The Importance of Visualizations

Visualizations and charts make our lives easier, and sometimes can give us insights we hadn’t considered before. Here are three examples:



Morning Musings: Going to the Dogs

userpic=don-martinOver the July 4th weekend, my daughter is fostering two shelter dogs (as the shelters often get full with dogs over the 4th). This morning, during my shower, I was musing about why we don’t look at dogs the way we look at cars. Just imagine…

  • I’ve heard that its a bad idea to get a new dog. They just depreciate too much when you get them off the lot.
  • We opted to go to the used dog store instead. Alas, I couldn’t get a DogFax™ report to find out what accidents the dog had in its past.
  • Do used dogs stores permit you to take the dog to your local mechanic for an inspection before you decide to buy?
  • How do you know if your dog has been subject to any recalls?
  • Does a dog come with any optional equipment? Is it OEM, or third party?
  • If the dog is a lemon, can you exchange it in 90 days?
  • I’d get that dog, but it looks like someone has tampered with the odometer.

This is where my mind is this morning. I think I can use the extended weekend 🙂


Friday News Chum: Redistricting, Fonts, Liddsville, Dogs, Lawns, Apollo 11, Stomach Flu, and Postage

userpic=headlinesWell, it’s Friday at lunch, and you know what that means — time to clear out the accumulated links that couldn’t be formed into a coherent theme. Well, at least I couldn’t figure out a theme. Perhaps you can:

  • Impacts of Redistricting. Let’s start with a couple of aspects of redistricting. First, in California, the state senate districts have staggered elections and terms (just like the real senate). This means when redistricting occurs, there is a short period where some people might have two state senate representatives and others might not have a state senate representative at all. The state senate has just addressed the quirk, assigning senators to those areas that ended up without representation. If you are wondering how this happens, The no-senator areas, known as deferrals, stem from the interplay of the Senate’s election schedule and redistricting. One-half of Senate seats are up for election every two years and the 2011 remap moved some residents from odd-numbered districts scheduled to be on the ballot in 2012 to even-numbered districts on the ballot in 2014. The result is that those areas have no senator for two years. Here’s another redistricting issue: Redistricting in many states results in gerrymandering, where districts are created to have majorities in one party or another. The Republicans in Virginia and a number other “swing” blue states are attempting to take advantage of this by allocating electoral votes to the winner of the district. It’s one thing to allocate proportionally based on total state voting, but doing it by congressional district allows the gerrymandering effect to predominate, disenfranchising those in the minority in the district.
  • Readability. Let’s move away from politics. You’re reading this post on your computer, in a serif or non-serif font, depending on your preference. Mine’s serifed. We’ve always believed that serifed fonts were more readable because the serifs helped move your eye along the line. Guess what? Serifed fonts may not be more readable. Ariel or Lucida Sans for the win!
  • It Won’t Be The Same Without Charles Nelson Reilly. Those of us who grew up in the 1970s will remember Lidsville, a Sid and Marty Krofft series about talking hats. It may even live in that scary memory place with the Bugaloos, the Banana Splits, and H.N.R. Puffnstuff. Well, this article will really cause you to flip your lid. Alan Menken, composer of such shows as Little Shop of HorrorsBeauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and many others, is working on a live-action movie version of Liddsville (as well as a musical episode of The Neighbors). Dreamworks is producing.
  • Turning Wolves into Dogs. There has been a lot of debate of how the wolf was domesticated and became man’s best friend, the dog. A story in the Washington Post posits that it was moving to a diet of grains and potatoes that did it. A team of Swedish researchers compared the genomes of wolves and dogs and found that a big difference is dogs’ ability to easily digest starch. On their way from pack-hunting carnivore to fireside companion, dogs learned to desire — or at least live on — wheat, rice, barley, corn and potatoes. As it turns out, the same thing happened to humans as they came out of the forest, invented agriculture and settled into diets rich in grains. Co-evolution at work!
  • A Concrete Jungle. Los Angeles has been referred to as a concrete jungle. San Francisco, on the other hand, has a problem with concrete lawns. Specifically, under San Francisco city law, at least 20 percent of a front yard must consist of permeable surfaces with vegetation, mostly to allow for proper drainage and to keep the neighborhood looking green. Homes can be reviewed for compliance every time an owner does construction on the driveway or property. However, this is ignored more in the breach, and now the paved-over lawns in San Francisco are creating environmental concerns due to excessive drainage.
  • Learning from the Past. Another thing that those of us from the 1970s will remember is the Apollo Program and the launches to the moon. Bet’cha thought it was dead. Well, not quite. NASA has started testing a vintage F-1 series engine from the Saturn V.  The hope is that it could become a template for a new generation of motors incorporating parts of its design. Those of us who live in the San Fernando Valley remember well the roar of those engines — they were built in Canoga Park and tested in Chatsworth!
  • Getting Sick of It All. I’m sure you have all heard the exhortations about the Influenza going around the country, and you have gotten your flu shot (except those of you who don’t believe in vaccines — but that’s a different debate). There’s another “flu” going around (with “flu” in quotes since it really isn’t a flu), and this one doesn’t have a vaccine: There’s an epidemic of norovirus, a/k/a “stomach flu”, going around. It’s a pretty strong variant (from Australia, where they make things stronger). This variant causes nausea, forceful vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, accounted for 58% of outbreaks of norovirus nationally. Norovirus typically begins very suddenly and lasts one to three days. Most people recover without treatment, but some require rehydration with liquids or intravenous fluids. The disease is most severe in the elderly and can also hit young children hard. Norovirus is extremely contagious. The best protection is vigilant hand washing with soap and water. If surfaces may have been contaminated, the CDC recommends disinfecting them with a diluted bleach solution made of five to 25 tablespoons of household bleach to a gallon of water.
  • Stamping It Out. And lastly, first-class postage is going to 46¢ on Sunday, with postcards going to 33¢. I’m sure most of you are unfamiliar with postage and postage stamps, as you have never written an actual letter or paid a bill by mail. You see, people once communicated not via email, but by putting pieces of paper in an envelope, affixing a money-equivalent to the envelope, and giving it to someone to take to the recipient. Seriously, even those of us that use postage stamps forget the price of postage these days, as most first class stamps are “forever” stamps. So pick up some forever stamps now, before the price goes up. Those dollars you save might buy you a cup of coffee. I emphasize the “might”, given Starbucks’ prices. You’ll do better at McDonalds!



Three of Two

Some selected news chum linkage, organized in three groups of two links each, covering animal science, pet peeves, and “are they still needed?”:

  • Animal Science. Under this heading, we have two stories, both concerning household pets and water. The first asked the question: How does a cat drink water? The question isn’t as easy as you think, because cats and dogs can’t create suction with their mouths, and can’t pour water in. It turns out that whereas dogs are crude, cats are clever. The second link asked the question: How do dogs spin dry? The answer is: very fast and very efficient. In fact, they are so efficient that the approach may show up in your washing machines.
  • Pet Peeves. Two stories related to pet peeves. The first is one that always seems to rile people: grammatical pet peeves. The second I found more interesting: The Pet Peeves of Waitrets. This had some things I didn’t know, such as: “When your server has brought the check to the table and the guests decide to split the tab there is always one or two people who insist on paying cash and the rest will use their cards. This is not a problem by any means. What IS a problem is that guests don’t seem to understand one major, basic thing. The cash that is presented to the server is applied TOWARDS THE BILL. Then the cards split the remainder. At this point, those who have paid with cards will only tip on what they have had charged to their cards. This results in the server receiving a 10% or less tip which actually winds up costing the server money.”
  • Are They Still Needed? Two stories in this category. First, according to Catholic Bishops, more exorcists are needed. Who woulda thunk that demonic possession was on the increase, except perhaps in the newly elected Congress? What may not be needed are the printed White Pages—Verizon is filing a request to drop them. My favorite quote in the article: “Anybody who doesn’t have access to some kind of online way to look things up now is probably too old to be able to read the print in the white pages anyway”

Ad of the Week

Certified Pre-Owned Cats for $19.95; this weekend only. Who/What: For this weekend only, the Humane Society of Missouri is offering new lower pricing on their Certified Pre-Owned Cats – $19.95 down, 0% financing, and no payments on adult cats 6 months and older. Kittens are $89.95. All adoptable cats include standard 4-paw drive, standard FREE microchipping, and 100,000 purr warranties. All makes and models are available. Adoption fee includes multi-point inspection…


Your Daily Quota of Chum

Today brings a few intersting bits of chum… certainly worth chewing on…


But Don’t Get It Wet

A woman, wanting to remember her deceased dog, and having collected bags and bags of his shed fur, had it spun into yarn and knitted into an afghan. It now sits on top of a side table in her living room with a piece of glass over it. There appear to be a number of sites that do this – just search on “Pet Yarn”.

According to the article,the cost to spin the yarn varies, depending on the pet’s hair and any special care and handling it might need, but prices start around $10 to $12 per ounce. Only long-haired cat fur and the fluffy undercoat of a dog can be spun into a yarn. Dog and cat fur tends to be shorter and more slippery than wool, requiring more twists per inch to help it stay together, and dog fur in particular tends to be stinky due to a natural lanolin in the dogs’ skin.


Wizards, Dogs, and Rabbits, Oh My!

Some selected news chum, gathered from lunchtime perusals of the headlines yesterday (when I had a bad headache) and today:

  • From the “We’re Off To See The Wizard” Department: I’m not sure which story is more bizarre. Variety is reporting that NBC is planning an update of the Wizard of Oz called “Dorothy Gale”, which follows the story of Dorothy, a girl from Kansas who tries to tackle modern-day Manhattan (her version of the Emerald City), finding a job in the art world where she must deal with a wicked boss. This is being executive produced by the fellow who brought you the recent remake of “The Bionic Woman”. But that’s nothing compared to the report that Andrew Lloyd Webber is planning to bring the 1939 Wizard of Oz musical to Broadway, combining the original songs with new songs by Webber and lyricist Glen Slater (who is working with him on the Phantom sequel). Sir Andrew’s opinion of the current attempts to bring this movie to the stage, “They attempt to do it exactly the same as in the movie. That’s completely wrong! You’ve got to think of it as a theater piece, which just happens to have three or four of the greatest songs of all time.” Lyricist Slater notes that neither the Wizard nor the Witch have songs — something he plans to remedy.
  • From the “Going to the Dogs” Department: Both Honda and Toyota have come up with a new approach to options to sell cars: making them dog friendly. Specifically, dog-friendly features are being added to the Toyota Venza and the Honda Element. The Venza offers doggy seat mats, barriers and other items designed to make dogs and their owners more comfortable, included $44.99 for a “zip line” to keep an 80-pound or larger dog confined in the back seat or $99.99 for a “bi-fold pet ramp.” The Element will feature a built-in bed in the cargo area, a private electric cooling fan, a spill-proof water bowl and a mesh net to keep animals separated from people… and rubber floor mats embellished with a dog-bone design. The dog-oriented Element will even have a fold-out ramp for dogs that can’t, won’t or shouldn’t (because some breeds can develop bad backs later in life) make the leap into the Element’s rear.
  • From the “Breaking (Unleavened) Bread” Department: Turning to a more serious note, the LA Times has a good article on an effort in Rancho Palos Verdes to educate catholics about Passover. This is a joint effort between Cong. Ner Tamid in RPV and the archdiocese of LA… and isn’t the only one in the area. Very interesting article… but they don’t note whether there is an equivalent effort to inform Jews about what Easter is — I’m not talking about the specific event it commemorates, but how it is observed (e.g., why is it, if there is an Easter bunny, that folks eat ham instead of hasenpfeffer?). Oh, and speaking of rabbi-t (look at the link), the NY Times Magazine has an interesting article on Barak Obama’s cousin, the Rabbi.