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Posts Tagged ‘data

“Induction for deduction, with a view to construction”*…

 

Mushroom cloud from the world’s first successful hydrogen bomb test, Nov. 1, 1952

At RAND in 1954, Armen A. Alchian conducted the world’s first event study to infer the fissile fuel material used in the manufacturing of the newly-developed hydrogen bomb. Successfully identifying lithium as the fissile fuel using only publicly available financial data, the paper was seen as a threat to national security and was immediately confiscated and destroyed…

How a bench researcher used publicly-available market data to unlock the secret of the H Bomb: “The Stock Market Speaks: How Dr. Alchian Learned to Build the Bomb” (pdf).

* Auguste Compte (attributed by John Arthur Thomson in a quote at heading of the chapter “Scientific Method,” in his Introduction to Science

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As we comb the columns, we might recall that it was on this date in 1883 that the S.S. Daphne sank moments after her launching at the shipyard of Alexander Stephen and Sons in Glasgow.  The 500-ton steamer went down with 200 men on board– all of them working to finish her before the shipyard closed for the Glasgow Fair.  Only 70 were saved.

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Written by LW

July 3, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Representation plus interpretation to develop an idea”*…

 

William Playfair’s trade-balance time-series chart, published in his Commercial and Political Atlas, 1786

We’ve celebrated before the formative contributions of Florence Nightingale to data visualization; as noted then, she was building on the earlier work of William Playfair.  But as as Playfair was pioneering new ways to communicate complex data, he was himself building on prior efforts…

The idea of visualizing data is old: After all, that’s what a map is—a representation of geographic information—and we’ve had maps for about 8,000 years. But it was rare to graph anything other than geography. Only a few examples exist: Around the 11th century, a now-anonymous scribe created a chart of how the planets moved through the sky. By the 18th century, scientists were warming to the idea of arranging knowledge visually. The British polymath Joseph Priestley produced a “Chart of Biography,” plotting the lives of about 2,000 historical figures on a timeline. A picture, he argued, conveyed the information “with more exactness, and in much less time, than it [would take] by reading.”

Still, data visualization was rare because data was rare. That began to change rapidly in the early 19th century, because countries began to collect—and publish—reams of information about their weather, economic activity and population. “For the first time, you could deal with important social issues with hard facts, if you could find a way to analyze it,” says Michael Friendly, a professor of psychology at York University who studies the history of data visualization. “The age of data really began.”

An early innovator was the Scottish inventor and economist William Playfair. As a teenager he apprenticed to James Watt, the Scottish inventor who perfected the steam engine. Playfair was tasked with drawing up patents, which required him to develop excellent drafting and picture-drawing skills. After he left Watt’s lab, Playfair became interested in economics and convinced that he could use his facility for illustration to make data come alive.

“An average political economist would have certainly been able to produce a table for publication, but not necessarily a graph,” notes Ian Spence, a psychologist at the University of Toronto who’s writing a biography of Playfair. Playfair, who understood both data and art, was perfectly positioned to create this new discipline…

The Surprising History of the Infographic.”

* Francesco Franchi, defining inforgraphics

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As we make it clear, we might note that today begins National Canned Luncheon Meat Week, “celebrated” the first week of July each year.

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“To clarify, ADD data”*…

 

1939 World’s Fair– The World of Tomorrow–  under construction, on the site of a former Queens (New York City) wetland

Who dreams of files? Well, I do, to be honest. And I imagine Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Franz Kafka, and Le Corbusier did, too. It’s not only the files and cabinets themselves that enchant, but their epistemological and political promise; just think of what you can do with all that data! The dream has survived as a collective aspiration for well over a century — since we had standardized cards and papers to file, and cabinets to put them in — and is now expressed in fetishized data visualization and fantasies about “smart cities” and “urban science.” Record-keeping and filing were central to the World of Tomorrow and its urban imaginary, too…

Shannon Mattern on the way in which the 1939 World’s Fair anticipated our current obsession with urban data science and “smart” cities: “Indexing the World of Tomorrow.”

[TotH to Rebecca Onion]

* Edward Tufte

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As we dream of spires, we might spare a thought for Andreas Felix von Oefele; he died on this date in 1780. A historian and author (most notably of the 10 volume work Lebensgeschichten der gelehrtesten Männer Bayerns, “Life stories of the most learned men of Bavaria”), von Oefele was the first “Electoral Councillor, Bibliothecarius and Antiquarius”–  the first head of the Bavarian Court and State Library and Secret Archives.

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Written by LW

February 17, 2016 at 1:01 am

“‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go till you come to the end; then stop'”*…

 

Index cards are mostly obsolete nowadays. We use them to create flash cards, write recipes, and occasionally fold them up into cool paper airplanes. But their original purpose was nothing less than organizing and classifying every known animal, plant, and mineral in the world. Later, they formed the backbone of the library system, allowing us to index vast sums of information and inadvertently creating many of the underlying ideas that allowed the Internet to flourish…

How Carl Linnaeus, the author of Systema Naturae and father of modern taxonomy, created index cards… and how they enabled libraries as we know them, and in the process, laid the groundwork for the Web: “How the Humble Index Card Foresaw the Internet.”

* Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

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As we do ’em up Dewey style, we might recall that it was on this date in 1991 that the handwritten script of the first half of the original draft of Huckleberry Finn, which included Twain’s own handwritten corrections, was recovered.  Missing for over a hundred years, it was found by a 62-year old librarian in Los Angeles, who discovered it as sorted through her grandfather’s papers sent to her from upstate New York.  Her grandfather, james Gluck, a Buffalo lawyer and collector of rare books and manuscripts, to whom Twain sent the manuscript in 1887, had requested the manuscript for the town’s library, now called the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library (where the second half of the manuscript has been all along).

Gluck apparently took the first half from the library, intending to have it bound, but failed to return it.  He died the following year; and the manuscript, which had no library markings, was turned over to his widow by the executors of the estate.  She eventually moved to California to be near her daughter, taking the trunk containing the manuscript went with her.  It was finally opened by her granddaughter, Barbara Testa.

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Written by LW

February 13, 2016 at 1:01 am

The Ages of Data…

It’s said that there’s a kind of hierarchy of knowing:  data can be assembled into knowledge, which (with experience and empathy) can become understanding, then with grace, wisdom… but it all starts with data.

Happily for us, Stephen Wolfram, the creator of the indispensable Mathematica and more recently of Wolfram|Alpha, takes data very seriously…

The precursors of what we’re trying to do with computable data in Wolfram|Alpha in many ways stretch back to the very dawn of human history—and in fact their development has been fascinatingly tied to the whole progress of civilization.

Last year we invited the leaders of today’s great data repositories to our Wolfram Data Summit—and as a conversation piece we assembled a timeline of the historical development of systematic data and computable knowledge.

This year, as we approach the Wolfram Data Summit 2011, we’ve taken the comments and suggestions we got, and we’re making available a five-feet-long (1.5 meters) printed poster of the timeline—as well as having the basic content on the web.

Wolfram’s explanatory blog post, “Advance of the Data Civilization: A Timeline,” is fascinating– both an unpacking of the events collected and an analysis of the patterns they form…

The story the timeline tells is a fascinating one: of how, in a multitude of steps, our civilization has systematized more and more areas of knowledge—collected the data associated with them, and gradually made them amenable to automation.

The usual telling of history makes scant mention of most of these developments—though so many of them are so obvious in our lives today. Weights and measures. The calendar. Alphabetical lists. Plots of data. Dictionaries. Maps. Music notation. Stock charts. Timetables. Public records. ZIP codes. Weather reports. All the things that help us describe and organize our world…  the timeline is not about technology or science, it’s about data and knowledge. When you look at the timeline, you might ask: ”Where’s Einstein? Where’s Darwin? Where’s the space program?” Well, they’re not there. Because despite their importance in the history of science and technology, they’re not really part of the particular story the timeline is telling: of how systematic data and knowledge came to be the way it is in our world. And as I said above, much of this is “back room history”, not really told in today’s history books.

…when I first looked at the completed timeline, the first thing that struck me was how much two entities stood out in their contributions: ancient Babylon, and the United States government. For Babylon—as the first great civilization—brought us such things as the first known census, standardized measures, the calendar, land registration, codes of laws and the first known mathematical tables. In the United States, perhaps it was the spirit of building a country from scratch, or perhaps the notion of “government for the people”, but starting as early as 1785 (with the formation of the US Land Ordinance), the US government began an impressive series of firsts in systematic data collection.

Read the full post— it’s an eminently-worthy guided walk from data to understanding.

[Thanks to Curiosity Counts for the pointer]

As we fondly recall counting on our fingers, we might recall that it was on this date in 1986 that Howard Stern became a national radio personality when WYSP in Philadelphia first simulcast his show.  By the time that he moved to satellite radio in 2004, Stern had won Billboard‘s Nationally Syndicated Air Personality of the Year award eight times; his show had the distinction of being the most-fined radio program (the Federal Communications Commission [FCC] issued fines of $2.5 million to station licensees for broadcasting allegedly indecent material on Stern’s show).

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Interestingly, it was also on that same date– August 18, 1986– that the Anti-Howard, John Tesh, became a national broadcast personality with his first appearance on Entertainment Tonight.

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