Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rise of the Data Scientist

This post at FlowingData, which is a response to the "R is an Epic Fail" post at another blog, led me to an older post at FlowingData (which cites Hal Varian's comment regarding the forthcoming sexiness of statisticians).

As someone who finds the label "Data Scientist" appealing, I firmly believe in the following:

Similarly, those who can build visualization and analysis tools are the ones who will provide the next big thing.

So don't get too upset, R programmers, or all data scientists for that matter. While the software was bashed, you're getting a thumbs up. R is not the next big thing. You are. Besides, we all know that data is the new sexy, and in the end it's not about the tools that you use, but what you do with the tools.

My take-home message: Tools don't matter. Results do.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Doing the unprecedented is overrated

Blog post by Stephen Few

...doing the unprecedented is highly overrated.

Most of what we can do to make the world a better place involves, not doing the unprecedented, but doing what matters and what works [emphasis mine], whether unprecedented or not. This might not be as exciting as the unprecedented, but it’s desperately needed. I believe that too many opportunities are wasted because we glorify the unprecedented for its own sake.

In the field of data visualization, failures are more common today than successes, not due to complexity, but to the fact that few people have been trained in the simple principles and practices of graph design. As a result, they rely on software tools to do the work for them and most of those tools lead them astray, encouraging them to produce silly, useless displays...

Here’s an example of one of the earliest quantitative graphs, hand drawn by William Playfair in 1786. In his time, Playfair did the unprecedented by inventing or greatly improving many of the quantitative graphs that we use today.

1786! I think it's pretty clear that software isn't the issue. It's taking the time to learn what the right things are, and being disciplined enough to use them every time you're presenting information. Proper dataviz shouldn't be saved for "when you have time" - it should be an inherent part of the data analysis process.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Arthur Benjamin at TED 2009

"...I think that that [calculus] is the wrong summit of the pyramid. That the correct summit, that all of our students, every high school student should know, should be - statistics. Probability and statistics"

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Retirement Marathon

Guest blog post at Get Rich Slowly

This is a great analysis of the power of compound interest. Key points - start early, don't be afraid of risk, and you'll reap the rewards.
  • Early Bird Bob contributed $5,000/yr. for 20 years ($100,000 total contribution). His nest egg at age 67 is $5,938,625.
  • Conservative Carrie contributed $5,000/yr. for 48 years ($240,000 total contribution). Her nest egg at age 67 is $940,127.
  • Live it up Larry contributed $10,000/yr. for 38 years ($380,000 total contribution). His nest egg at age 67 is $4,644,805.
  • Late bloomer Bill contributed $20,000/yr. for 28 years ($560,000 total contribution). His nest egg at age 67 is $3,168,398.
  • Mid-life crisis Melissa contributed $40,000/yr. for 18 years ($720,000 total contribution). Her nest egg at age 67 is $2,005,735.
For my age, this statement from a related post at Get Rich Slowly is key:

It’s human nature to procrastinate. “I can start saving next year,” you tell yourself. “I don’t have time to open a Roth IRA — I’ll do it later.” But the costs of delaying are enormous. Even one year makes a difference.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Should managers know how to code?

Blog post by Scott Berkun

A great analysis of the question, with two answers depending on your heritage - technical or business. My favorite line:

Once you are the boss, your primary job is to do all the things that individual programmers can not do.

Gratitude is a key ingredient to happiness

Post at Get Rich Slowly

A story commonly told by Warren Buffet - "The Lottery of Birth":

Before you enter the world, you will pick one ball from a barrel of 6.8 billion (the number of people on the planet). That ball will determine your gender, race, nationality, natural abilities, and health — whether you are born rich or poor, sick or able-bodied, brilliant or below average, American or Zimbabwean.

If you could put your ball back, and they took out, at random, a hundred other balls, and you had to pick one of those, would you put your ball back in? Now, of those hundred balls … roughly five of them will be American. … Half of them are going to be below-average intelligence, half will be above. Do you want to put your ball back? Most of you, I think, will not. … What you’re saying is, “I’m in the luckiest 1% of the world right now.”

The moral of the story:
We should be designing a society that, as Buffett says, “doesn’t leave behind someone who accidentally got the wrong ball and is not well-wired for this particular system.”