Category: Editorial

Google Reunites

Posted by – October 22, 2013

Google has produced a moving short film based on the true story of an Indian boy, Saroo Munshi Khan, who found himself lost in the slums of Calcutta, and how he used hazy memories and Google Earth find his family over 25 years later:

Huffington Post and Vanity Fair brought this story to light a year ago, and Google produced and released the above video this week.


A Graphical Analysis of the Problem with the Internet

Posted by – February 18, 2013

My job requires me to do quite a lot of research online and I am by nature curious, leaving me vulnerable to pointlessly surfing the Internet. I don’t know if this is because our brains are wired to take pleasure in seeking/discovering or simple procrastination, but some days it feels like this (from xkcd):

The problem with Wikipedia

Of course, there really is a lot of information on the Internet, and Trace Media created an interactive map showing how just one part of it, Wikipedia, has grown over time (click on ‘search’, then wait – it loads slowly for the more ubiquitous languages):

Map of wikipedia

I guess that’s why my browser homepage is Get Back To Work.


AAAS S&T Fellowship’s 40th

Posted by – February 3, 2013

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Fellowships program is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and AAAS is marking the event with this video documentary. As a past AAAS Fellow at the State Department, I would say it provides an excellent overview of this little-known program that brings scientific expertise to Washington and opens up the careers of hundreds of scientists every year.


Respect the Roundness

Posted by – January 30, 2013

NOAA and several commercial vendors have developed spherical displays of geoscience and mathematics that are both beautiful and thought provoking, allowing us to see phenomena like ocean currents, trade, climate, and geology evolving over time without the distortions of a 2-D projection. Examples in the video include (starting at 6:25) an animation of pollutants crossing the North Pole and (starting at 7:45) a depiction of continental drift from Pangea to present day. If you want to explore the datasets on your home computer, NOAA provides KML files for display using GoogleEarth.

Cheers to Dori for the tip!


This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For

Posted by – January 13, 2013

Death Star Citing its cost, vulnerability to attack by single-seat fighters, and the Administration’s aversion to blowing up planets, the White House has rejected building a Death Star. Responding to a petition on the White House Web site, OMB science and technology adviser Paul Shawcross explained that the estimated cost was too high in a time of tight budgets. I dunno…call it nostalgia for the Reagan era if you like, but $850,000,000,000,000,000 for the “ultimate power in the universe” seems like a good deal to me.


P.S. 201301221.1330 Maybe we don’t need to build it anyway, since it appears to be orbiting Saturn already (Mimas has a crater that makes it a dead ringer for the Death Star).

Momentum to Address US Water Infrastructure Issues?

Posted by – December 15, 2012

A nationwide poll of US voters by Xylem revealed that more than three-quarters of Americans are concerned about the poor state of the nation’s water infrastructure system and believe US water infrastructure needs reform. Most say they would be willing to pay more each month to ensure that today’s problems are fixed so that clean water keeps flowing.  However, Americans are largely unaware of their daily water use or how much water infrastructure influences their lives. These poll results indicate a growing public awareness and concern but also a need to educate Americans about the economics of water and the role that water and water infrastructure play in our lives and national economy.

The 2009 American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Report Card for America’s Infrastructure indicates that the poor state of our water infrastructure is part of a larger pattern of neglecting our national infrastructure that endangers the public and harms the national economy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agrees, pointing out that, for much of past 20 years, funding has been inadequate to maintain the national portfolio of water resources infrastructure. While I am glad to see attention being paid to this issue, I have to ask if this momentum translates into sufficient political will to take on the estimated $2.2 trillion repair bill in the midst of a recession?

Thanks to Scott for the tip!


Advent Calendar

Posted by – December 12, 2012

Economist's Advent Calendar for 2012The Economist has put a twist on a holiday tradition: an Advent calendar of data graphics, where each day reveals a new data graphic – from the Map of Sloth (Dec 4; Americans aren’t as lazy as we are reputed to be) to How Facebook Connections Mirror old Empires  (Dec 13, showing that old empires never die, they just ..friend their colonies).  These graphics show that the Economist excels at assembling graphical analyses that enlighten, rather than just decorate the page. Kudos to the Economist, and Happy Holidays to all!


P.S. Last year’s Christmas post showed that Baby Boomers are just trying to recapture their childhood.

Incredible: The Photopic Sky Survey

Posted by – October 17, 2012

Star field The Photopic Sky Survey is a highly detailed photographic map of the Earth’s sky created by Nick Risinger, who travelled around the globe to capture 37,440 exposures of the night sky and stitched them together into a single 5,000 megapixel photograph. You can download, scan, and zoom through this incredible image online courtesy of (click on the info “i” icon at bottom left of the display to reveal the annotations).

Even more amazing is the Sky Survey app ($2.99 for iPad/iPhone) based on Risinger’s map which orients the displayed star field to match your current latitude, longitude, time, and the iPad’s orientation. In essence, it turns your iOS device into a planisphere and it is nearly magical to use, as if your iOS device has opened a hole into the wall or ceiling – or floor – to reveal the stars:

Photographer and designer Nick Risinger recounts his year-long, 60,000 mile journey of creating the imagery behind the photopic map at Sky Survey.

Thanks to Max for the tip!


What are 3-D Pie Charts Good For?

Posted by – September 10, 2012

Not much, apparently – except annoying Edward Tufte. Although delivered sarcastically, the message is that a 2-D pie chart adds nothing over a table of percentages and is susceptible to optical delusions; distorting this poor representation of data to a 3-D perspective just adds distortion. I will concede that there are differing points of view, but I’ll take the numbers, thank you.

This graphical joke courtesy of Flowing Data, a site by Nathan Yau dedicated to data visualization using the R statistics package.


Map of Physics ca. 1939

Posted by – September 5, 2012

From Thomas B. Greenslade’s virtual collection comes the Map of Physics, showing the relationships among the various branches of physics and the scientists that contributed to each stream of thought. This map, drawn by Bernard H. Porter in 1939, uses dashed lines as contours of time and represents the principal branches of physics as rivers. True, there has been a lot of interesting physics developed since 1939, but it’s still a useful illustration of using a map to represent a topology of thought, not just for locations in space.

Via the Quantum Pontiff, with thanks to Leo for the tip!