The Null Device

2006/5/18

In light of Google Maps launching their Australasian coverage, I am of the opinion that one geographical innovation Australia could do with is street-level post codes.

If one thinks of postcodes as merely a bit of stuff you write on a letter to help the postman, it may not seem like such a big deal. Though once postcodes are seen in a broader context, as coordinates optimised for specifying how to get to a location, they really come into their own. A 4-digit Australian postcode gives a few square kilometers of urban area, or several times that in the outback. A 6-7 character British postcode, however, can home in on a street or a segment of a street, down to a few dozen houses. Type in a postcode like "NW6 7JR" into Google Maps and you'll get a map showing you where your destination is; enter it into something like the Transport for London Journey Planner, and it has enough information to determine an optimal route for getting to the location in question, getting you close enough to find your destination without any further help. Because the postcode is a code in a very specific format, there is no need for guesswork, address parsing, or the computer asking you to select which location you meant from a list of alternatives.

I modestly propose that Australia would benefit from street level postcodes. The increased efficiency in mail delivery would save the Post Office money, and the streamlining of computer-based navigation technologies would boost the increasingly high-tech, high-speed economy, not to mention provide a valuable public utility. One could possibly even make an environmental argument for finer-grained postcodes, that in optimising navigation, they would reduce the amount of fuel used and pollution emitted. The street-level information could be added on as a suffix to existing postcodes, much in the way ZIP+4 was added to US ZIP codes in 1983, and could consist of an alphanumeric suffix. For example, a segment of a street in Fitzroy could be designated by something that looks like 3065-AB3. (They could also be purely numeric, though alphanumeric suffixes would allow for more information in fewer characters, and keeping the total length to 7 characters or less (as per The Magical Number Seven +/- 2, this being the capacity of human immediate memory) Punch that into a website or mobile phone application and you can get detailed instructions on how to get to your desired location.

Of course, proposing such a scheme is one thing, and getting bureaucrats, politicians and various vested interests to run with it is another, so one probably shouldn't hold one's breath.

And if it never happens, we could always move to a purely latitude/longitude-based coding system like the Natural Area Coding System. The problem with that is that, being purely physical, it does not take into account local geographical features, such as whether two points are adjacent houses on a street or houses in two streets only reachable by a long detour.

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Google Maps has added Australia. (And New Zealand as well, while they were in the neighbourhood.) It looks like a fairly comprehensive map covering the entirety of the vast country, from the major cities to small country towns and rural roads. Interestingly enough, their Australian maps actually show property boundaries in grey; perhaps a lot of the data comes from land titles databases? There don't seem to be any discontinuities along state borders, of the sorts that happen on the borders of European countries, so presumably the data is fairly uniform across Australia.

There is not yet a maps.google.com.au, and searches for Australian locations yield little ("melbourne australia" will get you on the right page, though anything below that, like, say, "northcote australia", a street name or a post code, draws a blank), though if you go to the US, UK or Japanese site and drag, you can get to the wide brown land with green bits around the edges.

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A recent paper, A Corpus-based Approach to Finding Happiness (PDF) attempts to find a recipe for happiness, through the analysis of words in mood-tagged LiveJournal posts:

Our study is based on a collection of blogposts from LiveJournal.com, annotated with happy and sad moods. Every blog community practices a different genre of writing√Ę from our experience, LiveJournal.com blogs more closely recount the goings-on and happenstance of everyday life than any other blog community
The study looked at both words and posting times, and used Bayesian techniques to find patterns, and compared the findings against a similar word ranking named ANEW, based on clinical studies, coming up with some interesting (and sometimes surprising) conclusions:
For instance, a topic that is often talked about in relation to happiness is love. In fact, looking up the ANEW list of words, love ranks the third out of 1034 words, with a high 87.2 pleasure factor. Instead, the word love in our list is neutral, with a happiness factor of only 48.7. Moreover, a morphological variation of the same word, loved, is ranked similarly high in the ANEW list (86.4), but it is marked as a sad word in our list (28.1). The only happy variation of this word is lovely, which has a happiness factor of 77.3 (this word does not appear in the ANEW list). What these rankings suggest is that the stereotypical view of love (the public view) is that of a happy word (the ANEW ranking), but the more private view of this word is neutral, due to a balanced distribution of this concept in both happy and sad moments.
There are also several examples of words in our list that have a high happiness factor, and yet they are not even listed in the ANEW list of words. For instance, shopping (79.5) and bought (69.9), are two of the highly ranked words in our list. Similarly, food related events (lunch (73.1), dinner (72.1) food (65.0), drink (64.4), etc.) have a high happiness factor, with only two of these concepts (dinner and food) being mentioned in the ANEW list. Another interesting example that has a positive happiness load in our list is drunk (59.1), which is most likely not one of the most widely publicly admitted states of happiness.
The study also charted the occurrence of happiness by time of day and week (finding that happiness is at a low at around 8am, as people are wrenched from their blissful sleep to face the drudgery of the world), and peaks at 2-4am (presumably because of the nocturnal habits of LiveJournallers); on a weekly chart, happiness peaks on Saturday and then dives, reaching a low on Wednesday before climbing back for the weekend. Which shows that anticipation plays a big part in one's immediate happiness.

Other observations in the paper: sad posts include more actions (presumably because of a tendency to write about bad things that happened) and "human-centred" words (the latter presumably because depression involves thinking about one's woeful lot in life, whereas happiness doesn't), whereas happy posts include more descriptions of things and "social" words. Also, the study answers Jens Lekman's question about birthdays in the affirmative, with the word "birthday" having a high happiness score. And whilst loving a person is likely to make one sad, loving a thing makes one happy, because we've all got a little bit of Gollum inside:

A large fraction of the bigrams with low happiness factor are centered around humans, i.e. miss you, I hate, I wish, for him, you were, etc. An observation in the same vein can be drawn from the ranking of three-grams, where facts revolving around love are related to humans in the top sad three-grams, I love him (37.33), I love you (37.09), but refer to objects in the three-grams with high happiness factor: I love it (85.00), I love the (82.85), I love that (68.62). This reinforces the findings from the previous section, which showed that expressions of sad feelings are more often human-centered than the happy feelings.
The authors conclude with a recipe for happiness, based on their findings:
Go shop for something new — something cool, make sure that you love it. Then have lots of food, for dinner preferably, as the times of breakfast and lunch are to be avoided. Consider also including a new, hot taste, and one of your favorite drinks. Then go to an interesting place, it could be a movie, a concert, a party, or any other social place. Having fun, and optionally getting drunk, is also part of the recipe. Note that you should avoid any unnecessary actions, as they can occasionally trigger feelings of unhappiness. Ideally the recipe should be served on a Saturday, for maximum happiness effect. If all this happens on your birthday, even better.

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