Sustaining the momentum: All of us are blood!

When reflecting on current race relations in the U.S. , honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. cannot but force us to acknowledge the fierce urgency of embracing the “black lives matter” movement. But that urgency is easy to get lost on media notorious for its short attention span. No matter how powerful or timely a message is, having it silenced by the noise typical of today’s social media would render it impotent. The challenge of persistence is real! So is the need for sustaining the momentum!

Conservation of Momentum

There is nothing more destructive for a society than the pent up energy of ignored social demands… and nothing worse for a social media strategy than losing its momentum.

“Newton’s third law implies that the total momentum of a system of interacting objects that are not acted on by outside forces is conserved. For a system of objects, a component of the momentum along a chosen direction is constant, if no net outside force with a component in this chosen direction acts on the system.  In collisions between two isolated objects momentum is always conserved.  Kinetic energy is only conserved in elastic collisions.”

Think of every twitter message, every social media post, every action, every discussion, every protest, every song every hand reached out to someone who is different from you yet human as much you as the object of this interactive system aiming for informing minds and changing hearts.

The geek in me wants to elaborate on using the 3rd Law of Newton as a metaphor of the power of social media for change; the artistic curator in me just wants to branch out and collect diverse expression of the same message over and over until all get it: #blacklivesmatter and #allofusareblood!

How to inform minds, and change hearts, through social media

The message needs to be told over and over, using multiple channels, using multiple modes of expression. There is no better way to convey a message than to do it visually. That is, unless you add an audio component, but I will get to that in a minute.

All Of Us Are Blood
All Of Us Are Blood

Here are some examples:

Let us look at the question of human dignity globally and and throughout history, reflecting on the cost of human life throughout history:

Getting outside of the comfort zone of averages, and focusing on the U.S., how does the cost of human life change when we reflect on the Three Fifths Compromise? What has its impact been on the lives of African-Americans. What about the impact on Native Americans? I would love to see such powerful data visualization that conveys the lost opportunities for minorities, and society at large.

When you mix inequality with the human development index, things get pretty uncomfortable pretty soon: “For instance, the United States’ IHDI is 17.4% lower than its HDI, yet it drops 23 places in ranking.”

We are not numbers but surely the power of numbers can help convey a message.

If anything, we all are energy, and music… and blood.

All Of Us Are Blood!

That is where the audio side of things comes in — or rather the musical expression of our call for human dignity — “I Can’t Breathe”, a powerful new song by Moanin’ Sons in collaboration with Oneness.org and with the participation of Lonnie Jordan of WAR.

This is a song so masterfully mixing the message with the data with the emotion and the artistic expression that it deserves to be heard over and over, and to be shared as widely as possible. For it can be one of those elements of sustained momentum. Share the message! Join the conversation!

Visualization tool for your Facebook friends’ geographical location

Visualizing your Facebook friends’ geographical location

A cool visualization tool profiled by InsideAnalysis shows the geographical locations of Facebook friends on a Google map. The Holistic Systems app, available at http://apps.facebook.com/wheretheynow, was created with client-side JavaScript and Facebook Query Language (FQL) and takes advantage of the Facebook API and the Google Maps API.

Visualization of the current cities of my Facebook friends' geographical locations
Visualization of the current cities of my Facebook friends’ geographical locations

The basic version breaks down the list of your friends by location, gender, relationship status, and list membership. The advanced version of the app features drop-down menu of filters based on interests such as religion, books, music, and work history.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how broad the geographical spread of my Facebook friends is and decided to further explore their origins.  It turns out that the majority of them come from hometowns different from their current cities. Switching back and forth between the home town and current city makes for an interesting graph of Facebook denizens’ migration. See for yourself at http://apps.facebook.com/wheretheynow.

Visualization of the home towns of my Facebook friends' geographical locations
Visualization of the home towns of my Facebook friends’ geographical locations

Data Visualization of the Food Commute

Food Access Research Atlas

Just after yesterdays data visualization of the average commute time in the U.S., now we get another powerful data visualization tool courtesy of USDA, this one mapping the food deserts and average time we commute to get to our food.

Food and Commute

Food Access Research AtlasI am grateful to have grown up in a family which continues to produce quite a bit of its own fruits and vegetables in addition to my dad’s beekeeping, back in the Bulgarian village where my parents live and where I spent every weekeend and vacation as a child. Here, in the U.S. it is a very different story for the majority of people.

For a vast country as the U.S., it is not surprising that there are massive areas where getting to food requires long commute. The problem I am sure is multi-dimensional and is partially rooted in the way cities in this country are built but also in the frontier culture which pushes many people to sacrifice the convenient proximity to food and work for the independence of living on your own piece of land.

I am personally lucky to live within walking distance from Giant, Harris Teeter and, most importantly, Trader Joe’s groceries stores. Occasionally  I would drive to Costco for some big purchases but as a whole if I needed to, I could walk or bite for my groceries every day — just like I did early this morning when I needed yogurt and bananas.

Just as the Slow Food movement and Michael Pollan’s call to know where our food comes from, there are more and more people who demand to know the origin of their food and the way it travels to their tables. Thus the emergence of search engines like BuyLocal.com.

The new Food Access Research Atlas should help with this noble endeavor as well!

Data Is Contextual, Powerful and Beautiful

When Kate Crawford of Microsoft Research presented at the 2013 Strata Conference, she gave powerful examples of how big data analysis and visualization can be skewed unless coupled with depth and context.

As NPR reported about the Food Access Research Atlas:

The atlas, which is a big upgrade from the USDA’s two-year-old Food Desert Locator, is intended as a tool for state policymakers, local planners, and nonprofit groups concerned about food access.

The team working on the Atlas have made this powerful data visualization tool doubly more useful by mashing data on the distance to food sources with data about car ownership. They admit regretting not being able to add information about public transportation which would have made the tool even greater by providing contextual depth but such data is apparently not available on a national level.

Accessible Data is Usable Data

Just as many of the presenters at the Strata Conference illustrated, when data is beautiful, we are more willing and able to consume it — not unlike healthy, organic food: if it is accessible and affordable, we will gladly opt to take advantage of it.

I wish the Atlas were not Flash-based. I wish it were built on a more open, flexible platform — Google Maps perhaps? I would have loved to be able to move from address to address quicker. But these are minimal complains. The Food Access Research Atlas is a welcome and powerful tool and its authors should be proud!

Stunning Data Visualization of the Average Commute Time

Stunning Data Visualization of the Average Commute TimeThe DataNews team at WNYC has put together a stunning data visualization of the average commute time in this great country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, whose data the talented data scientists and data artist up in New York used:

About 8.1 percent of U.S. workers have commutes of 60 minutes or longer, 4.3 percent work from home, and nearly 600,000 full-time workers had “megacommutes” of at least 90 minutes and 50 miles. The average one-way daily commute for workers across the country is 25.5 minutes, and one in four commuters leave their county to work.

This makes me appreciate the fact that most days I bike to work which is a good 30 min workout downhill and another 35-40 min really good workout uphill.

So much food for thought but nothing beats a beautiful picture:

Strata Conference – Data Journalism and Coding

Code“The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future. You’re going to look like you have magic powers compared to everybody else.” – Gabe Newell

A friend today raised the valid question of why should everybody be able to learn to code. It is a matter of competitiveness, I think. I sat today at a fascinating presentation with the Guardian Data team at the Strata Conference and it is clear that the immense data and data analysis and visualization tools available today are enabling the type of journalism that a few years ago would have been impossible, ignored, or in the best scenario stumbled upon by luck. Moreover, as my professor of global business used to joke: nowadays only your local barbershop is truly local, and even this might be disputed (the ladies who cut my hair are all Vietnamese). So, put globalization and data overflow together, and you arrive at a world that is inherently more complex than the one inhabited by our grandparents. For that reason, the basic skills of pattern recognition (which my daughters study in elementary school) should be augmented by the equally basic skill of algorithm building and programming – logical process, as my friend rightly noted. I see it also in the context of consuming vs. co-creating. A few years ago not many people would consider having computer skills as essential – now it is the norm. But we should not stop at using the computers to consume only — once the kids learn how to co-create using computers, many of the current challenges will meet their, undoubtedly unexpected, solutions.