Archive for Uncategorized

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-07

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-02-28

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-02-21

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-02-14

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-02-07

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-01-31

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Twitter Weekly Updates for January 24, 2010

I use Twitter too much. I basically use it as an overflow for my brain in order to maintain some consistent history of links that I like and thing that I thought were funny.

But Twitter is really bad if you want to remember something that happened over a week ago, so I’ve started using Twitter Tools to archive my tweets in something hat is a little easier to figure out.
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Speaking Gigs + My Readership Rocks

Thank you so much to everyone who came out and voted for my information visualization presentation at the MIX conference. I was among ten happy winners.

So I wanted to take a moment and let everyone know that I’ll be in three different cities over the next 4 months for conferences, so if anyone wants a “tweet-up“, I’m more than happy to get together and talk. I love meeting new people and I love to pay for beers (although you’ll probably be limited to something cheap due to budget constraints).

Anyway, I’ll be in the following places over the coming months.

CPAC – Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington D.C.
February 18th, 3:00 PM

I’ll be speaking as a panelist on:

Blogging, Tweeting and Other Funny Words That Can Win Elections – Maryland Ballroom

Megan Barth,
David All, David All Group
Matthias Shapiro,
Michelle Oddis, Human Events

Moderator: Dr. Melissa Clouthier, and Take That Radio

I’ve met David All, who is a particularly sharp mind and well worth your time. And Melissa Clouthier is clearly a cyborg with a tweeting application wired directly into her cerebral cortex.

MIX – Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, NV
March 15-17

I’ll be speaking on information visualization and how Silverlight makes it easier and more effective. I might be pressed for time on this one because MIX is my big conference for meeting all the awesome geeks who don’t live near me.

APEE – Ceasars’ Palace, Las Vegas, NV
April 11-13

I’ll be speaking on a panel about educating people on economic concepts with video. Also, I love Vegas.

Google I/O – Moscone Center, San Fransisco, CA
May 18 – 20

I won’t be speaking, but I’ll be learning a great deal about Android development (one of my many, many hobbies).

In any case, if you’d like to meet up with me and talk about politics or stats or just yell at me for something I said while I’m at any of these conferences, send me an e-mail (in the About page) and let’s do it.

Bad Visualizations – David McCandless Lets Politics Get In The Way

Well, this makes me sad.

David McCandless runs the fantastic information visualization blog Information is Beautiful. Nearly all of his work is fantastic information visualization (his piece on drug deaths in England is really cool.

He recently created a visual about troops and troop deaths in Afghanistan. One part of the visualization got picked up by Andrew Sullivan. It was a graph on troop levels in Afghanistan and who has contributed the most troops. Mr. McCandless accompanies the chart with the words “That’s a huge amount of hired guns.”

The problem is that McCandless doesn’t source that number. I said to myself “71,700 hired guns? That seems high.” It didn’t pass the smell test.

I looked into the number. Near as I can tell, its basically a huge mistake on McCandless’ part. He didn’t source where he got the “71,700 private security contractors” stat and he didn’t say anything when I tweeted to him to ask where he got it. And he didn’t respond in the comments section of his blog when I asked. So I had to go searching for it.

It looks like the number comes from this Washington Times piece which mentions that there are 71,700 contractors, not all of whom are private security contractors. And yet McCandless not only changes this important data point (HUGE no-no in my book), he goes on to push the point with his “hired guns” comment.

Why would he do such a thing? My guess is that he doesn’t like the war in Afghanistan, so that kind of makes it OK to push a “mercenaries” point of view by lumping all contractors into the “private security” category.

Are you teaching in Kabul? You’re a “hired gun”.

Building a bridge? You’re a “hired gun”.

Flying supplies in? “Hired gun.”

Maintaining a network for the government? “Hired gun.”

Working as a translator? “Hired gun.”

It’s basically a data labeling mistake made worse by an wildly inaccurate (and, frankly, quite stupid) comment.

The reason it’s taken me so long to get to this is because I didn’t want to say anything bad about Mr. McCandless without giving him a chance to explain. It’s obvious to me that he’s not going to. If he does, I’ll post his explanation at the top of this post. But it’s given me new insight into the old saw that a lie is half-way around the world before the truth can get its pants on. Being right and being generous to others is something that takes caution and time.

(By the way, I proceeded to contact Andrew Sullivan and tell him that I thought the information was bogus. He hasn’t responded, but I figure that’s because he’s completely consumed with other correspondence. I optimistically maintain he would correct his post if he had read my note.)

Balancing the Obama Budget With a Mandatory Gorilla


After nearly two months of nothing, I figured I had to put something up. I’ve been tossing this idea around for a while looking for a metaphor that worked appropriately. I didn’t really push the metaphor of a household budget too far in the video because:

  • No one runs a household budget on $100 per month
  • Government does a lot of things that don’t correspond very well to household budgets
  • There is no good correspondence between mandatory spending and anything we budget for in real life.

But it is likely that you simply don’t care about the artistic matter of finding an appropriate metaphor and you only care about where the data came from.

Fair enough.

The data came from a couple of different places. First of all, the first data I’m using is a rough budget projection for 2017. This came from the CBO projection of President Obama’s budget extended to 2017. This is also where I got the federal reciept estimates I used to calculate how much we would have to decrease spending in order to balance the budget as well as the estimates for mandatory spending and interest.

For the purposes of the video, I combined what the CBO calls “mandatory spending” (which is mostly entitlement spending like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) and interest payments on the national debt into a single “mandatory spending” amount because both these parts of the budget are automatic and neither of them can be changed through the normal budget channels.

The next piece of data is the distribution of spending according to agency. In order to estimate how much we would spend on various departments and agencies, I took the latest projected data from President Obama’s budget, which is for 2014. I then calculated that, if we split up spending proportionally the same way in 2017 as we do in 2014 we would end up with the money distribution you see in the video (give or take a few cents).

Then, for the part where I take away the money until the budget is balanced, I simply looked at the amount of money we would have left over after we take care of all the mandatory spending with the receipts we expect to have.

That number was:

Federal Receipts – Mandatory Spending = Money Left To Spend

The “Money Left To Spend” number came out to $427 billion in 2017. The Defense spending in 2017 is anticipated to be about $662 billion, so I got rid of everything except defense spending. Then I started shaving off parts of the defense department until I got to a number small enough to roughly equal $427 billion.

Using this web site as a guide and calculating the proportional spending between the 2010 budget and the 2017 one, I subtracted the entire intelligence budget and the Navy. Then I reduced “Defense Wide” spending by half (I figure with the Navy gone, we don’t need quite as much military support bureaucracy) and I added up the Army, Air Force and the reduced bureaucracy.

That number came to $447 billion. Which means that we’re technically still running a deficit, but it’s a really small one.

One thing I did not do was calculate out how much more we would have to cut if we pass health care reform. This is because the legislation is so fluid and malleable at this point, it seemed pointless to put it into a number that would just change in a couple weeks.

But, I can say this one thing with an enormous level of certainty (and I’ll even put it into bold so you know I’m really serious):

President Obama, despite his best intentions, will not sign a “deficit neutral” bill.

This is because entitlement programs always start out with the best intentions and with rosy predictions. They almost always fail to meet those predictions, costing far more than was originally estimated. The problem is that the programs go on auto-pilot and neither the president nor Congress can do a damn thing to pull back on the costs.

What can be done about this? My suggestion is one that would satisfy no one.

I think President Obama should refuse to sign any legislation that doesn’t have an expiration date on it. If health care reform is really as wonderful as he says it will be, this shouldn’t be a problem. People will adore it, burn incense to it, throw ticker tape parades for it. Voting it back into law would be like raising Abraham Lincoln from the dead and having him run for another term.

But the fact of the matter is that it will never as wonderful as President Obama claims, which is why it can’t have an expiration date. Once people have a benefit, changing the status quo away from that benefit is often politically impossible. Just ask George W. Bush when he tried to change the clearly broken Social Security system. Everyone agreed that it was broken, but no one could muster the political wherewithal to fix it. So they just left it broken.

This is, I believe, exactly what will happen with health care reform. But that part is just my opinion.