Monthly Archives: April 2011

In The Know: Should The Nation’s Unemployed Be Buying New Apple Computers?

It’s a knock on Mac users, but really it goes beyond that. It’s the perfect encapsulation of our entire nation.

Category: Theater

It’s an oldish story, but I just recently ran across it:

According to the New Hampshire Union Leader (via Slashdot), police in the town of Weare charged a man with unlawful “interception of oral communications” – a felony* – because he used his phone during a traffic stop. According to police, the call was a crime because the driver ended up leaving a message, so they claim that the voice-mail service on the other end of the call recorded the officer’s communications without his consent.

That is, they charged him with wiretapping because the officer’s voice could be heard in the background of his phone call.

The story gets mildly less ridiculous when you read the background. Basically, the guy was leaving a meeting of libertarians and the phone call was to the voicemail of said libertarian group, which has been in trouble with the police before on similar(ly specious) “wiretapping” grounds. So, in a real sense, it may have been an end-run around the provisions preventing people from recording interactions with the police. If one believes that it is beyond the pale to record a police officer, this makes a degree of sense.

That’s a big “if”, of course. As mentioned before, the arguments against being able to record police encounters is dubious. Especially since they regularly record their interactions with us.

More broadly, though, I think that the entire notion of recording our experiences is questionable. I can see some reasons for it, like sex tapes or something where we want a strong expectation of privacy. Even then, I wonder if the videotaping itself should be illegal so much as any distribution of said recording. Sex tapes (unless released by mutual consent of all involved – and maybe even then) are distasteful, but one can think of scenarios where a “sex tape” is a defense against accusations of rape.

I’m not sure that I shouldn’t be able to have a camera and microphone in my classes at all time so that I could, if needed, go back and account for my time.

Delosa has pretty loose against wiretapping, at least as far as audio goes. Basically, as long as one participant in the conversation is aware that it’s being recorded, it is a legal recording. So you can’t stick a bug in someone’s apartment and listen from afar, but you can carry a wire on your person. That’s my understanding, anyway, and that strikes me as about right.

But even if you don’t agree with going that far, it’s a no-brainer when it comes to police. They are encouraged to record their interactions with you. The expectation of privacy is minimal or non-existent. The primary issue is who gets the recording. The notion that it should be the police, and only the police, is pretty suspect on its face.

* – The charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor.

Category: Courthouse

Per Comics Alliance:

Superman replies that it was foolish to think that his actions would not reflect politically on the American government, and that he therefore plans to renounce his American citizenship at the United Nations the next day — and to continue working as a superhero from a more global than national perspective. From a “realistic” standpoint it makes sense; it would indeed be impossible for a nigh-omnipotent being ideologically aligned with America to intercede against injustice beyond American borders without creating enormous political fallout for the U.S. government.

While this wouldn’t be this first time a profoundly American comic book icon disassociated himself from his national identity — remember when Captain America became Nomad? — this could be a very significant turning point for Superman if its implications carry over into other storylines. Indeed, simply saying that “truth, justice and the American way [is] not enough anymore” is a pretty startling statement from the one man who has always represented those values the most.

It doesn’t seem that he’s abandoning those values, however, only trying to implement them on a larger scale and divorce himself from the political complexities of nationalism. Superman also says that he believes he has been thinking “too small,” that the world is “too connected” for him to limit himself with a purely national identity. As an alien born on another planet, after all, he “can’t help but see the bigger picture.”

Superman has shifted around from being Metropolis’s guardian, America’s, the world’s, and the universe’s. The renunciation of his citizenship is new, however. From a corporate standpoint, it does seem likely that this is related to a desire to make the character more appealing to international audiences, not unlike GI Joe’s shift from Real American Heroes to International Heroes. If it’s a change that sticks, though. It does point to the differences in the way DC does things compared to Marvel, though. With DC, it’s a globalist perspective. With Marvel, it would have happened several years ago and been attributed to how terrible George W. Bush was – or alternately, a repudiation of people that harbor “mean” attitudes towards illegal immigrants. In DC’s way of doing things, it’s simply a matter of Superman being too big for his country. From an external standpoint (the international popularity of the character), this is actually somewhat true. From an internal standpoint, doubly. Having one of the most powerful men in the world limiting his activities to a single country (much less a single city) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

On the other hand, it’s actually a somewhat questionable decision from an internal-logistical standpoint. Superman, unlike Batman and others, derives a lot of his influence from the legitimacy granted to him by his local and federal government. He is given access to information and personnel that a world hero wouldn’t get. In part because it is expected that his loyalty will be, primarily if not solely, to the United States. Stepping out of his country jeopardizes this. It makes his ability to work in the world’s (for now) premier economy more difficult. It’s one thing for the US to overlook the fact that Hawkman (one of them) was a native Thanagarian. They can sort of grand him a visa or even citizenship informally (it’s sitting at the social security office, if he cares to pick it up!). It’s different to do so with someone that has specifically and publicly renounced their citizenship. And even if they were willing to overlook this, and they might because he’s Superman, the more deference they give him, the more of an “American” he is likely to be considered to be. Not wrongly, he would be seen as an agent of the American government, as he is now. It’s not just his citizenship which would lead Iran (and others) to believe he is an agent of the US feds. It’s his relationship. He’ll have to do more than surrender his citizenship. He’ll have to surrender his relationship.

By not having anyone to report to, he does more than free himself up from constraints. He makes himself an outsider.

There have been times, in Superman’s past, where he has dabbled with this role. Things have generally not turned out particularly well. When trying to deliver food to third world countries, he essentially had the option of either giving the food to dictators to be distributed among their people (or, more likely, not distributed) or essentially going to war against said dictators. What does Superman really hope to accomplish in Tehran? As powerful as he is, what can he do that the combined forces of the United States military cannot? I’m sure the answer to that is that he can stand as a symbol for truth, justice, and a third quality to be named later (freedom, probably). But he would be doing so, if not as an American, as an outsider. A westerner. A non-Muslim. Success in that arena is far from assured – and the attempt comes at a pretty steep price.

The relationship between nations and their superheroes was explored in Wildstorm’s The Authority series. Told from the superheroes’ point of view (and Wildstorm’s treatment of the government, dating back to the Clinton administration, is that it is essentially a criminal enterprise), the results were somewhat harrowing from the perspective of the average citizen. With the collection of superheroes being more powerful than the federal government, neither had much leverage over the other. And they dug in their heels. And eventually, The Authority formed its own government. As flawed as our government might be (in that world, and our own), there is at least a modicum of accountability that does not exist when the world must bend to what superpowered beings think is right.

No doubt Superman knows this and does not have imperial ambitions. But it does go back to the notion that he will be dealing with the same diplomatic constraints that the US government has. Even if we were to grant that the United States government deals internationally in a charitable fashion without its own interests primarily in mind, it’s unclear as to what we would be able to do. Just as it is unclear – even in a world where green rings grant you the ability to fly and a chemical bath makes you run real fast – what Superman would be able to do. Even if, and this is a big if, the powers that be abroad choose not to simply view Superman as an American anyway.

-{This comment is an extrapolation of a comment made on OTB}-

Category: Theater

This article from The Frisky has gotten attention, where the writer takes a women’s group to task for putting Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow on a sexiest list:

But Tebow has one major problem in my book: he’s openly and loudly very anti-choice, to the tune of taking out an ad during the Super Bowl in order to share his pro-life views with the world. Why, for the love of Ryan Gosling, would a major woman’s website feel the need to laud a man like that? I mean, after all, it’s not like a woman’s right to choose has been in any way compromised this year or anything. Luckily, their other 24 picks are decidedly less lame.

Abortion politics aside from the moment, this is an extraordinarily narrow way to look at it. First, a crush is not a declaration of loyalty to everything about a person. I’ve had crushes on some of the most inappropriate people over the years. It’s daydreaming of a sort. But if we’re going to take this more seriously, Tebow’s position on abortion is part of a much larger picture. He’s a fundamentalist Christian. There are aspects of this that even a liberal can appreciate, like when he entered the BCS national championship game carrying flowers to give to his mother (not a Christian thing, per se, but part of the family-is-all-important-bundle). But there are aspects that (secular) liberals can’t. Abortion is only one of it.

Perhaps the strongest argument against dating someone with different views on abortion than your own are the practical implications. From a man’s perspective: if she gets pregnant, will she abort? Some will hope so, others will hope not. From a woman’s perspective: if I choose to abort, will he be supportive? The asymmetry of this question actually makes the question more important for men than for women. Since, legally speaking, he has to live with whatever her choice is. But for Tebow, and regarding relationships with people like him, it’s at least somewhat off the table unless (a) you don’t want children after you’re married or (b) you would be willing to abort – within the context of marriage – because the timing – or the baby – isn’t right.

I say “after you’re married” because, if Tebow is sincere in his beliefs (and all indications are that he is), there is no sex prior to marriage anyway. The second is a bigger factor. But, again, it’s all part of a bigger picture. Tebow likely has very traditional attitudes towards male-female relations and these are guided by his Christian values. Even if abortion isn’t an issue (say, one of them is infertile), it seems doubtful that this Frisky writer would be on board with the larger context through which Tebow sees marriage.

But practical implications aside, to what extent should we consider the other’s views on this contentious issue? I take a pretty laid back attitude towards such things. I’ve dated everyone from birthers to card-carrying members of the Green Party, from pro-life to having had 3.5* abortions. Perhaps it’s because I don’t fit precisely into a liberal or conservative mold that I don’t have a particular tribe to choose from. So to me, I guess, it almost always comes down to practical implications. Almost, anyway. I would have had a hard time marrying Clancy if she had been an abortion doc. So in that sense, I can understand where the author is coming from, given how strong her views are on the subject.

It doesn’t strike me as reasonable, though, to expect everyone in your gender to share not only your views on abortion, but also to feel so strongly about it as to refrain from crushing or fantasizing about someone with differing views.

On the other hand, Tim Tebow for President does represent an ideological unseriousness (or a right-wing bent from a site where you wouldn’t expect it). I find it bizarre that the Frisky author found the inclusion on the list objectionable rather than the pseudo-endorsement.

* – The .5 is a miscarriage that probably would have been aborted.

Category: Coffeehouse

So going to bed at 10, waking up at 5, driving two hours round trip each day. Little access to the Internet throughout the day.

So I’m falling behind on some things, including Hit Coffee. Bear with me.

Category: School

Non-custodial parents have a right to see their children’s grades:

“The court concludes the following: (a) an order requiring a student to produce proof of college attendance, course credits and grades as a condition for ongoing child support and college contribution does not violate the student’s rights to privacy under FERPA; (b) both the student and the custodial parent each have a responsibility and obligation to make certain that the non-custodial parent is provided with ongoing proof of the student’s college enrollment, course credits and grades.”

This strikes me as something that should be relatively uncontroversial, though it does strike me as more complicated than the more traditional scenario. My parents didn’t have the right to see my grades, but they were free to stop paying for college if I did not provide them. The question lies, I would guess, in the child support arrangement that the father has with the kid. I know that in some cases, as with my childhood best friend Clint, the arrangement specified his father’s obligations towards paying for college. So it seems to me that as long as Clint was able to prove that he was attending, his father might look at the F’s and get angry, but there wouldn’t be a whole lot that he could do about it.

I’m not sure the degree to which that is true for this case. On the one hand, it seems that there must have been some concrete obligations for him to have to go to court to see the grades. On the other hand, the ruling suggests that if the father wanted to pull his support on the basis of his daughter’s grades (as opposed to attendance or enrollment), he would have the right to do so. Otherwise, why would she need to provide more than the enrollment paperwork? The only thing I can think of is so that he can go back to court and get out of the arrangement on the basis that the daughter is not attending school in good faith.

UPDATE: Brandon Berg pointed out that the actual decision was linked to on the page. I probably saw it, but whenever I see a link to the entire decision I assume that it’s going to be really long or in a language I do not understand. It’s actually pretty straightforward. The issue is, if the daughter is not taking and passing a full courseload, he doesn’t have to pay because she can effectively become emancipated and he can be off the hook. So what’s probably happening is that the daughter failed one or more of her courses and she and the mother don’t want to lose the financial support.

Category: Courthouse

Half-Sigma today:

For some reason, I’ve never had any desire at all to edit Wikipedia. Nerdy value-creation skills are undervalued as it is. Why should I do it for free?

Even nerdier than editing Wikipedia is working for free on Linux or some other open source project. I find it even more mystifying that people want to do that for free.

Mr. Blue a few days ago:

We want the 9-5 people. They’re not the ones killing the job sector. We are. We’re the ones who keep coming up with “free alternatives” to the stuff that people should pay for. We’re the ones that allow Mark Zuckerberg to create a bajillion dollar company, employing virtually nobody, because we’ll make the widgets that make Facebook cool. We’re the productive ones that let the IT companies reduce their staff without taking productivity hits. If more of us were like them, there’d be more jobs to go around.

So let’s kill the “geek culture”. Let’s force the women in. Let’s make it so that we want to leave at the end of an 8-hour day. Bring on the apathy that dominates virtually every other field out there. Let’s spend more time making sure that everyone feels welcome and less time getting shit done. The shit we get done just makes more of us redundant. The wisepeople have spoken (utilizing the technology that we built). They apparently know something we don’t about what’s important.

UPDATE: Dave points to this article:

But many startups today have crossed over the line into freestrapping. Pay isn’t “low”, it’s “no”. Operations aren’t lean, they are free. Revenues aren’t small, they don’t exist. That’s right — no revenue and no overhead that can be strictly assigned to the business. Workers work virtually so there’s no office. Or maybe they spend hours at the local coffee shop mooching Internet access. They work for free, sustaining themselves some other way. Maybe they work part-time, have a working spouse, still collect unemployment or have “walk-away” money from their last gig. There are no materials in the strictest sense since they are creating a web-based or mobile application. Even their tools are free. Can you say open source? Or maybe they are using a “free 30 day trial” of a development tool. (Ah, so that’s why the agile development scrums are so short!) They are creating something from nothing. (And, yes, guilty as charged. That’s how we did it. There were a few out-of-pocket expenses but so far nothing that seriously cut into my coffee habit.)

If you are an experienced bootstrapper, this all sounds familiar, right? You are used to making nothing or next to nothing. The difference, and the trouble lies in the lack of revenue or prospects for revenue and the use of free raw materials and tools. The expectation of free has become so pervasive that we are harming our economy’s ability to grow. How can we make a living if we give everything away for free? And why should we expect anyone to pay for what we produce when we don’t pay for the tools we use?

Category: Server Room

I ran across this article on how to make hard-boiled eggs. Despite loving HBEs, I was never formally taught how to make them. I’ve mostly been winging it. So I took the American Egg Board’s (I love that there is such a thing) advice:

Because eggs are hugely high in protein (which makes them an excellent source of protein in our diet), boiling them a long time toughens them. Protein fibers are very sensitive to heat, Helmer said.

The American Egg Board recommends this method for hard-cooked eggs, which Helmer said is “not only foolproof, I’m telling you — you can stake your life on it”.

1. Place eggs in saucepan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Add cold water to cover eggs by 1 inch. Heat over high heat just to boiling.
2. Remove from burner. Cover pan. Let eggs stand in hot water about 15 minutes for large eggs (12 minutes for medium eggs; 18 for extra large).
3. Cool completely under cold running water or in a bowl of ice water. Peel and eat.

The end result a complicated eating procedure wherein I ended up just sucking the yolk out of mostly-raw eggs. It wasn’t bad, but I’m sure Dr Wife will inform me that I did, in fact, “stake my life” on their recipe given the potential health hazards of raw eggs.

Category: Kitchen

Every actor from all of the Law & Order spinoffs up until L&O Los Angeles (which didn’t/doesn’t have an opening sequence).

Category: Theater

When your software takes up 50% of my CPU capacity and half a GB of RAM, it’s not going to stay on my computer very long. On the other hand, if you can come up with something that has a smaller footprint, it’s going to take a lot longer to notice and you can collect more information on me to use for your nefarious purposes. Discipline, people!

Category: Server Room