of data analysts, industry experts, and senior-level corporate executives, I’m convinced that the technology is advancing faster than the abilities of the people trying to use it.

In retrospect, it’s not surprising that the technology of big data has evolved more rapidly than the organizational structures required to harness big data and convert it into a steady source of value. C-level executives and boards of directors regard big data as promising, but they weren’t born yesterday, and they need to see the business case before they start writing big checks. “Tactics in search of a strategy” is how one senior executive recently summed up his thoughts on big data.

Many of us sense that big data is destined to become the next big thing, but none of us is quite sure how it will all play out.

We can take comfort in the knowledge that this has all happened before. When airplanes were first pressed into military service, they were used exclusively for reconnaissance. When a team of engineers led by Anthony Fokker developed the synchronized machine gun, airplanes morphed into lethal weapons and a new strategy—aerial warfare—was born.

Most of us know the story of how the folks at Xerox didn’t understand the value of the clunky computer mouse they had invented, and how Steve Jobs took the basic idea and engineered it into a practical tool that helped launch a revolution in personal computing.

Based on what I’ve been hearing from my sources, I have the feeling that we are five or six inventions away from a similar revolution in big data. I’m not really sure what form those inventions will take—or I would quit my day job and invest in the companies making them—but I am certain that multiple disciplines and technologies will be involved.

When it arrives, the big data revolution will transform the modern enterprise, accelerate the growth of markets, and launch a new era of social commerce. The changes—particularly in emerging economies—will be mind-boggling in both scale and scope.

Ten years from now, we’re going to look back and wonder why we didn’t see it coming, but by then we’ll be on to the next big thing, and big data will seem about as interesting as a laptop from the 1990s. Meantime, encourage your kids to learn Python, Ruby, and R.


Editor's note: This post initially appeared in the O'Reilly Strata newsletter

2. June 2013 02:58

Big data vs. big reality

2. June 2013 02:58 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

Quentin Hardy's recent post in the Bits blog of the New York Times touched on the gap between representation and reality that is a core element of practically every human enterprise. His post is titled "Why Big Data is Not Truth," and I recommend it for anyone who feels like joining the phony argument over whether "big data" represents reality better than traditional data.

In a nutshell, this "us" vs. "them" approach is like trying to poke a fight between oil painters and water colorists. Neither oil painting nor water colors are "truth;" both are forms of representation. And here's the important part: Representation is exactly that -- a representation or interpretation of someone's perceived reality. Pitting "big data" against traditional data is like asking you if Rembrandt is more "real" than Gainsborough. Both of them are artists and both painted representations of the world they perceived around them.

The problem with false arguments like the one posed by Hardy is that they obscure the value of data -- traditional data and big data -- and the impact of data on our culture. I'm now working my way through "Raw Data" is an Oxymoron, an anthology of short essays about data. I recommend it for anyone who is seriously interested in thinking about the many ways in which data has influenced (and continues influencing) our lives. I especially recommend "facts and FACTS: Abolitionists' Database Innovations" by Ellen Gruber Garvey. As its title suggests, the essay focuses on what proves to be an absolutely fascinating period of U.S. history in which the anti-slavery movement harvested data from real advertisements in Southern newspapers to paint a vivid and believable picture of the routine horrors inflicted by the slave system on real human beings.

That 19th century use of data mining built support for the anti-slavery movement, both in the U.S. and in England. The data played a key role in making the case for abolishing slavery -- even though it required the bloodiest war in U.S. history to make abolition a fact.

Data itself has no quality. It's what you do with it that counts.