Fly me to the end of the alphabet

When I got to the Raleigh-Durham airport for a flight home last week, I was confronted with the following list of departures—almost half of which were actually nondepartures:

departing-flights display at RDU airport, 3:01 pm, October 30, 2012

I wasn’t surprised by the numerous cancellations and delays (flagged in red). It was October 30th, a day after Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy came ashore in New Jersey. But I would not have predicted the alphabetic bias visible in this list, which is sorted by city name. It looks as if the storm spared the early letters of the alphabet and clobbered the later ones. For cities in the alphabetic range from “Atlanta” to “Little Rock,” all but four of 35 flights were operating normally. For destinations from “Memphis” to “Washington,” all but three of 31 flights were canceled or delayed. That’s 11 percent versus 90 percent.

How fluky is this? Perhaps the proper question is: How unlikely is it that four major cities of the mid-Atlantic region would all have end-of-alphabet names: New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington? While, conversely, the early-letter cities served by flights from RDU are all elsewhere: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Houston, Indianapolis, Little Rock. Or maybe we should be asking why Minneapolis, Montreal and Omaha, though beyond the reach of Sandy, were also red-tag cities that afternoon.

I have little to say in answer to the questions above. And, the truth is, this post is not really about aviation or my minor inconveniences in getting home. This post is a test rig for a bit of Javascript that I’ve been fooling around with for the past few days. The display of flight information above is too small to be readable, but try moving your mouse pointer over the image. (If hovering with the mouse—or your finger, on touch devices—does nothing useful, please send me a note or leave a comment.)

Source code here. Inspiration from Trent and aplweb.

This entry was posted in computing, statistics, technology.

8 Responses to Fly me to the end of the alphabet

  1. nick says:

    Worked on google-chrome on Linux 64bit. Also, my android phone works, but is temperamental –it sometimes wants to scroll the around the page instead of the zoom-window, but works generally.

    Very nice.

  2. D. Eppstein says:

    It works fine when I view it on (on Chrome under OS X) but does nothing when I view it as I usually do in the mirror of your posts at, I assume because the js is getting stripped out at some stage of the mirroring process.

    • brian says:

      LiveJournal republishes the RSS feed, which does not include Javascript or even CSS styles. Same with Google Reader. I’m afraid there’s not much to be done about that.

  3. Works on Firefox 16.0.2 on Windows XP Home Edition

  4. Juan Nunez-Iglesias says:

    Gorgeous! (Chrome on OSX 10.8)

  5. Pål says:

    Works prefectly on my very old work station. Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux x86_64; en-GB; rv: Gecko/20111108 Fedora/3.6.24-1.fc14 Firefox/3.6.24

  6. John Lang says:

    Flight cancellations to unaffected destinations were probably due to the aircraft having been due to fly from, to or through the affected region earlier in the day. Can’t really comment on the alphabetic v geographic distribution of US cities.

  7. Carl W says:

    Works great under Linux Chrome; a bit odd on the Dolphin web browser for Android.

    With Dolphin, I had to be careful to press and then drag reasonably quickly; if I press and then don’t move my finger quickly enough, it brings up the long-tap menu that offers me choices Save Image/View Image/Set As Wallpaper. (Tapping and then instantly releasing also works — brings up a zoomed image where I tapped.) Also, the zoomed-in image is still not large enough for me to read unless I zoom “normally” as well. But if I do zoom normally, and then use the normal swipe gestures to scroll the page, the image sometimes captures the swipes and moves your zoom window instead of scrolling the whole page.

    All in all, while it’s possible to use your enhancement under Dolphin for Android, it’s pretty annoying, and readers who are less inclined to experiment might not figure out how to use it at all. At the least, I’d recommend a mini-tutorial in every post where you want to use the technique (something a bit more detailed than “hover with … your finger on touch devices”, which didn’t make sense at all).