OpenText Data Digest, Dec 11: Holiday Lights
Christmas and the New Year are approaching, so this week we’re sharing some data visualizations with connections to holiday celebrations.
Christmas and the New Year are approaching, so this week we’re sharing some data visualizations with connections to holiday celebrations. Pour yourself some eggnog (or glögg or other favorite holiday beverage), put on some seasonal music, and settle in for some great watching. Enjoy!
Shed Some Light on the Issue
December 13 is celebrated as St. Lucia Day in several countries, from Sweden to Italy and even the St. Lucia Islands. As fits a (possibly legendary) Catholic saint whose name derives from the Latin word for light, lux / lucis, this is a celebration of light at a time when the winter solstice is approaching and the days are at their shortest.
Speaking of light, when we’re surrounded by inexpensive electric light around the clock, it’s hard to imagine how dependent productivity is on reliable light sources.
His interactive graph, based on the work of economists Roger Fouquet and P.J.G. Pearson, shows how the price of lighting dropped sharply starting about 1750. That’s when new energy sources became available, starting with whale oil and kerosene (for lamps) and cheap beef tallow (for candles). The mid-19th century added arc lights and gas lamps. Then, once electricity became common around 1900, the price of illumination dropped to nearly nothing, relative to what it had been in the Middle Ages.
Meanwhile, as lighting became cheaper, cleaner, and more convenient, everyone took advantage of it. Cities began putting up lamps to make streets safer. Factory owners added night shifts. Students, housewives, shoppers, entertainment-seekers – everyone felt liberated by the electric bulb.
This Little Light of Mine…
And of course, that leads us to Christmas lights. In many countries, they’re a source of neighborhood, city, or even national pride (as shown by the Wonders of Winter show every year in our headquarters of Waterloo, Canada, and the sound-and-light shows on Parliament Hill in Ottawa).
Despite the huge cost advantage of electricity over earlier light sources, incandescent bulbs are not very energy-efficient. So Christmas lights can still cause a sizable bump in many household budgets (about $20-50 extra, depending on the price of a kilowatt-hour in your area and how intensely you decorate).
But in recent years, innovations in bulbs, especially small LEDs, have dropped their energy demands considerably. The Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) reported in 2010 that a string of LED C7 bulbs (the thumb-sized ones used mostly outdoors) would cost only 23 cents to run during the entire holiday season, compared to $7.03 for conventional incandescent bulbs. (Miniature bulbs are cheaper than C7s, even if you don’t switch to LEDs. The State of California estimates that a string of indoor lights, running a total of 300 hours a month, would cost $1.38 to operate if it’s made up of miniature bulbs, vs. $4.31 for C7 bulbs — a 3-fold price difference.)
We’re Burning Daylight
Want to take the best photos of your holiday light display? Professional photographer Jay P. Morgan has great tips on his blog, The Slanted Lens.
For a pleasant, soft glow, shoot your photos just as the sun is going down. That way, there’s still some light in the sky to help illuminate your house, yard, and so forth, Morgan explains. If you wait until full darkness, the contrast between the lights and the rest of the image is too stark; details on the house won’t “pop” and it won’t show up well against the sky.
The data-visualization angle? His handy chart showing how the ideal moment for Christmas-card photography comes when the fading daylight drops to the same brightness level as your lights. (He also illustrates how the color temperature drops with the light level.)
When the Lights Go Down on the City
While we’re on the topic of light, let’s consider how much can be gleaned from high-altitude pictures of the Earth after dark. Images taken by NASA satellites show interesting correlations to human activities.
The NASA scientists who compiled the satellite images into this impressive display and shared it through the Visible Earth project note:
The brightest areas of the Earth are the most urbanized, but not necessarily the most populated. (Compare Western Europe with China and India.) Cities tend to grow along coastlines and transportation networks. … The United States interstate highway system appears as a lattice connecting the brighter dots of city centers. In Russia, the Trans-Siberian railroad is a thin line stretching from Moscow through the center of Asia to Vladivostok. …
Even more than 100 years after the invention of the electric light, some regions remain thinly populated and unlit. The interior jungles of Africa and South America are mostly dark, but lights are beginning to appear there. Deserts in Africa, Arabia, Australia, Mongolia, and the United States are poorly lit as well (except along the coast), along with the boreal forests of Canada and Russia, and the great mountains of the Himalaya.
And Roser, doing his own analysis of the Visible Earth images, points out that the level of lighting often marks a sharp political and economic divide, such as between North and South Korea. Prosperous South Korea glows after dark, especially around the capital, Seoul. But its northern counterpart, kept poor by decades of Communist dictatorship, is nearly invisible after dark.
Meanwhile, we’re hoping to shed some light on a topic dear to our heart – analytics. On Jan. 12, 2016, we’re hosting a Webinar featuring TDWI Research Director Fern Halper, who will talk about Operationalizing and Embedding Analytics for Action.
As Halper points out, what good is having analytic capacity in your business processes if nobody uses it? Analytics needs to be embedded into your systems so they can provide answers right where and when they’re needed. Uses include support for logistics, asset management, customer call centers, and recommendation engines—to name just a few. We hope you’ll dial in – we promise you’ll learn something!
We share our favorite data-driven observations and visualizations every week here. What topics would you like to read about? Please leave suggestions and questions in the comment area below.
- OpenText Data Digest Dec 4: Data Is Beautiful
- Free Data Science Curriculum
- OpenText Data Digest Nov 27: Data Mapping Music
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