2021 In Review
As we are coming up to the end of the year, I thought it would be fun to think about the past year. It has been a year of more writing than I thought I would do a year ago. Since my Substack was featured on the front page in April (blue line) and I started thinking about metrics, I have put out 49 pieces here. Additionally, since I quit my job and moved to Denmark in September (green line), I have only one week with a single post. The last time I wrote this much was my senior year of college.
Thank you all for reading and sharing. I never thought more than a handful of people would ever be interested in my maps or what I have to say. I was blown away the first time someone I didn’t know subscribed. That feeling has not abated as more people have started reading.
Special thanks to Katie Baker for linking to “You Don't Miss Google Reader, You Miss College” in her July article “The Day the Good Internet Died” (red line above). Some thanks to the Cracked writer whose article sounds weirdly close to Katie’s 2 weeks after her piece came out for the link, but you should probably work on your paraphrasing ability. It was the first time that someone recognized me as a “real” writer.
Favorite articles of 2021
With this, I wanted to repost the ten articles that I am the proudest of. Some of them have the best thoughts while others have killer data vis. Here they are in no particular order:
One year of FishEye
Hidden in this retrospective post about my substack turning 1, is an essay about the intersection of Taylor Swift and Emo music. It was written in response to the backlash to the rerelease of Red and Twitter clout chasers painting her as some sort of heartbreaking harlot, but I think the topic is much deeper. What Swift continues to be attacked for is the same exact thing that Bright Eyes is praised for. It makes you wonder if there is another reason that people fall back to attacking her for her relationships when she drops a new album…
Why is Wikipedia out of the Content Moderation Discussions?
2020 was the year of tech policy becoming all social media all the time. Part of this is the right’s newfound obsession with Section 230. In the minds of 230 reform proponents, killing the law is the silver bullet for doing all sorts of things to make the internet into a free speech utopia. 230 is the reason that I can write this post in the first place and without it, this website would not exist, but 230 reform is all about feels and not reals. In this whole morass, people continue to forget that there are websites that rely on 230 to exist, but are not Twitter or Facebook. One of those is Wikipedia. I took a stab at why it has been ignored so far and what we can learn from that.
Partitioning the US is Not a Solution
Many silly and bad things have happened in American politics in 2021. The rise of Anti-Vaxers on the right, the Biden Administration taking credit for gas prices falling by 2 cents, etc. Of all of them, the most painful is the ongoing idea that some sort of National Divorce between red states and blue states is doable or even desirable. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I try to outline, any sort of split would result in hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths. The resulting nation-states would be weaker than a singular United States of America. I hope that this remains a fringe issue of Marjorie Taylor Greene and her friends. The problem is that once things reach her level, it will be mainstream in a year or two. We live in the worst timeline.
Locating Rural America
One of the things that I have been interested in over the past few years is where the line is between urban and rural. This was the topic of the 2020 Spatial Analysis Report that I was the first author on. Part of that exploration was plotting the 2018 Accessibility of Cities modeled Surface onto the United States instead of the Africa and Asia that I was used to. The results bent my understanding of rural states in the middle of the country versus urban areas on the edges. Iowa is not very rural using this metric. The tweets of the maps from this post were my first to go semi-viral.
Airlines are Wack
There are no deep thoughts here but the three visualizations are my three favorites of the year. The way that the big five airlines in the United States were assembled through the deaths and mergers of smaller airlines. While the deregulation of the 1970s and the Regan years of the 1980s are normally blamed for creating our current cadre of airlines, we would be talking about eight big airlines only a decade ago.
These mergers can be seen in the hubs of the current big airlines. North West was out of Minneapolis-St. Paul and it is still a hub for Delta. American has a hub at Philadelphia because of their merger with US Air.
You would think that all these mergers would be bad for consumers, but the pricing data shows the opposite. Inflation-adjusted, a domestic airline ticket has not been less expensive. It is crazy how cutthroat the competition is between airlines right now.
Five Possible High Speed Rail Links to Pittsburgh
This two-parter was a fun dive into transportation policy. Particularly the debate over High Speed Rail (HSR). HSR advocates have spent the past year talking about how the US should replace domestic flights with rail. While I think that this makes sense in places like the North East Coordoor (NEC), I think that advocates of HSR show their East Coast and West Coast urban bubbled by hand waving away the geography of America. I tried to show this by mapping out the possible routes that HSR could take between the NEC and Pittsburgh. The Appalachian Mountains are not the Rocky Mountains, but provide an impressive barrier to fast train travel.
Legalize Unlimited-Quality Satellite Imagery
As I mentioned above, tech policy has shrunk to big tech. While somebody should be thinking about the largest tech companies by market cap (add Microsoft to the FAANG list, please) there are a bunch of low-hanging fruit that could open up a bunch of new doors. One of those is satellite imagery. That layer that you turn on in Google Maps is artificially made worse because of federal policy. By lowering the quality cap for panchromatic and true color images taken from space, Congress could help create brand new industries that we can only dream of.
Boneless Chicken Power Ranking
I have strong opinions on chicken tendies and Zaxby's and Raising Cane's are tied for the best. In a head-to-head, Raising Cane's wins by a nose. I miss good fried chicken here in Denmark.
Paul Romer is Bad at Epidemiology
Sometimes people who know better do off-the-wall things with data. That list sadly includes Paul Romer. Who knew that getting a PhD in Economics from the Univerity of Chicago was not the one ring to rule them all of intellectual pursuits.
Building a Neoliberal Build Back Better Bill
Build Back Better remains unbuilt. 2 months ago when we thought that it might get passed soon, I did a round of unscientific online polling to see what self-described Neoliberals preferred in the bill. Since I did this polling, my opinions have changed. Right now, I think that the bill needs to do three things well:
Child Allowance/Child Tax Credit
Paid Family-Medical Leave
I am skeptical that any of them are going to get done this go round.