Pen and paper…

Thoughts, ideas, questions, experiences

Flight emissions calculations: Google Docs June 2, 2010

Filed under: Birmingham Recycled — Kellie Maddox @ 7:23 pm
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Finally finished the spreadsheet which shows a sample day’s departures from Birmingham Airport and each flight’s average carbon emissions (calculated on which works on an assumption of a 65% load factor with 139 seats per flight). Obviously this is a rough estimate but from this, my initial calculation of the total emissions saved at Birmingham Airport during the ‘original’ UK air space ban is as follows:

Average daily carbon emissions = 27.94 tonnes

Number of days planes grounded (originally) = 6

Average total emissions saved = 27.94 x 6 = 167.64 tonnes

Hurray! : )


Data visualization: BBKA stats on bee colony loss rates

Filed under: Birmingham Recycled — Kellie Maddox @ 1:47 pm
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I recently found some stats from the British Beekeeping Association whilst searching for contacts. So I’ve had a play with Many Eyes to see what the stats look like in visual form – I have to say not that exciting but I think the tool would be great for bigger and more complex date sets. I’m sure there’s probably a way of embedding them here but since I can’t find it at the moment, try clicking here…. and here…


All things bees and eco-teams… May 31, 2010

Filed under: Birmingham Recycled,News — Kellie Maddox @ 11:36 am
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Let’s not dwell on my absence the last few weeks (all in the name of work I assure you). A few interesting things to report from the last few weeks – some enviro, some not. But for these purposes, let’s talk ‘green’…..

Last week I took a trip to Birmingham Chamber of Commerce  – the intention wasn’t wholly to discuss new ‘green’ developments but something quite exciting did crop up. I won’t reveal too much as a Birmingham Recycled article will be posted soon to tell you more, however the general gist of the Chamber’s latest venture involves a newly-devised environmental team/project which is aimed at encouraging Midlands’ businesses to operate in more enviro-friendly ways e.g. energy saving, reducing waste and improving efficiency.

So you’ll be hearing more about the project in the coming months from the Chamber, but also from moi, as I’m going to be working as an intern on the project to get the site going ( along with the team and Jon Hickman) and filling it will lots of informative (and hopefully exciting) content.

Next……following lots of media interest the last couple of weeks about the plight of our beloved bee population, I thought it was something worth looking into. The Guardian reported that honeybee numbers were still in decline after the harsh winter this year. Referring to the results of a survey published by the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA), the figures show a wide regional variation, with northern parts of the UK suffering greater losses than the south.

I decided to try to find out the picture in the Midlands so contacted several groups to find out how the bee population has fared in the local area. Although not so great for me, many groups weren’t able to accommodate me because they were so busy with huge numbers of people learning the ropes of beekeeping – a great sign that more people are interested in the conservation of these insects.

South Staffordshire Beekeepers’ Association were kind enough to invite me along to one of their meetings, held at their apiary at Shugborough Hall. I was pleasantly surprised to find a gathering of 20-25 ‘beginner beekeepers’ along with several experienced committee members who look after the apiary and run the course.  

After the informative session, which was all about ‘swarms’, I managed to grab a few minutes with apiary manager Neil Leadbetter and the knowledgable membership secretary Phil Healy. I filmed my brief interview with them, asking about the local picture in terms of bee numbers, why there is a decline, what can be done and how many people are taking up the hobby. I’m hoping – if me and Sian manage to hone our video editing skills – to have the video up on Birmingham Recycled tomorrow so you’ll have to have a look.

Finally, my most time-consuming and least-progressed project is the mapping I’ve been attempting, but let’s not talk about that. It may or may not materialise depending on my inclination to process another hundred or so calculations before the week is out. A miracle needed please…..


Birmingham Airport flight emissions – calculations for #ashtag May 11, 2010

Filed under: Birmingham Recycled — Kellie Maddox @ 1:05 pm
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Finally got some figures to work with in my quest to map the emissions saved by flights being grounded at Birmingham Airport during the ash cloud (first-time round).

Again, Justine Hunt at the airport’s been really helpful and I’m going to visit the environment team on Friday…so hopefully more interesting stuff on the way for BRInvestigates…

Anyway…the rough figures so far (this whole project is very much a close ‘approximation’)…

  • The average number of flights in and out of Birmingham = 300 daily (over the six days, this is approx. 1800 flights cancelled)
  • Approximately 203 departures per day (sample from today, Wed 12th May)
  • Disregarding the type of aircraft, short and long-haul flights can be calculated using – which calculates the carbon emissions of each flight based on an assumption of a 65% load factor with 139 seats

As Justine pointed out, the only way to work out an average day’s flight emissions would be to take a sample from the departures board on the website (which would show short, long-haul and domestic flights) and calculate the approximate carbon output for each flight. I’ve started an Excel spreadsheet to organise and calculate this data and will attach it once completed.

Once I’ve finished the laborious task of using the calculator to estimate the total emissions from the day’s sample departures, this can then be multiplied by the six days (in which flights were grounded) to give an approximate idea of the total carbon emissions saved by flights being grounded at Birmingham Airport during the ‘first’ ash cloud incident.

 Then finally……….I will attempt to map the data. Getting there slowly….


Dipity experiments: Birmingham City of Culture 2013 bid

Filed under: Online journalism — Kellie Maddox @ 11:24 am
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Been having a play with Dipity, as I’ve not used it before and wanted to see what it could do and how I could use it in my Online Journalism work.

I’ve tracked Birmingham’s bid to become the first UK City of Culture – adding events and developments from various sources including Birmingham Newsroom and Birmingham Big City Culture.

Until I can find a way to embed it properly – you can see the timeline on Dipity…..

Feel free to suggest other events I’ve missed or that would add to the piece : )


Mapping: giving it another go…. May 6, 2010

Filed under: Birmingham Recycled,Online journalism — Kellie Maddox @ 2:13 pm
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You may re-call my rather delayed attempts at mapping the emissions saved by flights being grounded at Birmingham Airport during the recent ‘ash cloud’. In my earlier post, I said:

As for UK figures, specifically Birmingham Airport – I’ve contacted the airport who said roughly 1600 flights were grounded over the 6 day period. I asked how this impacted aviation emissions figures but was told it’s something they’d have to look into with their environment department…….so its looking like Monday at the earliest!

The lady at Birmingham Airport did get back to me but only to say that they don’t keep such information because they’re not required to track emissions by law; although its something they will be introducing in the next 12 months. She said it would be quite difficult to work out because of variants like plane model type, length of flight, weight carried etc. So I pretty much laid the idea to rest….

Until yesterday’s session on data journalism with James Ball that is. I told James about the idea and he seemed to think it was worth pursuing. He said I would be able to work out a rough average based on the number of flights that would normally have flown out, the number of those that would have been short/long-haul and the approximate emissions of a ‘standard aircraft’.

So, I’ve gone back to Birmingham Airport and asked for exactly those figures….fingers crossed they a) get back to me and b) get back to me with some lovely numbers to crunch. I also asked about the number of flights affected by this week’s restrictions in Scotland and Ireland – so another mapping opportunity could be on the horizon there….

On a side note, I managed to find an Environmental Change Institute document which discusses the different methods used to calculate the carbon emissions of flights and compares them….so I guess this may come in handy when/if I do get some data to work with.


All things FOI and data journalism related….

Filed under: Online journalism — Kellie Maddox @ 11:35 am
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Top of yesterday’s ‘to-do’ list was not ‘attend a one-day session with the MA students on FOI and CAR (computer assisted reporting)’ but that’s actually what my day entailed. And I’m really glad I went now.

James Ball came to uni to spend the day with MA Online Journalism students talking about FOI and data journalism – two areas we have looked at in Online Journalism this semester. Having found it difficult to a) yet find something worth pursuing with an FOI request and b) work out what exactly to ask/avoid/point out/demand etc, I found James’ talk on the in’s and out’s of FOI really interesting and useful.

So – what did I learn from James?

  • There’s certain information you shouldn’t ask for
  • Names of people: some data will be given anonymously but senior civil service workers are identifiable by name as are directors od local organisations
  • In many cases – such as crime stats from the police – they will often give responses like “less than 3” or “less than 10” (their reasoning being that you could work out the identity of such few people therefore confidentiality is at risk)
  • That said – you can often identify people without the data so it undermines the argument anyway!

Two things to be aware when filing FOI requests, of according to James:

  1. Cost limits – the cost of someone dealing with an FOI request is  £25 per hour (so  for small organisations like councils 18 hours works out at £450). Organisations can only charge for ‘staff time’; they can’t charge for passing it between departments or up/down the ladder.
  • It’s harder to dispute cost on time grounds, but it is worth checking.
  • Think of FOI as a conversation – you can negotiate well to get the information you need most quicker. E.g. if you asked for 3 years worth of data across all ‘areas’, be flexible and ask what would make the process easier – less data, fewer areas etc

     2.   Commercial confidentiality – organisations should only use this reason for refusing FOI requests when an agreement has been signed in    connection with the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office). You should ask to see a copy of the agreement in such cases.

Other useful tips and hints:

  • Crowdsourcing FOI requests work nicely – make it easy for people to request FOI’s by giving sample letters/helpful pointers/FAQs to help them engage in the process
  • SPECIFY THE FORMAT you want the data to be in – if it’s in a PDF you can’t extract it easily to work with so make sure you specify Excel/Access or a tab delimited text file
  • FOI requests work best when you have a clearly defined topic and question
  • If the question you ask doesn’t match up with the organisation’s system – ask them to call you to work out how you can get the data you want
  • Ask for a few more numbers than you need
  • Send a test request when asking more than one company for data – attach a model answer to show exactly what you are looking for

All FOI’d out…..onto data journalism and CAR.

James said that data journalism was ‘catching on’ and was starting to get more attention; but he added that it’s still hard to pitch stories based on data. Although the word ‘data’ may instill the dread of reams and reams of boring numbers to crunch, James assured us that it can actually be fun and lots of quirky stuff can be found like a heat map of the cleanest and dirtiest restaurant in the area.

James’ tips for using data:

  • Learn some basic stats – it’s good to at least know some of the jargon (mean, median and mode) and identify the mistakes you are likely to make
  • Check to see if the dataset cuts off – if it does and you don’t realise you’ll only have calculated a proportion of the data so it will be inaccurate
  • If you interpret the data wrong, it’s your fault and you could be reported to the PCC for doing so
  • Learn how to spot anomalies in data and check them before you start working with them
  • Read up: Huff’s ‘How to lie with statistics’ and Gilovich’s  ‘How we know what isn’t so’ are good places to start

James then went on to talk about CAR and gave the example of the London Weekly investigation which he worked on with others. The ‘case’ itself is really interesting just because it seems totally crazy but the way in which James et al were able to investigate the story using tools such as Whois, wiki history and google maps shows how useful CAR can be in a situation where a company refuses to pick up the phone and ‘face the music’.

(See Roy Greenslade’s blog for the first edition commentary and contributions to the investigation via HelpMeInvestigate)

To round off the day, we then learnt a bit about Excel and the magical things it can do with data (fear not……it’s better than GCSE ICT let on). This included calculating averages, percentage differences, sorting data and creating pivot tables (which really are as fabulous as James claimed!).

And finally…James’ tips for Excel:

  • NEVER WORK ON THE ORIGINAL COPY – save a new one so if it goes wrong, you still have the original
  • Save spreadsheets before you sort – use a consistent labelling system e.g. by date, time or version number
  • Don’t use the ‘spangly and ever-so-attractive 3D charts’ – they make whatever’s closest look biggest
  • Go back and look at the ‘raw’ data and find stories worth chasing

All-in-all a great day, learned lots of new and useful stuff and hopefully I’ll remember it all when I come to do some *fancy* data stuff in the future….