Google Spreadsheets and the Long Tail

I’ve been using Google Spreadsheets more recently to all the little one-pager list type spreadsheets that I make. When I noticed that they had added a notifications system, so that you can get an email when a collaborator updates a spreadsheet, or even a particular cell in the sheet, it sparked an idea. What if a cell could contain a short script, or a URL that points to a script on another server, that returned a number. The sheet could the update dynamically based on the result of the script.

This could be integrated with AdWords or Google Analytics, to return data from there that could feed custom analysis spreadsheets or could point to an internal database to use proprietary business data. I could also see data providers, e.g. the National Weather Service or Digg, providing statistics feeds that folks could slice and dice for their own purposes.

In a sense, this could be part of the long tail of the “super-cruncher”” phenomenon. Its hard to get good data to play with right now. A standard platform, or at least a standard access protocol, for raw numbers would open up opportunities to crowdsource data analysis.

Review and commentary on “Super Crunchers” by Ian Ayres

I recently read Ian Ayres’ excellent book, Super Crunchers. For folks who read and enjoyed Freakonomics, this book is a must-read, covering more cases where clever statistical analyses have uncovered interesting and useful results. The goal in writing the book, according to Ayres, was to encourage people to learn to think statistically. On the other side of the link is a discussion of some errors in experimental design, why their treatment in Ayres’ book frustrates me and why the average person should care.

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More on the biofuel controversy

I posted an article earlier critiquing the media reaction to the recent reports on biofuels and land use management. Worldchanging has just posted a similar, fairly in-depth, critique as well. Their analysis goes more in depth into the specifics of each report, so I highly recommend it. What they do point out is that the Science articles are nuanced and that it was clear that the media in general either missed the nuance or ignored it.

Craig Venter wants to save the world

No one grandstands quite like Craig Venter. Whether its leading a team racing the government to the first human genome sequenced, succeeding, or admitting that his team beat the government by sequencing his own genome, this guy has style like few others in science. And while physicists at least have the reputation of having large egos installed as part of their graduate training, Venter’s ego is apparently physicist-sized, at least according to Wired and Forbes.

That being said, there is something phenomenally inspiring about the folks who have no shame about tackling the really big problems. This is a constructive sort of hubris, the kind that Larry Wall correctly identified as a virtue. Venter’s glorious hubris was on display this week at the TED conference, where he announced that he was working on a project to engineer a bacteria that turns carbon dioxide into methane and octane and that he expects results within 18 months on these fourth generation fuels.

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