2013.12 minutiae

  • Lessons from the first year of Stochastic Planet:

    • Russia is big.  Canada is also big, but most of its area is unpopulated and pictures are few and far between.  By contrast, Siberia actually has a fair number of people sprinkled across it and is surprisingly well photographed.  (Also, by land area, Canada is actually #4 in the world, not #2.)

    • China is big.  Also, as you might expect from the most populous country on Earth, pretty much every time the algorithm landed in China, there was a settlement nearby.  It was similarly a given that any time it landed in India there would be a settlement nearby, but India is much smaller than China.  It may be the 7th-largest country in the world, but there is a huge gap between #6 and #7: #6, Australia, is more than 2½ times India's size.

    • China is as polluted as you think.  Even to someone who grew up in Southern California, it was alarming to look at random pictures of China and see how the subjects were almost invariably swallowed up in thick pinkish-gray murk.

    • Brazil is big.  It's larger than the contiguous U.S.  However, a fair amount of it is covered with very poorly photographed jungle.  Sadly, this may not be an issue for too much longer, as most of the time the algorithm landed in the Amazon rainforest, deep branching scars ran through the frame.

    • The Sahara is big.  It is also better photographed than sub-Saharan Africa.  The South American jungle is exhaustively documented compared to its Congolian counterpart.

    • Australia is even emptier than the statistics suggest.  Its population is concentrated in the state and national capitals; outside those, its population density is almost exactly one person per square kilometer — one third the population density of Siberia, and less than that of Siberia even with all Siberian cities removed.  When you randomly pick a spot in Australia, it's pretty much guaranteed to be a barren stretch of outback.

    • If Antarctica really did look like geotagged pictures make it look, it would be a very interesting place!  Lush forests, rolling grasslands, sunny beaches, and of course gorgeous coastal cityscapes all over the place, right down to the South Pole.  Maybe after global warming really kicks in.  For now, the lesson is that a lot of people don't know how to geotag.

    • There's a whole lot of ocean out there.

    The queue for 2014 is nearly full already — I keep about a forty-week buffer — and it's been interesting to see how things have incrementally changed since the beginning of the year.  More pictures are getting geotagged these days, so while it's still mostly scenery and landmarks, there are a few oddities in store.

    Among the odder places the algorithm picked in 2013:

  • Google auto-completes for the phrase "humans with":

    • tails
    • rabies
    • horns
    • wings
    • shark teeth
    • gills
    • cat eyes
    • two heads
    • worms
    • clothes

  • Phoenixy writes: "I like the expression of Benjamin Franklin on the hundred dollar bill. He looks like he's about to admonish you. 'You shouldn't spend this on whores. I mean, that's what I would spend it on, but you really shouldn't.'"

  • I was looking for something in my closet and happened to pick up the "ultra-light" computer I bought back in 2004.  Even though I'd already taken the hard drive out, it was startlingly heavy.  I tried to pick it up one-handed, thinking that it would weigh about what my 2010 netbook weighs, and I almost pulled something.

  • I was down in San Diego and dialed up the modern rock station, 91X.  91X's call letters are XETRA-FM, and like XTRA-AM, the "Mighty 690" that I listened to as a kid, it's based in Tijuana.  I was surprised to find that the commercial breaks on 91X were full of public service announcements, in English, delivered by people with American accents, on behalf of "the Government of the Republic" — the "Republic" in question being Mexico.  They touched on topics like the importance of saving up for school fees and explained how to report government officials for trying to buy your vote.  99% of the discussion of these on the Internet seems to consist of xenophobes complaining about them, but I liked them!  They were like transmissions from a parallel universe where Mexico hosted a vast community of American immigrants who'd been granted citizenship but who hadn't assimilated enough to speak Spanish.  (I guess that actually is a pretty good description of Texas circa 1835.)

  • Rest assured that 2010 Lyttle Lytton Found Division "winner" Rick Reilly remains as hacktacular as ever: "Judging stars from afar isn't as much fun as getting to know them."  I'll just get right on that then, Rick!

  • I was watching some Rifftrax shorts and one popped up called "Seat Belts: The Lifesaving Habit," copyright 1986.  Not only did it feature the computer we had at the time, but also our phone!  Twice!

  • Speaking of really old technology: why did animated GIFs suddenly become so popular?  They've been around since 1989!  They only allow 256 colors and consequently often look terrible!  Animated PNGs are a thing — I'm looking at one right now.  Why didn't they take over the world?  Seriously, wasn't GIF stone cold dead as a format from like 2000 to 2010?  Are VHS tapes going to make a comeback in a few years?

  • Hey, let me know what sorts of topics you'd like to see these Calendar articles cover in 2014.  Fill this out:


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