I like maps. Some friends and colleagues are making some beautiful map and geographic based art that would make nice Christmas gifts. (For others! I’m not hinting, have these already!)

Bill Morris makes painterly prints of satellite photographs. You can read about his process in detail. In short, he takes satellite images from Planet Labs and then pushes them through customized machine learning software to render them like paintings. They’re beautiful.

Rachel Binx makes geographic style products. Jewelry, clothing, and posters all custom made for someone’s personal geography. One-off design and fabrication like this is really ambitious and she delivers well.

Benjamin Grant of the Daily Overview blog has a new coffee table book of aerial and satellite imagery. It sounds simple but he has an excellent eye and editor’s hand. It’s lovely.

Jared Prince of Muir Way made a high quality print of a map of American rivers. He was inspired by my river map but ended up recreating the whole thing from scratch with a much better result than mine. The print quality is excellent too.

culture
  2016-12-01 18:25 Z

One of our holiday treats is an egg dip that Ken makes, an old family recipe. It’s sort of like smoky deviled eggs only potato chip compatible. I like it. Here’s an approximation of the recipe; it’s not an exact thing.

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 3 hard boiled eggs
  • ⅓ cup of mayonnaise
  • ½ tsp Colman’s mustard
  • ½ tsp liquid smoke
  • salt

Mince the eggs. Blend with mayo and cream cheese to dip texture. Flavor with mustard, liquid smoke, and salt. The result should taste mostly like eggs, with a noticeable smoky flavor and a bit of sharpness from the mustard.

You can use ordinary wet mustard but the dry mustard without vinegar is better. Minced onion or shallot might be a nice addition. Or cayenne pepper.

culturefood
  2016-11-25 19:13 Z
Interesting pair of maps showing the route of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline

The upper map is the official map from Energy Transfer Partners. It is remarkably free of detail. Enter Carl Sack's map below, which contains a lot more detail and was designed explicitly to help oppose the pipeline. It's objectively a better map in many ways, particularly showing the locations of rivers and the Sioux Reservation.

It's also notable that Sack includes the "Unceded Sioux Territory". My understanding (and I could be wrong) is that land has disputed legal status today, the result of a broken treaty with the Sioux. The passing of this pipeline through that land is a key part of the dispute, though, and mapping it helps us understand the protest against the pipeline's passage through that land.

politics
  2016-11-21 20:13 Z

Donald Trump warned us the 2016 election would be rigged. Was it? I’ve seen no evidence the vote was subverted enough to change the presidential result. But there were plenty of problems with the election, problems we should fix to protect American democracy.

2016 was the first major election after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Several states put new limitations on the right to vote such as North Carolina’s intentionally racist voter ID law. How many votes were suppressed in 2016? It’s too early to know (counting and analysis takes time), but voter suppression definitely had some effect. The right to vote is one of the most important rights we have in America, we must defend it for everyone.

Clinton won the popular vote by at least 1M votes but lost the election. That’s not “rigged,” the system is functioning as designed. But the Electoral College is curiously anti-democratic, Trump himself called it “a disaster for democracy.” A particular problem is that the way votes are allocated means there’s gross inequality. Voters from small states like Wyoming or Vermont have 2–3x the power as voters from big states like Texas or California. This bias disenfranchises racial minorities as well. The Interstate Compact is one possible way to reform the electoral college.

The FBI meddled in the election. Comey’s decision to bring up vague, irrelevant email evidence less than two weeks before the vote had a significant impact on public opinion. Comey’s handling of the email investigation had been unusually critical for months. The Trump campaign was tipped off about Comey’s October surprise before it happened; Giuliani even bragged of “a revolution going on inside the FBI”. The national police meddling in an election is something you expect in a tinpot dictatorship, not the US.

The Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee to influence the election. The DNC emails WikiLeaks published ended up not containing much of significance but still hurt the Clinton campaign. Back in July Trump invited Russia to hack Clinton. After the election a Putin adviser bragged “maybe we helped a bit with WikiLeaks.” Foreign espionage threatens our independence.

Voting machine security has not come up as a specific concern this election. But it’s crucial to fair elections; a lot of computer voting to date is woefully insecure. A post-vote audit comparing electronic votes to verified paper votes would be a huge reassurance.

I have a lot of admiration for American democracy. Keeping our elections free and fair requires constant vigilance. We need to stop voter suppression, reform the electoral college, and prevent inappropriate influence both from US and foreign governments. Keeping democracy healthy is a non-partisan goal; it is American.

politics
  2016-11-18 20:32 Z

Were you offended by me calling Trump a racist? Perhaps you voted for Trump and resent the association? “I’m not a bigot”, you think, “I only voted for Trump because Clinton was so awful”. OK, I’ll accept that at face value. But only if you step up now.

If you are not a bigot now is the time for you to speak out against bigotry. When Trump demonizes Muslims, speak up. When Trump insults Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, call it out. When Trump supporters carry out racist attacks, condemn them. When Trump embraces misogyny, say something. When Trump appoints white supremacists to his cabinet, reject them. Publically.

These next few years are going to be very hard for vulnerable minorities. LGBT people, Muslims, immigrants (both documented and not), we all feel threatened. We need you to step up and defend us. If you supported Trump and the GOP in this election but are a decent person who is not a bigot we need you to act and speak.

There are things that are open for legitimate political debate. Trade policy, gun control, tax rates, healthcare, our response to global warming. I disagree with GOP positions on many of these topics but they are certainly open for civilized discussion. Overt bigotry against Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans, or LGBT people is not acceptable and must be firmly denied. We all need to speak out.

politics
  2016-11-16 17:12 Z

So Trump will be president. There’s been a rush to normalize the election, to embrace the new president, to make it seem all OK. It’s not OK. America elected a racist demagogue who is singularly unfit to be president. We should not normalize Trump’s monstrous campaign. It feels obvious (or pointless) to catalog his faults now, but perhaps in the coming years it will be useful to remember what Trump has been up to now.

Trump made numerous policy statements that should have disqualified him as a candidate. His advocacy of assassinating families of terrorists and torture are calls for war crimes. His proposals of a registry of Muslims and banning Muslims from visiting the US violate the First Amendment. His encouraging assault at his political rallies and his promise to jail Clinton are the threats of petty tyrants, not American Presidents.

Trump is personally odious. He bragged about sexually assaulting women. At least ten women publically accused him of sexual predation. His only response has been to threaten to sue them. He doesn’t pay his bills. He brags about paying no taxes, based on a dodgy tax scheme. He spearheaded a racist campaign trying to deny Barack Obama’s citizenship. He is a prodigious liar about things both big and small, like his non-existent charitable donations.

But 26% of eligible voters voted for Trump, he will be president. I don’t quite know how to sit with that, that so many Americans voted for a racist sexual predator. Voted for someone lacking even a basic understanding of American governance. In many cases people voted for him because of his racism and ignorance, not despite it. That’s America 2016.

So what next? We could ask 2012 Donald Trump for advice; back then he openly called for revolution against Obama. But that’s crazy. We have to live with his presidency. But we don’t have to pretend that he’s normal or acceptable. We don’t have to pretend he’s not the man he was in the campaign. As Gessen says, “Believe the autocrat. He means what he says.”

politics
  2016-11-15 22:31 Z

I ran into an awkward problem in Europe; I couldn’t get SMS messages. It’s a design flaw in Apple’s handling of text messages, its favoring of iMessage over SMS. If you turn data roaming off on your phone when travelling, you may not be able to get text messages reliably.

If you have an iPhone suitably logged in to Apple’s cloud services, other iPhones (and Apple stuff in general) will prefer to deliver text messages via iMessage instead of SMS. You see this in the phone UI: the messages are blue, not green. In general iMessage is a good thing. It’s cheaper and has more features.

The problem is Apple’s iMessage delivery requires the receiving phone have an Internet connection via WiFi or cellular data. If you have no WiFi at the moment and have data roaming turned off, your phone is offline. And so Apple can’t deliver to you via iMessage. They seem to buffer sent messages for when you come back online. Which is too bad, because your phone could still receive the message via SMS. Unfortunately iMessage doesn’t have an SMS delivery fallback.

In practice this design flaw meant I had to leave data roaming turned on all the time because I needed to reliably get messages from another iPhone user. Which then cost me about $30 in uncontrollable data fees from “System Services”. Some $15 was spent by Google Photos spamming location lookups (a bug?), another $15 receiving some photo iMessages from a well-meaning friend. Admittedly the SMS fallback I’d prefer would also cost some money, but I think significantly less in my case.

There’s a broader problem with iMessage which is that once a phone number is registered with it, iPhones forever more will not send SMS to that number. Apple got sued over this, so now they have a way to deregister your number.

techbad
  2016-10-13 14:29 Z

Oktoberfest is a remarkable event; 100,000+ people together drinking heavily, and yet few problems. It’s crowded though, so crowded your neighbor’s back rubs gemütlichkeit against yours at the beerhall. If you can find a place to sit. I don’t love crowds, here’s how we coped.

Go when it’s less busy. It’s not complicated: weekdays and earlier in the day are quieter. Monday early afternoon was pretty mellow, by which I mean the tents were only 75% full.

Consider a small tent for dining. After drinking our fill at the Augustiner tent (population 8500) we wandered off and found a tiny restaurant tent that sat 200. Most of which were staff on break from the Ochsenbraterei tent next door. It was still festive but plenty of room to have a comfortable lunch.

Drink wine! When the crowd got too much we found our way to the Weinzelt tent. It’s a big tent but an odd one, serving mostly wine. It’s a bit smaller, maybe 2500 people. Best of all instead of back-to-back benches, everyone sits at their own booths for 8-10 people max. Way more comfortable. Great music and party too! The drawback is that it’s expensive; 75€ for a bottle of wine instead of 11€ for a liter of beer. But it's a good choice if you want to trade off money for comfort.

culturetravel
  2016-09-29 07:52 Z

Ken and I took a lovely tourist trip to Scotland. Here’s a Storify of photos and comments; I tend to use Twitter like postcards while travelling, it works great for that. Scotland is a nice mix of modern European city and remote coastal landscapes. And so green! (And rainy.) Our trip broke down into two kinds of experiences: cities on either end, and lots of driving around the west in the middle.

We started in Edinburgh, a wonderful city. Highly recommend 3+ days in that city, it’s just beautiful and lots to enjoy. We ended the trip in Glasgow, which was also great. They say Edinburgh is the pretty sister. But Glasgow is the sister you’d want to hang out with in the pub. More of a regular city but a vibrant one with lots to offer. Also a city on the upswing.

Our countryside trip started with a couple of nights in Inverness. There’s not much to the town but it’s a convenient base for travelling to Speyside in the east and Loch Ness and the Great Glen to the southwest. Culloden made a big impression on us, the historical monument there is very well done. Loch Ness was a bit of a letdown, it’s just like all the other beautiful lakes in Scotland only this one is full of tourists so you can’t park to see anything.

The Isle of Skye is primary recommendation if you want some remote countryside tourism in Scotland. It’s beautiful and the northern parts feel very remote and sparse, the landscape reminded me a bit of the Faroes. Only there’s lots of hotels and restaurants and decent enough roads. The Clan Donald visitor center made a good impression too, much smarter than you’d expect a family-funded history museum to be. Most of the western part of the trip was just driving around remote roads from beautiful site to site. Lots to enjoy.

We stayed in some fantastic hotels along the way, see the map link above for details. Also ate at some great restaurants. The finest meal of all was at Martin Wishart in Loch Lomond, excellent Michelin star level food and service that executed perfectly. For less demanding dining we very much liked the Scran & Scallie in Edinburgh and the Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow.

culturetravel
  2016-08-10 23:04 Z

The world has had its first self-driving car fatality: a Tesla autopilot failed. So far the world hasn’t freaked out. I think self-driving cars will be way safer than human-driven cars. But there’s a lot of shaping the truth in Tesla’s announcement.

(Fair warning: this blog post is uninformed hot take territory. I’m reacting to Tesla’s description of the crash, published two months after the death. We’ll know a lot more after an independent investigation.)

Tesla’s press release is masterful. It characterizes the cause of the accident like this:

the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.
A truck pulled out in front of the car on the highway. It may well have been an unavoidable accident. We’ll know eventually.

But note the facility of claiming the “driver” didn’t notice the truck. How do we know that? The man is dead, we have no idea what he saw. I don't know about you, but I've never once failed to spot a white truck against a bright sky, particularly when I'm driving towards it at 70mph. I could see how a computer vision system would fail that test though.

“The brake was not applied”. It takes time to apply the brakes after you see your death coming at you. Doubly so if you’re not actually driving. The passenger-behind-the-wheel was almost certainly not having his foot hovering gently near the accelerator / brake like an engaged driver would. That slows reaction time. I do this all the time with my simple cruise control and it scares the hell out of me when some slow jerk pulls in front of me and I don’t react quickly.

(I also admire the comfort of “he never saw it coming”. Sort of takes the sting out of the next sentence, which describes the unfortunate’s grisly decapitation.)

The real problem here is Tesla’s autopilot is a half measure, “driver assist”. It doesn’t fully drive the car. This design is the most dangerous of all worlds. I had this experience with my airplane’s autopilot all the time. At some point when the automation does enough work, you can’t help but check out mentally, let the machine take over. But if the machine isn’t capable of taking over entirely you can end up dead.

That’s why I’m in favor of fully autonomous vehicles. No steering wheel, no accelerator, maybe just a single brake or other emergency cutout. Of course in this situation the software has to work reliably. Let's say a fatality rate of 50% of human drivers. And insurance and the law have to adapt to this shift of control to software. I believe the technology nerds are very close to having systems that can fully drive a car with no “driver assist” ever needed, at least in clear weather. It will be a better future. And those robot cars will kill some of their passengers. Far fewer than humans are killing now.

techbad
  2016-07-01 16:10 Z