Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Make your nerdy life nerdier!

I've long been fascinated by the ways in which information can be represented graphically. I love maps, charts, graphs, and the like, especially when it is presented in unusual, inventive, or elegant ways. I'm a fan of the work of Edward Tufte, and if his seminars weren't bloody $380 a piece, I might consider going to one (he highlights the chart shown here of Napoleon's army's size during the Russian campaign of 1812 as perhaps the best "probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn"). Likewise, I want to read all of these posters in detail.

It may come as no surprise, then, that I am a visual learner, and like to make use of visual arrangements of information when trying to learn it. And the act of putting said information together myself only helps cement the information. Hence my Jeopardy notebook. But I find myself from time to time doodling lists, tables, or graphs to wrap my brain around something. To explain my own oddities better, I thought I'd share a few with you.

First, a simple one. I found myself at lunch one day for some reason reading about the history of the NFL in Los Angeles. When I was growing up, there were two NFL teams in LA, but both left for greener pastures when I was in high school. I could never remember which teams were where, when (especially since the Raiders were originally in Oakland, then went to LA for a little over a decade, and then returned to Oakland). I decided to make a little timeline:

OK, next is something to keep track of current events, specifically the 2009 AL Central pennant race between the Twins and Tigers. At some point I picked up the habit, inherited from my father, of marking up a Twins pocket schedule with wins & losses. So this is hanging up in my cube:

I added the pre-All-Star-Break record as a midsummer stock-taking of the team. Anyway, with less than two weeks remaining in the season, I decided to start keeping track of not just what the Twins do, but also the Tigers. Last week I stuck this on my schedule:

Green means good and red means bad. The blue number is the Twins' position in the standings relative to the Tigers. From here on out, the Tigers have the "harder" schedule, but when you're in the AL Central, everything is relative.

And I do this all the time. On the practical side there are to-do lists and tables at work. On the self-interested side a calendar tracking Jeopardy contestants who qualify for the 2010 Tournament of Champions (Melissa and I are also keeping a spreadsheet on this one). And then there's the trivial. A hand-filled map of Minneapolis neighborhoods. Colored maps of the 2008 US Presidential primary and general elections. A spreadsheet of Brave New Workshop shows and casts since I started working there in 2001. Venn diagrams of classic rock band personnel. It is a disease.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Oh, I see, Hitler DIDN'T want to aggressively expand.

Can we stop treating Pat Buchanan as a mainstream political figure?

Hey, while we're talking about the beginning of World War II, I feel that I should follow up my earlier complaints about the boringness of George Orwell's "blog" by saying that it started getting really good this summer. The past couple of weeks, in particular, have been absolutely fascinating, viewing the outbreak of the War from within the fog of the time. I'm intrigued to learn more about this nightmare as it plays out in real time, 70 years after the fact.

You can't go wrong by starting with yesterday's entry, which starts:
Invasion of Poland began this morning. Warsaw bombed. General mobilization proclaimed in England, ditto in France plus martial law.
If Poland had only been willing to bargain about Danzig, this would have all been avoided, right, Mr. Buchanan?

Update 9/3: Found a link to this excellent take-down of the Buchanan piece.
Other Update 9/3: Good lord, 70 years, not 60. This is why I don't trust my brain to do arithmetic for me by itself.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Irony, thy name is Bartiromo

Via TPM, this clip has been making the rounds on Twitter with the tag #zingfail:

Brian Beutler points out a deeper irony about Bartiromo's zinger:
Obviously, the real punchline is that many of the people criticizing the Democrats' health care plan don't have the foggiest idea how any of it works. And Bartiromo in particular reveals--however inadvertently--that she thinks elements of the proposal make perfect sense. Yes, she's wrong to assume Weiner could buy into Medicare, and she's wrong to assume that he chooses not to because the coverage is sub-par. But ironically, the idea that Weiner should be able to buy into Medicare seems totally uncontroversial to her. And that, of course, is the whole point of the public option.
Relatedly, has a breakdown (/takedown) of a popular anti-reform email that's making the rounds. And lest you label them as strictly partisan, know that they are willing to dig in on distortions on the left as well.