Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Maps for Excel

The idea of integrating maps and spreadsheets is not new - both Microsoft Excel and Lotus 123 (for those who remember!) had maps embedded as far back as 1990’s. Yet, the usage of those maps never gained widespread popularity amongst spreadsheet users. On the other hand those who really needed to map their data were prepared to pay good money for the functionality. Some integrators did very well out of this, selling their plug-ins for up to $10,000 a user. Now Microsoft is making another attempt to integrate Excel and maps in 2013 version of the product. Microsoft is positioning this as part of its BI solution. Reportedly, it will be able to handle “big data” to the tune of "one million rows of data from an Excel workbook." The new functionality will allow users to geocode data as well as view geospatial and temporal data by creating thematic and heat maps.

[image courtesy of Excel Blog]

Google is already offering integrated spreadsheet, fusion tables and map solution through their Docs application so it is just a catch up for Microsoft. If history is anything to judge by, mapping data in spreadsheets will not become a mainstream use of Excel – simply because users will need to geocode all those “millions of records” in the first place - no indication so far as to how much this service will cost. Also, all those who deal with geocoding records know that it is not as simple as “pressing a button”. Not to mention that challenges with “processing of spatial data for 1 million points” have not been quite solved yet without a quite complex server setup so chances of doing anything useful with such vast amount of information, even within a desktop version of Bing Map, appear rather limited (in fact, some users have already commented about the performance). Spatial education within general population is another factor – general knowledge is increasing but is still not enough to deal with issues of “projections and datums” for spatial data and more advanced forms of analysis, beyond simple presentation of points on a map…

In my opinion Microsoft would have much better chances of success developing specific tools in support of specific business activities, with narrowly focused spatial functionality, rather than providing a generic DIY mapping capability. This strategy failed in the past but it seems to be a preferred approach by big players, including Google. Time will show if this time the outcome will be different.

Revisiting thematic map theory

There has been a long standing view that choropleth maps (from the Greek words choros - space, and pleth – value, or simply thematic maps) should not be used to present absolute values like, for example, counts of persons per postcode, unless mapped areas are of similar size. Ideally, only normalised values should be mapped (for example, proportions such as density of people per postcode area). People have been conditioned to perceive that “bigger means more” so, when we present information in a spatial content the effect of size of spatial units should be eliminated for a meaningful comparison.

For example, two postcodes may have exactly the same number of people residing in them, so both would be coloured the same way on an thematic map, but if one polygon is significantly larger than the other, it would give an impression of a greater importance (ie. larger size = more important). The argument goes that using ratios rather than absolute values eliminates the influence of area, so that the map becomes meaningful by portraying accurately the distribution of features within each area. In our example, if we use ratio of counts to area size, larger polygon would have a smaller density value hance would be coloured in a lighter shade, “demoting” the importance of that area in relation to the other.

[Source: Wikipedia]

There are all sorts of other concerns about inadequacy of thematic mapping for presentation of spatial information, including the more recent one that maps in Mercator projection, ie Google and other online maps, are particularly bad because they introduce extra distortion of areas the further you move from the equator. Not to mention there is a general concern that since users “get clues” as to hierarchical importance from both, the value attached to a polygon (shown with colour intensity) AND the size of respective polygon, they may not be able to interpret correctly the “hierarchy” of information being presented. That is, users are potentially unable to rank the order from “the smallest” to “the largest” because of conflicting messages presented on a map: large polygons with small absolute values (light colours) and small polygons with large absolute values (dark colours), or vice versa. Yet, many novice cartographers are either unaware of these issues or are totally ignoring “experts”, happily mapping absolute values on Google maps. 

However, as it turns out, there is some validity in this non-expert approach to thematic mapping. In particular, “…psychological studies have shown that size and color (or at least, size/value and size/hue) are a ‘separable’ combination: that is, variations in the size of graphic elements do not considerably interfere with our ability to determine their color [sequence], or vise-versa. So, theoretically, there should be no problem with using choropleths on a Mercator projection: the distorted areas shouldn’t mess up our ability to determine a region’s color, which is what choropleth mapping is all about.”

So, there you go – since only colour counts in thematic mapping and users are able to distinguish colour hierarchy independent of size of polygons,  it should ok to use absolute values with unequal polygons after all! Happy mapping!

Monday, April 29, 2013

LL Textiles

Things have been busy with our fabric line, Lauren Liess Textiles.  I've been working on some new designs and I've also added some new colorways to the existing line.  I got them in on Friday and I'm so excited so I had to share with you!!!

{Squid Flower in Wine and Fern Star in Sepia}

Bringing in these most recent colorways has really gotten the line where I want it to be.  These are the colorways I've been after...  earthy, inky and vintage-feeling.  The line is where I want it to be and I can really feel the collection taking on a life of its own.  I'm becoming more confident in what it is I want to put out there and the feeling I want the collection to have.  Although drawing is difficult for me, I've learned that I like how my drawings are ending up, and that somehow, as a medium, textiles are working for me.  I might not necessarily like a drawing of mine framed on a wall, but colored the way I want it colored and put into a repeat in a textile, I'm happy with how it turns out.

I love seeing the transformation of drawing into actual textile.  (It's kind of like getting your photo airbrushed!! ;)

{Buttercup, which I drew in the car on the way to visit my dad in Illinois last summer}

{A pillow in buttercup}

Some of my favorite parts about textile designs are figuring out how I want a design to connect to itself and repeat.  It's sort of like a brain teaser. Once you decide what you're drawing, you have to draw it so it fits together like a puzzle.

{Buttercup in Black}

I know in terms or what's "right" my technique (or lack of it) is totally elementary....  but I'm not after creating    examples of great textile "designs"...  I'm after creating a fabric or wall covering or whatever that I'll (and hopefully others too!) have an emotional reaction to.  Something that I love and want to incorporate into my home or others' homes.  To me, it's not about technique, it's just about the feeling the piece has when it's done.

I'm often drawn to blockprinted fabrics with no intertwining at all, like in Squid Flower, below:

or Fern Star:

Other times, I make each repeat itself obvious because part of the interesting thing about the pattern is the shape the repeats make meeting.

The new colorways are in and I'm working on a 15 foot long window seat in our upstairs loft to layer with pillows in lots of my prints.  Wild Chicory will definitely be on there because it was my first design (and my logo!)...

I'm in the process of putting together memo books to show to select to-the-trade showrooms in hopes that they will decide to carry our full collection.  It's a time-consuming process and it's a little nerve-wracking.  I'm so crazy about the collection but am not a sales person at all so it's not coming easy to me.  I made a call a couple of weeks ago to an amazing showroom in LA and before even asking my name or looking up my patterns or website or anything, I got the "there's no room at the Inn" (showroom) door politely shut in my face.  :/   haha  ouch  

It's totally to be expected though, and I'm sure I'll get a lot more of those before I find the right fits.  I've learned that you can't just call a company up like that too...  So I might be travelling a bit to get everything off the ground properly.  But I'm excited about this new venture!!  The fabrics are so personal to me and I love working on this part of the business.  

Keep your fingers crossed for me - I need all the help I can get!!

I'm working on some new designs week and will share as soon as they're ready.  Also, some of you have asked how you can view the entire collection of order memos.  You can view it at www.purestylehome.co and just click on "LL Textiles."  I haven't updated the site with some of the newest patterns and colorways yet and am working on it so as soon as they're all up, I'll let you know!!  If you' have an account with us (or want to set one up) and need some of the new colorways or patterns before they're up, just contact meghan@thepurestyle.com

Have a great day!!

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

How to misunderstand crises... with Rational Expectations

** UPDATE BELOW ** I've just about finished Gary Gorton's excellent book Misunderstanding Financial Crises. I think it's the most convincing book I've read so far that links the mechanisms of the recent crisis to crises in the past. In effect, he argues that the crisis was the direct result of the uncontrolled creation of money by the shadow banking sector, and ultimately took place as a classic bank run, no different from runs in the past, except that this run took place mostly out of public view because it didn't involve ordinary bank deposits. The new kind of money in this bank run was stuff such as repo agreements and commercial paper which played the role of money for financial institutions. In 2007-2008, when lenders lost confidence (for good reason) in the mortgage-backed collateral backing this money, they demanded that money back, and the financial system seized up.

The explanation is convincing and wholly natural. The argument is most convincing because Gorton does a masterful job of placing this bank run in the context of the long history of past runs. And also because Gorton, as an economist, places blame squarely on the economics profession (himself included) for being asleep at the wheel:
Think of economists and bank regulators looking out at the financial landscape prior to the financial crisis. What did they see? They did not see the possibility of a systemic crisis. Nor did they see how capital markets and the banking system had evolved in the last thirty years. They did not know of the existence of new financial instruments or the size of certain money markets. They did not know what "money" had become. They looked from a certain point of view, from a certain paradigm, and missed everything that was important... The blindness is astounding. That economists did not think such a crisis could happen in the United States was an intellectual failure.

It seems to me that there is a certain amount of denial among economists. I have noticed, in talking about the ideas in this book with my economist colleagues, that there is a fairly clear generational divide on this. To younger economists and graduate students, it is obvious that there was an intellectual failure. Some older economists are inclined to hem and haw, resorting to farfetched rebuttals. It is clear that this is a sensitive issue, as like banks no one wants to have to write down the value of their capital.
The book gets rather technical in places talking about the details of day to day financing on Wall St., but all in a way that adds credibility to the main argument.

One other thing of interest. Gorton in a late chapter, when discussing the spectacular failure of the rational expectations paradigm, quotes University of Chicago economist James Heckman, winner of the economics' Nobel Prize (yes, that's not its actual name) in 2000, from an interview he did with John Cassidy in 2010. I hadn't come across the interview before. It's a fascinating read and gives some interesting perspective on varied views held by economists within the Chicago department (Cassidy's words in italics):
What about the rational-expectations hypothesis, the other big theory associated with modern Chicago? How does that stack up now?

I could tell you a story about my friend and colleague Milton Friedman. In the nineteen-seventies, we were sitting in the Ph.D. oral examination of a Chicago economist who has gone on to make his mark in the world. His thesis was on rational expectations. After he’d left, Friedman turned to me and said, “Look, I think it is a good idea, but these guys have taken it way too far.”

It became a kind of tautology that had enormously powerful policy implications, in theory. But the fact is, it didn’t have any empirical content. When Tom Sargent, Lard Hansen, and others tried to test it using cross equation restrictions, and so on, the data rejected the theories. There were a certain section of people that really got carried away. It became quite stifling.

What about Robert Lucas? He came up with a lot of these theories. Does he bear responsibility?

Well, Lucas is a very subtle person, and he is mainly concerned with theory. He doesn’t make a lot of empirical statements. I don’t think Bob got carried away, but some of his disciples did. It often happens. The further down the food chain you go, the more the zealots take over.

What about you? When rational expectations was sweeping economics, what was your reaction to it? I know you are primarily a micro guy, but what did you think?

What struck me was that we knew Keynesian theory was still alive in the banks and on Wall Street. Economists in those areas relied on Keynesian models to make short-run forecasts. It seemed strange to me that they would continue to do this if it had been theoretically proven that these models didn’t work.

What about the efficient-markets hypothesis? Did Chicago economists go too far in promoting that theory, too?

Some did. But there is a lot of diversity here. You can go office to office and get a different view.

[Heckman brought up the memoir of the late Fischer Black, one of the founders of the Black-Scholes option-pricing model, in which he says that financial markets tend to wander around, and don’t stick closely to economics fundamentals.]

[Black] was very close to the markets, and he had a feel for them, and he was very skeptical. And he was a Chicago economist. But there was an element of dogma in support of the efficient-market hypothesis. People like Raghu [Rajan] and Ned Gramlich [a former governor of the Federal Reserve, who died in 2007] were warning something was wrong, and they were ignored. There was sort of a culture of efficient markets—on Wall Street, in Washington, and in parts of academia, including Chicago.

What was the reaction here when the crisis struck?

Everybody was blindsided by the magnitude of what happened. But it wasn’t just here. The whole profession was blindsided. I don’t think Joe Stiglitz was forecasting a collapse in the mortgage market and large-scale banking collapses.

So, today, what survives of the Chicago School? What is left?

I think the tradition of incorporating theory into your economic thinking and confronting it with data—that is still very much alive. It might be in the study of wage inequality, or labor supply responses to taxes, or whatever. And the idea that people respond rationally to incentives is also still central. Nothing has invalidated that—on the contrary.

So, I think the underlying ideas of the Chicago School are still very powerful. The basis of the rocket is still intact. It is what I see as the booster stage—the rational-expectation hypothesis and the vulgar versions of the efficient-markets hypothesis that have run into trouble. They have taken a beating—no doubt about that. I think that what happened is that people got too far away from the data, and confronting ideas with data. That part of the Chicago tradition was neglected, and it was a strong part of the tradition.

When Bob Lucas was writing that the Great Depression was people taking extended vacations—refusing to take available jobs at low wages—there was another Chicago economist, Albert Rees, who was writing in the Chicago Journal saying, No, wait a minute. There is a lot of evidence that this is not true.

Milton Friedman—he was a macro theorist, but he was less driven by theory and by the desire to construct a single overarching theory than by attempting to answer empirical questions. Again, if you read his empirical books they are full of empirical data. That side of his legacy was neglected, I think.

When Friedman died, a couple of years ago, we had a symposium for the alumni devoted to the Friedman legacy. I was talking about the permanent income hypothesis; Lucas was talking about rational expectations. We have some bright alums. One woman got up and said, “Look at the evidence on 401k plans and how people misuse them, or don’t use them. Are you really saying that people look ahead and plan ahead rationally?” And Lucas said, “Yes, that’s what the theory of rational expectations says, and that’s part of Friedman’s legacy.” I said, “No, it isn’t. He was much more empirically minded than that.” People took one part of his legacy and forgot the rest. They moved too far away from the data.

** UPDATE **

On a closely related note, check out between 18:00 and about 20:25 of this video documentary on debt and its primary role in the crisis, link courtesy of Lars Syll. Robert Lucas asserts (around 19:40) that debt just doesn't matter because the level of debt and credit always "cancels out." He seems to think it is strange that anyone could even think that debt should matter, as if he's completely blind to the massive agony and social upheaval ensuing from foreclosures and failed businesses around the US and the world. Lars suggests this is "unbelievable stupidity" and it is certainly unbelievable, but I think maybe it is less stupidity and reflects more a kind of borderline autistic inability to make a distinction between some extremely abstract mathematical model and actual economic reality. In Lucas's models, I suspect that debt and credit do always cancel out. Which is one aspect of what makes those models quite useless for many purposes, and dangerous in the hands of anyone who takes them too seriously.  

Update on Google Adsense saga

For years I took Google at face value and accepted that they will “do no evil” but recent development prompted me to apply some scrutiny to the relationship. And I am finding it quite disturbing that Google is not playing fair anymore…

As mentioned in another post, a few months back Google started regularly cutting my share of earned Adsense revenue. I complained and after two months I finally got a response from Google:

…This is due to a larger portion of your received clicks being identified as invalid. Please be assured your account is still in good standing.

Intriguing but it gets better… In a typical for the company fashion, it is me and visitors to my site that are at fault – me by putting ads too close to the map (apparently) and visitors by using wrong browsers… (but I am assured to be “still in good standing”!).

…We suggest placing ads at least 150 pixels away from the map units." Really? And what about those ads which are actually on the map using standard Google Map API functionality?

…These invalid clicks were generated by users who accidentally clicked on ads, specifically from users who have visited your pages with certain browsers.

But then there is an admission that:

…Users visiting with those browsers are experiencing issues with our ad rendering, which causes users to unintentionally click on ads when they are navigating pages that contain map frames that span the majority of the page and content. We are working on the ad rendering issue internally, and should have it resolved shortly.

Wow, that is a revelation. So, the problem has been known to Google for at least the last 5 months (ie. this is how long Google “is acting on it” by ducting payments from my account). But there is a good chance the problem was there for a long time and that Google engineers knew about it much earlier than 5 months back (I did not make any changes to my site for quite a while)… And nothing has been done about it so far!

All in all, Google has been providing defective service that generated billions in revenue from invalid clicks in the past and when finally the problem was discovered, it takes many months to rectify it. In my books, and undoubtedly for many, the reputation of Google is getting quite close to the gutter. The company better come clean on this… 

I will be requesting Google to provide detailed logs of dates and counts of disallowed clicks and to demonstrate which pages specifically contribute to the invalid clicks problem. That would provide at least some transparency about how Google operates…  Otherwise, one will always wonder, is this a genuine problem or just a quick way of plugging the revenue outflow - actually, are there any advertisers who had their expenses refunded at the end of the month because of invalid clicks? Anyway, it looks that my relationship with Google will keep deteriorating rather than improving...

Related Posts:
Google's evil ways continue
Expose: Google's evil toys Panda and Penguin

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Food Variety, Calorie Intake, and Weight Gain

Let's kick off this post with a quote from a 2001 review paper (1):
Increased variety in the food supply may contribute to the development and maintenance of obesity.  Thirty-nine studies examining dietary variety, energy intake, and body composition are reviewed. Animal and human studies show that food consumption increases when there is more variety in a meal or diet and that greater dietary variety is associated with increased body weight and fat.
This may seem counterintuitive, since variety in the diet is generally seen as a good thing.  In some ways, it is a good thing, however in this post we'll see that it can have a downside.
Read more »

Friday, April 26, 2013

Eastern Counties Vintage Tractor & Heritage Spectacular 2013

Now in it's second year the Eastern Counties Vintage Tractor & Heritage Spectacular is certainly living up to it's name. I enjoyed myself so much last year that there was no question as to whether or not I was going to make the 500 odd mile round trip again. My main reason for liking this event so much is the sheer concentration of veteran (pre 1930s) tractors on display, I haven't seen this sort of display any where else in the country and this year certainly didn't disappoint.

Twin City 40

(ink & watercolour)

Last year I had a few conversations with people about this monster tractor and I was extremely happy to see it in attendance this year. The Twin City 40 is powered by a 27 litre straight 6 engine making each pot over 6 litres!

1960  Mk3 Vickers Vigor

(ink & watercolour)

Vickers started making crawlers after the war using the tank running gear they used for their tanks. The Vigor was intended as a cheaper alternative to the expensive Caterpillars from the states. This example is the later Mk3 model which was the most refined but unfortunately Vickers couldn't compete with the likes of the well established Caterpillar.

1922 Holt t35


This early crawler by Holt bears the Caterpillar branding which Holt patented before they merged with Best to become Caterpillar

John Deere Model BN Rowcrop

(ink & watercolour)

Here is the Twin City 40 alongside a more average size machine

Front View of the Vigor, it certainly has a great face.

Closeup of the Model B twin pot engine.

Here's the main lineup of John Deere Tractors

This years theme was Crawler Tractors, with a whole shed full of crawlers there certainly was a huge turnout of these unique machines:

Allis Chalmers Crawler

 International Harvester Crawler

1930 Caterpillar Ten
Owned by the West family who also own the Holt I sketched.

A new section of vintage cars was added this year. There was a great turnout of early fords and other machinery.

Two Model T Pickups

 1927 Model T Coupe

1897 Leon Bollie

Here are some more highlights of the event

1951 Lanz Bulldog D8156

 1943 - 1944 Fordson with Rotary Hoes Drainer

Two Fordson Rowcrops I sketched the Orange one last year and ran out of time to sketch the 1936 N Water Washer on the left...
Here it is leaving the shed.

1941 Minneapolis Moline GT

Allis Chalmers line up

 Fordson atop a Bedford

Next sketching outing is this coming weekend at Stafford Bike Show with Vintage and Veteran, more info here:


No One Ever Says...

"I want my home to feel stale, cold and impersonal."

"I want people to feel unwelcome and like they can't sit down anywhere."

I think about ridiculous statements like these all of the time to make myself laugh, especially when I'm sharing a "Before & After" on my blog and I'm describing what my clients wanted for their homes or when I'm reading a magazine article that describes what the people wanted out of their home.  Of course, what people are attempting to create in a home is always thought of positive and they carefully analyze and describe how they want a home to feel.  Each adjective has real meaning and a connotation.  But a fun game I play in my head is to :

1) Say the opposite of what people want.
2) Say a less positive way or more direct way of what someone actually wants.
3)Reverse husband-wife statements

So, since it's Friday, I thought I'd share some of my favorites with you.  So, whichever way you think of these statements (opposite statements or direct versions or husband-wife reversals) I hope you enjoy!!
Here goes:

No one ever says......

"I want my home to feel outdated and contrived."

{"I know the TV is too large for the room and my husband begged me to get a smaller one but I refused because the TV is the most important thing to me."}  image here

"Oh please!  Make my house feel like a brand new house in America that's trying to look like it's a house in Tuscany by putting pictures of Tuscany and rolling Italian fields all over it!!  Don't forget the Tuscan dish cloths and the dusty olive oil jars in the kitchen!!  Perhaps a large Tuscan scene in my kitchen backsplash above the range??"  (And I know this one so well because I once wanted this for myself.  hee hee)

"I want it to feel cheap and hodgepodged.  Like I got everything from a thrift store."  image here  (This is definitely one of my "direct" or nonpositive descriptions for sure!! haha)

"I want a gaudy and overstated home."   image here

"I've got it!  Let's add some completely inappropriate Corinthian columns to the inside of our house!!"

"I want to break the bank."

"I'd love my house to look like it was decorated in a day!"

"I want it to be matchy-matchy."

"Oh I know... even though that brick fireplace is hideous and is ruining my living room, it's just wrong to paint brick so we won't be doing anything about the elephant in the room.  But please, make the room beautiful. Thanks."

"I want to feel depressed when I come home.  I like things disorganized and I don't want a place for everything."

"Hello!! Can't you see I just I want what everybody else has??"  image here

"I'd like my living room to look just like a page from a catalog, or a decorator show house."

"I want it to look like we have money."

{"IT'S KILLING ME.  I'd love to paint the paneling white, but my wife simply won't allow it!"}image here

"I want my home to feel unnatural with no absolutely connection to the outdoors."

"I care more about the wood and floors and the moldings being shown off than how the room feels as a whole, so I'm willing to have you decorate the house improperly so I can just stare at those awesome elements all the time." Image literally from crownmoldingman.com

"I don't need my home to be practical or functional, as long as it's beautiful."

"I dislike natural wood.  Please paint it all."

"My husband thinks a chandelier in the dining room would be beautiful, but I can't bear to be without the ceiling fan in there." image here

"I despise extra storage."

"I want my home to feel really jarring and I don't want anything to flow."

"I have things in here that I absolutely hate but I'm going to build an entire home around these items."

"I want it to look like a museum and I want my friends and family to be afraid to touch anything." Image here

"I want my house to look like a college apartment." Image here

"I want the study to feel claustrophobic, cluttered and a bit manic." OR "I plan on redecorating the office and then continuing my hoarding behaviors from a clean slate." image here

"I want it to look like my Grandma decorated my house."{Image here}

"Please, make my home feel sterile and cold."

"I was going for 'formal' 'uptight' and 'bland' when I decorated my home."

"I love builder grade fixtures, especially anything with shiny builder brass."

"Accents walls are so chic."

"I hate color, and I want my home to reflect that."

"I'd rather not use an interesting mix of periods and styles.  I prefer it to look as if I simply bought everything at one time."

"I don't care if the sofa is comfortable, as long as it looks good."

"I really want new curtains but my wife is insisting we build a new deck instead." Image here

I could probably go on for hours...  this might be my new game to play on road trips.

How do you want your home to feel and how do you "say it?"  Does saying the negative version of that sentence make you laugh?? Or the direct version?   Can you reverse the things you & your partner say?  I'd love to hear some of yours!! Leave a comment if you've got a good one!!

Have a great weekend & I'll be busy "shopping for ridiculously quirky objects so that my home is sure to look meaningful and personal.  The things I find will really show the world that I love the earth and who I am deep down." ;) ;)

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.