Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kids nowadays, and data viz

There's much handwringing about the demise of reading and writing. Clive Thompson has a different take:
Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment... Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos -- assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.
Changing subjects completely, here's some great data visualizations (I think you can see Tufte's influence):
Have you ever rushed to the airport only to find that your flight was delayed or canceled? In the most recent Data Expo at the annual Joint Statistical Meetings, data heads explored 120 million departures and arrivals in the United States, with the goal of finding "important features" such as:
  • When is the best time of day/day of week/time of year to fly to minimise delays?
  • Do older planes suffer more delays?
  • How does the number of people flying between different locations change over time?
  • How well does weather predict plane delays?
More data visualization: although this is over a month old, Umair Haque at the Harvard Business Review shows data about US healthcare.
There's a yawning gap between left and right in America today: the healthcare debate has grown so convoluted that both sides are talking past each other. Why? I think much has to do with the fact that one side is talking apples, and the other side is talking oranges. The right is focused on benefits foregone, while the left is focused on costs incurred.

A more productive debate must compare the two, to look at returns. So I thought I'd spend an hour or so trying to come up with a number that might help focus a more productive debate about authentic value: a measure of just how effective the American healthcare system is.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Vernier jets

Wow, something I actually know about the space shuttle. Discovery's vernier jets failed, so they have to use the primary reaction control system (RCS) jets to move around while on orbit. The bigger RCS jets are at 90 degrees to each other (i.e., directly in line with yaw, pitch, roll axes), and the vernier jets much less powerful, so aren't as jerky for maneuvering. From Spaceflight Now:
The shuttle's forward reaction control system, or RCS, includes 14 primary engines and two vernier jets. Two aft RCS pods feature 12 primary thrusters and two verniers each. The primary engines generate 870 pounds of thrust while the verniers produce just 24 pounds of push.
The software we were analyzing was the DAP jet-select and deadbanding (more than you ever wanted to know here). We spent a lot of time with this "Phase-plane" diagram.

Changing subjects, a Wyland painting was stolen from a Waikiki store on Lewers Street. Which is more surprising: that it was snatched from a gallery during business hours, or that there's a Wyland painting worth $700k? :) Anyway, support your local tiki.

Arnold say furlough

The Mount Wilson observatory that Hubble famously used survived the recent wildfire. Interesting pictures at Wired.

Lots of people on furlough. I was thinking it would be good to augment these days of the week shirts with an eighth saying FURLOUGH. You can support some local state employees by visiting their Cafepress store. I recommend the coffee mug.

If things get bad you, might want to read Getting Even, about workplace justice. Or take a trip to Reno. Or rent a timeshare week from me at Jensen Beach and snorkel during low tide at nearby Bathtub Reef.

In techie news, the author of Showstopper wrote a Technology review article about whether it's wise for Google to develop an operating system. The "Good enough" revolution (reminds me of James Bach's "satisficing" idea), and the "new literacy" are also discussed.

Both Spectrum and Wired have articles about the Beatles and RockBand, but I recommend the Spectrum article for getting into what was required to make it work, and for you old timers, a nice column by Bob Lucky, a profile of the Stanford prof who came up with the iPhone ocarina app, and bad news for you face-recognition folks..

Finally, tomorrow Wired is paying a guy to fly in Jetblue every day for a month, and write about it. Hmm.