Monthly Archives: August 2011

Music allegedly has a virtuoso glut. Talent outpaces opportunity. This has always been the case, though. It’s just that in the past, people grasped it more quickly and moved on. Now, though, anyone can produce their own CD and dream the impossible dream, so the dreams are kept alive and the appearance is given that talent is increasing. Also, the standards against what we call “talent” may be decreasing.

Debtors prisons in 2011.

Stop the presses: Being tall is sexy. For men, anyway.

Should people be giving aid to India when India is giving aid to others? Trickle-down economics, of a sort.

Like him or not, I was impressed about Warren Jeffs’s ability to fast himself into a coma. Then it turned out not to be true. So I guess I’m not impressed after all.

How well-intentioned Medicare price controls are causing a shortage. McArdle wrote on this a while back.

How To Break Your Daily Caffeine Habit And Use Coffee Strategically.

Political prognosticator Allan Lichtman says that an Obama re-election is imminent. His 7-for-the-last-7 streak sounds impressive, until you realize that five of them weren’t close, one of them involved a winner whose actual victory was somewhat dubious, and if he guessed in the 1980 election he got it wrong. Oh, and the Weekly World News Alien’s streak goes back to 1980.

Is Germany stalling? I have been impressed with the German model for a while now, but it’s always problematic to credit policies and models and suggest that they would work elsewhere if given the chance, whether Germany, Ireland, or Texas.

The President of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, has banned cell phones at cabinet meetings. Why, he’s no better than Zelaya! Except that he’s following the constitution and will almost certainly step down without incident when his term expires…

New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson was excluded from the GOP debates due to his low standing in the polls. Now that he’s beating Huntsman and Santorum in the polls (within the margin of error, of course)… they’re still being included and he’s not.

Category: Newsroom

ebooks: Footnotes & Hyperlinks

Since it was discovered that Amazon is selling more ebooks than actual books, there’s been a new wave of proclamations that print is dead and ebooks are the future. Here’s Megan McArdle:

Printing and distributing books is a large industry with significant economies of scale. If too few people buy print books, the cost of the remaining books will start to rise. Eventually, more and more applications will switch to the winning medium, even if individuals miss being able to flip through books. There will be specialty applications, but they will be very expensive.

The problem I see with this is that it does not seem to me that economies of scale are going to be the death of (or cause of irrelevancy of) the publishing industry. Publishing has become more flexible than ever. Print-on-Demand is a growth industry. The overhead on getting a book ready to print – absent other costs – has gotten so low that John Q Public can do it. The more expensive part, really, is product selection, marketing, and editing. These are things that you have to do whether going digital or print. And once you’ve done all that legwork for the ebook, why not offer a published version as well?

So will printing become more niche? Probably so. The gadgeteer in me loves it, but for the fact that DRM means that it’s not just physical books being tossed by the wayside, but actual ownership of the books. But I don’t think that it will ever reach the point of being actually niche. It still offers a product that eBooks don’t. You don’t have to worry about batteries. You can read during take-off and landing of airplanes. You have total ownership (including the ability to trade back and forth as much as you like). And it’s decoration. The first three strike up a crucial difference between CDs and MP3s, though the last part applies to both.

To me, the promise of eBooks is not as a replacement for printed books. Rather, it’s the creation of an entirely new medium. It doesn’t seem like the publishers have really caught on to it, though. The electronic nature allows eBooks the ability to do something that’s much harder to do in print. Namely, hyperlinks.

Never has this become more apparent than listening to the audiobook for the Game of Thrones series. Here you have an unbelievable number of characters and families sprawling all over the Seven Kingdoms. At the end of every book is an appendix giving a rundown of all of the families. Obviously, with a book you can always flip to the back, but with electronic text, you can simply tap on a name whenever it appears and be reminded. “Jacen Bloke, Duke of Westerland, son of Aron Bloke, twin brother to Jaren Bloke, died on the Battle of the Riverfront” and so on (all descriptions wouldn’t need to be the same – they might just need to contain the relevance of the mention).

My first attempt at writing a novel was a little over fifteen years ago, though it took place last year. Because I was dealing with a 15-year leap in time, there were a lot of various things I referred to that the main character wouldn’t explain in his narrative because everybody knows who President Tsongas was. So I used a lot of footnotes. Two of my four novels have, for different reasons, an obscene number of characters. I have an appendix in back to help keep them straight. Of course, it’s hard to put things in an appendix that don’t give away stuff that happens in the novel. Not a problem with footnotes or hyperlinks. I’m still developing in my mind a detective series in a fictitious state. There’s a good chance I would be using footnotes there the same way I did in the first novel I tried (and failed) to write.

But what can be done with footnotes is simply nothing compared to what you can do with hyperlinks. Books have a more standard beginning, middle and end. It’s much easier for ebooks to be fluid, to be able to go back and forth between the main story and background. Some people don’t give a rats arse about background. You could actually give readers the option to skip it. Or, if they skipped it and they wish they hadn’t, a single place they can go in order to see all of the background stuff.

Right now, ebooks are just books in digital format. Change that, and you change everything. You allow for the telling of different kinds of stories. You allow for something that makes printed books really obsolete, and not just because they don’t have a power button.

Category: Market, Theater

The laptop that my work issued me did not come with enough RAM or hard drive space. The first part was easily-remedied, the second part less so. There was some encryption software installed that made any sort of cloning from small hard drive to large hard drive more trouble than it was worth. So I reinstalled Windows from scratch.

How secure is Windows 7? So secure that I hadn’t even finished installing all of my software before I’d gotten invaded by a host of spyware and adware. Now, generally speaking, adware has to be conspicuous in order to be effective. I get that. The spyware/malware, on the other hand, is completely getting it wrong.

If I am making some sort of spyware, one of my main goals is that it is not discovered. If I make spyware that sucks up 90% of the CPU on a quad-core machine, it’s not going to take people long to either start looking for the problem say “screw it” and reinstall Windows. It makes the computer that they’re trying to gather data from useless. People will be less inclined to use it. With a little bit of discipline, that thing culd have been on my computer for weeks and weeks without my knowing about. The virus scanner didn’t find it. I wouldn’t have known. Instead, I tracked down the file I was looking for and hit “delete” and that was that.

It’s usually the making of a bad movie when the bad guy is so bad that he gets in his own way. Yet, for the spyware industry, it seems to be standard operating procedure.

Category: Server Room

There’s a rather disturbing case out of North Dakota involving a student at UND facing disciplinary action on a rape that the police actively believe did not occur. It’s not just that the police are failing to press charges, but rather, they are wanting to prosecute the accustor for giving a false statement.

Now men, broadly speaking, and often conservatives, will look at this case with due outrage. And, to be honest, they’re not all wrong here. The recent moves by the Obama Administration to needle schools into loosening the standards of evidence to make it easier for schools to take action make a lot of undesirable things possible.

On the other hand, we don’t know why the police are going after the woman, what lie they might have caught her in, and so on. It could be that the evidence against her is pretty thin. We shouldn’t necessarily assume otherwise. Horrifying accusations on overreaching retaliation against accusers has been known to happen.

Rape really is one of those cases where there is a zero-sum balance. Made more complicated by the disparity in gender between accusor and accused. As a man (in the United States, at any rate), it was never likely that I would be sexually assaulted. Likewise, it is unlikely that a woman would ever be falsely accused of rape. This always leads both sides to minimize the danger of the other. If you’re going to err in one direction or the other, err against them!

Our arguments are always buttressed by our perceptions of likelihood. One in four women are raped! Half of rape accusations are false! When, in reality, we just don’t know all that goes on. Both of these numbers are disturbing. Putting the thumb on the scales to “encourage women to come forward” by refusing to name them even in cases where they have long been discredited (Chrystal Mangum) may encourage rape victims to come forward, but it also provides protection for people who would make such accusations frivolously. And “but no woman would do that!” sounds pretty hollow. The person saying that wouldn’t do it, but there are some crazy women out there. Likewise, though, the one-in-four estimation is truly horrifying. And demands action. And our system has a horrible history of not taking claims of rape seriously.

The easiest way out of this mental logjam is, of course, to simply choose to disbelieve whichever statistics are inconvenient to your perspective. One in four women aren’t raped. They only think they were because they had sex they later regretted. Or the sampling is flawed. Half of rape accusations are not false, and here are the flaws with the study. And to be honest, I couldn’t begin to sort it all out. And since almost everybody has a vagina, and therefore is most likely to be a victim or rape than ever falsely accused of it, or a penis, and therefore is more likely to be falsely accused than raped, everyone has a skin in the game.

So. Err against them.

Category: Courthouse

Junk science is inadmissible in court, but junk economics is a-ok. Of course, economists in general have more to prove at this point than scientists…

A study shows that schools perform better without collective bargaining. Since it confirms my biases, I am going to agree with the findings and completely overlook the fact that there do not appear to have been any SES controls whatsoever.

The always-fun topic of lottery winners and bankrupcy. While winning the lottery doesn’t appear to solve their financial problems, it doesn’t appear to create them, either. Basically, they’re the kind of people that go bankrupt anyway.

I recently wrote about SSD drives. Farhad Manjoo recently wrote about the same thing. As came up in the comments section, this is something that Amiga was doing 15 years ago.

It may be good to be king, but it’s dangerous to be king.

Even goats are good for something.

I’m still debating whether I will be leaving Windows Mobile for Android of Windows Phone 7. This may be another indication that I won’t have a choice.

North Dakota looks finally ready to buckle on the Indian mascot issue (written about here and here). In the end, they really didn’t have a choice.

A profile of Seattle’s real-life superhero, Phoenix Jones. Phoenix is apparently on Twitter.

Category: Newsroom

In the run-up to the new college football season, the Home Sports Channel (HSC) has been playing some reruns from last football season. Last season included some heartbreaking losses, so I had to choose which game I might want to (re-)watch carefully. But when they showed the late season Eastern Metro Conference rivalry game between Southern Tech and the Piermont Riptide. That one had a happy ending, so I recorded it and watch some of it last night.

Here was the frustrating thing. They showed our opening drive all the way from our own five to the other three… and then jumped ahead. Skipping over the touchdown itself. What did they skip ahead to? They skipped ahead past the touchdown and kickoff (from the endzone, because there was an unsportsmanlike victory dance I might not have minded seeing) to the announcers chatting while a lineman who got hurt on the return has a trainer stretch his leg.

While DirecTV has a special channel devoted to showing all of the touchdowns anywhere in the NFL, HSC is just skipping over touchdowns.

I get that these things are tough. They have to show the lineman stretching his leg because it’s part of a drive in which Piermont scores a touchdown. But still, they really do make the strangest editorial decisions.

Category: Theater

I’m finally starting to get paid for my Commodus work on a more regular basis. The paychecks are nice. A little too nice, actually. Uncle Sam and the state are only taking out about a third, when it needs to be about 40-45%. This was not entirely unexpected. Though I had taking 0 deductions, anything I make goes to our highest tax brackets. They had a formula that you can use in order to take more out, but it appears that you can’t say “take out an additional 10%” but only “take out an extra $x.” Which would be fine if my paychecks were a constant amount. But depending on if I have scant work or am working overtime, they could be taking an extra $100 out of a paycheck for $120, or taking $100 out of a paycheck out of $x,000. Until my hours stabilize, I’m going to just have to remember that I am going to owe the government(s) some money.

Category: Statehouse

Alex Knapp writes about how E-Readers may save reading. Abel writes about how the iPad solved his eBook dilemma. On the first item, I have a post I’ve been needing to write for some time now.

Grist reports that eating healthy is hard but not impossible for low-income Americans. This is helpful in the sense that no, poor people aren’t fat because they cannot afford not to be. This is not helpful in the sense that I am a nutritional nihilist and I don’t think they are any more interested in eating healthy than I am. Then again, maybe if we just make the forks larger

The self-examination that higher education would rather not conduct. For all of his faults (and they appear to be legion), Texas Governor Rick Perry has made some of this a priority. We’ll have to see how WGU-Texas goes.

I’m with ED Kain on this one: This is blackmail. Brilliant, legal blackmail. On the other hand, in concept, how different is it than “We will list your phone number unless you pay us not to”?

100 years ago, the Mona Lisa was stolen by a self-described Italian patriot.

Rock on America, you crazy kids, you.

I used to think it was odd that I had only worked for small-ish businesses. It turns out to be not unusual at all. They provide 54% of total paid employees and are 64% of total US job creation. When we talk about “small businesses”, it’s really not the sort of hokum that we need propped up for nostalgia’s sake, as with family farms. This stuff matters.

Is the European model a failure?

Is divorce the natural order of things for men? It sort of makes sense until you consider one crucial fact. Anyone want to take a stab at it?

Does the shape and size of the pill matter?

Category: Newsroom

I have a problem with the belt holsters I put my cell phone in. Namely, if they’re the “right size”, they’re actually too small. By which I mean that they fit too snugly. This is a problem because I take the phone in and out of the holster and all sorts of unintented screen-presses happen. The best ones are a little too large for my phone. I found one the right size on eBay a while back. I wanted a spare, but when I went back to get a backup, it was gone. So I ordered a few different kinds, but none were right. Finally, I saw something very similar to the first on eBay. And I ordered it. And it wasn’t the same one as in the picture. The ad warned me that it might not be, but I had hoped.

Since the seller seemed to sell all kinds of cell phone belt holsters, I wrote the seller this question about the:

“Hello, I ordered this product a while back, but it was too small for my HTC Touch Pro 2. I would like something just a little bit larger. Do you have something for a phone that’s a little bit larger? In fact, the one in the picture is exactly like one I have that fits my phone. What model is that for?”

To which they responded:

“Hello. Yes. This product will fit your HTC Touch Pro 2 perfectly.”

Me: “I know it should, but I find it too tight a fit. I am looking for one the next size up. Do you have any that hold a phone that’s maybe just a little bit larger?”

Them: “This is the one that you need for your HTC Touch Pro 2. It is made for the Touch Pro 2.”

Me: “Which model is the one in the picture for.”

Them: “I don’t know. What kind of phone do you have?”

Me: “I have a Touch Pro 2, but I am looking for one that’s slightly larger. I think the one in the picture is what I want.”

Them: “This item will fit your Touch Pro 2.”

Category: Market

With regard to the above picture. The car in the back is a Pontiac Aztek, oft-named the ugliest vehicles on the road. I, of course, think that they look pretty cool. They have the practicality of a Chrysler, though, despite being made by GM.

Farhad Manjoo writes about Google’s takeover of Motorola and what it might mean. Is Google going the way of Apple? Or are they trying to create a flagship Android phone as a sort of challenge to the others? Or, as many suspect, patents? Manjoo is pessimistic, believing that Google is about to tighten its ship into something less open. I am hoping that they’re going the flagship route. But I’ll take patents.

Microsoft envisions a universal operating system, but it might not be Windows. I’m worried about things going in the other direction, where we have separate OSes for every conceivable device. The only savior in this could be Apple, though that might be burning the village in order to save it.

A cool look at I never used Match, though three of the four I did use are gone and is still around, so they must have did something right.

An interesting story about Mitt Romney’s Mexican roots. Republicans are generally considered to be less worldly in Democrats, and generally they are. But Mormons, one of the most Republican groups in existence, stand in stark contrast.

No surprise: 96 of the top 100 markets lost manufacturing jobs since 2006. Surprise: two of the other four are in California.

Because Hit Coffee is what it is: Bad Boys Have Lower Standards.

The government has blocked a $1,000,000 Italian supercar from entering the US market due to the lack of “child-safe airbags.” I love by country, but sometimes I don’t love my country.

The New York Times reports on the dangers of digitalization: disappearing data. Not just in the sense that it’s been deleted, but in the sense that what we have 100 years from now won’t be able to read what we produce today. This is what ODF was supposed to prevent. But really, as long as open-source projects can roughly read proprietary documents, have much of a danger is there on that front? Given how infinitely copyable everything is, I suspect data is ultimately safer now than ever. So media pirates aren’t actually pirates. They’re curators.

Alex Knapp says this study on spoilers (warning, if you haven’t read Harry Potter, there’s a spoiler) is flawed, but I think it touches on something pretty significant. We need to think of things beyond beginning-middle-end. The ending is only part of the story.

Category: Newsroom