Sunday, March 31, 2013

In Support of Gay Marriage

Reprinted from Facebook

Showing Support for Marriage Equality on Facebook

by Eytan Bakshy (Notes) on Friday, March 29, 2013 at 9:04am

The U.S. Supreme Court this week met to begin debating the future of same-sex marriage in the United States. To accompany this historic event, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) started urging people on Monday, March 25 to change their Facebook profile pictures to a pink-on-red equal sign to show support for marriage equality. Since then, we’ve noticed a surge in people changing their profile photos to various versions of this image.

The original HRC profile image, a common variant, and its less common kosher-for-Passover and not-so-kosher varieties.

To get a clearer picture of the potential level of support for marriage equality on Facebook, we examined how many U.S. users changed their profile photos over the past few days.

Time trends

The first thing we wanted to do is understand how the events played out over time. While millions of U.S. Facebook users update their profile photos on a given day, we found that significantly more users -- roughly 2.7 million (120%) more, updated their profile photo on Tuesday, March 26 compared to the previous Tuesday.

Looking at these trends more closely in the figure below, we can see that there is strong periodicity in how many users update their profile photos each hour, which makes the trend hard to see just by looking at the raw data. Using a time series model, we can decompose the trend we'd like to examine from the seasonality in the data. We find that the increase in uploads does indeed start around the time when HRC began urging their Facebook followers to change their profile photos at 1 p.m. EST (dashed line).

Cyclicality in profile photo uploads and trends revealed by a time series model. Dashed line indicates when HRC campaign was launched.


Next, we wanted to know what kinds of Facebook users were presumably showing support for marriage equality. We compared the proportion of users who logged in on Tuesday, March 26 and updated their profile picture with that proportion the week before (March 19), broken down by age. In the left-hand figure below, we can see that across all age groups, more individuals changed their profile photos on March 26 (red) compared to the previous week (black).

Relationship between age and profile photo changes.

In the right-hand figure above, we can see the increase in the percentage of users updating their profiles from each age group. Those closest to 30 years old showed the greatest increase in updating. This suggests that on average, roughly 3.5% of 30-year-old Facebook users updated their profiles in response to the events surrounding the HRC campaign. We also found a small, but significant difference expression between genders. On average, 2.3% more self-reported female users updated their profile photo, compared to 2.1% more self-reported males.


Finally, having seen so many Facebook friends change their profiles photos in response to the debate, we wanted to know how widespread this phenomenon was across the country. To do this, we constructed a statistical model to estimate the likelihood that an individual in a given county would change their profile picture on March 26. Similar to the leftmost figure above, we compared the week-over-week increase -- but since there are so many counties (3,141 in all), including some with few users, we also included data about the behavior of others in the same state and across the country to get a more stable estimate of the difference. The results are shown below.

Estimated increase in profile changes for each county. Counties with more intense colors can be thought to have greater turnout as a result of the HRC equals campaign.

Which counties saw the largest increases in profile photo changes? Much to our surprise, we found that Washtenaw County -- home of Ann Arbor, Michigan and the University of Michigan, this author's alma mater, topped the list. Our model estimated that approximately 6.2% of Facebook users who logged in from this county changed their profile photos in response to the campaign.

Washtenaw County is not alone. Many of the top 25 counties that showed the greatest support for HRC's campaign were home to college towns, including Orange (University of North Carolina), Durham (Duke University), Monroe (Indiana University), Johnson (University of Iowa), Athens (Ohio University), Dane (University of Wisconsin), Boulder (University of Colorado), and Travis (University of Texas at Austin).

People changing their profile pictures weren't just in college towns. San Francisco County, San Mateo County (home of many tech companies), and Washington, D.C. also ranked highly. Surprisingly, while (log) population density was correlated with increases in profile updating (rho = 0.45), many counties housing large cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City, showed only modest increases (2.4-2.9%) in support.

A closing remark

For a long time, when people stood up for a cause and weren't all physically standing shoulder to shoulder, the size of their impact wasn’t immediately apparent. But today, we can see the spread of an idea online in greater detail than ever before. That’s data well worth finding.

Data analysis by Eytan Bakshy, a researcher on the Facebook Data Science Team. Special thanks to Mike Bailey, Dean Eckles, Matt Katsaros, Dan Merl, Jason Sundram, and Dex Torricke-Barton.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Just in time for Easter

Chris Sweeney says a border guard told him he could be fined $2,500 per egg.

Remember these treats? KinderSurprise. My kids used to really love them, not just for the candy outside, but for the small toy surprise inside the yellow plastic "yolk". Manufactured by the Italian company, Ferrero, Kindereggs are still available at Canadian stores and throughout Europe, but they have never been sold in the US where there is a ban on food wrapped around non-food, considered a choking hazard.

In fact, don't try to take them across the border to the US for your special kids who live there. If border agents find them, not only will your KinderSurprises be confiscated, you could be fined $2500 for each egg found in your luggage.

Not only that, it will cost you hours of your time and loads of embarrassment and frustration.

Friday, March 29, 2013

This Mexican lake is an empty canvas.......

.................for anyone with PhotoShop skills. Give it a face and I'll retweet my favourites!

from Commander Hadfield:


michael normington26 Mar
@ This Young Man is pushing the snow ball over the edge.

Paul Tuominen26 Mar
@ I used the free GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) for mine.

Michael Soutar26 Mar
@ I'm sorry Chris, I'm afraid I can't do that


@ I saw a angel :)
Embedded image permalink

Thursday, March 28, 2013


The Decorah eagles are in their new nest this year and have been sitting on eggs for the past few weeks. Since there hasn't yet been an opportunity to install a camera at the "yonder" nest, there's no way of knowing how many eggs there are or whether any eggs have hatched yet, but indications are, using long distance video, that there is now at least one new eaglet in the nest. The adults have been spending more time adjusting things in the nest bowl, rotating eggs and arranging the soft material to be just so, installing more sticks as rails on the edge of the gigantic nest and arriving at the nest with prey.

This video is wonderful, not only in terms of what mom and dad are doing, but for its ethereal quality and to really appreciate how magnificent these birds are.

There's good news in Ontario: the first pair of eagles in decades to build a nest on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario has hatched (possibly) 2 eaglets. The nest is located in Cootes Paradise Dundas, Ontario, part of the Royal Botanical Garden. Here's a recent picture of the proud parents:

Several years after first making the Cootes Paradise Nature Sanctuary home, a pair of bald eagles have managed to hatch young.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Shadowland, Pilobolus Dance Theatre NY: amazing creativity!

I love these dancers too. Lala took me to see the European Lipizzaner's in Montreal in about 1959, after she also treated me to a lobster dinner at a downtown restaurant. Boy! Was I spoiled!! I still remember almost every minute of that wonderful evening!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Quit Smoking Promotion

This ad is the latest attempt in Canada to get people to see smoking as a social impropriety. I'm not convinced it will work, but it is sure attracting attention near and far.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Canadian Granny Defies Winter

We are all growing weary of what seems like an extended winter - lots of snow this year and it's still snowing today, the second day of spring. This Manitoba woman decided to tackle the lingering winter season with defiance, humour and courage. This video is only one in a whole series. Enjoy!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

More from Space

Chris Hadfield
Some of the things we build for ourselves are puzzlingly visible from space. Such as the islands of Dubai.
Chris Hadfield:
The Nile and the Sinai, to Israel and beyond. One sweeping glance of human history.

The High Price of the Fully-wired Life

Many of us love our laptops, smart phones, tablets and reading devices. We love them so much, that it's hard to part with them at the end of the day. In fact, some of us sleep with them, so as not to miss any in-coming messages or in case we think of something that needs doing during the night. But at what cost?

When we use our electronic devices close to bedtime, though, the stimulation from their use can delay our ability to fall asleep. Video games keep our brain hopping. Work-related worries can be stressful. Stress and excitement can cause our body to enter a "flight or fight" mode in which cortisol, the stress hormone produced by the adrenal gland, is released. As a result there is a delay in the ability to fall asleep.
In addition, the glow from the devices themselves suppresses melatonin, the hormone that is sleep-inducing.
And, by the way, working in bed can cause neck and shoulder injuries, which can also cause discomfort and mental stress.
Before we know it, we're only getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night, just not enough to stay healthy. Several phases of sleep are essential for brain health. For example, REM sleep is associated with learning and theta brain waves are linked with creativity. So getting enough quality sleep each night is a must.
What to do?
  1. Turn off electronic devices 15 or 30 minutes before going to bed. A hotel in Manhattan, the Benjamin, has a sleep concierge team which guests can ask to alert them to turn off their devices at a certain time to allow for a wind-down period before bed. Similar to a wake-up call, this is called a work-down call.
    Some companies have reportedly banned business emails after hours and Volkswagen, in Germany, shuts of work emails to employees Blackberrys a half-hour after their shifts.
  2. Keep your bedroom a device-free zone.
  3. Disconnect the kids. A TV in your child’s bedroom has a negative effect on sleep quality. Give him or her a relaxing book to read before bed instead of the remote.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Our Moon

Chris Hadfield
Tonight's Finale: Our Moon, forever to be graced by the footprints of twelve brave men.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mandy Patankin

Not being a film buff or a TV addict, I haven’t really watched any of the great hits that that Mandy Patankin has been part of: Evita, The Princess Bride, Chicago Hope, Homeland etc. Recently, though, I caught part of an interview of him on morning television and was impressed by his thoughtful answers, so when I learned that Jian Ghomeshi had interviewed him on his radio show, Q , I immediately headed to the CBC website to look for it.

Patankin has such a face-forward view of life. He truly appreciates each moment, he reflects on the past and he looks forward to the future, not with worry or foreboding, but with a passionate sense of excitement. This is an interview that could change your life.  

(Sorry about the commercial messages)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I saw this idea on Pinterest and found the instructions at The Magic of Ordinary Things blog. A year ago, armed with a Michael's coupon I bought a rotary cutter and a self-healing mat. Mary gave me a valuable tutorial on using these tools and this week I put together a spring wreath.

The instructions said to use a wire clothes hanger, but I thought the resulting wreath might be dwarfed by our over-sized front door, so last week when I was back at Michael's looking for a larger ring, I spotted a kid-sized hula hoop and thought it would work. Using floral wire, I attached a larger wire around the circumference of the front of the hoop and then tied 1" x 8" strips of fabric onto just the wire. Now that it's all done, you can't see the hoop any more.

It was a surprisingly quick and fun project to work on. I like the way the fabric flutters in the breeze.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dangers of Magnets

I always knew that a small magnet would be dangerous if ingested by a baby, but this video really makes the danger real. When a child swallows two or more of those small ball-like magnets or the small discs used for fridge magnets or the small magnets that are part of some toys, the magnets clump together, trapping tissue between them. When they pass into the bowel, the loops of the bowel can become attached, a condition that is potentially fatal if not diagnosed.

Take the time, if you can, to watch this video from CTV news (sorry about the commercial message, though).

Here's another video geared for older kids and teens. Yes, teens....they have been known to put two of the small ball magnets in their nose or lips to simulate piercing. Unfortunately, the magnets can get inhaled or swallowed by accident. High-Powered Magnets Swallowing by Kids = Deadly

This magnet warning isn't new  - a few years ago some of the dangerous toys were removed from the market. This information, though, could help in avoiding a dangerous and highly inconvenient event.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Happy Pi Day from the ISS

Cmdr Chris Hadfield 11h The dry folded skin of the Sahara desert, looking like the crust of a pie. Perfect for Pi Day( 03/14)!

Cold Cow

How to tell when it's cold outside.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

Funky Plant

This little plant has been part of our indoor foliage for years now. Originally from the grocery store, it has been repotted once and is usually just in the background.

Early in January, something started happening in the centre of the plant. Finally on Jan. 22, there was enough to show up in a picture.
Here it is on Feb. 6:

Feb. 14:
and getting pretty interesting by Feb. 19:
By Feb. 26 it was starting to really take on shape and colour:
This is what it looked like yesterday:

And all these weeks we've also been enjoying the hit of colour from the bromeliad on the other side of the plant stand.
and the Christmas poinsettia is still colourful too.

Having indoor plants really does help to make winter bearable.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Conductor

I just finished this wonderful book. Wow! It really evoked the feeling of deprivation that the people of Leningrad faced in 1941-42 as the Nazi's approached. Here is  the write-up from the author's own website
In June 1941, breaking the non-aggression pact with Russia, Nazi troops march on Leningrad and surround it. Hitler’s plan is to shell, bomb, and starve the city into submission. Most of the cultural elite are evacuated early in the siege, but Shostakovich, one of Russia’s most famous composers, stays on to defend his city, digging ditches and fire-watching. At night he composes a new work.
But eventually Shostakovich and his family are forced to evacuate, while Karl Eliasberg – the shy and difficult conductor of the second-rate Radio Orchestra – and his musicians are left behind to suffer an almost unendurable winter. When the finished score of Shostakovich’s work is flown over enemy lines back into the city, Eliasberg and his orchestra are ordered to regroup. Starving and weak, they face the monumental task of rehearsing and performing the Leningrad Symphony.
Against all odds, their historic performance took place in August 1942, relayed by loudspeakers to the front lines as proof that Leningrad would never surrender.

Quigley says, ‘I’ve always been interested in Shostakovich and his music. Creating art is hard enough at any time, let alone coping with a repressive Soviet regime and then a war. The historic performance of the ‘Leningrad’ Symphony caught my imagination. In one way it’s a very Russian story – the resilience, determination, and passion for art – but it also has a universal message. It shows that music can touch people’s hearts and sustain them through the darkest of times.’

The writing is so compelling that I could hardly put the book down, in spite of the fact that the conditions in Leningrad were so appalling. Quigley also made very real, for me, the intensity that true musicians live with: the music is always with them and the rest of life is almost an aside.

Another recent read for the book club is Stephen Galloway's The Cellist of Sarajevo, set during those awful years when Sarajevo was under siege and living conditions there were, similarly to Leningrad, abominable. Both books underline the way in which music is a common language, helping us, even if only for a few brief moments, to forget our troubles. And, for a city under siege, music is the ultimate upraised finger in the face of the enemy.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Zen Pencils

I have just discovered a wonderful place in the internet where a cartoonist takes quotes and creates posters. Gavin Aung Than, an Australian freelance cartoonist has a cartoon blog where he posts his latest inspirational quotes. More about him here. If you sign up for his weekly email updates you will receive 3 free posters featuring Ralph Waldo Emerson words of wisdom. Here they are.


Have a look at his website for some even better and a huge variety of posters. Prints are available to buy in various sizes starting at $17. There are also stationery cards, iPhone and iPod covers, t-shirts, tote bags etc. Some quotes are not available since the words are copywrited. If you have a favourite quote you can submit it. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ancient Albatross

The albatross is a large seabird with an amazing 6 ft. wingspan. On the ground an albatross is often somewhat clumsy, it rules the airwaves, riding thousands of miles on the air currents, rarely needing to do anything other than make tiny adjustments to those outspread wings.

Albatrosses are found in the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean, but have never been seen in the Atlantic Ocean. They feed on squid, fish and krill which they catch either on the fly from the surface of the sea or by diving below.
A Laysan albatross, named Wisdom, is, at approximately 62 years of age, the world's oldest known wild bird. When she was first banded in 1956 on Midway Island, she was incubating an egg, so must have been at minimum 5 years old that season. Most albatrosses don't reach sexual maturity until their 8th or 9th year, so she may even be as old as 66 years. Wisdom has worn out 5 bird bands in the years since her first banding.
You might think that she would be enjoying her retirement years, but she has just recently hatched another chick, her sixth in as many years. She will be consumed for most of the coming year by the raising of this chick.
One of the truly amazing facts about albatrosses is the enormous distance they travel in a year: 50,000 miles by the average adult bird. That means that Wisdom has an accumulated mileage of 2 to 3 million miles since 1956.
Albatrosses are threatened by invasive species such as rats and feral cats and their survival is also compromised by the plastic debris they pick up from the ocean and unknowingly feed to the chicks. The plastic doesn't kill the chicks directly, but reduces their food intake which leads to dehydration.  
Information from The US Geological Survey  and Wikipedia.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fantasy Art


Photo: Amazing sand sculpture

Sand Sculpture

See more wonderful images at Fantasy Art's Facebook page.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Vegetable Map

Go here, then click on the map and you will be able to see it more closely.