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Posts Tagged ‘data visualization’

Soliciting Questions from the Crowd, Looking for the Crowd to Rank Questions

by April 2, 2012

process-sketch-v01 Over the past few weeks, we’ve been preparing to launch the EarthQ project. Modeled after Spot.us, which was recently acquired by American Public Media, we’re soliciting questions for which people would like to see high-quality, evergreen content developed (see some example answers here). In order for a question to move up the queue, or have its EarthQ rank increased, it needs to be shared a lot through Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. We’re doing this because it will be a substantial research effort to develop the high-quality answers, and we want to ensure that the question is of interest broadly.

Then, just like Spot.us raises funds to support the reporting on a particular topic, we’ll be looking for donations to support our research team. We’ll be aiming to raise micro-donations in 99 cent increments.

Head over to the Questions page to share (rank) questions and feel free to click the Amazon donate button to throw your 99 cents behind a question.

Over the past few days, these questions have been submitted via the website:

We welcome your feedback and ideas on this new project.

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Why Does Sea Level Rise When the Planet Warms?

by March 26, 2012

If you would like to see a high-quality infographic developed for this question, please share it with your network using the sharing icons above—these actions will increase the question’s priority. Please look at the example answers here. Also, if you would value a high-quality answer being available on the Web, please consider a small donation ($0.99) to support our research team.

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What Is Ocean Acidification?

by March 26, 2012

ANSWER (CURRENTLY UNDER REVIEW): A gradual yet steady change of ocean chemistry marked by a decrease in pH that is caused by increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This answer is focused on changes to the ocean over recent decades. In addition to the infographic below, check out several videos on our YouTube channel that we produced through a video contest.
Q001 what is ocean acidification v0289

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EarthQ Core Business Model: Where Is the Sweet Spot?

by February 1, 2012

Recently, we have been working to launch a project dubbed EarthQ. The goal has been to shepherd good questions and cultivate good answers by bringing the right mix of experts to Quora, as is described in this post about bringing the carbon cycle to Quora. This work continues, but so far, my attempts to draw in a few experts to help with answers have come up dry. The Quora team thinks it is okay for those who pose a question to answer it, so that will likely be my next step. Perhaps with a solid answer to the first question, What are the compartments in which carbon is stored on Earth?, I can then start to draw in some colleagues to endorse the answer by up-voting it… (more…)

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Tracking the Mood About Gas Prices on Twitter: A Case Study

by January 25, 2012

As another test of our strategy for teasing out public opinion from social media, we explored measuring mood about gas prices on Twitter. This post summarizes the findings from this case study. Incidentally, we are set up to measure mood from Twitter on an ongoing basis, although we would need to find a partner to help defray the ongoing costs of crowdsourcing the sentiment judgments. (See this post to read more about our decision to examine the discussion about gas prices on Twitter.)

The sentiment we mapped was culled from tweets gathered from four weeks’ worth of data starting on May 22nd, 2011. This time period was chosen to coincide with Memorial Day, a holiday during which many Americans travel by car. Our team was curious to see whether there would be an uptick in either the volume of tweets about gas prices during this period or a noticeable change in sentiment about these prices. (more…)

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A Billion Dollars Flowing Down the Mississippi Annually

by December 20, 2011

In a recent post, I did a bit of research to update the picture of nutrient flows down the Mississippi due to runoff and other sources in its watershed. There’s been an ongoing debate about the source of the nutrients in the river that are directly linked to low-oxygen conditions in the Gulf of Mexico.

For a taste of the debate, check out the controversy a year ago surrounding the premier of Troubled Waters, A Mississippi River Story (link to view on Twin Cities Public TV). Among other activity, there was a heated back-and-forth on the opinion pages of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (first piece arguing that research for film was dubious, counter piece by producers about the research behind the film). The flare up nearly squelched the premier, although it ultimately took place.

Personally, I experienced how difficult it can be to establish a “consensus view” of how to describe nitrogen flows for the report on ecosystem indicators described in my previous post. There was a constant tension throughout the report process to “tell readers what to do with the information” rather than just “giving them the facts.” I believe we ultimately struck a good balance, however, we nearly had resignations of participants when we unintentionally pushed the line on the indicator dealing with the movement of nitrogen and got too close to pointing fingers. (more…)

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Anything New in the Story of Nitrogen Moving into the Gulf of Mexico?

by December 14, 2011

Dialogue Earth has roots in a broad, stakeholder-based national report on the condition and use of U.S. ecosystems published by the Heinz Center in Washington, D.C. (the report is available in hard-copy from Island Press). Curiosity about the ongoing relevance of these indicators has led me to dive in and see what, if anything, can be said about trends since the release of the report in 2008.

The first indicator in the spotlight is one that describes the movement of nitrogen (N) into major waterways, through run-off as well as point discharges such as sewage treatment facilities (here’s a link to download a pdf of the indicator). Why is this an important indicator of the state of U.S. ecosystems? Our explanation in the report does a good job of answering this question:

Nitrogen is an important plant nutrient and is essential to all life. Nitrogen is an abundant component of the earth’s atmosphere, but it is unavailable to most life in gaseous form. In order to be used by plants and other organisms, nitrogen gas must be “fixed,” or converted to a “reactive” form, that plants can use, such as nitrate. Nitrogen is fixed and accumulates in ecosystems through natural processes, such as the growth of nitrogen-fixing plants like clover and soybeans. However, human activity has greatly increased the amount of reactive nitrogen added to ecosystems. The largest human-caused input of nitrogen to ecosystems comes from the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen gas into fertilizers. Additional reactive nitrogen gas is produced by the combustion of fossil fuels. Reactive nitrogen from all these sources can ultimately enter streams and rivers. Excess nitrogen transported to coastal waters by rivers can lead to low oxygen conditions, threaten fish and animal life, and degrade coastal water quality. (more…)

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Making Decisions About Purchasing Alternative Vehicles

by November 28, 2011

In a recent post, I discussed Why Hybrid Cars Are Tough To Justify On Fuel Savings Alone and how Gallons per Mile (GPM) would be a better metric than Miles per Gallon (MPG) to use to compare vehicles. The gist of it is that we save a lot more fuel replacing a 15 MPG vehicle with one that gets 20 MPG compared to replacing a 30 MPG vehicle with one that gets 35 MPG. The GPM metric makes this intuitively obvious, whereas MPG does not.

A few weeks back when I dipped my cup into the Twitter river, which I need to do more often, I happened upon a press release from the U of Minnesota Extension having to do with a new spreadsheet tool designed by energy economist Doug Tiffany to help those considering an alternative vehicle purchase.

Tiffany’s tool allows the user to customize the data input, adjusting things like purchase price, down payments, expected cost of fuel, one’s personal opportunity cost (the cost to me for tying up cash for down payment and monthly car payments). The tool then produces several graphs, the first of which is a 15-year cumulative cost projection comparing several vehicle types. For the graph below, I used the default values in the tool, which can be downloaded here.

cumulative-cost-curves

So, what this means, is that for the input parameters, the 15-year cumulative cost of ownership of the extended range vehicle, such as a Chevy Volt, comes out the highest, whereas the electric vehicle, like the Nissan Leaf, comes in with the lowest cost. The following graph shows the breakdown between car types at year 15.

year15costs

Cost may not be the only motivator, however, at a time when many are concerned about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Thus, it may be important for many to compare the estimated emissions of greenhouse gases from the different vehicle types. Tiffany’s tool produces this graph based on various inputs.

annualghgemissions

As would be expected, the conventional gasoline-powered vehicle has the highest emissions. There’s not as much difference between the other types, with the hybrid having somewhat higher GHG emissions than the all-electric, both of which do somewhat better than the extended range electric.

Tiffany’s tool reminded me of a widget available from my colleagues over at Climate Central, which is embedded below. It allows you to get a good sense of potential fuel and GHG emission savings between two different vehicles. It dynamically updates fuel costs for your state, which is a nice feature.

Together, these tools provide a great resource to anyone considering an alternative car purchase. Perhaps these groups could team up to create a tool that blends together both annual costs / savings and economics over the vehicle’s lifetime.

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So You’re On Quora, Now What?

by October 16, 2011

As we gear up to tackle some basic questions and answers on Quora about the carbon cycle as part of our EarthQ project, with a goal of soon being able to tackle issues like ocean acidification and global warming, it seemed that a roadmap to Quora would be key for collaborators who might never have hear of it. Hence, the idea of a Quora Infographic emerged late this past week. Here’s version 0.1 that I’m throwing out for feedback. What do you think? Helpful? Silly? Gaping holes?

infographic-sketch-v02_small

UPDATE: Now showing version 0.2, thanks to a comment from friend Mike Troiano to highlight the start arrow. Keep the comments coming!

Version 0.1
infographic-sketch-v01_small

See this also on my post on Quora. I’d appreciate you up-voting it there if you like the idea.

Creative Commons License
So you’re on Quora, now what? by Dialogue Earth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license should be submitted here.

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Capturing Mood About Daily Weather From Twitter Posts

by September 29, 2011

After considerable preparation, we’ve just launched a version of our interactive tool, Pulse. Using Pulse, users can explore feelings about the weather as expressed on Twitter.

We began the process by choosing a topic that would yield a substantial volume of discussion on Twitter as well as be of general interest. Once we settled on weather, we wrote a survey designed to gauge Twitter users’ sentiments about the topic. With the help of workers from the “crowd” accessed through CrowdFlower, we had tens of thousands of relevant tweets coded as to the expressed emotion about the weather. These results were then used to create an “instance” of the Pulse tool, which manifests as a map of the United States that at a glance reveals Twitter users’ sentiments about the weather in their region on a given day. (You can read more about the coding process here and our choice of weather as a topic here.)

For our launch of Pulse for weather, we chose to feature tweets published over a month beginning in late April, 2011, a period in which many extreme weather events occurred—the devastating tornado in Joplin, MO; widespread drought throughout the South; and flooding of the Mississippi River, among others. The image below is from May 25, three days following the Joplin tornado (jump to the interactive map here).

may-25-pulse

We gathered tweets from all 50 states as well as for about 50 metro areas. Here you can see a zoom up on several states centered on Missouri.

zoom-may-25-pulse

The interactive map tells part of the story, namely a state’s or city’s overall sentiment about the weather, while the content under the “Analysis” and “Events” tabs reveal some of the “why” behind this sentiment: what were some of the most notable weather events occurring on a given day? [Note: our "events" feature has a bug in it and is currently turned off. In the future, icons will show up on the map to highlight out-of-the-ordinary weather events, like outbreaks of tornadoes, persistent flooding or drought, etc.] To what extent did the weather deviate from normal conditions? Why were tweets from, say, the South, uniformly negative during a certain time? What was happening when we saw a single positive state amidst a region that was otherwise negative?

We hope that weather is just the beginning. We envision using the Pulse tool to visualize nationwide sentiments about more complex, nuanced topics in the future—a sample of emotions about gas prices is just around the corner, and see our preliminary work on opinions about global warming. For now, you can explore the Pulse tool here, and let us know what you think!

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Message From the Bubble: A Concept for Periodic Videos About the Environment From A Roving Earth Bubble

by September 23, 2011

Brace yourselves, this is not high-production value material. Rather, this is a video that I produced in about 15 minutes, start-of-script-to-exporting-video-from-iMovie. It is the product of a brainstorming session during a great workshop put on by Liz Neeley of the COMPASS team at the U of MN’s Institute on the Environment.

Here’s the concept. I build an “Earth Bubble” that would be a moveable “studio.” Each week, or so, I plan and shoot a new video of the flavor of the one below. Aside from hopefully being a fun and engaging style, the final bit would be to zoom out and show where the Bubble is this week. Hanging from a tree, by a river… You get it.

Thoughts?

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Population Control Should Not Be A Priority Issue for Those Concerned About the Global Food Challenge

by August 29, 2011

In a letter-to-the-editor in today’s Star Tribune, a reader took issue with U of Minnesota Prof. Allen Levine’s recent opinion piece about the challenges facing our global agricultural system. Specifically, the writer asks why Prof. Levine apparently ducked the issue of “population control”:

Prof. Allen Levine makes a number of compelling points about combating world hunger (“It’s world hunger (and it’s our world),” Aug. 21). However, he neglects a key point — because it is our world. He does not mention population control. The fewer people there are, the fewer resources will be used, even with a growing middle class. Why is it anathema these days to talk about population control?

Prof. Levine’s piece raises a number of interesting points and sparked a number of online comments, including several others addressing population control:

  • NO mention of population control in this article? Sure, it’s a thorny issue – but if we don’t find a way to slow population growth, nature will do it for us, as horrific famines! The April, 2011 issue of Wired magazine has a great article about an Indian scientist who has come up with a male birth control method. It’s an inexpensive, easily reversible, safe kind of vasectomy, with zero side effects. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given this scientist a small grant to pursue this potentially huge solution, so please go to www.wired.com and read about this exciting development!
  • If we don’t find a way to slow population growth, nature will do it for us” Starvation in Africa is an example that it is already occurring.
  • Simple answer: Population control. Remember the 70′s. With less people we will need less fuel, less food, less of everything. Of course that would require responsibility by large population groups. Let’s see which groups responded to this crisis over 40 years ago. Ah! The European and North American groups self regulated their population successfully. The Chinese started later and used coercion. The others…nothing. Time to pull up the drawbridge and stop saving the overpopulators.

As discussed in a previous post chronicling a talk by Hans Rosling, a professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, there’s a lot of momentum in global population trends, and there is really very little that can be done to influence population trends over the next 40-50 years. Baring some unforeseen calamity, demographers predict that the World’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050, a statistic cited by Prof. Levine. The reason is that today’s children will have their own children faster than older generations will die off. This is true even with the low fertility rates existing across most of the planet. (more…)

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How Would Smiley Faces Change My Driving Behavior?

by August 12, 2011

xcelenergyreport1 Having just spent a bunch of time working on a pre-proposal for the National Science Foundation, I’m excited about an idea to create more feedback for drivers about their energy use. This project concept is motivated by recent research that many of us have a tough time judging the relative energy savings from a variety of behavior changes.

For example, the researchers found that many Americans estimate that a central air conditioning system uses about the same amount of energy as a window unit, when in fact a window unit typically uses several times less energy (link to abstract of article by Shahzeen Z. Attari and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences here).

Perhaps you are an Xcel Energy customer, or you’re with another utility that is taking advantage of OPOWER’s innovative approach to giving feedback to utility customers. As a residential customer of Xcel’s, we receive a monthly statement showing our use of energy compared to similarly-sized homes in our neighborhood. Thus, we receive a chart with our use of electricity and natural gas over the past 12 months, comparing our usage to that of our “efficient neighbors” and “all neighbors.” Here is our household usage over the past year from Xcel’s Energy Report website, which provides all of the data digitally after registering. (more…)

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Teasing Out Opinions About Global Warming From Twitter

by June 24, 2011

snapshot-ca A couple of months ago, we posted results from a quick sampling of mood about global warming in the Twittersphere that was featured in Momentum, the publication of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Along with our work on weather mood and mood about gas prices, we are on the verge of releasing a more in-depth analysis of sentiment about global warming. Here, we explain the method behind our sentiment analysis related to global warming, building off an earlier post that presented some of the details of our methodology on studying global warming chatter. (more…)

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Relevancy and Context are “Critical” with Sentiment Analysis

by May 24, 2011

September 11 Whenever I come across a piece that highlights how tricky sentiment analysis truly is, I tend to be encouraged more often than dissuaded to keep trying to figure it out.

Sentiment analysis is tough—not as in strict, like a teacher is tough, or in resilient, like a marathoner is tough. More like hard, like an AP calculus test is tough.  Not hard, like a block of concrete is hard.  Hard, as in difficult.  Eh, nevermind.

A colleague of mine just sent me a piece from the Miller-McCune site discussing a flawed mood study about September 11 pager text messages.

Researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany had concluded that there was an escalating level of “anger” words communicated to pagers as time passed on September 11 (here’s the study).  I’ve included the original data graph in this post. (more…)

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Hope for Human Sentiment Analysis Coding

by May 13, 2011

I just read an interesting blog post on Social Times discussing the advantages of machine-based sentiment analysis. In the piece, author Dr. Taras Zagibalov challenges the critics of “automatic” sentiment analysis, who claim that humans can better determine than computers the sentiment of social media text. He asserts that, with the proper tuning of a system’s classifier—creating specific classifiers for each domain (subject matter) and keeping them current—a machine-based sentiment analysis system can outperform human accuracy.

The discussion of human vs. machine sentiment is core to our work at Dialogue Earth, where we are developing Pulse—a social media analytics tool to help tease out nuances in the social media dialogue about key societal topics. Pulse social media analytics tool (more…)

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Just Around the Corner: A Longer-Running Pilot On Weather Emotions

by April 27, 2011

This week the weather in the U.S. has been pretty unusual. We set a record for rainfall here in the Twin Cities, which is really a footnote to the week compared to the violent extreme weather in the Southeast and beyond. While understanding how people are feeling about the weather day-to-day won’t change the weather, we see it as a great starting point for developing our Pulse system for tracking public opinion on issues discussed in the social media.

As a follow-on to our first weather pilot, we are gearing up to monitor mood about the daily weather across the U.S. for weeks at a time. In fact, we are just completing a run of about 8000 Twitter tweets through our “crowd-based sentiment engine” using the CrowdFlower platform. Once we have double-checked the results, we are set up now to collect tweets continuously, automatically send them over to CrowdFlower for sentiment judgments, have the judgments returned to our database automatically, and then publish the data on our interactive Pulse display. We expect to be analyzing several thousand tweets through CrowdFlower on a daily basis in order to create a detailed map of weather mood for the U.S. (see more here about our data sampling strategy). Look for more on this in the coming days. The image below is a sneak peek at our interactive platform, which our team has overhauled in recent weeks. It should prove to be a much-improved user experience!

Pulse social media analytics tool More »

Hans Rosling Uses Simple Math to Explain World Population Trends

by April 26, 2011

img_1022Just returned from a pre-event discussion by tonight’s Momentum Series speaker, Hans Rosling. Momentum 2010 is a string of three great talks this Spring put on by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Professor Rosling used simple math to explain masterfully human population issues globally in a few minutes (see the image taken from the whiteboard, reproduced in a table below).

The gist is this: humans clearly have a large “footprint” on the planet compared to a few thousand years ago, yet “population control” will not have immediate impacts on the size of our collective footprint. The reason is that there is, pardon the pun, a good deal of “momentum” built into global population. As the rough numbers in the table below indicate, globally two people are more-or-less producing two children—a stark departure from even 1920 when, on average, two of every six children born died per couple.  Yet, there are large numbers of children globally who will grow up and have children of their own. Even with births and deaths more-or-less balancing, this means the momentum in the system will lead us toward a global population of 9 billion by 2050. (more…)

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A Quick Video Tour of Pulse, How We Extract Sentiment from Social Media

by March 31, 2011

Earlier today I gave a talk to the Social Computing Group at the University of Minnesota. The talk featured our approach for teasing out sentiment and pubic opinion from social media, with a focus on data from our recent weather mood and global warming pilots. As a bit of an experiment, I ran through the talk again this evening and recorded a video. We would love to get any and all feedback!

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Digging into the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Twitter Traffic on Apple & Google

by March 16, 2011

ssGiven we couldn’t be at South by Southwest (SXSW) this year, we thought it would be interesting to apply our developing Pulse technology to the Twitter chatter connected with the event. Pulse represents our approach to sifting out interesting information from social media dialogue. Our first major application has been in the area of weather mood, a pilot study of which is chronicled here.

The quick overview is that we leverage the power of the crowd using CrowdFlower’s platform to extract a high-quality, nuanced understanding of sentiment from Twitter tweets. Prior to going to the crowd, we develop a strategy to create a survey that we can give to crowd-based workers so that they can make reliable judgments about author sentiment. We then collect a bunch of relevant tweets, do some pre-processing to limit the size of the sentiment coding job sent to the crowd, do some preliminary rounds of coding to ensure quality control, and then run a coding job on a large number of tweets. (more…)

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