Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for March 4th, 2007

The housing market: everything you know is wrong

Posted by metaphorical on 4 March 2007

The power of graphical representations to drive complex relationships straight into the understanding is often nothing short of amazing. I’ve mentioned Strange Maps before; last month’s selection included a terrific map showing right-handed vs left-handed driving. Almost in passing it gives a U.N.-level representation of the decline of the British Empire and the coincident American Century.


Dark blue: drives on left (mainly British ex-colonies).
Light blue: used to drive on right, now on left (Namibia).
Purple: used to have mixed system, now drives on right.
Light red: used to drive on left, now on right.
Dark red: drives on right.

The countries still in blue are all former colonies, as are a couple of the purples—most prominently Canada, which I didn’t know ever drove on the left, though after thinking about it for a moment; of course they did! And it certainly makes you want to run to Wikipedia and see what the hell Namibia’s story is. (Apparently it started out as a German colony and ended up under South Africa’s control after WWI. And indeed, Wikipedia gives 1918 as the year it started driving on the left.)

Not all graphical representations are maps. Some are, well, graphs.

For about a week I’ve been looking at “A History of Home Values.” In a single wavy line, it calls into question most of what I thought I knew about residential real estate as an investment.

For example, “A home is a good investment.” Uh, no. It wasn’t for most years between 1890 and the end of WWII. Since then, it’s kept up with inflation, but every spike has been met with a decline. I always thought the effect of the up and down was always a net up—not so until then early 1990s. Then, home prices started a steep upward movement that never wavered.

Looking at the graph you see that the current housing boom is so unconditionally aberrantly anomalous that anything you thought you know about the market is surely wrong, or at least, unsupported by anything like historical antecedent.

Posted in language, travel, writing | 6 Comments »

Are you geeky enough?

Posted by metaphorical on 4 March 2007

You can’t create a measure of geekitude with a single link. This one comes close, though. The link is “How to crash an in-flight entertainment system” on the CSO magazine website.

Here’s a quote a fair bit of it, which will cut into the joy you’ll experience when you read the whole thing. But I promise you it just gets better and better—if you’re geek quotient is sufficiently high. Or, just click here now.

The writer is Hugh Thompson, on a flight from Las Vegas to Orlando. The game in question is Tetris.

To give myself the biggest advantage in the game, I pressed the + control as many times as it would allow and got to the maximum value of 4. I then put on my “bad guy” hat on and asked: How *else* can I change the value in this field? Near my armrest was a small phone console; you know, the one where you can make very important calls for a mere $22 per minute. I noticed that the phone had a numeric keypad and that it also controlled this television monitor embedded in the seat in front of me.

I then touched the screen in front of me to highlight the number “4” in the options configuration shown in Figure 1. I tried to enter the number 10 into that field through the phone keypad with no luck: it first changed to the number “1” followed by the number “0”. Frustrated, I then made the assumption that it would only accept single digit values. My next test case was the number “8”; no luck there either, the number didn’t change at all. I then tried the number 5: success! ‘5’ is an interesting test case, it’s a “boundary value” just beyond the maximum allowed value of the field which was ‘4’. A classic programming mistake is to be off by 1 when coding constraints. For example, the programmer may have intended to code the statements:

0 < value < 5

When what actually got coded was

0 < value <= 5

I now had the software exactly where I wanted it, in an unintended state; the illegal value 5 was now in my target field.

If, like me, you’re laughing already, click here.

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