Diving Into Old Weather

The Old Weather log books contain a huge number of events that occurred on board ships. These can range from reporting the weather in more colloquial terms, to noting that crewman are sick or injured or even that a comet has been seen in the night sky. Cleaning the ship, notable visitors and the details of battles all constitute a huge chunk of the massive volume of text that now fills the Old Weather data bulkheads.

Stuart Lynn, at Zooniverse HQ in Oxford, is the principal developer of Old Weather. He’s been busy toying with interesting ways to mine the ocean of textual event data that now exists thanks to tireless efforts of the Old Weather volunteers. We’ve toyed with Old Weather words before, but creating full-text search for the entire project is not a simple task. With 1.97 million words contained in a quart of a million logbook pages it can be painfully slow to find what you’re looking for if you don’t approach the task, and the database, in the right way. Never-the-less, Stuart has been busy and we’re now able to delve into these events to begin to extract some useful – and some fun – information.

Happy vs. Sad

This simple pie chart shows the relative proportions of log pages that include happy or sad events. As you can see, the result is not too cheerful. Only 5% of log pages containing these emotional words are happy. We searched for the words ‘happy’, ‘joy’, or ” and then for ‘sad’, ‘sadness’, ‘funeral’ or ”. One imagines that perhaps it felt more important to note the sad events in the log. Either way, these ships were not out on a jolly, there were at war.


There are often mentions in the logs regarding leisure activities aboard ship. The crew might play against each other or against other crews, but they definitely played some sport. Perhaps unsurprisingly, for British vessels, football is the most mentioned sport in the Old Weather logs, followed by cricket and a smattering of tennis.

The Weather

As well as recording the details of the weather that were required, the logs often also make reference to conditions in general. We grouped mentions of various weather conditions into good and bad weather categories. You can see that bad weather dominates the logs – again this could be a selection effect. It may be that people don’t note good weather as often as bad.

These are just some very simple charts that represent the initial skimming of the amazing data Old Weather is creating. As we get more transcriptions and learn how to navigate the database more nimbly, we hope to bring you more in-depth observations. We have a few more charts to share with you this week – so keep your eyes on the blog. If you can think of something you’d like to see from this data, then please let us know, either in the comments here, or on Twitter @oldweather.

About ttfnrob

Astronomer, Google, Father to humans and animals

4 responses to “Diving Into Old Weather”

  1. studentforever says :

    I know that quite a few of us have been recording ‘sick list’ under ‘event-other’. Would this be a possible source of data, I know someone had a look at a restricted data set.

  2. Robert Simpson says :

    Yes, the sick list data is a really valuable addition by the community. We did blog about it with Philip’s spanish flu posting (http://blogs.zooniverse.org/oldweather/2011/01/hms-africa-in-action-against-orthomyxoviridae/) but there is no doubt more we can do. Perhaps along the lines of correlating sick lists with temperature or geography would be a start?

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