Monthly Archives: December 2005

Mary Ellen Mark’s “Falkland Road”

Steidl is reprinting an expanded version of Mary Ellen Mark’s Falkland Road (with provocative cover art). The Times’ Holland Cotter reviewed the book a couple weeks ago.

I thought I knew a lot about Mary Ellen Mark and her style, but I had never heard of the book. . . .

Posted in OPP, Photography | Leave a comment

Top 10 Myths about Iraq

While I still think it would be safe and enjoyable to visit Iran, I won’t be visiting its troubled neighbor anytime soon.

So much is going on there — so much that is so poorly reported in the American media — that it’s hard to know what is actually happening. Perhaps after I learn Arabic this spring it will be easier to find different perspectives. Until then, I must rely on the efforts of others to debunk the top 10 myths about Iraq.

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I haven’t gone to Antarctica. I haven’t even been south of the Equator. But Jeff Schewe’s description of his Antarctic expedition sure makes me want to go sometime — though perhaps not as part of an enormous 40+ person photographic tour; I think that would drive me absolutely bonkers.

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More Noteworthy Blogs

Leslie noted that the noteworthy blogs of the Weblog Awards really aren’t all that noteworthy and/or interesting to her. Yup, there’s a lot out there to sift through.

And over on Cliopatria, Ralph Luker is paying the group blog’s debts.

So here is the list of some of the web logs that I find interesting, that I have added to my RSS newsreader, and that I have looked to for information that occasionally shows up here:

Well, that’s enough for now.

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Follow ups #1

Brain Drain: The Times ran an article yesterday saying that some Indians find they can go home again.

Exurbs: Whilst searching for the Times article to link against last, week I chose “exurb” as my keyword. That led to an interesting collection of articles in addition to the one I wanted. Some interesting titles include:

  • 4 Debutantes Will Be Presented Tonight at Tuxedo Autumn Ball – By CHARLOTTE CURTIS (Oct 17, 1964; pg. 33, 1)
  • How to Live in Suburbs and Not Be ‘a Suburban Housewife’ – By MARYLIN BENDER (Aug 15, 1967; pg. 28, 1)
  • Suburban Women at Work – By MARYLIN BENDER (Aug 22, 1971; pg. F3, 1)
  • Energy Crisis Inducing Return To City Stores and Attractions – By FRANK J. PRIAL (Feb 21, 1974; pg. 1, 2)
  • Conflicting Court Actions Perplex Towns Seeking to Curb Growth – By GLADWIN HILL (Jul 29, 1974; pg. 20, 1)
  • Suburbs Face More of Ills Already Troubling Cities – By ROBERT REINHOLD (Nov 16, 1978; pg. B4, 1)

While Wikipedia says the term originated in the 1950s, the Times used it in an article in 1890, in the article “No More Roads on Stilts.” Apparently it didn’t stick, and with the drowsy prose from the extract it’s easy to see why:

The reported Gould-Platt alliance for the purpose of controlling rapid transit by means of such legislation at Albany as will incorporate in the Fassett bill amendments to the Rapid-Transit act of 1875, and to the amendments thereto known as the Cantor act, while recognized by those who are interested in this subject as a very convenient and clever thing for the elevated railroad, and perhaps …

Indian Airports: India is liberalizing its airlines, but it has a long way to go before air travel is easy, efficient, and capable of meeting demand. That was my sense while waiting for one late flight after another on each of the three major domestic airlines in India (Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Air Deccan). Everybody expects the airlines to grow, but even the experts aren’t sure India’s infrastructure can keep up.

Black and White Printing: Lots of photographers have trouble making their own B&W inkjet prints that match their vision. And we find it a bit frustrating. I know it’s possible to get great prints—not only because the marketers tell us so—but because I’ve seen beautiful prints made outside the wet darkroom. Practice, practice, practice . . .

Posted in Development, General, India, Photography | Leave a comment

E.O. Wilson on Darwin and the religious impulse

I have to confess that I first thought Radio Open Source was an attempt by public radio to seem trendy (open source, blogging, podcasts) while giving Christopher Lydon another shot at getting into the liberal talk radio game in Boston. The Connection was incredibly uneven after Lydon departed in 2001, and I’ve been a little disappointed with WBUR’s relatively new On Point.

(For the record I should say that I don’t really listen to talk radio much. It’s frequently excruciating to hear the sort of people who call into radio shows hold forth. A show usually has about two minutes to hook me before I switch over to the alt-rock stations. But sometimes a long drive down the Mass Pike can be improved by idle chatter.)

But last night’s Open Source show with evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson was amazing. In an unusual move for anyone in the evolution discussion—all right, smackdown—Wilson (among other things) acknowledged as legitimate the religious impulse to seek divinity in creation and explained this impulse as biological without passing judgement on the many people who hold these beliefs. It’s the kind of talk that our “god-shaped hole” rarely lets happen in this country but that we all benefit from.

Posted in This is who we are | 1 Comment

Apocalypto trailer

Pete—I mean “Fang”—gushes about the new trailer for Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.

It’s definitely a beautiful looking film, but the preview tells me nothing about what actually happens, though there are hints of a love story and violence and un-Christian religion. So let’s deconstruct what we’ve been shown in the absence of any actual facts about the film, which I’m too (um…) lazy to go looking for.

“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” The civilization in Apocalypto appears to be Mayan or Aztec; and though they may be great in power, we see a lot of violence against the priests’ and rulers’ subjects. The Running Man theme in the trailer when combined with the hints of his blood sacrifice suggests that barbarism is the internal force tugging at society, leaving us with the real mystery of the trailer. Who is the external conqueror? From what we think we know about Mad Mel and the history of Mesoamerica, the external agent could well be the Spanish leading edge of European conquest.

So are we going to get a film about the downtrodden raging against the Man, as we did with Braveheart? Or are we going to get another quasireligious snuff film that apologizes for European conquest by asserting visually that the Aztecs (or whoever they may be) had it coming and needed a redeeming force?

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Noteworthy blogs

Need something new to read? Try some of the Weblog Award winners and nominees.

Posted in General | 2 Comments

National Academies report on technology leadership

Last month I wrote how well-qualified international applicants are filling the holes in higher education that native-born Americans just can’t (or won’t) seem to fill, and how (anecdotaly) this trend is influencing hiring in high tech. Whether or not you agree with Thomas Friedman that the world changed while we were sleeping, many agree that it’s time to shake off our post-Sputnik slumber and get serious about improving education in America in order to maintain our ability to create new jobs at a time when “there is no such thing as an American job.”

It’s important to remember that globalization is not a zero-sum game. In fact globalization creates new jobs and opportunities everywhere—though not necessarily for everyone who loses and not in exactly the way everyone wants. But there are very real prospects that the US can lose out unless we resolve some structural and social problems. The United States National Academies Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy issued a report earlier this month laying out a plan to retain technical leadership. The major recommendations include:

  1. Increase America’s talent pool by vastly improving K-12 mathematics and science education.
  2. Sustain and strengthen the nation’s commitment to long-term basic research.
  3. Develop, recruit, and retain top students, scientists, and engineers from both the United States and abroad. The United States should be considered the most attractive setting in the world to study and conduct research, the report says.
  4. Ensure that the United States is the premier place in the world for innovation. This can be accomplished by actions such as modernizing the U.S. patent system, realigning tax policies to encourage innovation, and ensuring affordable broadband Internet access, the report says.

Interestingly, maintaining (or developing) access to “clean, affordable, and reliable energy” also shows prominently in the report.

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How fake is your fake news?

Real news curmudgeons want to know.

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News from the “flyover states”

Finally some good news from my former home state makes the national press. Apparently someone from the Times was thinking about Brokeback Mountain and got to wondering whether there are any gay people in Wyoming in real life. It seems that the mayor of Casper is gay. Shocking! Well, not really.

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2004 Election results

Wishing for better maps shortly after the election, I took matters into my own hands and analyzed the election results by county using the same Mapping Toolbox that we sell to customers. After a few evenings of work I had produced some maps to help me better understand the so-called red/blue electoral divide.

The maps spawned some interesting discussion on our company-internal, recreational “talk” newsgroup—sadly it has become rather partisan and is at risk of being shut down. Some of my map-based analysis from that forum appears below. I was prompted to post this now, more than a year after the election, by a recent comment on data visualization guru Edward Tufte’s web site.

(Note to cartographers and others: I went for the easiest maps that I could make. I know that there are better map projections that show area more accurately. In general, better maps would include a legend, too. Shape data for the maps came from the U.S. Census Bureau. I obtained most election results from the USA Today web site, though New England reported results by town (!) which lead me to, The Bangor Gazette, and various Secretaries of State’s offices. Thanks to Kelly Luetkemeyer for Mapping Toolbox assistance.)

Map of vote distribution (logarithmic) for the 2004 U.S. presidential election by county (Mercator projection)

This map shows the absolute difference in votes won by Bush (red) and Kerry (blue). It’s a logarithmic scale designed to accomodate the wide variance in county populations. White counties were decided by fewer than 100 votes for either candidate; light pink/blue, 101 – 1,000 votes; medium red/blue, 1,001 – 10,000 votes; and deep red or blue counties were decided by more than 10,000 votes.

The purple lines are major urban areas according to the Census Bureau. The result is interesting to me. Conventional wisdom holds that Kerry did well in urban areas and Bush did well everywhere else. The truth seems to be that Kerry did well in urban “centers” but couldn’t penetrate out into the suburbs, which went overwhelmingly for Bush. In fact, Kerry’s largest margin (L.A. county) is right next to Bush’s best county (Orange).

The big pockets of blue throughout the country are also interesting. They are mainly in rural areas — Rocky Mountain towns, Indian reservations, border communities, agricultural areas in the Midwest and South — and the faltering industrial belt of the Cotton Kingdom. While scattered, these pockets or ribbons suggest that both parties could pick up votes by going to out-of-the-way areas traditionally ignored by the candidates.

It’s also interesting to note that Mono County, California was a dead heat: 2,200 to 2,200. Kerry did not win any counties in Utah, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Massachusetts and Rhode Island were the only states where Bush didn’t carry any counties, though the total vote margin shows that Bush took most other counties with a relatively modest number of votes.

Map of vote distribution (percentage) for the 2004 U.S. presidential election by county (Mercator projection)

Another map tells the electoral story from a different angle, the percent difference between Kerry and Bush. White counties have a 52-48% or closer result; light pink or blue 56-44% or closer; medium red and blue 60-40% or closer; and deep red or blue represents 64-36% or better for the winning candidate, roughly 2/3 of the votes.

While the same pockets of diversity appear, the Northeast looks much weaker for Kerry and the rest of the country much stronger for Bush — except for the suburbs in major urban areas, which are closer to 55-45 or 60-40 — than the other map might suggest.

Bush’s strength throughout most of the country was the overwhelming thing I took away from the percent map. Imagine taking a road trip across the country and asking people everywhere you stopped how they voted. On just about any route you picked, the result would be that most people would say, “I voted for Bush and 2/3 or more of my neighbors did, too.” To me, that sounds like a mandate . . . of a sort.

I believe in the U.S., you can consider counties to be a surrogate for communities. Small counties with high population densities and large counties with low population densities might spatially distort community distributions; nevertheless, in both cases communities within counties tend to resemble each other.

Of the 3,399 counties, Bush had a majority in 2,553 (75%) and a large 2/3 supermajority in 1,129 (33%) of them. Kerry on the other hand had a straight majority in only 598 (18%) and a supermajority in 80 (2%).

Entire population areas of this country wanted Bush to win (or didn’t want Kerry to win). Now Kerry did well in a select few places, and those places had a large number of votes, but most areas favored Bush by large enough margins for me to say that most communities around the U.S. actually want [or wanted] Bush to govern.

To be sure, if you were to spread voters out over the whole of the country — or shrink them together as some maps do — the results would be a very divided 51% of the ubercommunity voted Bush and 48% Kerry. But these maps, while interesting, distort the power of counties to convey community.

If all of the urban voters were slathered across the West and South, the West and South’s communities would have a different composition and new concerns. If all of the rural/suburban electorate were bunched up against the big cities, these voters would have a much different perspective. Votes would change.

If you take a random, equal sample of voters from each of the nation’s communities (i.e., points of view), Bush wins with a large mandate.

I’m not trying to say that an individual’s vote doesn’t matter if she lives in one place and not in another. In fact, that’s my general opposition to the electoral college: it effectively removes minority opinion voters’ voices from the political process in “solid” or “secure” states and violates the principle of one person, one vote.

As a snapshot of the American zeitgeist in late 2004, it’s interesting to look at deviation from the middle, as represented by a 51-48% election result.

Map of deviation from the average 51-48% vote distribution of the 2004 U.S. presidential election, by county (Mercator projection)

The margin in white counties deviated by less than 4 percent from the norm; light blue/pink, less than 12 percent; medium blue/red, less than 20 percent; deep blue and red counties had deviations of more than 20%.

Perhaps it shows more conservative and liberal areas. Perhaps it shows differences in partisanship. Perhaps it only shows approval patterns for this one election.

Map of standard deviation from the average 51-48% vote distribution of the 2004 U.S. presidential election, by county (Mercator projection)

Standard deviation — a hefty 13% — might be more interesting in showing “solid” areas for each party. White areas are within the first standard deviation; subsequent shades are another 13% standard deviation each.

Posted in This is who we are | 3 Comments

MATLAB + Doom = Future engineers

“The next-generation engineer will use the 3D control scheme he has grown up with.” That’s how Jörg Buchholz introduced his Doom 1.1 MATLAB code that lets data visualizers “fly through a 3D scene like in a first-person shooter in god mode.”

Are shooter games the future of data visualization? Maybe not, but the entertainment industry will play a role.

  • Radiologists are awash in so much data than they have trouble reading “films” in the traditional way. SCAR‘s Transforming the Radiological Interpretation Process (TRIP) initiative draws upon expertise from Hollywood for—among other things—novel visualization techniques and data navigation tools.
  • When I visited the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on a break during a business trip, I saw a trader using what looked like a PlayStation game controller. A Baseline Magazine article explains why game controllers are useful for trading: “[The Exchange is pursuing] new markets such as trading arcades, small venues in Dublin, London and Gibraltar that host a new generation of traders who can use joysticks instead of computers to swap financial derivatives. ‘They trade as if it were a video game,’ says Steve Goldman, director of network architecture at the exchange, holding up a PlayStation joystick. ‘And we want to make sure they have something to trade here.’ . . . These traders follow set systems and algorithms and chase seemingly minuscule market moves. Under these systems, rapid hand-eye coordination is critical.”
Posted in Computing, MATLAB | Leave a comment

Colorizing Black and White Images

Why, oh why, do we stubbornly cling to the idea that images are — or even should be — truthful? Why don’t we just assume that images are always layered with enough ambiguity, unknowability, and choices of the photographer and image purveyors to make all statements about visual truth suspect?

Here is another example of the Wag the Dog variety. Three researchers at Hebrew University are using MATLAB code to colorize grayscale images, quickly adding realistic color where there was none and changing the color of selecteed regions.

Posted in Fodder for Techno-weenies, Photography | Leave a comment

Things to do on a 14.5 hour flight

South Asian grad student and Chapati Mystery author Sepoy posted a link to a list of ways to stave off the boredom on the flight to India. Righteously cranky!

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