The cotton belt, and the Cornish highlands

Two map-related items of interest:

From Pickin’ Cotton to Pickin’ Presidents correlates deep-south counties voting for Obama with cotton production in 1860, in a very striking manner. I found the following rather notable:

As it turns out, president-elect Obama won with the an overall support of 53%, but that includes over 90% of black voters.

Of white voters, only 43% voted for Obama; since Lyndon B. Johnson, no Democratic candidate for the highest office has ever garnered more than half the votes of European-Americans.

Then, comment #96 provides the geological context, expanded upon here, and in particular pointing at this fascinating map of “shorelines in the Cretaceous period”.

You can just see Britain on the right of that map, and ooh look, it’s all underwater apart from part of Scotland, most of Ireland, and south-west England including all of Devon and Cornwall. The most prominent topographical features of Devon and Cornwall these days are Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor, worn down “ancient mountains” as my geography teacher put it to me one day; it looks like, in the cretaceous, they weren’t quite so worn down…

Upside Down Dogs

An upside down dog

I’m rather enjoying Upside Down Dogs, though it is occasionally a bit scary. All those fangs…

For example, see Maria Full Of Grace (Marston, 2004)

As I’ve been saying for a few years now, there’s no such thing as Fair-Trade cocaine; this may, of course, be freely construed as an argument for legalisation or for greater sanctions, according to your prevailing political worldview.

Bash had her iPhone stolen

Bash had her iPhone stolen yesterday, in a rather ugly-sounding scam — and then wrote an eloquent and reflective blog post about it. Kudos.

The Fall

The Fall — oh my, that’s a wonderful movie. You should totally go see it. A load of us went to Taliesin for it tonight and universally lurved it. Just… oh, wonderful.

Here’s the interview that made me want to see it, and here’s the trailer (which is mildly spoilerish, but the joy of this film isn’t in the plot, but in its heart, and its eyes).

Beyond peace and quiet

Forget the houses. This is what it’s all about.

Bringing the house down

An extremely readable piece in yesterday’s Guardian magazine on the UK property market: how it got like it is, why it’s so different to its friends overseas, and what’s (in his opinion) likely to happen. I found the background more interesting than the predictioneering, of course. Tasters:

Say you bought your house in 1970, and paid the then-national average price for it: £4,378. At the peak of the current spike in prices, that same average house would have been worth £184,431. Congratulations! You’ve multiplied your money almost 43 times. You’re rich, do you hear me?

Rich! Except you aren’t, really. Strip out the effect of inflation, and that spectacular sounding 4,300% price rise works out as 2.4% a year in real terms. This is close, in other words, to the historic long-term average for investments regarded as being more or less without any risk at all. That’s where the expression “safe as houses” comes from.

British householders are allergic to fixed interest rates; we prefer variable loans. No one quite knows why, since fixed interest rates often make good sense, and have the effect of transferring some of the risk of the loan to the banks. If you have a variable rate mortgage, and the central bank interest rate goes up, you feel it in your pocket; if you have a fixed rate and the same thing happens, the bank feels it. In the US, the two institutions designed to help the banking system to bear the risk of this fixed-rate lending are called Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That’s the same Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that on September 7 were taken over by the US government in the biggest nationalisation in the history of the world; and the reason they went under was precisely because they were swamped by the cost of these risks.

Towards the end of 2006, the average investment yield on a buy-to-let property no longer covered the mortgage that had been taken out to buy it. In other words, the average buy-to-let investor was losing money on a monthly basis. The reason for hanging on in there was the hope for capital growth. But house prices in the UK are now in decline. The Nationwide survey for the year to October showed a decline of 14.6%; add the CPI inflation rate of 5.2%, and prices have fallen almost 20% already. So for those buy-to-letters already losing money on the interest payments, capital growth now looks some way off. Depending on what was paid for the property, it may be many years off. If all buy-to-let investors realise this and stampede for the exit at the same time, the UK property market will go off the edge of a cliff.

Marcus du Sautoy interview, Guardian

An interview with Marcus du Sautoy from last Monday’s G2 — which I’ve only just got round to reading. Pleasant.

“You know, I’m not terribly fast at my times tables, because that’s not what I think mathematics is about. I think it’s the same thing as thinking that a good speller will make a great writer. Well, no, actually – great writers can be crap at spelling, but have great vision and ways of bringing stories alive – and I think you’ve got to put over that mathematics is a similar idea.”

Sadly, I think he’s wrong that “nobody’s going to question” that there are infinitely many primes, despite the existence of a simple proof (woo Euclid!): I’m pretty sure I’ve seen crackpot pages on the web asserting that the whole thing’s part of a big conspiracy. Yes, of course they’re nonsensical crackpots who should be ignored, but when did that ever shut anyone up? (Eh, Dawkins!? Eh!? ;-) )

I’ll Be Gone

I’ll Be Gone — great vid. Nice bass, too, though I think the song’s a bit weak (Mario Basanov & Vidis) [via someone's tweet, I reckon].

Real Life Tron on an Apple IIgs

I can’t remember where I saw this, but: Real Life Tron on an Apple IIgs.

T Rex at his best

I think this is my favourite Dinosaur Comic — at least so far. (It’s taking me a long time to work through them, a few every week or so…)

Also very good, especially around Talk Like A Pirate Day — the alt tag’s where it’s at for this one, mind.

What motivates terrorists?

Schneier on terrorist motivation, positing that it’s less about achieving political ends, and more about being part of a social structure [brunns]. Sounds quite reasonable. I was struck a bit by this sentence:

We also need to pay more attention to the socially marginalized than to the politically downtrodden, like unassimilated communities in Western countries.

Now, I won’t argue with that, except: aren’t they often the same people?

So, some voting happened

Sums up some of the main issues with voting machines quite nicely, I think [pwb].

In other news, I hear the American electorate did something right yesterday (or to put it another way…); unfortunately, at time of writing it remains unclear whether Californian voters have dropped the ball and approved Proposition 8. Sadly, it looks like they have, and Stephen Fry claims they have, but I suspect he’s responding to polls not actual results, as the latter don’t seem to have be announced yet. OTOH maybe there’s something about being a British National Treasure in the middle of nowhere in Madagascar that gives you prophetic powers. It’s looking like an increasingly near thing, so there’s hope yet.

A short survey of some chart-drawing options for Python and Haskell

I’ve been thinking about chart drawing a bit lately, partially because I’ve been doing some work which needs it, and partially because I keep seeing pretty pictures like the ones here (or in these slides) and wondering how people produce them.

Perhaps old news, but today I came across the Google charts API, for drawing charts (line, bar, pie, scatter, radar, etc.) via URLs. It’s clearly not capable of the prettiness linked above, but seems quite neat for “workhorse” charting, e.g.

Example pie chart

I particularly like the maps option:

Example map

Naturally, there exist Python and Haskell bindings.

I’ve previously looked at NetworkX, matplotlib and gnuplot, all of which are a bit more heavyweight — though I think only NetworkX, if any, could handle the prettiness mentioned initially.

HaskellCharts was mentioned in the latest Haskell Weekly News.

Today I also found Cairoplot, Chaco (very plot-centric), and the fruity Mac goodness that is NodeBox — very pretty, and looks lots of fun, but not exactly a charting app.

Right. That should be enough to be getting on with, anyway…