• Where’s the Local Big Mac Price Data?

    August 16, 2007  |  Miscellaneous

    Big Mac meal from McDonald’sEvery now and then I indulge in a Big Mac meal from McDonald's. I feel satisfied while I eat the burger and fries and suck down my diet soda, but afterwards I feel sleepy, sluggish, and fat. Today was one of those days.

    As I ate my my satisfying-not-so-satisfying meal, I wondered what the Big Mac price differences from state to state or even city to city. I know that there's data going around about Big Mac prices in different countries, but I'm pretty sure it varies quite a bit in the U.S. alone. I don't remember paying over $6 for the number 1 in California. What a jip (and yet I've been to the golden arches at least three times in the past month).

  • Funes, thet Memorious: It’s Possible to Remember Too Much

    July 31, 2007  |  Miscellaneous

    Jorge Luis Borges wrote this really good fictional short story in 1944 called Funes, the Memorious. It's about a boy, Funes, who isn't incredibly bright until one day he falls off his horse and hits his head. After the accident Funes has finds that he suddenly has an amazing memory with which he remembers every single detail of every moment in his life.

    His memory is so vivid that at one point he sees a dog, and a moment later the dog seems different. Funes remembers the way each hair stood on the the dog's back, the direction of the breeze, what direction the dog's tail was pointed, the perspiration on his own body, where everyone else was, etc. That dog could not possibly be the same dog that he saw a moment ago.

    Funes not only remembered every leaf on every tree of every wood, but even every one of the times he had perceived or imagined it. He determined to reduce all of his past experience to some seventy thousand recollections, which he would later define numerically. Two considerations dissuaded him: the thought that the task as interminable and the thought that it was useless.

    Trying to Remember Too Much

    At this day and age, when so much of everything is stored in database and everything is logged, is it possible to remember too much? Technology has enabled us to surveil others, video tape every moment of our life, store every email, take a seemingly endless river of pictures, record conversations, and log data out the wazoo.

    Sure, it's great to have it, but what use can you make of a year's worth of data? What about ten years? Or dare I say, a century's worth of data?

    This is when visualization becomes important. It's our duty to make the ocean of data available without letting the ocean's never-ending vastness overwhelm the data explorers. Otherwise, our technological memory becomes like that of Funes', and all is lost. OK, cue the dramatic music... now.

  • Evaluating New York Subway Report Card

    July 26, 2007  |  Miscellaneous, The Times

    I had a chance to browse through some of my subscribed feeds today, and I saw a post called Noisy Subways by Kaiser over at Junk Charts blog. So I clicked, since it isn't one of those full feeds, and then I saw The New York subway report card. I smiled, because, well, I made that chart just a few days ago!

    Just a disclaimer: The Times chart was just The New York Times version of the original Straphangers report:

    Straphanger Subway Report Card

    Anyways, there was bit of a discussion, which again, I found very amusing. I felt kind of special in a way.

    There were two main points to the post - 1. Noisy data; and 2. Chart is hard to read. I'm very tired right now, so I'll just say a few things.

    Yes, the data is really noisy, but why shouldn't it be? We shouldn't assume that all six variables are positively correlated. It's very possible for a line to be very reliable, but have no seats. One could argue that the lines with more people HAVE to be more reliable, because if something goes wrong, more people are going to get screwed.

    Secondly - sure, the chart is a bit hard to read at a glance, but who's the audience? New Yorkers are the audience, and the first thing that they're going to do is look for their subway line. That's what I did. With the audience in mind, I think the chart serves its purpose.

    Most of the commenters provided decent ideas for alternative graphics. My opinion is that with this kind of data, it's up for grabs. Audience is key though for charts, graphs, plots, maps, etc in a newspaper. Spiders and whiskers won't make sense to many people. You'd be amazed of how many people don't know how to read a scatter plot. The public is getting better though. They'll get there.

    As for the person who left the comment about the gaps in the chart. I'm going to assume that was in haste. Some lines are tied, hence some blanks spaces.

    Welp, that was fun. Yawwwwn. Time for bed.

  • Difficulty Keeping Up with the Feeds

    July 24, 2007  |  Miscellaneous

    Google Reader Trends

    This is just really amusing to me. Above is a bar plot, from Google Reader, of the number of items I've read in the past 30 days, with each bar representing a day. Quite easy to see when I had a little bit too much time on my hands. Right when the internship starts, the number of items read plummets. I miss my subscribed feeds =(.

  • New Lessons Every Day

    July 20, 2007  |  Miscellaneous, The Times

    steps1

    Every day I learn a lot, and every day I get better. For most of the day today, I worked on a single graphic (that hopefully runs in the paper). I gave it to the person in charged, and oh man, there was a lot to change. Fonts, labels, fill colors, bar widths, spacing, layer orientation, size... on and on and on. I think it might have been faster for him to make the graphic himself than it was for him to fix mine.

    Sigh. Gotta practice.

    The graphic above is the number of daily steps I've taken since I started wearing a pedometer. Can you tell when I moved to the city and was forced to walk to the subway and work?

  • Motivation to Change Behavior

    June 28, 2007  |  Miscellaneous

    My mom recently, um, as in yesterday, got in a car accident. She was making a left turn at a light, and someone coming from the opposite direction decided to run a red light, sending my mom's car in a 90-degree turn. Fortunately, my mom only suffered minor burns from the airbag deployment; however, the car was totaled. The first thing that my mom did today -- the day after this major accident -- she went to work.

    This got me to thinking, what is enough to motivate someone to change her behavior? For some, when something really drastic happens, like a car accident, they gain a new outlook on life and vow to "live life to the fullest" or "value every moment". Then there are others, like my mom, who move along, because all they want is for their lives to be normal again.

    I wish I knew where to look for related research, but a quick search on Google Scholar didn't give me a whole lot.

    Let's see here... what motivates people to change their behaviors?

    • A significant, personal event
    • Change in surroundings
    • Coercion

    Surely, there's more. I'm going to dwell on this some more.

Unless otherwise noted, graphics and words by me are licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC. Contact original authors for everything else.