Art of Data Interpretation

Mark Tuminello CanadaWhat happens when a single government has two federal departments using the same economic numbers and come up with completely different analysis?

This is what happened in Canada this weekend. In October, specialists at Employment and Social Development Canada interpreted financial numbers and concluded that the middle class in Canada are in serious trouble. They even called the idea of the ‘Canadian Dream’ a myth.

It wasn’t good news for the country, who is dealing with similar economic woes as their friends to their south. Opposition parties looking to cash in on some new government seats jumped on the analysis, pointing out that some real change is needed if the middle class hopes to ever come out of the recession in one piece.

But along the way, many cabinet ministers dismissed the reports, calling them misleading.

Nearly a year later, Finance Canada has come up with their own analysis of the same numbers, which actually paints a very positive picture of the state of the middle class in Canada. They even go so far as to say that once they control for the changing composition of Canadian families, income has actually grown significantly since the seventies.

From the outside, it’s hard not to see this as anything more than political parties trying to score points before a federal election, which is coming up in a year in Canada.

But when it comes to finance and economics, there’s often more than one way to skin a cat. Getting raw data requires technical skill and precision. What is done with that data is another story. Interpreting data is an art, and a flawed one at that. How does one separate their strongly held political or social beliefs when interpreting the national economy.

In the world of finance, it’s considerably easier to avoid being 100% incorrect about assumptions or theories…but the art of the work is still fragile.

Consider the complexity of the findings of the Canadian data. One report notes that wages haven’t risen much in the past few decades, and that means families are struggling to keep up with inflation. The other report notes that the major influx of women in the labor force, continually rising since the seventies, more than made up for the stagnant wages, with more families earning more on the household level.

While there are often two ways to look at data, there is sometimes a an incentive to skew analysis toward your own benefit. That accusation is being thrown around in Canada at the moment. The incentives are there to cherry-pick data – the question is whether the reports were truly filed in good faith.

It seems the thing to do now would be to send the data to third-party organizations in the hopes of getting an unbiased perspective. Or maybe they’ll choose another federal department…

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Tech Education

mark tuminello tech classroomImprovements in technology and information systems are transforming classrooms on all collegiate levels. Unlimited online resources, software programs and social media websites are improving the way we do research and the efficiency in which we communicate with one another, from the classroom to the entire globe. The opportunities to gain and access rich content for research and assignments gives students quite a competitive advantage. In order to keep up with these changes, universities are developing strong technological foundations in which students can learn the necessary skills and gain an edge in today’s job market upon their graduation.

One huge trend that has been adopted by most educational institutions is the introduction of online classes or hybrid courses. These hybrid courses are hosted and taught online and streamed in classroom lectures. Computers and advancements in information systems allows students to access online courses whenever and wherever they are, without missing a beat. A recent study conducted by the Ambient Insight Premium Report, found that since August of 2012 more that 30 million college or graduate students have attended one or more than one class online. Courses online are not only beneficial to full time students, but also for professionals who like the flexibility of working and still continuing their education. As technology infrastructures continue to improve, universities are able to offer their students and professors a wide variety of applications that can increase the efficiency of online and virtual classrooms. However, the frequency in which technology rewed itself makes it difficult for most schools to keep up with these changes and in many cases fall short in delivering these resources.

Social media web sites, like Facebook and Twitter, are also being used more frequently by professors and students in order to communicate more efficiently with one another outside of the classroom setting. Given that students are always “plugged in”, professors will post assignments, share lecture materials and ultimately reach their students faster and more efficiently though social media. Universities themselves are using Facebook and Twitter to reach out to students on a larger scale, gain feedback on programs and establish a market base for their products and upcoming events. Establishing strong relationships between professors and students is extremely important for universities in reaching the highest levels of success for their heir graduating classes. Employers seek recent graduates that are well educated and up to date on current technology, which is why it’s extremely beneficial for universities to invest in information systems and update their technological infrastructure as much as their funds will allow.

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Blinkist

Mark Tuminello’s latest blog post –

mark tuminello blinkistThomas Piketty’s book on income inequality was a huge seller, and thanks in part to limited supply, very difficult to get ahold of. Non-fiction books like this are becoming increasingly popular not just with economics professionals like me, but also with millenials. But how do you keep up with the books of Krugman, Friedman, the Freakonomics guys, and all the rest of them – especially when they all blog regularly too? Keeping up with my favorite writers involves so much reading, I often find myself struggling to find time to read new authors.

Blinkist has answers to all of these issues facing non-fiction readers.

Blinkist is a subscription service of non-fiction books…except the books aren’t there in their entirety. Blinkist only provides summaries. They’re detailed, but brief, meant to be read in just 15 minutes (though slow readers will find it takes more like 25 minutes to get through an entire edition.

Summaries are broken down by the actual chapters of the book, and typically include around 500 words per chapter, for the average book.

I tried a free trial, and browsed a few books I knew I’d probably never read in their entirety. It really did feel like I was getting some good information from the author, albeit with no sense of flair or real-life stories to back up the concepts. I also tried reading the summary of a book I’d read. It was a fantastic way to revisit the writing, browsing through major ideas. The app also allows you to highlight certain passages of summary, which is a nice touch.

After the free trial, the app costs $5/month – and I’m not sure it’s something I’d want to stick with. Even with all the time constraints of reading, part of the pleasure of reading is…well…reading. On the other hand, when I want to simply revisit some old favorites quickly, or simply learn at a surface level without having to invest too much time – Blinkist seems like a total gem.

I absolutely recommend downloading the app, which is now available for both iOS and Android, and using the free trial. At the very least, you’ll find a book you’re interested in and get a chance to breeze through it.

 

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Watch John Oliver make the case that America is the world’s greatest nuclear threat

Originally posted on Quartz:

Maybe the world’s biggest nuclear threat isn’t Iran or North Korea but the United States. Watch British comedian John Oliver make the argument on his HBO show:

America has about 4,800 airheads in silos in Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. But these missile facilities are run down, poorly managed, and very outdated. One site in Wyoming still uses floppy disks. Another had a crow bar propping up the door designed to protect the hallway leading to the capsule.

john oliver america's nuclear missiles

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Only the very brave, or foolish, are investing in Russia right now

Originally posted on Quartz:

Russian stocks and bonds are dropping today, as is the ruble. It is difficult to isolate a single factor in the fall, as the threat of tougher US and European sanctions, a stagnating economy, and each new twist in the crisis in Ukraine conspire to weigh on Russian assets.

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Today, though, a big factor in the slide is undoubtedly the ruling by an international arbitration court in The Hague, which found Russia liable for a whopping $50 billion in damages for former shareholders of the oil company Yukos. The company was seized by the state in 2004 in a “devious and calculated expropriation,” the court said, with its boss, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, spending a decade in prison.

Rosneft, now the world’s largest listed oil group, picked up most of Yukos’s assets via auction after the firm was forced into bankruptcy by crushing back-tax claims. Rosneft and its chairman…

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Stocks Are Sliding (FDO, DLTR, Z, TRLA, HLF, LOCO, SPX, SPY, QQQ, DIA)

Originally posted on Access HR:

Boxer Punched

Stocks are lower to start this particularly busy week.

The Dow is down 68 points, the S&P 500 is down 9 points, and the Nasdaq is down 26 points.

The biggest news of the day so far is two notable mergers: Dollar Tree’s deal to acquire Family Dollar and Zillow’s deal to acquire Trulia.

Dollar Tree announced it will acquire Family Dollar for $74.50 per share in a deal that will create a combined company with annual sales of more than $18 billion. The deal comes after activist investor Carl Icahn took a 9.4% stake in Family Dollar and urged the company to seek a sale.

Following the announcement, Dollar Tree shares were up 5% while shares of Family Dollar were up 22%.

Zillow announced it will acquire Trulia in a $3.5 billion all-stock deal that values Trulia at a 25% premium to its closing price on Friday. Last…

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