• Walmart Spreads Like a Virus

    October 10, 2007  |  Economics

    Watch Walmart quickly expand like a deadly virus from the movie Outbreak. It's particularly interesting to see Walmart "infect" an entire small region with multiple new stores opening at the same time in one area. There looks to be somewhere around 30 stores opening per year (rough guess) across the country, so I wonder what the map looks like now. It's probably all blue except in those deserted Midwest regions. I wonder what the world map looks like.

    Random quote:

    When I lived in Maine, there wasn't much to do, so when we were bored on a Friday night, we'd go hang out at Walmart.

    That's kind of sad, but uh, if that's your thing, well, no, still sad.

  • Sifting Through My Mobile Phone Logs

    October 9, 2007  |  Self-surveillance

    When I was in NYC and my wife was in Buffalo, New York we talked on the phone almost every day, usually around ten in the evening. I was at my friend's place one night, and at 10:05pm, my wife called.

    The first thing she said was, "Where are you?"

    I told her I was at my friend's.

    My wife quickly replied, "Ha! I knew it!"

    Confused, I asked, "How did you know?"

    "Because otherwise, you would have called me at exactly 9:58."

    Am I really that predictable? First it was the Chinese food, and now I had been accused of call time predictability. Of course there was only one way to put this dispute to rest -- look at the data.
    Continue Reading

  • Gazing Deeply Into Your Many Eyes

    October 7, 2007  |  Online Applications

    Dear Many Eyes,

    From the moment I stared into your thousands of solid black eyes, I knew we had something special. Since the day we met you've shown me the silver lining in my data and pointed out details that I never would have found on my own. You're never pushy or arrogant about it; you always let me learn for myself. You believe in my natural pattern-finding ability the same way I believe in your big, beautiful exploratory tools.

    Many Eyes, I want to tell you something. I just want to, well, let you know why you're so high up on my bookmark list. You should also know there's some ways that you can improve, but please don't take it personally. I just want you to be all that you can be.

    Sincerely,
    Nathan

    Continue Reading

  • World Freedom Atlas

    October 5, 2007  |  Mapping, Online Applications

    World Freedom Atlas is an online geo-visualization tool that shows a number of freedom indicators so to speak. For example, you can map by a number of indexes such as raw political rights score, civil liberties, political imprisonment, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or torture. If I've counted correctly the data comes from 42 datasets divided into three categories:

    1. What It Is
    2. How To Get It
    3. What You Get

    What It Is covers data such as political rights and civil liberties while How To Get It is data on government structure and education system. I'm not really sure What You Get is though. There's GDP and some economic indexes, so it could be something like quality of life. Maybe someone can explain it better?

    The mapping and plots are pretty standard, but what stands out is the number of datasets that have been formatted in such a way the user is able to map things quickly and easily. It would be really cool if the data was explained a little better, so that I could "browse" the data a bit more efficiently, and even better, if there were some way to compare indicators against each other. Nevertheless, worth exploring a bit.

  • Is My Interest in Data Obsessive?

    October 4, 2007  |  Miscellaneous

    I just saw Stranger than Fiction. The main character, Harold Crick, spends much of his life counting. He counts the number of steps it takes for him to walk from his home to the bus stop; he brushes his teeth 76 times every morning; he takes a 45.7-minute lunch break and a 4.3-minute coffee break.

    So much counting and tracking. Sounds kind of familiar. Maybe a little too familiar? Nah.

    71 words. 320 characters. Nine sentences. Wait, now ten. Eleven. Err, twelve...

  • ProBlogger Birthday Bash Giveaway

    October 3, 2007  |  Contests

    If you have a blog, I'm sure you've heard of the the ever so popular ProBlogger blog. To celebrate, Darren is giving away $54,000 worth of prizes! The current giveaway is for two 20-inch USB monitors, and all you have to do is post about the giveaway (hence this post :). They're going to have a random drawing some time Friday night. If you don't need the monitor, there's a whole lot of other cool stuff being given away in the next few days.

    At the Times, I got used to using a super sexy Apple high resolution wide screen to create graphics, but back at home I've just been using my laptop and a not-so-hot 1280p 19-inch LCD screen. It's true what they say about productivity and screen real estate -- especially with visualization. I sure wouldn't mind having these two 20-inch monitors.

  • Swivel Gets a Data Guy

    October 3, 2007  |  Online Applications

    What the heck's a data guy? According to Gerard, who studied computer science and economics in college

    It means that I'm the type of person who, instead of planning for a vacation like a normal person, will write a script to pull down airline data for all possible destinations and routes, load the data into R and perform a regression analysis to find the best time to buy.

    Oh, so that's what a data guy is. I guess that makes me a data guy.

    This should be good for Swivel, who has seemed to be missing the "data guy" piece of the puzzle. Will Swivel's visualization tools improve? Will data become more reliable on Swivel? I don't know. It's possible. There's definitely a lot of work to be done, so one person won't be enough, but hey, it's a start. It's not often that I see a computer science / economics person. I'm an electrical engineering and computer science / statistics person myself, and I like to see people with dual backgrounds (even if they did go to the other school across the bay).

    That being said, applications like Swivel, Many Eyes, and Data360 make me wonder where all the statisticians are. I see mathematicians, designers, economists, and businessmen. Come on statisticians. Show yourselves. The world needs you.

  • Americans Prefer Watered Down Beer

    October 2, 2007  |  Economics

    Beer Shipments in 2006Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), Miller, and Coors lead the way in beer. Albeit, this is shipment data, not sales data, so take the numbers with a grain of salt.

    The extreme dominance of the top three American beers was somewhat surprising to me, because I never see people order any of those three at restaurants. However, I gave it a few more seconds of thought. I'm thinking parties, sporting events, and drunken nights. The American beers go down easier (because they're like water), so it's easier to get drunk. To get drunk, people drink more. So I guess the watery dominance isn't that surprising. I guess when people buy beer for taste at restaurants, they look to different brands.

    Anyhow, I'm really starting to become a fan of these bubble charts. They're really easy to read and can quickly spruce up a hard-to-read table of numbers. They also seem to scale decently. By well, I don't mean in like the thousands, but in the tens, I think the bubbles can hold their own.

    What kind of beer do you prefer?


  • Useful Stat Resources for R and GRASS

    October 1, 2007  |  Software

    UCLA Statistics has a pretty extensive list of resources on how to use R and GRASS. For those unfamiliar, R is a programming language and environment for statistical computing and graphics. GRASS is an open source geographic information system (GIS). And of course, both are completely free and completely useful.

  • StatGrad Discussion Board Now Open

    October 1, 2007  |  Announcements

    The StatGrad discussion board is now online -- a place where stat students can hang out.

    Red CouchOne of the things I miss most about going to school is hanging out with my cohort. I work from home in Buffalo, and I get bored and restless pretty easily. When I was at school and feeling restless, I could just go down to the stat lounge, sit on the ridiculous-looking Ikea couch, and relax with some classmates. We never sat around and talked about probability theory or the law of large numbers (ok, maybe we did sometimes), but because we were all stat students, we all had this data-ish way of thinking. Know what I mean?

    That's what I'm hoping for StatGrad. I'm not interested in finding help for specific stat problems or trying to answer R questions. There are plenty of books and online resources for that type of stuff. I'm just hoping that StatGrad can become a place where stat grad students can hang out when they're bored. Complain about undergrads, discuss anything interesting happening in our field, look for job opportunities, and stay up to date on calls for papers.

    Join StatGrad now. I know you want to. Please? Come on, I'm bored.

  • Find a Replacement for this Ugly Venn Diagram

    October 1, 2007  |  Ugly Charts

    autism-test-figure-2

    This venn diagram showing results from tests for Autism really seems to be making its rounds lately. It began with Igor Carron asking on his blog if there was a better way to display the data. Then Andrew Gelman put something of a redesign challenge up on his blog, and after Andrew, the challenge headed on over to Junk Charts. Redesigns are flying off the wall! From bar, to mosaic, to tornado charts, there's clearly many ways to represent data.

    Which one is the best? It's hard to say, because they all have advantages and disadvantages and the answer really depends on what point you're trying to drive home.

    However, I can find one advantage that the original venn diagram has over its redesigns -- it's intuitive for many people. John Venn introduced his diagram in 1881, over a century ago. That's a long time for people to adjust. People understand it. It makes sense. Yes, this particular venn is really ugly and probably didn't belong in a Powerpoint presentation, but doesn't it say something that re-designers were able to read it and use the data it provided? I think so.

    So in the spirit of Indexed, here's to you Mr. Venn.

    Venn Diagram Indexed

  • Using Many Eyes to Visualize Text

    September 29, 2007  |  Online Applications

    many-eyes-word-tree

    Some time last month, Many Eyes introduced their text visualization, the word tree. The user starts from a word or phrase, which is the root (or the trunk?) of the tree and then the branches are the continuation of the sentence in which the word appeared. The advantage over the word tree is that the order of words stays the same, as opposed to a jumbled tag cloud:

    Many Eyes Word Cloud

    Hence, the word tree allows the user to gain a better understanding of text flow and writing patterns than she would with a cloud.

    I found that it was very easy to create a word tree with some text that I had uploaded, but while starting exploration, I was unsure about what words to begin with. The word tree interface is similar to Martin Wattenberg's earlier Baby Name Wizard. The user naturally has some ideas on what to start with since it's an exploration of names. However, with the word tree, it's not as obvious, because the user might be exploring a body of text she's unfamiliar with.

    So instead I began sifting with a word cloud, which gave me an idea of some important words and phrases used in the text. Then it was simple to move from the word cloud to the word tree. The two viz tools -- cloud and tree -- go together quite nicely as the cloud kind of works as a suggestion box for the tree. As a standalone, the word tree is off to a good start.

  • New York Mets Not Looking So Good

    September 28, 2007  |  Statistics

    New York Mets 1986 and 2007

    I've never really been interested in baseball. I've always been more of a basketball and football fan. However, my summer roommate was a die hard baseball fan, and I'm convinced that he brainwashed me into rooting for the New York Mets. Just a couple of weeks ago, someone told me he was a Phillies fan, and I let out a blech of disgust without even thinking about it.

    So with the Mets' most recent loss, I'm a bit disgruntled, and I'm sure my old roommate is pissed as can be. The Mets are no longer leading the Phillies for the number one spot in the NL east.

    What better way to see how poorly the Mets are playing than with a graphic? I decided to compare this year's Met season with the 1986 Met World Series winning season, because that should probably be what they're shooting for. As my roommate would angrily exclaim, "If they can't get their #%&$ act together, they don't serve to go to the playoffs!"

  • Misleading Map of Buffalo Snow

    September 27, 2007  |  Mapping, Mistaken Data

    Buffalo Snowfall Map Without LegendI saw this map of the average snow levels in Buffalo. I think I just glanced at it and that was about it. When you first look at the map, what do you make of the colors? When I see green for snow levels, I think no snow. Am I crazy? What do you think?

    So the image was kind of in my head all this summer while I was in NYC. When I told people that I was going back to Buffalo after my internship, they always gave this look that said, "Ha, have fun during the winter," and then they would actually say it and then go into how they measure the snow level by comparing it against a giant pole.
    Continue Reading

  • Use Mint to Manage Your Finances

    September 26, 2007  |  Online Applications

    Mint LogoMint was released last week. It's an online application that brings financial data from all of your credit card and bank accounts into one place. Think Quicken online and free.

    It's super easy (only takes a few seconds) to add your financial accounts, and you only have to do it once. After you've added your accounts, Mint will update your data every night and compile them into useful reports. You'll get an overview of spending trends, transactions, and even ways you can save money based on your current credit cards' interest rates.

    So far I've found it useful simply because all of my data is one place. As I've made my way into adulthood, I've slowly accumulated more and more credit cards to the point where it's kind of annoying to login to every account to see how much debt I have.

    One Small Annoyance

    My one gripe about Mint is that the spending trends and savings features haven't been that informative, but I imagine will get better once more data comes in and Mint continues to tweak the system. My highest hope is that they do something about the dreaded 3-d pie chart...

    Mint Pie Chart

    Overall though, I'm looking forward to seeing Mint grow and develop into an extremely useful tool that brings all of your data into one place and represents it in a way that's understandable and interesting.

  • My Last Graphic at The Times

    September 24, 2007  |  The Times

    Michael Mukasey Compared to His Peers

    Friday was my last day at The Times, and this past Sunday, my last graphic ran in the paper. The story discussed Judge Michael Mukasey's past rulings and experience. Who's Michael Mukasey? He's up for the spot of the new attorney general of course.

    Anyways, I got to look through a lot of cool data on past rulings and busted out R for some statistical fun. This brought me to my last graphic. It compared Mukasey to his New York Southern District peers. You can see he's been more strict overall but less strict in immigration cases. Unfortunately some spacing between each bar was lost in the web version; it looks much better in the actual paper.

    That's not the most exciting part though.

    Continue Reading

  • Visualization of US Flight Patterns

    September 23, 2007  |  Mapping

    When I think airplanes and data visualization, I think of Aaron Koblin's Flight Patterns. Aaron uses data from the Federal Aviation Administration to show flights all across the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska. Even without the presence of an actual map, you can see a basic geography and where lots of flights are going and coming from. Flight Patterns is an oldie, but still a goodie. Here's a video:

    Speaking of flights, I'm currently waiting for my twice-delayed flight back to Buffalo. Thank goodness for free WiFi. Although it still doesn't make up for the delays. I hereby shake my mental fist of rage at you, Jet Blue.

  • John Maeda Speaks About Simplicity

    September 22, 2007  |  Design

    John Maeda, a professor in the MIT Media Lab, gives his talk on simplicity and how it plays a role in his position between technology and art. I read John's book, The Laws of Simplicity, a few months ago, and yes, as many will tell you, it's a pretty simple book. There are ten laws of simplicity that boil down to the main point -- get rid of everything that's unnecessary and nothing more. Although nothing earth-shattering, John's book makes some good points and has some interesting anecdotes from his many trips to Japan and family life; it's a nice read for some lazy Sunday. He's also a pretty entertaining speaker, so sit back, relax, and enjoy yet another TED talk.

  • My Last Day as a New York Times Graphics Editor Intern

    September 21, 2007  |  The Times

    Today is my last day at The New York Times. Ten weeks and twenty something graphics later, I'm leaving NYC much more knowledgeable about data visualization and journalism and how they can make a powerful pair. It's a bittersweet ending today.

    On the one hand, it's been amazing working for such a prominent newspaper, but on the other, I'm also looking forward to taking a few days off doing nothing and then moving forward towards finishing, err, starting my dissertation. Do I know my topic? No, not really, but one thing's for sure. Data visualization is what I want to do and I've been extremely fortunate to have learned from some of the best this summer.

    Onward ho.

  • Overgeneralizing on Chinese Takeout

    September 20, 2007  |  Miscellaneous

    Fortune CookiesMy roommate pointed out a couple of weeks ago that I always get Chinese takeout for dinner; however, we never get home at the same time, and most days, she's not even in the apartment when I arrive. How could she, a very bright and educated individual, come to such a conclusion after seeing so little data?

    In fact, by my count, she only saw me bring home Chinese takeout twice before she decided that yes, I do in fact eat Chinese every single day of the week. In reality I rotate through four choices -- sandwiches, Japanese, pizza, or Chinese with a few ventures out every now and then. This week I've had Japanese, hot dogs, Mediterranean twice, sandwich, burger, and Chinese.

    This is one of the reasons we need Statistics. What we perceive isn't always the truth. I might have had Chinese takeout on Monday and Friday, but do you know what I had on the days in between? If no, can you make an educated guess?

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