Drink for America

I have a four-year-old daughter who asks about everything. Here’s what she knows about America: The King of England used to be in charge.  Then, we told him No! and we fought with his soldiers, and it was a hard fight.  It was an incredible fight.  We hid in the forest, it was cold and it was terrible, but in the end, we fought, and we won.  We sent his soldiers back to England.

And then we, the people, were in charge.  As a result, we get to vote on who’s the President, and on who makes the laws.  A lot of young men died to get it done.  The brightest lights of a generation spent their lives to get it done.

An incredible dream, brought to life on our soil.  Let's fast-forward two hundred years.  If you believe what you read in today's opinion pieces and blogs, you'd think that American democracy is dead.  What do I tell my daughter?  That corporations, lobbyists, and the two-party system really run the country?  And that there's nothing we can do about it?

I don't believe it.  There are a lot of things we can do to make the dream of American democracy not just a beautiful ideal but a fact on the ground.

Here’s one: Drink for America.

Let me put it this way: Who do you talk to about America, politics, the country?

Where I’m from, it ain’t polite to talk about religion, sex, or politics.  For me, it never seems to be the right time to bring it up.  Whatever you think of Occupy Wall Street, I do love how they got people together to provoke discussion, debate, and reflection about what’s wrong with America, and how to fix it.

However, due to its image, OWS is primarily gathering people of a leftward political persuasion, which is too bad.  There are plenty of rightists and libertarians and others who would like to see American democracy restored, both in perception and in reality.  Only when we engage across traditionally dividing lines do we have a chance of forming a more perfect Union.

When will we ever find time to talk about America?

You do go out for a drink with friends from time to time, don't you?  So how about coming out for a drink to talk about America?  Bring your friends if they’re interested.  And if they’re not, ditch ‘em for a night.  Or maybe, you need better friends.

It can be simple.  Meetup is good for organizing this sort of thing.  It could be every Monday night at a quiet neighborhood bar.  Maybe everyone wears a nametag with their name and a proposal.  Mine would say “David / No More Ag Subsidies”.  You may think that's a crap idea; I’d like to hear why.  And I’d love to hear your ideas.

OK, you say, so we’ll have a drink and discuss our ideas.  How does that change anything?

It changes you.

You walk in with one set of ideas and walk out with some different ones.  You might change your mind about something you think is important.  You might find out that some of your favorite ideas actually suck.  Or that everyone agrees with you and your idea is awesome.  You might discover a candidate that really deserves your support.

Remember, it doesn’t actually take that many thoughtful, committed citizens to make a difference.  Test your ideas in the crucible of discussion with friends, associates, enemies and people you just met!  Get some conviction.  You'll find it doesn't take long to write an email or two, make a phone call, or get busy online.  Multiply your activity by tens of thousands of us who feel the same way, and you've become part of a powerful force.  Think about how the American revolution got started in the first place...

So, is Drink for America already happening somewhere?  Taking a look at my local politically-oriented Meetups, every single one is in support of a particular candidate or party.  There's nothing wrong with that, but I'm proposing a different kind of meet-up, a gathering for people to exchange views rather than to strategize about how to advance the views they already share.

It might be fairly described as taking a page from the Occupy Wall Street playbook; that is, we ought to be talking before we’ve decided which candidate, party or proposal to support.

Would you like to help organize this?  I think it'd take two or three co-organizers to make this happen in NYC.  Drop me a line!  Join the group!  How are we going to find the people who are interested in this?  Do they make a bat-signal in the shape of the American flag?

ps. interestingly, not everyone shares my perspective on the American revolution.
pps. thanks to Dave, Peter, Thom and Michele for feedback on drafts of this post!


Pro Tools for Digital Life

Whether it's programming, cooking or carpentry, having the right tools makes a huge difference.

Same goes for communication.

Here's my toolbox. I use these all the time.

  • gmail. best web email ever.
  • the Getting Things Done system. A great methodology for staying on top of what you can, and ditching the rest. Thanks Jon!
  • google calendar.  i can see my wife's calendar when i need to.  one of our regular babysitters keeps her schedule on it and shares it with us.  we can see when she's free/busy, saving everybody time when scheduling.
  • bit.ly.  you give it a long URL and it shortens it.  a pro feature is that you can customize the shortened URL.  for example, the URL for my public Google calendar, which shows my free/busy time but not the details, is http://bit.ly/dsj_cal.  I give that out to anyone I'm scheduling a meeting with.
  • twitter. this is where i go when i want to "read the newspaper". Over the past 6 months I've found 400 people worth following. I think of it as "build your own newspaper". If someone is polluting my stream with stuff I'm not interested in, I just de-follow them. I make no attempt to "keep up" with all the tweets. This is just what I read when I have downtime to read interesting things.
  • news.me's daily email. they scrape my twitter feed to find very interesting things i ought to read. i look at this every day and there's usually one or two really good things in it.
  • buffer.  If you tweet regularly, you need buffer.  They space out your tweets so that you're not overwhelming people.  They also track stats on clicks and retweets.  Why is this useful?  Here's the problem.  Let's say you spend 20 minutes a day reading twitter and re-tweeting the things you find interesting.  So then you've made 5 tweets in the span of 20 minutes, which is probably annoying to some of your followers.  That's where buffer comes in.  Instead of tweeting directly, you Buffer them up using their nice Chrome plugin (if you are not using Chrome now, close this window immediately and install it), and Buffer tweets them out for you at scheduled times.  It might sound a bit OCD, but I think your followers will be happier not getting 5 tweets from you all at once.
  • followupthen.  Send emails to your future self.  In an hour, a day, a week, month, specific date, whatever.  This helps keep your inbox free of clutter that's there only to serve as a reminder.  Example: I email someone, asking them to do something for me.  But I know they're a little busy/forgetful.  So I also bcc 1week@followupthen.com, so that I'll get an email about it in a week.  In a week, when I get the email, if they haven't done anything yet, I can bug them again or otherwise deal with it.  In the interim, my inbox is blissfully clean, which is good since then I'm not devoting valuable brainspace or inbox space to the matter.  This harmonizes very well with the Getting Things Done methodology.
  • ohours.  If you're in a line of business where people "meet for coffee" all the time, you might find it more efficient to schedule a 20-minute videoconf chat instead.  ohours handles the logistics of scheduling and connecting.  If you want to chat with me, here's my ohours.
  • skillshare.  If you have a skill, you should be teaching it.  Today, I'm teaching Fun With Data 101.  If you don't have a skill... come on!  You have a skill!
  • about.me.  A nice place to send people who want to learn more about you.  I need a better picture there.  Someday when Tom and I are on the same coast, he'll take one.
Do you have tools you like?  Add 'em in the comments!

One final note about twitter, buffer and news.me.  I think buffer and news.me are, together, improving serious problems with twitter, from the outside.  Interestingly, they both attack temporal problems with twitter, buffer on the way in and news.me on the way out.  With buffer, I can compose my tweets when I want, and they'll send them out later, on an optimal schedule for my followers.  With news.me, I can read whenever I want, and they've taken the trouble of figuring out which tweets in my stream are most likely to interest me.

What do you think?


Fun With Data 101

Do you wish you could do basic things with data?

Did you know that every Mac comes with some fantastic data-processing tools included?

I recently met someone who'd like to learn the basics, so I'm giving him a little class. But then, he can't be the only who could benefit from such a class, right?  So I'm opening it up to a few more people.

See the details here.


Javascript 101: playing sounds periodically

I'm so bad at Starcraft that I thought it would help if I had a reminder sound play every X seconds to remind me about some basic things I should be doing.

Let me know if this works for you? You can adjust the slider to indicate how often you want to hear the sound, in seconds. Then hit the button.

To make the sound stop, close this window.

Every how many seconds?


Oh and one last thing. How can you actually see the javascript & html that make this page work? I guess that'll be the subject for the next lesson.

If you like this lesson & want more, roll your head around on the keyboard until you've shared it on all social media!


Argument With A Cyclist

Me: hey!

Him: <stares>

Me: dont run people over!

Him: (rides away) suck my deeek! 

Me: i've got something for you right here! (gesture)

Him: (starts to ride back) suck my deeek!

Me: dont run people over! We had the light!

Him: bleeg gleeb universeeety bleeg! Suck my deeeeek!

Me: good one! I see your point! (walks away)

Him: suck my deeek!


Talking to Madeleine about School

While preparing to write Madeleine's pre-K application (blech), I decided to talk to her about school to get some inspiration.

School is just like home.  Cause it’s playing.  We don’t do art, no art.  Just a little bit of art.  We have some snack and we read books after snack until we hear the Put Away the Books song.  We go to the playground, too.  But before the playground, we line up on the footprints.  Not real footprints, just the colored footprints.

About the playground:
There’s a house, and in the middle of the house, you might fall down, but there’s a bridge across, and there’s a house.  And there’s a spaceship with a ladder and a ball at the top, when you climb to the top of the ladder, you spin the ball.  And at the side, you could play.

Who’s there, a Mom?
There’s teachers.  They make sure everyone’s OK, or where they’re supposed to go.

There’s trucks.  Three trucks!  There’s two that’s red.  And one that’s yellow.  And I don’t remember what the colors are.

They have a bookshelf.  And they have a kitchen.  And they have a chair.  And two couches.  One in the kitchen, and one in the block center.  There’s lots of blocks.

Do you like school?
Cause it’s very fun.  And there’s ten students.  If there’s not me, there’d be nine students.
Why is it fun?
Cause all my friends are there.  But some are not there.  Cause some are not in my class.
Why else is it fun?
Cause there’s lots of toys. <shrugs> But not as many as home.
There’s not as many toys at school as at home?  Really?
So do you wish you could just be at home all day?
You wish you could be home all day?
Wow. But you like school, because your friends are there.
So if all your friends at school could be here at home instead, you’d like that better?
Yeah. <sees what I’m writing> S O makes “so” like sewing!
No actually S O makes so not like sewing, it makes SO like a different word, SO which you could say like “So, how are you?” or “So tell me, what’s new?”  It’s a different word. Sew like sewing is spelled S E W.  Like that.  So, if you stayed home instead of going to school, who would be your teacher?
My mom.
Would you like Mom to be your teacher?
Cause I like her at home.
And you think she would be a good teacher?
Yes.  Can I have a napkin, Dad?
<Hands over napkin>.  Why do you think Mom would be a good teacher?
Cause she sometimes goes out, and that’s what camp kids do...
What does that have to do with being a good teacher?
<Repeats> She goes outdoors a lot.
And going outdoors is what makes someone a good teacher?
That’s totally crazy!!!  So if a teacher doesn’t go outdoors a lot, they’re not a good teacher?
That is the silliest thing I ever heard.  You are a crazy lady.
Please move the page down.
So look, what kind of school do you want to go to when you’re a little older?  Like, when you’re in kindergarten, do you want to go to a school that’s lots of playing, or lots of reading, or lots of singing, or lots of everything?
Lots of singing.
Whoa.  Anything else, or just singing all day?
What else?
Playing, reading, dancing...
Playing, and what else?
Reading, dancing, experimenting...
Some reading!
OK, dancing, experimenting,
Dancing, telling stories, drawing pictures
Telling stories.
Dancing, drawing pictures, …
Drawing pictures, and that’s it, OK, Dad?
So here’s the list: Playing, reading, experimenting, telling stories, drawing pictures, and that’s it.  Is that it?
So no dancing?
Whoa!  No dancing?
A little bit of dancing.
I knew it.  So here’s the list: Playing, reading, experimenting, telling stories, drawing pictures, a little bit of dancing, and that’s it.  Anything else?
That’s it.
How about math?
Yeah, lots and lots and lots of math.
Wow!  You like math a lot then?
I didn’t know that.  Oh and how about spelling?
And how about playing music on instruments?
How about learning history, like when America told the King of England he couldn’t be in charge any more?
How about... learning to make things?
Is there anything you don’t want to do in school?
How about gymnastics?
How about soccer?
How about swimming?
Yes! I want to do a swimming team!
What else do you want to do?  How about make robots?
Yeah, and then we could sell them!
That’s a great idea.  What kind of robots would you make?
Scary, scary, scary, scary monster robots.
Whoa!  What would they look like?
They would look like big giants, that are even bigger than you!
OK, anything else you want to say before I stop writing things down?
Hmm, I think we could plant trees.
Whoa, that’s a good idea.  Where?
At, when I’m...  at school when I’m older.
That’s a great idea.  Anything else?
OK, thank you.


More Slaves Now Than in the 18th Century?

The American Interest says

The oldest human rights movement is the anti-slavery movement dating from the 18th century. There are more slaves now than there were when the movement was founded.

In this day and age, we should be able to get basic facts like this in five minute or less, right? So I tried to verify the claim in five minutes or less.

Here's a screencast of my attempt:


I'd chalk this one up as VERIFIED UNSUPPORTED. I found the book that is the likely source, read that part of the book on Amazon, and it looks like the author has not provided any particular back-up for his claim.

If I am wrong, I'd love to hear about it! Please let me know.

NCAA Basketball Profits

Good job, NCAA!

What are you guys doing with the cash?


Federal Spending is Bad, but It's Not THAT Bad

I'm a big fan of educating people about how bad our spending problem is.

Which is why I'm sad when people exaggerate hideously to make the point.

Here's the Heritage Foundation:

The problem with this graph is that it's comparing apples to oranges.

It compares Total Federal Spending, which is for the entire country and is a cost that will be borne by all households, to Median Household Income, which is per household.

The comparison you really want to make, the only one that makes sense, is Total Household Income to Total Federal Spending:

Does the Heritage Foundation think their comparison is more meaningful? Or are they just trying to be sneaky? Or were they just rushing and didn't stop to think?


What's Up With Italy's Birthrate?

Google posted some data from the World Bank into their Public Data Explorer. It included data on birth rates going to back to 1965:

So what's up with Italy's birth rate there?

I googled "Italy baby boom" and here you go: Italy baby-cash aims to boost births

Who knew it was so easy?  Just pay em!


The Data Collective Challenge

Find an interesting article.

Pick one of its quantifiable claims.

Try and verify the numbers in 5 minutes.

Win or lose, post the screencast.

For my first challenge, I try and find out how US government spending compares to the GDP, in 5 minutes or less.  How do you think I did?

I won't spoil the surprise, check it out: http://www.screenr.com/BL2s

Or try it for yourself!  5 minutes, no cheating!


A message.



Medicaid vs GDP: iCharts test


Test post reacting to something at d4t4.org

What the heck is going on at http://d4t4.org/taxpercent.html ?

Those guys must be smoking crack.

Actually this is just a test of the DISQUS system.

trackback: http://disqus.com/forums/d4t4/data_collective_us_taxes_as_percentage_of_personal_income/trackback


Review of "The Wikipedia Revolution"

The Wikipedia Revolution by Andrew Lih

I thought I knew everything worth knowing about Wikipedia already. Of course, I was wrong.

More importantly, I learned things about the rest of the internet:
* Slashdot pioneered meta-moderation, a powerful tool for self-policing a comment-driven community (pg 68)
* Japanese internet culture is much more anonymous; the canonical example is a site called 2channel. (pg 145)
* Chinese writing was simplified after WWII, but not in Taiwan and Hong Kong. A Wikipedia user built a system to automatically translate Wikipedia pages back and forth between the simplified and traditional systems, which was not trivial (pg 153).
* Spanish wikipedia broke off and started their own non-wikipedia wiki encyclopedia after Larry Sanger suggested that wikipedia might carry advertising.
* Larry Sanger strongly regrets that Wikipedia did not give experts a greater role in the system. His attempt to build such a system is called Citizendium. As of June 23, 2011 they have ~16,000 articles, ~160 of which are expert-approved.

Bottom line: if you're interested in understanding how the wikipedia miracle happened, this will give you some insight.


Inflation Chart 2

Inflation, consumer prices (annual %), United States from Timetric

I wish timetric.com would let me upload my own data. Couldn't get http://www.timetric.com/create to work.

Inflation Chart 1


US home prices from 1890 to 2010: ▃▂▂ ▁▁▄▃▄▄▄█▅

I found this Ritholtz post interesting and wanted to tweet the graph visually.

Turns out that Alex Kerin has made a fabulous Excel spreadsheet for converting data into unicode blocks that can form a "sparkbar".

It ain't perfect, but it's a step forward, right?

To create the sparkbar, I took the data from Robert Shiller's page, computed the average value per decade using Excel trickery, and then lowered all the numbers so that the minimum value was zero.

Final result: ▃▂▂ ▁▁▄▃▄▄▄█▅

What do you think?  Is this useful?


Tobacco use vs lung cancer, 1900 - 2005

Tobacco seems very related to lung cancer deaths. And the American love affair with tobacco is clearly on the wane.



I am banned from OGame until Dec 12, 2033:

From OGame's ban list :
28.07.2006 21:46:01 CWB djdjdj 12.12.2033 20:46:01 Account Sharing

But I wasnt account sharing! I was just improving the game.

You see, OGame runs 24-7. You build up your planet's defenses, and send ships to raid other people's planets, blow up their fleets, harvest the scrap metal and take it away. But it runs 24-7!

If some big bad bully launches his fleet towards your planet, all you have to do is RUN. It usually takes an hour or two for his fleet to hit your planet, so you just have to pack up all your ships and any raw metal and fly off to another planet. Fleets in transit can't be attacked by anyone.

The problem is, you have to log in to OGame to be notified about an incoming attack. And OGame runs 24-7.

Obviously, this is a problem to be solved by a computer! So I wrote a little script that ran on my laptop. Every ten minutes, it would log in, and if I was being attacked it would send a text message to my phone.

Michele hated it. However I was also covering for European and Asian trading operations at the time, so I could be getting texted for work-related reasons, which would also send me scurrying to the computer. Ha ha ha chuckle. When she found out I was rolling out of bed because I was under attack, I knew I was not going to be able to pull that stunt anymore and had to take it to the next level.

So, there I was coding scripts to automatically pack up all my spare metal into my ships and fly them off to another one of my planets. It wasnt too hard, the hardest part was dealing with all the finicky bits of OGame's user interface that was designed for humans.

Hours well spent. I'd wake up the next morning to see a log of the night's averted catastrophes. I was invicible!

Before my invention, my ranking hovered around #150 among the star empires of Universe 9. But now my ranking just kept climbing and climbing. I cracked into the top 100 after a week.

Then I added automation to scout neighboring planets. That was fun, getting all the reports on which planets were well-defended, which had piles of metal basically begging to be stolen. Top 75. Then I dumped all the scouting reports into a database. Top 50. Hey, why not automatically send fleets to take metal from the undefended planets? Top 30.

Then the unthinkable came. Time to go on vacation. Would I bring my laptop with me? Then it would have no internet access, and then it wouldn't be checking on my planets. Unacceptable. So, leave the laptop at home, plugged in and running.

But while on vacation, I did find time to log in and check on my empire. Looking good! Top 25. And then while taking the bus home, checked in from my phone.

Then the hammer dropped. Banned for account sharing. Account sharing?
Ok, your account will be unbanned if I can get satisfactory answers to the following questions.

On the 23rd of July, how did you manage to get from New York to Atlanta, Georgia, in 13mins?
If this was an account sit, then fine.

However, care to explain how less than 2 hours later, you made it from New York to Langhorne, Pennsylvania, in a mere 24mins?

That's 2 sittings in the same day = ban.
Or account sharing = ban.

I tried to explain, but then they asked:
Also this does not explain how you've managed to log onto the server 24 hours a day from the 5th to the 27th July, without so much as 2 hours break. I consider myself to be an avid OGamer, but over 3 weeks without sleep?

I broke down and confessed everything:
It's not account sharing, it's a program I wrote to log in every 15-30 minutes and make sure that nobody's attacking me. When the Ogame rules were revised, the revised rules removed the explicit mention that automation is not permitted. However, the terms of service still have some language suggesting this is not permitted, so I could understand a decision either way.

Anyway, I think it would be interesting to have an ogame Universe where automation is not discouraged -- for example each account is allowed a quota of 5000 HTTP requests per day.

I would be happy to help in the modification of the server code to implement such a quota system.

Final verdict?
As Im sure you will understand, the ban will remain in place.

28.07.2006 21:46:01 CWB djdjdj 12.12.2033 20:46:01 Account Sharing

So consider yourself invited.

I am throwing one hell of a party on Dec 12, 2033.

Oh and I almost forgot the best part. In OGame I went by the name DJDJDJ. And through all the raiding and carpet-bombing and thuggery I had made a few friends. We stuck up for each other mob-style, retaliating in defense of our friends even at great personal expense. So when I was banned until 2033, one of my OGame buddies made this:

Prouder moments I've had, but none quite like this.


Medicaid vs GDP. Federal vs State+Local.

An interesting chart:


How to go to bed on time, part 28.

I never want to go to sleep.  I would rather stay up and do anything.

The exhaustion I will feel the next morning means nothing to me at 1:15am.  I've woken up so tired I can feel my lips tingle.

So, with baby #2 on the way, in 11 days! it became vital that I found a way to trick myself into getting into bed at a more reasonable hour.

These days, my top nighttime pastime is Heroes of Newerth.  So the best way to derail my routine was to use Windows 7 Parental Controls.  11pm on school nights, and on weekend nights I can go crazy and stay logged in until midnight.

Of course, I know the administrator password on my computer and could disable the controls at any time.  But the deal that my morning self has struck with my crazy nighttime self is that I can only change the parental controls in the morning.  And, amazingly, my nighttime self completely accepts this state of affairs, with sullen resignation.


So, next I need an iPad app that will force itself to shut down and stay shut down during certain hours.  Does such an app already exist?  Would there be a market for such a thing?