01.02.11

Prediction: cellphone cameras

Posted in Technology trends at 11:54 am by ducky

It is common to do retrospectives at the end of the calendar year, but I’m more interested in looking forward.  Here’s a prediction: ten years from now, it will be common, ordinary, and routine for people to use their cellphones’ camera to help them see.  I expect that people will use them as magnifying glasses (though probably only to about 10x or 20x zoom), telescopes, and night vision enhancers.

12.05.10

Rugzetta

Posted in Art at 10:02 pm by ducky

As mentioned, my husband and I went to Turkey last summer.  In Turkey, we saw a lot of beautiful rugs with my husband coveted, but they were more expensive than we were ready to cope with.

Like he does every year, my husband had a birthday in the fall.  I started thinking about what I could get him for his birthday shortly after we got back.  Clearly, he would love a rug, but we also clearly weren’t ready to spend that kind of money (and he would want to be in on the selection process anyway).  So I thought about how I could make something in the same style as a rug.  I realized that I could print something as a poster, mount it on foam core, glue tassels to the edges, and mount it to the wall.  It would then perhaps fulfill his desire for a rug aesthetic, but without the expense.

My husband also likes fonts and languages.  I once scored points by making him a shirt with glyphs from many different languages on it for his birthday.  Maybe I could make him a “rug” with glyphs from many different writing systems as the graphic elements instead of the flowers and leaves that adorn traditional Turkish and Persian rugs.

Yes, I could!  (Click to see a bigger version.)

Rugzetta design

I had a print shop print it out large and mount it on foamcore; I glued tassels to the sides and hung it on the wall:

Rugzetta on the wall

I also made some placemats, and I put a legend on the back:

Rugzetta legend

Turkey with the nephews

Posted in Family, Travel at 9:41 pm by ducky

As our most recent — and final — instalment of our rent-a-nephew program, we took two nephews to Turkey this summer.

Turkey was surprisingly difficult for us to travel in because we didn’t speak the language.  I realize that that’s probably how it goes for most tourists, but we have generally been able to have *some* facility in the local language.  Even when we went to Bali, we were able to learn some rudimentary grammar and vocabulary.  This time, in part because Turkish is so hard for an Indo-European speaker and partly because we were *so* busy before the trip, we couldn’t really say more than “hello”.

Also because we were busy, we did essentially no planning ahead of time.  Jim booked us a hotel for the first three nights in Istanbul, but aside from that, we had no itinerary.  For the first two days, Jim and I discussed (with some input from the nephews) what we were going to do and how we were going to accomplish it.  Note that “discuss” is a somewhat polite word.

Eventually, we admitted defeat and decided to throw ourselves on the mercy of a travel agent.  We looked around on the Web for recommendations, and ended up going with Turista Travel.  We walked in, told Davut who we were, what we were looking for, and he basically arranged everything.

The basic style of the trip he built for us was a sequence of mini-packages.  “Package tour” had always sounded to me like “two weeks on a bus with 50 other rich old white Americans”, but that’s not the flavour of the trip.  Instead, most days on the Turista-arranged tour went like this:

  • Wake up at a decent, clean but not opulent hotel.
  • Have breakfast at the hotel’s  breakfast buffet (food included, drinks extra).
  • Get picked up by a minivan that would carry a driver, a guide, and 2-6 other tourists, usually Europeans.
  • Go to a cultural site, where the guide would show us around.
  • Go to a banquet center (which our nephews quickly dubbed “Tourist Feeding Centers”) with (food included, drinks extra) with adequate but not super-tasty food and chairs with bows on the backs, filled with other rich white overweight tourists.
  • Go to another cultural site, where the guide would show us around.
  • Go back to the hotel *or* get sent on to the next hotel.  Note that they arranged ALL the pickup / drop offs.
  • Have dinner at the hotel’s buffet (food included, drinks extra).

A Tourist Feeding Center in Turkey

This was not always the exact schedule.

  • Sometimes the guides would take us to a really yummy place for lunch.  Lunch costs came out of their profit, but they allowed as how they could only handle so many meals at the Tourist Feeding Centers.  Those meals were usually really, *really* good (as opposed to adequate at the TFCs).
  • Sometimes the guides would take us to commercial artistic establishments where we would get demonstrations of how crafts (e.g. rugs, pottery) were made, and be given the opportunity to buy stuff.  We believe the guide got a kickback for bringing customers to the factory, but the demos were generally pretty interesting, and the pressure wasn’t too bad to buy.
  • We went on a four-day boat trip where the rhythm was to go to anchorages and swim instead of getting tours of cultural sites.  (The boys loved that part; I was bored.)  (Food included, drinks extra.)

By and large, the trip went very smoothly.  It was not perfect:

  • One day the minivan broke down going over the mountains, and we lost an hour or two while they arranged a different van for us.
  • One day our package was subcontracted to a different vendor, but we didn’t know that, so at the pickup, we were looking for “Turista” and the driver was looking for people looking for “Beach”.
  • One day, there was some confusion about which bus we took, when, and where the tickets were supposed to come from.  The hotel’s English-speaker was on vacation, plus we didn’t realize we already had the tickets, etc.

However, in the first case, it wasn’t anybody’s fault, in the third case we were at least partially to blame, and in ALL cases, the staff worked hard to make it right.  (When we got back to Istanbul, I stopped by the Turista office and Davut tried to refund our money for the bus ticket;  I insisted that we only take half because it was partially our fault.)

We might have been able to do the trip cheaper ourselves, but it is more likely that it would have been more expensive if we had done it “a la carte”, and I am sure that we would have encountered more frustration and seen less if we had done it ourselves.  I am pleased with Turista and would recommend them to all but the most experienced or frugal travellers.

We spent three days in Istanbul at the beginning of the trip and two or three at the end of the trip on our own, and did mosque and museum crawls which I found quite interesting.  We also ate really, really well.  The food in Turkey is really, really yummy in general.

The cultural sites were great from my point of view; the swimming was great from the boys’ point of view.  My take on those is probably no more interesting or insightful than any other travelogue you can find on the Web for the most part.  I will give you only a few points:

smartphone vs. cuneiform tablet

  • We made a special effort to stop in the capital, Ankara.  It’s not on the usual tourist route; apparently there’s not much there.  However, they do have an amazing museum there that were quite interesting to someone interested in old writing systems.  In particular, they had lots of cuneiform tablets.  I had always thought of cuneiform tablets as being like the tablets that Moses is shown carrying in cartoons: about as tall as waist-to-chin; a bit wider than a torso.  Well, to my surprise, they are about the size of iPhones, and the script is TINY.  The script was made by pressing the ends of reeds into clay and the reeds were basically the size of small grass blades.  I guess it makes sense: iPhones fit nicely in the hand, and one would probably want a cuneiform tablet to fit nicely in the hand.
  • Also at that museum, I saw artwork that seemed to be between cave paintings and stylized Greek art.  I found that fascinating: I had never seen quite that niche of art before.

    Art between cave paintings and Greek urns

  • As everyone else who has been to Turkey will tell you, the Turks are very very friendly, especially rug salesmen who want to show you their wares.  However, something very interesting happened: they were on us like flies when we were in Istanbul at the start of the trip, but much less when we returned at the end of our trip!  Someone suggested that we walked differently or gazed differently, but I don’t think that was it: I think we were pasty white at the start of the trip and suntanned at the end of the trip.  So if you want less hassle from the rug vendors, catch some rays before you go.

Best anecdote of the trip: there was some commotion at a restaurant we were at.  The woman at the table behind me was complaining loudly that she had complained three times “Excuse me, this is rubbish” to a busboy and said busboy did not bring the manager so she could complain about the food.  (Excuse me, that’s HIGHLY colloquial English!)  The manager (who eventually showed up) pointed out that the busboy didn’t speak English well.  The woman then exclaimed, “How do you expect to serve the public if you can’t even speak the language???”

I was pleased that my nephews both immediately had to stifle laughter and also pleased that the woman was British and not American.  🙂

10.05.10

Artists, how do you work?

Posted in Art at 12:42 am by ducky

I am really curious to hear how people “do” art.

The image of artists that I absorbed as a kid was that their physical being acted as a vehicle for their subconscious, which told them what to do.  They drew/painted/played/composed/carved what they did because that’s what their subconscious compelled them to do.

I don’t really consider myself An Artist, but I have made a few art pieces, and I never have the sense that I am called to do something.  My art tends to be, for the most part, driven by constraints, what my “customer” wants, and logic.  When my muse does mutter something into my ear, it’s pretty inarticulate, and focuses on telling me what’s wrong instead of how to make it better.

So how do you work?  Does seeing something give you an idea for what to make, or do you start with a need (e.g. a customer request)?  Do you use some sort of organizing principle to help guide you, or do you just do what feels right?  Does your muse tell you what to do, or only when you are doing it wrong?  Respond in the comments, on Facebook, by email, whatever — I am just curious.

I am working on a fake rug for a birthday present for my husband.  (I am going to print it on paper, mount the paper on foamcore, and glue tassels to the short ends.)  We went to Turkey this summer, and he very much liked the rugs, so I figured he’d like a rug.  I couldn’t afford a real rug, though, so I decided to make a fake one.

I then looked at a LOT of images of oriental rugs, and generalized a common pattern: a medallion in the middle, a border around the outside, possibly with borders on the borders.  Inside, lots of small flower-like designs that were connected with vines or stems.  That constrained the form.

My husband likes languages and fonts, so I decided to use glyphs instead of flowers as the base decoration.  My husband has five colours in his colour scheme, so I knew what colours I had to use.  I couldn’t figure out how to work lines into the rug, but an Indo-Canadian friend of mine suggested hanging Indian characters (like Devanagari) off of the line.

I originally thought that I could make the borders out of the three languages in the Rosetta stone, but that turned out to be impractical.  (I couldn’t find text that I could copy and paste of those languages!)  However, the idea of the (old) Rosetta stone gave me the idea of using time as an organizing principle: to have the glyphs closer to the edge be older than the ones in the center.  This meant that cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphics needed to be near the edge.  (One of them is the oldest written language, but they aren’t quite sure which.)

I felt I needed to have borders on the borders, but the problem was that those borders needed to be really thin.  I was thinking of just putting dots or dashes as the borders, when I realized I could put both and make it Morse code.

Cuneiform and hieroglyphics are both logographic languages.  Other types of languages are abjads, syllabic, and alphabetic.  There are also punctuation symbols, which have come more recently, which meant they should be in the center (and again, be ordered by age). I decided to group symbols on the rug by those classes.

I researched punctuation, and came up with a set of symbols (including the Japanese smiley-face emoticon used in SMSes).  Why ampersand and not comma?  Why European punctuation and not Arabic?  Why not French double quotes?  Either I couldn’t find a good date for the symbol (meaning I didn’t know where to put it), or it was wildly asymmetrical, or its aspect ratio was wrong, or it was kind of ugly.

I separated abjads into the far corners, since abjads are old and kind of different.  Phoenician was particularly important, so it got to be bigger.  Arabic and Hebrew have dominated the abjads, so got second billing.  We saw Arabic in gold letters in black circles at the Aya Sofia this summer, so it made sense to use gold on black (even though black is NOT in my husband’s colour scheme).

I thought about what lines I could draw, but my husband was involved in learning a part for an opera, so treble and bass clef symbols kind of threw themselves in front of me.  As the treble clef has a higher aspect ratio than the bass clef, I needed to put it on the long axis and the bass clef on the short axis.  The treble clef wasn’t really the right size, so I used two, mirror images of each other.  The bass clef mirrored looked like a heart, so in the space left over I put four hearts.

One of the clefs needed to be Indic glyphs, and I thought I would need to use the larger of the two clefs in order to have room for all the many Indic writing systems.  (There turned out to be fewer Indic writing systems than I thought there would be.)  Given that I was grouping treble-clef glyphs by geographical location, bass clefs and the hearts should also be geographical regions.

Asia is closer to India than Europe is, so Asia got the heart and Europe got the base clef.  All the other glyphs had to swim in the sea between the continents: Africa fit nicely next to the middle-eastern abjads, island nations like the Maldives fit in nicely between India and Asia, and the New World glyphs (plus some runes which maybe did not descend from Latin) swim around the European bass clef.

At this point, I did more-or-less just plop glyphs down however the spirit moved me, but I will confess that I don’t find that fine structure turned out particularly well.  I did try to make more historically important languages bigger, but basically I just tried to spread them out sort of evenly.  It’s okay, but I don’t think it they are the best part.

The egyptian hieroglyphics looked kind of plain, so I spent a LOT of time trying to make the border look better.  I first made a collection of logograms instead of only Egyptian logograms, then experimented A LOT with different colours and numbers of characters. My muse kept telling me it was wrong.  Finally, I changed the colours because I didn’t like the yellow in the centre, and that had the side effect of making the logogram border look much better.  Who knew?  I certainly didn’t.

***

For my painting And The Word Was Sheep, I drew a light blue circle, a dark blue circle, and a green trapezoid, and showed it to my friend George when I told him I’d make him a painting.  I told him I didn’t even know what colour the background should be, and he said “Black!  With Stars!”  That meant that the circles were planets, hence spheres, not the disks I had been imagining.

I asked him if he’d like squiggles like I did in Page Mill Ziggurat, and he said “No, glyphs!  In the shape of an Omega.”

He then came up with this complete backstory which had to do with Man starting out in the garden of Eden, then descending into evil (over the dark blue planet), then coming back into goodness (light blue planet) and eventually reaching the stars.  This meant that I needed enough glyphs to be able to make an omega, and that the glyphs needed to be in chronological order.

I did make artistic decisions about which glyph in a writing system would look nicest, I did choose which writing systems to leave out, and I did decide that the shapes looked naked and needed clouds (for the circles) or branches (for the trapezoid), but those were really the only artistic decisions I made.  Everything else was either George’s choice or constrained.  Even the “berries” in the branches were George’s idea.

01.05.10

Predictions for 2020

Posted in Technology trends at 1:46 am by ducky

Oh what the heck, since everybody else is doing it, here are my predictions for 2020:

  1. Essentially all cell phones will have built-in video cameras, GPS, and have voice controls.
  2. At least one country will nationalize music in some way, e.g. paying the music companies a per capita fee for their citizens every year.  Some countries will strike copyright laws for music.  Most just won’t bother enforcing copyright laws for music.
  3. Improved search + improved geo-location of social media streams will mean that it will be far easier to get information about your micro-neighbourhood.  Think Google Trends or Google Flu or Twitter Trends, but for the five mile radius of where you are right now.  (And, because of #1, you can get video.)
  4. Know where newspapers are right now, on the brink of death?  That’s where TV will be in 2020 — squeezed between on-demand entertainment and crowd-generated news.
  5. The cancer five-year survival rate cure rate will be 90% for most cancers, and 40% for the most difficult ones (bone, brain, pancreas, and liver).  Treatment will, unfortunately, still majorly suck for most patients.
  6. Mapping will extend to reconstruction of scenes based on user photos (like what Microsoft demonstrated at TED) in a big way.  By 2020, 100% of San Francisco’s publicly accessible spaces (yes, including alleys) will be mapped, and about 35% of interior spaces.  People at first will be quite upset that the world can “see into” their living room, but they will end up getting used to it.
  7. Marriage for same-sex couples will be recognized by the U.S. government.
  8. Know where newspapers were five years ago, sort of moseying down the path of death?  That’s where universities will be in 2020.  They will face pressure as superb educational content will become a commodity.  Third-party organizations will jump into the mix to provide tutoring and certification, leaving non-research universities with little to offer aside from post-teen socialization and sports.
  9. 30% of the world electricity energy production will be solar in 2020.  (It’s going to be one hell of a race between climate change and solar energy production, but I think solar energy will win.  All the climate-change deniers will say, “See!  Toldja so!”
  10. Data format description languages will overthrow XML. mean that data will get passed around in compact formats instead of in XML.  (Yes, the DFDL might be in XML, but the data wouldn’t be.)

Okay, I admit it, #10 might just be wishful thinking.

Update: At the time I wrote this, I had not read up on the Google Nexus One phone, which I now find out has voice commands for just about everything.  I guess prediction #1 about voice was under-optimistic!

01.02.10

Early days of the computer revolution

Posted in Hacking at 3:39 pm by ducky

I was talking to a friend of mine who I’m guessing was born in the late 1970s, and mentioned that I had been using computers since 1968ish and email since 1974.  (Yes, really.)

I saw a lightbulb go off over his head.  He knew I was in my mid-forties, and knew I was a computer geek, but hadn’t ever really put two and two together.  “Oh!  You were around for the start of the personal computer revolution?  What was that like?  That must have been totally *COOL*!!!

I said, “Not really.”

He was stunned.  How could it have possibly not been totally cool and awesome?  I could see him struggling with trying to figure out how to express his confusion, how to figure out what question to even ask.

I said, “Look.  You are old enough that you were around for the start of the mobile phone revolution, right?  That must have been totally *COOL*!!!

“Oh”, he said.  “I get it.”

Mobile phones, when they first started out were kind of cool, I guess, but they weren’t “magic” then: they took real effort and patience.  They were wickedly expensive, heavy, had lousy user interfaces, and you had to constantly worry about whether you had enough battery life for the call.  The reception was frequently (usually?) poor, so even if you could make a connection, your call frequently got dropped.  The signal quality was poor, so you had to TALK LOUDLY to be heard and really concentrate to understand the other person.  And they didn’t do much.  It took a long time for mobile phones to become “magic”, and they only got better incrementally.

When they first came out, personal computers were kind of cool, I guess, but they weren’t “magic” then: they took real effort and patience.  They were wickedly expensive.  They crashed frequently enough that you always had to worry about saving your work.  They had so little disk space that managing your storage was a constant struggle (and why floppies held on for so very long after the introduction of the hard drive).

When I started my first job out of college (working at a DRAM factory for Intel in 1984), they had only recently put in place two  data-entry clerks to input information about the materials (“lots”) as the lots traversed the manufacturing plant. (When did the lot arrive at a processing step?  When did it get processed?  Who processed it?  What were the settings and reading on the machine?)  However, to get at that information, engineers like me had to get a signature from higher level of management to authorize a request to MIS (which might get turned down!) for that information.

A few months after I started, they bought three IBM PC XTs and put them in a cramped little room for us engineers to use.  I believe the only programs on them were a word processor and a spreadsheet.  There was no storage available to us.  They had hard drives, but we were not allowed to leave anything on the hard drive; we had to take our work away on floppies.  The PCs were not networked, so not only was there no email (and of course no Web), but no way to access the data that was collected out on the manufacturing floor.

If I wanted to make a spreadsheet analyzing e.g. the relationship between measured thickness of the aluminum layer, the measured sputtering voltage, and how long it had been since the raw materials had been replenished, I would go to the factory floor, walk around to find different lots in different stages of processing, copy the information to a piece of paper, take the piece of paper and a floppy disk to the computer room (hoping that there was a free computer), copy the data from the piece of paper into the spreadsheet, print the spreadsheet (maybe making a graph, but that was a little advanced), and copy the data onto my floppy if I wanted to look at it again.

Even though we “had computers”, we had no network, no email, and no wiki.  The way I shared information was still:

  • make a bunch of photocopies and put them in people’s (physical) mailboxes,
  • make a bunch of photocopies and walk around putting them on people’s desks,
  • make a bunch of photocopies and pass them out at a meeting where I presented my results, or
  • make one photocopy, write a routing list on it (a list of names with checkboxes), and put it on the first person’s desk.  They would read it, check their name off, and pass it to someone else on the list.

At the next company I worked at (1985-7), I got a PC on my desk because I was implementing the materials tracking system (because I had bitched about how stupid it was not to have one — yeah!!).  Our company had a network, but it was expensive and complicated enough that my desktop computer wasn’t on the network, nor were the two machines on the floor.  Ethernet used a coax cable and (if I recall correctly) you had to make a physical connection by puncturing the cable just right.  The configuration was tricky and not very fault-tolerant: if one computer on the network was misconfigured, it would mess up the entire network AND it was difficult even for a skilled network technician to figure out which computer was misconfigured.

At the next company I worked for (1987), I had a Sun workstation on my desk, and we had a network file servers, but I don’t think we used email, even internally.

At my next company (1988-90), I had a Wyse 50 “glass teletype” on my desktop and full email capability.  The Wyse 50 didn’t have any graphics, but that wasn’t a real big deal because no programs I would ever want to use at work had graphics of any sort. My department used email heavily, but there were some departments in the company that did not use email, so there were lots of memos that were still issued on paper.  They would go either into my (physical) mailbox, or would be pinned to cubicle corridor walls.

While I had the theoretical ability to send email to the outside world then, almost nobody I knew outside the company had email, and figuring out how to address messages to get to the outside was difficult: you had to specify all the intermediate computers, e.g. sun!ubc!decwrl!decshr!slaney.

It wasn’t until that company imploded in about 1990 and my colleagues scattered to other computer companies that I had anyone outside my company to correspond with.  (Fortunately, at about the same time, it got easier to address external email messages.)

It wasn’t until 1991 that I stopped seeing paper memos — a full twenty fifteen years after the introduction of the Apple II computer.  My husband reports that he also stopped seeing paper memos in about 1991.

I would contend that computers didn’t really start to become “magic” until about 1996 or so, when the World Wide Web had been absorbed by the masses and various Web services were available.  Only after about 1996 could you pretty reliably assume that anyone (well, those born after WW2 started, at least) used computers or had an email address.

So when personal computers first came out, they were not totally cool.  The idea of personal computers was totally cool.  The potential was totally cool.  But that potential was unrealized for many many years.

11.21.09

Right-brain vs. left-brain: Sarah Palin

Posted in Politics at 1:48 pm by ducky

Sarah Palin is, you might have noticed, a very polarizing politician.  Liberals are absolutely flummoxed that anybody could like her.  Conservatives can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like her.  I think that Sarah Palin shows up a fundamental difference in values between liberals and conservatives: conservatives value right-brain thinking and liberals don’t.

As I have posted before, Jonathan Haight found that liberals and conservatives place different weights on aspects of morality.  Liberals weight fairness much more highly than conservatives, for example, and conservatives weight what Haight calls “purity” much more highly than liberals.  “Purity” is IMHO a poor term for it: “gut instinct” is probably a better term.  It’s getting the feeling that something is wrong or right.  This is a right-brain function.

Our educational system works hard to get people to stop listening to their gut, to process with the logical, procedural, lingual left-brain side.  There are good pedagogical reasons for this: the right brain is fundamentally non-lingual, so it is difficult (if not impossible!) to explain right-brain decisions, to examine the decisions for errors in reasoning or assumptions, or to grade right-brain reasoning.  The right brain can only communicate its conclusions with feelings, with “gut instincts”.

The right-brain does not communicate its decisions well, but that doesn’t mean that its processing is invalid.  There are many things that the right brain can do that the left brain cannot.  You cannot derive a great song, deduce that your spouse loves you, or prove that that figure a block away is your cousin Chris.  People who make decisions only with the left-brain, only with facts and logic are more vulnerable to errors in the models or starting assumptions.  (One might argue that the entire mortgage meltdown came from an over-reliance on left-brain reasoning and paying inadequate attention to the little voices saying, “waitaminute — can this really work?”)

If you value right-brain processing, then the political climate for you must be very frustrating.  Liberals don’t even pay lip service to right-brain processing: it is so non-valued that it is a complete blind spot for them.  (If Obama was any more left-brain, he’d fall over.)   I can imagine that it would also be scary to see your beautiful country in the hands of people who apparently are paying no attention at all to their gut.

Sarah Palin is total right-brain.  Here is what she said when asked when Bill O’Rielly asked her if she was smart enough to be president:

I believe that I am because I have common sense, and I have, I believe, the values that are reflective of so many other American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fact resume that’s based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership. I’m not saying that has to be me.

Nothing in her answer has to do with left-brain facts or logic, and in fact she skewers left-brain training (“elite … education” and “a fact resume”).  She is also completely unapologetic about being right-brained; instead of being guilty and ashamed of it, she gets angry and frustrated at her critics.  This is a high-status behaviour, and people think that high-status people do good things, as I have posted about before.

Meanwhile, liberals look at her left-brain abilities and are appalled.  They find fault with her left-brain abilities, as evidenced by what they see as her rhetorical weaknesses: her inability to marshal facts into the type of coherent, rhetorically logical arguments that they favour.  They do not value her right-brain rhetorical abilities — her ability to reach people’s “guts” — because they do not value right-brain skills.  The conservatives are less bothered by her weakness in left-brain skills because they do not value left-brain skills as much.

The left also remembers G. W. Bush, who was also very right-brain, going on gut and instinct.  They think that his instincts were frequently wrong (e.g. Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction) with disastrous consequences.  So to some extent, they are punishing Sarah Palin for what they saw as G. W. Bush’s mistakes.

Note: I have been somewhat loose with the terms “liberal” and “conservative” here.  While I think there are probably not very many right-brain liberals, there are left-brain conservatives.  Andrew Sullivan is clearly a left-brain conservative, and Sarah Palin clearly drives him absolutely nuts.

Australian maps

Posted in Maps at 1:27 am by ducky

My friend Maciek Chudek and I entered two maps into the Mashup Australia contest: Shades of a Sunburnt People and Stimulating a Sunburnt People. The former shows information about the 2006 Australian Census:

Median age

Median age

Redder areas have a higher median age; gold areas are younger.  (The red maxes out at 45 years old; any area with a median age of 25 or under is full gold.)  Grey areas are ones which had so few people that the Australian Bureau of Statistics withheld the data for privacy reasons.

Our other map shows information about the rail, roads, and community infrastructure component of the Australian economic stimulus package:

Australian stimulus program spending

Australian stimulus program spending

Blue areas are represented by the Australian Labor Party (which controls Parliament), and reddish areas are controlled by other parties.  The darker the colour, the more money has been allocated.  Dots represent individual projects.  Like the Canadian economic stimulus package, we found a systematic bias favouring areas represented by the governing party.

Since these are so similar to my US census map and the Canadian stimulus map, you might think that this was totally straightforward to do.  You might be wrong.  We did quite a bit of massaging the data to get it out, and Maciek did a lot of analysis of the stimulus information.

10.26.09

Canadian stimulus infrastructure leaving Québec out

Posted in Canadian life, Politics at 1:29 pm by ducky

Update: Some of the ridings were assigned to neighbouring ridings due to losing some precision in the input lat/lng.  This did not make a big difference in the overall picture, as only 2.7% of the projects were classified incorrectly.  I’ve updated this blog posting and the map; we probably won’t update the spreadsheet unless we have strong requests to do so.

There has been a fair amount of press lately on the distribution of Canadian stimulus money, with most of what we’d heard saying that Conservative ridings were getting more than their fair share of stimulus money e.g.  The Globe and Mail’s Stimulus Program favours Tory ridings.  Conservatives countered that it was important to look at the big picture, and that there were multiple stimulus programs. The National Post’s Liberal, NDP ridings getting more than fair share of infrastructure money: analysis reported that non-conservative ridings were getting more than their fair share of the Knowledge Infrastructure Program grants.

My husband and I kind of looked at each other and said, “We can analyze that data!”, so we did.  We saw a bias in Conservative/non-Conservative ridings, but it wasn’t huge.  We found that Conservative ridings got 51% of the projects, while only 46% of the ridings are Conservative.  NDP ridings got 15% of the projects, despite only having 12% of the ridings, and even liberals got slightly more than “their fair share”, with 27% of the projects and only 25% of the ridings.

So who is getting less?  The Bloc Québécois.  With 15% of the ridings, the Bloc only got 6% of the projects.

If you look at the breakdown by province, it looks like Ontario is getting way, WAY more than its fair share, with some other provinces — especially Québec — getting less than their fair share.

Province % of projects % of population
AB 6.71 11
BC 9.2 13
MB 3.81 3.6
NB 3.05 2.2
NF 3.33 1.5
NS 4.20 1.8
NT 0.55 .13
NU 0.39 .094
ON 53.0 39
PE 1.7 .42
QC 8.2 23
SK 5.26 3.1
YT 0.53 0.1

Dollar values are much harder to estimate because the value of each of the projects is given as a range — “under $100K”, “between $100K and $1M”, etc.  We made our best guesses at how to calculate that, and our best estimate gives Québec 12% of the dollars for 23% of the population — better, but still way less than they should be getting.

Now, there might be some errors in the data, as described below.  However, we think that this is worth investigation, and soon.

If you would like to look at the data yourself, Jim put together a spreadsheet in Open Office format, a slightly less-powerful spreadsheet in Excel format, and a PDF showing information from the spreadsheet, available on his writeup of the data. I of course made a map of the data.

Caveats:

  • We are in no way affiliated with the Government of Canda or Statistics Canada.  This analysis does not represent government policy.
  • There are multiple parts to the stimulus package, and this analysis only covers the infrastructure component.  Other money in the stimulus plan is going towards improving the financial system (which I think means “bank bailouts”, but I’m not sure), extending unemployment benefits, etc.
  • I assigned ridings based on the latitudes and longitudes that were given in the Economic Action Plan’s data (which Jim pulled down using their API).  We have some doubts about the integrity of those lat/long pairs, especially since two of the stimulus projects have lat/longs that are unquestionably in the United States.
  • My software truncated the latitude and longitude used to assign ridings down to two digits, which means the points can appear a little bit to the east and/or south of their actual location.  In cases where a point is very near a riding border, that could mean that it would be assigned to the neighbouring riding.  I expect this would only affect a very few ridings, and would not significantly affect the by-province countsThis made absolutely no difference in the riding assignment. Update: 174 ridings were mis-assigned, but this did not make a huge difference in the aggregate numbers.  It meant that Conservative ridings got 51.1% of the projects instead of 52%, and Quebec got 8.2% instead of 8.6%.  The message stays the same: there is inequity here.
  • It might be that some national projects are assigned a lat/lng in Ontario because there wasn’t an obvious locus for the project.  However, if that were the case, then I would expect that Ottawa would have the biggest number of projects.  In fact, the most projects (144) are in the Vaughn riding in Toronto, represented by MP Hon. Maurizio Bevilacqua (L).  The Ottawa Centre riding does have the second-highest, but only 101 projects out of the 6424 projects — not enough to explain why QC has so few projects.

Copyrights:

  • Information on the stimulus project information came from Canada’s Economic Action Plan
  • Canadian federal riding geometries came from Elections Canada, which requires this notice: © The federal Electoral Districts Boundaries (Representation Order 2003), Elections Canada. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Elections Canada, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0M6 Canada (2007).
  • Information on Canadian MPs came from the House of Commons Web site and were produced by the Government of Canada.  The right to reproduce for non-commercial use is given here.
  • Provincial population figures came from Statistics Canada.

Update: I looked at per-capita figures, and that makes things look even more skewed. Five of the top ten ridings in projects per hundred thousand people are in Ontario:

Kenora, ON 132.211
Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON 124.42
Yukon, YT 111.94
Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON 101.90
Ottawa Centre, ON 92.37
Egmont, PEI 91.91
Vaughan, ON 91.44
Nunavut, NU 84.82
Western Arctic, NT 84.41
Labrador, NL 79.65

The top riding in Quebec, by comparison, ranks 82th out of 308 ridings (at 29.9 projects per hundred thousand people).

(Note that ridings have roughly between 25 and 125 thousand people, with the average right around one hundred thousand.)

10.09.09

US State legislators’ affiliations

Posted in Maps at 11:34 am by ducky

I have two more political layers up on my political/demographic map: US state senators and US state representatives (or assemblymembers, as they are called in some states).  Alaska and Hawaii didn’t fit nicely on these images, but you can see them on the political/demographic map.

In the pictures below (and on my site), red is Republican; blue is Democratic.  (To those outside the US who are used to red meaning liberal, the US does its colours backwards, sorry.) Some districts elect multiple members; in those cases I average the colour, with exact Democratic/GOP balance being white.  In cases where there is a vacancy or a third-party affiliation, the colour is also white.

Here are the state senators:

US State Senator Party Affiliation

Continental US State Senator Party Affiliation

Below is the party affiliation of the lower chamber members (which are usually called Representatives, but also sometimes Assemblymembers or Delegates).  Note that Nebraska doesn’t have a lower chamber.

US State Lower Chamber Members' Party Affiliation

Continental US State Lower Chamber Members' Party Affiliation

Most of the party affiliation data came from the excellent Project Vote Smart.  What they didn’t have, I gleaned from the appropriate state legislature’s page, Wikipedia, or both.

For comparison, the images below show all the districts in the continental US in random colours:

Continental US State Senate Districts

Continental US State Senate Districts

Continental US State Lower Chamber Districts

Continental US State Lower Chamber Districts

There are almost 8000 state and federal legislators in the US for a population of 300M people, or about one legislator per 375,000 people.   The number of legislators varies wildly by state, however.  New Hampshire currently has 424 state and federal legislators representing a population of 1.3M, or one legislator for every 3066 people.  California currently has 176 representing a population of 36M, or one legislator for every 204,000 people.

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