Country first?

I'm trying to stay off politics -- too depressing!  But a few points:

(1) Gingrich has won the SC primary in the most ugly way possible. I thought Bush beating McCain by claiming he had a black baby was the pits. But that was done in secret, in anonymous phone calls. Now, it is all out in the open. Gingrich essentially took it out on a uppity black man (Juan Williams: saying that work was an abstract concept to him), called Obama a food stamp president and someone who could be outsmarted in a debate ("I want to see his college transcripts", as if it was unbelievable that a black man could do well at Harvard).  Gingrich decided not to dog whistle his racist trope: he catcalled his way to victory.

(2) I see that Romney has said he is going to release his 2010 returns. Theories on why he was so reluctant center on two possibilities: he pays less as a fraction of income than Buffet's secretary and that he may have moved his money offshore to the Caymans. I suspect that there is a third, more damaging revelation lurking. George Romney used to pay "only 37%" as tax, and the reason it was so low was his substantial contribution to the Mormon church. I think Mitt is screwed in the Republican primary regardless of whether he paid very little to the church (Mormons won't forgive him) or whether he tithes so honestly that this contribution (to what evangelicals consider a cult) dwarfs his taxes.

(3) Democrats are gleeful that Gingrich has won. Have they thought about the country we'll live in if Gingrich wins the nomination and the economy continues to tread water?  Obama will lose (personal approval and awfulness of the opposition not withstanding), the Democrats will lose the Senate, the Tea Partiers will feel empowered and the country will lose another 8 years to right-wing incompetence.

The country needs a capable government. And that, unfortunately, means that you (regardless of your partisan politics) should be hoping for a moderate Republican nominee.

Now this is the way to advertise a class ...

You are teaching a college course for the first time and the enrollment numbers are not what you hoped for. What do you do? Last Spring, I was in that situation and being the uncreative soul that I am, I took my lumps. What else can you do beyond sending an email?

My friend, Matt, on the other hand ... he's essentially run a front-page ad in the student newspaper. This story takes up a half-page in the print version and the message could not be clearer:
...Five students are currently enrolled in the course, but there are 15 seats remaining....“The career options for students interested in unmanned aerial systems appear limitless,” Esker said.

ISBN assigned

My book now has an ISBN number and everything.  This by itself wouldn't mean anything, except that the ISBN number being available means a couple of things:

(1) Springer has a blurb about my upcoming book on their website.  Please don't get a sticker shock. I'm quite sure it will be less expensive when it comes out.  Besides, the e-book version should be considerably cheaper.

(2) You can sign up on Amazon to be notified when the book becomes available. Click the button below:

There is no echo chamber

A recently completed PhD dissertation, based on looking at how 75 million links were shared among 243 million Facebook users found that:
Although we’re more likely to share information from our close friends, we still share stuff from our weak ties—and the links from those weak ties are the most novel links on the network. Those links from our weak ties, that is, are most likely to point to information that you would not have shared if you hadn’t seen it on Facebook.
Of course, the former graduate student now works for Facebook, so you may want to take the finding with a spoon of salt.

A poorly conceived graph

Tufte, where are you?

A graph by Alan Kreuger, a top economist, who should know better than to draw misleading charts:

I have no quarrel with the data on the graph, of course. What I'm pointing out is how poorly conveyed the information content of the graph is.  The graph is so poorly conceived that it is misleading.

Looking at the graph, and without looking at the captions, do think the United States is improving or not? Our natural reaction on any numerical chart is that the top-right is where we want to be.  That is, however, not what the chart is saying.

The x-axis variable is inequality. The more left you are better, the more cohesive the society is.  So, for one thing, the x-axis should probably have been (1-inequality) or the axis should have gone from 0.40 on the left to the 0.15 on the right i.e. the x-axis ought to have been flipped.

The y-axis is similarly poorly conceived. The higher you are in the y-axis, the less the social mobility in the country, i.e. people born poor remain poor. Again, the y-axis ought to have been (1-elasticity) or its range flipped to go from 0.6 at the bottom to 0.1 on top.

Once you flip the two axes, then the take-away of the graph becomes extremely clear. The United States is unequal and getting more so.

Chart-drawing software (Mr. Kreuger probably used Excel here) has made it so easy to draw graphs that people forget to stop a bit and think about whether the chart actually conveys (visually: that's the point of a chart after all) what they want it to convey.

Richard Dowling, in the boondocks

The kids and I went to see Richard Dowling perform at a local church today (Saturday). He's in town to play in the inaugural concert of the Norman Philharmonic and decided to squeeze in a small performance before that.

I noticed that he was playing without the benefit of any sheet music and pointed this out to S1. The ten-year-old who is going on thirty was not impressed. "It is a very simple pattern," he told me and pointed out the pattern, "so it's very easy to play from memory."

It wasn't until Dowling moved on some orchestral Chopin pieces rearranged for the piano (so that the original orchestral pieces needed to played by the pianist) that S1's eyes widened and his mouth fell open. He ended up being completely enthralled.

I'm tone-deaf, so you shouldn't take musical suggestions from me, but Richard Dowling is very good. It's not just that he played a 2 hour concert from memory. It was also the sheer exuberance of the concert. It's when we get world-class people passing through that I miss the energy and opportunities of a big city.

YouTube has a few videos of him. Here he is playing a ragtime classic:
and here he is playing a more traditionally classical piece:
Both these songs were part of the concert today, and as with any live performance, the recordings do not do them justice

He said he was going to be playing a Gershwin piece Sunday at the Nancy O'Brien auditorium.  S1 will be part of the choir in that program, singing a composition by Libby Larsen.

A newspaper or a stenograph?

No, really. This is the question the New York Times' public editor poses to his readers:
I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.
"Do you want us to simply print the press release?," he essentially asks, "or do you want us to check the assertions in them".

I had to make sure it was the Opinion Page this was in, and not the Onion.

Google+ vs. Facebook

If you want total privacy, use Google+. No one will see your posts.

With my book done, I gingerly moved back to Facebook and the first post was my previous blog post about the completion  of the draft. In 15 minutes, the Facebook post had 8 likes and 7 comments.

 Meanwhile, the Google+ post, with a 7 hour head-start, might as well not exist.

A couple of days later, the Facebook post has something like 30 comments and "likes". The Google+ post has two.

I still have the concerns about the overwhelming stream of information that led me to leave FB, but I was missing the connections that Facebook made possible. Google Plus is a better design, but even the obvious problems are not getting fixed. Meanwhile, Facebook has improved: in particular, they allow you to subscribe only to "Life Events" from some people, for example.

Stick a fork in me ...

Stick a fork in me 'cos I'm done.  What's done? The draft of my book (working title: "Automating the Analysis of Spatial Grids: A Practitioner's Guide to Data Mining Geospatial Images") is off to the publisher (Springer Verlag). It will be a couple of months before the book gets a ISBN number and can be preordered.

I started writing the book the last week of August and now the draft is 320 pages consisting of 80,000 words and 400 illustrations.  As you can see from the graph, writing was difficult at the start.  Once I got going though, I managed four months of rather steady progress:

Thanks to everyone's patience with me as I was burrowed deep  into the woodwork. You will see me out more often now, blinking in the sunshine.

Strange time zones

Gazing at the time zone map of the world, it strikes me that there are all kinds of strange things going on.

The strangest though must be the +8 zone that starts with Western Australia and continues northward to include Beijing and Shanghai.  But notice that all of China is in the same time zone! I didn't realize that the Chinese do not believe in time zones. Not only should everyone speak Mandarin, they should live and work on Beijing time. Even stranger is that Russian time zones in Siberia are offset. Thus, the +8 time zone includes the territory that should normally be +7. Maybe it is because of the cold and low-light i.e. Siberia works on a permanent daylight savings time!

India has no timezone either, but in a smarter, more inclusive way.  Because the country is mostly north-south, they divided up the difference and so the whole country is +5 1/2 instead of being +5 and +6 (this explains why India is shown hashed).  A little weird in that time corrections are not whole numbers, but once you are in the country, it's a highly workable system.   Venezuela seems to have had the same idea.

But ... where else is it hashed? Australia! Why on earth are the central provinces in Australia in different time zones? And why are they offset a non-integer number of hours?

What's with Spain and Germany?  Spain ought be +0 and Germany ought to be +2, but they picked the same timezone as France.