Over the past few years we’ve seen an awful lot of over the top “Big Data” hype. Every use of stats wants to call itself “Big Data” and every user wants to say they’re a “Data Scientist” (what the hell is a non-data scientist, anyway?), but more importantly the uses of big data are getting oversold. The research avenues that have been opened by the relatively new ability to collect, store and analyse truly huge data sets are amazing, but every time you hear about big data replacing old fashioned things like domain specific knowledge and human judgement, you should be very suspicious. This leads to all kinds of confusion between statistical significance and genuinely meaningful information, especially in the face of a culture that systematically focusses on the wrong things.
Today and tomorrow are Purim. I re-read the book of Esther today in honour of that fact, and was actually a little disappointed by how horrible it is. Not just bloody—it’s the Old Testament so of course it’s bloody—but it’s also remarkably misogynistic for a book with a female heroine, and full of inappropriate revenge. Continue reading
I just sent this letter to Washington’s new[ish] Governor, and I’d like to encourage you to do similar:
Dear Governor Inslee,
In the same election that brought you to power the people of Washington chose, by a significant margin, to legalize marijuana as fully as we are able without control over Federal law. According to the FBI’s Universal Crime Reporting data (as cited in http://marijuana-arrests.com/docs/240,000-Marijuana-Arrests-In-Washington.pdf ), about a quarter of a million people have been arrested for marijuana possession in Washington over the past 25 years. While the jail terms for this “crime” were already so short before the 2012 election that few of these people are still in jail today, many of these people have permanent criminal records, limiting their access to jobs, housing and education. In effect, these people are being punished for life for an act that Washington voters have clearly declared should not be a crime at all.
Yesterday the Daily Show featured an interview with Missy Cummings, a former Air Force pilot and current MIT Professor, who wants people to freak out less about drones. It’s well worth watching—a good interview with a person who clearly knows what she’s talking about—but what she leaves out is rather problematic.
I love Twitter. If you’re reading this, you probably already know that; if you didn’t then I’ll just mention that I’m much more garrulous over there. But there’s one thing about it that bothered me until very recently: my stream’s tendency to not simply be all over the map emotionally, but be at highs and lows at the same time. In face-to-face conversations, it’s pretty rude to be laughing and joking at the same time as talking about serious, depressing matters, but that’s what Twitter presents me with all the time, and it’s often what I present to the people who follow me there.
This post is a quick update on last year’s collection of public transport routes to ski areas. It’s heavily biased towards my own needs (i.e. central Seattle pickup locations). Please let me know if there are any I’ve missed! Continue reading
In the recent election, Washington legalised gay marriage. There’s a slight delay built in to such things to give the relevant agencies time to prepare, so the first weddings took place this past weekend. Judge Mary Yu opened up the county courthouse at the stroke of midnight on Saturday, and City Hall was turned into the venue for 140 of the most public wedding ceremonies through the day on Sunday. Seattle responded with a little bit of apologising:
but mostly a lot of cheering and celebrating. Continue reading
I’m taking Alberto Cairo’s excellent online infographics class. For the first few weeks, he gave us very structured assignments: critiquing some published infographics (a terrible one to get us warmed up and then a quite good one to make us think more deeply about it), and then visualising two specific datasets that he provided. For the final assignment he gave us a completely free hand:
This time, I am giving you the freedom to do whatever you want. Choose a topic, gather the appropriate information, and present an idea of how to show that information in graphic form, either as a static display (for print) or an interactive one (for the Web or mobile). If you already feel comfortable with any software tool, try to turn in a finished product. If you are still in the early stages of learning, do hand-drawn sketches (but try to make them readable!).
Melinda had the great idea that I should do something about ocean acidification. The trouble is, everything I can think of that would be better than existing graphics I’ve seen seems to need data that I can’t find and may not exist at all. Continue reading
Having set up a bit of an ambitious goal in the previous post, I’m going to start with an idea that wasn’t mine at all, but it’s timely so it gets to go first. A contingent of Occupy Wall Street is promoting what they call the Rolling Jubilee. The idea is beautifully simple: since “distressed debt” is sold on public markets for a fraction of the money owed, buying it and simply writing it off is a form of poverty relief with an extreme multiplier. Apparently at current prevailing rates, the multiplier is around 20, so a dollar donated allows $20 of debt to be written off. That favourable ROI in turn means that if the average beneficiary then channels just a small proportion of the debt they’ve just been released from back into the fund, it can keep going, hence the Rolling Jubilee. I think this is brilliant for a number of reasons.