The Unexpected Journey
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Syria had “largely disappeared from the Internet”. It happened just around 4:45am Syrian time and shown in the above graph.
Syria’s government has cut off rebel/citizen Internet access before when it was about to undertake major military action during in its long civil war. There are recent reports that chemical weapons have been used again to. Perhaps they are still being used.
That is very, VERY serious stuff. After 19 hours, though, Net access was restored.
This isn’t about that at all. It is about a fundamental journalistic concept: verifying sources. I review original sources before commenting on them.
Verifying the WP (Washington Post) graph took me on an unexpected self-centered journey.
It isn’t that I could not find the data. I could. It is from a fascinating little-known Google™ service called Google Transparency Report. Its kinda cool.
For the life of me, though, I could not figure out how to display a range of time from 8am to 5pm at a scale of 0 to 24 with vertical increments of two like the WP did.
Mine is this crumby, skinny, ugly, little default graph. Yuck!
How can I steal good ideas from other people if I do not know how to use them?
The WP had thrown down the gauntlet! The buggers.
I HAD to be able to exactly duplicate their graph! I’ll be danged if I’m gonna let anyone at the Washington Post get the better of me. No way. No how.
That is where we enter into the murky world of what we in ‘The Biz’ like to call “undocumented features”. In the computer programming world they are usually called “bugs”.
Those are sometimes cool things that you can do with an application that are not written down anywhere. It is a challenge to discover them, but it can be done!
Using them can uncover the full spectrum of effects from useful features to destroying the entire Internet with a single keystroke. You never know which it is gonna be.
So, on a Win 8 machine, I started holding down the “shift”, “Ctrl”, “Alt” and “start” keys in various contorted combinations and dragging across the screen.
After many trials here is how I duplicated the WP:
- Alt+Shift+Drag visually selects a dragged date-time range
- Ctrl+Alt+Shift+”Hold Mouse Down” expands the timeline selection
- Ctrl+Alt+”+” changes the increment scale automatically
The last item just increases the size of whatever screen is displayed. It does that for everything. In this case, Google Transparency automatically changes its scale as it gets bigger. So, I just expanded it enough to change the ugly, skinny scale of 10 down to a nice, tall, pretty increment display of 2.
I can’t remember which key combination brought down the entire Internet.
Don’t do that one, though. Nobody will be your friend.