Science Blogging Conference 2008

2008 Science Blogging Conference LogoThe 2008 NC Science Blogging Conference went well despite the unusually wintry weather scaring off a few attendees with long drives. The first session I attended on Open Science set the unconference tone for the day with the speaker serving more as a moderator for an audience discussion. Publishing was hot topic including debates on the merits of online publishing, peer review and embargoes.

I co-hosted a session titled Public Science Data with Jean-Claude Bradley who runs an open science chemistry lab at Drexel. In the spirit of openness I created my slides in HTML with Slidy and put them on-line (Public Science Data slides). It’s a good thing I did since I forgot to take the VGA adapter for my MacBook and had to use Jean-Claude’s machine, though there were plenty of MacBooks in the crowd for me to borrow an adapter from if necessary. I found out later that the title of out session had misled a few folks — they thought the word “public” meant it would be about government data. We should have called it something like Open Science Data.

Anyone interested in the topic of open science data should check the wiki page for the session. I started an outline there, and some anonymous angels filled in lots of nice content and links.

Science Blogging Conference in January

The 2008 Science Blogging Conference is coming up January 19. I attended last year and will be co-leading a session this year on “Public Scientific Data”. My selfish interest in public data is wanting to try to improve the visualizations I see in science papers, but I can’t readily do it without the data. The other discussion leader, Jean-Claude Bradley, is a real scientist, though, running a real open science chemistry lab at Drexel.

I started a skeleton outline of some of the issues at the conference wiki, and I’m happy to see others have expanded it.

Chapel Hill 2007 Town Council Election Graphs

Here is a summary graph of the 2007 Chapel Hill Town Council elections [source data]. Each horizontal bar is a precinct, and the heights are proportional to the number of votes cast in each precinct. Each color is a different candidate, and the sub-bars widths are proportional to the percent of votes that each candidate got in the corresponding precinct. Precincts that had too few votes to show up well have been omitted (Country Club, Hillsborough, Mail-in, and Provisional)

Chapel Hill 2007 Town Council Graph

With so much information it’s hard to pick out too many details. However, it’s easy to see how Ward and Raymond did in each precinct since they’re on the edges and have a stable baseline.

The order of the candidates is by overall finish position, and the order of the precinct is by percent of total Czajkowski/Hill votes that went to Czajkowski. That makes it a little easier to see how those two candidates matched up in the battle for the fourth seat.

Czajkowski got the final spot on the council in a close race, though there is quite a bit of variation among precincts. Not sure if the variation is due to political make-up of the precincts or to targeted campaigning.

I notice my precinct, Estes Hills, was one of the best for my friend Will Raymond. Maybe my yard signs helped!

Update:Here’s another view, highlighting the broad range of results for Czajkowski. Each circle is a precinct.

Chapel Hill 2007 Town Council Oneway Graph

And a similar one, this time with circle size being proportional to total precinct votes and color being set based on the Czajkowski/Hill ratio. Red precincts went for Czajkowski and blue for Hill. You can see some correlation among the incumbents and among the challengers.

Chapel Hill 2007 Town Council Bubble Plot

Will Raymond in 2007

Line to pay for parking at Lot 5, Chapel Hill, NCGood luck to Will Raymond in his run for Chapel Hill Town Council. At least, he should be able to prevent parking issues from being shelved in favor of open-ended commitments to developers.

The photo shows the line to pay for parking at Lot 5 last time I was downtown. Only one of the two paystations was accepting money (unchanged from last month), and none were giving receipts, which probably accounted for the slow-moving line.

Marginal Cost of Driving

Taking a vanpool to work most days makes we wonder how much money I am saving or losing for the hassle and convenience of the van. Figures from AAA and the IRS put the cost at upwards of $0.50 per mile, but these include ownership costs and insurance, which I am paying whether I drive my car to work or not. (I haven’t noticed significantly lower insurance rates for reduced mileage.) A commuter site even puts the cost at $1.19 per mile by monetizing dubious items like Travel Time and Barrier Effects on Pedestrians and Bicycles. If anything, travel time is a savings for me compared to the vanpool.

I’m looking for the marginal cost for each mile driven, assuming I own the car and pay the same insurance and tax regardless of how much I drive. Below is my own estimate based on three factors: mileage-based depreciation, fuel costs and maintenance costs.

Mileage-based Depreciation
High mileage cars are worth less than low mileage cars, so there is some marginal depreciation cost, assuming I expect to sell the car someday. Depreciation is less for old cars, but I’ll use a constant rate assuming any decrease due to age will be roughly offset by increased maintenance costs. To estimate depreciation I looked at Kelly Blue Book values for a popular car, a 2004 Honda Accord LS, at different mileage amounts from 30,000 to 60,000 miles. For cars in the same condition, the price difference was about $865 per 10,000 miles. If the extra 30,000 miles makes the car drop a notch in condition, which seems reasonable, the price difference goes to about $1200 per 10,000 miles. I’ll guess 30,000 miles causes half a notch drop in car condition and go with $1000 per 10,000 miles. That’s $0.10 per mile for mileage-based depreciation.

Fuel Costs
This one should be easy, but fuel costs are frequently changing (currently about $3.30/gal), and it seems there are hidden costs that we don’t pay for directly in the U.S., such a pollution costs and road wear. Since other Western countries put more of these costs into the fuel taxes directly, I’ll attempt to compensate for that. A quick search suggest gas costs between $6 and $7 per gallon in the UK and France. Not knowing exactly what all those extra taxes are for, I’ll split the difference and say gas costs effectively $5.00 per gallon. I divide that by my car’s average miles per gallon, which is about 45 for my Prius, and I get $0.11 per mile for fuel. (It’d be double that for a “regular” car getting 22 MPG.)

Maintenance Costs
It’s hard to imagine getting more imprecise than my above estimates, but I’m willing to guess on this one, too. For a car only a few years old I’m guessing about $200 per 10,000 miles for things like oil changes and replacing parts such as brakes and tires. I’m not adjusting up for age since I didn’t adjust down for age in depreciation. That’s $0.02 per mile for maintenance.

Total Marginal Costs
The total margin costs is then $0.23 per mile. That’s about $9.20 per day for my commute (20 miles each way beyond the distance to the vanpool lot). Assuming I take the van 15 days a month, that’s $138 saved.

That’s more than I expected. Taking a conservative tack: if the car stays in the same condition regardless of miles driven, that’s $0.09 per mile for depreciation. If gas costs are complete and constant, that’s 0.07 per mile for fuel. If maintenance is low, that $0.01 per mile for maintenance. The conservative total is then $0.17 per mile and $6.80 per commute and $98 for 15 days. And that’s still assuming at 45 MPG car.

For a typical 25 MPG car, my best guess estimate from above becomes $0.32 per mile and my conservative estimate becomes $0.23 per mile.

Chapel Hill Slogan

There’s been more talk lately about a new slogan for Chapel Hill. I don’t have a problem with the old slogan, “the southern part of heaven,” but apparently it doesn’t travel well.

I contributed an idea to the N&O’s Orange Chat blog posting on the subject. My idea is to emphasize of the youthfulness of the town which is constantly replenished by the university, and my suggestion is “Forever Young.” The youth theme also ties in with the strong K-12 schools and even the active retirees. “Forever Young” may be too blatant, but I think something youthful would be good.

The topic has also been discussed on OrangePolitics a while back, and a lot of folks seem to be under the false impression that a slogan should be accurate and descriptive. No, a truthful slogan doesn’t add anything. You don’t need to tell people what they already know.

However, for those who really want an accurate slogan, here are a few ideas:

  • Worth the Price
  • Home of the Homeless
  • Park Your Car in Durham
  • University Sidekick