Twitter Wordles!

Some fun word graphics made from my Twitter messages.  The bigger a word, the more often it's been used in things I say on Twitter.  Apparently I'm posting a lot of pictures. to find me there, or I think I'll go find a sidebar widget to add now...  I found this by using which lead me to thanks @dacort!


More Facinating Map Data

A friend forwarded me a remarkable heat map interactive article from the NY Times the other day, layering Netflix rental queue data to United State Post Office zip code for a display of movie popularity. The article is here. What's interesting to me about this is what the rental trends say about socio-economic data, and how big enough computers with the right data sets can know far too much about us. I don't think most organizations public OR private, are entirely that clever yet about how they target their marketing spend (corporation) or analysis cycles (three-letter government agency), but I bet I would be shocked to see the level of detail this data IS currently being analyzed under. Makes me want to sleep with a tin-foil hat on to protect my thoughts!

I looked over the Netflix developer API site briefly I don't think this is public data on rental trends, so Netflix must have collaborated with the article author to show us all something interesting. Also, you have to take into account this si RENTAL data... so a movie may have been extremely popular in the theater for a zip code's population, but very seldom rented.

Here is an example from the article map mash up. This is a picture of the movie, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and it's popularity in the Bay Area. The more red a zip code, the higher it rated on the collective Netflix queue's of that zip code's population. If a zip code is white, the movie did not appear in the top 50 movie queues for that zip.

So this is already pretty interesting. Based on what demographic information I know about the area simply by living here, I can easily WAY over-generalize this and say this movie was vastly more popular with Caucasians. Of course the more meaningful analysis is when you can interpret the other direction, saying zip code XYZ is going to be interesting in movie ABC. Movie studios spend tons of money on this kind of data. Even more meaningful is when you can infer some things about one map, use that inference to make politically incorrect over generalizations, then apply those same over generalizations to another set of zip codes.

More interesting are other movies which are telling on other dimensions. I'm not very politically correct anyway, so I'm happy to suggest that this picture of rental trends from the movie, "Milk" tells us interesting things about public opinion of homosexuality:

Especially as compared to say, the same movie and it's respective popularity in Dallas for example:

Or this picture of the Bay Area, which counter-intuitively tells us the movie, "The Proposal" was not very popular with well educated single people:


Cyrillic Alphabet

After traveling to places in the last year like Egypt and China where I listen to the language and honestly can't even tell where one word starts and the next one begins - let alone decipher any meaning whatsoever... it's surprisingly easy to get along in Moscow with zero Russian language knowledge at all. There are certain tricks that any experienced traveler knows (such as buffet restaurants can be your best friend), and many of people at least in urban Moscow actually speak pretty good English. But as strange looking as the Cyrillic alphabet is to the English speaker's eye it's actually not that complex. There's a one to one mapping of many characters to our alphabet, and if you simply ignore the extra letters they have (Cyrillic has 32 letters) - you can sound out the word and hazard a pretty good guess at what's the meaning much of the time. Between Raffy's Swiss-German, my (abysmal) Spanish, and our collective English - there's plenty of overlap with Russian nouns if you keep it phonetic. (see above how "coffee" translates... circle with a line through sounds like "fee").

Anyway back to California tomorrow - excited to not have to wear six layers of clothes to head outside in minus 10 C weather! What a great trip!

Merry (Orthodox) Christmas from Russia

I guess I didn't really realize until this trip to Moscow how recently - in relative terms - religious freedom was expressed in Russia. Only in 1992 was Christmas first (again) openly celebrated. Prior to 1992, Christmas was banned from open/public celebration since the communist rule took over in 1917. So only for the last twenty years has Christmas been openly celebrated, which makes it interesting to be here at this point.

January 7th is the date Christmas is celebrated because of a discrepancy between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. While most of the world today runs on the more accurate Gregorian calendar, until Pope Gregory XIII put this forth in 1582 most of the world ran on the Julian calendar. The America's adopted the Gregorian calendar in the 1800's, the Russian government adopted the Gregorian calendar in the early 1900's. The older Julian calendar is still the one the orthodox church follows - hence Christmas is celebrated on January 7th.

We went to an Orthodox mass last night which was pretty cool. It's mostly singing and chanting in Russian language which we did not understand but was very beautiful to listen to. Interestingly most of the Russians attending service did not understand the language either. The formal church language is a much older version of Russian language which is mostly not spoken today and is not understood by most Russian people. I gather this is like attending a Roman Catholic service in the United States where the priests talk in Latin.

Christmas is otherwise much the same in Russia, presents and meals with family and the Christmas Tree. Kids get presents from a "Grandfather Frost" called Ded Moroz. Much like Santa, except he wears blue, and has a helper/assistant who is in fact a blond attractive young woman purportedly his granddaughter Snegurochka. While Europe and elsewhere have a "father winter" character - Snegurochka is uniquely Russian (former USSR-wide actually).

So it's a special treat for me to have one Christmas in the United States this year with my family in Seattle, and another in Russia with the people of Moscow (and my friend/ travel buddy Raffy). It was snowing all day today and was a beautiful day and a white Christmas. Merry Christmas from Moscow!


Московский Кремль (The Kremlin)

Saw the Kremlin this afternoon. It's primary attractions are a museum, a cluster of maybe 10 different cathedrals you can kinda make out on Google Maps here, and the grounds overall. You can't get very close to where Dmitry Medvedev lives, but it is one of the buildings within the walled campus area. You can see the senate building, but from where you can see it there were 15 armed guards (that I could see)... so they are pretty serious about, "you're not coming near here."

The museum, "The Armory" has actual carriages from 1600's and 1700's which were pretty cool to see, and suits of armor from 600 years ago, but photographs are not allowed. Same with the cathedrals, no photos. Being one who enjoys evaluating controls and countermeasures first hand (also someone who doesn't understand the "no cameras" signs when they are written in Russian), I did take some pictures anyway - but got kicked out of a cathedral yesterday due to non-compliance with the no camera rule and also the no gloves rule I kinda missed at the entrance. SO, I have only a few pictures from the outside of the Kremlin to show you from today. You'll have to come check it out yourself sometime! (I recommend July... brrr....!)


Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Pretty interesting this cathedral we visited today was entirely deconstructed during the communist rule after the death of Lenin, and rebuilt from scratch starting in 1994. To look at it today it would appear a several-century-old building, but in fact the site spent 60 of the last 80 years as a swimming pool. Wikipedia is my best friend when I travel. Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It is interesting to visit a place as tourist, experience it with sounds, smells and sight that a camera can't capture - then look it up back in the hotel and read about it's history.


Red Square

It has become painfully obvious that I have to invest in a new compact digital camera to replace the Leica D-LUX4 I decided to crash test last year - by seeing how well holds up to falling out of your backpack on the freeway and getting run over by a F250 (not well). However my currently... um... seven or so year old Pentax Optio S5i does still manage a moderate picture about once every three tries... so here's a couple pictures from Red Square last night.

Moscow is gearing up for Christmas on January 7th, Russian Orthodox follows the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar adopted by much of the West and also the Russian government. So the city feels like Christmas, with trees and lights and shoppers out.

Hi There Moscow

Just got into Moscow, Russia this morning for a week of vacation. It's going to be around zero degrees Fahrenheit all week, not sure if this was well timed from a weather perspective BUT I fortunately have brought nearly every sweater, scarf, mitten, coat and stocking cap I own... so I should be set. We got in this morning, took a train to the hotel right next to Red Square, shuffled out to get lunch (hot soup tastes exponentially better when it's freezing) and are napping before heading out to ice skate in Red Square this evening.

Moscow is shockingly expensive (that's saying a lot - I live in San Francisco). Four coffees cost 1,400 Rubles ($60 USD), cheap lunch for three was about $45, a maybe eight minute cab ride was $40. Fortunately I flew here for free using miles, and hotel was also paid for with points... so I might end up for the week about what it would cost to spend a week at home if I am careful.

The city strikes me as terribly modern as any US or European city. High end retail, very expensive cars, road infrastructure is difficult to gauge since the entire city is covered in ice and snow... ha, ha. I am surprised by the European influence on architecture. My mind's eye pegged Moscow for very drab buildings with little windows, concrete everywhere and simple block forms. Instead there are curves and mixed modern with several hundred year old buildings, a beautiful city on a river... feels a lot like Prague but stretched out with more space between everything. Excited to check out some of the beautiful bridges tomorrow. If I can figure out how to get a camera driver downloaded over this paltry Internet connection I'll post up pictures tomorrow too.