Bigfoot, Beer & Buildings: Three Wacky Uses for Big Data

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    Drop everything else you’re doing! Finally, someone is putting Big Data to work on one of the world’s greatest mysteries, at least since 1958. I’m talking, of course, about Bigfoot—AKA, Sasquatch, Yahoo, Skookum, or the Stink Ape.

    If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that on many a Sunday night, I tweet about Finding Bigfoot, Animal Planet’s show devoted to searching for a big hairy hominid.

    The show features three current and former members of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, or BFRO. They’re a motley crew. One of them, Bobo, is a commercial fisherman and a former Sublime roadie who looks like he could possibly be related to a Bigfoot. There’s also the skeptic, Ranae Holland, who finds endless ways to politely tell “witnesses” she’s unconvinced they saw Sasquatch.

    I can’t explain my obsession. I really can’t. But the show — and the phenomena of Bigfoot sightings — fascinate me.

    So when someone sent me this Boing Boing post, “Big Data meets Bigfoot,” I felt like at long last, Big Data was talking to me.

    The post links through to an analysis of 92 years of Bigfoot sightings in the US and Canada, as analyzed by Penn State PhD candidate Josh Stevens, whose research involves GIScience and visualization related to human-computer interaction and Big Data.

    Using data collected by BFRO, Stevens mapped and analyzed all 3,313 sightings from 1921 to 2013.

    Alas, thus far, Big Data hasn’t provided a lot of insight into the question of Bigfoot’s existence. It looks a lot like a population map, Stevens notes, but a bivariate view shows there are regions of sightings with sparse population:

    “I don’t have a really good explanation for this. These are sasquatch sightings we’re talking about and I’m way out of my area of expertise (do bigfoot experts exist?). But it’s clear that if the legendary biped is real, it’s thriving out west.”

    Here’s the Bigfoot sightings map on if you’d like to explore it.

    This is just one of several slightly oddball uses I’ve seen for Big Data lately, although the others also had more practical applications. For instance, the Waag Society has mapped all the data on buildings in the Netherlands going back to pre-1800s.

    Heineken is also combining the Internet of Things and Big Data with beer. They demonstrated bottles designed to light up when clicked together and flash in sync to a musical beat, according to BigData Startups:

    “One of the most fascinating and innovative experiments seen is the connected beer bottle that Heineken introduced during the Milan Design Week in 2013. Heineken introduced Ignite, which uses LEDs and wireless sensors to create a complete new experience for its customers. The smart bottles were developed to improve the social interaction of beer drinking using modern technology.”

    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson is a freelance writer specializing in technology and business issues, including integration, health care IT, cloud and Big Data.

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