This is the kind of thing that makes staying up late and surfing the web so addictive. I was poking around peterme.com last night reading about information visualization. Several of the ideas mentioned there involved work that had been pioneered by Martin Wattenberg (of Map of the Market renown). So I reflected, web-like, I wonder what Martin has been getting up to lately? and a short trip to Google later I had my answer. THE SECRET LIVES OF NUMBERS is a piece he worked on with Golan Levin. It has an astonishingly elegant interface for understanding the relative popularity (in the sense of web hits à la Google) of all the numbers between 0 and 100,000. The sociology of numbers is interesting enough, but I could also play with it for a long time just for the experience of watching the interface react to my fiddling. It turns out that 415 is a surprisingly popular three digit number. Surprising, until you remember that 415 is a San Francisco area code. Similarly, you can unearth the postal geography of the United States just by looking for peaks and plateaus in the five digit numbers that correspond to zip codes. As they say in the Michelin guides “three stars; merits a special trip.”
No sooner did I post the link to the Welsh weblog then I got a nice message from Nic Dafis who runs it. Fortunately he wasn’t at all miffed that I made a little joke about some Welsh that I quoted at random. In fact, I did happen to pick a joke of his, which is that the transliteration of the word “weblog” into Welsh is “gweflog” which is an actual (though archaic) Welsh word which means “having large blubbery lips.” :-) I mean :-))
According to Nic, if you want to learn more about Wales and the debate about Welsh language, visit http://cymuned.org/. Keeping a language alive raises fascinating public policy questions because it affects so many issues of day-to-day convenience. What do the signs say? What will your child learn in school? Are some people more equal than others? Suppose you were to move to Wales next week. Would you make a special effort to learn Welsh? Would you make any effort at all? Your answer spells the difference between colonization and in-migration.
It’s been a while since Beautiful Mind came out, but I recently came across this well-written piece by someone who was actually in the math department at Princeton and saw John Nash slinking around (before the movie made him more famous than the Nobel already had). The author, Daniel Grech, does a good job of capturing the essence of what “Nash equilibrium” means.
Read What Nash’s ‘Beautiful Mind’ Really Accomplished for the details, but here’s the key example the Grech provides about how market equilibrium is not always efficient.
Two gas stations are being built in a small town made up of a single, one-mile long Main Street. Town planners agree that the gas stations should be placed at one-quarter and three-quarter mile marks, so that no one in town has to drive more than a quarter mile to fill up. And since residents are distributed evenly along Main Street, both stations would share exactly half the business in town.
But try explaining that to the station owners. The owner who should build at the one-quarter mile mark knows people at his end of town will never go to the competing station because it’s too far away. So he’d want to build closer to the center of town to dip into his competitor’s mid-town market. Of course, the other owner is equally wily and he too edges his station closer to the center of town. Game theory tells us—and an astute business sense dictates—that the two gas stations will both end up on the same corner in the exact center of Main Street.
Mark Frauenfelder (another member of the Boing Boing tribe) has written a fascinating piece on cam girls in Yahoo Internet Life. What’s a cam girl? She’s a new member of the net generation: a teenage girl who wants you to buy her goodies from her Amazon Wish List just ‘cuz she’s so darned cute. As Frauenfelder writes, “Now meet Natalie. Or better yet, don’t meet her, just buy her an RCA CC9370 AutoShot compact digital camcorder ($450). If you do, this 14-year-old girl from a small Kentucky town ‘will love you forever.'” But since nothing in this world comes for free, cam girls may be willing to exchange pictures of themselves in order to shake the giving tree a little. Mom and dad might not approve. Frauenfelder continues, “To them, their situation seems ideal: They get convenient, digitally delivered affirmations of their desirability without the strings of a real relationship. Modern technology allows these girls to make their virtual presence available to anyone while remaining physically inaccessible.”
It reminds me of the story about George Bernard Shaw that has him dining next to a famous actress one evening. He proposes that she join him for the evening in return for a gift of ten thousand pounds. She enthusiastically agrees, but when he suggests dropping the price to five pounds, she is incensed: “What do you take me for?” To which Shaw coolly replies, “We have already established that. Now we are dickering about the price.” These girls may not know what they’re about just yet, but they’re on their way to find out. Indeed, some of them have gone all the way over to the dark side, listing with a site called, simply, Cam Whores (we warn our delicate readers not to follow this link). Their parents might not be proud, but George Bernard Shaw would be.
Which reminds me: buy me something. If you do, I swear I won’t send you any pictures of me. Of course, if you refuse, I can’t make the same promise…
By the way, in case you’re wondering what the little # sign is next to the time stamps in all my posts, it’s what the Blogger folks call a permanent link (a.k.a. “permalinks”). As they put it, “Permanent links allow other people with websites or blogs to link directly to certain posts you’ve made on your own blog, and without fear that the post will slide off your front page and no longer be accessible. It is done by linking to a post at its archived location, which won’t change.” So grab that # doohickey and link without fear.
Get some fun stuff from EAMES OFFICE, a comprehensive site dedicated to the work of Charles and Ray Eames. Somehow their stuff manages to look both dated and trendy, and not simply because it’s hip to be retro. The forms (furniture, architecture) don’t appeal to me nearly so much as the ideas (movies, exhibitions). Power of Ten must be one of the most influential nine minute movies of all time.
Here’s yet another Piece About Blogs… but a good one. Cory Doctorow, one of the keepers of the Boing Boing flame, has written a blog analysis that resonates with me: My Blog, My Outboard Brain (at the O’Reilly Network). Blogs are the thing that, at one time, I thought bookmark lists were going to be. That is, they are useful citations of where you’ve been and why you admired or detested what you saw. But bookmark lists are brittle and opaque. They don’t provide enough context (even if you do bother to carefully categorize them), so you never revisit the sites you bookmarked. Eventually you stop adding to them. You can instantly pop any page onto a bookmark list, but to add to a blog (a blog worth keeping, that is), you have to focus your net-addled brain for more than half a second and describe why a given page interested you in the first place. That extra effort makes your record worth returning to. I stopped bookmarking pages about the time I started blogging.