Terrific news today; the Supreme Court decided that even despised homosexuals like me deserve equal protection under the 5th Amendment and have overturned the odious Defense of Marriage Act. It’s a hugely important decision that establishes federal support for gay marriage.

But let’s not forget how we got here, in 1996, when DOMA was passed. The Democrats were fully in power; Congress had a majority of Democrats in both houses and the President was a Democrat. And those rat bastards voted to deny people like me our constitutional rights by overwhelming majorities: 85–14 in the Senate, 342–67 in the House. And Clinton cheerfully signed it into law.

Of course the Republicans are even worse, but that's no surprise given their position as the party for bigots. Here’s a list of the Democrat senators who voted for DOMA. Many of them are still running the country.

Baucus, Biden, Bingaman, Bradley, Breaux, Bryan, Bumpers, Byrd, Conrad, Daschle, Dodd, Dorgan, Exon, Ford, Glenn, Graham, Harkin, Heflin, Hollings, Johnston, Kohl, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Mikulski, Murray, Nunn, Reid, Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Wellstone

Some of these folks have since recanted, but I kind of feel like each one owes me and every other gay American a personal apology.

Update: I was completely wrong about who controlled the 104th Congress when DOMA passed; the Republicans had swept into power in the 1994 elections. Many Democrats also voted for DOMA, but it would have passed even if they all voted against it. It still seems like a betrayal but the political calculation is a bit different.
  2013-06-26 23:58 Z

It’s been a good week for my river project. A lot of exposure on the Internet, 100,000+ viewers from Gear Junkie to a NASA Twitter account to that fine example of British tabloids, the Daily Mail (Online).

I owe the new attention to Jason Kottke. He ran a blog post on my map and the traffic exploded, not just directly from his site but into the minds of other people. I’d actually gotten a lot of attention on Reddit MapPorn last month, but it didn’t go further than that. Kottke has a lot more reach, from BoingBoing to Reddit again to Popular Science to Wired Design to some traditional print publications that haven’t come out yet (if they ever do). I’m guessing Jason found my map from Mike Bostock’s talk at Eyeo, that’s a real kind of legitimacy you can’t buy.

It’s a funny sort of brief fame for a little work print I did as a 45 minute aside on a much bigger project. I think people like that one picture because it’s easy to understand and looks cool, particularly the natural complexity of the earth. I feel bad I didn’t spend more time explaining this better. It’s not really a map of rivers at all, it’s flowlines, which may just as easily be seasonal streams or arroyos or drainage canals.

A bunch of folks have asked about a poster version. I’d like one too and it’s not too expensive, so I may give it a go. First I need to fix those nasty rectangular artifacts; apparently an artifact of digitization on USGS quads.

  2013-06-26 17:47 Z

Rapportive is a good web service. It’s a browser extension for Gmail that puts information about correspondents in a sidebar. Here’s an example screenshot. It shows Tim’s face, his location, his jobs, and details from social media like Twitter, Facebook, etc.

The UI is quite nice, the way it sits next to my email without calling attention to itself. I regularly find helpful context on random people in my mailbox. The data mining is pretty good, I suspect they’re leaning heavily on LinkedIn for location, titles, etc. Gmail is the current application but the profiles they’re building on people could have enormous value in a variety of contexts.

Apparently I’m late to the party; they got all their press in 2010 and were bought by LinkedIn last year. Not sure why I hadn’t heard of it before. It’s a bit uncomfortable how deeply it links into Gmail, but it’s useful enough I’m giving it a try.

  2013-06-25 16:13 Z

Last weekend I gave a talk about TopoJSON at State of the map US, the OpenStreetMap conference. TopoJSON is an extension of GeoJSON that encodes topology, enabling interesting visualizations and making for smaller files. The video of my talk is online, you can also see my slides.

The talk is an overview of what TopoJSON is. I also compared the sizes of TopoJSON files to the same data in GeoJSON and found TopoJSON files are about 25–50% the size of the equivalent GeoJSON after gzip. That’s without simplification and GeoJSON rounding comparable to TopoJSON quantization. You get space savings even when there are no shared boundaries, although obviously you get more with shared arcs.

One of the most exciting talks at SotM US was Dane Springmeyer’s talk on what MapBox is doing with their PBF vector tiles. They’ve done a lot of work on making high quality vector data available for cartography. They found they only need to prepare tiles to z=14 (about a square mile); at that scale you can just make the tile encode all features to full precision. They are able to render all of the OSM data for MapBox Streets into just 30GB of tile data in about 100 CPU hours. That’s quite manageable; very exciting.

Dane and I took a quick look and I think their PBF tiles are about the same size as TopoJSON tiles, maybe 15% smaller. OSM data doesn’t have many shared boundaries, so the main thing TopoJSON is doing is delta encoding of arcs. MapBox tiles also use delta encoding. Their PBFs also encode properties more efficiently than JSON, but after gzip I think the difference is less significant.

  2013-06-11 22:45 Z

I like paying for digital movies. So I rented The Hobbit last night to watch on my Xbox. The movie was OK. The twelve times the streaming failed and the movie paused while it buffered was not. Amazon’s movie was about 3.5 gigabytes for 170 minutes, or 2700kbit/s. My download speed is a reliable 6000kbit/s. So what’s the problem?

The bandwidth graph above shows the problem; something terribly wrong with the streaming. First, the Xbox client doesn’t seem to buffer much, if at all. Playback would be a lot better if they used all 6000kbit/s and cached to disk. Second, their streaming server seems to have lost the connection ten times in three hours. Naturally they blame my ISP. At least they refunded the rental fee.

I like to pay for media, but maybe next time I’ll consider downloading an unlicensed copy. Pirate Bay offers a 2000kbit/s version that I could have downloaded and then watched uninterrupted for free. It was available two weeks before the official release.

  2013-06-10 22:32 Z

If you’re looking for a mortgage, think twice before doing business with CitiMortgage. I refinanced my mortgage with them last year. Well, actually this year; it took them nine months. All along the way the process was incompetent and contemptuous of the customer.

I had an existing loan with Citi. They offered to refinance to a lower rate, no cost to me. All very simple: loan-to-value ratio wasn’t a problem, no question about us qualifying. I agreed to refinance in June 2012, gave them all documentation in July, confirmed all documents in place in August. And then nothing happened. For months. All I got was computer-generated letters saying my application had been canceled and empty verbal promises that “we’ll be underwriting soon”. And repeated requests for fresh documents, because the old W-2 copies, the old appraisal, etc, all “expired”.

Underwriting finally looked at the file in January, some six months after I completed my documentation. Then another comedy of incompetence and we finally signed in February. Mortgages usually take 30 days, 60 if it’s low priority. They promised 90 days; it took them 260. From what I’ve heard, that’s been pretty typical for CitiMortgage in the last year.

Maybe it’s all incompetence, but Citi ends up profiting. All told I paid an extra $2800 in interest waiting for them to get around to processing my refinance application. So basically I’m a sucker; I should have gone elsewhere, preferably through a mortgage broker.

Citigroup was one of the main culprits in the mortgage crisis of 2008 that nearly wrecked the US economy. And they were the brokers defrauding their clients in the investment bank scandal of 2003. The incompetence I encountered with my refinance is a different problem. But I really should stick with a policy of not doing business with companies that treat customers with such contempt.

  2013-06-05 21:53 Z