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August 21 2018


What data scientists really do

Statistics. I kid, I kid. Hugo Bowne-Anderson, host of the DataFramed podcast, culled some information together that he’s gathered from interviewing data scientists. This is what data scientists really do.

One result of this rapid change is that the vast majority of my guests tell us that the key skills for data scientists are not the abilities to build and use deep-learning infrastructures. Instead they are the abilities to learn on the fly and to communicate well in order to answer business questions, explaining complex results to nontechnical stakeholders. Aspiring data scientists, then, should focus less on techniques than on questions. New techniques come and go, but critical thinking and quantitative, domain-specific skills will remain in demand.

Other than the best spots to nap in between classes, this is one of the most important things I learned in (statistics) graduate school.

Tags: data science

August 20 2018


World Cup play activity visualized like wind maps

A fun experiment by Neil Charles that used the aesthetics of wind maps to represent World Cup 2018 play activity:

It looks like the familiar shape of an average football game, with the bulk of the play happening out wide and then converging onto the opponent’s area. Colour in this is example is by number of passes (hotter = more) and I’ve also drawn locations with fewer passes more faintly, but the aim is visual impact rather than strict best practice so I deliberately haven’t included a legend.

Clearly this has to be done for every other sport now.

Tags: soccer, wind

August 17 2018


2018 House forecast from FiveThirtyEight

Ever since the huge forecasting upset in 2016, I’ve tended to stay away from that stuff. I mean, it was painful to watch the Golden State Warriors, a huge favorite to win the championship basically the whole series, lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yeah. The Warriors. What were you thinking of?

Alas, it is 2018, and FiveThirtyEight has their forecast for who will control the House. Mainly, I post for the burger menu to select the type of forecast you want.

Tags: election, FiveThirtyEight, forecast

August 16 2018


A visual analysis of jean pockets and their lack of practicality

Frustrated with the size of pockets on women’s pants, Jan Diehm and Amber Thomas for The Pudding, measured pocket sizes in 20 popular jean brands. They compared men’s and women’s pockets and calculated what actually fits in the mix of sizes.

[W]e programmatically determined whether various everyday items could fit in an otherwise empty pocket in jeans that aren’t being worn. (If an object won’t fit in the pocket of a pair of jeans on the hanger, it certainly won’t fit when you’re wearing them.) Only 40 percent of women’s front pockets can completely fit one of the three leading smartphone brands. Less than half of women’s front pockets can fit a wallet specifically designed to fit in front pockets. And you can’t even cram an average woman’s hand beyond the knuckles into the majority of women’s front pockets.

Impressive and informative work.

It reminds me of the Amanda Cox graphic that compared women’s dress sizes for different brands in 2011. There’s also the broken waistline measurement.

Let’s just all wear sweats from now on.

Tags: pants, pockets, The Pudding


✚ Visualization Away from the Computer, Developing Ideas, Bring in the Constraints

Made-by-hand visualization has been making a mini comeback as of late, and it’s been fun to see what people do with data away from the computer. Of course, we don’t have the time to draw every chart and map by hand, but there are some parts of the practice we can use in our own work. Read More


More wildfires than ever

Peter Aldhous for BuzzFeed News delves into the increasing number of wildfires in California:

Most of California’s rain and snow falls in between October and March, which means that fire season peaks in the summer, as vegetation dies and dries out. In Southern California, the season extends into the fall, when Santa Ana winds, which blow from the dry interior toward the coast, whip up small fires into major conflagrations.

As the state has dried and warmed, the fire season has started earlier and larger areas have burned. Similar changes have occurred across the western US.

Grab the data and code to look for yourself.

Tags: BuzzFeed, California, fire


Scale of the California wildfires

The Mendocino Complex Fire, now the largest in California ever, continues to burn. I live a couple of hundred miles away, but the sky is yellow and orange at times, and it was smokey a few days ago. It’s a bit crazy. Lazaro Gamio for Axios provides a quick view to show scale with an animated graphic compared against Washington, D.C. and Manhattan.

Tags: Axios, California, fire, scale

August 15 2018


Cartography Playground

Map-making is a tricky business with many variables to consider that can directly change how someone interprets the land and people in a location. The Cartography Playground is a simple site to test these variables interactively. Learn about algorithms, mess with appearance, and toggle through representations.

Tags: algorithms, cartography


Optical illusion shows our messed up lightness perception

A gray piece of paper moves along a gradient. You won’t believe your eyes.

Tags: illusion, perception

August 14 2018


A transforming river seen from above

The Padma River in Bangladesh is constantly shifting its 75-mile path. Joshua Stevens for the NASA Earth Observatory shows what the shifting looked like through satellite imagery, over a 30-year span.

Kasha Patel:

The upper section of the Padma—the Harirampur region— has experienced the most erosion and shows the most notable changes. The river has become wider at this section by eroding along both banks, although most activity occurred on the left bank. Using topographic, aerial, and satellite imagery, scientists found that the left bank shifted 12 kilometers towards the north from 1860 to 2009 and developed a meandering bend. The river left a scar where the water once flowed, as you can see in the 2018 image.

See also the dramatic shifts of the Ucayali River in Peru.

Tags: environment, NASA, satellite imagery, water


Robot arm seeks out Waldo, using machine learning

The camera on the slightly creepy arm takes a picture of the pages in the book, the software uses OpenCV to extract faces, and the faces are passed to Google Auto ML Vision comparing the faces to a Waldo model. The result: There’s Waldo.

Tags: machine learning, robot, vision, Waldo

August 13 2018


Analysis of fake YouTube views

Wherever more attention or the appearance of it equates to more money, there are those who try to game the system. Michael H. Keller for The New York Times examines the business of fake YouTube views:

YouTube’s engineers, statisticians and data scientists are constantly improving in their ability to fight what Ms. O’Connor calls a “very hard problem,” but the attacks have “continually gotten stronger and more sophisticated,” she said.

After the Times reporter presented YouTube with the videos for which he had bought views, the company said sellers had exploited two vulnerabilities that had already been fixed. Later that day, the reporter bought more views from six of the same vendors. The view count rose again, though more slowly. A week later, all but two of the vendors had delivered the full amount.

Tags: fake, New York Times, YouTube


Aerial view of sheepdogs herding sheep

Sometimes the visualization takes care of itself. Photographer Tim Whittaker filmed sheepdogs herding thousands of sheep, and the flows one place to another are like organized randomness.

Tags: drone, flow, herd, sheep

August 10 2018


Charting the similarity of summer songs

Popular summer songs have had a bubbly, generic feel to them the past several years, but it wasn’t always like that. Styles used to be more diverse, and things might be headed back in that direction. Sahil Chinoy and Jessia Ma charted song fingerprints over the years for a musical comparison.

Turn up your speakers or put on your headphones for the full experience. The song and music video snippets provide a much better idea of what the charts represent.

Tags: music, New York Times, summer

August 09 2018


✚ Detailed Intentions of a Map, When Everything Leads to Nothing, Designing for Misinterpretations

The New York Times published an election map. A lot of people did not like the map, arguing that it was an inaccurate representation. Those who did like the map argued that one must consider intent before throwing a map to the flames. What happens when intended use and actual use do not match up? Read More

August 07 2018


Scale model shows how levees increase flooding

Levees are intended to prevent flooding in the areas they are built, but they change the direction and speed of flowing water, which can cause unintended flooding in areas upstream. ProPublica and Reveal collaborated with the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory to build a scale model to show how this can happen.

An interactive graphic lets you shift flow rate up and down to see the changes yourself. The video coupled with the illustration makes the effects super clear.

Tags: flood, levees, physical, ProPublica, Reveal

August 06 2018


“Optimized” floor plan with genetic algorithms

Genetic algorithms are inspired by natural selection, where the system is given a set of inputs and the “best” iteration is chosen until there’s some kind of convergence to a solution. Joel Simon applied this process to floor plan design.

The creative goal is to approach floor plan design solely from the perspective of optimization and without regard for convention, constructability, etc. The research goal is to see how a combination of explicit, implicit and emergent methods allow floor plans of high complexity to evolve. The floorplan is ‘grown’ from its genetic encoding using indirect methods such as graph contraction and emergent ones such as growing hallways using an ant-colony inspired algorithm.

The results were biological in appearance, intriguing in character and wildly irrational in practice. It was a fun learning experience and I plan to re-use methods in other projects.

[via kottke]

Tags: algorithm, floor plan

August 03 2018


Bucket o’ companies compared to Apple $1 trillion value

Apple’s value passed $1 trillion on Thursday, and as tradition requires, we must consider the scale of such a large number. We must compare the value of Apple against the sum value of a surprising number of small and medium companies. The New York Times has you covered with a bucket of blobs metaphor.

So blobby. So bucket-y.

Tags: Apple, business, New York Times, stocks


Why the city is hotter than the suburb

NPR used video from a thermographic camera to explain why cities tend to be hotter than their surrounding areas. Straightforward and a good complement to the video.

Tags: city, heat, NPR

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