Monthly Archives: October, 2013

Historic Storytelling: Orson Welles Scares the Nation

war-of-the-worlds-by-orson-welles

October 30th, 1938 – Orson Welles Scares the Nation

Orson Welles causes a nationwide panic with his broadcast of “War of the Worlds”—a realistic radio dramatization of a Martian invasion of Earth.

Orson Welles was only 23 years old when his Mercury Theater company decided to update H.G. Wells’ 19th-century science fiction novel War of the Worlds for national radio. Despite his age, Welles had been in radio for several years, most notably as the voice of “The Shadow” in the hit mystery program of the same name. “War of the Worlds” was not planned as a radio hoax, and Welles had little idea of the havoc it would cause.

The show began on Sunday, October 30, at 8 p.m. A voice announced: “The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the air in ‘War of the Worlds’ by H.G. Wells.”

Sunday evening in 1938 was prime-time in the golden age of radio, and millions of Americans had their radios turned on. But most of these Americans were listening to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy “Charlie McCarthy” on NBC and only turned to CBS at 8:12 p.m. after the comedy sketch ended and a little-known singer went on. By then, the story of the Martian invasion was well underway.

Welles introduced his radio play with a spoken introduction, followed by an announcer reading a weather report. Then, seemingly abandoning the storyline, the announcer took listeners to “the Meridian Room in the Hotel Park Plaza in downtown New York, where you will be entertained by the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra.” Putrid dance music played for some time, and then the scare began. An announcer broke in to report that “Professor Farrell of the Mount Jenning Observatory” had detected explosions on the planet Mars. Then the dance music came back on, followed by another interruption in which listeners were informed that a large meteor had crashed into a farmer’s field in Grovers Mills, New Jersey.

Soon, an announcer was at the crash site describing a Martian emerging from a large metallic cylinder. “Good heavens,” he declared, “something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now here’s another and another one and another one. They look like tentacles to me … I can see the thing’s body now. It’s large, large as a bear. It glistens like wet leather. But that face, it… it … ladies and gentlemen, it’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, it’s so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate.”

The Martians mounted walking war machines and fired “heat-ray” weapons at the puny humans gathered around the crash site. They annihilated a force of 7,000 National Guardsman, and after being attacked by artillery and bombers the Martians released a poisonous gas into the air. Soon “Martian cylinders” landed in Chicago and St. Louis. The radio play was extremely realistic, with Welles employing sophisticated sound effects and his actors doing an excellent job portraying terrified announcers and other characters. An announcer reported that widespread panic had broken out in the vicinity of the landing sites, with thousands desperately trying to flee. In fact, that was not far from the truth.

Perhaps as many as a million radio listeners believed that a real Martian invasion was underway. Panic broke out across the country. In New Jersey, terrified civilians jammed highways seeking to escape the alien marauders. People begged police for gas masks to save them from the toxic gas and asked electric companies to turn off the power so that the Martians wouldn’t see their lights. One woman ran into an Indianapolis church where evening services were being held and yelled, “New York has been destroyed! It’s the end of the world! Go home and prepare to die!”

When news of the real-life panic leaked into the CBS studio, Welles went on the air as himself to remind listeners that it was just fiction. There were rumors that the show caused suicides, but none were ever confirmed.

The Federal Communications Commission investigated the program but found no law was broken. Networks did agree to be more cautious in their programming in the future. Orson Welles feared that the controversy generated by “War of the Worlds” would ruin his career. In fact, the publicity helped land him a contract with a Hollywood studio, and in 1941 he directed, wrote, produced, and starred in Citizen Kane—a movie that many have called the greatest American film ever made.

Infographic: 62 Percent of Americans Would Consider Buying a Haunted House

With tomorrow being Halloween, this is the time of year when we hear the chitter-chatter surrounding the notion of ghosts and goblins. The intrigue of haunted houses, vampires and the unsolved mystery of the afterlife are on the forefront of mortals’ minds. Did a door mysteriously slam or did a ghost appear outside your window?

The Huffington Post ran a survey on their website that explored consumer sentiments around their perceptions of “haunted” real estate. Of the survey’s nearly 1,400 respondents, 26 percent indicated that they would be open to purchasing a haunted home and 36 percent shared that they might consider a haunted home purchase. When they combine those percentages, nearly 62 percent would contemplate buying a haunted home! Thirty-eight percent said no way to purchasing a spooky home. Though buyers may be reluctant to purchasing a home that is haunted, the novelty of living in a haunted home does appeal to some.

The survey also found that a staggering 35 percent of respondents believe they have lived in a haunted home and nearly 51 percent have heard of someone else’s haunted home experience. Seventy-five percent of the potential home buyers open to purchasing a spooky home would be scared off if they saw levitating objects on a property and 63 percent admitted that they would be dissuaded by ghost sightings.

Leslie Piper, Realtor.com Consumer Housing Specialist and contributor to the article, stated that she has had her fair share of stories about properties rumored to being haunted. Realtor.com’s survey found that 61 percent of respondents thought a cemetery on the property may be an indication that a home is haunted. Fifty percent believe that homes that are older than 100 years old could be haunted. With the many battles won and lost across the United States, 43 percent felt that homes in close proximity to a battlefield could be cursed.

The mystery still remains as to if the legend of a haunted house is a fact or fable. This Halloween season keep your eyes and ears open and if you sense any paranormal activity (or a not so friendly ghost) in your home or neighborhood hire a ghostbuster, ghost hunter, phantom fighter or median to seek them out and help them find their way out of purgatory and move onto a happier place… BOO!!!

Would you live in a haunted house?

Critiquing Data Visualizations

Jeff PettirossCritiquing Data Visualizations

I attended an online webinar today hosted by Data Science Central titled Making Flow Happen: Dashboards that Persuade, Inform, and Engage. The presenter was Jeff Pettiross (photo, right) from Tableau Software. I found Jeff’s presentation to be very informative and helpful, but it was the Q&A session afterwards that I thought brought an interesting topic to the surface.

The question asked was:

When creating a dataviz and taking feedback, how do you determine what feedback is based on personal opinion and what feedback adds flow to your dataviz?

Jeff discussed this as having principal-centered arguments versus personal-centered arguments. So, for principal-centered arguments, you could refer to Edward Tufte when you are discussing the field of data visualization, junk charts or small multiples, Stephen Few for best practices for dashboard design, or Alberto Cairo for best practices for creating infographics. You could also discuss articles and academic research related to data visualization.

Where the water gets murky is when you are exposed to personal-centered arguments or, basically, someone’s personal opinion. Sometimes when you are sitting in a dataviz review session, the criticism or critiques you receive can feel very personal. Some of it may be in the way the person is expressing their opinion and the intonation in their voice. Other times it truly may be personal; that personal may not like the person being reviewed or feels threatened by their work.

Jeff made a real good suggestion related to personal critiques by simply asking more questions. Deflect the criticism and ask them to tell you more about what they did not like about the visualization. For example, they might feel your dashboard is too crowded or too busy. You might want to ask for suggestions from that person. If the situation allows, you could bring up a copy of that visualization and make the changes in real-time as they are stating their suggestions.

Jeff pointed out that, unfortunately, this will not work in all cases. If you are a paid consultant at a company, and the client insists that they want it a particular way, the old motto “The Customer is Always Right” would take precedence here. You could say, “O.K., we will do it this way this time, but I would like you to consider this as an alternative for future visualizations.”

Jeff pointed out that at Tableau, they are a critique-centric culture. They often have review sessions of their visualizations where people from different areas of the company may sit in. For example, you might have Sales people, consultants, marketing, training, etc.  Using thoughtful critiques, spending about 20 minutes on each feature, and including a diverse group of people, they are able to refine the dataviz as a group and learn and hear other people’s ideas on dataviz.

Thanks to Jeff and Data Science Central for a great session today. What do you think? What do you feel is the best way to critique data visualizations?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Best Regards,

Michael

Data Visualization: Deconstructing the Map of Beers Using Small Multiples

Beer of Choice

Found this on the Junk Charts blog site: http://junkcharts.typepad.com/junk_charts/2013/10/deconstructing-the-map-of-beers.html

Business Insider links to this blog with a chart depicting the top beer brands by state.

I like the quilt-like appearance brought on by using the packaging of different brands. The nine glowing yellow islands sitting in the Atlantic Ocean I find annoying. This happens a lot because those New England states are smaller in area than most.

The design problem evaporates if you choose a small multiples approach. A small multiple (sometimes called trellis chart, lattice chart, grid chart, or panel chart) is a series or grid of small similar graphics or charts, allowing them to be easily compared. The term was popularized by Edward Tufte.

According to Tufte (Envisioning Information, p. 67):

At the heart of quantitative reasoning is a single question: Compared to what? Small multiple designs, multivariate and data bountiful, answer directly by visually enforcing comparisons of changes, of the differences among objects, of the scope of alternatives. For a wide range of problems in data presentation, small multiples are the best design solution.

As shown below, there is the added benefit that the regional pattern of brand preference is clearly visible whereas in the original chart, it is rather hard to figure out.

Beer of Choice - Shown using Small Multiples

Data Visualization: Obamacare Web Site Traffic

Traffic to healthcare.gov, the federal health insurance exchange, has dropped off significantly since consumers began encountering problems with the site after it launched on Oct. 1.  The Chicago Tribune Graphics Department created this data visualization to show the effects of the slowdown through Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013.

ObamaCare Web Site Traffic

Developers of the troubled Obamacare website confirmed Thursday, October 24, 2013 that a last-minute decision requiring users to sign up before shopping for insurance caused the system to bottleneck and acknowledged they did not conduct an “end to end” test until just before this month’s botched rollout.

The federal contractors sought to shift responsibility for the more than $400-million project to the Obama administration, providing fuel for Republicans who want to kill the Affordable Care Act. The White House‘s Democratic allies have expressed growing anxiety over what went wrong with President Obama’s signature achievement — and when it will be fixed.

After withholding basic information about the program’s progress so far, the administration announced Thursday that 700,000 applications had been completed for insurance coverage. The administration conceded that testing was not done earlier because of the tight deadline to launch healthcare.gov by Oct. 1.

“This system just wasn’t tested enough, especially for high volumes,” said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, during a call with reporters. The government agency administered the project for the Department of Health and Human Services.

On Capitol Hill, Republican leaders have made no secret that the House hearing rooms would become the next venue for the battle over Obamacare, and the grueling session before the House Energy and Commerce Committee opened a new front in that campaign as officials were hauled before the panel.

“Why did they assure us the website would work? Did they not know?” said Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), noting that Heath and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is scheduled to testify soon. “That’s what we are looking to find out, with the contractors today and with Secretary Sebelius next week.”

Some of the most prominent Democratic supporters of the healthcare law have grown increasingly exasperated over the website’s performance. The site was supposed to be an easy way for uninsured Americans to buy affordable health insurance, but users have had trouble signing on, getting accurate cost estimates and completing enrollment.

“How soon will it take to repair these glitches?” asked Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.)

“I have a team of people working around the clock trying to get this quickly resolved,” said Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president at CGI Federal Inc., the lead federal contractor.

Campbell acknowledged that the end-to-end test was not done until the last two weeks before the website’s debut. But the contractor suggested in written testimony that was the responsibility of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which “serves the important role of systems integrator or ‘quarterback’ on this project and is the ultimate responsible party for the end-to-end performance.”

Many of the problems appeared to stem from a last-minute change to the site’s operation that required visitors to sign up rather than simply browse through the various health insurance policies.

The extra step created a bottleneck, according to Andrew Slavitt, group executive vice president at Optum, a business unit of giant United Health Group, whose Quality Software Services Inc. handled that aspect of the system as a subcontractor.

“We don’t know why the decision was made,” Slavitt said. He testified that the change came within 10 days of the rollout, and that his group suggested at the time that more testing would be needed.

A top House Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has suggested that the late switch was initiated by the White House to prevent Americans from experiencing “sticker shock” over the costs of the insurance policies.

Bataille, the administration spokeswoman, said the intent was to focus resources on the online application and other aspects of the site.

“We made a business decision to prioritize resources,” she said.

The White House is scrambling to prevent further fallout from the healthcare law, especially a suggestion from some lawmakers to postpone the law’s requirement that all Americans carry insurance in 2014, or face a fine, unless the website is improved.

This week, the administration clarified that the deadline for signing up is March 31, the end of open enrollment. Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who is up for reelection next year in North Carolina, suggested Thursday the enrollment period should be extended. Under the law, people who go without insurance for three consecutive months can face the tax penalty.

In the hearing room, the soaring rhetoric was a reminder that the heated debate over Obamacare is far from over.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) suggested visitors to the website could not be guaranteed their personal privacy, prompting Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) to declare the hearing a “monkey court.”

Republicans formed an unusual alliance with Democrats on the committee who expressed disbelief that the website’s high traffic volumes were to blame for its shortcomings.

“That’s really kind of a lame excuse,” said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Menlo Park). “Amazon and Ebay don’t crash the week before Christmas.”

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) called the website’s debut “one of the biggest IT disasters in government history.”

Separately on Thursday, nearly three dozen Republican House members sent Obama a letter asking for Sebelius to be fired.

——————————————————————————————-

Text Source: Lisa Mascaro and Kathleen Kennessey, Health website contractors acknowledge late changes, limited tests, Los Angeles Times, October 24, 2013.

MicroStrategy Introduces Free Analytics Tool for the Desktop

MicroStrategy Analytics YouTube

MicroStrategy Analytics YouTube Video – Click Here

Last Tuesday, October 22, 2013, MicroStrategy revamped and expanded its line of BI software to incorporate big-data analytics and desktop visualization.

“We’re delivering a substantial new set of functionality,” said Kevin Spurway, MicroStrategy’s vice president of industry and mobile marketing.

The company has rebranded and upgraded its flagship BI application, now called the MicroStrategy Analytics Platform, and has introduced a new desktop application designed to allow business analysts to easily parse large data sets from different sources.

MicroStrategy Analytics Enterprise 9.4, a significant upgrade from MicroStrategy 9.3.1, includes a new capability the company calls data blending, which allows users to combine data from more than one source; the software stores the data in working memory without the need for a separate data integration product.

“Previously, we were able to combine data from different sources, but it required work from IT. Now any business user can grab data from different sources and bring them together with only a few clicks,” Spurway said.

Also new: The dashboard panel has been upgraded. It now can update data in real-time and can display multimedia files such as videos.

The new platform comes with a range of connectors for various types of big-data repositories. It can connect with the MongoDB NoSQL data store as well as Hadoop distributions from Hortonworks, Intel and Pivotal.

Analytics Enterprise now comes with the R statistical programming language, increasingly used for statistical analysis. Geographic Information System (GIS) software and service vendor Esri have provided a set of map skins and cartographic markers that can be used for geographic renditions of data sets.

MicroStrategy also has improved the performance of the software. The application can now fit 10 times as much data in memory as the previous version could, and the self-service querying now runs up to 40 percent faster.

In addition to updating its core enterprise software, MicroStrategy has also released a free tool to help business analysts fetch data from various sources and copy it directly to their desktops.

With the newly released MicroStrategy Analytics Desktop, users can grab data from relational databases, multidimensional databases, cloud-based applications and Hadoop deployments. Once on the desktop, the data can then be compiled into visualizations, such as basic pie charts, maps, graphs and various matrices.

You can click on the image below to download the software.

MicroStrategy Analytics Desktop Features

Click here to download free software

Infographic: The Definition of Data Science

Well, I did not get to blog about the various architectures and other interesting  topics about New York City this week, but plan to visit these topics on my next visit here.

I was thumbing through Twitter and came across this Data Science Central blog by Michael Walker about The Professionalization of Data Science. I was particularly interested in the Henry Beck-style infographic created by Swami Chandrasekaran that was used in the blog. It follows similar patterns that Beck used in his design of the London Underground Tube Map. I though it was quite clever and well thought out.

I have included Mr. Chandrasekaran’s diagram below as well as a link to Mr. Walker’s blog.

Best Regards,

Michael

image

Infographic: The Greatest Game You Never Saw (Orange County Register)

Saw this on Facebook posted by Charles Apple from the Orange County Register. Notre Dame plays Southern Cal for the 85th time this weekend. For yesterday’s Focus page (October 18, 2013), Kurt Snibbe recaps their first meeting in 1926.

The Greatest Game You Never Saw

Infographic: Halloween Pop-Costume Index

Celebrating 30 years in the fright business, Spirit Halloween offers a look back at how the hottest pop culture trends became the most iconic costumes of the past three decades. From box office hits to small screen stars and celebrity stunners, these are the costumes that captured America’s imagination.

Halloween Pop-Costume Index

How We Learn: My Critique of the Time Magazine The Price Of College Graph – Part 4

Over the past three days, I have been discussing a Special College Report article that is in the current issue of Time Magazine (October 7, 2013). It is titled Class of 2025 How They’ll Learn and What They’ll Pay.

The first three parts are as follows:

Part 1, Teaching Methods that involved critical thinking I experienced early in my education when I took a course on the History of Napoleon at Texas A&M Univerity in the early 1980s from the late Dr. Shirley Black.

Part 2, I discussed the Time Magazine article, Online learning will make college cheaper. It will also make it better by L. Rafael Reif, President of MIT, Mr. Reif states that “digital learning is the most important innovation in education since the printing press.” He then describes the benefits of digital learning.

Part 3, I discussed the a MOOC class I took earlier this year from Professor Alberto Cairo titled introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization.

Today, in this fourth and final part of this series, I provide a critique of The Price of College graph from the aforementioned Time Magazine article.

The Price of College Graph

The question the Time magazine graph wants to answer is if rising tuition has made the price of a degree out of reach as opposed to other big-ticket expenses a family would have. The graph is a horizontal line graph with five series: house, 50 most expensive colleges, public tuition, private tuition, and new car price. The series is based on 2012 dollars and runs for 12 years from 2000 – 2012.

I tried to first focus on the lines related to tuition. As we can see, all of them are increasing over the 12-year period. However, the author of the graph then projects what these costs will be by the year 2025, which is the focus of the Special College Report. They show us the projected numbers, but just have then linearly following the path of the existing line. I have shown with red arrow lines where they actually would appear based on the Y axis (cost). I think if they had allowed the lines to increase to its value on the Y axis, the rise of tuition then shows the dramatic increase in the future. More specifically, the 50 most expensive colleges has a dramatic increase.

It would have also been nice to see them also project a single family home and a new car out to the year 2025. I realize the house market is in flux, but again, we are projecting. Will the housing market fully recover and houses double by then? Will new cars continue its incremental increase or will there be a spike upward or downward?

Also, it would be nice to have some indicator that shows that private college tuition is approximately double of public college tuition. Is there a want to quantify (or justify) the additional cost of sending your child to a private school (I’ll pick on my alma mater for this; is four years at Harvard worth the extra cost versus going to Texas A&M?).

The small graph in the bottom left corner is interesting in that it shows the actual increase for the past 40 years. However, should it have been overshadowed by the larger graph in this example or have been shown separately so it is in front and in full focus? Clear, over the 40 year span, all costs are dramatically increasing except for the housing bubble crash of the past 5 years or so.

Time - The Price Of College Graph - Revised

In Summary

I hope you enjoyed this four-part series on The Class of 2025 and How We Learn. I will be working in New York City the next few weeks and will be blogging about interesting data visualization topics related to New York.

Until next time.

Best Regards,

Michael

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