Sunday, April 29, 2007


People usually want to live in the comfort of their own belief and stereotypes. And media, to attract more audience, would fall into the vicious cycle of presenting exaggerated stories, making stereotypes, and back and forth. In an age when the amount of information is increasing exponentially, we must not only read carefully edited news, but also the raw data. Some of the latter task can be aided by technologies now.

Hans Rosling's 21 min. talk at the 2006 TED Conference in Monterey, CA highlighting novel ways of presenting global statistics.

Search statistics through Google and watch it move with Gapminder. Google Subscribed Links makes it possible to search deep into Gapminder's moving graphs visualizing world development. Spring 2006.
Go straight to the graph

A presentation for UNDP Human Development Report 2005 in English and some other languages. Human Development Trends was produced in 2005. Available in English, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Russian, Spanish & Swedish.

Related links

Friday, April 27, 2007

Wide screen

In recent years, there is an increasing trend to advertise "wide screen" on laptops. It seems that a wider screen shows more than a narrow screen. But it's all relative. One can say that a wide screen is a short screen, and a narrow screen is a tall screen. And I personally prefer tall screen over wide screen on a laptop. Why? The price of a LCD display is approximately proportional to its size and the number of pixel. For example, Dell 2007FP (20.1", 1600×1200 = 1.92 megapixels) is US$379 on PriceGrabber, and Dell 2007FWP (20.1", 1680×1050 = 1.764 megapixels) is US$369.95 on PriceGrabber. So if I'm paying roughly the same amount, I'd like to have as many pixels as possible. The number of pixels here is not really the simple product of the height and the width. It's how many are actually utilized. Most websites are built to be 800×600-friendly, and most sites have vertical scroll. If my screen width is larger than 800, then it is likely that I'm "wasting pixels" on the left and right, although enough websites are multi-resolution-friendly. Most blogs are fixed width. By the same token, many contemporary DVDs video have a aspect ratio of 1.85:1 or 2.35:1. On a screen that is 4:3 (or 1⅓:1), there would be black areas on the top and bottom. These are the two major cases where the pixels are wasted. And I have to ask myself, which one scenario is more common for myself? It's websites. When I'm reading a web page, what good is the extra 80 pixels on the horizontal axis, while I could have 150 extra pixels on the vertical axis, and possibly avoid some scrolling?

You may have a different use case. But you have to think about it for yourself. Marketing people do not have your best interest in mind.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Why is my life boring?

Two reasons.
  • I insist on doing the right thing
  • I insist on efficiency, consistency, and completeness

As a result, I spend so much time upholding these two principles, and I don't have time for anything else. Or my life has become so routine because of efficiency. So when people ask me on Monday how my weekend was, I don't know how to answer because any answer I can give would be the same as the answer I gave last week, and it would be boring. What am I talking about? This is best illustrated by examples

  • I eat the same food over and over again. This is a result of evaluating all kinds of factors like price, lead time and tastiness. It doesn't matter what my metric is. The point is because I insist on the optimal solution, I end up eating the same thing. If I deviate from the routine pattern, it would violate the optimality.
  • I keep all the mail from charity organization. I hope that one day I can donate to them all because this is the right thing to do. Also, I have to spend time eliminating the duplicate mail from the same organization, otherwise my space is not efficiently utilized.
  • I keep all the coupons from all kinds of restaurants hoping that one day I can use them. Saving is a good virtue. But I have to eliminate the ones that expire. Time is spent on that.
  • I write blog, like many others do. But when I write my blog, I have to do it in two languages because some of my audience prefer English over Chinese, while some others prefer the other way around. And because I want to write something meaningful and original, and don't want to have silly things like "I'm just eat two burgers and I'm still hungry, hahaha", I spend so much time thinking about my arguments, evidence to back up my claim, background research, and even proper links to Wikipedia and correct HTML syntax.
  • I keep my address book clean, to a degree that somebody would call obsessive. But all I'm trying to do is for completeness and correctness. All I need is a complete current address (many of my friends have to provide two, on in the U.S., one in Taiwan), land line phone number, cell phone number, email, IM IDs. Also, I need to make customized portraits for my own cell phone. As a result, people just come to me for contact information. What am I? Yellow book?
  • When I see some interesting thing on the internet such as videos or photo collection, I am obligated to download them. I hope that I can go back and re-enjoy them some time in the future, reuse them for creative work, share them to people I know, or just for the record. This means that I have to spend time actually downloading them, categorize them properly. Sometimes I have to write code to perform massive download, or by brute force manual effort. Maintaining them is also a tremendous effort, such as removing duplicate copies. Duplicate copy is fine, it's the "almost identical" copy that causes the trouble. A video can be as long as 40 minutes, and I have to watch two copies side by side simultaneously to compare the quality. After all, maintain the best quality is the right thing to do, and removing unnecessary copies is an efficient utilization of my disk.
  • I have obtained many DVDs in a relatively cheap method. But now I have a huge backlog of unwatched DVDs. I feel like watching these DVDs has become a responsibility. If I don't watch them, then the effort I spent on obtaining them cheaply would be a waste. That would be a contradiction. But I just don't have the time. And I have to watch DVD and eat at the same time. If I did two things separately which could be done simultaneously, it would be inefficient. Now that DVD watching has become a scheduled activity.
  • When I share my photos, I strive for completeness. I don't use online photo gallery service because they always have limits. I use my own computer as a server to serve the 7500 photos that I have to share. But every time there is an update, the gallery has to be rebuilt in different languages and it takes an hour. And before generating the gallery, I have to categorize the new photos properly, and make sure that the time stamp is correct.
  • I spent so much time on Wikipedia because it is the right thing to contribute.
  • My electricity company offers automatic debit from checking account, or one-time credit card payment. If I go with the automatic debit, I would lose interest and the opportunity to build up my credit. To optimize, I have to manually go through the payment process every month.
  • When I play video games, such as an RPG, I have to optimize my character. That means I have to do external analysis, usually with many Excel work sheets. The beginning would be very difficult. What is supposed to be an entertainment has become a math problem.

These are a few examples where my time is spent. This is why my life is boring. This reminds me an interesting saying: "America is a boring heaven, Taiwan is a happy hell". Americans do make more money, probably because American works are more efficient so more things get done. But at the same American life is boring and routine, just like my life is. Go to work, go home, watch TV. Taiwanese life has much more varieties. There are many things to do after work. And many things are 24 hours. Maybe it is also because a portion of the work force is dedicated to those 24 hour operations, Taiwanese don't make as much as a whole. It's off the topic. Let me give another example. American politics is boring because these politicians are doing the right thing (more or less). Perhaps more laws are passed and the citizens are more protected. But C-SPAN is boring. In contrast, Taiwanese politics is like a soap opera. Nothing gets passed in the legislative body, but the news is much more interesting.

Bottom line, efficiency and doing the right thing is an incompatible concept with an interesting life. How do you balance the two?

P.S. I spent 4 hours writing this (including translation and proof reading).