Nelson Mandela, the revered statesman who emerged from prison after 27 years to lead South Africa out of decades of apartheid, passed away on December 5, 2013. Few men in the history of mankind have had more impact on a nation and inspired the world like the former president.
Shortly before he retreated from public life in 2011, Mandela participated in photographer Adrian Steirn’s 21 Icons project — a photographic and short-film series profiling the men and women who shaped modern South Africa.
And don’t miss this one.
Planet Money recently tracked the creation of a t-shirt — from the farms of Mississippi and the yarn factories of Indonesia to garment factories in Bangladesh and in Columbia. They wrapped up with a meta-political piece about how trade deals allowed the creation of the garment industry in Bangladesh and opened the doors of the US to imported garments. The entire series is fantastic — well reported, compelling, fun, and insightful.
Household energy and cooking got a mention in the piece on Bangladesh. The story follows two sisters — Minu and Shumi — who move from a village to a city to work in a garment factory. Minu and Shumi cook on a gas stove that they share with neighbors near their modest one room apartment. The story then follows them to their parents’ home in a village a few hours away.
Their mom cooks in the back room. The difference between her life and her daughters’ lives is very clear. No gas burners here — its a fire pit, made from mud. There are holes underneath to stick branches into and the room fills with smoke when she cooks. Minu and Shumi grew up cooking like this, with sticks instead of gas…
Shumi and Minu send money back to the village… And you can see how that’s changed things right here in the kitchen. The stove is the same as what they had growing up — but what’s inside the pot is different. It’s chicken… Factory money has paid for a new house for Shumi and Minu’s parents. The house they grew up in was made of bamboo — it leaked — this house is made of brick. It’s water-tight.
Telling - and a little surprising - that Planet Money used a gas stove as an indicator of modernity and as a way to draw contrasts between city and village life. The flow of money back to the village paid for household improvements and chicken and fish, still cooked on the traditional stove. It would be interesting to track the point at which the transition to a more efficient cooking technology occurred, if ever. What other needs are perceived as priorities over replacing the stove? How much of the issue is related to supply of liquid fuels and their costs? How much is related to the perception that wood and biomass are free? You can see a niche for clean cookstoves in there — meeting the requirements of using a ‘free’ fuel, but also using it more efficiently and more cleanly. The endless challenge will remain - finding a clean stove that people want to use - and use often.
see a whole load of stories here
This is relatively old news in the world of the internet... but it's still a pretty awesome visualization. The story's full of interesting facts. For instance:
The distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana is known colloquially as LDI, but is now part of MGP, a food conglomerate that specializes in bioplastics, industrial proteins, and starches for use in salad dressings,energy bars, imitation cheese, and fruit fillings. One of the products made in the Indiana facility is a rye whiskey with a mash bill of 95 percent rye, 5 percent malt barley. Most rye whiskeys are no more than 70 percent rye. According to author Chuck Cowdery, this particular whiskey was developed by Seagram's as a flavoring agent for blended whiskeys like Seagram's 7. When Seagram's disintegrated due to mismanagement in the 1990s, the whiskey, then in the process of aging, was sold to other distilleries in the fire sale of assets, as one salvage company after the next tried to determine what to do with the distillery and its excess inventory. This is how one generic whiskey became known by more than a dozen names, including Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye, Bulleit Rye, Willet, Smooth Ambler, and George Dickel Rye, among others. The companies that own each of these brands have purchased LDI rye whiskey and now bottle it under their own labels, adjusting the proof and length of aging in order to create their own differentiations.
What the what.
NASA and JPL continue to release some incredible images. Click the image to see a large version in a new window; click here to see huge ones over at NASA.
Humbling and magical.
On July 19, 2013, in an event celebrated the world over, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft slipped into Saturn’s shadow and turned to image the planet, seven of its moons, its inner rings — and, in the background, our home planet, Earth.
With the sun’s powerful and potentially damaging rays eclipsed by Saturn itself, Cassini’s onboard cameras were able to take advantage of this unique viewing geometry. They acquired a panoramic mosaic of the Saturn system that allows scientists to see details in the rings and throughout the system as they are backlit by the sun. This mosaic is special as it marks the third time our home planet was imaged from the outer solar system; the second time it was imaged by Cassini from Saturn’s orbit; and the first time ever that inhabitants of Earth were made aware in advance that their photo would be taken from such a great distance.
With both Cassini’s wide-angle and narrow-angle cameras aimed at Saturn, Cassini was able to capture 323 images in just over four hours. This final mosaic uses 141 of those wide-angle images. Images taken using the red, green and blue spectral filters of the wide-angle camera were combined and mosaicked together to create this natural-color view. A brightened version with contrast and color enhanced (Figure 1), a version with just the planets annotated (Figure 2), and an annotated version (Figure 3) are shown above.
This image spans about 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across.
Christmas in early November. Enjoy!
Pretty awesome little video from a French video production and graphic design firm. Not entirely sure about the veracity of the math or the visualizations… but that’s perhaps missing the forest for the trees.
Best viewed fullscreen.
This beautiful tome arrived today. The New Yorker summarizes it best:
Were it only for the text of his introductory essays and extended interviews with Wes Anderson, Matt Zoller Seitz’s book “The Wes Anderson Collection,” which discusses all seven of Anderson’s feature films in copious detail, would be an indispensable resource, as well as a delight….
But the text isn’t all there is to it: the book is entirely in the Andersonian spirit—it’s a beautiful object, not a coffee-table book (except in size) but one that’s designed and thought out to its slightest detail, with its amazingly wide and deep offering of visual documentation. (Far be it from me to diminish the images and artifacts by calling them “illustrations.”) Still photographs from the set, frame enlargements, storyboards, influences (from “Peanuts” to Holbein to Welles), references (record covers, school insignias), and memorabilia (newspaper clippings, casting snapshots) are matched with informative and discursive captions that play like stage whispers, and all are brought together with taste, insight, and joyful celebration.
The introduction by Michael Chabon praises Anderson as much as it reflects on aging and growth:
The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.”
There follows a program of renewed inquiry, often involuntary, into the nature and effects of mortality, entropy, heartbreak, violence, failure, cowardice, duplicity, cruelty, and grief; the researcher learns their histories, and their bitter lessons, by heart. Along the way, he or she discovers that the world has been broken for as long as anyone can remember, and struggles to reconcile this fact with the ache of cosmic nostalgia that arises, from time to time, in the researcher’s heart: an intimation of vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world unbroken. We call the moment at which this ache first arises “adolescence.” The feeling haunts people all their lives.
Everyone, sooner or later, gets a thorough schooling in brokenness. The question becomes: What to do with the pieces? Some people hunker down atop the local pile of ruins and make do, Bedouin tending their goats in the shade of shattered giants. Others set about breaking what remains of the world into bits ever smaller and more jagged, kicking through the rubble like kids running through piles of leaves. And some people, passing among the scattered pieces of that great overturned jigsaw puzzle, start to pick up a piece here, a piece there, with a vague yet irresistible notion that perhaps something might be done about putting the thing back together again.
Two difficulties with this latter scheme at once present themselves. First of all, we have only ever glimpsed, as if through half-closed lids, the picture on the lid of the jigsaw puzzle box. Second, no matter how diligent we have been about picking up pieces along the way, we will never have anywhere near enough of them to finish the job. The most we can hope to accomplish with our handful of salvaged bits—the bittersweet harvest of observation and experience—is to build a little world of our own. A scale model of that mysterious original, unbroken, half—remembered. Of course the worlds we build out of our store of fragments can be only approximations, partial and inaccurate. As representations of the vanished whole that haunts us, they must be accounted failures. And yet in that very failure, in their gaps and inaccuracies, they may yet be faithful maps, accurate scale models, of this beautiful and broken world. We call these scale models “works of art.”
“The ache of cosmic nostalgia.” “The bittersweet harvest of observation and experience.”
A bunch of folks across the internet have been doing some great stuff with the air quality data coming out of China via official channels and the US Embassy twitter feeds. My advisor asked for some graphs of available data. They are posted below (all were created in R using ggplot2). If time ever permits, I’ll post some interactive visualizations.
Elliott Smith died ten years ago yesterday (Oct 21, 2003). I hadn’t listened to his music in quite a while, though played through a number of his tracks last night. They hold up — and pretty promptly sent me back a decade. Pitchfork has created a well-designed, well-written, thorough ‘oral history’ of his music.
What follows is not an oral history of his life, but of his music; specifically, his solo career. The lines between life and music are tangled, of course, in ways that aren’t neatly prizable, and darker stories eventually creep into the frame at the edges. But the arc traced here begins with the emergence of That Voice: the flowering of his talent, the development of the intimate, inscrutable folk-pop he would mine for the rest of his career. That discovery dovetails with the dissolution of his first band, the loud-rocking Heatmiser. In some ways the development of the former triggered the latter. The story told here begins at this hinge point, as Smith begins exploring the possibilities of his fiercely intimate four-track solo recordings that would pull him away from Heatmiser and, eventually, into the national spotlight.
For those who knew him personally, the task of speaking for Elliott Smith wavers between privilege and burden. Many of the 18 people who spoke to me—bandmates, producers, managers, friends—emerged hesitantly, stepping gingerly over their own profound misgivings, issuing grave caveats. They’d been burned before, they warned me. They swore they’d never speak again. The story of their self-imposed silence, and their individual choices to break it or hold it, runs in powerful counterpoint to Smith’s own story. Some of the singer’s closest associates have simply declined to go on record: Having been prodded multiple times, they have understandably snapped shut. Some are speaking now for the first time. The combination of profound ambivalence and fierce conviction in their voices, as they opened themselves up, was chastening.
The Atlantic’s got a nice list of remembrances, some of which are new or new to the internet.
The first trailer for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was released today. Looks positively Wes Anderson-errific. Can’t wait.
RAW is a really impressive and easy-to-use data visualization tool created by Density Design. I created the following plot in about five minutes from existing GBD data (of DALYs in India for women of all ages).
The first column contains risk categories as defined by the comparative risk assessment of the 2010 Global Burden of Disease. The second column contains individual risk factors (each of which fits into an aforementioned risk category). The final column shows attributable DALYs by cause. Some color would help differentiate the different risks and causes, but the basic picture is clear if you spend a few minutes with the graph. Women in India, according to the 2010 GBD, predominantly lose healthy life years from CVD, chronic respiratory diseases, nutritional deficiencies, and infectious disease. A fair amount of this is attributable to air pollution.
To make this plot, I opened a CSV, copied its contents, pasted into a text field at RAW, and then used its simple, elegant GUI to generate the code for the plot. The options are a little limited now (would like to add some color, shift label positions around, etc). If I really wanted to make those changes, I could edit the code and do it manually. A really impressive showcase of what can be done in the browser and definitely worth checking out and keeping an eye on.
Update: WebFaction released today a one-click installed for node.js, obviating Step 2 below. Leaving it in here for posterity.
Shiny “makes it super simple for R users like you to turn analyses into interactive web applications that anyone can use.” It’s a powerful tool with a relatively simple syntax. It’s great for local apps — but I wanted to set up a web-based app that others could access and that wasn’t beholden to Shiny and RStudio’s excellent beta server platform.
I host this site and a few others at WebFaction — an awesome service with little to no downtime, fast servers, and relatively flexible restrictions. Getting Shiny up and running on WebFaction required a little work.
Step 1: SSH into WebFaction. Follow the instructions on their website for your specific server(s).
Step 2: Make a source directory. Download and install node.js.
mkdir src cd src wget 'http://nodejs.org/dist/v0.10.20/node-v0.10.20.tar.gz' tar -xzf node-v0.10.20.tar.gz cd node-v0.10.20 python2.7 configure --prefix=$HOME make PYTHON=python2.7 make PYTHON=python2.7 install export NODE_PATH="$HOME/lib/node_modules:$NODE_PATH" echo 'export NODE_PATH="$HOME/lib/node_modules:$NODE_PATH"' >> $HOME/.bashrc
Step 3: Download and install R.
#install R wget 'http://cran.us.r-project.org/src/base/R-3/R-3.0.2.tar.gz' tar -xzf R-3.0.2.tar.gz cd R-3.0.2 ./configure --prefix $HOME make make install
Step 4: Make a temp/tmp/temporary director.
cd $HOME mkdir tmp chmod 777 tmp TMPDIR=$HOME/tmp export TMPDIR
Step 5: Download Shiny from source and install using NPM.
git clone https://github.com/rstudio/shiny-server.git npm install -g shiny-server/
installing from NPM directly did not work — Shiny would not launch. I believe this is because you’re not allowed root access on WebFaction shared accounts.
Step 6: Launch R and install whatever packages you need.
install.packages('ggplot2') install.packages('data.table') devtools::install_github("ShinyDash", "trestletech") devtools::install_github("shiny-incubator", "rstudio")
Step 7: Want plots to work? In your Shiny app’s global.R file, set
options(bitmapType = 'cairo')
Next up: a cron job to keep a Shiny instance running or to restart it if it goes down… and putting Shiny behind some light authentication to prevent pre-release apps from general consumption.
The Best American Infographics 2013 came in yesterday. It’s chock-full of goodness and inspiring visual displays of data. Some are nonsensical, some are dense and shocking. They’re all pretty engaging and the collection appears well-curated. Wired has a number of the selected graphics online.
The book’s introduction was written by David Byrne. I’ll add a link to the essay if it appears online. In the meantime, my favorite bit follows.
The very best of these, in my opinion, engender and facilitate an insight by visual means - allow us to grasp some relationship quickly and easily that otherwise would take many pages and illustrations and tables to convey. Insight seems to happen most often when data sets are crossed in the design of the piece - when we can quickly see the effects on something over time, for example, or view how factors like income, race, geography, or diet might affect other data. When that happens, there’s an instant “Aha!” - we can see how income affects or at least correlates with, for example, folks’ levels of education. Or, less expectedly, we might, for example, see how rainfall seems to have a profound effect on consumption of hard liquor (I made that part up). What we can get in this medium is the instant revelation of a pattern that wasn’t noticeable before.
One would hope that we could educate ourselves to be able to spot the evil infographics that are being used to manipulate us, or that are being used to hide important patterns and information. Ideally, an educated consumer of infographics might develop some sort of infographic bullshit detector that would beep when told how the trickle-down economic effect justifies fracking, for example. It’s not easy, as one can be seduced relatively easily by colors, diagrams and funny writing.
Arri Eisen, a close friend, mentor, and Professor of Pedagogy at Emory University, was recently featured on Living on Earth along with two of his most unique students — Lodoe Sangpo and Thabkhe Thabkhe, Tibetan Buddhist monks learning and doing science and taking courses. Check out the interview below.
David Byrne, in an editorial at Creative Time Reports:
Some folks believe that hardship breeds artistic creativity. I don’t buy it. One can put up with poverty for a while when one is young, but it will inevitably wear a person down. I don’t romanticize the bad old days. I find the drop in crime over the last couple of decades refreshing. Manhattan and Brooklyn, those vibrant playgrounds, are way less scary than they were when I moved here. I have no illusions that there was a connection between that city on its knees and a flourishing of creativity; I don’t believe that crime, danger and poverty make for good art. That’s bullshit. But I also don’t believe that the drop in crime means the city has to be more exclusively for those who have money. Increases in the quality of life should be for all, not just a few.
The city is a body and a mind—a physical structure as well as a repository of ideas and information. Knowledge and creativity are resources. If the physical (and financial) parts are functional, then the flow of ideas, creativity and information are facilitated. The city is a fountain that never stops: it generates its energy from the human interactions that take place in it. Unfortunately, we’re getting to a point where many of New York’s citizens have been excluded from this equation for too long. The physical part of our city—the body—has been improved immeasurably. I’m a huge supporter of the bike lanes and the bike-share program, the new public plazas, the waterfront parks and the functional public transportation system. But the cultural part of the city—the mind—has been usurped by the top 1 percent.
One part Peanuts comic strip, one part Smiths lyrics. One hundred percent hilarious. See more here.
The Verge highlighted some amazing photos from NASA and University of Arizona’s HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment). From the HiRISE FAQ page:
HiRISE returns images of the Martian surface with higher resolution than ever seen before from an orbiter. This means we can see extraordinary detail in all kinds of surface features. Scientists all over the world are already using these images to understand many previously-unexplained phenomena on the Red Planet. We might also discover brand new types of features never seen before! The stereo and color capabilities will also allow us to explore Mars in 3D, and with compositional information. The ultra high resolution also makes HiRISE the perfect tool for investigating the safety of future landing sites for other missions, such as the Phoenix lander or the Mars Science Laboratory. We’ve also done some searching for past Mars landers, both successful and not. But even without the higher resolution and added capabilities, additional cameras in Mars orbit are always valuable for imaging new terrains on Mars, and for monitoring the dynamic surface and atmosphere for activity and changes.
A few more favorites:
The Elvis Impersonator, the Karate Instructor, a Fridge Full of Severed Heads, and the Plot 2 Kill the President →
Remember that crazy story about the dude in Mississippi who mailed ricin to Obama and then tried to frame some other dude in Mississippi for the crime? Well, as Wells Tower discovered when he traveled to Tupelo and started poking around, the story is a thousand times crazier than you thought.
This is the most insane thing I’ve read in a while. Highly recommended.
A few requests had come in to download around 12 countries worth of the recently released Global Burden of Disease from the IHME website. There’s no way to quickly download multiple files; by my count, it requires you to type the country name, click a link, click a tab, and then option-click a CSV file.
The URLs had relatively similar construction, so I wrote a quick R script to download all of the data and save each one as a separate compressed RDS file. I also dropped a couple of redundant columns to try to save some space. The compression is pretty efficient; 25-27 MB files were reduced to between 6.6 - 7.4 MB. Check it out here or below.