Transit geeks and data geeks

You know you’re a data geek when crunching a few numbers cheers you up at the end of a trying day!

Alene actually had a decent day that was fun for me to watch — relaying highlights to Allen — but she did get a slightly upsetting email right before she left work — and I could feel she was bummed out all the way home on the bus. She listened to a rather boring podcast about Kafka and couldn’t be bothered to search for anything else.

Over coffee, she browsed around the internet and found something that cheered us all up — an article on the Seattle Transit Blog about the top five annoying things about local public transportation. The comments thread had some amusing remarks about the use of rear doors on buses, which I naturally had to pass along to Allen. He was one of those drivers who needed nagging to open the rear door, preferring people to come up front and exchange a few pleasantries and say goodbye properly — although he would grudgingly open the rear door of a 60-footer to avoid trouble.

Another bunch of comments concerned the time it takes for drivers to hand off to each other at a shift change. I’ve seen Allen take over from another driver — and he’s not the fastest at it. He can’t drive until everything is perfect. And just when you think he’s made all the possible adjustments to seat and all those mirrors — and signed into the radio communication system — and fastened his seatbelt and is about to signal to move out into traffic and get underway — he’ll notice a bug on the windshield — and have to climb back out of his seat to take care of it!

Anyway, back to Alene. On her walk home, I reminded her of the phosphate data set she downloaded the other day. We listened to a podcast recently about the impending crisis of the world’s diminishing phosphate supply and about how Morocco has most of what remains and that prompted us to look for some data. We found a data set at the United Nations Statistics Division and I thought we could have fun organizing it tonight. So after dinner, she sucked it into R and reshaped it into a neat’n’tidy .csv file to upload to an online data visualization tool she’s been playing with.

Alene is hardly a power R user, as she doesn’t get to use it in her job, but she does try to use it every few months on a little project at home. She had so much fun learning it back in 2012 — and tonight she got happily absorbed in it. We might start making some visuals tomorrow night and think of a story to tell. Of course, we could do that with R — but she’s trying to get familiar with sexier tools available, so part of the exercise was to have a data set handy to upload whenever she comes across something interesting. We might even post something here if we make something worth sharing.

And, I can report that she is much, much happier now.

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