Monday, April 23

The flowing view of USA

This was one of the most spectacular data representations that I have seen. What it shows is now wind flows over the USA.

You can see the interactive map here. Go on, click on it. Doesn't it look like Lady America’s hair waving? Beautiful.

How to represent data is one of my jobs. For example, what I am trying to do over the past 3 years is to improve sales. When you are talking about the firm the size of ours, the sheer quantity of data is mind boggling. Putting things into context, my firm has a balance sheet which is about 4% of the world GDP. Think about the sheer number of transactions that flow through. And I have to ensure that we get sufficient data to my sales chaps so that they can keep track of what has happened, what is coming down the pipe that they know about and what might come down the future pipe. All this in 80 countries, multiple currencies, multiple products, thousands of sales chaps.

So think about it, I need to get the senior chaps around a table to manage. Its very easy to get bogged down by just looking at the history. Its safe, its blunt, nobody questions it. But that’s not what I am paid for. I am paid for how well I navigate the future, what’s coming down. Its like a gunnery officer on a battleship who is trying to hit another battleship. I might have the best possible telescope which tells me where the enemy battleship is right now. What I want to know is where it will be in 2 minutes. It will take me that long to prepare my gun and fire it, the shell to go across the water and then hit it. Where it is right now is just one data point. I need to know how fast is it going, is it turning, how is the air temperature, the humidity, the aspect ratio, a zillion other factors.

Its the same with these big firms. I cannot manage looking historically, I need to use the data to try to predict where the customer will be in “x” days so that I can modify my sales, product, customer services, etc. etc. And when you have big data of this shape, size and volume, data representation is absolutely crucial. Human beings cannot absorb too much data. Throw too much data at them and they shut down or ignore it. So you have to be careful about what you pitch. Its a fascinating area of research. Then again, this poster says it all about me trying to forecast. lol

Also see this link on big data. Another view of the same problem, tick by tick data is another big ocean to swim in. Almost 12 years back, we used to use these chaps. The amount of data that we had to manage while I was on the trading floor and try to make sense of it was ferociously big. Hairy stuff.

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