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Archive: September 2008

Survey Mapping

An anonymized copy of the data collected in the 2008 Survey has been turned over to some professional statisticians, as we did last year, and we’re waiting to hear back from them before moving into writing the full report.  But there’s no reason we can’t have a little fun while we wait, right?

So, calling all mapping ninjas: here’s a 136KB zip archive containing two tab-separated text files listing the countries and postcodes supplied by takers of the survey.  Before anyone has a privacy-related aneurysm, though, let me explain how they’re structured.

One of the two files is sorted alphabetically by country, with the postcodes as the second “column of data” (it’s country name, tab, postcode).  The second is the reverse: it’s sorted alphabetically by postcode, with the country names following each postcode.  This sorting should break any association they might have with the released data set, given that we won’t be including the postcodes in the released set.  (More on that in a moment.)

A word of warning: though I cleaned out some of the more obvious cases of people heaping abuse on us for even daring to ask the question, I can’t guarantee that the data set is perfectly clean.  There may be drops of bile here and there along with the usual collection of mistyped postcodes.  I know there’s at least one bit of obvious humor that I chose to leave in, so enjoy that when you find it.

We have two reasons to release this data this way at this point.  The first is to see what people do with it—heatmaps, perhaps, or one of those proportion-distortion maps, or a list of top-ten global postcodes or cities (or both).  Hey, go crazy!  I’d love to see a number of Google Maps/Yahoo! Maps/OpenMap/whatever mashups with this data.  That would be awesome.

The second reason is to ask for help with an API challenge.  Like I said, we’re not including the postcodes into the released data set.  What I would like to do instead is translate the postcodes into administrative regions (states, provinces, etc.) and put those in the data set.  That way, we can include things like “Ohio” and “British Columbia” and “Oaxaca”—thus providing a little bit better granularity in terms of geography, which was area of weakness in the 2007 survey.

Thanks to reading a couple of articles, I know how to do this for a single postcode.  But how does one do it for 26,457 postcode-and-country combinations without having to submit every single postcode as a separate request?  I’ve yet to see an explanation, and maybe there isn’t one, but I’d like to know either way.  And please, if someone does come up with a way, please show the work instead of just spitting out the result!  I’m hoping to learn a few things from the solution, but I obviously can’t do that without seeing the code.

One note: in cases where a postcode isn’t recognized or some kind of an error is returned, I’d like to have a little dash or “ERR” or something put in the result file.  That way we can get a handle on what percentage of the responses were resolvable.  Thanks.

Anyway, map and enjoy!

People and Places

I don’t know about you, but I find the results of the People magazine cover Ericsperiment (thanks for the term, Bob!) to be quite interesting.  The boiled-down version of the results is: just about everyone saw what I did, but nearly everyone drew the wrong conclusions about what I was saying.  (What?  I’ll explain.)

First, I want to address a couple of objections that were raised.  The first was: “It’s just a family photograph”.  No, it’s not.  It’s a magazine cover shoot.  Those things are planned, directed, and executed down to the tiniest detail.  If you think it’s just a family portrait, you’re either being willfully obdurate or else completely ignoring the context.  That’s a mistake, because context is everything.  I’ve been involved in a few portrait sessions of no public reach whatsoever, and the photographer is always telling people where to stand or sit, adjusting the angle of people’s arms, getting them to fractionally tilt heads one way or the other, shifting people an inch or two, and so on.  “Just a family photo” is when the magazine gets a real family photo, taken by an amateur using a consumer-grade camera during a vacation, and puts it on the cover in a white Polaroid-esque frame at a 15-degree angle.

The second was that the image is a Photoshop job, created either by assembling individual shots or altering a group photo.  Maybe, maybe not; either way, Photoshopping or a lack thereof is completely irrelevant to my point.  If it wasn’t Photoshopped, then the photographer is responsible for the arrangement of the shot; if it was, then it’s the Photoshopper who bears responsibility.  Either way, someone arranged the shot, and did so very badly.

So here’s what I saw: “large group” and “outsider”.  That was the immediate message.  Look at the cover again, paying attention to where the faces are.  There’s a blob of faces above the headline text, which is the group.  Then there’s a face to the left of the headline text, which is the outsider.

This is completely independent of the race, color, gender, creed, etc. of the people in the photo.  The visual message is “here’s a bunch of people, plus a hanger-on”.  Not because of color, which is what most people assumed I was talking about (and more on that in a minute).  Because of placement.

Though I think this unlikely, you may not quite be seeing it.  In that case, imagine a cover image with nine faces in the same places, only they’re of religious deities.  Or pop stars.  Or CEOs.  Or heads of state.  Or conference speakers.  Or browser-team leads; heck, even browser logos.  Whichever it is, imagine your favorite of each group is in the lower-left position, with all the others up above.  Feel good about that?  Even neutral?  Still think there’s no message being conveyed by that placement?

(And if you still aren’t seeing it, maybe a comparative example, courtesy George Butler, will provide some insight.)

Now, given that one of the people has been placed as an outsider, the natural next step is to wonder why they’ve been so placed.  And here, there are obvious visual differences that jump right out:  like being female, having darker skin, and being younger.  Already primed to ask “Why is this person an outsider?” we can find apparent reasons, and in this case they’re touchy ones.  If you know the background story of the family, then there’s a non-visual one as well: that she’s adopted.

But remember, I’m not saying Bridget (the young lady in that position) has been excluded for any of those reasons.  I’m saying that having been given a visual cue that she is excluded, we look for reasons to explain that exclusion.  That’s exactly what most of the people who responded to my post about the cover did.  All those people saw it, consciously or otherwise, and responded to the message… and then took that next step, trying to find reasons to explain the message.  Then, as per each individual’s feelings and experiences, they reacted, either accepting or rejecting what they thought I was saying.  Interesting, though, that so many people came to the same conclusion about what they thought I was saying.  That’s evidence of a strong message, whether or not said message was intended.

And that is the failure that occurred, one which I lay squarely at the doorstep of the magazine.  I might also toss in a head-slap to the campaign, if they saw the image and gave approval to use it—such pre-approval is sometimes, but not always, an option.  The problem with that composition should have been obvious from the outset, and avoided.  That it wasn’t makes me wonder a number of things about the magazine.  Taking a teenaged girl and putting her in the outsider spot?  Seriously?  How callous do you have to be to do that?

Oh, and special postscript to all the people who took the time to share their pitying sorrow over how “you Americans” are so race-aware:  I know it’s a tragedy, but remember, we’re still a young country and have not had the same lengthy maturation time you’ve enjoyed.  So please, try to remain patient with us while segregation, anti-immigrant violence, race riots, tribal warfare, and ethnic cleansing uniquely wrack our poor, blighted country, and continue to hope that one day we’ll join the rest of the world in the tranquil harmony that so characterizes your enlightened societies.

Placement

I was in line to buy a few groceries and spotted the latest issue of People magazine in the point-of-sale magazine rack, the one with the McCain family on the cover.  Something about the cover just seemed a little bit… off.  Do you see it, too?

There’s a metaphor there, but I’m having trouble deciding exactly what it is, or perhaps more accurately to whom it applies.

Seriously, I’m not generally one to read messages into things—in fact, I probably lean too far the other direction—but on this?  Somebody needs to be fired for gross negligence, because there’s a message being sent here, intentionally or otherwise.  In fact, it’s worse if it’s unintentional.  The question is who was negligent.  The photographer for not seeing what the placement communicated?  The editor for approving use of the image on their cover?  The McCain campaign for approving the image in the first place?

Maybe all of the above.

I’ll be very interested in people’s responses on this one… and even more in People‘s response, should anyone ask them about it.

Eventful

I hope I’m not too late to say so, but the early bird registration deadline for An Event Apart Chicago is this coming Monday.  Last chance to save $100 on the last show of 2008!

Between now and the Chicago event, I’ll be back in lovely Destin, Florida for this year’s edition of the CIW conference at which I spoke last year.  This time around I’ll be doing a blend of beginner and advanced CSS, plus a more reflective talk on the state of the web as I see it bothj now and in the near future.

In a like vein, I’ll be taking much the same topics and messages to the stage of Web Directions East in Tokyo, Japan.  Thanks to both personal and professional obligations, overseas travel is a rarity for me these days, and furthermore this will be only my second appearance in Asia (the first having been WWW2005), so this is a rare opportunity to catch me away from the Americas.  I think everyone should go.  C’mon, we’ve had people come all the way to the U.S. from places as far away as Bulgaria, New Zealand, Japan, and Singapore (twice!) to attend AEA, so what’s your excuse?

MW Latest Tweet 1.1b1

There’s a new beta of MW Latest Tweet available.  It does four new things.  Four and a half if you count the new options setting as a half.

  1. All the files are in the mw_latest_tweet directory now, instead of having the plugin PHP outside of that directory like 1.0 did.  Yeah, I know, that should’ve been the case all along.  Sorry!  Learning on the job here.

    If you’re upgrading from 1.0, you should probably delete the 1.0 file and directory outright before uploading the 1.1b1 directory.  Alternatively, you should be able to upload 1.1b1, deactivate 1.0, activate 1.1b1, and then delete just the 1.0 PHP file.  I haven’t tried that, so I don’t know if it will actually work, but it seems like it should.

  2. URLs within a tweet are turned into hyperlinks for easy clickin’.  To go with this new feature, there’s a new option on the settings page to either shorten displayed URLs, like twitter.com does, or to not shorten them.  The default is to shorten, which means any URL 29 or more characters long gets shortened to 27 characters and gains a trailing ellipsis.  Again, like Twitter does it—although I used an ellipsis entity and not three periods.

    Note that if you upgrade from 1.0 to 1.1b1, this setting may default to “No” instead of “Yes”.  I’m not sure why, but it’s a pretty low-priority item right now.

  3. On a related note, @names are autolinked as well.  I’m using the pattern [A-Za-z0-9_] since that’s what Twitter says are valid characters for a username even though if you type in a grawlix on the signup page it will tell you, in nice bold green letters, that it’s available.

  4. If you want to see everything the plugin has cached, append &debug to the end of the plugin’s setting page URL and hit return.  You’ll get the settings page with a dump of the cached data at the end.  This is clumsy and will be much less so before 1.1 final.  I’m thinking click a link, enter debug mode.  Probably won’t go all AJAXy, though you never know.

So that’s the state of things.  Let me know if anything breaks.

Subverting WordPress

I’m going to get back to posting here in just a bit with word of conference appearances (some overseas), plugin updates, and a small elegy, but first I need a little help with WordPress and subversion, if someone could spare the cycles to assist a newb.  (Which would be me.)

So I have meyerweb’s WordPress install all subversion-managed.  The only problem is that there are three core files I’ve had to hack (reasons upon request) and that makes updating really icky.  I fire off…

svn sw http://svn.automattic.com/wordpress/tags/2.6.1/ .

…(where 2.6.1 is replaced with whatever the latest version is) and it updates everything.  For my custom-altered files, though, I get diff files and a .mine file that has my old copy and then a copy that’s littered with diff markers, which cause PHP error-crashes, which takes down the site.  At least until I go in and copy the .mine files over the diffed-up files.

So: how do I do some kind of local checkin of the altered files so that I don’t attempt to post them back to the WordPress codebase (these are very specialized hacks) but future WordPress updates don’t break my site?  For extra ideal points, it would be great if those files were updated with my changes merged into the files.  If it helps, the files thus affected are /wp-blog-header.php, /wp-includes/classes.php, and /wp-admin/edit-form-advanced.php.  Thanks for any help!

September 2008
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