Turns out the Census cost less than expected.  I’ve always admired the Census Bureau for their good work, but now in this time of runaway government spending they came in 11% (NY Times) under budget.  That’s truly good work.

According to the Times, the massive advertising campaign helped get people to mail in their forms.  The lack of natural disasters and epidemics helped too.  Now we can look forward to the deluge of data that social scientists will probably go to town on, so I imagine.

Both the Journal and the Times reported on a studyabout New York City traffic which someone has called the “most statistically ambitious ever undertaken by a U.S. city.”  That just sounds awesome to me, both as a statistican and a pedestrian.  According to the report, New York is one of the safest cities in America to travel in but trails a number of major European and Asian cities.

One takeaway from the report is, that contrary to common belief, taxis are responsible for very few accidents.  This was always my feeling since cabbies are the experts of New York City streets and are under heavy scrutiny from the police and T&LC.  They have more incentive to be alert and cautious than private drivers.

It also found that Manhattan is more dangerous than the other boroughs.  I hope that doesn’t encourage congestion pricing though.  That’s an idea I still can’t get behind.

The Bloomberg administration is likely to use the report to further its (popular) street reforms.  As a biker, I like the dedicated bike lanes that use a column of parked cars–and sometimes a concrete median–to separate cyclists from moving traffic.  As a pedestrian it’s the countdown cross signals that are already in place near Union Square and Greenwich Avenue.  Hopefully Union Square will also be getting its own pedestrian plaza.

The New York Times has a couple pieces today about ice cream.  The one that really caught my attention (thanks to Pat Kiernan) is on the skyrocketing cost for a scoop of ice cream.  I had somehow gotten used to paying three, four or more dollars at places like Cones, L’Arte del Gelato or the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (I still need to get a t-shirt from there).  Even trucks, which you think would be bargain prices, are charging north of $4 for a scoop.

The article points out Grom, in particular.  I recently visited the location on Bleecker and Carmine and paid $5.25 for a small.  While the gelato was good, I’d rather walk down the street to Cones or L’Arte del Gelato where the prices are (slightly) lower and the gelato tastes better, at least to me.

What really gets me going is that on my trip to Italy last year I paid much lower prices.  Gelato in Venice only cost one Euro.  Even with the conversion rate at the time it was less than $1.50.  Florence was a little more at two Euros and Rome hit the top costing between three and four Euros.  You would think those tourist heavy cities in one of the more expensive countries to visit would have more expensive gelato, but I guess not.

The other article is about egg free ice cream and how it helps pull out the flavor.  I love ice cream of all kinds so I can go either way, but the article should be an interesting read.

Last night I attended Amanda the Foodie’s ice cream crawl which is part of a series of food crawls she organizes.  I’m not good at estimating crowd size by sight (give me a few equations then sure) but I’d say 60 to 80 people showed up.  She had a break up into groups of 5 or 6 and go on different routes so the shops wouldn’t be overwhelmed with customers.  She also went so far as to negotiate discounts for us ahead of time.

I was there alone so I made new friends on the spot.  Our list of ice cream stations included Blackwell’s Oragnic Ice Cream Truck (the driver was very rude and did not honor the discount), Three Tarts (we had Rosemary and lavendar ice cream sandwiches), Miss Softee (we skipped because we all had her before), Roneybrook Farm (Cinnamon, Pumpkin) and L’Arte del Gelato (also skipped because a few of us were there yesterday).

My group decided to add The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck (Doug is awesome and has GREAT toppings) to the list so we hustled over to Union Square just in time to sample his wares.  We had the Salty Pimp, Monday Sundae and Vanilla with Sea Salt and Olive Oil.  I also gave the location to Amanda so she could tweet it to everyone sending a rush to Doug as he was trying to close.

Metromix covered the event and which is where I found that picture of me with the spoon.

The other day I found myself walking down 7th Avenue South, as is usual, and I decided to pop into Blecker Street Pizza.  I haven’t been there in years because of all the other great pizza in the neighborhood like John’s, Keste, Number 28 (which is claimed best by Citysearch), Risotteria (so I’ve heard) and Joe’s.

I remember not being a blown away by the place and I reaffirmed that this time.  It’s not awful but it certainly isn’t the Best Pizza in New York as the Food Network seems to think.  With all the good options around the area I think it will be a while before I pop back inside.

This makes me doubt everything the Food Network says.  I’ll be sticking to Travel Channel’s Man v Food starring Adam Richman who regularly shows his affinity for Lombardi’s with his t-shirts (as seen below) and loves L&B Spumoni Gardens.

Adam Richman Getting Made Up

Back in May I finally made it to L&B Spumoni Gardens and Slice was right, it is a Rite of Passage and totally worth the subway ride.

My friend and I got a sicilian pie (12 slices) half plain and half mushrooms.  They make it in an upside down style similar to New York Pizza Suprema, but it is the atmosphere that really makes L&B.  You can feel the ocean breeze as you sit at picnic style tables outdoors.  Quite an experience.

We finished off the meal with their signature Spumoni.  I forget what flavor I got, but as you can it was extremely tasty and a great way to top off the pizza.

Spumoni at L&B Spumoni Gardens

It also gets approval from Man v Food’s Adam Richman who visited some time last season (or the first?).

Ok, I’m a few months behind on this one, but I saw this post by Adam Kuban on Serious Eats for a Shake Shack iPhone App and I had to mention it.  There have been many times that I wanted to check the Shake Shack line but didn’t have Flash on my iPhone.  The app has a lot of great features, but Adam covered them in his post, I just wanted to share my joy in discovering that I can now check the live feed from my phone and then decide to meander into line.

Thanks to some early data from Pizza Girl, of Slice fame, I have some very preliminary findings.

There are a few different ways to tip, check (only one person did this), credit card at the door, pre-tipping with a credit card and cash.  As seen in these boxplots, cash tippers were the highest, on average.  Pre-tippers, who really are just tipping based on feeling, not performance, have the greatest variability.  There was even someone who only pre-tipped a dollar.  Pre-tipping a large amount might be a good idea–kind of like greasing a palm at a restaurant to get a table–but I don’t see how a small pre-tip is a good idea.

I wonder why people give bigger tips with cash than with credit cards.  I would have thought it would be the other way around.

This is just the beginning.  Pizza Girl is providing more data as the weeks go on.  And as I get more data the analysis will become more sophisticated, so stay tuned as we unravel the world of pizza delivery.  In the mean time, check out Pizza Girl’s third installment of her findings on Slice.

Temple professor John Allen Paulos has an article in the New York Times that got Slashdotted today suggesting people be wary of all the metrics that fill our daily lives.

His first contention is whether assumptions about categorization are correct.  This is certainly important, but hopefully qualified statisticians, social scientists, doctors, etc. . .are making these decisions and properly counting the results.

Next he discusses whether numbers you are looking at have been aggregated properly and were arrived at by using the proper choices of criteria, protocols and weights.  He gives articles such as “The 10 Friendliest Colleges” and “The 20 Most Lovable Neighborhoods” as examples.  Having done a lot of work where variable selection and shrinkage is important I can say that I, for one, allow the data to speak for itself and use various statistical methods to arrive at the correct decision.

Dr. Paulos makes more points, but I’ll let you read the article for yourself.  The important take away–at least to me–is that when looking at reported statistics and measurements, try to figure out what methods were used.  That’s why I always am disappointed when articles do not report their methods.  I realize that understanding the techniques might be beyond the average person, but that’s when you ask your statistician friend.

Today, Google announced two new services that are sure to be loved by data geeks.  First is their BigQuery which lets you analyze “Terabytes of data, trillions of records.”  This is great for people with large datasets.  I wonder if a program like R(my favorite statistical analysis package) can read it?  If so would R just pull down the data like it would from any other database?  That would most likely result in a data.frame that is far too large for a standard computer to handle.  Maybe R can be ran in a way that it hits the BigQuery service and leaves the data in there.  Maybe even the processing can be done on Google’s end, allowing for much better computation time.  This is something I’ve been dreaming of for a while now.

Further, can BigQuery produce graphics?  If so, this might be a real shot at Business Intelligence tools like QlikView or Cognosthat specialize in handling LARGE datasets. Continue reading