Naked Data
Issue #278 || Snail Mail edition|| 2021-11-29
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Is US mail getting slower?

My mother-in-law hand-made 100 wedding invitations for my wedding, and mailed them from New Zealand to South Africa. We’re still waiting for them, thirteen years later. This is about typical for the South African mail service, which is a classic failed state-owned enterprise. Having moved to Europe, I am suddenly experiencing a working mail system, and it is wonderful. It enables government services, e-commerce, banking, and old-skool sending letters. It’s a massive boon to the economy, so you do not want to screw it up. Unless you’re Donald Trump, the one-man wrecking ball, facing a sudden move out of the White House (and possibly jail after that). He’s imposed his man, Louis DeJoy, as Postmaster General, with many expecting DeJoy to kibosh up the mailing system to stymy the mailed-in votes, which are expected to favour the Dems. But can one man really screw up a massive, established, national postal system? Thanks to the New York Times and mailing tracker SnailWorks, we can find out, with data. Trust me America, you don’t want to screw up your mail system. (JNY)

# Don't Miss

Nadieh’s satellite surge

We’ve featured Nadieh Bremer’s work on Naked Data before, and chances are high that we will again because she just keeps on delivering stunning data visualisations. In her latest piece for Scientific America, she combines a bump chart with a steam graph to produce this unique and information-packed graphic of the soaring number of satellites zooming (or not, in the case of geostationary) over our heads. (JNY)
Read more about it here…

Where the streets have a name

Map nerd Alasdair Rae deconstructs British street maps by their designation, such as Street, Road, Way, etc, and pops them onto beautiful maps that tell the history of a town. (JNY)

How big are the West Coast wildfires?

Pictures of red skies over San Francisco are one thing, but The Guardian rams home the scale of the devastation caused by the current wildfires along the West Cost of the US with a simple square. By overlaying the size of the fires on maps of other regions, it shows that if the epicentre of the fires were in London, my old flat in Brighton would be on the edges of the burn. (AO)

Have 19 out of 20 Covid cases gone undetected?

Official stats record just over 650 000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in South Africa, but the question epidemiologists around the world are struggling to answer is how many cases have there been that we don’t know about? Discovery Health boss Ryan Noach has crunched some numbers and come up with a number for local infections – a whopping 13 000 000, or 20 times the official number. If it seems big, Noach says it’s based on the SAMRC’s excess death numbers (see ND passim). These suggest somewhere in the region of 44 000 more people have died from natural causes than would be expected since May. Noach reckons there’s a 90% probability these are Covid-19 related, and backs up the claim with other numbers. Other estimates put the number even higher – up to 20 million says Wits’ Prof Mhadi. In other coronavirus news, check out the new suite of tools and widgets by visualisation-meisters at Flourish, including a neat global timeline map. (AO)

# Nerds

Machine learning on the database

Python? We don’t need no stinkin’ Python! Data guy Dario Radečić (who we featured recently for trying out R) shows us how to run our machine learning where our data lives — in the actual database. In this case, he relies heavily on Oracle’s machine learning tech baked into its hosted solution, so I don’t think you’d be able to replicate it in MSSQL just yet. Whether you should be doing your machine learning in a database is another question, but it’s pretty cool that you can. (JNY)
Learn how here…

# Book Learnin'

From zero to data scientist

So, you wanna be a data scientist? Terence S, with all of two years of data science learning under his belt, takes us through what he’d learn, in what order, if he were to start again. His list of maths, programming and algorithms is a pretty solid start for anyone wanting to jump in. (JNY)
Get learning here…

# Finally

Can you skin a dog with a knife made of frozen poo?

Apparently you cannot, as team of winners at this year’s Ig Nobel prizes for research have proved beyond doubt. Also making the list is the paper that suggests many etymologists are afraid of spiders, and that poor people snog more than the rich. Check out the full list here. (AO)

Bring back the 8-track

One story doing the rounds this week has been the news that sales of vinyl records have outperformed CDs for the first time since the 1980s. I was surprised to hear it being being covered on the local radio news here in SA. Surprised for a few reasons because a) this isn’t a new story, b) it relates solely to six months’ of sales in the US, and c) it’s not that vinyl is suddenly the lockdown listen of choice, rather that vinyl will always have some appeal, while CDs are obsolete and were never loved in the first place, so sales are dropping through the floor in the age of digital. (AO)

Who the hell is Jason Norwood-Young?

Journalist, developer, community builder, newsletter creator and international man of mystery, Jason was one of the first South Africans to really grasp the importance of data in the newsroom and has remained one step ahead of the trends in the field all the way. Even Naked Data was conceived before email newsletters were cool again. But what does that tell you about the measure of the man? Nothing, that's what. He hides the superman CV behind a truly mild-mannered and overly modest persona and is best described as "one of the nicest guys in the business". When he's angry, it is righteously so, and his anger always wears velvet mittens. The true signs of his genius include the ability to create multilingual puns on demand (witness the alternative Naked Data strap "Putting the heita in to data") and the fact that he offered me a job. (AO)

Who the hell is Adam Oxford?

Adam combines the best features of his Britishness — polite, sincere, witty, and pasty-white — with the best of South Africanness — enthusiastic, involved, socially conscious, underpaid and overly committed. He wears an incredible amount of hats , including the driving force behind Hacks/Hackers Jo’burg; an "innovation agent" with access-to-justice accelerator HiiL; an editor; a technology journalist; a data journalist; and a budding machine learning and AI expert. His latest gig with Naked Data is a natural progression for a gent that brings a sense of excited purpose to all of his myriad projects. (JNY)

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