My 10 Coolest Blog Visitors

I've been shocked by how positively some of my blog posts have been received. If We Assume has received over 6K visitors both of the past 2 months! It's been a total blast so far, and made me even more excited to explore ideas/projects and work on new data analysis/visualization techniques.

A recent visitor map from StatCounter.

Everything I've read about growing blog traffic and building readership indicates you need to 1) advertise your content, and 2) thoroughly understand your readership. I've fixed a keen eye on the various analytics tools that are tracking my blog, and the numbers/trends have been enlightening AND entertaining.

Here is a list of the Top 10 Coolest Blog Visitors that have appeared in my analytics feed...

10. You
Oh god, that's cheesy... but it's true! I'm excited people are reading, and I hope they continue to read and send me feedback/comments on my material.

9. Google
It was really cool to see more than just Google robots crawling my blog, but actual people!

8. Royal Caribbean Cruises
A few days ago If We Assume had a visitor, directed from reddit, who was apparently on vacation with the fine folks at Royal Caribbean Cruises (purveyors of Sun, tropical islands, beautiful women...) Looking at RCC's website, internet access onboard is $0.65/minute! This person paid more than $2.40 to visit my website, and I'd just like to say: that is a completely appropriate and sensible use of your vacation.

7. North Dakota
It took like 5 months for someone from ND to visit my website... I have no idea why it bugged me so much, but seeing the analytics map with hits from every other state made my OCD go bananas.

6. US Center for Disease Control
I can dig this, the CDC has to eat and breath big data sets to understand public health on a national (and international) scale. Seems like we've got lots of interests in common, CDC. Let's hang out!

5. US Department of Defense
I'm a bit less excited about this... the DoD certainly has lots of data. If I see DHS/TSA hits showing up, I guess I'll be worried.

4. Tehran, Iran
I got a couple hits from different addresses in Tehran last month, with no referring "came from" address. Either I'm a bigger hit overseas than I suspected, or people in Iran had nothing better to read in April.

3. Macmillan/McGraw-Hill Publishing
Hey, you guys made like half of the textbooks I was required to buy in College! As luck would have it, I have an idea or two for a book... drop me a line! (Hey, a man can dream)

2. Washington State Department of Transportation
My most popular post (so far) has been my analysis of the cost of tolling on SR-520 in Seattle. A few weeks after it was published I received more than 50 visitors from WSDOT. All had no referring URL, came from more than a dozen WSDOT offices around WA, and most showed up within a single 30min burst. My conclusion was that an email got passed around between friends/colleagues at WSDOT, something to the effect of "Hey, look at this fool..."

1. Goldman Sachs
Seriously? Fun fact: huge numbers of my generation, even the highly educated among us, may never be able to afford to buy a home. I see you guys have an office in Seattle... you hiring?

Thank you all for reading and keeping the dream alive!

Evil Color Schemes

I've been reading a lot of Tufte lately, thanks to my good friend Ryan. Today somebody linked a neat (wikipedia) map of the US Republican Primary results to r/dataisbeautiful. Unfortunately, the color scheme and lack of a legend made me want to gag (not the op's fault, mind you)

So, 10 minutes with gimp and this is the solution I came up with. Still not gorgeous, but at least you can stand to look at it for prolonged periods of time!

The improved result, so much easier on the eyes.

Here for reference is the original map... I put it down at the bottom so my blog wouldn't pick it up as the thumbnail for the post!
The offending map...

Racial Perceptions - A First Glance

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Last night I had a few hours to kill at a cafe. The cafe had decent coffee, and slow wifi, so I thought it would be a good chance to mess around with the preliminary results from my race perceptions survey! I am intending to dress this up quite a bit when I get more respondents (the survey will remain open for now).

For now, here is a first "quick and dirty" look at how our perceptions of racial composition track with reality.

Map of Respondents

Here is the updated map, with ~380 people responding across the country. There is major clustering around certain major cities, owing to my sending the survey to my Facebook friends (largely in WA), and two region-specific subreddits (r/seattle and r/sanfrancisco). The sample of respondents is ~80% white, 55% male, and 90% are within the 18-25 or 25-35 age groups.

In red: density of zip codes across the US. Survey respondents are marked in blue.

A Short Survey

No comments:
Hey, would you like to help me out some? I'm conducting a survey about our perceptions of race in America, and how they relate to the "real data" (the 2010 US Census). It's short, only takes about 60 seconds!

While this isn't Astronomy related, I think it fits nicely in my overall curiosity about the world (academic creativity, one of my mentors recently called it). The primary question I'm trying to answer is simple: Do people have an accurate understanding about the racial composition around them?

This was borne out of hearing a lot of people say (e.g. in Seattle) "gosh there are so many asians in Seattle"... or similar such pig-headed declarations.

The racial composition of a city is fascinating on its own: here's some quick data on Seattle, for example, and an awesome map. Whatever your feelings/standing on race in America is, you can't deny it's a fascinating and rich field of study!

But I'm really interested in using data to do more than just "butterfly collecting", but rather to understand how we think about ourselves and each other. It's all very meta and philosophical, and plays in to my notions about science and the/my future in astronomy, and I'd love to tell you more about it!

So check my website in the near future for updates on this project, or follow me via email/rss/twitter/facebook/etc. In the mean time: TAKE MY SURVEY!


Two Distorted Stars


I have spent the last week in Alaska at the 220th AAS conference. It was a blast, but did not lend itself to blogging...

By way of an apology, here is a (gratuitous) animation of a binary star system orbiting that I created for my research using the PHOEBE software package. The animation was created by stitching 10ish frames (generated in IDL) together in gifsicle, which is kind of an old-school way of doing this. This visualizes two stars orbiting each other in a "semi-detached" configuration.

The smaller star is about 70% the mass of the bigger one. They are both distorted, with a characteristic tear-dropped shape, due to the tidal gravitational force between them. We will be discussing many such systems at the forth-coming "Al-Fest" workshop at UW next month.

This was a simple test case animation I made, and is not the final configuration for the short period binary I recently presented at the conference. (The paper should be submitted this week has been submitted!)

Nothing else too fancy to say about it. I think it's quite mesmerizing, and utterly fascinating to consider that two stars can be orbiting each other so quickly and closely. In the case of my short period object, composed of two M dwarfs, they go through a full orbit once every ~4 hours!

Like with my previous Plots as Art post(s), sometimes the research visualizations are just too fun not to share.

Laptop Battery Lifetime

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One of the biggest selling points for new laptops is the promise of amazing battery life. I work constantly on my laptop, and have given up using any other computer on a daily basis. A 7-10 hour battery would be an absolute god send.

To measure battery life you have to run the computer from 100% to 0% under controlled conditions. I don't have time to play lab-rat with my laptop, so the only way to explore this is through the battery capacity stats that the computer uses to predict how much charge you have left.

As mentioned in a previous post, I've been keeping stats on my laptop battery for the entire life of my computer. The program coconutBattery makes it easy to save basic information, and I eventually put it in my startup items so it prompts me very time I restart my computer.

Lifetime Trend

Battery capacity of my MacBook Pro over 3+ years and
730 load cycles. 100% = 4600 mAh. Orange line is 3rd-
order polynomial least-squares fit.
Here we have all the data I've gathered on my battery over the entire 3+ years of ownership. (Here's another blog who has done a similar analysis over a shorter amount of time.) I've tried hard to treat my battery properly, and still get 2.5 hours of use.

I got clever with a cron job & shell script that saved battery data every minute my computer was being used (doesn't run when asleep), shown in blue. This gives us an idea of the uncertainty on the capacity measurement from the battery.


Battery capacity readings taken at 1-mintue intervals for ~11 days.
Here is the 1-minute data, covering about 11 days of laptop use. The battery capacity jumps around by ~5%, but no clear trend of when it jumps. The cron job ran without complaint, and I never noticed any decrease in laptop performance.

Usage History

Computer (black) and email (blue) usage versus time.

Lastly, the 1-minute battery data contains a fascinating byproduct: it keeps a detailed record of when I'm using my computer. Shown in black is a histogram of the number of battery samples taken over the 11 days, in 30 minute bins. Overlaid in blue we see the number of emails sent over a year in 30 min bins, taken from a previous post.

The very early morning battery data is a byproduct of me using my laptop to observe with the Apache Point Observatory 3.5meter telescope during one of the 11 nights. Otherwise, my usage pattern is very similar to that of my emails, but with more emphasis on the evenings (again probably due to observing... and Netflix)


Keeping the battery log for 11 days required about 2.4 MB of space. This could be trimmed down with a more careful script that saved fewer characters, but the point is clear: it is trivial (under 300 MB) to save 1-minute battery data for the entire 3-year life of your computer. If you only took samples every 5 minutes, you could still get very accurate sampling of the battery health, and your general computer usage, at a cost of 50-60 MB of hard drive space. In today's world, this is the same as free.

My computer is out of warranty, I feel like I'm living on borrowed time. Rumors are swirling about possible upgrades to the Apple notebook line soon, and I'm eager to purchase a replacement. When I do, I will surely be implementing my little cron script and recording fascinating computer usage data!

Apple's Blue Period

Today's post is all about the color Blue.

Picasso famously had a blue period, a span of about three years when his paintings were composed of only blue/teal colors. 

Blue has also been a big player in the science fiction scene for a long time. Think about it: lightsabers, warp engines, and those billion dollar smurfs, just to name a few.

Many studies also indicate that blue is people's favorite color. Here is one such study, though I would like to see this probed in some indirect way (e.g. car color, clothes, etc). I'm sure deep study has been done on color-association psychology... if you have a good reference let me know in the comments!

The technology and design powerhouse, Apple, has apparently been reading these studies. I noticed the other day that nearly every app on my iPhone has a blue icon... 

An entire page of blue icons
Obviously I've rearranged the icons to fill the page with only blue, but I'd wager everyone has most of these apps too. This result paints a picture of how iOS developer logic works:
  1. Let's make an app
  2. We need a developer for objective  C
  3. We need an icon
  4. Let's hire my nephew
  5. Make it blue!
Amusing, but hardly worthy of a place on this lofty website. We need data!

For data on Apple and the color blue, I turned to the eternally fascinating Google Ngram Viewer. Here is the Ngram for "apple,blue"

100 year Ngram for "apple,blue" from corpus English with a smoothing of 1.
The scale makes the two curves difficult to compare, blue is used ~8 times more frequently than apple, but there appeared to be some correlation between the two. Since I don't know of a way to scrape the Ngram data from the website, I decided to just make two separate figures. The results are nothing short of incredible...

100 year Ngram for "blue".

100 year Ngram for "apple".
Talk about correlation!!!! These two curves damn near trace each other perfectly. I'd love to cross correlate the data to show you the degree of similarity, but you'll have to just blink back/forth between them instead.

I'm not saying these two are related in anyway, or that my iPhone icons know anything about the past 100years of the word frequency of "blue". But I've heard conspiracy speculation based on far less evidence than this, not to mention a whole bag of crazy (see for example Donald Trump).

North Dakota and Maine: Where's the Love?!

Image generated by Google Analytics

As of thursday this blog has passed 10,000 page loads, and I'm super excited that people seem to be reading it! My friend Alex said that I'm a "huge data nerd", a great compliment I'd say, and I hope my blog reflects this. Like any data nerd who runs a blog I have many analytic tools that track visitors, page loads, visit duration, etc.

Flipping through the report on Google Analytics, I was excited to see I had received visitors from every State in the Union... except two! I understand that WA has +99% of the page loads, since I've promoted my content in places like r/seattle and on Facebook. But what gives with ND and ME?? Apparently my content is least interesting to them...

To be fair, I've never been to either state. So I'm taking this opportunity to learn a bit about them! As Cliff Clavin might say "here's a little known fact...". Did you know...