ASSEMBLEME: I'll be posting less frequently for at least a month, and quite possibly up to three. Moving across the country and finding a new job is going to be eating up a fair amount of my time. ;-)
DATA: Consumer Reports has a table that purports to tell which US housing markets are overpriced, which are undervalued, and which are at a fair value. This is good information to have for those thinking about moving from renting to buying, or those thinking about selling and renting -- especially with growing news about a possible real-estate bubble.
The Local Market Monitor, a Wellesley, Mass., real-estate consulting company, prepared for Consumer Reports this list of more than 125 housing markets in the U.S. The average home price is listed for each metropolitan area. Areas where real-estate values seem unusually high based on historical price/income ratios are rated as "overpriced. " Markets where prices and incomes were near equilibrium ratios, or the "affordable price," are listed as "fair value." Markets where home prices seem low relative to incomes are listed as "undervalued." The right-hand columns list annual price gains (or losses) through the third quarter of 2004, and quarter to quarter for 2004, according to data compiled by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO).
LINKS & RESOURCES: A few more happy gizmos:
Do It Yourself Planner 2.0: Why buy a planner when you can print our your own? Use these templates to make a planner that works for you.
Surftp: Need access to your FTP from a public machine? Just don't want to install an FTP program? Well then connect to your ftp using Surftp. Just don't use it for anything important; you are giving them your ftp password remember.
LINKS & RESOURCES: I found a number of promising OSX tweaks on A Guide to "Things MacOS X" on the Net:
- Path Finder: AKA "Finder Pro." It's the perfect tool for those of us that use multiple OSs and miss having the path available at the top of a browser window like in Windows and Linux.
- DropDrawers: An application that gives you little "drawers" (panes that slide on and off the side of the desktop) that hold shortcuts, URLS, documents, etc.
- DragThing: An flexible alternative to the doc.
- TinkerTool: A tool for adjusting hidden GUI options.
- Quitling: A menu that provides you with functions from OS9 and other fun stuff, like killing rouge processes.
While we're on the subject, be sure to check out Paul Graham's, Return of the Mac.
All the best hackers I know are gradually switching to Macs. My friend Robert said his whole research group at MIT recently bought themselves Powerbooks. These guys are not the graphic designers and grandmas who were buying Macs at Apple's low point in the mid 1990s. They're about as hardcore OS hackers as you can get.
The intervening years have created a situation that is, as far as I know, without precedent: Apple is popular at the low end and the high end, but not in the middle. My seventy year old mother has a Mac laptop. My friends with PhDs in computer science have Mac laptops.  And yet Apple's overall market share is still small.
Though unprecedented, I predict this situation is also temporary.
So Dad, there's this company called Apple. They make a new kind of computer that's as well designed as a Bang & Olufsen stereo system, and underneath is the best Unix machine you can buy. Yes, the price to earnings ratio is kind of high, but I think a lot of people are going to want these.
DATA: I really enjoy "The God Racket, From DeMille to DeLay" by Frank Rich in today's Times.
[Polls] consistently show that at most a fifth of the country subscribes to the religious views of those in the Republican base whom even George Will, speaking last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," acknowledged may be considered "extremists." In that famous Election Day exit poll, "moral values" voters amounted to only 22 percent. Similarly, an ABC News survey last weekend found that only 27 percent of Americans thought it was "appropriate" for Congress to "get involved" in the Schiavo case and only 16 percent said it would want to be kept alive in her condition. But a majority of American colonists didn't believe in witches during the Salem trials either - any more than the Taliban reflected the views of a majority of Afghans. At a certain point - and we seem to be at that point - fear takes over, allowing a mob to bully the majority over the short term. (Of course, if you believe the end is near, there is no long term.)
INFO VISUALIZATION: Ran across some interesting papers in Info related fields today:
Abstract: Route maps, which depict a path from one location to another, have emerged as one of the most popular applications on the Web. Current computer-generated route maps, however, are often very difficult to use. In this paper we present a set of cartographic generalization techniques specifically designed to improve the usability of route maps. Our generalization techniques are based both on cognitive psychology research studying how route maps are used and on an analysis of the generalizations commonly found in handdrawn route maps. We describe algorithmic implementations of these generalization techniques within LineDrive, a real-time system for automatically designing and rendering route maps. Feedback from over 2200 users indicates that almost all believe LineDrive maps are preferable to using standard computer-generated route maps alone.
My take: AWESOME. The maps that most trip-planners give end users are cluttered and often too realistic. Making trip planner results simplified and, um, more like directions drawn on a napkin (in other words, more like a person would give directions and less like a computer would) could be a huge improvement.
Abstract: We present design principles for creating effective assembly instructions and a system that is based on these principles. The principles are drawn from cognitive psychology research which investigated a person's conceptual models of assembly and effective methods to visually communicate assembly information. Our system is inspired by earlier work in robotics on assembly planning and in visualization on automated presentation design. Although other systems have considered presentation and planning independently, we believe it is necessary to address the two problems simultaneously in order to create effective assembly instructions. We describe the algorithmic techniques used to produce assembly instructions given object geometry, orientation, and optional grouping and ordering constraints on the object's parts. Our results demonstrate that it is possible to produce aesthetically pleasing instructions for everyday objects that are easy to follow.
My take: Come back to this paper if you ever need to do a heuristic eval on an assembly instructions.
Abstract: This paper introduces TeCFlow – A Temporal Communication Flow Visualizer for Social Network Analysis. TeCFlow automatically generates interactive movies of communication flows among individuals by mining e-mail log files and other communication archives. Combining those movies with measures of social network analysis such as the change over time in group betweenness centrality and group density leads to insights into organizational dynamics. In addition we have defined a contribution index, which measures the activity of individual actors as senders and receivers of messages relative to a group.
My take: Very cool. Practical? Eh, maybe not so much. Check out the videos there though, something about animated force-directed layout graphs just makes me happy.
INFO VISUALIZATION: The New York Times has a great timeline showing how the Schiavo Case has wound its way through the Florida and Federal Court Systems. Yeah, this whole news story blitz is ridiculous -- how is this anything but a personal matter? -- but what I like about this graphic is that it gives you a sense for how the court systems work in general.
INFO SCIENCE: The movement to find and create public domain content really is making some huge strides currently. I find myself using more open-source software than ever before (I download more programs from SourceForge than from any other source), using Wikipedia on a daily basis, finding great new music under a Creative Commons license, and even contributing on occasion.
Well, a cool new feature from Yahoo! might help keep this movement going. Now you can search specifically for Creative Commons content using Yahoo!'s new Creative Commons search feature.
INFO VISUALIZATION: Mediamaters calls CNN on their flatly stupid representation of poll results on their webpage. Let's give a looksy:
Yes, that's right. Stupid. The difference between the two data points is 8% -- but you wouldn't notice that without paying close attention. The difference is only 1% greater then the margin of error (7%).
Thankfully, CNN later updated the chart on their webpage.
If you want some polling data surrounding the Schiavo issue, check out this CBS article.
An overwhelming 82 percent of the public believes the Congress and President should stay out of the matter. There is widespread cynicism about Congress' motives for getting involved: 74 percent say Congress intervened to advance a political agenda, not because they cared what happened to Terri Schiavo. Public approval of Congress has suffered as a result; at 34 percent, it is the lowest it has been since 1997, dropping from 41 percent last month. Now at 43 percent, President Bush’s approval rating is also lower than it was a month ago.