[Book Review] Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Rating:★★★★ (around 3.5-4.0)

Anthony Bourdain. He is living my dream life. He travels endlessly(for his job) and eats a lot of interesting and diverse foods around the world. But he was not doing this from beginning of career for sure. This book will give you a good idea of Bourdain’s life as a chef before Television personality. You will feel he is talking next to you about his life and impression of working in a restaurant since his writing style pretty much resembles his way of talking in his shows.

I figured out he has a broad range of vocabularies but I should say that he is surprisingly a decent writer. And of course, very honest about himself as usual. As a narrator, Bourdain is very entertaining. He is a no-nonsense, no-holding-back kind of writer, sarcastic and witty and, I assume, quite honest about his exploits. One does start to wonder however if he is laying the bad boy thing a little too thick. It is interesting that in spite of his years-long heroine, cocaine, and alcohol addictions and his bad behavior at work, he not only managed to line one chef job after another in decent places (no McDonald’s and Shoney’s on his resume) but maintained a marriage as well.

I have never been working at a restaurant so this book has some interesting revelations. Some parts of this book talk about fantastic food and will leave you drooling. As a result, you will want to hop the next flight and travel the world visiting as many restaurants and trying as many types of food as you can. Other parts will disgust you and leave you nauseous. You will never look a restaurant food the same way – and may not want to eat it at all unless you get a good look at the kitchen and the people preparing the food.

Bourdain definitely crushes all preconceived notions we might have about the industry. There is no such thing as a sophisticated cook, according to Bourdain. In his book, cooks are a dysfunctional lot – drug-addicted, unable to hold a “normal” job, people from the fringes of the society. Actually, Bourdain is one of these people himself. He supports this statement by numerous stories of his drug-, crime- and sex-infused culinary career. As for artistry in cooking, there is none. Cooking is all about mindless, unvarying repetition. Only a few executive chefs in high-end restaurants have a luxury of being creative with the food they make.

Besides the anecdotes about dysfunctional kitchen workers,Kitchen Confidential is a sort of biographical account of Bourdain’s cooking career. He talks about how his love for food came about. He takes us on his life journey – from a dishwasher in a seaside joint to an executive chef position in a swanky NYC restaurant. He describes his experiences in failed and successful businesses and offers practical advice about the industry and food. The morsels of wisdom I am taking away from this book are: don’t order specials and don’t attend brunch buffets (apparently, both are dumping grounds for old leftovers); don’t eat at places with dirty bathrooms; vegetarians are crazy and sickly people who can’t be trusted.

Those anecdotes and his writing style are definitely plus for me but after half of this book, I felt there are some parts that need to be improved for his next books.  While I thought the book was entertaining, it needed some editing help. First, it is not very well structured, the narration is not cohesive in any shape or form. It reads like a bunch of anecdotes thrown together in no apparent order. The stories of debauchery become repetitive and redundant by the end where I started skipping chapters because none of it was new. Finally, seeing some pictures of people and places Bourdain talks about would have been great too.

Nevertheless, I would recommend this book to all food lovers and especially people who are toying with the idea of becoming restaurateurs or cooks. The author’s advice and warnings about the business are sound. Not only the practical side, this is a very human piece of literature that reveals its author to be a man who may have grown up a couple of decades too late, but isn’t too vain to admit that when he did it was in a large part because of those who took a chance on him and supported him when he was at his worse.


[Travel] Denver and Rocky Mountain National Park

The trip to Denver started with the conversation with my close friend who wanted to travel somewhere else during this winter as much as I wanted. We tried to find our common interest  for the trip(and considering budget as well) and my friend was eager to explore nature. Then, I looked up the map and Denver with mountain geography caught my eyes and suggested the idea to my friend. Plus, the flight ticket was quite cheap so we made a decision to travel to Denver.

Personally, Denver was a place where I shortly bypassed on the way to Breckenridge about 4 years ago. Time flies fast! At that time, I was mesmerized by the view with mountain covered with snow and skyscrapers nearby.

Denver Downtown


On the first day of the trip, we went to Christmaskindl at the heart of the Denver downtown. December 23rd was the last day of the market opening so you guys should wait until December 2018(or maybe Nov) to experience this in Denver. You can take a free ride bus running along 16th Street Mall if you are reluctant to walk. It’s quite a small market( of course, compared to the market in Europe) but you won’t get tired of looking and smelling of delicious German food like Currywurst,Gulash,Apfelstrudel and different kind of Central European food. If you like drinking during Happy Hour, the market is selling a glass of Paulaner beer for $3 and $4 for Gluehwein. Inside of the big tent at the corner of the market, there are several performances and a lot of big tables so you can have food there without shivering.

Rocky Mountain National Park

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This is the main reason of choosing to go to Denver. Beautiful mountain with a lot of cute animals! On the way to mountain, we were able to spot many elks and deers. They seem so used to people getting excited about seeing them so they didn’t try to hide from people. We also stopped by Sprague lake and hiked around the lake for about 45 min. The rim of lakes were frozen so we were able to walk on the lake, literally.  For some people, it seems like it’s their first experience of walking on the frozen lake. Although it looks really beautiful covered with snow, I thought it could be even more colorful in fall.  There were not many people on the day we went so we had a better opportunity to enjoy serendipity of the nature.

Stanley Hotel




On the way down to Denver from the mountain, we stopped by famous Stanley Hotel. This hotel has classic-old ambience that welcomes strangers and tourists.  If you are a fan of Stephen King’s works, this name would ring a bell.

Stephen King actually wrote his one of the famous novels,”Shining” staying at Stanley Hotel. So people say he was inspired by this hotel for writing the novel. And you won’t forget Jack Nicholson’s acting in the movie.

But nowadays, it doesn’t have any horror atmosphere at all. Or maybe I would know better if I stay there overnight and possibly change my word.

Red Rock Amphitheater

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When singers have nation wide reputation and will perform around Denver area, it’s likely that they would have a concert at this amphitheater. This concert venue away from Denver for about 20-30 min by car is very unique place in many ways. First, the rock is quite different with other rocks around this area.  It took the natural amphitheater of Red Rocks over 200 million years to form.  I’m pretty sure the architect who invented the idea to build the theater here must be creative that awed many people.

For your information, you have to climb up many stairs so be prepared to walk a lot! When we went there, some parts of the stairs were covered with snow and ice so it can be slippery in winter.  We got here around the sunset time so there were not many people than we expected.

For your information, Coors Brewery is 10 minutes drive from this place so you can take extra trip to enjoy free beer from Coors.




Boulder is one of the suburban cities around Denver and it’s closer to Rocky Mountain.  You can take a bus to Boulder from Denver Union Station and the ticket was $9 for one round trip. It’s famous for University of Colorado-Boulder campus and Pearl Street Mall. The city doesn’t have a lot of attractions but it is certainly charming with many cute shops. My old friend who used to live in Colorado strongly recommended to visit Boulder for short day trip so we decided to visit there. Indeed, we enjoyed spending time with shopping(mostly eye shopping) and walking around neighborhood. The neighborhood is not too different from typical American neighborhood but it has a really nice view of mountain.

Before the trip, we were a little bit worried that we could run out of things to enjoy. But Denver offered a lot of interesting places to visit. Hopefully, in the future, I could visit here again in different season so I can experience variety scenes of Rocky Mountain.



[Book Review] Chess Story by Stefan Zweig

Rating: ★★★★★

There are strong parallels between reading a novel and the game of chess: there is the author sitting on one side, playing white, the reader on the other side, playing black; instead of the chess board and chess pieces there is the novel; the author’s opening chapter is the chess player’s opening, the middle of the novel is, of course, the middle game, and the closing chapter is the end game. If both author and reader expand their literary horizons and deepen their appreciation of life’s mysteries, then both can declare ‘checkmate’.

A chessboard with sixty-four squares hidden in the folds of a checkered pattern bedspread represents much more than a mere pastime in Zweig’s short novella.  The dichotomy of black and white pieces of divided consciousness locked inside a man struggling to keep sanity over mental torture.

Chess moves, chess problems, imaginary games played in frenzied compulsion, both ruin and salvation of someone who has been deprived of the warmth of humanity, become the only means of creating meaning out of the complete nothingness that soaks the dimensionless and timeless walls of a dark cell.

“My awful situation was forcing me to at least try to divide myself into a Black Me and a White Me in order not to be crushed by the horrendous nothingness around me. “

Dr. B is introduced by a nameless narrator as a Jewish lawyer who embodies the cultivated Austrian heritage and its flourishing Enlightenment before World War II. Captured by the Gestapo, he is condemned to the most sophisticated form of isolation for months on end and psychologically abused during ruthless interrogations in order to extract important information related to his previous professional practice. An anthology of a hundred and fifty master games for chess is the only object Mr. B can get hold of during the long period of his incarceration and imagining those moves in his mind turns out to be the only distraction from the vacuum that surrounds him. The diversion transforms into pleasure and the pleasure transforms into mania and soon enough Mr. B’s chess moves come so natural to him that they epitomize the definition of his sole existence. Black and White pieces and a checkered board dissolve into Mr.B’s flesh and blood and the game of chess shapes his whole being. He plays to exist, he plays to survive, he plays with his soul.

“Like all headstrong types, Czentovic had no sense of the ridiculous; ever since his triumph in the world tournament, he considered himself the most important man in the world.” (11) 

Worldwide Chess Champion Mr. Czentovic is a hollow automaton whose only virtue is an uncanny gift to play chess. Devoid of emotion, humility and visual imagination, this self-absorbed simpleton sees the “royal game” as a conduit to wealth and popularity. He plays unwaveringly with vanity and contempt in unnerving slowness and controlled fashion, victory and money to nurture his cold pride are his only motivations.
Nothingness is all Mr. Czentovic is made of and his opaque psyche doesn’t need to elucidate any other meaning than to prove his own supremacy over mankind.
Maybe an allegory for the disturbing undercurrents molding the Nazi ideology of the time. Maybe a symbol to depict the dark forces that seized Vienna and destroyed its flourishing cultural heritage.

A battle between opposed understandings of the world ensues on the chessboard. Two men carrying the weight of different backgrounds on their shoulders, one in monochromatic black and the other in schizophrenic colorfulness, struggle against their pasts and impending futures and play the game of chess with antagonistic purposes.
One plays to exist, the other to annihilate.
A metaphorical chessboard where wooden pieces draw a map of connections among the countries before the tragedy of World War II exploded, destroying the cultural tradition that delineated Zweig’s faith in art as the ultimate expression of everything that was good in humankind.

Both suffering in exile, both mourning a golden past, both sinking into despair under the weight of history, both struggling to create meaning within themselves in spite of having been robbed even of their identity, both Mr.B and Zweig play the game of chess under the constant checkmate of despondency.

Zweig committed suicide after completing this book. I see why. It’s the least optimistic, most hopeless, depressing, and horrifyingly bleak thing I’ve read in years. Four hankies won’t do to stanch the helpless, hopeless weeping induced by reading the book, and a pistol is too heavy to hold in fingers gone too numb to clench even slightly.


[Book Review] Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky

Rating: ★★★★★

My love toward Dostoyevsky has been often one-way love. I tried to finish reading his books(Crime and Punishment-tried once  before, The Brothers Karamazov-finished reading it after trying twice) several times and wasn’t able to finish his books most of the time. This guy is quite talented in torturing readers. Many sentences in his books are not simple as Tolstoy’s. Sometimes, one sentence in his books are equal length with one paragraph. Not only the sentence and the length of the books, he delved into the dirty side of human’s minds that make many readers succumb to it. I would say his writings can be one of the most  brutal things in that aspect. Plus, Russian characters have very complicated names for non-Russian speakers that many non-Russian readers would struggle with names and try to deal with this problem by writing names in the note. But if you manage to finish reading his books, it’s like a joyous victory of climbing steep mountains.

‘Crime and Punishment’ is one of the most famous Dostoyevsky’s novels and writing the good review for this book is daunting. But I can give it a try.

Crime and Punishment is the story of a crime and its eventual punishment. That’s it. End of review. Or not. It’s really the story of a crime, followed by more crime, with a sprinkling of just a bit more crime, and then finished off with a tad of punishment.  The main character, Rakolnikov(which I always get confused with Raskolni-nov)is a really fascinating character to study. I mean, yeah he’s psychologically warped and is a bit “Oh I murdered someone but you should feel sorry for me anyway”, however I always seem to find likable traits in even the most monstrous of characters. To use a Russian motif, he’s a matryoshka doll of a character. Like I felt with Emma Bovary in Madame Bovary, Raskolnikov is kind of more interesting than the novel itself.  I loved this book from the opening scene in which Raskolnikov is convincing himself about the rightness of committing the murder of the money-lending pawn-broker in the name of ubermansch  all the way through the bittersweet end and the beginning of his redemption.

“Crime? What crime? … My killing a loathsome, harmful louse, a filthy old moneylender woman who brought no good to anyone, to murder whom would pardon forty sins, who sucked the lifeblood of the poor, and you call that a crime ?”

(ubermansch: the ordinary man has to live in submission and has no right to transgress the law because he is ordinary. On the contrary, the extraordinary men have the right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way.)

Raskolnikoff’s justification for his act was that great and famous men, like Ceasar and Napoleon, were assassins absolved by history. He identified himself with those history figures. And that gave him the right to commit the crime. How could he explain the murder? I understand he just required a belief to explain it to himself. He was no Napoleon; he was not fighting in a war. And he knew it. What he needed was a moral argument that pushed him up the steps and lifted his arms in the final act.

“And you don’t suppose that I went into it headlong like a fool? I went into it like a wise man, and that was just my destruction. And you mustn’t suppose that I didn’t know, for instance, that if I began to question myself whether I had the right to gain power—I certainly hadn’t the right—or that if I asked myself whether a human being is a louse it proved that it wasn’t so for me, though it might be for a man who would go straight to his goal without asking questions.… If I worried myself all those days, wondering whether Napoleon would have done it or not, I felt clearly of course that I wasn’t Napoleon. I had to endure all the agony of that battle of ideas, Sonia, and I longed to throw it off: I wanted to murder without casuistry, to murder for my own sake, for myself alone! I didn’t want to lie about it even to myself. It wasn’t to help my mother I did the murder—that’s nonsense—I didn’t do the murder to gain wealth and power and to become a benefactor of mankind. Nonsense! I simply did it; I did the murder for myself, for myself alone, and whether I became a benefactor to others, or spent my life like a spider, catching men in my web and sucking the life out of men, I couldn’t have cared at that moment.… And it was not the money I wanted, Sonia, when I did it. It was not so much the money I wanted, but something else.… I know it all now.… Understand me! Perhaps I should never have committed a murder again. I wanted to find out something else; it was something else led me on. I wanted to find out then and quickly whether I was a louse like everybody else or a man. Whether I can step over barriers or not, whether I dare stoop to pick up or not, whether I am a trembling creature or whether I have the right …”

He is one of those with whom the good and the bad come from the same place. His passion, his broad consciousness lead him to both great good and great cruelty. For some reason it just goes both ways. His victims lack the capacity for such a crime, but they also lack the capacity for the good he is capable of. He is a deep, very deep person, but he doesn’t possess the necessary to bear this depth. It is marvelous to possess such a wealth of profundity and passion, but only when you have the means to channel them the right way. Sometimes the best of us is the worst in someone else. There are those of us who lack the necessary substance to bear their gifts with dignity, integrity, passion, and therefore their depth, their brilliance is a murder. They incite them to beliefs and actions that are far beyond our and their own comprehension. Only a healthy spirit can bear the weight of a large intelligence. As Raskolnikov himself points out, ”it takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently”. I keep asking myself why our human complexity results into violence, sadism, cruelty, and not in beauty, nobleness, desire. It is our birthright and obligation to be more than what nature has bestowed on us. Technically, biologically, we are no more than animals, part of the big chain, but inwardly we are something else. Something exceptional, spectacular, breathtaking. We are strong and beautiful in our intricacy, but cruel and weak in our inability to bear it, to recognize it, to give in to it. The beauty of the human heart and mind is always dual, deadly and life-giving, poisonous and healing, grand and small. And it is there that lays the biggest mystery. For it is pain and suffering that the most beautiful creations are based on. It is pain that forces us to grow, to develop, it is pain that reveals to us our most amazing qualities, our deepest beauty, our profoundest selves. It is there that lays the irony, the paradox. Our highest cannot exist without our lowest.  I think it is rather notable that after having murdered two women and being incarcerated for it, Raskolnikov is actually more at peace with himself than at the beginning. The pain he goes through changes him. He might have committed his crime only once, but in his mind many times before that. Subconsciously, but still, the thoughts, the feelings that lead to it in the end have been part of him always. And after finally getting to it, he changes.

This is an outstanding classic about the human essence, about our darkest and deepest impulses. The unequivocal voice of each character, the sharp study of society, the movements of Raskolnikov, of the extreme reduction of hate to the redemption of love. Ultimately it reveals that our own inner consciousness can stand a far greater punishment than any legal system can.


[R]Network Analysis with Star Wars

Some of you(including me) must have been excited about the upcoming Star Wars Sequel movie this December. It’s less than a couple of months away until the released date! To celebrate it, I worked with Star Wars data network analysis.

I found the data from github and the data only contains characters in “Star Wars 4: A New Hope“.

  1. Let’s call the data we need

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The first step is to read the list of edges and nodes in this network. Those are fundamental elements for network analysis.  What are edges and nodes?  Let me explain this way. The World Wide Web is a huge network where the pages are nodes and links are the edges.  Visually, nodes form circles while edges form directions in network analysis.

In edges data, for example, the first row means there were 17 scenes when C-3PO and R2-D2 were together.

2. Call the library we need and form the data frame for network analysis by assigning edges and nodes.

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What does it mean? – U means undirected
– N means named graph
– W means weighted graph
– 22 is the number of nodes
– 60 is the number of edges
– name (v/c) means name is a node attribute and it’s a character
– weight (e/n) means weight is an edge attribute and it’s numeric

3. Plot the graph

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This is the simplest way of drawing network plot. However, it doesn’t look neat. Let’s add more options.

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We can see that R2-D2,C-3PO,Luke,Leia, Han, Chewbacca and Obiwan are at the center. In other words, they are the center characters in Star wars 4:A New Hope. ALso, we can clearly notice that Darth Vader, Motti and Tarkin are forming a group and it indicates that they are likely in the same group(dark side).

But if you want to know the importance of the characters, this graph does not explain enough. Let’s do some extra works.


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Now we cans see that characters located at the center have bigger circles that characters located in peripheral areas in the graph. strength will correspond to the number of scenes they appear in. And we’re only going to show the labels of character that appear in 10 or more scenes.

It would be interesting to see the peer groups among characters. 

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Most networks have a single giant connected component that includes most nodes. Most studies of networks actually focus on the giant component. igraph also makes it very easy to plot the resulting communities.

It is the simple version of network analysis. Hope you enjoy reading this!


[Book Review] The Big Short by Michael Lewis

Rating: ★★★★★(4.5)

Wall Street is probably best known for the movie quote “Greed is good.”

But after reading The Big Short, Michael Lewis’ excellent book about the lead up to the 2008 global financial crisis and the small group of people who saw the collapse coming and bet against it, I think Wall Street needs a new saying: “Y’all are a bunch of greedy assholes.”

Lewis has a talent for making his readers feel smart. Taking in his best works, you’re granted kinship with the elite. Like a trader at Salomon Brothers, you might laugh at the chumps in the bond market; or like the money-constrained boss of the Oakland A’s, you might cobble together a winning line-up by way of statistics; or like a genius of modern day football, you would recognize the importance of a great left tackle in protecting your quarterback’s blind side. Now, with The Big Short, you will have no doubt foreseen the folly of investing in subprime mortgages with their impending defaults. He does this in a very readable way, too. The characters are all interesting – often genuinely quirky. And his vantage point as a quasi-insider signifies the straight scoop. Whatever the topic, he explains its subtleties well enough that you can paraphrase it to impress friends over cocktails.

Our man Lewis was clever to focus on the winners of the bet. As he explained in an interview, those were the ones who were willing to talk to him. They saw what became obvious in hindsight: that many of the loans backing mortgage securities were originated with very low standards applied (by firms who didn’t have to eat their own cooking), were issued with teaser rates that would soon adjust up, and were likely to default as soon as the air started coming out of the big housing balloon. For reasons Lewis explains well, the bet against the bubble was not so apparent to many. These securities were hidden in tranches of complicated mortgage-backed securities with obscure features that made it harder to do proper due diligence. They were also rated too high by Moody’s and S&P for the default potential they contained (partly because the agencies were easily duped by the Goldmans of the world who were paying their fees and wanted AAA assets to vend). Plus, there was little to go on from past default data because such high levels of credit unworthiness had never before been experienced. Modeling assumptions were poor, too. For instance, it was thought that diversification across regions would reduce risks. The widespread downturn in housing showed otherwise, of course. Default correlations were high. It hurt the cause, too, when some of the strongest personalities in the business, like Cassano at AIG and Hubler at Morgan Stanley, were also some of the wrongest.

The misdeeds on Wall Street were spotlighted well. I couldn’t help feeling, though, especially at the end, that Lewis had overstated his case. There were times when he claimed the investment banks were stupid for not knowing the true value of these assets and at the same time duplicitous in passing them off to customers. You can’t have it both ways, at least not in that case. I was also hoping that he would weigh in on some of the other factors that contributed to the crash, such as the role of government with its CRA program and the poor oversight of its sponsored enterprises, toxic waste-makers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Other points Lewis made against the investment banks were more deserving, I thought, among them, the fact that they are no longer partnerships (where any losses would truly hit home), but rather corporations with limited liability. Agency theory in economics points to the problem of employees receiving a much bigger share of the upside (with bonus structures as they are), and a lot less of any downside. Riskier strategies result. That doesn’t explain everything, though. Several of the notable blow-ups included principal architects who were also major shareholders. For instance, Richard Fuld lost over half a billion in share value when Lehman went under.

The other thing I thought was noteworthy about Lewis’s critique was something he alluded to in the introduction. He said when he wrote Liar’s Poker that he intended for it to be a finger-wagging at the industry’s bad behavior. Many read it instead as a how-to manual. This disconcerted him, and it was apparent that he went to greater lengths this time to dwell on the negatives. That said, might we still get the sense that he wants it both ways? His descriptions are alluring, the language of the cognoscenti is enticing, the personalities are bigger than life, and the market savvy that decides who wins the pot is celebrated. Wittingly or not, there’s an extent to which he glamorizes. I’ll take him at his word that he doesn’t want to see bright young people flocking to Wall Street anymore, but it seems there’s a small, slightly disingenuous part of him that still finds it all pretty fascinating.

In summary: strongly recommended as a guidebook on the crisis, very entertaining, but maybe not the one-stop shopping it might have been for assigning all warranted blame.

P.S: The movie is quite decent as well.


[R] Google Map Visualization

Hello, for this post, I will show how to visualize spatial data on Google Map using R. It is simpler than you think.

What is Spatial Data?

it is the data or information that identifies the geographic location of features and boundaries. The data that I’m using today has longitude variable and latitude variable so that we can locate the data points accurately on the map.

Now you know what spatial data is roughly so let’s jump into the map visualization.

First, Download the libraries 

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In ggmap, you need ggplot2 package.

ggmap library contains all the information of google map so we can see every city map as we want to.

Second, Call the Google map image

For example, I want to see London Google map. In this case, I can simply use qmap command in ggmap and set the location equal to London.

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Then, you can get nice image of London Google map.


But the data I’m using is about crimes in Houston so let’s change it to Houston instead.

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Using ‘names’ command, we can get an overview of the variables in the data

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For spatial data, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, “lon” and “lat” variables are necessary.

Using ‘dim’ command, we can get the number of rows and columns. Multiplication between rows and columns make dimensions. From Jan 2010 to Aug 2010 in Houston, there were 86,314 crimes. Quite extraordinary!

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#Point Data Visualization

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Simply, we can use geom_point in ggplot2 package to demonstrate the point map visualization. In this case, I wanted to see the frequencies of different types of crimes.

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Pink color is pretty dominant and it indicates that theft is the most predominant crimes in Houston from Jan 2010 to Aug 2010. The second most frequent crime is burglary(the color is confusing, I just hope it’s not murder). Auto theft occurred occasionally.


#Heat Map

If you want to see the density and frequency of the crimes, heat map is the effective.

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In this case, we can use stat_density2d for this kind of visualization.

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From this heat map, we can observe which area is the most crime-ridden area. Luckily, the campus areas are relatively safer. And it corresponds to the point map that there are lots of points in the first map where it is red in this map. And the red area is the heart of Houston downtown. I hope it has been getting better since then but looks like we’d better be careful around the downtown Houston.