- Andrew Richardson
- Software engineer, business owner, husband, runner and member of my pack of four-legged girls.
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Five minutes of enlightening education.
(via Mother Jones.)
David Simon defends his commentary from last week about Edward Snowden's revelation of the NSA’s telephone metadata program.
We’ve read and heard quite a bit of protest alleging violation of privacy and government overreach in the wake of Snowden’s breach of security. The commentary has been heavy on indignity yet light on alternatives or improvements to the programs in question.
Telephone metadata reveals a picture of personal behavior, and yes, that can be misused by government and law enforcement personnel. Much of what police and the intelligence community are empowered to do can be misused. That in itself is not an argument against them. These programs serve a useful and necessary purpose and exist not in a void, but in the light of Congressional debate and judicial oversight. More light would be better. Curtailing these programs because there exists the potential for misuse would not.
Continual oversight and public awareness of the government’s argument for exercise of these programs are essential to keeping the use of these programs lawful.
As Simon previously has written, those airplanes really did hit those buildings, and people really have been murdered by terrorists vowing to do exactly that and more. We have yet to see evidence that NSA programs have violated Federal laws that were debated, voted upon and enacted, adjudicated and, in 2011, re-debated and renewed.
Apple kicked off their annual WWDC developer conference in San Francisco today. Here's what's new:
- 50 billion apps downloaded from the App Store over five years. 900,000 apps in the store, 375,000 of them for iPad. 93% of these apps are downloaded monthly. 575,000,000 App Store accounts. $10 billion cumulatively paid to developers over five years. If you're smart and authoring mobile applications, you're doing it here.
- OS X, the Mac operating system: the new version is the first without a release number, and is known as OS X Mavericks. Perhaps this solidifies OS X and the OS Apple sticks with the the very long haul. The Finder app will now be tab-based, allowing what used to require multiple windows to be handled within a single instance. Files and folders can be tagged, and tags appear in the left sidebar, allowing same-tagged files from across the file system and iCloud to be grouped together for display and access. Multiple video displays (including HDTVs) work independently, allowing full-screen app display, menu bar and Dock in each. Several under-the-hood technical tweaks improve battery, memory and performance. The Safari web browser sees several memory and performance tweaks. Applications from the App Store are automatically updated in the background. iBooks, an iOS app for book purchase and reading, comes to the Mac. Mavericks will be available this fall.
- Mac hardware: MacBook Air gets "all-day battery life," using the new Intel Haswell CPU. This chip has been touted by Intel for over a year and is finally available now. The 11-inch MacBook Air will have a nine-hour battery life, the 13-inch 12-hours. Updated features include faster flash-based SSD storage and 802.11ac WiFi. The 13-inch model with 256 GB SSD sells for $1299, available today. Other models are less expensive. No mention of Retina display for MacBook Air; Retina will likely define the Pro line of laptops.
- Airport base stations: new 802.11ac Airport Extreme and Airport Time Capsule.
- Mac Pro: yes, an update! We saw just a quick view of the prototype, and plenty of specs. This machine is awesome. Available later this year. Built in the USA.
- iCloud: web-based iWork apps. Create and store docs, spreadsheets and presentations in iCloud using a web browser. Fully functional. Even works on Windows 8 with the Chrome or IE browsers. Available to the public later this year.
- iOS, the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch operating system: new version, iOS 7. Major update, new user interface. New features: control center, swipe up to control radios, brightness, music, etc.; multitasking is extended to all apps by intelligent update scheduling; updated Safari web browser with new tab interface, access to iCloud keychain, new full-screen mode, more; new Airdrop feature for peer-to-peer sharing from multiple apps; new filters for Camera app; new Photos app for organizing pictures.
- New languages and voices for Siri, very smooth and natural sounding. More Siri-integrated services, such as Twitter, Bing and Wikipedia.
- iOS In the Car: integration of iOS with auto manufacturer models in 2014.
- Re-organization of the App Store including age-appropriate, location sensitive. Auto-updating of iOS apps in the background.
- Re-organized Music app, including all purchased iCloud music. New user interface.
- New Music app feature: iTunes Radio. Streaming music similar to Pandora. Create custom stations. Purchase music heard on iTunes Radio via iTunes Store. iTunes Radio is built into iOS, OS X, Apple TV and iTunes on Windows. Free.
- Phone, Message and FaceTime blocking (finally!).
- Activation lock makes stolen iPhones completely unusable, even if wiped and run from scratch.
- A ton of new API calls for developers.
- iOS 7 will be available later this year, for iPhone 4 and later, iPad 2 and later, iPad Mini and the 5th-gen iPod Touch.
No word on new iPhones, iPads, iMacs or MacBook Pros. Expect new mobile devices in the fall.
“For us, now — years into this war-footing and this legal dynamic — to loudly proclaim our indignation at the maintenance of an essential and comprehensive investigative database while at the same time insisting on a proactive response to the inevitable attempts at terrorism is as childish as it is obtuse. We want cake, we want to eat it, and we want to stay skinny and never puke up a thing. Of course we do.”
Wake up, America. We asked for this way back in 2001.
The date on that law is but a month and a half after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Were we hasty getting behind that legislation then? Or are we Captain Renault today?
Click through for enlightening data. Looks like Reagan gave us a reason to drink.
So, two things. When our supermarkets are stocking more fine brew than macro crap, we're living in the golden age of craft beer.
Second, does anyone really believe the prohibition "dip?" I'd guess a true data plot would include a dotted line connecting pre-prohibition to post-. But what do I know?
Sam Mendes, director of the fabulously successful Skyfall, previously said he wouldn’t return for another go at the Bond franchise. Speculation then turned to other well-regarded directors. Now Mendes’ intentions appear to have changed, according to Mike Fleming, Jr., writing for Deadline:
”While Mendes looked doubtful, a bunch of names have been floated in the press, from Ang Lee to Nicolas Winding Refn and Christopher Nolan. I’m not sure there is much validity to any of them, but now it is a moot point, because Mendes will be the director of the next Bond.”
I wasn’t a fan of Mendes’ Skyfall at its debut, but it grew on me with a second viewing.
Much of what I came to like about Skyfall involves its artful cinematography and the patient direction of what is a not-very-thoughtful action story. The room-of-mirrors assassination scene in a Shanghai high-rise somewhat makes up for the less tasteful and thoroughly unnecessary plot turns (haven't we gotten beyond Bond-as-libidinous-spy?), and the early train scene ending in Bond's fall (in two senses) puts down a marker for the questionable villain-willingly-caught-only-to-escape device later in the film. Though not as tightly knit as Casino Royale, it’s as close to introspective as (movie character) Bond gets, and that makes it interesting. Hopefully Skyfall's craftiness will be carried on to the next film.
Perhaps just as interesting as Mendes’ return is the hiring of John Logan to write the next two Bond scripts. Logan previously co-wrote and wrote Gladiator and The Aviator, both detailed character portraits as much as straightforward storytelling. His rumored Bond twist: a two-film story arc.
While Quantum of Solace, the second Bond film to star Daniel Craig, continued the then-unnamed Quantum mythology from Casino Royale, the two films told different stories. A two-film arc sets up the possibility of a cliffhanger ending to the first, itself an unsatisfying plot turn, necessitating seeing both to enjoy a single story. I’d much prefer the former method that tied up the first narrative before a thread of it was pulled into the second.
Regardless, the next two Bond outings are shaping up nicely. There’s an interesting bit of trivia in the Bond 24 IMDB entry about them debuting back-to-back over two years, though. Looks like we’ll be waiting until 2016 for the first. Hard to believe it’ll be that long.
Molly Ball, writing for The Atlantic:
“Of all the Democrats’ many problems in the late 1980s, the biggest was denial. Party activists professed that their nominees were losing not because they were too liberal but because they weren’t liberal enough. Or they said that the party simply had to do a better job of turning out its base of low-income and minority voters. Or that Democrats’ majorities in Congress and governors’ mansions proved the party was still doing fine.”
The US Republican Party is headed down the same road.
America is governed best when the tension between left and right is resolved into law by compromise. Compromise cannot be achieved when one party is consumed by extremist viewpoints. As Ball points out, what the GOP needs is a “third-way” group to bring the party back to reality.
Otherwise the GOP risks remaining, in the words of Republican Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, “the stupid party,” seen as anti-science, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-worker, anti-gay and beholden to monied interests.
Here’s a start: dump the social politics and stick with fiscal and foreign policies, both traditional GOP strengths.
May 18 marks the one-year anniversary of the Facebook initial public stock offering. Coincidentally I re-watched The Social Network last week, so the company and its mythology have been on my mind the past few days. Facebook’s legend vs. reality form a good example of why investors shouldn’t buy into hyperventilating market analysis.
Facebook’s shares initially sold for $38 and closed the first day of trading at $38.23, a minimal gain. They’ve declined in price since.
Newly public companies and their underwriters try to price shares high enough to garner a tidy pile of money for themselves while leaving room for a modest price jump after the open. In Facebook’s case, the initial price was first set at around $28, but subsequently was adjusted up $10 per share. Greed informed that grab for more of the public's money.
There were significant technical glitches affecting that first morning’s trading, but a year later the effect of those bumps has washed out of the price. Yet today FB is trading at around $26. Nice haircut, huh?
The only people who made money on the IPO were insiders and company founders. The average Joe looking to get in on this century’s Netscape or this decade’s Google, and helped along by countless upbeat news stories, is down by around $12 (31%) per share a year later. The S&P 500, a broad slice of the overall US equity market, his gained over 25% over the same period.
There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.
Josh Brown writes a clear-headed, informative weblog about investing and the economy. I’ve followed his writing for a couple of years and have yet to read anything that didn’t make sense in a basic, easy to digest and humorous way. His is a very good accompaniment to Barry Ritholtz’s The Big Picture.
Spencer Ackerman, writing about today’s X-47B aircraft carrier drone launch for Wired:
“‘The Navy’s model is different from the Air Force’s,’ said Rear Adm. Ted Branch, the commander of Naval Air Forces Atlantic. ‘We don’t have someone actively flying this machine with a stick and a throttle. We fly it with a mouse and a keyboard.’ In military nomenclature, the Air Force has drone pilots; the Navy has drone operators.”
I didn’t know that. There’s no remote pilot controlling the Navy’s UCAV, only a flight plan and a computer algorithm executing that plan, and a fail-safe human watching over it. Let’s hope the human stays in the loop for the kill decision (great book, BTW).
What I'll miss about Chris Hadfield's time aboard the International Space Station: the photographs. Here, the Soyuz capsules attached to the ISS (one return vessel for mission 35, one lifeboat) glow blue in dawn light as the station passes Florida.
CMDR Hadfield, the commander of mission 35, returns to Earth tomorrow. I can't think of one astronaut who has done more to bring ISS missions home to us here on Earth. Thanks, Chris!
Nearly twelve years later, the NYC skyline looks more complete.
(via Anne Thompson, NBCNews.)
“The squadron will have eight manned helicopters and a still-to-be-determined number of the Fire Scout MQ-8 B, an unmanned helicopter that can fly 12 continuous hours, tracking targets.”
The new flying technology will be deployed upon the latest naval vessel type, the Littoral Combat Ship.
The Pew Research Center came out with a new study this past week. It finds that in the period 2009-2011 only 7% of Americans saw their net worth increase. The other 93% saw theirs fall. The study goes on:
These wide variances were driven by the fact that the stock and bond market rallied during the 2009 to 2011 period while the housing market remained flat.
Affluent households typically have their assets concentrated in stocks and other financial holdings, while less affluent households typically have their wealth more heavily concentrated in the value of their home.
The study period began in January, 2009, shortly before the stock market’s bottom, yet a couple of years before the housing market finished its decline. What it ultimately measured, then, is what proportion of Americans hold enough invested assets to offset the continuing decline in their home equity.
The study, and commentators, go on to say that this points to an ever-widening divide between wealthier and less-wealthy Americans, as measured by the size of their investment portfolio. And that’s a popular political point to make. What the study doesn’t say, and what commentators fail to question, is why 93% of Americans hold most of their wealth in home equity with relatively little in the way of offsetting invested assets.
Most American’s investments are held in retirement accounts. 401(k)s and IRAs will provide much of their needed retirement income, rather than traditional defined benefit (aka pension) plans. Retirement planning, then, is increasingly a matter of personal responsibility, as fewer employers provide pensions. The burden of creating post-career income falls ever more squarely on the employee’s shoulders.
Setting aside for the moment those who, because of flat real incomes and greater financial burdens, literally cannot afford to build wealth toward retirement, what the Pew study has turned up is that a significant portion of Americans are uninterested or unwilling to make that effort. For an aging population heavily weighted toward Baby Boomers nearing retirement age, and away from younger workers who can be expected to have less income tucked into investments, the study is a bright red flag warning of diminished expectations and postponed retirements.
That’s the glaring (to me) import of the Pew study.
"How crappy are Windows PCs these days? The most reliable, best performing, highly rated laptop for running Windows on is a frickin’ Mac: specifically, a mid-2012 MacBook Pro 13.
As ZDNet’s Ed Bott points out, the laptops that were determined to be most reliable were the ones that ran clean installs of Windows, instead of bloatware-infected OEM installs. And surprise, every Mac running Boot Camp must use a clean install of Windows, making it the king.”
Click through for a graphic ranking the top ten.
Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) have long been the culprit behind unreliable Windows installations. While customers may or may not make use of trial software appearing on new, out-of-the-box machine desktops, OEMs make money just installing it. Trouble is, that software clutters up not only users' workspace, but the Windows registry as well. Add a year or so of use and your Windows machine slows to a crawl.
And that's just the problems stemming from software.
“The only thing we can assume is that consumers of news and information will continue to want more as the world continues to become one global village,’ he said. ‘The question is how much will be distributed in print, online and on the air. I don’t know how much will be delivered on newsprint. Some will be delivered by means we can’t even think of yet.”
Bono, writing about Apple industrial designer Jony Ive for the Time 100:
What the competitors don’t seem to understand is you cannot get people this smart to work this hard just for money. Jony is Obi-Wan. His team are Jedi whose nobility depends on the pursuit of greatness over profit, believing the latter will always follow the former, stubbornly passing up near-term good opportunities to pursue great ones in the distance.
Explains a lot, really.
“The ‘halo effect’ — the theory that Apple can get a new customer to buy one Apple product, that customer, if happy with their purchase, is likely to start buying other Apple products — strikes me as only likely to be effective if all those products are consistently priced and marketed. Industry observers break out PCs, tablets, smartphones, and media players into discrete product categories, but Apple, from a consumer branding perspective, does not. Macs, iPads, iPhones, and iPods are all just Apple products, and they’re all priced and designed the same way: seldom the cheapest, but usually the best.
It’s their consistency in that regard across all products that drives the halo effect, turning someone who never bought an Apple product in their life into someone with an iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.”
That described me to a tee. I was a Windows guy for twenty-plus years, building my machines from parts, before getting my first Apple product. It was an iPod Shuffle, for running, a gift from Kelly. It was arguably the least Apply of their product line with no user interface to speak of, but it had Apple's minimalist design going for it. And I could drop it, sweat on it and otherwise abuse it to no end without ill effect. It worked well, and I liked it for that as much as its simplicity.
The Shuffle was eventually followed by an iPod Classic for Kelly. I bought it on Apple's web site, opted for free engraving on the back and 48-hours later it was in her hand. Customized. From China. I was intrigued. Opening the packaging was like opening a jewel box, a special gift. Apple's deft touch didn't end with a shapely music player or its simple clickwheel interface, it extended to the first glimpse the customer had of their effort: the box.
A MacBook Pro for Kelly followed a while later, then iPhone 3GSs for both of us. I liked her laptop so much I cut short the three-year replacement cycle on my Lenovo Thinkpad laptop and bought a MacBook Pro for myself. An iPad for me from Kelly followed, then an iPad for her. A Mac mini replaced an old Windows server for our movie library. iPhone 5s replaced our two-year old 3GSs as their batteries waned. Sprinkled in there were Apple TVs and an Airport Extreme router.
Re-equipping our home took a handful of years, but Apple products slowly spread everywhere.
What's so special about these gadgets? What prods a new customer to his second purchase, third, and onward? They're mainly composed of off-the-shelf, commodity parts, after all, the same components found in many Dell, HP and Lenovo machines.
Their uniqueness is two-fold. First, the software that bridges hardware to user is designed with the general populace in mind, not the geek fringe. It provides a refined, simplified means of operating the equipment. It's comfortable for newbie and power user alike.
Switching from Windows to OS X was easy. Figuring out how to operate an iPhone was fun. Replacing paper books and magazines with an iPad was a one-way trip. I've never looked back.
Second, the industrial hardware design pays attention to the smallest detail. Hinges don't loosen with use leaving the owner with a wiggly laptop display. Keyboards retain consistent key bounce over time. Phones are of a single physical design per product cycle, and each has the feel of a cut gem. The product line's appearance is elegant and consistent.
As a bonus, product packaging is like a Christmas gift in white.
Yes, they generally cost more. And they're worth every last cent.
Kevin Drum for Mother Jones:
”How did this happen even though, as liberals remind us endlessly, 90 percent of the American public supports background checks? Because about 80 percent of those Americans think it sounds like a reasonable idea but don’t really care much. I doubt that one single senator will suffer at the polls in 2014 for voting against Manchin-Toomey.
Gun control proposals poll decently all the time. But the plain truth is that there are only a small number of people who feel really strongly about it, and they mostly live in urban blue districts already. Outside of that, pro-gun control opinion is about an inch deep. This is a classic case where poll literalism leads you completely astray. Without measuring intensity of feeling, that 90 percent number is meaningless.“
That's why Democrats stopped campaigning on the gun control issue last decade: it wasn't winning them anything. In fact, the issue was hurting their chances of election in more conservative districts by repeatedly painting candidates as whiny liberals.
Good idea or not, NRA lobbying or not, I think Kevin put his finger right on the problem for gun control legislation: insufficient numbers care about it enough to contact legislators, elect those candidates who agree, and send home those who don't.
Deficit hawks have been touting a 2010 study by Harvard economists Rogoff and Reinhart as evidence that higher levels of US debt spell certain doom for our economic output, based on historical cases. Now a new study has uncovered possible errors in their methodology. The resulting difference may be as stark as night and day.
Rogoff and Reinhart haven’t yet responded, though no doubt they will. This one will be very interesting to watch.
Bill Iffrig is the older guy you saw knocked to the ground near the finish line at today’s Boston Marathon. He was just a dozen feet from the first blast. I thought we’d hear his story at some point.
He’s 78, and today was his third Boston Marathon. After a pause on the deck he got up and walked across the finish line. His chip time was 4:03:47, delayed somewhat by bomb. Wow.
Story by The Herald of Everett, Washington
Golfers want silence when hitting stationary balls at their feet. Baseball batters, in screaming crowds, hit 90 mph fastballs
Neil is an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in NYC. Follow him at @neiltyson. Because physics isn’t just a good idea. It’s the law.
My co-worker ran a marathon today. Not a ten-miler. Not a Half. Twenty-six-point-two. Five hours, fifty-five minutes of running, of which everything after the first thirty or so minutes was just tolerating the pain. And she finished.
I’d love to feel the elation of running that last mile, crossing the timing mats and stopping.
Some say that by the time you reach the start line the race is half-done. That’s because the training is half the struggle. It becomes a part-time job, adding miles above your comfort zone every other day until you top out at twenty miles. And then you add a ten-K to that on race day.
So hats-off to her. Her sore body will heal in a few days. Then she can say, “I did that.”
Dr. Drang has been reading my thoughts, or watching me at work, or something. He writes a concise explanation of why I do what I do “off job description” at my day job.
There’s working hard and there’s working smart. I prefer the latter. Sometimes it looks like I’m just doing whatever the hell I please and getting away with it, until my efforts save the observer a week of annoying, drudgery-filled, repetitive work. And then it’s ok. And I always get away with it (with a thank-you, to boot!)
I wrote a straightforward database application a while back that, when executed at our Memphis facility, saved nearly 100,000 individual, manual database edits.
Sometimes an app takes longer to create and test than it would to do the work manually, but then there’s Dr. Drang’s reason number 5. I keep that in mind, along with reason number 2, when I’m trying to descend into code-land.
It’s a short trip. I know I’ve arrived when I can see the logic flow in my head. Absolute silence helps get me there, which is why I often work from home when I code.
It’s nice, now and then, to come across a piece that perfectly captures a cherished mindset. Drang wrote one, today.
For months now, Commander Chris Hadfield has tweeted his daily routine and engrossing photographs from low Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station. Follow him at @Cmdr_Hadfield or search his name on Youtube and enjoy the views, as he returns from commanding the current mission in about a month.
Dave Matthews Band “Bartender” Live from Las Vegas, perhaps my favorite of his white-boy blues.
Brad Reed, writing for Boy Genius Report:
“there are a couple of reasons for this: First, Lenovo has been targeting its sales toward emerging markets such as Brazil and its native China, where demand for new PCs is higher than in the United States, Europe, Japan and Korea. Businessweek also says that Lenovo ‘makes almost one-third of its products in house, which helps it innovate and get those innovations to the market more quickly’”
One reason overlooked here: Lenovo is known for their iconic Thinkpad line of laptops, machines known for build quality and durability. They bought the Thinkpad line from IBM in 2005 and the product's quality has never slipped. When companies and consumers want a top-quality Windows laptop this is what they buy. Take a look around airport departures lounges, what are the business travelers carrying? The majority hold Thinkpads.
Quality isn't flashy, but it leads to success.
John Moltz, about Ron Johnson's ouster as CEO of JC Penney today:
“You don’t turn around a crappy aircraft carrier full of chinos, Christmas sweaters and cheap curtains in two years. I liked what he was trying. It made me consider going into a JC Penney again.”
Me, too, though Kelly, not so much. Johnson used the Apple retail store motif he created years ago as a model for recreating Penney.
Some like the clean, austere look; some don't. Apparently Penney shoppers don't give a rat's ass about design as much as they do weekly specials and SALE-SALE-SALE.
Unfortunately for Penney, Walmart and Target have that retail segment sewn up. Good luck to them.
I hear Apple is still looking for a Senior VP of Retail, after unloading the guy they hired after Johnson left for Penney. Hmm.
This is pretty cool. The remains of two US Navy sailors from the US Civil War are on their way to Arlington National Cemetery after recovery from the final resting place of the ironclad USS Monitor.
This photo was captured at Washington Dulles International airport this morning as the remains were transferred from Delta Airlines to the Navy honor guard.
“How an Internet-trained Apple analyst lost tens of millions of other peoples’ money”
A good, medium-length read about how greed can rob investors of well-earned gains.
Tip to the small-time investor: avoid derivatives like the plague.
Anyone who traded $60 Apple shares for call options only to see the company's shares tank, rather than explode one's investment balance, got what he deserved. Buy long, hold long, sell dear. Don't be dumb.
“The app is secondary — it’s just a container. I’m not going to get a meaningful number of new subscribers because I add a new setting or theme. This is why publishers like Condé Nast can have such mediocre, reader-hostile apps: the apps don’t matter as much as we like to think. The content and the audience matter much more than what color your links are.”
Wired Magazine has one of those reader-hostile apps. Massive, slow downloads of content, app crashes on older, slower iPads and content that cannot be copied or linked-to are the order of the day. Yet I continue to subscribe to the digital edition, and for the same reason I've subscribed to the magazine since issue number one: great articles, delivered monthly.
Tesla responds to the NYT:
“After a negative experience several years ago with Top Gear, a popular automotive show, where they pretended that our car ran out of energy and had to be pushed back to the garage, we always carefully data log media drives. While the vast majority of journalists are honest, some believe the facts shouldn’t get in the way of a salacious story.”
The NYT’s John Broder authored a recent piece in which he described his negative experience test-driving a Tesla Model S. He claimed the car was unable to make the distances between Tesla’s own charging stations along the east coast, particularly after a night of winter cold weather.
Turns out Tesla logged a great volume of data from that trip, giving them proof that Broder’s words were inaccurate at best. Click through for their rebuttal, including several annotated charts of the data logged refuting Broder's claims.
I think I see a black eye forming at the NYT.
The father of human-factors engineering, the guy who first interfaced industrial products to humans, has died. Margalit Fox, writing for The NYT:
“Mr. Karlin, associated from 1945 until his retirement in 1977 with Bell Labs, headquartered in Murray Hill, N.J., was widely considered the father of human-factors engineering in American industry.”
Human-factors engineering is the primary reason technology has so thoroughly become a part of global lifestyles. Products now live or die by how well they fit their owner’s hand, rather than by mere usefulness.
John M. Broder, writing for The NYT:
“I drove a state-of-the-art electric vehicle past a lot of gas stations. I wasn’t smiling.”
We're at that point with electric cars where a century ago, when travel in a gasoline-powered automobile was fine within a local area, cross-country driving was still a crap shoot. It's worth considering if you live anywhere but the west coast and really want that $100,000 Tesla sedan.
Or you could move to California.
“It’s been debated for months and months, but on Wednesday the United States Postal Service finally will announce it’s not going to deliver first-class mail on Saturdays anymore.”
We wouldn't be here if we allowed the US Postal Service to charge a market-based rate for their services.
Seriously, does ANYONE believe that 46-cents is a reasonable fee for carrying a letter-sized package anywhere in the US (including far-flung Hawaii and Alaskan ZIP codes)? For comparison, both UPS and Fedex, both well-respected courier services, charge over $9 to carry the smallest "letter" sized package, and they vary their rates by distance.
Wake up, America. We get what we pay for. If we want Saturday delivery, conveniently placed Post Offices and the like, we need to pay for it. 46-cents isn't paying. It's a giveaway.
Credit rating giant Standard & Poor's Ratings Services expects to be the first major credit rating firm hit with civil fraud charges by the government over its rating of mortgage-backed bonds that keyed the national financial meltdown, the company said Monday.
Moody's and Fitch may want to consider external counsel, as well.
Recall that the bond ratings given CDO products during the heyday of no-document mortgages were all the assurance investment banks needed to buy, buy, buy. Taxpayers got the bill.
Xeni Jardin, writing for Boing Boing:
“The two-decade wait is over for fans of My Bloody Valentine: finally, a new album.
‘MBV,’ out today, is their first since 1991’s critically-acclaimed ‘Loveless.’”
I wore out MBV’s last, second album, Loveless during alternative music’s middle age twenty years ago. Kevin Shields’ tracks on the Lost in Translation soundtrack were instantly recognizable ten years later.
Now I have another nine tracks of shoe-gazing aural splendor. Cool.
It's become a sure bet going the other way on anything Ballmer says. The only remaining question is, when does Microsoft throw him under the damn bus?
Only two days ago I noted an NBCNews piece about American forces involved in Mali's shadow war, if only on the periphery. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb figured prominently in that news.
Now 41 people, mostly Algerian nationals but including a half-dozen or so Americans have been taken hostage at a gas plant in neighboring Algeria:
“The al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb group claimed it had captured the workers in retaliation for France’s intervention in Mali, Reuters reported, citing two Mauritania-based news agencies.”
Richard Engel and Robert Windrem, writing for NBCNews:
“France will send about 1,000 troops and armored vehicles to Mali over the next few days with the support of U.S military and intelligence operations, upping the ante in its effort to turn back Islamic militants threatening to topple the north African nation’s government, U.S. national security officials told NBC News on Monday.”
Watch this. Watch the militant Islamic world unite behind it. Watch this spin out of control.
Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers. I’m still working through his Sandman comic, a ground-breaker in that genre, and greatly enjoyed his novel Neverwhere, voiced by him for audiobook. He’s an imaginative writer gifted with a warm tone and love for his characters. In Sandman he makes even Death look friendly.
So of course he wrote about the passing of his dog, Cabal, this week, neatly capturing the emotional toll felt by all who have ever owned, lost and mourned four-legged friends. Cabal was just short of ten years old, old enough for a large dog yet not nearly long enough for humans:
I wish dogs lived longer.
He was the best dog in the universe and I’m going to miss him so much.
No matter the joys shared with dogs, we know this day is coming. Neil’s piece illustrates the only way out of the resulting sadness and loss: remembering the joys. A dog will rescue your mind and soul from whatever daily disaster you’ve suffered, and ask only for a meal, a warm bed and a scratch behind the ears in return.
I hope to own a dog or two every day until my last.
Something else stuck out in Neil’s writing: he had never owned a dog, yet took the initiative to stop along a busy highway and rescue Cabal. He’s a good guy.
“A major adult filmmaker sued to block a new Los Angeles County law requiring porn actors to wear condoms, calling it a threat to free expression.”
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
The name of the new law's ballot initiative: "Measure B."
Ha ha ha ha ha h
Sorry, fell off my chair.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha.
The White House web site runs a petition page, where people can seek support for whatever cause suits their fancy. The entries mostly cover the usual political initiatives, but a few oddballs sneak through and gain enough support to require a response.
The threshold for tasking a response is 25,000 signatures. Leave it to Star Wars to meet that.
So says Brad Reed, writing for Boy Genius Report:
“Las Vegas is a much better place to be in January than Boston, and I’ve typically had fun covering CES in the past. I skipped it this year, however, and after taking a look at all the ‘big’ announcements unveiled by major tech vendors at CES 2013, all I can say is, ‘Thank God I’m stuck freezing in Massachusetts.’
These things don’t go on forever. Anyone remember COMDEX?
This year’s CES attendance numbers might tell an interesting tale.
In a nut, computer manufacturers trained customers to expect dirt cheap prices for Windows-based laptops by selling cheap, under-powered and ultimately unsatisfying "netbooks."
Now that netbooks have thankfully gone the way of the dodo, customers aren't willing to spend the asking price for today's full-featured Windows 8 laptops and tablets.
Paul Thurrott, writing for his Supersite For Windows:
“It’s not pat to say that the Windows PC market went for volume over quality, because it did: Many of those 20 million Windows 7 licenses each month—too many, I think—went to machines that are basically throwaway, plastic crap. Netbooks didn’t just rejuvenate the market just as Windows 7 appeared, they also destroyed it from within: Now consumers expect to pay next to nothing for a Windows PC. Most of them simply refuse to pay for more expensive Windows PCs.”
Thurrott has the numbers to back up his assertions and, as a well-regarded Windows pundit isn't susceptible to the "Microsoft hater" label. Microsoft and Windows PC manufacturers have backed themselves into a retail corner.
This is why Apple never entered the netbook market. They've never made down-scale junk to pump up sales numbers, instead staking out the premium market to great success. Their nearest netbook competitor is the 11-inch MacBook Air, prices for which start at $999. While not as powerfully equipped as their mainline MacBook Pro these machines are fully capable mobile computers, sell very well and garner zero customer dissatisfaction.
Aiming high has its advantages.
Dr. Drang, making an unfamiliar, yet welcome argument in favor of old-school "English" units for measurement:
“I’ll also admit to a fondness for traditional units. They arose organically to meet specific needs. Inches are for things we hold in our hands, feet are for the buildings we live in, and miles are for our towns. There’s a certain rightness to using different units on different scales rather than just sliding a decimal point one way or the other. The metric system was imposed from above by an elite; customary units were crowdsourced.”
The metric system I learned in fifth grade simply didn't stick here in the US, arguably because it wasn't required. And although metric units are commonly used for many products (car parts and the tools to work on them, for example) I suspect nothing short of successful legislation changing product labeling will push Americans to make everyday use of milliliters, grams and kilos. In the mean time we'll get along just fine with the old units, which measure every bit as accurately, if oddly.
A quick note as we begin a new year.
I’ve been laboring under a cloud these past many weeks. I’m sure the winter season has something to do with it, after all one of the reasons we moved from New England was the creeping dread of a cold landscape devoid of life, magnified by constantly cloud-filled winter skies. At least Virginia winters are sunny. Co-workers I’d rather see permanently receding in my rear-view mirror, constant political-born hatred and sad news of people losing their homes, jobs and loved ones have taken their toll on my psyche this past year.
At the same time, though, I’ve seen glimmers of hope. Our small business just completed its best year ever. Election season ended with an unambiguous result. The US economy continued slowly, steadily chugging along. Unemployment (very) gradually declined. There was ample evidence of the goodness and kindness of ordinary people on display across the country, in the wake of that massacre in Connecticut. And creative, intelligent, learned people continued working on difficult problems in every endeavor despite the hard-of-thinking crowd’s easy and, often, self-serving answers that rarely solve problems.
2013 is about optimism. It’s about hope for better days, which are increasingly coming our way. It’s about putting the petty bullshit behind us and focusing on the work at hand. It’s about finding one good thing to be pleased and thankful about every day.
Put enough of those days together and life doesn’t look so depressing anymore. It’s not, really. It’s just easy to lose sight of that.
Here’s hoping your 2013 is as terrific as mine!
The agreement voted up by the Senate last night is in peril of amendment by House fiscal scolds. Brian Beutler, writing for TPM News:
“So Boehner has two real options. The first is to put the bill on the floor in a way that allows it to pass unamended, with the help of Democratic votes. There’s little doubt it could pass on a bipartisan basis that way, but if the GOP rebellion is severe enough it will force Boehner to violate the so-called Hastert rule — the GOP standard that legislation lacking support from a majority of the party should not come to the floor for a vote — and put his speakership at risk.
The second is to genuinely amend it, lose all House Democratic support, and attempt to pass it with Republican votes only. If they succeed, as Durbin indicated, it’s dead on arrival in the Senate. The House will have violated the bipartisan compromise the House tasked the Senate with striking, and dragged the country over the cliff. But it’s not even clear that an amended Senate bill could clear the House on the strength of Republican votes alone.”
At least US voters will know who to blame. Remember this moment!
Russian winter, where it doesn’t take long for water to freeze. -41C = -41.8F.
No need for sub-titles, here.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R-surprise, surprise):
“‘We should not be afraid of any new technologies consistent with our civil liberty,’ says Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Virginia isn’t using any drone technology right now, but McDonnell says they could use it in the future.”
… because law enforcement has never misused technology to violate citizen’s civil liberties. Ever.
A clue, Bob. It’s not the drones we’re concerned with so much as the government agency personnel using them.
Kevin Drum, in a brief piece for Mother Jones:
“Keep this firmly in mind. LaPierre’s only goal yesterday was to hijack the media narrative. “
The NRA is not noble in its cause or patriotic in its duty. It is a professional lobbying firm, same as the rest of the crowd on K Street, Washington DC. See them in that context and much of their rhetoric falls away, like last year's campaign speeches.
Tell me what you do, and I'll tell you what you are. Wayne LaPierre is a slight-of-hand artist.
Ken Segall raises an issue I've long wondered about Microsoft's (and the Android clones') advertising. Who the hell are they targeting?
Apple ads: practical demonstration of people using Apple products in ways that non-geek, non-hipsters might. Upbeat, even cheerful tone.
Says: "Buy this. It's great."
Microsoft ads: surreal, choreographed demonstration of big company advertising budget. Dancers swing and sway with Surface tablets, attaching and disconnecting keyboards while not actually doing anything with the device. The selling point appears to be the magnetic click of attaching the keyboard, which is of admittedly nice design.
Says: "We have no idea what we're doing, but we're having fun doing it. We should have stuck to phones."
Android ads: frightening, frat boy inspired demonstration of robotic equipment, cyborgs and wanna-be geeks attempting to pick up women by showing off their mobile devices. Yup, that'll work. Gets 'em every time.
Says: I have no idea. I can't figure out who this is supposed to appeal to. My wife says, "frat boys who like gadgets." Close enough.
Because I get a kick out of how the sausage is made, here's Kevin Drum writing about House Speaker John Boehner's "failed" Plan B for Mother Jones:
“A second possibility—and I honestly don’t know how likely this is—is that Boehner now knows he can’t get the tea partiers to vote for anything, so he’ll give up on the idea of bringing them into the fold. Instead of trying to craft a bill that can get 218 Republican votes, he’ll round up fifty or a hundred of the non-crazies and pass a compromise bill along with 150 Democrats. On this reading, today’s failure actually makes a fiscal cliff compromise more likely.”
The simplest explanation is often the right one, but politics rarely follows science's simpler methods. Perhaps the true intent of Speaker Boehner's Plan B was to expose the GOP caucus's more intransigent members, allowing him to move beyond the rightest of wingers in fashioning a deal palatable to Democrats and the more moderate (yes, there are still some out there) Republicans.
If that's the case, there's quite a lot of politicking going on among Republican back benchers right now. That would make for an interesting few days of political news next week.
Apple smoke signals in The Wall Street Journal almost always mean there’s a fire burning somewhere, because the Journal doesn’t report rumor. I guess we’ll see the result of any such development in the spring of 2013, earliest.
Recall that Apple refreshed or reintroduced almost their entire product line-up this past fall, leaving no obvious announcements, save the Mac Pro, for the next six months leading up to WWDC 2013. WWDC usually brings the unveiling of OS X’s next version.
How interesting is a new television? Not very. The market is saturated with fine examples this many years after the US switch to digital broadcast. Indeed, high definition TVs have become commodity items.
Interest in an Apple television stems from the crappy viewing and recording experience we’re currently stuck with, and how the company has “cracked” the problem of making a TV experience that doesn’t suck. A television that plugs into my local computer network and allows both live and view-on-demand from my cable Internet provider would go a long way to removing the suck.
Keach Hagey, writing for The Wall Street Journal:
“The Washington Post, one of the last holdouts against the trend of charging readers for online access to newspaper articles, is likely to reverse that decision in 2013, according to people familiar with the matter.”
I wondered how long it would take the Post to raise a web paywall after canceling our newspaper subscription a few years ago. The Post web site was giving away all of the paper’s content, even syndicating it by section through RSS feeds. Why pay for what could be had free, especially if I could tailor the content to just what I wanted, and nothing I didn’t?
The New York Times, a rival publication to the Post, raised a similar paywall a couple of years ago. So far it appears to be making money for them without unduly restricting readership. The Post’s effort will likely have the same effect. It’ll give them a little more time to figure out how better to compete in the online news market, if nothing else.
Dan Seifert, writing for The Verge:
“Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate, News Corporation, announced today that the two new companies being formed from its split will be called Fox Group and News Corporation. The company is being split to separate the media and entertainment side of the business from its news coverage.”
Mildly amusing to note that while news sources such The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones will stay with News Corp, Fox "News" Channel will go to the new Fox Group along with the rest of Rupert's entertainment properties, such as Fox Sports, the movie studio and the Fox television network. Everything in its place.
Laura Clawson, writing for Daily Kos:
“Many people who work behind desks and think raising the Social Security eligibility age would be a reasonable solution to the crisis they’re told exists in the program are just suffering from a lack of imagination.”
Adjustments must be made to the Social Security program, of that there is no question. What changes will be made is up for grabs. Here's a thought-provoking, fact-backed piece on why raising the SS eligibility age isn't the right choice.
It made me re-think my convictions, because raising the eligibility age is among those ideas I'd get behind. And yes, I work a desk job.