Monthly Archives: August 2008

The Future of Microblogging

I have been an enthusiastic user of twitter for quite some time now, but I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that it is unlikely to survive, at least in its current form. This is partly because they will struggle to build a business model to start paying off their venture capital backers. But more importantly, it is because twitter is a closed system and that will ultimately constrain its potential.

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Olympic Medals per Capita – Update

Since my last post, about Beijing 2008 Olympic rankings by population and economy size, there has been a lot of action in the medals per capita stakes. The Bahamas knocked Jamaica from the number one spot with a Bronze in the triple-jump, only to have Jamaica regain the crown as it continued to win Gold in track and field. Then, with a Silver in the Men’s 4 x 400m relay, the Bahamas got to the front again in what is now an unassailable lead.

For the blow-by-blow on MPC, visit the LA Times MPC blog. I can’t help mentioning that Australia has now pulled ahead of New Zealand!

Previously, the charts I used were static, unable to keep up with these rapid changes so, although the Games are drawing to a close now, I thought I would include Swivel charts which will update as the last results come through. This time I am showing rankings in terms of a simple total medal count per million of population (previously I used a points system, 3 points for Gold, etc).
Beijing Olympics 2008: Medals per mil. Population by Country
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Olympic Medal Count by Population and GDP

Now that the swimming is over, Australia is likely to see its rankings in the Olympic medal tally start to fall. To feel better about this situation, people like to start pointing out that we still look pretty good for a small country and it’s certainly true that of the countries currently in the medal tally (as at 22 August 2008), we rank only 36th in terms of population. Ever since I blogged about the data-sharing site  Swivel, I have been regularly updating a data-set with the medal tally. So, it was a simple matter to add in population as well. The chart below provides a high-level overview of the medal results by population. It shows both the total number of medals won and the gold medals. The further a country sits in this chart above a 45 degree line, the better it is doing by population.

Total Medals (blue) and Gold medals by Population

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I Hate Personality Tests

Earlier this week I attended a training course that, once again, leaned heavily on colourful “HBDI profiles”. HBDI stands for “Herman Brain Dominance Indicator” and, much like the better-known Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), it is a personality test with a fancy name. I am lucky enough to have been subjected to both of these tests more than once, leaving me increasingly irritated each time. This has led me to reflect on why personality tests like these are so popular in the corporate world. I suspect that it is because they have much in common with astrology.

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Digging into GroceryCHOICE

Earlier this week, South Australian senator Nick Xenophon raised concerns that the Government’s FuelWatch scheme would lead to higher petrol prices and that small independent petrol retailers were likely to be disadvantaged by the scheme. So it looks likely that the FuelWatch legislation will fail to pass the senate and then fade into oblivion. I can’t say I’m too upset about this as I have been critical of the scheme. Furthermore, falling oil prices have led to a fall of around 20 cents/litre in petrol prices which takes much of the sting out of the issue.

So now I am free to turn my attention to another Australian Government initiative, GroceryCHOICE**. This scheme aims to “[help] consumers find the cheapest supermarket chain in their area without having to compare hundreds of prices”. Every month a survey is conducted of prices on around 500 different grocery items at over 600 supermarkets around the region. These prices are aggregated into “baskets” of goods in the following categories:
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Online Data and Charts with Swivel

I recently came across the OECD Factbook blog written by Jérôme Cukier, who works as a data editor for the OECD. He has an excellent post on publishing charts in blogs.

As regular readers of the Mule will know, I don’t mind posting the odd chart and in the process I have grappled with the less than ideal results that the Excel to image production-cycle can produce. Jérôme’s process discusses these challenges and illustrates the results of different techniques (although I had more luck with copying as a picture and saving to PNG format than he had, so perhaps the choice of picture editor is a factor as well). As far as possible, I try to avoid using Excel altogether for producing charts and instead use the statistical package R, which can produce charts directly to a number of image formats including JPG and PNG. Although Jérôme doesn’t mention R, it does crop up in the first of the comments on his post.

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A Tipping Point for Starbucks?

On 1 July 2008, Starbucks announced the closure of around 600 outlets in the US. More drastically, on 29 July they then announced that 61 of the 84 Australian outlets would be closing.

Over on BeyondDigitalMedia, Chris Bishops posted an interesting examination of the challenges Starbucks has faced in the Australian market and goes on to predict that Gloria Jeans will suffer a similar fate.

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Bottlemania Comes to Sydney

Today’s Sun-Herald has a piece entitled “Turning Water into Wine“, which reports that the prestigious Kable’s restaurant in Sydney’s Four Seasons hotel has launched its first “water menu”. Here you get a tantalising array of choices for how to flush your money away. My favourite is a 750mL bottle of Cloud Juice rainwater from King Island for a mere $20! At first I thought it must be a joke, straight out of an episode of Penn and Teller‘s take-no-prisoners, nonsense-busting series, Bullshit.

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