Jon Bruner
Jon Bruner

Geopolitical Hedging as a Service

June 2, 2016 | 7:23 am

Kashmir shown on Google Maps as seen from the US (left) and IndiaSeen from the United States, Kashmir is a complex web of dotted lines that describe more a century of political and military conflict between India, Pakistan, and China. Seen from India, that boundary is decidedly less nuanced: it’s a solid line that puts the entire disputed territory inside India. From China, the boundary is different and, of course, it favors China.

Google and Microsoft have found themselves embroiled in some awkward geopolitical disputes as they’ve made their mapping services available around the world, and they’ve found a brilliant diplomatic workaround to the demands of dogmatic politicians: they give each country the map that its government wants, serving it seamlessly to domestic users by reckoning the locations of their IP addresses.

It’s possible to force these services to display the map corresponding to a particular country, though, and I’ve done that here in order to compare the maps that they serve to different constituencies. Try out some examples of delicate sensibilities by clicking the links below, or explore the map comparisons by using the drop-down menus. Click the [⇒] symbol for more background on each disagreement. READ MORE >

Shasta Lake refills

May 5, 2016 | 7:37 am

The empty reservoir is the iconic image of California’s severe four-year drought. California’s big reservoirs actually rise and fall every year, filling with rainfall and snowmelt in the winter and developing a “bathtub ring” in the summer as they supply farms and lawns through the dry season. For three winters, though, rain and snow failed to fill the reservoirs: from 2013 through 2015, Shasta Lake never reached capacity, entering the dry season already depleted.

Hoping that this winter would be different, I scraped an image every hour from two Caltrans traffic cams that happen to capture Shasta Lake in the background. Stitched together, they show California’s largest reservoir rising 144 feet and tripling in volume between December and May as it swells with rainfall and snowmelt.

Here’s the same bridge from a different camera. READ MORE >

“I am now almost asham’d to resume the Subject”: the late-reply apologies of the founding fathers

February 25, 2016 | 7:12 am

We tend to think that we’re participants in an era of unprecedented busyness. The icon of our situation is the e-mail inbox, relentlessly full and irredeemably disordered.

A few nights ago, I was flipping through a volume of Benjamin Franklin’s writing and noticed that perhaps a quarter of his letters from the middle period of his life began with the sort of apology that’s familiar to all of us: I’m really sorry for my late reply. Franklin’s literal inbox was apparently as backlogged as my own figurative one. Of course, my ordinary e-mail isn’t held up by the need to write back to George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, or Joseph Priestley.

The founding fathers were sometimes overwhelmed by their correspondence. But does that mean everyone has always felt as busy as we do now? These are among the very most profound writers of their time, famous in part because of their letters, so we’re confronted with a survivor bias. But, maybe there’s some consolation in the idea that we’re all now as sought-after as Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington.

The excerpts below are from the Franklin and Jefferson anthologies published by the Library of America.

You’ve probably forgotten about this already.

“I ought to have wrote to you long since, in Answer to yours of Oct. 16. concerning the Water Spout: But Business partly, and partly a Desire of procuring further Information by Inquiry among my Seafaring Acquaintance, induc’d me to postpone Writing from time to time, till I am now almost asham’d to resume the Subject, not knowing but you may have forgot what has been said upon it.” 1

—Benjamin Franklin, February 4, 1753, to John Perkins

Sorry. I promise I’ll be quicker.

“I receiv’d with great Pleasure your friendly Letter by Mr. Alexander, which I should have answer’d sooner by some other Conveyance, if I had understood that his Stay here was like to be so long. I value myself extreamly on the Continuance of your Regard, which I hope hereafter better to deserve by more punctual Returns in the Correspondence you honour me with.”

—Benjamin Franklin, June 2, 1765, to Lord Kames

Mail is really messed up for some reason.

“I received three days ago your favor of Apr. 12. You therein speak of a former letter to me, but it has not come to hand, nor any other of later date than the 14th of December. My last letter to you was of the 11th of May by Mr. Adams who went in the packet of that month. These conveiances are now becoming deranged.”

—Thomas Jefferson, June 17, 1785, to James Monroe

READ MORE >

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