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Around these parts, things move at gigabit speeds and Open Chattanooga is no exception! Just a few days after CodeAcross, Chattanooga now has a brand, spanking new wiki up and live for everybody to contribute to living at https://chawiki.org
Thanks to everybody who came to the library this past Saturday, and a particularly large hug to Lindsey Frost Cleary, Tim Moreland, Jenny Park and Dan Ryan for putting together such an amazing event. It was inspiring to see over 50 members of the community coming together to make Chattanooga a better place for those who live here!
Last Fall, the US Federal government shut down because of our elected representatives’ inability to compromise. The general sentiment seemed to be that daily life continued on uninterrupted, and to the more cynical the whole event illustrated the government’s lack of relevance. I made an impassioned, though perhaps quixotic, plea to consider the larger impact on things like our national scientific research, important social programs, and the most sexy of all: the national debt.
I needed a way to illustrate the impact this political stalemate and the measure that made the most sense was the interest rate on US debt. In other words, I was concerned with the recent change in the price that investors were willing to pay for Treasury debt, which funds the operations of the Federal Government. The particular measure that I used was the price of various debt offerings, but I focused in particular on the 1 month issue called a “T-bill”. The Treasury department publishes these prices in a nice table that looks like this:
While I appreciate the Treasury Department releasing these numbers in such an easy-to-read manner, I really wanted to be able to play with them in a spreadsheet and graph them in different ways. To get all the data straight off the page, I could either copy and paste the data off or scrape it. Of course, some civil servant put in the effort to get all this data into the table, and I had no desire to reverse engineer that effort. After all, I optimize for laziness.
Web scraping is a simple idea: pull some data off of some place on the internet. Generally, scraping is practiced by programmatically crawling a web site and parsing it. I only had a few minutes so I decided to try out a Google Docs trick I had recently heard about: ImportHTML().
Back at the Treasury’s site, you can see there is a nice, big table element in the middle of the page with all of the desired data. I made a new spreadsheet and in cell A1 I set the value of the cell equal to:
You can see that I’m essentially invoking the ImportHTML function and passing in three parameters, in a particular order.
Once you supply the function, you’ll find that the tabular data is pulled into your Google Spreadsheet and represented correctly in columns and rows. All I did next was make a second sheet that was simply a line plot of all the data pulled from the Treasury’s web site. In fact, the chart just looked like this:
(Feel free to check out both the spreadsheet and chart, right here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AteUjArWq80LdDgzM1NEbzlHSHY1U3hSczdPV3VMMFE&usp=drive_web#gid=2)
The last piece I needed was annotations so that I could actually demarcate where the shutdown was and some relevant preceding events. Fortunately, this is also surprisingly easy in Google Docs as you just need a column at the end of the data set with no header value. In the chart above, the letter “H” is where the shutdown began and “J” is where it ended. That massive spike in the blue line that was previously following the bottom of the chart is the increased immediate cost of borrowing during the shutdown.
Turns out that the cost of short term Treasury debt is not a really compelling story for my friends and many continued to opine that the government shutdown was indistinguishable from life before it. But at least I have a pretty chart now, and to create it only took three minutes and one line of code.
I found myself continually visiting The Huffington Post many times a day, despite what I consider to be almost sheer sensationalist journalism.
And I just found myself doing it again, one too many times. I’ve been thinking a bit recently about how to design behavior, particularly bad or unwanted behavior and I’ve come to the conclusion that it must be built into the constraints we apply to ourselves or users.
Thus, the following now resides in my /etc/hosts file:
I’m finally getting around to churning through some of my saved Pocket posts and came across a TC post from late December titled “Instagram Hit With Class Action Lawsuit Related To Last Week’s Change Of Service Terms” and it got me thinking.
Of course everybody has thought to themselves “who even reads these things” as we check “I agree” to any of the multitudes of services we use in a given day.
AND, if nobody reads them does that mean we’re signing our collective digital personas away to be monetized through personal ads or affiliate revenue?
Likely. Though I’m not so sure that behavior by mainstream digital services will be looked so favorably upon by the American judicial system. Actually, I have no real way of knowing that either but this class action lawsuit against Instagram on behalf of its users will definitely set the industry tone going forward on how binding a TOS is as well as how one must articulate and maintain those terms.
“ A veritable natural law in social media is that to get to a system that is large and good, it is far better to start with a system that is small and good and work on making it bigger than to start with a system that is large and mediocre and working on making it better. ”
@cshirky in Cognitive Suprlus
A great visualization of how Stuxnet worked, and arguably how the next generation of weapons will be modeled.
It also exposes a serious vulnerability in the way we approach foreign policy and domestic security. Of course, run-of-the-mill attacks such as DDoS continue to appear with an ever greater frequency, such as yesterday’s news of attacks on some US banks, but what happens when the core infrastructure becomes a target?
It’s curious to me that Apple is not yet a single sign-on provider and it makes me question if the walled garden of Apples ecosystem will ever extend to third party sites.
I really started to consider this question after I got an iPad and started to realize how much data is accessible through the Apple ID, particularly with iCloud and iTunes Music Match. It is likely, especially with email, contact, and calendar data in iCloud, that a third party application might get great value out of offering Apple as a single sign on partner. It is also likely that Apple would be able to collect a great deal of information that could help many of their consumer facing data plays more effective by renting out this new device-graph.
When you consider what the layer of information stored in Apple isn’t really a social network (besides failed attempts like Ping), but more of a representation of a persons entire life. You have apps (great representations of interests, for instance there are very few reasons a person will download a MotoX app), tunes and digital media (great representations of preferences), and Calendar and email data (great representations of behavior). I can only imagine the potency when combined with social sources like Twitter and Facebook.
Then again, there is real reason to doubt if Apple will be interested in collecting more data through third party developers. After all, they’ve maintained an ever more vaulted wall around their garden since the end of the clone wars.
It will be interesting to see what happens. As the other Silicon Valley giants race to liberate (or appear to liberate) the massive amounts of user data, Apple predictably moves in the other direction.
Hark back to the year 2008; do you remember what was different then? Sure, the world economy was collapsing, we were in a heated political battle between McCain and Obama; things were uncertain, including something we take for granted today: the penetration of mobile.
I’m sure we’ve all seen Mary Meeker’s chart of the growth of mobile versus other internet-based technologies, so no need to rehash here. However, I remember starting on an iPhone app in 2008, and I remember my dad asking me if I thought that the iPhone would take off. Today, that seems like the most ridiculous question. But in 2008, we didn’t have any handsets that weren’t under the direct control of the carriers.
Fast forward three short years, and apps have become a sweet spot in this dismal economy. Mobile ad spends are approaching multiple billions of dollars per year; it seems like every day a new mobile startup is starting, growing, and being bought by some major player. Meanwhile, a whole class of mobile developers has ridden the wave up.
Now I’m not talking about the Zynga, Rovio, or the Instagram crews. I’m not talking about the terrible apps that are never downloaded more than once (probably on the developer’s mom’s phone). I’m referring to the middle class of mobile developers. The developers with decent skills and decent ideas, but who can not cut through all the noise to make enough revenue off their apps full-time.
Its this group of developers that will likely be squeezed the most. Its companies that serve this cohort of developers with easy-to-use tools and provide end results with dollars attached that will thrive.
This mobile patent war is getting ridiculous. Its more dramatic than All My Children. I guess it took them 40 something years to get rid of that nuisance as well. Damn, 40 years of this crazy IP WMD business, and we’ll all be fucked.
Major props to those only on the receiving end, particularly Google. They didn’t have many patents, because they didn’t want to have to play this game. So much for that, I suppose…
Went to go see the two Andy Goldsworthy pieces in the Presidio this weekend. The “Wood Line” was pretty awesome, and very Goldsworthy-esque.
Since I’m on a Facebook tear right now, along with the rest of the world I suppose, it would be prudent to lay down some of my thoughts regarding the newest it-thing in the Facebook ecosystem: Zynga.
The game company’s recently filed S-1 reveals how important the social graph (and the largest creator of it) is to Zynga. The S-1 filing mentioned Facebook over 200 times (source). This may not be surprising to those who understand Zynga to be the creator of FarmVille and MafiaWars (two very popular Facebook games). But Zynga has also branched out from just the Facebook platform, producing the ever-popular Words with Friends mobile application. Yet, the bulk of the company’s future success remains correlated with Facebook.
But it is not an unrequited relationship: it was recently noted that almost 10% of Facebook’s revenues came from the fees paid by Zynga. This seems to also be born out by the speculations in financial markets, valuing Facebook at $100 billion and Zynga at approximately $10 billion. To have 10% of revenue come from a single company seems to be somewhat risky.
With regards to Zynga, I’m still having trouble accepting that they got millions of people to spend real dollars on digital cows and corn. But it is clear that they’re really onto something and it will be really exciting to watch it’s trek through the IPO and onto the markets.
OR my Chromebook experience
Last week I boarded a plane from SF to Chicago. I suppose the airline is important for the story: I flew Virgin America. It was probably the most enjoyable flight I’ve had in… forever?
But what blew everything else away was the awesome Chromebook I got to test out. In the terminal, there was a kiosk of Chomexperts lending Chromebooks. All I had to do was give them my credit card so I can’t steal the device.
The boot-up time was insane. Literally 8 seconds. My MacBook does a pretty decent job with Lion but you can tell that some engineers spent a long time shaving precious time off the startup.
But there were also some interesting aspects of the keyboard. For instance, the Caps Lock was replaced with a search button that automatically puts the focus on a search query. And there were a bunch more keys that clearly only a computer that ran in a browser would need. For instance, a dedicated key for refreshing a page, as well as keys for traversing the browsing history. You could also make a tab full screen and have no other distractions with a simple button.
And you access the device with your standard Google account. It brings in all of your services in the expected way. That was a disappoint feature, to tell you the truth, because I would have expected some of the applications to have Chromebook specific behavior. The only one in the standard suite that did was Google Talk, which worked very much like Facebook chat if it wasn’t isolated to the browser window.
So a Chromebook is useless without the internet, after all the point Google is making with Chrome OS is that we utilize the Cloud for so many of our services, that the OS becomes obsolete. And to that end, Virgin America hooked it up with free WiFi at 36,000 feet.
Now its not blazingly fast, but I sat in a chair in the SKY surfing the internet and chatting in real time with my friends far below me. To be fair, YouTube couldn’t really load any videos and I couldn’t consume streaming media but I’m not sure that was the fault of the Chromebook. I would assume that its the internet on the PLANE! (Sorry, I can’t get over that little fact).
The Chromebook itself, seemed fast enough to handle all the processes I was trying to do. The trackpad has some funky interactions, but I think that’s because I hand-mumble as I use a trackpad.
Overall, awesome experience. Thanks Google & Virgin for making my flight awesome. Its so nice when it actually feels like 2011 :)