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June 2, 2009

Everything in Moderation

We're toiling away on the 2010 edition — rounding up the usual updates, sketching out some new features, and starting to argue over some of our annual "editor's picks" lists, like top news stories and the time capsule.

Gmod.jpgBut why should we have all the fun? This time around, I thought we might try to open that process up a bit, and invite readers to nominate and vote on items for these (and other) lists in the 2010 World Almanac. We're going to try using Google Moderator to gather your input: visit this link to add suggestions and give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to other reader's ideas.

I won't promise that the final lists will be based solely on your votes, but it would be enlightening to have more reader input throughout the year — especially to see how rankings shift as new stories emerge.

So get cracking!

Link: Google Moderator: World Almanac 2010

February 19, 2009

Tweet, Tweet!

Ok, ok... since the eagle-eyed folks at ResourceShelf have already sniffed this out, I might as well make the formal announcement: The World Almanac now has a Twitter feed. If your response is "Huh?" then I suggest a quick jump over to the NYTimes for a recent explanation of the Twitter phenomenon. We don't have any grand plans for the feed right now -- the truth is, we're stretched a little too thin to keep up with regular, full-length blogging right now, but we can definitely handle a few 140-character tweets here and there. Follow us, send us comments or suggestions, ask questions... we'll see where it takes us.

And while I'm at it, I should point out a few more online tidbits from the World Almanac:

  • I've mentioned our Facebook fan page before, but now we've also got a funky little daily-quiz widget on Facebook -- sign up, pass it around, and click on it daily to test your knowledge on all manner of odds & sods from the latest World Almanac.
  • If you're a rabid David Cook fan, you've probably already seen this. But you might not have seen some of the delightful responses it elicited, from the good to the bad and the ugly. Thank you, snarky Internets! I feel like I'm in the 8th grade all over again...

And one more note, before I take my creepy smirk back inside World Almanac HQ: people always ask "Who's a typical World Almanac Reader?" The stock answer is "virtually anyone"... but I think this video suggests a whole new demographic to pursue with the 2010 edition. Enjoy.

January 7, 2009

Dude, Where's My Town?

With the holiday gift-giving season behind us, there are a lot of new World Almanacs floating around out there. For the most part, feedback on the 2009 edition has been positive -- especially from those readers who have begged us for years to hold the book open for U.S. election results, World Series stats and summaries, and expanded coverage of the year's news events.

Of course, you can't please everyone: a few die-hard, long-time readers of the World Almanac are up in arms over the disappearance of the chapter on "Places of 5,000 or More Population." It's not a printing error, and it's not an editorial oversight: we made a conscious (and difficult) decision to remove that chapter from the 2009 World Almanac. Even if you don't particularly miss that chapter, the factors driving our decision may still give you some insight into how the book comes together and changes each year:

The Elephant (and Donkey) In the Room: We knew at the start of 2008 that it would be an historic election year -- the first in more than 50 years without a sitting president or vice-president in the race; the largest slate of "Super Tuesday" primary states in history; and to many observers, strong odds that we could end the year with either the first woman or first African American elected to the presidency. We also knew that long-time World Almanac readers wouldn't tolerate a 2009 edition that came up short in election coverage, so we blocked out room for summaries of the campaign; candidate biographies; detailed preliminary results for presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial races; and information on key ballot initiatives across the country. The grand total? Approximately 40 pages. Total length of the "5,000 or more" chapter? 34 pages -- one of the longest chapters, and the largest single data set in the book, and thus the best candidate for elimination, since one deletion could give us almost all the room we needed for election coverage.

Death by a Thousand Cuts: So why single out that chapter, when we have more than 1,000 pages and dozens of chapters to choose from? If we had to open up a few dozen pages, why couldn't we use (to borrow some campaign lingo) a scalpel instead of a hatchet? In short, the "scalpel" approach isn't quite as clean as it sounds. We can't make room by cutting a few lines from World History, and a half-page from Sports, and a handful of entries from Tall Buildings, without throwing the book's layout and pagination into disarray; individual chapters have to grow or shrink in full-page increments. And within any individual chapter, it's a tall order to identify full pages that could be deleted as they stand -- and even harder to free up a full page by making minor cuts to many different parts of that chapter. We use both techniques on a limited basis each year: close observers may note that several pages of sun and moonrise data were cut from Astronomy a few editions ago, or that selected tables in Aerospace and other statistical chapters have been condensed to fit in less space. But when we need to free up 40 pages in a single edition, those piecemeal deletions simply won't do the trick.

Free and (Slightly Less) Easy: Another reason to remove the "5,000 or more" chapter this year: 20 years ago, or even ten years ago, the presence of this information in the World Almanac represented a substantial service to most readers. Detailed information about local populations, area codes, and zip codes was harder to come by, even for the smaller percentage of U.S. residents who had internet access in those decades. And while some people persist in thinking of our book as an alternative to the Internet, we believe that the future of the World Almanac hinges on our ability to serve as a valuable companion to the Internet, and to the vast majority of people in the U.S. who have regular Internet access at home, work, or school. This means occasionally cutting long-standing content that can now be found online freely and easily, and in a more useful form than we could possibly provide. In this case, you can now find detailed information about even the smallest U.S. cities from dozens of independent websites, if not the official sites of the towns themselves... and free, comprehensive, and authoritative information about each element of our chapter is available from the Census Bureau (population), the U.S. Postal Service (ZIP codes), and the North American Numbering Plan Administration (Area codes).

No doubt this is small consolation to the few souls for whom that chapter remains a valuable and vital resource. If the outcry is strong enough, we can certainly restore it to the 2010 World Almanac, but in the meantime, we have to be content with the fact that we've made the news, politics, and sports junkies a little bit happier with this edition... and we invite all our readers to let us know what parts of the World Almanac are most valuable to them, and what parts they wouldn't miss in future editions.

Photo: Nolly (Creative Commons, some rights reserved)

March 25, 2008

Sports Illustrated Free Online Archive

0803Sports Illustrated.jpgI'm slightly embarrassed that I didn't catch this earlier. Sports Illustrated has opened up their entire back catalogue, or "vault," for free; more than 50 years of covers, articles, photos, and videos. The articles are available as searchable html or bundled up by the issue. The full issues, ad placement and all, are presented in a page-flipping online reader.

Sports Illustrated Vault

To get you started, here are some articles relating to some of the "Memorable Moments in Sports" from The World Almanac 2008:
Secretariat's Record-Breaking Triple Crown: History in the Making (June 18, 1973)
The Band is on the Field: The Week (November 29, 1982)
Strug's One-Legged Vault: Profile in Courage (August 5, 1996) also, Strug profile: Happy Landing (August 11, 1997)
Mike Tyson (vs. Evander Holyfield): Feeding Frenzy (July 7, 1997)

Cover image (July 08, 1974) of Gerald Ford, the undisputed record holder for most NFL contracts declined by a future President.

March 10, 2008

Gary Gygax, R.I.P.

Potts-DnD.jpgSince I've already inserted myself into two different conversations about this topic today, I might as well formally blog about it here: the New York Times has a heartfelt and funny op-obit* for Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax, written by Wired's Adam Rogers—and an equally funny diagram of D&D's influence on the average role-playing-game aficionado, by designer Sam Potts.
Mr. Gygax's genius was to give players a way to inhabit the characters inside their games, rather than to merely command faceless hordes, as you did in, say, the board game Risk. Roll the dice and you generated a character who was quantified by personal attributes like strength or intelligence.

You also got to pick your moral alignment, like whether you were "lawful good" or "chaotic evil." And you could buy swords and fight dragons. It was cool.

Yes, I played a little. In junior high and even later. Lawful good paladin. Had a flaming sword. It did not make me popular with the ladies, or indeed with anyone. Neither did my affinity for geometry, nor my ability to recite all of "Star Wars" from memory.

Yet on the strength of those skills and others like them, I now find myself on top of the world. Not wealthy or in charge or even particularly popular, but in instead of out. The stuff I know, the geeky stuff, is the stuff you and everyone else has to know now, too.

Though we've never asked, I have to assume that former and current Dungeons & Dragons fans figure prominently among the readership of the World Almanac. And to all of you, I can only say: I'm jealous. Seriously. No one in my small circle of childhood friends had any interest in the game, so I had to content myself with rolling up characters on my own, paging wistfully through the Monster Manual, and dreaming of the day when I could be a full-fledged D&D geek, too. (Then Zork came along and made it all better.)

Yet here I am, a couple of decades later, still messing about with charts and statistics on a daily basis. Coincidence? I think not.

Note: * Can I claim copyright on that phrase?

From the NY Times:
Geek Love (op-ed by Adam Rogers)
D&D Flowchart (op-art by Sam Potts)

January 25, 2008

Growing Up Online

online.jpg

Full disclosure: I almost never watch Frontline on PBS anymore. I usually watch it online.

But the other night, however unexpectedly, I sat down and watched "Growing Up Online" on PBS. The show examined how this first generation to grow up within the MySpace/Facebook sphere socializes on and is socialized by the Internet.

"Growing Up Online" refuses to reel off cautionary tale after cautionary tale in a tone of shrill alarm, as many media profiles of this issue seem to. Rather, the filmmakers try to offer a more nuanced documentation of how children, their parents, and teachers struggle to find their appropriate levels of interaction with the limitless resources of the Internet age.

Watch "Growing Up Online" on Frontline's website, where not only are the most recent shows available, but most programs since 2001 are archived, along with some older classic episodes from the show's 25-year history. If you've already seen it, there are some great topical resources on the show's site, along with some follow-up on the kids documented by the program.

"Growing Up Online"
Frontline Archive


Test the Nation: Bloggers FTW*

trophy.jpgIt took me a few days to recover, but the CBC's Test the Nation: Trivia seemed to be a roaring success. Six teams locked horns: chefs, flight crews, cab drivers, celebrity lookalikes, backpackers, and bloggers. But in the end, there could be only one...
The bloggers dominated all three categories: highest-scoring celebrity guest (Samantha Bee with 49/60), highest-scoring individual in studio (Rick Spence of CanEntrepreneur and The National Post with 57/60) and yes, the team with the overall #1 high score (average 50/60).
You can still take the test online, and match your wits against Canada's finest bloggers and The Daily Show's Most Senior Correspondent... let us know how you did!

Image from photojunkie, operated and maintained by Rannie Turinga of "Team Blogger." Congrats!

* FTW = for the win, for those who aren't fluent in l33t-speak

January 24, 2008

The New York Public Library Blog

0801NYPL Lion.jpgUnbeknownst to me, the staff at The New York Public Library has been blogging since last August. So far the staff of nine departments are involved including sports and cooking. The blogs are technically in beta mode and aren't all updated frequently (sadly, the maps department only has 3 posts). There seem to be several posts each week, most pertaining to the library's extensive Digital Gallery, work on upcoming exhibitions, or the history of New York City.

For instance, a post recently noted their newly uploaded collection of early baseball photos from A. G. Spalding (yes, the guy whose name is on your basketball). Paula Baxter, Curator of the Library's Art and Architecture Collection, has been sharing her thoughts on an upcoming exhibition on Art Deco fashion and design.

Links:
New York Public Library Blog
Photo: "New York City Public Library front" by melanzane1013 via Flickr.

January 17, 2008

Flickr: The Library of Congress Pilot Project

rothstein-chute.jpgNo, it's not a World Almanac editor's meeting, though we do wear remarkably similar uniforms... this is a photo pulled from a terrific new collaboration between the Library of Congress and Flickr. The LOC has placed thousands of images from two major collections on Flickr, and invites the public to browse the collections and contribute tags, notes, and comments to individual photos. User-generated data might (or might not) end up in the LOC's own database; for the time being it's just a test program, focused on three major goals:

  • To share photographs from the Library's collections with people who enjoy images but might not visit the Library's own Web site.
  • To gain a better understanding of how social tagging and community input could benefit both the Library and users of the collections.
  • To gain experience participating in Web communities that are interested in the kinds of materials in the Library's collections.

There's really nothing more to say except: clear a few hours from your schedule, and start browsing some fascinating photographs.

Links:
Flickr: The Commons
Library of Congress Photos on Flickr (FAQ)

Image: Instructor explaining the operation of a parachute to student pilots, Meacham Field, Fort Worth, Tex. (LOC)

January 16, 2008

Test the Nation, Test Yourself

TTN-studio.jpgIf you're reading this, chances are you're something of a trivia buff already—so why not put all that arcane knowledge to the test? Canadian viewers can tune in to CBC Television this Sunday (Jan. 20) at 8PM EST for the latest edition of Test the Nation, which is...
...a two-hour television event, with viewers playing at home as they watch our six teams of Canadians compete in our Toronto studio. By the end of the test, you'll know if you've been paying attention to the world around you, or if you've been sleepwalking through the last eight years.

The show will also reveal information about others who are playing at home and in the studio. Who will turn out to be more century savvy? The Men or the Women? Will the meat eaters devour the vegetarians? Will the coffee drinkers overpower the tea drinkers? We'll find out as Canadians give us their answers on the most technologically advanced and information saturated century the planet has ever seen!

And the most important question... will World Almanac readers crush all other test-takers? They just might: the producers of Test the Nation asked us to review the quiz, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how many questions could be answered within the pages of our book. So if you need to cram for the quiz, you could do worse than to pick up a copy of the 2008 World Almanac.

If you don't get CBC TV, you can still take the test at the Test the Nation website (starting Sunday) and find out how you measure up against test-takers around the world. You can warm up this week in the "Mental Gym," or take tests from previous shows: IQ Test and Watch Your Language.

If you do tune in, watch for my smiling mug to pop up somewhere between questions 26 and 27, offering up some "expert" commentary on the test...

Test the Nation: Trivia

January 15, 2008

Dubious Data

atomic.jpg

When new studies and demographic analyses are published, it's easy to find yourself making assumptions by interpreting the raw data. Those assumptions can lead to misleading conclusions that run contrary to what the data actually illustrates. STATS, a "non-profit, non-partisan Statistical Assessment Service (STATS)... on the use and abuse of science and statistics in the media," attempts to provide a counterbalance to quickly rendered assumptions made upon the release of studies, just published their "Dubious Data Awards." The awards are an interesting collection of the way new research and statistics have been interpreted by the media in ways that misinform or mislead.

One example: In July, the Associated Press - and many other news organizations - reported that "Using marijuana seems to increase the chance of becoming psychotic... even infrequent use could raise the small but real risk of this serious mental illness by 40 percent." Since marijuana use rates have skyrocketed since the 1940's and 50's, going from single digit percentages of the population trying it to a peak of some 60 percent of high school seniors trying it in 1979 (stabilizing thereafter at roughly 50 percent of each high school class), we would expect to see this trend have some visible effect on the prevalence of schizophrenia and other psychoses.

Roughly one to two percent of the population has schizophrenia (and another two percent or so have other psychotic disorders), and this percentage does not vary much with the region within the U.S. Over time, diagnosis of schizophrenia has changed, making it almost impossible to evaluate whether low-level exposure to pot could increase the risk by as much as 40 percent.

Of course, the STATS analysis is not necessarily the right one every time, but the different perspective they offer is helpful.

STATS Dubious Data Awards [via kottke]
The STATS Blog

Advertisement, published in Popular Science, Dec. 1957, via Todd Ehlers's Flickr

December 31, 2007

The World Almanac 2007 Time Capsule

Another year, another World Almanac Time Capsule, filled with ten items that represent some of the trends and events that defined the year, from politics to sports to pop culture. Disagree with our choices? Let us know in the comments.
2007 Time Capsule: Harry Potter
J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with a purchase receipt from its July 21 release date--on which it sold more than 10 mil copies in the U.S. and U.K.
2007 Time Capsule: Pelosi Gavel
The gavel used by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), the first woman elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, to open the 110th Congress.
2007 Time Capsule: Pet Food
A pouch of contaminated pet food, one of the first of many tainted consumer products yanked from store shelves in 2007.
2007 Time Capsule: Virginia Tech
A candle from Virginia Tech's Apr. 17 nighttime vigil in memory of the victims of the Apr. 16 shootings.
2007 Time Capsule: Bonds Ball
Barry Bond's 756th home run ball, purchased at auction by designer Marc Ecko for $752,467. Ecko later sponsored an online vote which determined that the ball should be branded with an asterisk and donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
2007 Time Capsule: IPCC
A copy of Climate Change 2007, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which called the global warming trend "unequivocal" and said that human behavior was "very likely" contributing to it.
2007 Time Capsule: Ethanol
A gallon of ethanol, which was produced in the U.S. in record amounts in 2007--13 mil barrels in July alone, a 33% increase over July 2006.
2007 Time Capsule: Florida Gators
Florida Gators football and basketball jerseys, in honor of their unprecedented dual championship seasons.
2007 Time Capsule: Foreclosure
One of the record number of foreclosure notices (nearly 250,000 in August alone) that were served upon home buyers in 2007 in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis.
2007 Time Capsule: iPhone
An iPhone, preloaded with an mp3 of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," in honor of the last scene in the final season of The Sopranos.

December 19, 2007

We've Been YouTubed

I get a Google Alert every day for new online appearances of the phrase "World Almanac," but yesterday was the first time that a link took me to YouTube. The video I landed on (at right) didn't seem to have any connection, at first, but it all became clear at the one-minute mark...

I wrote a quick note to Patrick Butler, the video's creator, to let him know that he had the dubious honor of creating the first known World Almanac fan video on YouTube—and it turns out that his connection to our little book is quite a bit deeper than I could have suspected. He gave us permission to post this brief explanation on our blog:

"I have been a World Almanac fan since 1994 and it got me into learning when I didn't like learning and turned my life around. It helped me get my GED since I was in special school and they don't give you high school diplomas. I had problems with my behavior also and it got me in trouble a lot even after I got into The World Almanac. I was in a special school because I had autism and had behavior problems. I did do better when I got my first almanac. I am from Oswego New York and I was in special schools by the Oswego County BOCES Special Education Program until I was 20."

Patrick also recorded a new video just for us, entitled "How Did I Become a World Almanac Fan?" Please do check it out, and leave the guy a few words of support if you're as touched by his story as I was.

Previously: The World Almanac's Biggest Fan

December 17, 2007

Google Zeitgeist 2007

Bimbo SummitAs we wade through our own year-end top ten lists and news roundups, we'd be remiss not to mention the recent appearance of Google's 2007 "Zeitgeist" — a roundup of the search giant's top trends and terms for the past year, in several different categories. At right, a snapshot of search volume for three (in)famous young celebrities, two of whom also made it into our own Year In Pictures retrospective... and below, the top ten searches on Google News for the year. Anyone surprised by the list?

Google News Most Popular Searches (global)
  1. american idol
  2. youtube
  3. britney spears
  4. 2007 cricket world cup
  5. chris benoit
  6. iphone
  7. anna nicole smith
  8. paris hilton
  9. iran
  10. vanessa hudgens

Link: Google Zeitgeist 2007

November 22, 2007

The Origins of Thanksgiving

TurkeySince most of you probably can't focus, through the turkey-and-stuffing haze, to read much on the blog today, we'll keep it short, and just let you jump into today's segment from Wake Up With Whoopi—a quick run-through the origins of Thanksgiving, and a few notable modern-day Thanksgiving traditions (including football).


Download (2mb mp3) / Subscribe in iTunes

If you can manage to stay awake to click through a few interesting links, you can get the full Thanksgiving story on the World Almanac for Kids site, or visit the Census Bureau for a great round-up of Thanksgiving-related stats—turkey, cranberry, and sweet potato production in the U.S., number of places in the U.S. named after the holiday's main course... enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Links:
Thanksgiving Day (The World Almanac for Kids)
Thanksgiving Day Facts (US Census Bureau)

Image: Happy Thanksgiving! from ckirkman's Flickr stream

November 16, 2007

Word of the Year

farmersmarket.jpg

The year is winding down, which means it's time for media outlets everywhere to start summarizing 2007 with variously-themed lists. While we don't yet know who the Time "Person(s) of the Year" will be, one of my favorite lists has already been released: the Oxford Word of the Year and its runners-up. I like the Word of the Year lists because they provide an interesting perspective on what people have been talking about during the year, and how they've chosen to talk about it.

The 2007 Oxford Word of the Year is locavore, which defines the movement, becoming more popular in some regions of the country, toward committing to eating only locally grown food.

A few Word of the Year runners-up:
  • bacn: email notifications, such as news alerts and social networking updates, that are considered more desirable than unwanted "spam" (coined at PodCamp Pittsburgh in Aug. 2007 and popularized in the blogging community)
  • colony collapse disorder: a still-unexplained phenomenon resulting in the widespread disappearance of honeybees from beehives, first observed in late 2006
  • tase (or taze): to stun with a Taser (popularized by a Sep. 2007 incident in which a University of Florida student was filmed being stunned by a Taser at a public forum)

Check out the rest of Oxford's list, which includes a nice etymology for locavore, at the link below. Or grab a copy of The World Almanac 2008, where you'll find Merriam-Webster's list of new words for 2007 on page 722.

Oxford Word of the Year

Flickr photo by Pay No Mind

November 9, 2007

Food For Thought

rice.jpg

If you're feeling a little guilty about wasting company time clicking around on the Internet, there's a new way to assuage that guilt (at least temporarily). Last month, a new website called FreeRice.com launched with two stated goals: to provide free English vocabulary and to help end world hunger. For every answer you get right on their free vocabulary quiz, 10 grains of rice are donated toward hunger relief via the United Nations World Food Program. The questions cover every imaginable vocabulary level, as the difficulty level adjusts with every right and wrong answer. And it's pretty satisfying watching the wooden bowl on the right side of the screen fill up, ten grains at a time.

The daily totals of donated grains, which you can view on the site, have grown exponentially since FreeRice's launch--from 830 grains donated on Oct. 7 to 77.1 million on Nov. 8. Over 1 billion grains have been donated so far.

FreeRice

Flickr photo by Mr. Kris

Continue reading "Food For Thought" »

October 29, 2007

Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

Baseball pitch visualizationNaah, not chocolate and peanut butter: baseball and coffee. If it doesn't seem like the most natural combination, you probably haven't been to Lokesh Dhakar's website, where he features two marvelous visualizations:
  1. Coffee Drinks: I've seen charts like this before, but Dhakar's version is exceptionally tight, clean, and uncluttered. A nice guide to espresso drinks for those who find the ordering experience intimidating due to "the vast number of ordering options and new words with accented characters to pronounce."

  2. Baseball Pitches: This is even better, for my money—"a fan's guide to identifying pitches," showing the path of the ball in twelve common pitches, from both the batter's POV and from one side. Gorgeous stuff, and quite handy for those of us who couldn't tell a changeup from a hole in the ground.

Link: Lokesh Dhakar

September 24, 2007

Wake Up With Wobbly Willy (and Whoopi)

Campaign ButtonsAs promised, I am almost caught up with posting our backlog of World Almanac segments on Whoopi Goldberg's morning radio show. Today's posting brings us all the way up to September 13, when I stopped by to talk about:
  • Nasty presidential campaigns (and candidate nicknames) in U.S. history
  • Why you should immediately click through to the Library of Congress (as long as you have time to spare)
  • And a little background on the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Keep checking back here for future conversations, or tune in and listen live at around 7:30 (Eastern time) every Thursday morning, online, or on the radio.

Listen: Whoopi-091307.mp3

Image from brighterworlds' Flickr stream

September 20, 2007

When I Say "Jump," You Say...

OK, I know I told you all to get library cards, but I didn't expect you to do it so quickly...
Despite the rise of broadband Internet access in homes across the country and the ability to Google just about anything from anywhere, libraries are attracting record numbers of visitors.

Nationwide, visits to and items checked out of libraries are increasing steadily. According to the American Library Association, nearly 1.3 billion library patrons checked out more than 2 billion items in fiscal year 2005, the most recent figures available. That compares with 1.15 billion visitors checking out 1.7 billion items in fiscal year 2000.

Link: Libraries Attract Record Crowds (Denver Post)

September 18, 2007

Waking Up Again (A Little Late)

I've been lax in reporting on my visits with the Wake Up With Whoopi crew, but we are still having weekly chats about all kinds of odd and essential facts. Despite the massive deadlines looming over us, I promise to play a little catch-up this week, starting with this visit from August 23. Topics of conversation that week: Quasimodo
  • Popular sections and common uses of The World Almanac
  • A light scolding from Whoopi for not having the complete World Almanac available online
  • A quick chat about the value of Wikipedia relative to other reference sources, and what happens when you look up "Paul Cubby Bryant"
  • And the meaty topic of the day: a quick survey of some interesting sumptuary laws, drawing on information in this year's World Almanac for Kids. (Click here for a variation of the New Jersey law that closes the segment, plus some additional reading on sumptuary laws around the world)

More to come this week, I swear!

Listen here: Wake Up With Whoopi: Aug. 23, 2007(mp3, 8MB)

Image: Screen capture from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). The Quasimodo reference will make sense when you listen to the clip...

September 17, 2007

You're On Your Own, Google-philes...

The World Almanac has a ton of uses, but alas: acing an interview with Google may not be one of them. Or at least, that's the conclusion I come to after reviewing this list of Crazy Questions at Google Job Interviews. Yeah, if you spend any time online at all, you've seen lists like this before. But some of these questions were new to me. Among the highlights:

9. Every man in a village of 100 married couples has cheated on his wife. Every wife in the village instantly knows when a man other than her husband has cheated, but does not know when her own husband has. The village has a law that does not allow for adultery. Any wife who can prove that her husband is unfaithful must kill him that very day. The women of the village would never disobey this law. One day, the queen of the village visits and announces that at least one husband has been unfaithful. What happens? superchicken.jpg

13. Four people need to cross a rickety rope bridge to get back to their camp at night. Unfortunately, they only have one flashlight and it only has enough light left for seventeen minutes. The bridge is too dangerous to cross without a flashlight, and it's only strong enough to support two people at any given time. Each of the campers walks at a different speed. One can cross the bridge in 1 minute, another in 2 minutes, the third in 5 minutes, and the slow poke takes 10 minutes to cross. How do the campers make it across in 17 minutes?

17. You have five pirates, ranked from 5 to 1 in descending order. The top pirate has the right to propose how 100 gold coins should be divided among them. But the others get to vote on his plan, and if fewer than half agree with him, he gets killed. How should he allocate the gold in order to maximize his share but live to enjoy it? (Hint: One pirate ends up with 98 percent of the gold.)

Hmmm... we will (I kid you not) have some new information about notorious pirates and other outlaws in the 2008 Almanac, but I don't think we have room to cover Rules of Booty Distribution. So, yes: you're on your own. But maybe in the 2009 edition...

P.S. When reading these questions, is anyone else reminded of the "Superchicken" team-building exercise from the BBC's The Office (above)?

Link: Crazy Questions at Google Job Interviews (Tihomir Nakov, via Tyler Cowen's excellent Marginal Revolution)

September 14, 2007

Map Mashups

Yahoo just rolled out a very cool new beta product called MapMixer, which lets you upload your own maps and overlay them on Yahoo's interactive world maps—even if your map doesn't have just the right proportions or perspective.

There are already some great examples online, including the historical lower Manhattan overlay at right. Make sure you zoom out and play with the overlay opacity. Oh, what a little landfill can do...

If you want to play around with MapMixer but don't have your own personal stash of maps, I suggest you click on over to the Library of Congress, which has some great historical maps its American Memory collection.

MapMixer (beta) (Yahoo!)

September 7, 2007

New Features for Google Book Search

piggy.jpgMy new favorite World Almanac-related quote:

He was famished, he was ravenous, he could eat every pig the World Almanac had tallied for the year.

- Fred Chappell, Brighten the Corner Where You Are

...courtesy of a Google Book Search for references to "World Almanac" in works of fiction. Nothing like a little navel-gazing at 7 AM on a Friday morning.

But my main reason for visiting GBS this morning wasn't to troll for references to our book—it was to check out a new feature that lets you add any books in Google's system to your own personal online "Library." Then you can add ratings, reviews, and tags, share your collection with others, or even let other folks subscribe to an RSS feed of any changes or additions to your library.

You can find more full-featured "My Library"-type features at Amazon and other online retailers, but Google's new tool is simple, quick, and uncluttered. I could see this being a really useful tool for people who have big home libraries, or who just read a lot of books—it's nice to be able to create a smaller subset of books you've actually read, so you don't have to search the whole, gigantic Google database every time you need to track down a particular volume, or a specific phrase.

I'll be interested to see how it (along with the rest of Google Book Search) develops.

My (own) library on Book Search (Google Book Search Blog)

P.S.: How many pigs did we (OK, the USDA's National Agriculture Statistics Service) tally in 2006? The preliminary figure for the U.S. alone was 61,197,000 hogs and pigs. That's a lotta bacon.

Photo from Maurice's Flickr stream

August 23, 2007

Wikiscandal

Virgil1_pastry.jpg

Twenty-four year old researcher Virgil Griffith has developed a database that traces the IP addresses of anonymous contributors to Wikipedia, the free online, user-written encyclopedia.

Among his reasons for doing so were the desire "to create a cornucopia of minor public relations disasters for companies and organizations I dislike" and the fact that "every time I hear about a new security vulnerability, I look to see if it can be done on a massive scale and indexed."

With his WikiScanner, Griffith was able to find several cases where unfavorable information was anonymously deleted from the entries of certain corporations; he was able to trace the digital footprint left by these anonymous users to IP addresses reserved for those very corporations.

Links:
WikiScanner
"See Who's Editing Wikipedia--Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign" (Wired)
Wikidgame—reader-contributed list of the most "shameful" Wikipedia edits

Photo of Virgil Griffith by Jake Appelbaum.

August 16, 2007

The World Almanac Wakes Up With Whoopi: #2

As promised last week, here's my second World Almanac for Kids visit with the Wake Up With Whoopi crew. We did this on August 2, but it makes sense to post it today because today is the anniversary of an event I mentioned on-air.

Yup, August 16 is the day that Capt. Joe Kittinger set a particularly astonishing set of records in 1960. And in my excitement to talk about inventors, parachutes, and insanely high-altitude free-falls, I mixed up a few key details. Most notably: Kittinger didn't jump from 18,000 feet, that was the height at which his main parachute opened; he actually jumped—out of a balloon dubbed Excelsior III—from an altitude of more than 100,000 feet. In the process, he set records for highest balloon ascent and highest parachute jump, and also set the record for fastest speed attained by a human without the assistance of an engine.

As penance for my fact-flubbing, I offer this video of his jump, which is far more interesting than listening to me talk. But you can still click here to listen to the show and catch up on some other facts (accurate ones!) about the first Census, National Inventors' Month, and how some of those off-the-wall "National [Something-Very-Strange] Month" holidays come about in the first place.

More:
Kittinger speaking at the Kircher Society Meeting (Part 1; be sure to click on parts 2 and 3)

August 10, 2007

The World Almanac Wakes Up With Whoopi: #3

63672main_image_feature_206_jw4.jpg Yeah, that's right: #3. I don't have a clip of our second installment yet, but it'll be more relevant next week, anyway. Come back then to find out why...

Anyway, I had another fun visit with the incredibly warm and friendly Wake Up With Whoopi crew yesterday. In this week's free-for-all:

  • The awesome lap-breaking power of the The World Almanac hardcover edition (yes, we publish one, and yes, the type is bigger than the paperback)
  • In honor of the anniversary of Nixon's resignation (announced Aug. 8, 1974, but in effect at noon on Aug. 9), some selections from our list of Embarrassing Presidential Moments. Some bonus links: President Ford's 1942 Cosmo cover appearance (not an embarrassing moment, just an interesting one), and Pres. Carter's official report on his UFO sighting.
  • A heads-up about this weekend's Perseid meteor shower
  • And at the very end, a quick hello from the next guest: Abby Cadabby, Sesame Street's newest resident. Even at my age, it was a truly great, geeky thrill to meet a Muppet.
Listen to the clip here (mp3, 7MB).

Image: From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day (Katsuhiro Mouri & Shuji Kobayashi, Nagoya City Science Museum / Planetarium)

August 2, 2007

The Virtual Universe

2007-08-02_170023.jpgRight now I'm reviewing the Astronomy chapter for the upcoming 2008 World Almanac—so it was a nice coincidence to run across this link. Haha.nu runs down a list of "The Top Five Virtual Sky Simulators," each of them catering to slightly different levels of interest and expertise.

Need some help making sense of the nighttime sky? Click through and get some fast (and free) electronic assistance.

Top Five Virtual Sky Simulators (Haha.nu)

July 23, 2007

OLPC on YPC

OLPC.jpg(That's One Laptop Per Child, on Your Personal Computer.) In the latest edition of the World Almanac for Kids, we gave a big shout-out to the XO computer, created by the One Laptop Per Child organization. Now it looks like curious geeks (and other parties interested in creating software for the innovative laptops) can play around with the XO's unique SUGAR operating system.

This is not for the faint-of-heart (or limited-of-disk-space), however: you'll need virtualization software like VMWare or Parallels, plus a disk image of the OLPC OS... altogether, at least 300MB of downloads. But if you're infatuated with the XO, this is the closest you're going to get to it for a while.

For download links and installation instructions, visit UneasilySilence [via Gizmodo]

Previously: The Other 90 Percent

July 11, 2007

Taking a Closer Look

StreetView.jpg

I remember way back when, using Amazon's A9 maps to scope out different blocks in my neighborhood. I was apartment hunting and thought I'd save myself some trouble by pulling up A9's photos of certain streets—what did the building look like? Was the block it was on seedy or going through gentrification? Was there a bodega (as corner stores are called in New York) on the same block?

If my above description of A9 sounds familiar, it might be because you've heard of the Street View feature in Google Maps.

The feature has opened up a new dimension of interactivity, beyond what I was capable of with A9. Privacy issues aside--see "Google Maps Is Spying on My Cat" for one discussion--there is something very Internet-age about browsing street photos for peculiar scenes, posting them on a Web site, and inviting readers to contribute humorous captions.

Street View is currently only available for Denver, Las Vegas, Miami, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay area. The San Francisco photos are of a higher resolution, making it possible to play Where's Waldo? with real life.

Links:
Google Street View
"Google Spy: Zooming in on Neighbors, Nose-Pickers, and Sunbathers with Street View" (Slate)
"Frank Chu Located on Google Maps Street View, Plus Others" (Laughing Squid)
Streetviewr--collection of odd Street View photos

Photo: Looking north to Times Square outside of the World Almanac offices.

June 11, 2007

New Tools: Swivel Geography

swivel_map.jpg New from our friends at Swivel: the ability to overlay data on maps of the world. The implementation is still a little wonky at times (Swivel's "brain" didn't seem to recognize the abbreviation for the state of Louisiana) but overall, a step in the right direction. Click on the image at right to explore some state population data from the 2000 Census, or check out the Swivel Geography announcement for more details and examples.

May 22, 2007

Record Amount of Taxes Filed Online

efile.gifThe IRS has received a record amount of returns through the Internet this tax season—76,771,000 so far. That’s nearly 60% of all returns, although the agency believes the final number will be closer to 58%. Not surprising, considering that the IRS had to extend the deadline for TurboTax users who saturated Intuit Inc.’s servers on April 17.

2007 Tax Season Sets Records for E-file, Direct Deposit (IRS.gov)

May 21, 2007

The [Insert Your Name Here] Almanac

personal-almanac.jpgHere at World Almanac HQ, we spend most of our days compiling facts and statistics about large populations in the U.S. and around the world. But there are people out there who focus on much smaller populations... like, say, a population of one. Check out Feltron's 2006 Annual Report for an entertaining look at a year in the life of one man, rendered exclusively in charts and tables. Some of the highlights:
  • Plants killed
  • Museum visits
  • Date first gray hair discovered
  • Air miles traveled
  • Ratio of social:solo dinners
  • Genre distribution of books read

Also worth a look: Craig Robinson's Personal Pies. Not as comprehensive as Feltron's report, but illuminating nonetheless.

Links:
Feltron's 2006 Annual Report
Personal Pies

May 3, 2007

Visualization of the Day (#2): Wikipedia's 100 Most Visited

chart-wikipedia.jpg Not quite as earth-shattering as today's first visualization, but still interesting: a detailed paper that compares monthly lists of the 100 most visited Wikipedia pages for the months from Sept. 2006 to Jan. 2007, using a variety of visualization techniques to tease out interesting trends:
Using the Cluster View, it becomes apparent that topics related to “Sexuality” represent a large percentage of the pages that are contained in all five lists (see Figure 2). Using the Spiral View, pages related to “Entertainment”, such as music, films or video games, are becoming increasingly frequent as you move away from the display center (see Figure 3). There are also many pages related “Geography”, such specific countries or places. Further, pages that are related to “Politics”, such as political figures, or to “History”, such as wars and specific events, represent a major group of popular Wikipedia pages.

Specifically, pages about “World War I”, “World War II” and the “Vietnam War” are highly visited in Wikipedia. However, the current war in Iraq is not represented by a set of pages that make it into the Top 100 in any of the months studied.

Visualizing the Overlap Between the 100 Most Visited Pages on Wikipedia for September 2006 to January 2007 (firstmonday.org)

Image: Spiral View of 230 unique Wikipedia pages that are contained in the monthly “Top 100” lists for September 2006 to January 2007

March 22, 2007

More Fun for Quant Jocks

We're all hunkered down and hard at work on the 2008 World Almanac for Kids, so I don't have nearly enough time to play around with this stuff... but for those of you with more time on your hands, some new data visualization toys:

ME-Tag%20Cloud.jpg IBM's Many Eyes continues to expand their already impressive lineup of visualization tools, most recently with a tag cloud option. Upload any text you like, and get an instant cloud showing frequency of single words or two-word combinations. I'm hoping for a modification to this that lets you chart frequency changes over time, like Chirag Mehta's cool presidential speeches analysis tool. But in the meantime, click on the image at right to see a quick cloud generated from the U.S. Constitution.

Self-proclaimed "YouTube for data visualization" Swivel has also beefed up its services slightly, first with the ability to embed images in graphs (mostly useless, but pretty), and now with a "Swivel It" bookmarklet that greatly simplifies the process of sending data from Google Spreadsheets to Swivel.

Links:
Many Eyes
IBM's Many Eyes App After One Month (Read/Write Web, March 5, 2007)

Swivel
Numbers...You're Swimming In Them (PDF; Fast Company, March 2007)

January 26, 2007

Feast Your Many Eyes on This

I thought I was in data-geek heaven when Swivel went live a few weeks back, but now there's a new suitor for my online-data-visualization affections: Many Eyes, a project of IBM's Visual Communication Lab. According to their (very eloquent) FAQ:
All of us at the Visual Communication Lab are passionate about the potential of data visualization to spark insight. It is that magical moment we live for: an unwieldy, unyielding data set is transformed into an image on the screen, and suddenly the user can perceive an unexpected pattern. As visualization designers we have witnessed and experienced many of those wondrous sparks. But in recent years, we have become acutely aware that the visualizations and the sparks they generate, take on new value in a social setting. Visualization is a catalyst for discussion and collective insight about data.
Hear, hear! And the best part is that they back up all that eloquence with an equally powerful and downright elegant site. Unlike Swivel, Many Eyes doesn't let you overlap and compare different data sources, but it makes up for it by providing a whopping 13 different visualization styles, each offering an abundance of ways to sort, compare, zoom in on, and highlight data. On my first visit, I was taken aback by the heavy reliance on earth tones, but then I happened to flip past "the best statistical graphic ever drawn" in a copy of Tufte, and I think now I understand where they're coming from.

Manyeyes.jpgYou need to do a little spreadsheet-shuffling in order to take advantage of the more complex visualization styles, but the site provides very clear instructions for this... and the results are gorgeous.

For my first experiment, I uploaded some data from a new table that our own M.L. Liu created for the 2007 World Almanac and Book of Facts, showing the slave and "free colored" (an official census designation of the time) populations of U.S. states and territories in selected decennial censuses. A few mouse-clicks later, I was looking at a perfect map of the US, color-coded to show relative population sizes for each selected census year; click on the box at right to explore the maps yourself, or even click back to the original data sheet to generate your own visualizations.

Done something cool with this data (or other data from the World Almanac)? Toss a link into the comments, so we can check it out.

Link: Many Eyes (IBM Visual Communication Lab)
Previously: Swivel It (Just a Little Bit)

January 18, 2007

Genealogy Made Easy

Geni-shot.jpgLike a lot of people, I've made half-hearted stabs at compiling a family tree but never had the time or energy to delve too deeply into the project. But now there's hope for all of us lazy, would-be genealogists, courtesy of Geni, a slick, easy-to-use, online family tree and family history tool.

It couldn't be easier to get started: pick your gender, type in your name and e-mail address, and presto! You've got a one-person family tree. From there, you just click on easy-to-follow icons to add parents, siblings, spouses, and children, with as much detail as you care to provide. The best part? You can unload some of the work on other members of your tree. Provide an e-mail address for any family member, and Geni will allow them to log in and contribute their own knowledge--from adding new family members to filling in minute biographical details.

It's a new service, so performance can be a little slow and some features don't work consistently. There also doesn't seem to be an "export" or "print" feature, which would make it a killer app. And despite Geni's privacy policy, you should still be wary of giving any website a ton of private, personal information.

It's definitely not a tool for "serious" genealogists, but for those of us who just want to tinker with a quick, simple, and fun family free, it makes for at least a few diverting hours.

Link: Geni (via Lifehacker)

Note: If you need some help tracking down distant or deceased relatives, or you have a more serious interest in genealogy, the following resources are a great place to start:
FamilySearch.org
Genealogy at the National Archives

December 29, 2006

...And For Good Measure, One Last List

snowglobe.jpg
As a nice break from all the looking-back lists, here's one that looks forward to the 70 "products, services, and trends that will help to define 2007," according to advertising agency JWT Worldwide:
As globalization continues to make our world seem smaller, localization will come to a head in 2007. We'll put great emphasis on sourcing everything from food to textiles. Decadent and excessive consumption will fall to the wayside as we stress quality, minimal environmental impact and support of local producers.

I'd agree with many of these picks, and I expect some of them--VoIP, trans-fat fallout, nanotechnology, Barack Obama--will get a significant amount of news or statistical coverage in the next edition of the World Almanac. Others, I confess, leave me a bit bewildered: will 2007 really be the year of higher-waisted pants, party planning for teens, reunions of donor insemination siblings, and "binge chilling"? It's a brave new world...

What products and people do you think will define the coming year? Let us know in the comments... and bonus points for the first person to explain "kidults" and "Chindia" to me.

JWT's 70 Things to Watch in 2007

1. Skype/VoIP
2. Wii and the next-generation gaming systems
3. The business of social networking
4. Pop-up stores, restaurants and bars ... installation style
5. Shrinky Dink technology (TVs are flat and hidden, iPods are down to half an ounce, speakers are smaller and less visible, and so on)
6. The rise of nanotechnology
7. Sustainable construction/green buildings
8. Hydrogen fuel cell technology
9. Veggie-bus: school buses running on biodiesel fuel
10. Trans-fat fallout

Continue reading "...And For Good Measure, One Last List" »

December 27, 2006

The Best Little-Known Blogs (Other Than Our Own)

As the end of 2006 approaches, the deluge of year-end "top ten" lists gets heavier and heavier. Check back on Friday for some favorite lists of editor M.L. Liu... but to tide you over until then, check out this fascinating list of "The Best Blogs of 2006 That You (Maybe) Aren't Reading" (courtesy of Fimoculous.com). There are some terrific sites that I had never heard of, including a handful of blogs that should be of particular interest to World Almanac fans:

5. Corpus Obscura
It's an inspired idea: track the obits of those whose accomplishments vastly exceeded their fame. So you get the last boxer to fight Muhammad Ali, the animator of Fred Flintstone, the tuba player from the Jaws theme, the first physician convicted of illegally performing an abortion in a hospital, and many, many more. (See also: Blog of Death.)

4. Information Aesthetics
I suspect we need a chart to explain why this blog is so great, because just saying "this blog tracks instances of data visualization" sounds like it could be a weapon to kill terrorists with boredom. But this site is essential reading for anyone interested in the ways that engineers and designers turn the messy world into a clear visual representation. (See also: Visual Complexity & xBlog.)

Before you load up your newsreader with all of these new blogs, however, don't forget to take a moment to subscribe to ours if you haven't already done so.

calendardesign.jpgSpecial end-of-year note: even if the description above doesn't send you immediately clicking over to Information Aesthetics, I still recommend you check out a recent post about Creative calendar design, which includes links to a variety of fascinating, printable, and in most cases useful interpretations of the classic yearly calendar. I've already got David Seah's 2007 compact calendar taped to the side of my monitor, which makes a nice complement to the 2007 World Almanac's calendar of the year, perpetual calendar, list of major holidays and notable dates, and other essential time- and calendar-related resources.

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