Archive for the ‘Stray data’ Category

Wed 12 Jan 2011 10:24 am   //   Posted in: Stray data

What I’ve been up to lately

Hello! After a period of quiet time on this blog, I wanted to share a few things I’m working on.

First, I’m developing a new blog that will replace History Eraser Button. It’s a blog about copywriting called Breaking Copy. You can read my first real post today. It’s about Sarah Palin and it’s called “Blood Libel.”

Breaking Copy is still being developed and may have some bugs. I’m planning to spend the next few weeks ironing out the wrinkles, with a real launch date of February 1, 2011.

Also during the holidays, I created a page about the history of the building where I’m living now. See my 63 Wall Street Scrapbook.

Thanks for reading and watch this space soon for more information about the Breaking Copy blog.

Fri 22 Oct 2010 12:00 am   //   Posted in: In the news, Media, Stray data

Chart: How much tax money do we spend on NPR, anyway?

Every few years, it becomes smart politics to attack public broadcasting and call for Congress to stop funding it. This week, following the Juan Williams debacle and just a few weeks before the midterm elections, National Public Radio is taking an especially hard beating from the right.

  • Mike Huckabee: “NPR has discredited itself as a forum for free speech and a protection of the First Amendment rights of all and has solidified itself as the purveyor of politically correct pabulum and protector of views that lean left…. It is time for the taxpayers to start making cuts to federal spending, and I encourage the new Congress to start with NPR.”
  • Sarah Palin: “If NPR is unable to tolerate an honest debate about an issue as important as Islamic terrorism, then it’s time for ‘National Public Radio’ to become ‘National Private Radio.'”
  • Some dude on Huffington: “It’s clear that NPR would rather play consistently to the left than reach a balanced audience. And for that, they deserve to be pushed away from the public trough.”

I’ve never been a big fan of using tax money to support media programming; its too close to the state-run media in countries with less freedom of speech. But the truth is, in the U.S., public radio hardly gets any tax money. NPR gets no tax money directly. Most of NPR’s revenue comes from private donations. Federal money is funneled through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which doles out grants to local stations, which can use it to pay their NPR dues. How much did the CPB budget for radio this year? $90.5 million. That’s nothing.

I’ve become interested in data visualization, so just for fun, here’s a quick and dirty chart illustrating the amount of tax money spent on public radio compared to a few other choice areas. I threw News Corp’s annual revenues in for good measure. All numbers (except the TARP spending) are from FY 2010.


Mon 18 Oct 2010 7:00 am   //   Posted in: Hard times, Stray data

Think outside the swan

OK, let’s get started. Chicago, can you hear us on the speakerphone? Fine, fine.

Good morning everybody. I hope you read the file we sent out before this meeting, but in case you didn’t, here are the highlights: Q3 revenues were off 38%. Customer satisfaction is at an all-time low. Frankly, we also expect corporate to implement redundancies before the holidays. I know this is a bitter call to swallow. But it’s also a wakeup pill.

Team, it’s time to think outside the swan.

What does that mean? First, reach for the low-hanging eggs. Seek out the black baskets. For too long, we’ve been putting all our fruit in one box. That changes today.

Second, be nimble. Drive in the fast shoe. Keep lines of communication open. There’s an old saying that goes, a lane can travel halfway around a fact while the world is still putting on its lies. I find it helpful to always keep that in mind.

And finally, adapt. Feed the cloud, and starve the lining. You can’t stop the losers, but you can learn how to ride. And when the surf gets bumpy, remember that every winner has a sugar wave.

I look out at this room and I see a lot of potential. I know we can meet our goals if we all do our best work. But I’m not going to silver-coat the situation. Our chips are to the wall. It’s hard to turn around a table. But we’re going to put our best backs forward. And we’ve put all our bucks on the battleship. I know I speak for all of management when I say, the foot stops here.

Now I’ll open the floor. Any questions?

Tue 18 May 2010 11:10 pm   //   Posted in: Stray data, Technology

Online writing and the power of “should”

Today’s blog post is about using math to make writing more effective. You should read it!

A couple of months ago, I noticed a curious phrase showing up on lots of blogs.

“You should follow me on Twitter here.”

This phrase stands out for being terse, awkward, even rude. Most people would write “Please…” instead of “You should…” Yet this specific line of clunky self-promo copy spread like the flu. A Google search for that exact phrase returns 154,000 results! (For comparison, a search for “Please follow me on Twitter here” returns 1,690 results.)

We can trace this phenomenon to blogger Dustin Curtis, who used testing to find the optimal way to convince people to follow him on Twitter. “You should follow me on Twitter here” was proven to be the most persuasive sentence. You should read about his experiment here.

I have conflicted feelings about this. On one hand, I don’t want to endorse shoddy writing edited by machines. On the other hand, shouldn’t you use every weapon in your arsenal to make your writing more effective? You should!

I decided to try a test of my own. For the last six weeks, visitors to this blog have been part of an experiment.


Wed 20 Jan 2010 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Stray data, Technology

Thought of the day

“An ocean cable is not an iron chain, lying cold and dead in the icy depths of the Atlantic. It is a living, fleshy bond between severed portions of the human family, along which pulses of love and tenderness will run backward and forward forever.”

—Henry Field, writing of the first undersea telegraphic cables, quoted in The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage.

Sat 16 Jan 2010 2:50 pm   //   Posted in: Stray data

“In shambles” or “a shambles”? “Floundered” or “foundered”?

Ninety-second Saturday afternoon language lesson!

I was breezing through the story about NBC in today’s Times and smashed into a pair of phrases that I’ve never really been sure about. I looked up both in the dictionary, and of course the Times got both right. (Show-offs!) Here’s what I learned:

“Today the network is in shambles…”

Is it correct to say NBC is in shambles or a shambles? People who work at NBC might dispute this, but grammatically both are correct. Merriam-Webster’s offers two similar definitions of shambles (“a scene or a state of great destruction” or “a scene or a state of great disorder or confusion”) and two usage examples (“The city was a shambles” or “an economy in shambles”). Interesting, another meaning of the word is slaughterhouse.

Sat 7 Nov 2009 11:04 pm   //   Posted in: Stray data

The nerdiest coin ever minted?

Yes, it’s happened: You have lived to see the day when a U.S. coin bears the likeness of President James K. Polk! I pocketed this gem today, courtesy of a Metro North ticket machine.



Thu 24 Sep 2009 7:13 am   //   Posted in: Books, Stray data, Technology’s long memory

Yesterday I got one of those promotional e-mails Amazon sends out all the time….

As someone who has purchased or rated Guide to Venezuela: The Bradt Travel Guide by Hilary-Dunsterville Branch or other books in the South America > Venezuela category, you might like to know that Along the River that Flows Uphill: Between the Orinoco and the Amazon (Armchair Traveller) will be released on October 1, 2009.

So what, right? Here’s what: Amazon is making a recommendation based on a book I purchased in September 2000—Nine years ago!


Sat 8 Aug 2009 10:44 pm   //   Posted in: Stray data

No posts for a few days

I’m on vacation and won’t be updating my blog until the week of August 17. See you then!

Fri 31 Jul 2009 9:00 am   //   Posted in: Failure, Stray data, Transit

You’d be there by now on the Air-Shuttle

The last time I took the Amtrak to D.C., in May, I shot some pictures of urban decay seen from the train. There was one particular sign I wanted to photograph—on the side of a warehouse between Trenton and Philadelphia—but it always goes by so fast I’ve never been able to get a shot of it. Until a recent trip to Maryland this past Saturday.


This is a poster for the long-defunct Eastern Airlines Air Shuttle. Note the classic Eastern logo in the lower-left part of the sign. How old is this sign?