Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Visualizations

I loved this visualization by artist Isao Hashimoto on nuclear explosions

A student named Lee Byron created an astonishing new type of graph, which he calls a stream graph. He used it to chart his musical tastes over time (which are remarkably similar to my own). I don't at all mind the lack of an axis; in time-series histograms size is all relative anyhow. Can't wait to figure out how to put this one to use. Might even have to learn Processing for it!

His coauthor used it to chart movie releases since 1986 in the New York Times. Mesmerizing!

The Washington Post is getting a lot of coverage for their Defense charts. I don't like 'em. The circles are too complicated, and the distance from the center distorts proportion.

Finally, Hans Rosling has some new TED talks up. Including this one with some awesome old-school interactive charts. Am I wicked for wishing that Microsoft had acquired Gapminder instead of Google, so I could use it in Excel?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Walmart Gives $2 Billion in Food Aid... to America

From the Christian Science Monitor, Wal-Mart has pledged two billion dollars in food aid to help feed hungry Americans. I told this one my Ghanaian coworkers:

Me: Wow! Wal-Mart just pledged $2 billion in food aid!
Jonathan: To Haiti?
Me: No, to America!
Jonathan: $2 million?
Me: No, $2 billion!
Jonathan: Wow... that's the last thing one would ever think of.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Barbers Without Borders Not Fulfilling Mission

Accra, Ghana

Numerous reports from “the Field” indicate that Barbers Without Borders is not fulfilling their mission to provide affordable yet fashionable hair-styling services for Africa. Ethnic minorities and migrant laborers throughout Africa are living with unkempt hair because the local economy does not support barbers who use scissors. These ethnic minorities – who are often young, often skinny, and often sick – live in constant fear of ridicule by their local partners, who scoff at their unruly hair, dirty clothes and smelly feet. Anyone who visits a government ministry in Africa will quickly note the difference in personal hygiene between the local managers and the minority “technical consultants”.

“We believe that the lack of barbers is the root cause of poor hygiene among migrant laborers in Africa,” said a spokeswomen for Barbers Without Borders who refused to be named because I made her up. “What incentive do they have to shave or wash their feet if their hair is messy anyway? If we can just provide a few more stylists in key areas – Accra, Abijan and Lagos come to mind – we believe that we can unlock the key to growth in hygiene among expatriates in Africa,”.

But if this is the mission of Barbers Without Borders, where are the barbers? Many ethnic minorities and migrant laborers report going months without haircuts, often waiting for “home leave” to get their hair cut. Others take the drastic step of flying to London for the weekend to get haircuts, buy electronics, and go clubbing. But, as if often the case, the hardest hit are those without jobs, working as volunteers or low-wage labor at not-for-profits.

“It can be tragic if you choose the wrong barber,” said one such migrant laborer. “The last haircut I had, I walked out 3/4 of the way through out of sheer frustration; he seemed to be trying to shear me. I tried to clean it up myself when I got home. I did what I could, but, well, you can see the result,” the laborer said sheepishly. He refused to give his name for fear of public shaming, but referred to his latest haircut as “the Skunk” because of the trough the barber carved down the back of his head. “Barbers Without Borders has some questions to answer,” he concluded.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Surveying Christopher Walken

Thanks to my new-found Youtube-downloading capabilities, check out this SNL clip where Christopher Walken fills out the census. Administering questionnaires really feels that hard sometimes.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Watching Youtube on a Slow Connection

WARNING: It's about to get nerdy up in here.

At best, the internet at my house is like a fast 56k connection, and at worst (when it's working at all) I could probably get faster download speeds from my cell phone. I have been using the wget utility to download important files, which works, but wget uses the command line prompt and could never be called user-friendly.

But wget does not work on youtube videos, so I've been totally lost on pop culture. I didn't discover The Rock Obama* until a month ago, and spent probably 45 minutes watching the status bar load (even less fun than watching water boil). You can often view youtube videos by pausing it and waiting for the whole video to load before watching it, but if internet connection drops out while it's loading, you can't resume loading it without completely restarting. This happened probably 5 times while I was trying to watch the This Too Shall Pass* video -- incredibly frustrating!

I think I have found a solution using Firefox plug ins. I had, like Owen Barder, recently switched to Chrome, but might have to switch back now -- these pluggins are great!

The first thing to do is to add the Firefox Downloadhelper plug-in. This lets you download flash videos from Youtube at the click of a button, and is a good solution in and of itself.

Unfortunately, Firefox's download utility isn't made for African connectivity. When the download fails, you can manually restart it and it will actually resume where it left off, but if your internet is bouncing up and down, this is a real pain.

What we need to do is use wget to download the downloadhelper files. If you right click the file in Firefox's download manager, you can select "Copy Link Location" and then paste that into the command line to use with wget... but it's the year 2010, we must be able to do better than that!

Enter VisualWget, a user interface that lets you use wget in a much more friendly environment. And, VisualWget can work with a Firefox pluggin called FlashGot to let you download files from Firefox using wget at the click of a button. This works great for downloading .pdf articles and other links, but I still need to copy and paste the downloadhelper url in to download youtube videos. Also, it can take FOREVER to download, but at least it works!

Steps to Watching Youtube in Sub-Sarahan Africa, Northern New Hampshire, Or Anywhere Else with Bad Connectivity
  1. Add the Downloadhelper Firefox plug in
  2. Download and install VisualWget
  3. Add the Flashgot Firefox plug in
  4. Follow the instructions on the VisualWget website (near the bottom) to add VisualWget as the default FlashGot download utility.
  5. Click the annoying spinning Downloadhelper thinger to start downloading a youtube video

  6. Right click on the file in the downloads box to copy the link location, then cancel the download

  7. Go to Tools > FlashGot > FlashGot All to launch VisualWget

  8. Press control + v in the url box to paste in the link and press OK to start downloading the file
  9. Get back to work. It will download, don't worry!
  10. Once the file downloaded, you may have to edit the file name and delete anything after .flv. You can view it in VLC media player, or use something like Youtube Downloader to convert the file so you can watch it on an ipod.

Now it's time to watch some South Park!

* You can't actually watch either of these from Ghana anymore... Anyone know how to mask your IP address?