Emergent Map: Streets of the US

This is really cool. All Streets is a map of the United States made of nothing but roads. A surprisingly accurate map of the country emerges from the chaos of our roads:

Allstreets poster

All Streets consists of 240 million individual road segments. No other features — no outlines, cities, or types of terrain — are marked, yet canyons and mountains emerge as the roads course around them, and sparser webs of road mark less populated areas. More details can be found here, with additional discussion of the previous version here.

In the discussion page, “Fry” writes:

The result is a map made of 240 million segments of road. It’s very difficult to say exactly how many individual streets are involved — since a winding road might consist of dozens or even hundreds of segments — but I’m sure there’s someone deep inside the Census Bureau who knows the exact number.

Which raises a fascinating question: is there a Platonic definition of “a road”? Is the question answerable in the sort of concrete way that I can say “there are 2 pens in my hand”? We tend to believe that things are countable, but as you try to count them in larger scales, the question of what is a discrete thing grows in importance. We see this when map software tells us to “continue on Foo Street.” Most drivers don’t care about such instructions; the road is the same road, insofar as you can drive in a straight line and be on what seems the same “stretch of pavement.” All that differs is the signs (if there are signs). There’s a story that when Bostonians named Washington Street after our first President, they changed the names of all the streets as they cross Washington Street, to draw attention to the great man. Are those different streets? They are likely different segments, but I think that for someone to know the number of streets in the US requires not an ontological analysis of the nature of street, but rather a purpose-driven one. Who needs to know how many individual streets are in the US? What would they do with that knowledge? Will they count gravel roads? What about new roads, under construction, or roads in the process of being torn up? This weekend of “carmageddeon” closing of 405 in LA, does 405 count as a road?

Only with these questions answered could someone answer the question of “how many streets are there?” People often steam-roller over such issues to get to answers when they need them, and that may be ok, depending on what details are flattened. Me, I’ll stick with “a great many,” since it is accurate enough for all my purposes.

So the takeaway for you? Well, there’s two. First, even with the seemingly most concrete of questions, definitions matter a lot. When someone gives you big numbers and the influence behavior, be sure to understand what they measured and how, and what decisions they made along the way. In information security, a great many people announce seemingly precise and often scary-sounding numbers that, on investigation, mean far different things than they seem to. (Or, more often, far less.)

And second, despite what I wrote above, it’s not the whole country that emerges. It’s the contiguous 48. Again, watch those definitions, especially for what’s not there.

Previously on Emergent Chaos: Steve Coast’s “Map of London” and “Map of Where Tourists Take Pictures.”

Is iTunes 10.3.1 a security update?

Dear Apple,

In the software update, you tell us that we should see http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1222 for the security content of this update:

Itunes10 3 1

However, on visiting http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1222, and searching for “10.3″, the phrase doesn’t appear. Does that imply that there’s no security content? Does it mean there is security content but you’re not telling us about it?

Really, I don’t feel like thinking about the latest terms of service today if I don’t have to. I’d prefer not to get your latest features which let you sell more and bundle in your latest ideas about what a music player ought to do. But I’m scared. And so I’d like to ask: Is there security content in iTunes 10.3.1?

Thoughts on this Independence Day

Emergent Chaos has a long tradition of posting the American Declaration of Independence here to celebrate the holiday. It’s a good document in many ways. It’s still moving, more than two centuries after it was written. It’s clearly written, and many people can learn from its structured approach to presenting a case. And last but not least, it’s a document celebrating that we all are created equal, with certain inalienable rights. That none of us is a king or a serf by accident of birth, with special rights by those circumstances.

And so today I’d like to talk a little about the extraordinary events in the Arab world over the last six months. When Muhammad Al Bouazizi set himself on fire, it was unlikely that he knew that his actions would set in motion events including the downfall of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments, a civil war in Lybia, and a revolt against King Assad in Syria. (Yes, I know that’s not his official title, but Presidents don’t inherit the title from their fathers.)

It’s easy to assert that these are American values rising up in the Arab world, or that Twitter or Facebook are somehow central. I don’t want to be so facile.

What is happening is that the Egyptians are struggling to force a new reality of law onto their current military government, with a release of protestors, and end to torture of prisoners and especially the sexual abuse of women prisoners. They are working to ensure that they have free and fair elections as soon as possible.

The Libyans are engaged in an all-out civil war. Colonel Khadafi, accused kleptocrat and now wanted war criminal, has lots of money, and repeated NATO attempts to kill him have failed. (I think these are legitimate attempts-he’s a military officer, and killing him as part of a military operation would be a legitimate act of war. If he had a reasonable separation and a military commander, then it would be assassination.)

The Syrians are engaged in an all-out revolt against their King, with little notice or support from the wider world. The same situation applied in Yemen, except their King claimed that title, and he’s now on life support in Saudi Arabia. As an aside, when the only place that will take you in doesn’t let women drive, you’re on the wrong side of history.

So for all this chaos, I’m optimistic for the Arab peoples. Their struggles to build socieities will be hard. They will have detours. Their first attempts to build societies after throwing off their Kings will be troublesome. Much like after we threw out the British, we had our Articles of Confederation, we had our whiskey and Shay’s rebellions, and we even had a civil war over issues that our founding fathers couldn’t hammer out themselves.

So I don’t expect what the Arab states are going through will be simple or easy. But I do know that tens of millions of people now have more say in their future than they did, and that’s a fine thing to celebrate this Independence Day.