Liechtenstein losing the equivalent of a McMansion

The Wall Street Journal notes how the small country of Liechtenstein just got a little smaller, about the size of a McMansion.

Last month, Liechtenstein’s government said it altered its official map, part of a move to a more precise, satellite-based surveying system. The result: Bits and pieces amounting to about a quarter of an acre disappeared.

The land, cumulatively big enough for a McMansion, didn’t abruptly leave anyone living in a new country. So locals viewed the tweak as little more than a curious result of advancing technology…

The lost territory, which only shows up on the most precise technical maps, might have singed national pride or prompted a call to arms in some places. Not in Liechtenstein, a country of roughly 37,000 people who relish their homeland’s diminutive stature the way Texans prize enormousness.

This could lead to some discussions of how more precise mapping leads to boundaries changes like this. But, the comparison to a McMansion is more interesting here. If you had to make a size comparison, why choose a McMansion? The article notes that land lost was about a quarter of an acre. This is about 11,000 square feet. Is the suggestion that this is a typical lot size for a McMansion? One definition of a McMansion is a big house squeezed into a small lot such that the house dominates the lot. Is a McMansion too big for this space? Or, is a quarter-acre lot enough space for some lawn and a McMansion? McMansions themselves aren’t typically 11,000 square feet.

Statistics for new homes in 2012, averaging 2,505 square feet, suggest the average new home was built on a 15,634 square foot lot. Perhaps the better comparison in this article might have been this: the amount of area lost by Liechtenstein was less roughly 66% of the size of an average new house lot in the United States.

When hating McMansions becomes part of a local identity

A BuzzFeed quiz about Bergen County, New Jersey suggests hating McMansions is a mark of local identity:

A new quiz posted on BuzzFeed tests takers’ Bergen County-ness, using malls, spray tanning, and wealth as some of the metrics. The quiz asks BuzzFeed readers to identify which things they’ve done before to see just how Bergen County they are.

Some of the indicators include whether or not you live within 10 minutes of more than two malls, know someone who got her nails done regularly in high school, hate McMansions, and know people who wear Juicy track suits and Tiffany charm bracelets.

Sure, it is an online quiz but this seems to be a popular means these days for establishing, or at least broadcasting, identity. The choice of McMansions as a critical marker is interesting because presumably it means there must be a decent number of them in Bergen County. After all, this is New Jersey, a place that has a lot of suburbs between Philadelphia and New York City. Are the McMansion residents not really Bergen Countiers? Is it fair to presume they are all outsiders chasing cheaper and bigger homes? This particular question sounds more like a means to differentiate between long-term residents of the county versus newer residents who moved into newer subdivisions. This sort of long-time resident versus newcomer has a long history in suburban areas, particularly in places that settlements long before post-World War II suburbanization.

Breaking Madden: tweaking the game to have the most unequal outcome

I’m a latecomer to the Breaking Madden series but here is what happens when you tweak the game to pit the two most unequal teams together on the same field:

I released every member of the Seahawks and Broncos that I possibly could, and replaced them with a total of 82 players I created…

Imagine also that this player is seven feet tall and 400 pounds heavy, and that there is no stronger, smarter, faster, or more skilled football player on the planet.

Now imagine 41 of them. In previous editions of Breaking Madden, I’ve made a small handful of these sorts of players — maybe one, or three, or five. Never 41…

In just about every way, these Broncos are the anti-Seahawks. They are as short (five feet tall) and light (160 pounds) as the game would allow me to make them. In every single skills category — Speed, Strength, Awareness, Toughness, and dozens of others — I assigned each of them the lowest rating possible…

I could not continue. My heart wouldn’t let me. I used the simulation feature to speed up the game to the end. I relinquished my ambitions of a 1,500-point game. Seahawks 255, Broncos 0. The machine and I agreed upon the final score.

The visuals are priceless: a team of giants overwhelming the team of scrawny players with the game just giving up at the end. I’ve never seen anything like it in my years of playing Madden football.

The premise of the project is interesting as well: just how much can the average video game be tweaked by the user to create different outcomes? I would count a lot of the newer games that have open maps and numerous playable characters as ones that can be tweaked a lot. Yet, there are still plenty of games that have you follow a fairly strict script. Both can be enjoyable but the autonomy of the gamer is quite different.

One thing I’ve always liked about sports games – and sports in general – is that the outcomes are somewhat unpredictable. Sure, there does come a point where the gamer reaches a skill level that overwhelms the computer every time but then you can set new goals: start a career team from scratch, play with some sort of handicap, or move up a difficulty level. This has been my recent quest: move up the ranks of English soccer in FIFA 2012 with Oxford United. At some point, the game can still be too easy or repetitive – this was the curse of earlier sports games when certain plays or players could just dominate – but playing a game within a game usually insures some flexibility.

Analysis of the non-fatal gunshot social network in Chicago

Sociologist Andrew Papachristos has a recent paper looking at the social networks involved in non-fatal gunshots in Chicago:

Papachristos constructs a social network—not a virtual one in the Facebook sense, but a real one of social connections between people—by looking at arrestees who have been arrested together. That turns out to be a lot of people in raw numbers, almost 170,000 people with a “co-offending tie” to one another, with an average age of 25.7 years, 78.6 percent male and 69.5 percent black. It’s also a large percentage of all the individuals arrested: 40 percent of all the individuals arrested during that period.Within the entire group, the largest component of that whole co-offender group has 107,740 people.

Within the timeframe—from 2006 to 2010—70 percent of all shootings in Chicago, or about 7,500 out of over 10,000, are contained within all the co-offending networks. And 89 percent of those shootings are within the largest component.

Or, to put another way: the rate of gunshot victimization (nonfatal + fatal) in Chicago is 62.1 per 100k. Within a co-offending network, it’s 740.5—more than 10 times higher.

This sounds very similar to his research on murders: being part of a particular social network dramatically increases the risk of being part of a shooting. One implication is gun crime in Chicago isn’t simply about being in a disadvantaged neighborhood or in the wrong place at the wrong time; it is about how you are tied to other people.

The article goes on to an interesting interview where Papachristos talks about data issues (collecting the right data, being able to put it into network form) and translating findings such as these into policy choices.

Piling on to the argument we’ve sacrificed everything for McMansions

Going through Thomas Frank’s recent argument that we’ve sacrificed quite a bit for some to have McMansions, one Co.Design writer adds a few choice phrases about McMansions:

The soul of the McMansion is as ugly as its faux-classical facade…

The result? Sprawling suburbs made to accommodate larger and larger homes that tend to be a ugly mishmash of architectural sensibilities. McMansions present a unique design challenge that, sadly, is rarely overcome with dignity…

There’s a domino effect that has profoundly affected the way all of America lives to accommodate the desires of those wealthy enough to afford such gargantuan and opulent residences…

Long live our McMansion overlords.

Think there are any redeeming qualities in McMansions? While Frank emphasized the economic sacrifices and conditions necessary for McMansions (financing sprawl, cheap mortgages, wealth funneled to the well-off), this argument relies on a common McMansion critique: they are lacking in architectural quality and design. The subtitle to the article sums this up: “Hideous houses are ruining America.” Is the bigger problem their lack of soul and architectural authenticity or the system that exists to make McMansions possible for the relative few? I side with Frank on this one.

Own a houseboat or RV rather than a McMansion

Instead of building a waterfront McMansion with a boat slip, buy a boat or a RV instead:

But once in the channel, you see a new vista: On the north side there are at least a half-dozen, arrow-straight canals lined with houses. Most of the houses are large, but few are McMansions. Most have docks for their boat, or boats. And most are worth at least $1 million, not counting their nautical toys. If you’ve got the money, owning one of these places would be the start of a great retirement…

So let’s ask a question: Is there a reasonable substitute? Is there a way we can have the same kind of experiences of water, nature and easy living without the very large financial footprint of an expensive house with its monthly operating costs and taxes?…

Take the boat I chartered. At 33 feet, a couple could live on the San Souci. The cost: Maybe $25,000 for the used boat and about $600 a month for the rental slip. A larger powerboat would have more room and wider appeal. The slip for a 36-foot Grand Banks trawler is about $700 a month. You can buy them used for under $100,000. Keep the diesel engine in good shape and you can relocate at will…

Is living on a boat too eccentric for you? Not to worry. Walk up the street and try an RV. The Seabreeze RV and Mobile Home Park is less than a half-mile from Treasure Harbor Marina. Its 7.5 acres are right on the ocean — something you can’t get in a canal home that costs a mere million. Some of the RVs and park models are on the water. (Park models are RVs built to travel just once. They look like beach cabins.) And you can dock your fishing boat on site.

The RV or boat certainly offers less space and lower financial commitment compared to a McMansion. At the same time, McMansions tend to offer some land, a lot more space, and usually a facade intended to impress visitors.

Perhaps one of the biggest issues here is less about the size or financial commitment but about mobility. McMansions can’t really be moved, regardless of their price. In contrast, RVs, boats, and many tiny houses can be moved rather quickly. Mobility allows the owner to move to chase jobs. Mobility allows for a change of scenery – perhaps someone doesn’t want to live along the water forever. Of course, all three options require somewhere to park the habitat and this can cost a decent sum of money. But, if you don’t like the deal or financial circumstances change, the move is relatively easy compared to selling and buying a house.

“25 Lessons You’ll Learn From a McMansion”

One contributer to MyOldHouseOnline.com finds humor in things you can learn from a McMansion:

1) The builders did not have all the answers.  Sometimes, they didn’t understand any of the questions.  Feel free to display bewilderment and dismay at their cluelessness.

2)  When you find a light or window in an inexplicable location or missing where one should decidedly be, refer to lesson #1.

3) Four words: What Were They Thinking?

4) McMansion owners can be the best-dressed people at the party.  But when the party is at their house, try not to stare, point, or snicker…

The main joke here appears to be that McMansions are not built that well. Hence, be prepared to find lots of things to fix or to have to make major changes to poor decisions by builders.

Look for glow-in-the-dark roads

Lights along roads can cost quite a bit of money so why not use glow-in-the-dark road markings?

Light-absorbing glow-in-the-dark road markings have replaced streetlights on a 500m stretch of highway in the Netherlands…

One Netherlands news report said, ”It looks like you are driving through a fairytale,” which pretty much sums up this extraordinary project. The design studio like to bring technology and design to the real world, with practical and beautiful results…

Part of that vision included weather markings — snowdrops, for instance, would appear when the temperature reached a certain level. For now though, the 500m stretch of the N329 highway in Oss features only the glow-in-the-dark road markings, created using a photo-luminescent powder integrated into the road paint, developed in conjunction with road construction company Heijmans.

Roosegaarde told Wired.co.uk Heijmans had managed to take its luminescence to the extreme — “it’s almost radioactive”, said Roosegaarde. You can get some sense of that in this embedded tweet, which appears to show three stripes of varying shades of radioactive green along both the highway’s edges.

Sounds pretty interesting, particularly if the markings can last long-term. I suggested something like this a few months ago to combat the issue of snow covering lines in parking lots.

Sociologist asks why people of Westeros haven’t had an Industrial Revolution

Westeros is consumed by the Game of Thrones but may be missing something else: an Industrial Revolution.

For Dr Peter Antonioni, from University College London, the key puzzle posed by the return to screens this week of the phenomenally popular fantasy series is quite why the people of Westeros have not had an industrial revolution.

Alas, the rest of the story is behind a subscriber wall. Perhaps they are too often stuck in battles that drain their limited resources. Once you get past the first few books, everyone is struggling: the kingdoms can’t raise much more money for troops, the countryside isn’t providing much food, and the average people are scrounging for food. And since these major skirmishes take place every generation or two, there isn’t much time to stockpile needed goods.

Keep scrolling for the chart that shows how deep in the ocean MH370′s may be

Richard Deitsch highlights this chart showing the possible depth of MH370′s black box. I’m not copying it here because it is one long chart.

Two things the chart does well:

1. On the way down to 15,000 feet, it shows relative heights and depths of other objects. Buildings don’t even come close and animal life is limited.

2. The effect of continued scrolling highlights just how deep the black box may be. The chart could have shrunk to fit the screen or a typical newspaper page but it would then lose the interactive element of going down more and more.