Author Archive: Michael

Jock Mackinlay and Tableau’s Research Team is Building Tomorrow’s UX for Data

Readers:

I thought I would present some interesting information visualization research being conducted at Tableau Software by Jock Mackinlay (photo, right) and his research team.Jock Mackinlay. Source: Tableau Software

Mr. Mackinlay is an information visualization expert and Vice President of Visual Analysis at Tableau Software. With Stuart K. Card, George G. Robertson and others he invented a number of Information Visualization techniques. [1] Mr. Mackinlay, joined Tableau in 2004 after 18 years specializing in data visualization at Xerox PARC.

Tableau Software was born of academic research, and as the company continues to grow, it is building an R&D division to help build a pipeline of innovation. Jock, who heads up the research team, explains how it works and what his team is working on.

I cite references (most of this blog post is based on Derrick Harris’ interview with Mr. Mackinlay in Gigaom) after this blog post for those of you who want to delve deeper into what Jock’s team is doing.

Best regards,

Michael

Tableau Software and Their Research Culture

Tableau LogoTableau Software is many things: a fast-growing thorn in the side of legacy analytics vendorsstock-market gold and the poster child for the next generation of user-friendly data analysis, among them. It’s also a company with a deeply rooted and growing research culture that’s responsible for nearly everything users see when they open its popular visualization application. [2]

Tableau itself is the product of a Stanford Ph.D. dissertation by co-founder and Chief Development Officer Chris Stolte, in conjunction with his then-professor and eventual co-founder Pat Hanrahan. Their project, called Polaris, combined a structured query language with a declarative language for describing data visualization. When they commercialized the research by founding Tableau, that combination – which came together into a technology called VizQL – became the defining feature of the drag-and-drop Tableau experience.

However, the true value of what Stolte and Hanrahan created wasn’t just that let it let mainstream users query data visually and generate graphs, said Mackinlay. There had been a lot of research around ideal ways to visualize data — including his own — but they often focused on customized views of a single problem or type of analysis.“The real power [of Tableau] was to go through a bunch of different views to answer one question,” Mackinlay said. “All you have to be an expert at is your data and the questions you want to ask of it.”

The new research division within Tableau (technically, it was really created about a year and a half ago) is trying to imagine and create the next set of technologies that change the way data analysis is done. The five-person team, which Mackinlay heads, consists of four visualization experts (including Mackinlay), a couple of whom are also specialize in statistics and one of whom specializes in high-performance computing. The fifth member specializes in natural-language processing and computer graphics.

Like most research divisions, the team writes academic papers and works on some projects that might not be applicable for years, but Mackinlay made it pretty clear that the researchers expect everything they’re doing could be commercialized. If there was one thing that separated the famous Bell Labs from Xerox PARC or even Microsoft Research, it’s that Bell was really good at doing really good research that made its way into products, he said. Good research labs need to find the middle ground between nearsighted product upgrades and pie-in-the-sky ideas and, he explained, “You have to have absolutely no gap between the research scientists … and the people who are actually doing the work.”

A still image of an interactive Story Points slideshow. Source: Tableau Public user Matt Francis

Research Leads to Tableau Story Points Feature

Robert-Kosara-Tableau-Software-200x200It’s at a much, much smaller scale than Bell Labs, but Mackinlay thinks Tableau is following down that right path. For example, he said, the Story Points feature in the latest release of the company’s software, allows users to create data slideshows, was the result of tight work between the product team and researcher Robert Kosara (photo, right), who had been doing research into this area for years. As data volumes, dataset complexity and user sophistication all increase, Mackinlay said systems-level research into data processing (including how to optimize for increased client-side computing power) has and will continue to help deliver a smooth user experience.He’s understandably less forthcoming about what, specifically, we can expect to see from Tableau in the near term, but Mackinlay did discuss a few areas of interest. One is making it easier to use aesthetically pleasing icons rather than text labels in charts, an area where he and colleague Vidya Setlur (the aforementioned NLP and graphics specialist) recently published a paper. He’s also interested in text analysis and NLP, and generally adding new types of visualizations — some of which those types of analysis will help enable. For example, “node-link diagrams” (aka graphswill happen, he said, although he can’t put an exact data on when.icons

Mackinlay also suggested that Tableau might expand beyond its current product lineup, which is essentially the same software delivered via the desktop (free and paid), server or cloud. “We can make our existing products easy to use,” Mackinlay said. “We can also make new products that are easy to use — perhaps radically easier than our existing products.”

Although the word “easy” is kind of a misnomer, it’s one that’s used to describe Tableau and other user-friendly software quite often. “Easy” connotes shallowness, Mackinlay said, making an analogy to the evolution of the telephone. Phones have evolved a great deal from those where users just rang the operator, to rotary phones, and now to modern smartphones. With every iteration, manufacturers had to strike the right balance maintaining a recognizable experience but also adding more capabilities.

“We use the two words ‘simple’ and ‘useful,’” he said. “… If you don’t make sure you’re useful, people just aren’t going to stick with you.”

—————————————————————————–

References

[1]  Jock D. Mackinlay, Wikipedia.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jock_D._Mackinlay.

[2] Derrick Harris, A tiny research team at tableau is building tomorrow’s UX for data, Gigaom, July 7, 2014, http://gigaom.com/2014/07/07/a-tiny-research-team-at-tableau-is-building-tomorrows-ux-for-data/.

DataViz: Graphing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Bucket of IceReaders:

As anyone currently on social media knows, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has turned into a fun and successful way to help fight Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS. From neighborhood driveways and city streets to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, people everywhere can be seen dumping buckets of ice water on their heads to raise awareness and funds to fight ALS.

Children, adults and celebrities alike are joining the social media phenomenon to fight back against a disease that currently has no treatments or cures. “We have been moved beyond words by the power of one family’s ability to make such a meaningful difference in the fight against a disease that has taken too many lives,” said MDA President and CEO Steven M. Derks. “All of us at MDA are incredibly grateful to everyone who has taken the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and donations for ALS. It will take all of us working together to find treatments and cures, and MDA will not rest until we end ALS.”

The viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge started when 29-year-old Pete Frates, diagnosed with ALS in 2012, posted an ice bucket video on social media and challenged a few friends to follow his lead. The #ALSIceBucketChallenge has since become a social media sensation, sweeping the country with compassion and support. “Increased awareness about ALS is critical to help us learn more about the disease,” Derks said. “But what we need more than ever is action. Together, our collective actions can translate into significant progress against ALS. We hope everyone will join us to fight back by making a donation at mda.org and participating with us at a local MDA event in your community.”

 

Vikesh KhannaVikesh Khanna (photo, right), took a rather unique approach to the ALS Bucket Challenge using data visualization. Mr. Khanna, is a Computer Science Masters student at Stanford University. He was born and brought up in Haridwar, a small religious town in North India. He likes computer programming, reading, badminton, music and wine. If you’re looking for his official symbol, that’d be a crashing Zeppelin.

Vikesh came up with an idea of visualizing all of the people who have taken the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, who called that person out to do so, and any photos or videos associated with it. Using his application, you can interactively select a person to see how they did the challenge, who they called out to do it, and even the associated video. Below is a screenshot of Vikesh’s data visualization.

Image-1 So, to test Vikesh’s application, I decided to see what Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, did for her ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. So, using the search page of Vikesh’s application, I searched for “Sheryl Sandberg.” The following information appeared (see two screenshots below). You will see information like: who challenged her (Mark Zuckerberg), how long it has been since she was challenged (278.9 hours), has she completed the challenge (she hasn’t yet), and her popularity score (493.914825). 

Sheryl Sandberg - Graph Sheryl Sandberg - Find

For you folks that want to try Vikesh’s application, I recommend you try it on an iPad using the Safari browser. I had problems with Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox.

Here is a link to his application.

I thought I would finish this blog post by provided you some more information about ALS. Even if you don’t want to have a cold bucket of ice water dumped on your head, please donate.

Best regards,

Michael

 

What is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?

ALS is a disease of the parts of the nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. In ALS, motor neurons (nerve cells that control muscle cells) are gradually lost. As these motor neurons are lost, the muscles they control become weak and then nonfunctional.

The word “amyotrophic” comes from Greek roots that mean “without nourishment to muscles” and refers to the loss of signals nerve cells normally send to muscle cells. “Lateral” means “to the side” and refers to the location of the damage in the spinal cord. “Sclerosis” means “hardened” and refers to the hardened nature of the spinal cord in advanced ALS.

In the United States, ALS also is called Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after the Yankees baseball player who died of it in 1941. In the United Kingdom and some other parts of the world, ALS is often called motor neurone diseasein reference to the cells that are lost in this disorder.

Who gets ALS?

ALS usually strikes in late middle age (the late 50s is average) or later, although it also occurs in young adults and even in children, as well as in very elderly people. Some forms of ALS have their onset in youth. Men are slightly more likely to develop ALS than are women. Studies suggest an overall ratio of about 1.2 men to every woman who develops the disorder.

What causes ALS?

Years ago, it was widely believed that there might be one cause to explain all cases of ALS. Today, doctors and scientists know that can’t be the case, and they’re working to identify the multiple causes of the disorder. One thing they do know is that ALS cannot be “caught,” or transmitted from one person to another.

The causes of the vast majority of ALS cases are still unknown. Investigators theorize that some individuals may be genetically predisposed to developing the disease, but only do so after coming in contact with an environmental trigger. The interaction of genetics and environment may hold clues as to why some individuals develop ALS.

Although the majority of ALS cases are sporadic, meaning there is no family history of the disease, about 5 to 10 percent of cases are familial, meaning the disease runs in the family. A common misconception is that only familial ALS is “genetic.” Actually, both familial and sporadic ALS can stem from genetic causes. And some people who have a diagnosis of sporadic ALS may carry ALS-causing genetic mutations that can be passed on to offspring. A genetic counselor can help people with ALS understand inheritance and any associated risks for family members.

What are the symptoms of ALS?

ALS results in muscles that are weak and soft, or stiff, tight and spastic. Muscle twitches and cramps are common; they occur because degenerating axons (long fibers extending from nerve-cell bodies) become “irritable.” Symptoms may be limited to a single body region, or mild symptoms may affect more than one region. When ALS begins in the bulbar motor neurons, the muscles used for swallowing and speaking are affected first. Rarely, symptoms begin in the respiratory muscles.

As ALS progresses, symptoms become more widespread, and some muscles become paralyzed while others are weakened or unaffected. In late-stage ALS, most voluntary muscles are paralyzed.

The involuntary muscles, such as those that control the heartbeat, gastrointestinal tract and bowel, bladder and sexual functions are not directly affected in ALS. Sensations, such as vision, hearing and touch, are also unaffected.

About 50 percent of people with ALS develop some degree of cognitive (thinking) or behavioral abnormality. Usually, cognitive and behavioral symptoms in ALS range from mild (such that only close family members may notice a difference) to moderate.

What is the life expectancy in ALS?

Each person’s disease course is unique. There are a number of examples of people who are leading productive and active lives more than two decades after an ALS diagnosis.

Standard longevity statistics citing an average survival time of three to five years after diagnosis may be somewhat out of date because changes in supportive care and technology — especially for breathing and nutrition — may help prolong life.

What can be done about ALS?

Medical interventions and technology have vastly improved the quality of life for people with ALS, by assisting with breathing, nutrition, mobility and communication. Proper management of symptoms, and proactive use of medical interventions and equipment, can make a positive difference in day-to-day living, and potentially may lengthen survival. The FDA-approved drug riluzole (brand name Rilutek) has been shown to slightly increase longevity.

What is the status of ALS research?

A number of strategies and approaches are being tested around the world, both in the laboratory and in human clinical trials. MDA’s basic science program is constantly pursuing new avenues of research to understand the underlying causes of ALS, with a sharp focus on developing treatments.

As of 2012, intense research is being conducted on genetic factors in ALS, the role of the immune system in ALS, and the role of cells other than nerve cells in this disease. In addition, many medications and other treatments are being tested for potential benefits in ALS. For details about current ALS research, go to Research and Clinical Trials.

Source:

MDA Website, http://mda.org/disease/amyotrophic-lateral-sclerosis/overview.

 

Infographic: The Insane Amount of Unoccupied Space in the World’s Tallest Buildings

Readers:

Matt ShawMatt Shaw, recently posted this blog on the Architizer web site. Mr. Shaw is an architecture writer, editor, etc. interested in political aesthetics, interaction design and comedy as formal generator.

Matt is the founder and co-editor of Mockitecture, a half-manifesto/half-satire collection of architectural debauchery. He has worked for the Columbia Laboratory for Architectural Broadcasting (C-Lab), Storefront for Art and Architecture, and been published in Beyond, Domus, Icon, and the Architect’s Newspaper. He recently finished writing and researching the guidebook Europe’s Top 100 Architecture and Design Schools, for Domus, and helped edit Reiser + Umemoto’s O-14: Projection and Reception for AA Publications. He has been an invited critic at numerous schools including Yale University, Syracuse University and UCLA.

Visit Matt’s Mockitecture web site by clicking here.

Best Regards,

Michael

No Vacancy – Really?

Skyscrapers have long been a contest of sorts. Owners are secretive about the actual height of their buildings, so that others do not eclipse them before their time as tallest has come. The tricks that designers use to inflate tall buildings’ heights are impressive, too. Spires and decorative elements are often used to get those last few precious feet.

Vacancy Tallest Buildings

Image courtesy CTBUH

But underneath these shiny glass facades is another trick. A recent Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) study illustrates that big chunks of useless space are hidden at the top of many of the world’s skyscrapers in order to inflate their height. In fact, as much as one-third of a building’s height can be “vanity space.” Consider it space as decoration.

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa. Image courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

The building that is set to be the world’s tallest, the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia, set off the Council’s alarms. A case study suggested that the structure was designed with decorative, height-inflating space on top, inside of its unoccupied spire. This led the CTBUH to investigate this phenomenon in super-tall buildings, defining “vanity space” as “the distance between a skyscraper’s highest occupiable floor and its architectural top.”

Kingdon Tower

Kingdon Tower. Image courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

The current tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, has an enormous 800-foot spire that accounts for almost one-third of its 2,716-foot height. The building with the most useless decorative space is the Ukraina Hotel in Moscow. Its unoccupiable space makes up almost half, or 42 percent, of its 675-foot height. In the United Arab Emirates, we find some of the most “vain” skyscrapers, with an average of 19 percent vanity space, including the vainest super-tall, the Burj Al-Arab in Dubai, which has a useless 39 percent of its 1,053-foot height.

Burj Al-Arab

Burj Al-Arab. Image via www.amazingplacesonearth.com

 

Infographic: The U.S. Government’s Missing Money

Please read the text narrative, provided by the editors at Masters in Accounting Degrees, listed right after the infographic they created below.

Missing Money Infographic

 

The editors at Masters in Accounting Degrees decided to research the topic of

Missing Money

With a national debt approaching $17 trillion, Uncle Sam is tightening his belt and looking under the cushions for extra change. But a closer look at his pocket book reveals just how little he knows about where your money is going. Below are a few examples that will make you think twice about Uncle Sam’s accounting skills.

There’s No Business Like D.O.D. Business (2000)

2000 (From a Government Accounting Office Report): Several major departments are not yet able to produce auditable financial statements on a consistent basis. The most significan … is the Department of Defense (DOD), which represents a large percentage of the government’s assets, liabilities, and net costs, followed by the Forest Service, the FAA, and the IRS. While DOD has made progress and is working hard to correct its financial management systems and internal control weaknesses, it is not yet able to comply with generally accepted accounting principles and pass the test of an independent financial audit. For fiscal year 1999 GAO auditors reported that 21 of 24 major agencies’ financial systems did not comply substantially with federal accounting standards or financial systems and other requirements.

Unsupported Adjustments

By law, each federal agency and department is required as a minimum to balance its books at the close of each fiscal year and to submit audited financial statements. However, both Congress and the White House have continued to appropriate and pay government officials, bureaucrats, and government contractors who plug in dollar amount under the category “unsupported adjustment.” An “unsupported adjustment” is a plug figure for cash and assets that are unaccounted for and/or disbursed with no supporting records or audit trail.

Black budget

A black budget is a budget that is secretly collected from the overall income of a nation; the budget is kept secret for national security reasons. Bottom line: we may never know exactly how much is spent or how much is missing from a black budget.

Dude, Where’s my $2.3 Trillion (1999)

$2.3 trillion of balances, transactions and adjustments are inadequately documented, according to a 1999 Defense audit. Military money managers made almost $7 trillion in adjustments to their financial ledgers in an attempt to make things add up. Alas, the Pentagon could not show receipts for $2.3 trillion of those changes.

“According to some estimates, we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions. We cannot share information from floor to floor in this building because it’s stored on dozens of technological systems that are inaccessible or incompatible.”

- Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld 9/10/2001

Tanks, Planes, and Javelin Missile Command Launch Units (2003)

Though Defense has long been notorious for waste, government reports suggest the Pentagon’s money management woes have reached astronomical proportions in 2003. A study by the Defense Department’s inspector general found that the Pentagon couldn’t properly account for more than a trillion dollars in monies spent. A 2003 GAO report found Defense inventory systems so lax that the U.S. Army lost track of 56 airplanes, 32 tanks, and 36 Javelin missile command launch-units.

Cash on a Plane (2004)

Back in 2003, Pentagon officials determined that one giant C-130 Hercules cargo plane could carry $2.4 billion in shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills. They sent an initial full planeload of cash, followed by 20 other flights to Iraq. By May 2004 they had sent $12-billion and eventually $20 billion. Despite years of audits and investigations, U.S. Defense officials still cannot say what happened to $6.6 billion of that cash. The missing $6.6 billion may be “the largest theft of funds in national history.”

Contractors Gone Wild (2002-2011)

As much as $60 billion in U.S. funds has been lost to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade through lax oversight of contractors, poor planning and payoffs to warlords and insurgents, an independent panel investigating U.S. wartime spending (Commission on Wartime Contracting ) estimates. At least $31 billion has been lost and the total could be as high as $60 billion. The commission called the estimate “conservative.”

Crude Awakening (2004-2007)

The U.S. Defense Department is unable to properly account for over 95 percent of $9.1 billion in Iraqi oil money tapped by the U.S. for rebuilding the war ravaged nation, according to an audit released Tuesday. The audit found that shoddy record keeping by the Defense Department left the Pentagon unable to fully account for $8.7 billion it withdrew between 2004 and 2007 from a special fund set up by the U.N. Security Council. Of that amount, Pentagon “could not provide documentation to substantiate how it spent $2.6 billion.” The funds are separate from the $53 billion allocated by Congress for rebuilding Iraq.

The Money Tip (2003-2012)

An audit report released in March 2013, two weeks before the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the soon-to-be-defunct Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) found that incomplete data and inconsistent cost reporting have made it impossible to track a large portion of the $53 billion the U.S. spent to rebuild Iraq from 2003 through September 30, 2012 – “Nonetheless, based on the 390 audits and inspections and over 600 investigations conducted by SIGIR’s audit, inspection, and investigative staff since 2004, our judgement is that waste would range up to at least 15% of Iraq relief and reconstruction spending or at least $8 billion.”

The Hunt for Fed’s 9 Trillion

From 2008-2009, the Fed had placed $9 trillion onto their off-balance sheet. During a congressional hearing, the Federal Reserve Inspector General could not account for the money.

TOTAL
- D.O.D. – 3.4 trillion
- Fed – 9 trillion
- Total – 12.4 trillion

These are estimates based on what is known about the unknown; nevertheless, 12.4 trillion is 73% of America’s entire national debt. That’s a whole lot of missing money. Maybe that’s why the Founding fathers said this:

“No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law; and a regular statement and account of receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.”

- US Constitution, Article I, Section 9

Sources

- http://www.usgovernmentdebt.us/spending_chart_1999_2013USb_14s2li111mcn_H0fG0f
- http://www.usdebtclock.org
- http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/business/cbo-cuts-2013-deficit-estimate-by-24-percent.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
- http://www.gao.gov/pas/2001/d01241.pdf
- http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/IB87201.pdf
- http://www.whereisthemoney.org/FAQ-detail.htm
- http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=44199
- http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=430
- http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Military-waste-under-fire-1-trillion-missing-2616120.php
- http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2010/07/27/pentagon-account-87-billion-iraqi-funds/
- http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/06/19/missing-iraq-money-may-be-as-much-as-18-billion/
- http://cybercemetery.unt.edu/archive/cwc/20110929213820/http://www.wartimecontracting.gov/docs/CWC_FinalReport-lowres.pdf
- http://www.sigir.mil/embargo/files/audits/13-006.pdf

Thomson Reuters: Unintentional Venn Diagram

From our friends over at FlowingData.

Most people probably wouldn’t think much about this poster that shows the values of Thomson Reuters. But when you think of the graphic as a Venn diagram, it’s hard to see much else.

Unintentional-Venn-Diagram

Infographic: Texas Trivia

Readers:

Tomorrow is my last day in Austin and I thought I would end this trip with a fun infographic from The Great State of Texas.

Here is an infographic of Texas Trivia from Cash1Loans from their blog site this past July.

This infographic is filled with trivia about the Lone Star State. If you live in Texas or are simply curious about Texas, then explore all the fun and interesting facts.

Here are some of the interesting statistics that you may not know:

  • Texas was an independent nation from 1836 to 1845. When it was annexed in 1845, it retained the right to fly its flag at the same height as the national flag.
  • The World’s first rodeo was in Pecos, TX and occurred on July 4, 1883.
  • The battle cry “Remember the Alamo!” is usually thought to be said by Sam Houston but was actually coined by Sidney Sherman. Sherman was a Texas general.
  • The most popular snack foods in Texas are Frito pies (a bag of Fritos mixed with chili, cheese, and onions eaten straight from the bag), peanuts in Dr Pepper, jalapenos, beef jerky, and corn dogs.
  • King Ranch, located in South Texas, is larger than Rhode Island.
  • More wool comes from the state of Texas than any other state in the United States.
  • If you live in North Texas and the Panhandle then you’ve probably seen quite a few tornadoes. With an average of 139 tornadoes per year, Texas experiences the most in the United States.
  • Aransas Wildlife Refuge is the winter home of North America’s only remaining flock of whooping cranes.

Best regards y’all,

Michael

Texas Triva Infographic

Infographic: Armadillos (Municipios) by Alfredo Vela

Readers:

I am back in Austin this week on business. I wanted to showcase another Texas-themed infographic and have chosen one from Alfredo Vela. I have always been fascinated with the Armadillo and found Mr. Vela’s infographic full of great information on our little animal friend.

Alfredo VelaAlfredo Vela has developed his career in the world of corporate training in the areas of ICT, IT, media policy and social skills. He has directed several companies in this field, and is currently managing partner of the Social Enterprises Media ICT and Training, a company that has 5 focus areas:. communication, training, social media, digital marketing and infographics. Mr. Vela has given more than 40,000 hours of training over 250 conferences throughout the Spanish geography and maintains several blogs, one in the journal Economic Castilla y León , another in ICT and training , with almost 5 million visitors and a third called Infografiasencastellano.com.  

He has worked for Renault , Michelin, General Council of the Judiciary, General Council of Lawyers, National Employment, Public Employment Service of Castile and Leon, coercio and Industry Chamber of Valladolid, Vallisoletana Confederation of Employers, University of Valladolid, University of Jaén, European School of Marketing and Business … among others.

I hope you enjoy his infographic as much as I do.

Best Regards,

Michael

Infographic: The Ebola Virus: Are You at Risk?

Zaire Ebola Virus is a great threat to the people living in West Africa. Since this past winter (2014), 1,323 people have been infected. The death rates are ongoing in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and most recently Nigeria. Originally spreading through contaminated bush meat, this deadly virus has caused alarm worldwide. Should you worry about Ebola?

View the HelloMD infographic below to find out and learn more about Ebola.

Ebola_Infographic

National Geographic: Food Desert in America

Readers:

In the past, I have encouraged you to submit your data visualizations on subjects that are important to you as well as would provide awareness to the rest of us.

Anna Kukelhaus Dynan, from The National Geographic Society, sent me an important graphic that National Geographic magazine has put together. It is a very insightful graphic regarding hunger in America, specifically on what a “food desert” (areas where households lack a car and are located more than half a mile from a supermarket) looks like. The graphic, below, running in this month’s issue of National Geographic magazine, along with a feature story on “The New Face of Hunger” (part of their 8 month series on issues of food security and sustainability), which depicts the food desert that is Houston, Texas (affecting 43,000 households). The graphic is startling, as the average person may not realize that the typical hungry American is not necessarily homeless, but employed, with a cell phone, and other “stuff.” The feature article explores why and how people become food insecure, a topic that recently made headlines due to The Washington Post article about the mother who drove her Mercedes to pick up food stamps.

I am honored that Anna reached out to me to run this graphic. This is a critical issue in America today that we all need to be aware of.

Best regards,

Michael

Help for the Hungry

More than 48 million Americans rely on what used to be called food stamps, now SNAP: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Hunger - US Map

 

As the face of hunger has changed, so has its address. The town of Spring, Texas, is where ranchland meets Houston’s sprawl, a suburb of curving streets and shade trees and privacy fences. The suburbs are the home of the American dream, but they are also a place where poverty is on the rise. As urban housing has gotten more expensive, the working poor have been pushed out. Today hunger in the suburbs is growing faster than in cities, having more than doubled since 2007.

Yet in the suburbs America’s hungry don’t look the part either. They drive cars, which are a necessity, not a luxury, here. Cheap clothes and toys can be found at yard sales and thrift shops, making a middle-class appearance affordable. Consumer electronics can be bought on installment plans, so the hungry rarely lack phones or televisions. Of all the suburbs in the country, northwest Houston is one of the best places to see how people live on what might be called a minimum-wage diet: It has one of the highest percentages of households receiving SNAP assistance where at least one family member holds down a job. The Jefferson sisters, Meme and Kai, live here in a four-bedroom, two-car-garage, two-bath home with Kai’s boyfriend, Frank, and an extended family that includes their invalid mother, their five sons, a daughter-in-law, and five grandchildren. The house has a rickety desktop computer in the living room and a television in most rooms, but only two actual beds; nearly everyone sleeps on mattresses or piles of blankets spread out on the floor.

Though all three adults work full-time, their income is not enough to keep the family consistently fed without assistance. The root problem is the lack of jobs that pay wages a family can live on, so food assistance has become the government’s—and society’s—way to supplement low wages. The Jeffersons receive $125 in food stamps each month, and a charity brings in meals for their bedridden matriarch.

Like most of the new American hungry, the Jeffersons face not a total absence of food but the gnawing fear that the next meal can’t be counted on. When Meme shows me the family’s food supply, the refrigerator holds takeout boxes and beverages but little fresh food. Two cupboards are stocked with a smattering of canned beans and sauces. A pair of freezers in the garage each contain a single layer of food, enough to fill bellies for just a few days. Meme says she took the children aside a few months earlier to tell them they were eating too much and wasting food besides. “I told them if they keep wasting, we have to go live on the corner, beg for money, or something.”

Stranded in a Food Desert

Tens of thousands of people in Houston and in other parts of the U.S. live in a food desert: They’re more than half a mile from a supermarket and don’t own a car, because of poverty, illness, or age. Public transportation may not fill the gap. Small markets or fast-food restaurants may be within walking distance, but not all accept vouchers. If they do, costs may be higher and nutritious options fewer.

 

Hunger - Houston_map_web

Jacqueline Christian is another Houston mother who has a full-time job, drives a comfortable sedan, and wears flattering clothes. Her older son, 15-year-old Ja’Zarrian, sports bright orange Air Jordans. There’s little clue to the family’s hardship until you learn that their clothes come mostly from discount stores, that Ja’Zarrian mowed lawns for a summer to get the sneakers, that they’re living in a homeless shelter, and that despite receiving $325 in monthly food stamps, Christian worries about not having enough food “about half of the year.”

Christian works as a home health aide, earning $7.75 an hour at a job that requires her to crisscross Houston’s sprawl to see her clients. Her schedule, as much as her wages, influences what she eats. To save time she often relies on premade food from grocery stores. “You can’t go all the way home and cook,” she says.
On a day that includes running a dozen errands and charming her payday loan officer into giving her an extra day, Christian picks up Ja’Zarrian and her seven-year-old, Jerimiah, after school. As the sun drops in the sky, Jerimiah begins complaining that he’s hungry. The neon glow of a Hartz Chicken Buffet appears up the road, and he starts in: Can’t we just get some gizzards, please?

Christian pulls into the drive-through and orders a combo of fried gizzards and okra for $8.11. It takes three declined credit cards and an emergency loan from her mother, who lives nearby, before she can pay for it. When the food finally arrives, filling the car with the smell of hot grease, there’s a collective sense of relief. On the drive back to the shelter the boys eat until the gizzards are gone, and then drift off to sleep.

Christian says she knows she can’t afford to eat out and that fast food isn’t a healthy meal. But she’d felt too stressed—by time, by Jerimiah’s insistence, by how little money she has—not to give in. “Maybe I can’t justify that to someone who wasn’t here to see, you know?” she says. “But I couldn’t let them down and not get the food.”

 Sources
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Tracie McMillan is the author of The American Way of Eating and a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. Photographers Kitra Cahana, Stephanie Sinclair, and Amy Toensing are known for their intimate, sensitive portraits of people.

The magazine thanks The Rockefeller Foundation and members of the National Geographic Society for their generous support of this series of articles.

Maps and graphics by Virginia W. Mason and Jason Treat, NGM Staff. Help for the Hungry, sources: USDA; Food Research and Action Center; Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Stranded in a Food Desert, sources: USDA; City of Houston; U.S. Census Bureau. Crop Subsidies, research: Amanda Hobbs. Sources: Mississippi Department of Human Services; Environmental Working Group; National Cancer Institute.

 

 

Infographic: A Guide to Austin Food Trucks

Austin Food Trucks

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