DJ Patil's Memo to the American People

DJ Patil is well known in the data science community and I think it is great that the Obama Administration scooped him up to help with their data efforts. He has outlined his role and the potential impact of data science today:

The Obama administration has embraced the use of data to improve the operation of the U.S. government and the interactions that people have with it. On May 9, 2013, President Obama signed Executive Order 13642, which made open and machine-readable data the new default for government information. Over the past few years, the Administration has launched a number of Open Data Initiatives aimed at scaling up open data efforts across the government, helping make troves of valuable data – data that taxpayers have already paid for – easily accessible to anyone. In fact, I used data made available by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to improve numerical methods of weather forecasting as part of my doctoral work. So I know firsthand just how valuable this data can be – it helped get me through school!

It is exciting to see the administration embrace the power of data. I hope that other governments follow their lead.

Don't Keep Your Laptop Plugged In

Yesterday I noticed a service battery warning when I clicked the drop down on my 2011 MacBook Pro. Apple puts this message there to indicate that your battery can now charge to less than 80% of its initial capacity. In my case I last replaced this battery on May 11, 2013. So it has been 649 days. Apple has rated its battery to last for about 1000 charge cycles but this one has only lasted for 434. The new battery made it barely two years after the previous battery lasted nearly the same amount of time. I am not convinced Apple’s battery life estimates are accurate.

However one thing Apple does not mention on their support pages is it may be best to keep your battery cycling each day. The ideal battery user is someone who charges their gadget overnight and then uses it during the day. Abusing your battery shortens its life. Apparently Apple batteries are very finicky about being cycled in this manner. I am still able to use my computer without issue and the battery will last for a couple hours, but I certainly do not get the battery life I used to.1

  1. The computer was sold as having a 7 hour battery life. New batteries are rated at 5800mAh. So the 4300 mAh figure is about a 25% reduction in capacity, so even when it was new I was barely reaching 5 hours of battery life. 

The Connecticut Budget

Lots of great analysis at the CT Mirror. With a large portion of the budget going towards pensions and debt service we are paying a lot of today’s tax money towards the prosperity enjoyed by the last generation. The Governor is on the track when he talks about investing in things like infrastructure. However, I think we all wish the economy were doing a bit better so these tough choices would not have to be made.

The Power of Habits

Back in December I read an interesting article in WIRED about habits and software design. However habits also impact our daily lives. Many fitness trackers and health related apps promise to help us develop good habits. Habits can be heard to make and hard to break. Sometimes we like our habits and other times we dislike them. However we engage in them so often they can define who we are.

The hard part of a new habit is trying something for the first time. I like Matt Cutts idea to try something new for 30 days. However it does not solve the issue that mentally trying something completely new can be exhausting. The best way to tackle this is to plan out what you are doing. If you are making a new breakfast food you should know where the ingredients are and have the instructions ready. Leave extra time for screw-ups. First impressions matter and a bad first experience can ruin trying to create a habit forever.

Small changes over a long period of time are much easier to do than large changes at once. This is why I think things like diet and exercise plans fail. Some people enjoy re-inventing themselves but many of us do not have time for that and do not find it fun. However doing something like going to bed 15 minutes earlier or eating a bagel instead of a muffin is not overly aggressive.1 If you do not like your new habit it probably will not last so you should find a different better habit that will stick.

  1. The caloric difference between the muffin and bagel at Dunkin Donuts is 150. It need not be a bagel, just something else you enjoy that is more nutritious. 

My Favorite Mac Software

One of the things that I find odd is how averse many people are to paying for software. The Mac has tons of neat applications that save time or do useful things. Here are some of my favorites:

1Password - I use this daily on my Mac and iPhone. It keeps all my passwords, bank account information, and software licenses in one place. It automatically captures the data when I input it into my browser and syncs with iCloud.

OmniFocus - I use this on my Mac and iPhone as well. It is the ultimate to do list application. The best part is setting up a universal keyboard shortcut to create a to do item from the webpage you are on. It makes it easier to close those pesky tabs. I also use the location based reminders in the iPhone version to remind me about what credit card to use at stores and restaruants to maximize my rewards.

Tweetbot - This is a twitter client for twitter power users. I like it because it keeps my timeline sync’d between my iPhone and Mac.

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop - Adobe sells this under its Creative Cloud Photography plan. It has more features and is overall a superior photo management and editing experience than iPhoto. I got it specifically to use Lightroom. If you want to stick with iPhoto then I recommend Pixelmator for photo editing.

TextExpander - This is useful for saving typing effort by having shortcuts to paste blocks of text. I use this for frequent e-mail replies or if I have to reptitively fill out an online form.

Fantastical - This is an easy to access calendar application that lets you quickly add events using natural language.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.