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.

Argument: we’ve sacrificed everything for McMansions

Critics of McMansions are not hard to find but Thomas Frank takes the argument further: McMansions are behind a whole host of issues including sprawl and inequality.

Of course there was something different this time around. In the 2008 collapse, the real-estate bust wasn’t the result of some larger economic trend but the cause of it. Although we are accustomed to blaming it all on subprime loans, about half of the disaster was attributable to the less-well-known fiasco in Alt-A instruments which fed the McMansion market, the “liar’s loans” which were securitized and sold off stamped with a big Triple-A. The worst recession of our lifetimes, in other words, was in large part the result of our superiors’ longing to get themselves a piece of the grandiose.

That astounding reversal of the usual chain of cause and effect changed the way I thought about the McMansion. I once believed it would be amusing to track stylistic change in the tract-mansion form—how, say, the fake French simplicity of Newt Gingrich’s 1987 McMansion gave way to the complex multigabled fakery of Michele Bachmann’s 2007 McMansion, with maybe a stop in between to contemplate Ricky Bobby’s McMansion in “Talladega Nights.”

But what I discovered is that the form doesn’t really change. Yes, the houses get bigger every year, gables and gazebos come and go, but what is really striking about the McMansion is its vapid consistency as the decades pass…

This is not some absurdity at the fringe of our way of life. This is civilization’s very center, the only thing that really makes sense in “clusterfuck nation,” the tawdry telos at which all our economic policies aim. Everything we do seems designed to make this thing possible. Cities must sprawl to accommodate its bulk, eight-lane roads must be constructed, gasoline must be kept cheap, coal must be hauled in from Wyoming on mile-long trains. Middle-class taxes must be higher to make up for the deductions given to McMansion owners, lending standards must be diluted so more suckers can purchase them, banks must be propped up, bonuses must go out, stock prices must ascend. Every one of us must work ever longer hours so that this millionaire’s folly can remain viable, can be sold successfully to the next one on the list. This stupendous, staring banality is the final outcome for which we have sacrificed everything else.

This is a strong statement: we created and generally buy into a system whose goal is to grant a privileged few the ability to live in private McMansions in nice neighborhoods. The fulfillment of the American Dream at the turn of the 21st century involves living in a McMansion. It is not just about suburbs, 0wning a car, buying cheap goods at Walmart, and sending your kids to nice schools; it is about having the glitzy, architecturally-dubious but spacious home.

What I don’t see in Frank’s piece is how exactly the dots connect. The number of McMansions are still relatively limited due to their cost. Not all gated communities have McMansions. Not all suburbs are edge cities or vacuous tract neighborhoods like the ones highlighted in Suburban Nation. I’d like to see the data where half of the housing bubble of the late 2000s was due to loans for McMansions. In other words, this may be a populist argument today given the status of McMansions but the true story is likely more complicated.

Crossword puzzle answer for “McMansion’s storage”?

I ran across this interesting crossword puzzle clue: McMansion’s storage.

The supposed answer: ThreeCarGarage.

That is a rather long answer for a crossword clue. There also could also be other possible answers. WalkinClosets? ExtraRooms? SecondGreatRoom? For those McMansions with oversized garages, just how many people use that for their main source of storage? Since one of the key features of a McMansion is its large square footage, I imagine there is plenty of storage space available elsewhere.

Just a note on how many American homes have three-car garages. This is from the Census Bureau regarding new homes in 2012:

Of the 368,000 single-family homes sold in 2012…259,000 had 2-car garages, whereas 76,000 had garages for three cars or more.

This is a slight uptick from 2009 new homes:

17% of new single-family homes sold in the U.S. had a 3-or-more-car garage. In the Midwest 34% of the new homes sold had a 3-or-more car garage.

This is probably due to more of the new housing market catering to wealthier buyers.

Putin claims actions in Crimera based on sociological polls

Did sociology surveys provide cover for Vladimir Putin to incorporate Crimea? Here is one source:

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the final decision on the inclusion of Crimea and Sevastopol into Russia was made in regards to a sociological poll conducted in Crimea.

And another source:

“Russia did not prepare to incorporate Crimea, the decision on the republic’s accession to Russia was made only after data were received about the mood of local residents”, President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with activists of the All-Russian People’s Front on Thursday…

The Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, a city with a special status on the Crimean Peninsula, where most residents are Russians, signed reunification deals with Russia on March 18 after a referendum two days earlier in which an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.

While the international community is not likely to accept this reasoning, it does highlight an interesting issue: what happens when surveys show that people in one country would prefer to be in another? What then happens to national boundaries if there is strong public opinion to leave the current country? Perhaps the big difference here is that the people of Crimea didn’t revolt against Ukraine and seek to join Russia; Putin stepped in and pushed for this. But, there are likely lots of people groups in the world who might prefer to have their own country or to leave their current nation.

Another question might be regarding how this survey was conducted. I vaguely remember hearing similar figures that many in eastern Ukraine consider themselves to be Russian rather than Ukrainian while figures in the western side of the country were nearly opposite. How good are these sociological results?

In new homes, American homebuyers want quality, space, and to disconnect

A large online survey of homebuyers reveal several big things they are looking for in a new home:

Again and again, they told us they were looking for quality more than quantity, and they said that, even when they were looking for a larger home than the one they currently have. One major attitude that was apparent was this huge desire to disconnect when they come home.

This seemed to show up in their interest in a house with an indoor-outdoor connection, where they could entertain and move easily from kitchen to the outdoors. Another way it showed up is, well, I’m not saying that anyone should disconnect their wireless (service), but this expressed need to disconnect suggests a huge trend for making the master bath feel more like a spa. Builders have to ask themselves, how do we help them disconnect from stress every day? Consumers told us they love a big shower but don’t lose the tub. We asked, “But will you use the tub?” and they said, “Um, maybe not much.” But they want it to be there — 65 percent said they still want a tub in the master bath.

Q: Isn’t that also sort of the way they feel about the dining room — that room that builders have said for years that nobody wants or needs any more?

A: They still want a formal dining room. They want their holiday dinners where they can expand out to 10 or 12 people. A lot of builders have been building houses with just a great room (that could accommodate a large dining table), but 59 percent want a great room and one or two more formal spaces.

The quality and space concerns are not too surprising: they likely want lasting homes that will retain their value and are looking to upgrade to a bigger home. More interesting to me was this desire to disconnect, to feel like their home offers a respite from the outside world. This was one of the impulses behind the separation of work and home life in the modern era: as the world industrialized and cities grew, people started viewing homes as refuges. This put more emphasis on the single-family home as well as on the nuclear family, promoting more private lives. While these private lives have been criticized from a range of people who don’t like the drop-off in community life or the lack of civic engagement (ranging from Bowling Alone to New Urbanists), this desire for private retreats still appears to hold true. What the retreat might look like could take multiple forms – from the room centered on the giant TV to a spa-like bathroom to a backyard oasis to a man-cave – but the money goes toward making sure residents can put off the outside world just a little longer.

Only 56% of Twitter accounts have ever sent a tweet

There are over 900 million Twitter accounts but not everyone is actually sending tweets:

A report from Twopcharts, a website that monitors Twitter account activity, states that about 44% of the 974 million existing Twitter accounts have never sent a tweet…

Twitter said it has 241 million monthly active users the last three months of 2013. Twitter defines a monthly active user as an account that logs in at least once a month. By Twitter’s standards, a person does not have to tweet to be considered a monthly active user…

But having engaged users–those who are active participants in the online conversation–are particularly valuable to Twitter. For one thing, activity tends to make users more inclined to continue using the service.

Secondly, user tweets, retweets, favorites and other actions help Twitter generate advertising revenue. Over the last year, the company has made it easier for users to do those things and introduced user-friendly features such as pictures into the timeline…

Moreover, the report highlights Twitter’s user retention issue. It estimates 542.1 million accounts have sent at least one tweet since they’ve been created, suggesting that more than half of the accounts in existence have actively tried out the service. But just 23% of those accounts have tweeted sometime in the last 30 days.

And how many of these accounts are fake?

All together, the number of people actively using Twitter – meaning they are tweeting themselves, retweeting, interacting with others – is still limited. If you read a lot of Internet stories from journalists and bloggers, it sounds like lots of people are on Twitter doing important things. But, these users are likely a limited part of the population: more educated, have regular access to smartphones and Internet connections, younger. This doesn’t mean Twitter is worthless but it does suggest it is not exactly representative of Americans.

Research shows new mothers are less active on Facebook, aren’t flooding news feeds with babies

A researcher finds that new mothers are quite a bit less active on Facebook after their children are born:

Recently, Meredith Ringel Morris—a computer scientist at Microsoft Research—gathered data on what new moms actually do online. She persuaded more than 200 of them to let her scrape their Facebook accounts and found the precise opposite of the UnBaby.Me libel. After a child is born, Morris discovered, new mothers post less than half as often. When they do post, fewer than 30 percent of the updates mention the baby by name early on, plummeting to not quite 10 percent by the end of the first year. Photos grow as a chunk of all postings, sure—but since new moms are so much less active on Facebook, it hardly matters. New moms aren’t oversharers. Indeed, they’re probably undersharers. “The total quantity of Facebook posting is lower,” Morris says.

And therein lies an interesting lesson about our supposed age of oversharing. If new moms don’t actually deluge the Internet with baby talk, why does it seem to so many of us that they do? Morris thinks algorithms explain some of it. Her research also found that viewers disproportionately “like” postings that mention new babies. This, she says, could result in Facebook ranking those postings more prominently in the News Feed, making mothers look more baby-obsessed.

And a reminder of how we could see beyond our personal experiences and anecdotes and look at the bigger picture:

I have another theory: It’s a perceptual quirk called a frequency illusion. Once we notice something that annoys or surprises or pleases us—or something that’s just novel—we tend to suddenly notice it more. We overweight its frequency in everyday life. For instance, if you’ve decided that fedoras are a ridiculous hipster fashion choice, even if they’re comparatively rare in everyday life, you’re more likely to notice them. And pretty soon you’re wondering, why is everyone wearing fedoras now? Curse you, hipsters!…

The way we observe the world is deeply unstatistical, which is why Morris’ work is so useful. It reminds us of the value of observing the world around us like a scientist—to see what’s actually going on instead of what just happens to gall (or please) us. I’d hazard that perceptual illusions lead us to overamplify the incidence of all sorts of ostensibly annoying behavior: selfies on Instagram, people ignoring one another in favor of their phones, Google Glass. We don’t have a plague of oversharing. We have a plague of over-noticing. It’s time to reboot our eyes.

This study suggests the mothers themselves are not at fault but the flip side of this study would seem to be to then study the news feeds of friends of new mothers to see how often these pictures and posts show up (and how algorithms might be pushing this). And who are the people more likely to like such posts and pictures? This study may have revealed the supply side of the equation but there is more to explore.

More sprawl = more Republicans

Richard Florida summarizes research that shows cities with more sprawl have more Republicans:

Hickory, a small industrial city in western North Carolina, lies within the state’s 10th congressional district, one that the Washington Post has called “one of the most Republican in the nation.” Its representative, Congressman Patrick McHenry, proudly boasts that, on family values issues, he is tied for the “most conservative voting record in Congress.”

Last week, Hickory topped another list. Researchers at Smart Growth America named the metro it anchors (Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, population 350,000) the most sprawling in the country (PDF). At the other extreme, the metros topping the list of “most compact” are also some of the country’s true blue strongholds, with New York and San Francisco ranking as the two most “compact metros” in America.

These two sets of metros reflect a more pervasive pattern. In recent decades, America’s politics have exhibited a new trend, where Red America finds its home base in some of the country’s most sprawling places, while Blue America is centered in denser, more compact metros and cities…

Researchers have identified a tipping point of roughly 800 people per square mile where counties shift from Red to Blue, as I noted in the weeks following Barack Obama’s reelection. Princeton historian Kevin Kruse similarly explained this spatial link between a spread-out landscape and Republican political positions to the New Republic. “There are certain things in which the physical nature of a city, the fact the people are piled on top of each other, requires some notion of the public good,” he said. “Conservative ideology works beautifully in the suburbs, because it makes sense spatially.”

While I’m not sure Florida’s correlations that are strong, his arguments are in line with other researchers who have uncovered this pattern in recent decades. But, the data could be even more fine-grained than just comparing metro areas (which have varying degrees of sprawl within them): dense cities are more Democrat, exurbs are more Republican, and the parties are fighting over middle-suburb residents, places that may have been more traditional suburbs but have recently experienced more demographic and economic change.

Fund the Squeezable Skyline toy

Plush toys often involve animals but one set of guys have embarked on a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to make Squeezable Skyline toys:

Instead of creating an Etsy store to sell their adorable plush-sized versions of famous skyscrapers, these dudes are going the Kickstarter route and attempting to raise $25,000 to fund the production of its Squeezable Skyline toys. As a part of its first lineup, the Chicago-based company wants to sell plush versions of the Willis Sears Tower and the Empire State Building. Up next (if enough funding is raised) will be the John Hancock Center. The toys are definitely cute, and any architecture nerd would love to gift one to their toddler, but is this an idea worth $25,000? The team has nearly a month left and have already raised about $4,000 from 67 backers, so it’s looking like they’ll definitely have a shot.

It would be interesting to watch kids interact with these toys. Would they quickly anthropomorphize a building? What would they have the building do? Are buildings huggable (or is this more related to the softness than the form)?

The design also does some interesting things with the straight lines that often mark the tallest skyscrapers. As a plush toy, the buildings now have slightly skewed bearing, like they were drawn in a cartoon style.

Fighting the “King of McMansions”

Some well-known residents of Southampton Village, New York are opposed to plans for a new big house proposed by the “King of McMansions:”

What do commodities trader John Paulson, real estate tycoon Harrison LeFrak, CNN morning news show co-anchor Christopher Cuomo, and  President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s granddaughter Anne Eisenhower have in common?

They share an opposition to the “Farrelization” of their neighborhood in historic Southampton Village, where Joe Farrell has proposed building a 5,531 square foot house on a 1.2 acre parcel on Hill Street according to an article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.

Dubbed “King of McMansions,” Farrell, who was profiled last summer in The New York Times is described as being “a local version of Donald Trump, without the history of debt, the lush hair or the insults.”

Mr. Paulson, Mr. LeFrak, Mr. Cuomo,  and Ms. Eisenhower are just a few of the 85 names who penned letters to a local village review board. The letter writers variously objected to “the size, scale, scope and ‘visual incompatibility’ of a speculative home” proposed for the vacant lot at 483 Hill Street—a neighborhood where ” nearly a dozen nearby residences are more than a century old and roughly half or a third the size.”

And who is this King of McMansions? A developer of big homes in the Hamptons:

But there is no surer sign that the big-spending ways that characterized the pre-financial crisis era have returned to the Hamptons than the blue “Farrell Building” signs multiplying across the pristine landscape here, along with the multimillion-dollar houses they advertise. It is a process some are calling “Farrellization,” and not necessarily happily.

“We’re as busy as we’ve ever been,” said Joe Farrell, the president of Farrell Building, during a recent interview and tour of his $43 million, 17,000-square-foot home here. The estate, called the Sandcastle, features two bowling lanes, a skate ramp, onyx window frames and, just for fun, an A.T.M. regularly restocked with $20,000 in $10 bills…

With a customer base composed largely of Wall Street financiers, Mr. Farrell has more than 20 new homes under construction, or slated for construction, at a time, making him the biggest builder here by far. He has plans for more, many of them speculative homes built before they have buyers.

Some of the biggest controversies about McMansions seem to take place in areas where residents have plenty of money. It is one thing when a teardown McMansion is constructed in an older neighborhood and less wealthy residents are pushed out as the housing stock becomes newer and more expensive. (At the same time, an influx of new big homes could also raise property values and give some options to cash out.) But, this is an example where everyone is pretty well off and it is more about the character of the neighborhood. Perhaps it is about old money versus new money, that an outsider is coming in with new plans and disturbing an area that others paid big money to buy into.

The “King of McMansions” is going to be a negative term for many people yet it also implies a level of success. I haven’t seen too many individuals tagged with such terms and even companies like Toll Brothers who were well-known for building McMansions didn’t necessarily acquire such monikers.