Mysterious Law Predicts the Future Size of Cities

Rank vs. Frequency Rule: Back in 1949, the linguist George Zipf noticed something odd about how often people use words in a given language. He found that a small number of words are used all the time, while the vast majority are used very rarely. If he ranked the words in order of popularity, a striking pattern emerged. The number one ranked word was always used twice as often as the second rank word, and three times as often as the third rank.

Later dubbed Zipf’s law, the rank vs. frequency rule also works if you apply it to the sizes of cities. The city with the largest population in any country is generally twice as large as the next-biggest, and so on. Incredibly, Zipf’s law for cities has held true for every country in the world, for the past century.

Just take a look at the top ranked cities in the United States by population. In the 2010 census, the biggest city in the U.S., New York, had a population of 8,175,133. Los Angeles, ranked number 2, had a population of 3,792,621. And the cities in the next three ranks, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia, clock in at 2,695,598, 2,100,263 and 1,526,006 respectively. You can see that obviously the numbers aren’t exact, but looked at statistically, they are remarkably consistent with Zipf’s predictions.

The usual complaint about economic theory is that our models are oversimplified — that they offer excessively neat views of complex, messy reality. [With Zipf’s law] the reverse is true: we have complex, messy models, yet reality is startlingly neat and simple.


NewYorker: Top Ten Movies of 2013

 1–2 (tie). “The Wolf of Wall Street” (due to embargo until December 17th, silence reigns for now) and “To the Wonder.”

3. “Like Someone in Love.”

4–5 (tie). “Computer Chess” and “Upstream Color.”

6. “Night Across the Street.”

7. “A Touch of Sin.”

8. “Blue Is the Warmest Color.”

9. “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty.”

10–12 (tie). “Inside Llewyn Davis,”

Netflix Instant: General Orders No. 9

Great movie worth checking out on Netflix. Really makes me consider living in the South.

Runtime: 72 minutes
Cast: Documentary

Robert Persons’ General Orders No. 9, an elegiac, experimental documentary about the American South, is the type of film that demands viewers to submerge themselves in it like a pool of water—anything less, and it will seem hopelessly abstract. Forgoing anything that could be described as a narrative, it combines a pensive score and poetic voiceover with imagery of nature, maps, crumbling buildings, and small towns giving way to gray, oppressive urban landscapes.

“In April, you can still feel it—that something is pushing against the surface of things,” muses narrator William Davidson, as shots of a neglected memorial in the woods, a trickling stream, and a quiet clearing at twilight glide by. “There was a war here, a hundred years before this generation was born. A war happened here. We’re lost without a map, but well misplaced. Bring us doubt upon doubt, bless us, and break us with mystery upon mystery. The Lord loves a broken spirit. Pray that we are well broken.”

General Orders No. 9 is bound to test your patience, but there are rewards to be found in its deliberate rhythms—foremost amongst them, the glorious, haunting visuals. They straddle the line between moving images and photography. Persons, who also serves as cinematographer, spent 11 years putting together this film, his first. That can be sensed in every meditative beat.

(via AVCLUB)

STEREOGUM: Last week, Kanye West released his perfectly absurd video for the great Yeezus closer “Bound 2,” in which he an a naked Kim Kardashian made out on an obviously greenscreened motorcycle. You probably did not need any help to realize how ridiculous this video was. But if you did, Seth Rogen and James Franco are here to think. The two made a shot-for-shot remake of that video, with Franco playing Kanye and Rogen playing Kim, right down to the orgasmic facial expressions.

Battle For The Connected Home

TECHCRUNCH: Almost 15 years ago, a friend of mine at McKinsey spent a few nights writing a document called “The Battle for the Home”. The thesis at the time was that with broadband, the home PC was gradually going to challenge the TV as the core home digital system. Over the following few years, that battle gradually grew more complex, as the home saw the adoption of a new generation of HDTV sets, game consoles, set-top boxes and DVR options. But fundamentally, the discussion was about who was going to control the home entertainment system.

Now, the battle has expanded to the rest of the home. With the emergence of connected devices, the entire home is being reinvented as a data product, opening great opportunities to entrepreneurs.  A whole new generation of startups is rushing in. Nest, with its beautifully-designed home products, has become the poster child for this phenomenon, but many others are producing exciting new connected devices and platforms, at an outstanding pace.

The irony of this market, not always acknowledged, is that a number of large companies with big brands and existing “pipes” in our homes, have been unusually innovative. From connected locks to mobile-controlled home automation platforms, large companies such as GE, Comcast or Philips have been offering connected home products for a while now, sometimes at the risk of cannibalizing their own analog products. As a result, the new wave of connected home startups finds itself in the fairly unusual position of having to not only execute and build consumer brands, but also out innovate dynamic incumbents. The home is once again at the crossroads of a major battle between startups, cable companies, telcos, industrial conglomerates, and large technology companies. READ MORE