A History of the US Congress

To put it simply... why do we let so many idiots be elected? Anyway - this is an interesting a brief history of the US congress in graphical terms, from xkcd. Click to em-biggen.

Sprint's iPhone iFail

How is Sprint doing? Not good. 

Why are they doing so badly? They decided it was a great idea to put billions of dollars into buying Apple phones and selling them at a loss. Now the iPhone accounts for 40% of their smartphone sales, which TERRIBLE for the company (contrary to the idiot pro-Apple people out there who try and claim this somehow has increased sales). iPhone sales have simply cannibalized other sales at a huge cost. 

To make up for it, Sprint has been increasing the prices on all of its plans ($20/mo more now than 1.5yrs ago) - which sucks. It is also a big reason I am using Virgin Mobile for my company, and I recently found out that Ting (another MVNO on Sprint) seems to get access to Verizon roaming just like Sprint would - need to find out more on that one. 

Anyway - wtf were you thinking Sprint? 


The Presidents Inaugural Address: Just Sad

This is actually quite a good speech. However, read it now and honestly say that he has achieved anything in the last 4 years. What a disaster of a President.

Inaugural Address
By President Barack Hussein Obama
My fellow citizens:  I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you've bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. 
I thank President Bush for his service to our nation -- (applause) -- as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.  The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace.  Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms.  At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents. 
So it has been; so it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood.  Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.  Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.  Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered.  Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many -- and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics.  Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real.  They are serious and they are many.  They will not be met easily or in a short span of time.  But know this America:  They will be met.  (Applause.)
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.  On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.  We remain a young nation.  But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.  The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation:  the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.  (Applause.)
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given.  It must be earned.  Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less.  It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.  Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom. 
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.  For us, they toiled in sweatshops, and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip, and plowed the hard earth.  For us, they fought and died in places like Concord and Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sahn. 
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life.  They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions, greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today.  We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth.  Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began.  Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week, or last month, or last year.  Our capacity remains undiminished.  But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed.  Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.  (Applause.)
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.  The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift.  And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.  We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.  We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost.  We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.  And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.  All this we can do.  All this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans.  Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.  What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. 
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.  Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward.  Where the answer is no, programs will end.  And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill.  Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.  But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control.  The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.  The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity, on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.  (Applause.)
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.  Our Founding Fathers -- (applause) -- our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man -- a charter expanded by the blood of generations.  Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake.  (Applause.)
And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity.  And we are ready to lead once more.  (Applause.)
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.  They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.  Instead they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy.  Guided by these principles once more we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations.  We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.  With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.
We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense.  And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken -- you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.  (Applause.)
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.  We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.  We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.  (Applause.)  
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.  (Applause.)
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.  And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect.  For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the role that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who at this very hour patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains.  They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. 
We honor them not only because they are the guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service -- a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. 
And yet at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.  For as much as government can do, and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.  It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours.  It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new.  The instruments with which we meet them may be new.  But those values upon which our success depends -- honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old.  These things are true.  They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. 
What is demanded, then, is a return to these truths.  What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.  This is the source of our confidence -- the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.  This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall; and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.  (Applause.)
So let us mark this day with remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.  In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river.  The capital was abandoned.  The enemy was advancing.  The snow was stained with blood.  At the moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words to be read to the people: 
"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."
America:  In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words.  With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come.  Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
Thank you.  God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

Presidential Debate Stupidity: Mobilizing Sanctions

So, a lot of what was said last night was stupid.

Obama claimed all kinds of ridiculous things, but given he is arguing from a pretty crappy position, he pretty much has to make things up to make his side sound decent.

But the worst?

We "deployed sanctions" in Syria.

What the fuck does that mean? It sounds like we are doing something with the military but really says were are doing not a damn thing.

Oh wait, he explained, it means "we are doing everything possible." Because "deploying sanctions" is all the US is capable of.

Right. Fucking idiot. He also said "who could have seen the rising wave of pro-Democracy sentiment in the Middle East"... hmm.... let me think about it.... oh yeah, George Bush.

I can stand listening to him anymore. I don't know how anyone does it. Your mind must be immune to bullshit and cognitive dissonance.


Only In Russia... The Mad Max Truck of Doom

Yes, some people choose to roll around Moscow in Hummers. Some choose G wagons, or even specialty armored vehicles. But really, none of them are as badass as this. Simply put, if you see this behind you, get the hell out of the way. 

The Crapberry: The Cheapest Android Phone You Can Buy

After just blasting Microsoft for their idiotic pricing of the Surface tablet - let me bring you over to something I really like. The PCD Venture.
I call mine the "Crapberry"

Right now Virgin mobile has a pretty amazing deal going: a real Android smartphone for only $29.99. And I have one of them. As far as I know, this is the cheapest Android phone you can buy, anywhere, from anyone. And the reality is, it's not bad. 

Yes, I call it the crapberry. It's like Blackberry's cousin who never managed to graduate school and still hangs around talking about how cool it is to be a portrait keyboard phone. But, I actually really like portrait keyboards - they are the fastest texting and emailing phones out there - no flippy flippy, no slidey slidey, just type away. It reminds me of my Palm Pre: outdated screen, small buttons, slow response times... and it's adorable. 

Now, for all of you saying "I paid $0 for my phone" - no, you didn't. You signed a 2yr deal, which if it was with Verizon or AT&T reads something like this: "you give us the right to bend you over and screw you for the next two years, oh yeah, we'll throw in a phone."

The PCD really costs $29.99. You can go online, order one, and never ever get Virgin Mobile if you so choose. It has wifi so there might even be some people who do this. 

It runs android 2.3, which sadly means it is just as up to date as most android phones on the market. Even my Photon 4G is still running the same (and wildly out of date) OS. Android 4 is far far far better, but 2.3 still gives you all the apps and google integration, which is pretty much all Android is good at anyway. 

The keyboard is... small and squishy. It's like an under-baked blackberry pearl but they decided to fit all the keys in. I have big fat thumbs and typing isn't a chore (it's still faster than swype for business emails that include numbers and punctuation) but it certainly isn't a Blackberry Bold. 

Honestly, if this was going to be your primary phone, spend a little bit more and get one of the nice phones Virgin Mobile has to offer. For around $100 - there are some really good options. 

But if you, like me, like buying something which is so wildly cheap and lovingly crappily adorable, I recommend the crapberry. For $29.99 you really can't go wrong. 

Microsoft's Brick

Ahh the "surface"

There were credible rumors you were going to start at only $199 - the cool new price point for small tablets. A 10' tab for the price of a 7'? It would be Christmas in October.

"I'm blue"

But it was not to be. Microsoft has announced the pricing of the surface and it is... stupid. $499 for the regular tablet and $120 for the keyboard cover. WTF. Ok, it comes with Office. Big freaking deal. To make Office worth anything, you need the keyboard case, which makes this $620 - which means you could get a really nice laptop instead.

So let's recap. This tablet is for people who need Office, want a keyboard, are willing to spend over $600 but think that ultrabooks are just too big and bulky...

So, once those 7 people have bought this thing, who else will? I just don't see it. I can get a Nexus 7 or Kindle Firebolt 2001 (yes - a Harry Potter reference, and botched one at that) for $199. I can get all kinds of still really good last generation 10' tablets for $199. Or I could get an iPad for $499.

The hilarious part is that Microsoft says they are building millions of the things in preparation for all the customer demand. Microsoft.. you should probably google "HP touchpad" and see what happens when the quirky competitor tries to go toe-to-toe on pricing with the iPad. Idiots.


Cider is Blowing Up In the US

Apple Growers Turn to Cider

STONE RIDGE, N.Y.—Elizabeth Ryan knows the ax could fall on Stone Ridge Orchard any moment. The sweeping 117-acre property that she has rented and operated for the past five years is for sale, its cresting hills and thousands of crooked, fruit-heavy trees at risk to be razed by the first approved buyer.
Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal
Applewood Orchards and its winery in Warwick, N.Y.
New York state is the second-largest producer of apples in the country, but in recent years orchards have struggled economically. For some apple farms, cider could potentially turn a money losing part of the business into a profitable one.
Now, like many apple growers, Ms. Ryan is looking in part to an unlikely savior: hard cider. Ms. Ryan has raised $1 million to buy the farm herself, she said. The centerpiece of her proposal: a 10-acre French-style cider orchard and tasting room, featuring apple varieties that are difficult to find in the U.S.
"We see this as a chance to reinvent the Hudson Valley," said Ms. Ryan, who will create about 10,000 cases of cider this year, in multiple styles.
New York state is the second-largest producer of apples in the country, but in recent years orchards have struggled with unpredictable weather patterns, development pressures and increased regulations, especially regarding labor.
By some measures, the Hudson Valley has been especially vulnerable. Between 2002 and 2007, apple acreage in the area shrank by 14% and the number of apple orchards dropped by 25%, according to an analysis of the most recent agricultural census by the Glynwood Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting agriculture in the region.
Some growers are turning to hard cider. Nearly two dozen cideries now operate in the Hudson Valley, up from 11 five years ago, and plans for several more are under way.
Even more producers operate under a wine license because of a state regulation that considers cider a wine if it is more than 7% alcohol (under 7% requires a cider license). The State Liquor Authority declined repeated requests for comment.
The change has been spearheaded by Glynwood, which has identified the production of cider and apple spirits as a top strategy for preserving orchards and generating new economic development opportunities.
"It seemed like a natural fit," said Sara Grady, who is leading the project for Glynwood.
Last year, Ms. Grady invited a handful of local cider and apple spirit makers to participate in an exchange program with producers in Normandy, and she is organizing a Hudson Valley Cider Alliance, which will include a new "cider route" to mirror the local wine trail.
This week, those producers are coming together for the second annual Cider Week, which will be held in New York City through Sunday. Last year, there were 100 participating retailers; this year the number has nearly doubled.
The goal is to become "the Napa Valley of cider," said Andrew Brennan, who received his license last year and now produces a line called Aaron Burr cider in upstate Wurtsboro. "We should be and will be, I believe, nationally and world-renowned as a premier cider region."
Many apple growers have been receptive to the message.
"We're always looking for ways of weatherproofing our season," said Dan Wilson, who founded Slyboro Cider House in Granville in 2007 and recently signed a deal to distribute his product in New York City. Selling hard cider "helps us to even out our cash flow through the year and gives us more on farm diversity, too," he said, noting that previously the majority of visitors had been families. "It allows us to attract a little different demographic."
This year Mr. Wilson doubled his production to 2,500 cases, and he has plans to plant 3.5 acres of hard cider trees in 2014 capable of producing 10,000 gallons of cider.
The growth in New York reflects a national trend. Since 2007, sales of domestically produced cider have more than tripled to a projected $601 million this year from $178 million, according IBIS World, a market analyst firm that analyzes the beverage industry. Sales rose 43% in 2011 and are expected to soar 56% this year.
Though cider still remains only a fraction of the alcoholic beverage industry, in the past year companies such as Anheuser-Busch InBev ABI.BT +0.10% and Boston Beer Co.,SAM +0.02% the maker of Samuel Adams, have entered the market with their own lines.
But across the country's apple-growing regions, including in the Northwest, a growing number of artisanal producers see more potential for cider, which began as a popular colonial beverage but faded in the U.S. during prohibition.
It is a versatile drink that can offer the dry elegance of wine, or become a quaffable (and gluten-free) barroom alternative to beer. Cider producers point to a growing locavore food culture and note the purity of a beverage crafted exclusively from locally grown apples. Because the aesthetics of cider apples are irrelevant, farmers can spend less time and money spraying pesticides to maintain flawless skins.
It also offers orchards a potentially lucrative option for apples that have been damaged by weather and previously would have been sold at a loss or thrown away.
The owner of Stone Ridge, Dan Hauspurg, originally intended to operate the orchard himself when he bought it nearly 15 years ago, investing about $1 million in upgrades, he said. But erratic weather wiped out large swaths of his crop three out of the next six years. Mr. Hauspurg said he explored his own development concept before deciding to sell. The price is currently $1.78 million.
Without hard cider, an orchard can "have a hailstorm ruin 95% of your apples and you have no income that year," said Tim Dressel, who founded Kettleborough Cider House this year on his family's orchard. "Can you think of any other business that operates that way? It's crazy."
The 27-year-old Mr. Dressel is one of several new cider-makers who grew up on orchards and returned to carve out their own piece of the family business.
After learning about the Alliance, Jonathan Hull decided to try expanding a small cider line he had produced since the mid-1990s at Applewood Winery in Warwick, next to his family's orchard. Quickly, he signed a distribution deal and this month his new line, called Naked Flock, will be available in New York City.
"It just seems like lately it's exploding," said Mr. Hull, who started the business with $1,600 in a garage that has become the tasting room. "It's just a dream I couldn't even have imagined a couple of years ago."
—Pervaiz Shallwani contributed to this article.

Inside My Mind

My mind is probably a pretty interesting place. Hard to compare as one person can never see inside the mind of another person, but still, I'm a little bit crazy and that's a good thing.

However, I also agree with this article on the libertarian mind. Rational discussion has always been appealing to me, and the value of "the greatest common good" has been my core value. I believe that value is reached through a protection of freedom.

An individual's personality shapes his or her political ideology at least as much as circumstances, background and influences. That is the gist of a recent strand of psychological research identified especially with the work of Jonathan Haidt. The baffling (to liberals) fact that a large minority of working-class white people vote for conservative candidates is explained by psychological dispositions that override their narrow economic interests.
Leo Acadia
In tests, libertarians displayed less emotion, empathy and disgust than conservatives or liberals.
In his recent book "The Righteous Mind," Dr. Haidt confronted liberal bafflement and made the case that conservatives are motivated by morality just as liberals are, but also by a larger set of moral "tastes"—loyalty, authority and sanctity, in addition to the liberal tastes for compassion and fairness. Studies show that conservatives are more conscientious and sensitive to disgust but less tolerant of change; liberals are more empathic and open to new experiences.
But ideology does not have to be bipolar. It need not fall on a line from conservative to liberal. In a recently published paper, Ravi Iyer from the University of Southern California, together with Dr. Haidt and other researchers at the data-collection platform YourMorals.org, dissect the personalities of those who describe themselves as libertarian.
These are people who often call themselves economically conservative but socially liberal. They like free societies as well as free markets, and they want the government to get out of the bedroom as well as the boardroom. They don't see why, in order to get a small-government president, they have to vote for somebody who is keen on military spending and religion; or to get a tolerant and compassionate society they have to vote for a large and intrusive state.
The study collated the results of 16 personality surveys and experiments completed by nearly 12,000 self-identified libertarians who visited YourMorals.org. The researchers compared the libertarians to tens of thousands of self-identified liberals and conservatives. It was hardly surprising that the team found that libertarians strongly value liberty, especially the "negative liberty" of freedom from interference by others. Given the philosophy of their heroes, from John Locke and John Stuart Mill to Ayn Rand and Ron Paul, it also comes as no surprise that libertarians are also individualistic, stressing the right and the need for people to stand on their own two feet, rather than the duty of others, or government, to care for people.
Perhaps more intriguingly, when libertarians reacted to moral dilemmas and in other tests, they displayed less emotion, less empathy and less disgust than either conservatives or liberals. They appeared to use "cold" calculation to reach utilitarian conclusions about whether (for instance) to save lives by sacrificing fewer lives. They reached correct, rather than intuitive, answers to math and logic problems, and they enjoyed "effortful and thoughtful cognitive tasks" more than others do.
The researchers found that libertarians had the most "masculine" psychological profile, while liberals had the most feminine, and these results held up even when they examined each gender separately, which "may explain why libertarianism appeals to men more than women."
All Americans value liberty, but libertarians seem to value it more. For social conservatives, liberty is often a means to the end of rolling back the welfare state, with its lax morals and redistributive taxation, so liberty can be infringed in the bedroom. For liberals, liberty is a way to extend rights to groups perceived to be oppressed, so liberty can be infringed in the boardroom. But for libertarians, liberty is an end in itself, trumping all other moral values.
Dr. Iyer's conclusion is that libertarians are a distinct species—psychologically as well as politically.

Mapping The World

Apple recently sucked it up when it comes to mapping. I would say that this would cause customers to be pissed off and move away from Apple, but like a gimp in a sadomasochistic romance, Apple customers just seem to love punishment.

However, there is a "new" player in the mapping space - and it turns out they are the original. Win8 might just have found a nice trump card (actually - Microsoft has always known this, and it is one of the reasons they went after Nokia so strongly).

The Forgotten Mapmaker: Nokia Has Better Maps Than Apple and Maybe Even Google

Share120OCT 3 2012, 12:03 PM ET 33
It's impossible to create a perfect map, but that hasn't stopped Nokia from trying. Here, we go inside the company's neverending drive to create a digital copy of the world.
Apple's maps are bad. Even Tim Cook knows this and apologized for them. Google's maps are good, thanks to years of work, massive computing resources, and thousands of people handcorrecting map data. 

But there are more than two horses in the race to create an index of the physical world. There's a third company that's invested billions of dollars, employs thousands of mapmakers, and even drives around its own version of Google's mythic "Street View" cars. 

That company is Nokia, the still-giant but oft-maligned Finnish mobile phone maker, which acquired the geographic information systems company Navteq back in 2007 for $8 billion. That's only a bit less than the Nokia's current market value of a bit less than $10 billion, which is down 93 percent since 2007. This might be bad news for the company's shareholders, but if a certain tech giant with a massive interest in mobile content (Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo) were looking to catch up or stay even with Google, the company's Location & Commerce unit might look like a nice acquisition they could get on the cheap (especially given that the segment lost 1.5 billion euros last year). Microsoft and Yahoo are already thick as thieves with Nokia's mapping crew, but Apple is the company that needs the most help. 

Business considerations aside, I'm fascinated by the process of mapping. What seems like a rather conventional exercise turns out to be the very cutting edge of mixed reality, of translating the human world and logic into databases that computers can use. And the best part is, unlike web crawlers, which were totally automated, indexing the physical world still requires people heading out on the roads and staring at imagery on computers back at the home office. 

As I described last month, Google has spent literally tens of thousands of person-hours creating its maps. I argued that no other company could beat Google at this game, which turned out to be my most controversial assertion. People pointed out that while Google's driven 5 million miles in Street View cars, UPS drives 3.3 billion miles a year. Whoever had access to these other datasets might be in the mapping (cough) driver's seat. 

Well, it turns out that Nokia is the company that receives the GPS data from both FedEx and UPS, the company's senior VP of Location Content, Cliff Fox, told me.

"We get over 12 billion probe data points per month coming into the organization," Fox said from his office in Chicago. "We get probe data not only from commercial vehicles like FedEx and UPS trucks, but we also get it from consumers through navigation applications." 
Depending on the device type, the data that streams into Nokia can have slight variations. 
"The system that they have for tracking the UPS trucks is different from the way the maps application works on the Nokia device. You'll have differences on the amount of times per minute they ping their location, though typically it's every 5 to 15 seconds," Fox said. "It'll give you a location, a direction, and a speed as well." 
They can then use that data to identify new or changed roads. In 2012, they've used the GPS data they get to identify 65,000 road segments. (A road segment is defined as the strip of surface between intersecting roads.) The GPS data also comes in handy when they're building traffic maps because they know the velocity of the vehicles. 
(Fascinatingly, one of their consumer privacy protections is to black out every other 30 seconds of tracking information so that the company can't say "that a particular individual traveled a particular route.")

In the future, Nokia may be able to extract as many as 30 other attributes from the GPS probe data alone. "That kind of data can help us keep the map more current without having people go out and drive," Fox said. 
But for now, as with Google's map data "operators," there is still no better option for gathering data about the physical world than putting a human being in a car and sending him or her through the streets of the world. 
* * *
Meet Tony Cha. He's a world crawler, a driver of one of Nokia's "True" vehicles. He's spent roughly three years on the road, moving from city to city in a modded car that the company's Chief Technology Officer, Henry Tirri, called "a data collection miracle." Cha tells me, "You could be gone for months at a time if you're mapping a big city back east. I live from a hotel. It's good and bad. You don't see your friends and family, but the company is expensing your travel." He's lucky right now. His hometown of Fresno is his latest collection area. It'll take a month of driving eight or nine hours a day to complete that city. And then it'll be on to the next location in Tony Cha's Neverending Drive. 
"It's kind of surreal. You think, 'You drove every single street in this city,'" Cha told me. "There are multiple cities where I drove every single street." 
The camera cars work best in dry, temperate conditions, so there's even a seasonality to the job. The drivers do northern cities in the summer and then the fleet moves south during the winter. Cha gets to follow the good weather. 
Within cities, his route is planned by an algorithm that has determined the most efficient way to cover every road on the map. It's flexible and can accommodate mistakes, but the system "has a specific route it wants you to drive," he said. He drives for the duration of a work day, then heads to his hotel. The next day, when it's time to start again, he returns to where he left off and starts again. "I'm almost robotic, in a sense," he said.
Along the way, he's seen his fair share of weird reactions to the car. Some people see it and come rushing out of their businesses, so they can be photographed outside. Others flip him the bird. "It doesn't really bother me," Cha said.
The car is not inconspicuous. Rising out of the roof, there is a tower of components stacked on top of one another. It folds down for travel, but deployed, it's probably six feet tall. 
The Volkswagen is stocked with $200,000 worth of equipment (that's Fox's number) including six cameras for capturing street signs, a panoramic camera for doing Bing Street View imagery, two GPS antennae (one on the wheel, the other on the roof), three laptops, and the crown jewel -- a LIDAR system that shoots 64 lasers 360 degrees around the car to create 3D images of the landscape the car passes through.
Detail of the TRUE car's roof equipment: 1. The sign camera. 2. LIDAR system. 3. Panoramic imager.
There is so much data feeding from the roof of the car into its interior that the bundle of cables alone looks like a tank tread. The LIDAR, when it's switched on, rotates around and emits a high-pitched whine that would probably drive you crazy if someone piped it into your headphones. 
The LIDAR is useful for a whole bunch of things, especially when used in combination with the other imagery data. Nokia takes the 1.3 million point measurements per second* that the LIDAR outputs and combines them into what amounts to a wireframe of the street. Then, they drape the imagery they've taken with the other cameras on top of that to create a digital representation of a place. Here's what the process looks like for a spot in Regensberg, Germany, the Agilolfing Tower. 
The GIF format reduces the number of colors and detail that the actual cameras have. This is what the actual end product looks like. Feel to click to see a high resolution version.
Once they've got a digital representation of a place like this put together, they can do all kinds of data extractions from the images. As you can see in the GIF above, they can determine the height and length of the bridge, reading the physical world itself. And they can decipher human signs that provide valuable clues about the road network. Nokia can extract 100 different types of road signs in 13 different countries automatically. That said, the process is still only about 25 percent automated with a goal of getting to 50 percent; they don't think it'll be possible to do much better than that.

* * *
The biggest mapping problem -- the thing that makes Tony Cha's Neverending Drive necessary -- is not dimensions one through three, but number four. The world changes in time. 
"To build it the first time is relatively the smaller task compared to maintaining that map," Nokia's Fox said.

It's like that semi-true urban legend about painting the Golden Gate Bridge. They say that they start at one end and by the time they're done, the spot where they started needs to be repainted. It's a maintenance loop from which you can't escape. And it means there is no perfect map. Most maps aren't even 99 percent accurate, the number that Apple's been tossing around
"I'd be shocked [if Apple had 99% accuracy]," Fox commented. "You have real world change. From the time you collect to the time it ends up in a consumer's hands, there will be more than one-percent change."
In fact, there might be much more than one percent change, depending on the region. Jacksonville, which isn't changing much, Nokia "added, modified or deleted geometry" about 6 percent of the road network. In Houston, which is growing more quickly, there were changes to 13 percent of the network. And if we're talking about Delhi, there were edits to 85 percent of their database. 
Now, lived experience tells you that the paths of roads don't change five or ten percent every year. Many of the changes in the map database are behind the scenes, in the logic of how a road network works or in more subtle data.
"We capture up to 400 pieces of information for every road segment. It could be information about all of the signage, whether or not it is divided road, the number of lanes, where the lanes constrict or expand," Fox said. "There is just an enormous amount of information. When I'm talking about percentage change, it could be the speed limit or the names that change on specific roads. It's a never-ending process of understanding the dynamic nature of changes on these road networks."
Nokia has a concept they call "The Living Map." The idea is that as people use the maps -- and related location services -- the map starts to know what you're looking for. Searched for Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco? Perhaps you'd like to know which Oakland places serve Blue Bottle, too. And bit by bit, you wear tiny little grooves into this giant 3D representation of the entire world, connecting the places that you love together into a new layer that sits on top of all the road network data and Tony Cha's drives and the LIDAR wireframes. The map will come to life, and you will be in it. 
While Cha and I were talking, an unshaven guy in a v-neck t-shirt and sweats walked by and started peppering us with questions. "Do you only come out when it's a blue sky day?" "Does Apple have street view?" "Can the camera articulate on your rack?" "So you're directed by software?" This is not uncommon. 
Then, out of nowhere, the passerby said, "We're so close to the day when you can put on VR goggles and literally just walk through the world, anywhere in the world."
Yes, basically that is the idea: A map of the world that is also a copy of the world.