Google is killing Google Reader, its RSS blog aggregator upon which I have relied for years. I am revising my Google stock-price projections for class accordingly. In the meantime, here’s the inevitable Hitler clip; as always, subtitles are NSFW.
Friday, March 15, 2013 7:24 am
Tags: Google Reader
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 9:00 pm
Well, just moments ago, I found, and got a screen shot of, evidence that bad things can happen to anyone:
The outage, if such it was, lasted only a couple of minutes, but it was quite real. I hope this makes everyone feel better.
Thursday, January 3, 2013 9:26 pm
Tags: climate change, geographic information systems, global warming, Google, Google Earth, James Fallows, mapping, Michael Jones
As I think I’ve mentioned a time or three, I’m a map geek. Old, new, paper, digital, real, fictional, silent or talkative, I love ‘em. (I do mute the talkative ones sometimes, but still.)
So I was tickled that James Fallows at The Atlantic did a Q&A with Michael Jones of Google, one of the people who helped create Google Earth (now installed on a billion computers worldwide). And he talked about how mapping apps on smartphones are becoming even more personal because they can use info the phone already has gathered about your locations, likes, and so on to craft maps that not only show how to get from here to there but also tell you potentially interesting things about some of the places you’ll pass along the way, or the places around where you are right now. (One manifestation is Google’s new Android app, Field Trip, coming soon for iOS as well.
Then Fallows asks what I think is both a creative and perceptive question. He points out that some of the first photos of the Earth from space, such as the iconic Christmas Eve 1968 photo shot by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, “created a different kind of environmental consciousness.” (The American nature photographer Galen Rowell has described this image as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” I was in the third grade at the time, and even now I can recall what that “different kind of environmental consciousness” meant: We — all of us — share one single planet, a planet that amounts to a speck in the vastness of space, and it’s the only planet we’re going to get. I think the first Earth Day and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, among other developments, are attributable in significant part to that photo.)
Could the current mapping revolution, Fallows asks Jones, have the same effect? Jones’s answer was both hopeful and heartbreaking:
My father is in his 80s. He wanted to know more about what I do, so I recently showed him Google’s underwater Street View. [This is an aspect of Google Earth that shows reefs, seamounts, and other underwater features in the oceans.] We dove in the water and we were basically swimming along. We stopped and zoomed in, looked at turtles, looked at fish. We went down under a big reef and we could see a tunnel in there, and there were fish resting in the tunnel.
After a while he said, “Son, this is so beautiful.” He’s never been scuba diving, but he said, “This is so beautiful. I just can’t believe how beautiful this is.” And I said, “Well, Dad, we chose beautiful places because most of the corals near islands around the world are already dead. They look like old concrete. No fish, just dead.”
He almost cried. He stared at me with a “What has the world come to?” kind of look, and we talked for a while about that. And so he was brought to an awareness of the grotesque damage that’s happening worldwide due to the ocean acidification that follows from the externalities of the way we live as a human race right now. It was powerful for him because he could personally experience the ocean in a way that, with his mobility challenges, he’s never going to see by scuba diving. Yet he felt what people who have experienced the sea know to be true and care about.
I believe that only this kind of understanding leads to activism, whether it’s a passive activism of a vote or an active activism of changing your lifestyle to protect the world.
The problem is that although this kind of activism is, as Jones observes, necessary, it is not sufficient. At current prices, there is something like $27 trillion worth of combustible carbon — coal, oil, gas and fuel wood — still in the ground. The industries that extract those resources will not willingly relinquish the opportunity to do so, and they have largely achieved a stranglehold on any other force that could force them to do so.
The way we live is killing the only planet we’ve got. The process has been proceeding even faster than we thought, so fast that my children, now adolescents, may well live to see global disruption and human suffering on a scale worse than that of World War II, with no country, no matter how geographically isolated or politically nonaligned, left unaffected.
No map, no matter how cool, is going to stop that. In fact, I don’t know that anything will.
Thursday, December 13, 2012 7:11 pm
Ahh. Order is restored in the intellectual-property court. Plus, we got to fire a bright 24-year-old and keep your drugs expensive. Cool!
Tags: Derek Khanna, intellectual property, Recording Industry Association of America, Republican Study Committee, RIAA
Back around Thanksgiving, I wrote about Derek Khanna, a 24-year-old staffer for the House Republican Study Committee who had the unmitigated gall to point that American intellectual property law is not the cognitive nirvana that a lot of Republicans like to think it is. (I, myself, have long referred to American IP law as “where creativity goes to die™.”)
Before the weekend was out, the report had been retracted, ostensibly because it had not been subjected to “adequate review.” (Insert your own euphemism here.) And not long afterward, Khanna was fired.
The Washington Examiner elaborates:
The reason [for the retraction], according to two Republicans within the RSC: angry objections from Rep. Marsha Blackburn, whose district abuts Nashville, Tenn. [Nashville is home to the country-music industry, for those of y'all not from around here -- Lex.] In winning a fifth term earlier in the month, Blackburn received more money from the music industry than any other Republican congressional candidate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The American Conservative helpfully notes:
Needless to say, members weighing in on staffing decisions is very unusual. Also, Blackburn isn’t just on the industry’s take. Her chief of staff is a former RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] lobbyist.
The Examiner’s Timothy P. Carney summarizes the sad hypocrisy of the GOP in all matters IP:
Republicans are surprisingly close to the entertainment industry. For instance, Mitch Glazier, as a Republican House Judiciary Committee staffer in the late 1990s, played a key role in drafting GOP bills expanding copyright before cashing out to the industry. He now runs the [RIAA], a $4 million-a-year lobby operation that fights for more government protection of record labels.
So Republican politicians, with their sensitivities to K Street and their general pro-big-business tendencies, are not eager to roll back the extraordinary government protection for Hollywood and Nashville. But free-market think tanks and writers are banging the drum.
Jerry Brito, a scholar at the Mercatus Center, has just published “Copyright Unbalanced: From Incentive to Excess,” an entire book of essays critiquing current copyright law from a free-market perspective, and the Cato Institute is hosting a panel on the book Thursday.
Brito’s incisive book tells tale after tale of government kowtowing to copyright holders. An egregious example is Mickey Mouse. “Each time the copyright … was about to expire, and the happy rodent was about to become a shared cultural icon like Santa Claus, Hamlet, and Uncle Sam, Congress has extended the copyright term,” Brito explains.
This is not at all what the founders had in mind when they authorized Congress “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. … “
Retroactively extending the copyright on a work produced long ago cannot promote useful arts and sciences. It just enriches the copyright holder and denies access to everyone else — which is exactly the point, if you’re an industry lobbyist.
Once again, big business is aligned with big government and against open competition. So far, the party of free markets is on the wrong side.
But let’s say you’ve never written a book or composed a country song or created a bankable cartoon character like Mickey Mouse. Why should you care?
Simple. Do you use any kind of non-generic prescription drug or medication? If so, the odds are good that because of this same legal structure, you’re paying more for it than you need to be and than a free market would require. That fact, in turn, contributes enormously to the fact that the U.S. pays far more per capita for health care than do other advanced countries. And that fact — not Social Security, not Medicare, not Medicaid, not welfare — is one of the biggest reasons why we have the deficits that we have.
Monday, November 5, 2012 10:09 pm
Tags: climate change, global warming, Hurricane Sandy, ocean levels, Richard Feynman
“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”
– Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, a member of the commission that investigated the cause of the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, in his appendix to the commission report.
Saturday, August 18, 2012 12:02 am
Tags: austerity, budget, debt, deficits, employment, entitlements
Sir Charles on the great American sport of granny-starving, as applauded by The Village:
Someday someone is going to do a study on the psychological attitudes of the worthless media elite of our time and their obsession with making life more miserable for large swaths of their fellow Americans. The degree to which Saletan, Dancin’ Dave Gregory, David Brooks, and virtually the entirety of Fred Hiatt’s funny pages (save Eugene Robinson, Harold Meyerson, and E.J. Dionne), get tumescent over granny having to move in with the kids because she can’t afford to live on her own is really like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s gratuitous cruelty at the hands of people who have far more than they deserve and confuse this status with wisdom
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 8:55 pm
Tags: broadband, cable, Comcast, Internet, net neutrality
Fortunately it was only about the Internet, not anything really important.
Thursday, April 12, 2012 5:58 pm
Tags: amino acids, homochirality, nucleosides, reptiles, sugars
As the self-appointed keeper of news about large reptiles, I feel obliged to warn you that anthropophagic dinosaurs on other planets might actually be a thing:
New scientific research raises the possibility that advanced versions of T. rex and other dinosaurs — monstrous creatures with the intelligence and cunning of humans — may be the life forms that evolved on other planets in the universe. “We would be better off not meeting them,” concludes the study, which appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
Chemicals. Um, yeah, some barley-flavored C2H5OH would go real good about now.
Thursday, February 23, 2012 7:49 pm
Tags: climate change, global warming
The same way the tobacco industry promoted a smoking-and-health “controversy” for more than half a century: money and evil:
Not surprisingly, the fossil fuel industry funded many of the initial efforts to prevent adoption of climate change policies. Both individual corporations such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal, as well as industry associations such as American Petroleum Institute, Western Fuels Associations, and Edison Electric Institute provided funding for individual contrarian scientists, conservative think tanks active in climate change denial, and a host of front groups that we will discuss below. (Dunlap and McCright, 2011:148)
Although the initial funding in the campaign may have come from certain corporations. McCright and Dunlap argue that recently conservative, free-market, and anti-regulatory ideology and organizations have been the main forces fueling the denial machine first and foremost. (Dunlap and McCright, 2011:144)
According to Dunlap and McCright the glue that holds the elements of the climate disinformation campaign together is a shared hatred for government regulation of private industry. (Dunlap and McCright, 2011:144) And so, a staunch commitment to free markets and a disdain for government regulation are the ideas that most unite the climate denial community. (Dunlap and McCright, 2011:144)
The mainstream conservative movement, embodied in conservative foundations and think tanks, quickly joined forces with the fossil fuel industry (which recognized very early the threat posed by recognition of global warming and the role of carbon emissions) and wider sectors of corporate America to oppose the threat of global warming not as an ecological problem but as a problem for unbridled economic growth. (Dunlap and McCright, 2011:144) And so the disinformation campaign has been a movement that has been waged both by conservative organizations and some corporations.
To use the word “campaign” is not meant to connote an organized conspiracy led by one or a few entities who coordinate all actors, but rather a social movement that creates widespread, predictable, and strong opposition to climate change policy and that consistently uses scientific uncertainty arguments as the basis of its opposition. This movement is a campaign in the sense that it is a systematic response of aggressive actions to defeat proposals to limit greenhouse gas emissions even though no one organization is coordinating all other organizations or individuals that participate in responses. And although some of the actors may be sincere, the tactics discussed in this article are, as we shall see, ethically reprehensible.
I suspected that the rule of law was over in this country when Reagan and the elder Bush were not held legally or constitutionally accountable for their roles in Iran-contra. But I knew it was over when the tobacco company execs trooped before Congress, dutifully placed their hands on the Bible, lied their asses off and were not taken into custody on the spot.
And as Tim F. at Balloon Juice, a scientist with background in this area, points out, next to the denialist industry, the cig makers were punks, adhering to what appears to be David Brooks’s first rule of column-writing: If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit:
However, I have to point out that Wonk Room’s flow chart [at first link above -- Lex] of how the business works, although accurate, also illustrates what makes the doubt business so pernicious. The graph (and the industry) is a forest of organizations, businesses, media outlets, scientists and pseudoscience institutes, political interest groups, thinktanks and so on. It dazzles you in the worst sense: the eyes defocus and your brain (at least my brain) freezes up trying to track what goes where. This is the magic of arbitrary complexity: anyone can bury a ridiculous idea in a maze of apparently credible but irrelevant stuff until it overwhelms the ability of an ordinary person to evaluate it critically. This is how the Big Mortgage Shitpile got so big – nobody would buy a mortgage written on toilet paper, so investment guys put hundreds into a box, wrote ‘mortgage’ on the side of the box with a Sharpie and shuffled around the boxes until nobody had any idea what was in each box except ‘mortgages’ in the vaguest possible sense. (snip)
Cigarette firms held public health science at bay for something like fifty years, and the $380 billion global tobacco trade fits neatly inside the $405 billion market capitalization of a single oil company. …
Anyhow, denying climate has an enormous pile of money at its back. Want an easy $10,000 plus travel perks? Write an editorial that criticizes the IPCC. Campaign cash? Not a problem (there goes the public policy option…). Maybe you want to start a think tank where Ivy League legacy cases can draw six-figure slaries and build a reputation doling out rephrased press releases in conservative journals, on broadcast networks and in discussion panels that need a douchebag for “balance.”. Choose a name that evokes eagles shooting apple pie machine guns and the money’s there.
On the other hand maybe you want to make a serious contribution to climate science. Get ready for years of difficult graduate study while living on ramen and cheap beer. Graduated with your degree? Have a tenure track job? Congratulations! Now you get to compete with some of the smartest people in the world for a shrinking pool of stingy grants, crappy pay, abuse, threats and bad-faith attacks from the most powerful people in the world. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it. Or maybe you want to end a very successful public career by speaking out too aggressively about the STUPID CLIMATE METEOR THAT IS ABOUT TO SCREW UP HUMAN CIVILIZATION, like Al Gore did.
As with tobacco, the glorious moneygasm only works because of the long delay between cause and effect. You would never see a doubt campaign by the punching-guys-in-the-groin industry, for example, because punching dudes in the groin hurts right now. A tobacco habit might kill you later. Epidemiology and climate science are arcane enough that a determined troll can create all kinds of confusion, even while Marlboro Men kept dying of lung cancer. It takes a long time to build up carbon in the atmosphere. Even then the ocean absorbs both heat and carbon for a while longer. Only when that slows down does the bill really start to come due, and feedback effects kick in such as methane and open water absorbing vastly more solar energy than sea ice. Svante Arrhenius figured out how warming will work in 1906, yet my local dog park will only this year become a living mat of deer ticks thanks to the hot rods that his grandkids drove fifty years ago. The worst case scenario keeps getting worse, but it always gets worse twenty or more years in the future and is therefore easy to ignore or deny. Until it isn’t, of course. But by then it is too late.
And that, I semi-seriously hypothesize, is why the very wealthiest among us want to take our homes, our pensions, our Social Security, and get wealthier still: They know what’s coming, and they intend to hide themselves and their progeny behind thick walls built of enormous bricks of U.S. government portraits of Benjamin Franklin. And the rest of us can drown or eat each other. It’s all good to them.
Friday, December 23, 2011 7:40 pm
Tags: copyright, DNS, SOPA, Stop Online Piracy Act
The Stop Online Piracy Act has been stopped before it was even enacted:
… the bill would create an Internet “blacklist” that forces ISPs, search engines, financial firms and advertisers to de-list websites accused of copyright infringement, all without any actual court hearing or oversight. The legislation takes aim at the Internet’s domain naming system (DNS), which translates domain names like http://www.google.com to numerical Internet protocol (IP) addresses.
But an add-on for the popular Internet browser FireFox, called DeSopa, would circumvent DNS blockades with the click of a button.
Now, I’m willing to concede that there probably are some legitimate issues behind this. But the U.S. copyright cartel, particularly post-1994, has a history of bribing congresscritters to kill flies with sledgehammers and then bill the American people for B-52s and nukes.
House Judiciary (including my congresscritter, Howard Coble) will mark up the bill next month. Guys and gals, do everyone a favor and just kill this puppy. It hits the Legislative Trifecta: It’s ill-conceived, unworkable and unconstitutional.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011 8:25 pm
Tags: banksters, foreclosure, fraud, Lender Processing Services, Wells Fargo
The same banks that ran the corrupt home mortgage securitization chain are now committing rampant fraud in the foreclosure crisis. Here’s New Orleans Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Magner discussing problems at Lender Processing Services, the company that handles 80 percent of foreclosures on behalf of large banks (emphasis added):
In Jones v. Wells Fargo, this Court discovered that a highly automated software package owned by LPS and identified as MSP administered loans for servicers and note holders but was programed to apply payments contrary to the terms of the notes and mortgages.
The bad behavior is so rampant that banks think nothing of a contractor programming fraud into the software. This is shocking behavior and has led to untold numbers of foreclosures, as well as the theft of huge sums of money from mortgage-backed securities investors.
Here’s how the fraud works: Mortgage loan notes are very clear on the schedule of how payments are to be applied. First, the money goes to interest, then principal, then all other fees. That means that investors get paid first and servicers, who collect late fees for themselves, get paid either when they collect the late fee from the debtor or from the liquidation of the foreclosure. And fees are supposed to be capitalized into the overall mortgage amount. If you are late one month, it isn’t supposed to push you into being late on all subsequent months.
The software, however, prioritizes servicer fees above the contractually required interest and principal to investors. This isn’t a one-off; it’s programmed. It’s the very definition of a conspiracy! Who knows how many people paid late and then were pushed into a spiral of fees that led into a foreclosure? It’s the perfect crime, and many of the victims had paid every single mortgage payment.
(That would be the same Wells Fargo that just took over all the branches of Wachovia, which had been a venerable institution in this state for decades.)
A prediction: No one will go to prison for this. That’s because a federal bankruptcy judge is waving a red flag, banging on a fire alarm and yelling, “Fraud! Fraud!” and the Justice Department is doing exactly jack squat. IANAL, but I could run the Justice Department better than Eric Holder. In fact, my kitchen table could run the Justice Department better than Eric Holder.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011 8:29 pm
Tags: copyright, intellectual property, patent
I have said many times in private communications during the past 15 years or so — since the Telecommunications Act, basically, although that’s not the only thing I’m talking about — that intellectual-property law is where American ingenuity goes to die.
Now I’m saying it publicly because the wonderful people at NPR’s “Planet Money” have found an example so clear that even I can understand it.
You can either read the text or listen to the audio; it’s good either way. And what it says, in short, is what I’ve been saying for years: A lot of stuff is patented that shouldn’t be, including many kinds of software, and some of the most vociferous critics of those patents are the people who own them.
… we talked to a half dozen different software engineers. All of them hated the patent system, and half of them had patents in their names that they felt shouldn’t have been granted. In polls, as many as 80 percent of software engineers say the patent system actually hinders innovation. It doesn’t encourage them to come up with new ideas and create new products. It actually gets in their way.
Many patents are so broad, engineers say, that everyone’s guilty of infringement. This causes huge problems for almost anyone trying to start or grow a business on the Internet.
“We’re at a point in the state of intellectual property where existing patents probably cover every behavior that’s happening on the Internet or our mobile phones today,” says Chris Sacca, the venture capitalist. “[T]he average Silicon Valley start-up or even medium sized company, no matter how truly innovative they are, I have no doubt that aspects of what they’re doing violate patents right now. And that’s what’s fundamentally broken about this system right now.”
This brings us back to Chris Crawford’s patent, the patent Intellectual Ventures cited as an example of how they encourage innovation by ensuring that inventors get paid. As we’ve said, this patent also seems to cover a big chunk of what happens on the Internet: upgrading software, buying stuff online, and what’s called cloud storage. If you have a patent on all that, you could sue a lot of people.
And, in fact, that’s what’s happening with Chris Crawford’s patent. Intellectual Venures sold it to a company called Oasis research in June of 2010. Less than a month later, Oasis Research used the patent to sue over a dozen different tech companies, including Rackspace, GoDaddy, and AT&T.
We called Oasis several times, but no one ever answered the phone. For a while, the company’s voice mail message directed all questions to John Desmarais , a lawyer in New York.
He didn’t return our phone calls, but we did track him down at an intellectual property conference in San Francisco.
He cited attorney-client privilege, and wouldn’t tell us anything — not even who owns Oasis Research. (He did say he’s a big fan of NPR.) …
All the big tech companies have started amassing troves of software patents — not to build anything, but to defend themselves. If a company’s patent horde is big enough, it can essentially say to the world, “If you try to sue me with your patents, I’ll sue you with mine.”
It’s mutually assured destruction. But instead of arsenals of nuclear weapons, it’s arsenals of patents. And this was a problem Intellectual Ventures founder Nathan Myhrvold said he was trying to solve when he first started the company. A problem that he and others from his company talked about at investor meetings around Silicon Valley. Chris Sacca attended one of those meetings a few years back.
The pitch he heard was, basically, Intellectual Ventures helps defend against lawsuits. Intellectual Ventures has this horde of 35,000 patents — patents that, for a price, companies can use to defend themselves.
Technology companies pay Intellectual Ventures fees ranging “from tens of thousands to the millions and millions of dollars … to buy themselves insurance that protects them from being sued by any harmful, malevolent outsiders,” Sacca says.
There’s an implication in IV’s pitch, Sacca says: If you don’t join us, who knows what’ll happen?
He says it reminds him of “a mafia-style shakedown, where someone comes in the front door of your building and says, ‘It would be a shame if this place burnt down. I know the neighborhood really well and I can make sure that doesn’t happen.’ ” …
And companies like Intellectual Ventures and their shadowy partners that do nothing but control and litigate over patents are growing more numerous every day, with untold costs for American industry. Here’s a particularly good example, which caught my eye because my friend Tony used to work for Nortel:
In early July, the bankrupt tech company Nortel put its 6,000 patents up for auction as part of a liquidation. A bidding war broke out among Silicon Valley powerhouses. Google said it wanted the patents purely to defend against lawsuits and it was willing to spend over $3 billion to get them. That wasn’t enough, though.
The portfolio eventually sold to Apple and a consortium of other tech companies including Microsoft and Ericsson. The price tag: $4.5 billion dollars. Five times the opening bid. More than double what most people involved were expecting. The largest patent auction in history.
That’s $4.5 billion on patents that these companies almost certainly don’t want for their technical secrets. That $4.5 billion won’t build anything new, won’t bring new products to the shelves, won’t open up new factories that can hire people who need jobs. That’s $4.5 billion dollars that adds to the price of every product these companies sell you. That’s $4.5 billion dollars buying arms for an ongoing patent war.
The big companies — Google, Apple, Microsoft — will probably survive. The likely casualties are the companies out there now that no one’s ever heard of that could one day take their place.
The current system stifles innovation, and when you stifle innovation, history shows, you stifle long-term prosperity.
Fun fact: My current rep, Howard Coble, is one of the most senior members of the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over IP law, although not having researched the question I have no idea to what extent, if any, he’s responsible for any of this mess.
UPDATE: In catching up on my RSS feed, I see that Kevin Drum at MoJo also has linked to the “Planet Money” piece and come up with another example, this one involving Spotify, a streaming music service that arrived in the U.S. market this summer. I got a membership so recently I haven’t even tried it out yet. And even before I did, Spotify got sued over the (pun intended) patently ridiculous notion that the plaintiff, a company called PacketVideo, could actually own a patent on the simple idea of streaming audio over the Internet.
Kevin checks out the patent that PacketVideo holds and then comments:
There are no specific algorithms involved and no specific implementations proposed. Basically, it appears to be a claim that covers any system in which music is compressed and encrypted by a server, shipped out over a network, and then decrypted and decompressed at a client. The patent claims seem to include pretty much any kind of server, any kind of storage device, any kind of compression, an extremely broad set of communications protocols, and pretty much any kind of remote device. If you’re streaming music this way — and honestly, there’s really no other way to do it — then PacketVideo says you’re infringing their patent.
At least, that’s how it reads to me. Neither the news stories nor the legal filing go into much detail about the precise nature of the infringement PacketVideo is claiming, and they don’t appear to have sued all the other streaming music vendors in the world, so it’s possible their claim is more specific. But my amateur reading suggests they really are claiming patent rights to the whole idea of streaming music from a server. And the fact that they waited to file suit until Spotify had entered the U.S. market suggests that their claim isn’t valid anywhere else. Only in the U.S. do we allow a patent claim this broad.
Commenter Jon F. asks, “How do we fix it?” I haven’t had a lot of time to think about it, but I honestly don’t know, and here’s why: A big chunk of the source of this problem isn’t statutes (although they certainly contribute), but Supreme Court decisions. Given the makeup of the Supreme Court and the difficulty that even Democratic presidents can have in getting appointees confirmed who aren’t more or less allied with big business interests, this pooch might not be unscrewable for at least a generation. Meanwhile, other countries are going to be eating our lunch.
Friday, July 22, 2011 10:59 pm
Apparently Verizon is celebrating expanding 4G service into the Triad by breaking the Internet. Can’t get into Twitter or Facebook suddenly.
Thursday, July 21, 2011 8:33 pm
My voicemail is not on any of the networks these reporters (the WNYC ones, not the Murdoch ones) were able to hack in their tests, and I always password-protect my stuff. But the technology and the sheer will to evil out there, along with the carelessness, or worse, so common among the corporations that keep our data, leave me more than a little uneasy.
Monday, July 18, 2011 8:20 pm
Nancy Nall points out a New York Times blog post about the price we’re paying for fewer editors. It’s true, and it’s affecting not only your local newspaper but even major books from quasi-reputable publishing houses.
Computers were supposed to save labor, but only some of the labor they save is inessential. Nancy, who lives in Grosse Point, near Detroit, offers her own example:
I have an RSS feed that picks up every mention of Grosse Pointe on Twitter, excluding “Grosse Pointe Blank,” a cult movie that will live forever in film geekdom. It blew up overnight with a story in the Detroit News, about our school district’s rejection of a Head Start program at one elementary. But all the tweets were from automated feeds aimed at stock traders. I couldn’t figure out why, until I remembered the elementary principal’s name — Penny Stocks.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011 8:10 pm
The new Scientific American blogosphere is up and running. Well played, Bora and team!
Saturday, June 18, 2011 7:03 pm
Right now, there is a really bad drought in central China. That’s bad news for a lot of Chinese, for whom food is rapidly growing more expensive. But it might be bad news for all of us: Apparently, according to Scientific American, there’s at least some reason to think that China’s Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric project and the reservoir that that dam holds, may indeed be contributing to the drought:
Experts say that the 600-km (350-mile) long reservoir required to serve the 26 700-megawatt turbines at the Three Gorges hydropower plant prevents considerable volumes of water from flowing downstream.
But some environmentalists and climate specialists have also said that the reservoir acts as a giant heat reflector that affects the microclimate of the region, raising temperatures and reducing rainfall.
They also point to longer-term impact, saying that large reservoirs like the Three Gorges are net greenhouse gas producers because they submerged vast tracts of forest and farmland that would otherwise have absorbed climate-altering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
It would be ironic if a method of generating electricity that is believed to be a solution to anthropogenic climate change turned out to be part of the problem. But Dave Schuler at Outside the Beltway makes a point worth remembering:
… while we’re worried about greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and vehicles and global climate change, we shouldn’t lose track of localized anthropogenic climate change which can be induced by massive construction projects, bad land management, and air pollution just to name a few possibilities.
Science. It’s complicated.
Friday, June 3, 2011 7:19 pm
The National Academies Press, the publishing arm of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council, is putting its entire catalog of .pdf books online. For free.
It was already among the leaders in university presses in that regard, with about 65% of its titles already freely available for download. Most of those were very technical. The remaining titles are written for a wider audience. The hardcover versions of these books retail for up to $100.
The National Academies produces research used by other researchers, as well as government officials. Although it was established by an act of Congress and gets tax dollars, it’s an independent agency.
Compared to the professionals, I’m not much of a geek at all, and I think this is huge. I can only imagine how the real geeks are celebrating.
Thursday, June 2, 2011 8:49 pm
So I’ve got the Droid hooked up to the PC to charge, right? (That is to say, only to charge. It’s not set to sync, and it’s not mounted as a disk drive.) And two weird things are going on:
- The WinXP marimba-ish sound that indicates a device is being connected to, or disconnected from, the PC keeps going on and off and on and off, even though the phone and cord are absolutely still and not being messed with.
- I keep getting a message saying the device attached to the PC would work faster if I hooked it up to a USB 2.0 port, and it offers me a list. Well, old as this machine is, it’s still recent enough that there’s nothing BUT USB 2.0 on it.
I’m not asking for “solutions,” inasmuch as it’s not really a problem as long as the phone is still charging, which it appears to be. But does anyone have an explanation?
Saturday, May 21, 2011 1:29 pm
Tags: syncing bookmarks, XMarks
XMarks is a Firefox app purporting to allow one to sync bookmarks across multiple Firefox-equipped machines. An app like that is a dream come true for me because during a career spanning numerous occupations, all of which have required a lot of Web work and many of which have required various amounts of on-site and remote webmastering, I’ve amassed thousands of bookmarks. These bookmarks have been assiduously organized into folders and subfolders on subjects ranging from sites relevant to covering aviation disasters to being able to log in and post inclement-weather notices on my current employer’s home page.
I stumbled across XMarks a few months ago and gave it a try. At first, it seemed to work exactly as advertised.
More recently, it has started making duplicate copies of bookmarks and folders. That’s annoying as all hell and wastes disk space and processor time, but it is not exactly a disaster.
Last weekend, however, XMarks dramatically upped the ante. Not only did it make multiple duplicates of most of the folders, it also appears to have dumped all the meticulously organized bookmarks out of their folders and into the “Unsorted bookmarks” folder.
To be sure, I do not have any reason at this point to think that any bookmarks were deleted. On the other hand, I may never know until I go looking for a bookmark on deadline that I seldom use and am unable to find it.
And whether any were deleted or not, this was a damned stupid thing to have happen, and the people who created XMarks need to get to work trying to figure this out because I’m certainly not the only person this has happened to.
Finally, if anyone can recommend a bookmark-syncing app or extension for Firefox that does what it’s supposed to do, no more and no less, give me a shout. Ditto Internet Explorer. (Chrome’s native syncing appears to work OK, but I need FF and IE for work for technical reasons too boring to go into here.)
Thanks all for any suggestions you can offer.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011 8:08 pm
“If Ebay replaced the classifieds and Craigslist replaced the want ads, this showed what might replace the funny pages.”*
Tags: @MayorEmanuel, Rahm Emanuel, social media, Twitter
Most days, The Atlantic and Twitter are alike in all the wrong ways — shallow, repetitive, largely irrelevant. Recently, though, a pseudonymous artist created a Twitter feed that, within the 140-characters-per-tweet constraints of the medium, achieved, I would argue, the status of literature: @MayorEmanuel, a satiric take on the real-life Chicago mayoral campaign of foul-mouthed former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
Moreover, in this article, The Atlantic not only outs (with his consent) the creator of @MayorEmanuel, it also shows how the feed’s creator both used and transcended the medium, as Frank Sinatra did with the 45, Pink Floyd did with the LP and Bruce Springsteen’s “Live 1975-85″ did with the CD, to provide insight into Chicago electoral politics, satire, a rich and highly developed character arc and a well-deserved dopeslapping of Michelle Malkin, capped with an ending worthy of Arthur C. Clarke. A reasonably high percentage of comments (including the one that provided the title for this post) further enrich our understanding and enjoyment of this phenomenon.
(Did you notice my characterization of Rahm Emanuel above as “foul-mouthed”? Both @MayorEmanuel and the Atlantic article contain oh, so-NSFW language. You’ve been warned.)
True, 99.99% of what you read on Twitter, including my stuff, is crap. @MayorEmanuel makes all the rest worthwhile, and maybe it will inspire others to do more with the medium. And maybe The Atlantic will realize more of its potential and stop wasting electrons on worthless hacks like McMegan.
OK, I made up that last part. It’ll never happen. But a guy can dream.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011 8:47 pm
Tags: domain names, Geoffrey Chaucer, Margaret Atwood
Item the first: Geoffrey Chaucer, an unpublished clerk to King Richard in the 13th century, contacts novelist/essayist Margaret Atwood seeking an interview, and “wyth grete gentilesse, she did consent to be interviewede through emayle on [his] blog.”
Item the second, and my only question about this item is: you mean it wasn’t already? Sex.com officially became the most expensive domain name in history a few months ago, going for $13 million. The new owner has some ideas about what he might do with the domain — not necessarily what you might think. But then, of course, so does everyone else.
Monday, January 10, 2011 8:38 pm
Y’know, when I first got on the Internet. It was faster. A lot faster.
Not saying my modem was, mind. But the Internet was:
Bufferbloat is a term coined by Jim Gettys at Bell Labs for a systemic problem that’s appearing on the Internet involving the downloading of large files or data streams. In simple terms, our efforts to improve client performance for watching TV over the Internet is interfering with the Internet’s own ability to modulate the flow of data traffic to our devices.
Think this isn’t happening? How fast is your Internet connection today compared to, say, three years ago? Most users have 2-3 times the bandwidth today than they did three years ago. Does your connection feel 2-3 times faster? Of course it doesn’t, because it isn’t. And it isn’t because of bufferbloat.
In terms of latency, the Internet was faster 20 years ago than it is today — in many cases vastly faster. And it is getting slower every day. Unchecked, bufferbloat will eventually make the Internet unusable for some data-intensive activities.
I blame the youngs, with all their Nintendo thises and Xbox thats. Now, you kids get off my Internet. I mean lawn.
Friday, June 18, 2010 8:03 pm
Tags: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ryan Crocker
Heck of a job, David Frum:
At the Center for a New American Security’s annual conference yesterday, the respected former ambassador to Iraq and Pakistan, Ryan Crocker, made a point of saying that the rhetorical antagonization of Iran in 2002 had a real operational impact on the Afghanistan war. Including Iran in President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” during the 2002 State of the Union didn’t end a U.S.-Iranian diplomatic channel that Crocker personally participated in. But it did provoke the Iranians to release one of the most notorious guerrillas of Afghanistan’s decades of war from Iranian house arrest: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an ally of al-Qaeda, whose Hezb-e-Islami organization went on to kill numerous U.S. troops and Afghan civilians. …
Crocker, as best I can tell, has told this story before, to Newsweek, but it hasn’t gotten much attention. He told the CNAS crowd that he thinks there’s still a chance for re-engagement with Iran over Afghanistan, but it will take the auspices of a United Nations process to restart that channel. And that’s with a far more hardline Iranian government in power and new U.N.-approved sanctions on the regime. “A lot of blood is under the bridge for both of us,” Crocker said.
And that, you ignorant redneck twits, is why you don’t talk like a dry-drunk Texan or a meth-huffing, rentboy-dating evangelist when you’re trying to conduct foreign policy. U.S. service members are dead and maimed because of you.
Saturday, June 12, 2010 4:42 pm
Testing the WordPress for Droid app. Looks like most of the functions I use regularly are present and accounted for. Because after a 200-post month, I need MORE reasons and means to blog.
Monday, May 10, 2010 8:43 pm
(via Jeff Williams on Facebook)
Thursday, April 29, 2010 9:50 pm
When the Nazis did this, we hanged some of them for it, but New Scientist is now doing all sorts of whacked experiments on people to find the limits of human endurance. We’ll get lots of fascinating new data on physiology, all at the low, low cost of our souls. For example, did you know that you can die of lack of sleep? After about three months, apparently.
Wait … what?
They’re not actually experimenting on people?
Oh. Well … that’s good, I guess.
But I still kind of want to know, if you get put into a vacuum — say, your spaceship springs a leak — will your head explode?
Wednesday, April 28, 2010 5:05 am
“Macland just feels more and more like some combination of Oceania and the tightly controlled simulated reality of The Matrix and no, the irony of the first half of that equation is hardly lost on me.”
I don’t hate Apple. In fact, I created my first resume on an Apple IIe, back in the day, and a key aspect of my current job relies heavily on Apple. But the truth is that the only reason I don’t hate it is that it has never mattered enough to me for me to form much of an opinion one way or the other.
When I got into database journalism about 20 years ago — which, other than the aforementioned Apple IIe, was my first step away from mainframe dumb terminals — there was simply no Mac software capable of doing the heavy database lifting I had to do, so I was Wintel from the git. With rare, design-related exceptions at my various jobs, I have stayed Wintel ever since.
I have an iPod Shuffle and manage its contents with iTunes, but neither cost me anything. I can’t afford an iPhone (and sure as hell can’t afford the required AT&T mobile service that goes with it), and an iPad with no ‘Net connectivity just puzzles me.
Before Apple can piss me off, it’s first going to have to matter. And while I could be wrong, I just don’t see that happening anytime soon.
Monday, April 26, 2010 8:11 pm
Reflections from a full-time futurologist:
But perhaps the biggest surprise during my time as a futurologist is the lack of surprises. Mostly, tech has rolled out more or less as we thought it would.
Thursday, April 22, 2010 8:44 pm
Anyone who wants to steal a tiny bit of market share for a reliable, intuitive Web-based RSS reader, get in touch: you will never have a better chance than right now.
UPDATE: Bloglines now says it’s down for scheduled maintenance. Bull. Who schedules maintenance for 6+ hours in the middle of a weekday, Eastern time? Bad enough your service sucks; don’t insult my intelligence by lying to me about it.
UPDATE: Having also experienced some Gmail weirdness, I’m now exploring the hypothesis that this is either a purely local problem or a not-just-Google-Reader problem.