World Population Density Animation

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I have been working on learning to use the mapping package Basemap in Python. This is early learning of machinery for some more posts on maps, and normalizing things by underlying population density.

World Population Density from James Davenport on Vimeo.

Here is a spinning globe with population density drawn. This was code written in 20 min, and took about 100 min to render the images on my laptop. Basemap is straight forward to use... once you know what you're doing. However, the maps don't seem quite as mature as those in IDL (to be fair, IDL has been a commercial mapping product for many years). If you'd like to use this as an example for learning Basemap/Python, the code is on GitHub! I am also working to make the same map using IDL as a teaching tool.

hat tip: got code help from here!

Football Statistics: the Impact of Smiling

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If you've ever watched a professional football game (and this is probably true for most professional sports) then you have seen these little portraits of players that appear at the bottom of the screen. On some TV networks they are actually short video clips where the players announce their alma mater, on some networks they are animations where the players each raise their heads and occasionally blink (these creep me out), and for other networks these head-shots are just still photos. Some players smile in their photos, some do not.

Key & Peele have a recurring bit about this player introduction phenomenon.

While watching a Seahawks game this past year, my mother in law posed an amusing question: Do players who smile in their photos play better football?

The question is simple and whimsical, in other words perfect. I don't know anything about how often these photos are taken, what the player's mindset is when they're shot, or if there is any prior expectation about attitude/persona and player record. I set out to find some answers...

For this study I am only focusing on Quarter Backs (QBs) in American professional footbal (NFL), though it would be easy to extend to all positions if anyone can help me get the data! Right away I know I'll need a few ingredients: photos of each player, some classification of their smiles, and some real stats on their records in the NFL.

How Long Do Senators Actually Serve?

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Today is the 2015 State of the Union address by President Obama. His speech has already been widely written about, and as with most SOTU addresses presenting it is largely a formality. There are many traditions associated with the SOTU, including the POTUS having to be invited to give the talk.

Another SOTU tradition, which I find very American (and started in the 1960's), is the SOTU response given by a member of the opposite political party to the POTUS. This year Joni Ernst, a brand new Senator from Iowa whose campaign was dominated by hog castration, will be the 16th woman to deliver a SOTU response.

Senator Ernst may be a public figure for quite some time, so I wondered today:
how long do Senators typically serve? 
There are some very well known examples of career Senators, for example the lengendary badass, Daniel K. Inouye. But what of the typical Senator? Here are some numbers...

After nearly 230 years, the US Senate has more than 1855 distinct former members. The term length for Senators is 6 years (compared with the typical length of 2 years for representatives).
Here is the histogram of term durations for all past Senators. Note: some people served multiple, non-consecutive terms, or changed parties, which counts in this data as a separate term. You can clearly see the spikes of 1, 2, ... 6 terms. The average term is 7.6 years (median 6 years) for all past Senators.

However, the typical duration a Senator serves appears to be changing. Above I have plotted the duration versus the year elected for all past Senators. You can see in the running 2-year median the typical serving duration has increased, especially since WW2. While the overall average for length served is 7.6 years, since 1950 it has risen to 11.8 years. This means on average Senators are elected twice, and will serve during at least 2 presidencies.

This is longer than the average rein of a Pope (7.3 years), but shorter than a US Supreme Court Justice (16.4 years).

GitHub repo with data is here

Making Quality Animations in IDL

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Here is a brief post that outlines how I easily create high quality animations using IDL. I realize IDL is not the most popular language in the astrophysics community these days, but this processes works for any language that can render plots to a file. While there are other ways to do this in Python, I think this processes works well since it allows you to experiment with each stage independently. I'll also embed a few animations I have created, hopefully to give you an idea of what is possible.

The workflow is relatively simple:
render many still frames > convert to images > encode them as a video

Note, this is the same workflow to create animated gifs, just swap the last step.

Note also, this guide assumes you are using OS X or LINUX.

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