March 30, 2012

Mother Jones: I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave

Mac McClelland, writing for Mother Jones:

“”We want you to go work for Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc.,” they said. I’d have to give my real name and job history when I applied, and I couldn’t lie if asked for any specifics. (I wasn’t.) But I’d smudge identifying details of people and the company itself. Anyway, to do otherwise might give people the impression that these conditions apply only to one warehouse or one company. Which they don’t.”

Fascinating long read about working conditions in a shipping warehouse, where workers pick and ship products in double-time for well-known online retailers.

These employees, thankful to have jobs, are unable to gain better employment for lack of training, education, or effort when it would have made a difference. Yet they’re unable to simply walk away for lack of income. They epitomize the phrase “wage slave.”

Employment like this is only going to increase given the expanding online share of worldwide retail sales.

March 28, 2012

Blowing In the Wind

Here's a terrific visual presentation of the current wind flow over the US. It's zoomable!

Give it a few seconds to load, it's fairly popular right about now.

(via @Ihnatko.)

March 27, 2012

Statesmanlike

"Boehner takes slight dig at #Romney "while POTUS is overseas I think it's appropriate that people not be critical of him or our country.""

(via @LukeRussert.)

March 26, 2012

The Case for National ID Cards

David Frum makes a good case for a US national identification card. Worth a read, especially if you disagree with the proposition.

(via The Daily Beast.)

March 25, 2012

Competition For iPhone, FInally

Dave Nanian:

"After six and a half months exclusively using @windowsphone, I went back to my iPhone 4S for two days.
And actually missed Windows Phone."

Uh oh.

March 22, 2012

National Ignition Facility Gets One Step Closer To 'Fusion Burn'

Jeff Blagdon, writing for The Verge:

“The NIF’s goal with these experiments is called inertial confinement fusion (ICF) — a type of fusion reaction created by heating and compressing a small piece of solid fuel, in this case a frozen pellet of a hydrogen isotope (a different kind of experiment than those the SLAC lasers are being used for). If done successfully, the fuel will “ignite,” causing a fusion chain reaction that produces more energy than is added by the laser.”

Fusion-based nuclear energy stands a good chance of supplanting fossil fuels for domestic energy production, if scientists can figure out how to ignite hydrogen fuel. With this successful experiment, we're one step closer.

The Kennedy Assassination: Did Castro Know In Advance?

Glenn Garvin, writing for The Miami Herald:

““Castro knew,” the intelligence officer would tell a CIA debriefer years later, after defecting to the United States. “They knew Kennedy would be killed.””

(Via Chuck Todd.)

Fascinating article about Cuban Intelligence operations over the past several decades as detailed in a new book, to appear next month. In it, a Cuban signals intelligence operative recounts how he was told to channel his listening efforts toward news coming out of Texas on November 22, 1963. President Kennedy was assassinated later that day.

March 21, 2012

∴ CS193P: It Will Kick Your Ass

I finally got around to investigating Apple’s iTunes U service, an aggregator that offers free online courses from colleges and universities around the world. I’ve wanted to do this for what seems like years, but took the plunge only after Apple updated the service a couple of months ago.

They’ve created a universal iPhone/iPad app for lectures, notes and assignment delivery that lays out the curricula in a concise, session-by-session list. Each class session opens to video, slide and PDF content.

I’ve wanted to learn iOS programming for iPhone and iPad devices, so I clicked through to the engineering offerings. Right at the top of the list was iPad and iPhone Application Development from Stanford University, CS193P. What better source could there be?

This course is a set of recorded lectures from the Fall 2011 quarter, including approximately ten weeks of instruction as well as six programming assignments. It includes nineteen video lectures recorded during actual classroom sessions, a set of slides from each for later review, and an assignment about every two weeks.

The assignments will, after the first, melt your brain. There are a few things conspiring to make this so.

First, CS193P is a high 100-level course intended not for the casual student, but rather one matriculated into a computer science program. By the second assignment you will be expected to incorporate recursion into multiple class methods in order to create a functional RPN calculator. If any of that didn’t make sense, this isn’t the course for you.

(I hadn’t worked with recursion since I programmed Karel the Robot in Pascal to find a cookie in a maze twenty-seven years ago. It took a while for my synapses to find and replay that exercise.)

Second, and probably more to the point, this course is offered by Stanford University. It moves RIGHT ALONG. The professor, Paul Hegarty, covers the main points of each class’s topic and gives a live, hands-on code demo.

You’ll spend copious amounts of time later digging through Xcode documentation for the finer details. You’re keeping up with students who were accepted into a Stanford engineering major, so … buckle up.

(Prof. Hegarty is knowledgable and a good teacher, having been hired by Steve Jobs for NeXT right out of Stanford years ago. You could say he was present at the birth of the modern Mac architecture.)

Third, Objective-C, the native high-level language for programming iOS devices, isn’t exactly the easiest to learn. I’ve had some experience with OO languages, taking a command line-oriented C++ programming course in the early nineties and, a half-dozen years later, self-learning Java. I have a stock tracking application that I wrote in Java and used to watch my accounts rise and fall through the Internet bubble of 1999-2000 floating around somewhere.

Objective-C, however, possesses a significantly different syntax for accessing class and instance methods and properties, which takes a little getting used to.

This is the first time I’ve been exposed to both this, umm, different OO language and the model-view-controller paradigm. MVC is an approach to programming for point-and-click, graphic UI devices that separates the business parts of the code from the viewing parts by mediating between them with a controller. Complex applications use multiple MVC classes to interact with the user. Tying them together adds to the difficulty of learning the language.

The first assignment from this course was fairly easy, walking through a code example and adding functionality to a basic RPN calculator.

The second assignment quickly ramped up the difficulty, requiring the addition of programmability, test variables and conversion of RPN-format formulae for infix-notation display. That took me about a week to accomplish.

The third assignment, just finished, extended the previous assignment’s requirements to include graphing the results of a user-entered formula over a visible range of values, as well as turning what had been an iPhone app into a universal iPhone/iPad version. Working through the differences between those two displays took another week.

(iPhone possesses a small display, so you just segue from the calculator to the graph view. iPad is larger, so you have both the calculator and graph visible in a split view until the user rotates the display. Then you have just the graph, and a button to display the calculator in a popover. Both device’s graph displays must handle zooming, panning and triple-clicking to move the graph origin around the screen. All of this is accomplished in custom code.)

Keep in mind that Stanford students are taking this course along with at least another CS course, plus another science and perhaps a distribution course.

The upside to taking this iTunes U course is that I have all the time I need. I’m not a member of a class, I'm just auditing. The class only meets as often as I play another lecture. Having completed the third assignment I’m halfway through the programming part, though there are about a dozen more lectures to be viewed.

If this all sounds like a chore, well, it is. But if you want to learn iOS programming this is the course you want. The advanced topics start around lecture three or four, and by the time you’re done you’ll have a rich understanding of how to create iOS apps. You’ll be miles ahead of anyone working through a basic, self-taught course. But you’ll work for it.

March 19, 2012

FAA Taking “Fresh Look” At Passenger Device Use During Takeoff/Landing

Ryan Faas, writing for Cult of Mac:

“The ban on electronic devices has come under fire recently as the F.A.A. has been certifying the use of iPads in the cockpit during all phases of flight (including takeoff and landing) by various commercial airlines as a replacement for hefty “flight bags” of paper manuals and charts.”

If it's ok on the flight deck, it's ok in the cabin.

If airlines want your device shut off during taxi-out so they have your attention for the safety briefing, they should say so. Otherwise there's no good reason to ban devices during any phase of flight. Certainly not electromagnetic interference, which would be a concern on the flight deck where iPads are already in common use.

March 18, 2012

Intersections In the Age of Driverless Cars

Could you take your eyes off the road?

(via kottke.org.)

March 14, 2012

Loyalty and Instapaper

Jim Dalrymple, writing for The Loop:

“Rian van der Merwe:

My loyalty comes from the fact that I’m unable to separate Instapaper from its creator, Marco Arment.

And it works really well.“

Yep, that’s a quote of a quote, the sight of which is usually an indication that a weblog writer is about make a lazy post. It got me thinking about Instapaper, though, so here we go.

I’ve been using that application for a couple of years now. I’ve been listening to Instapaper author Marco Arment’s weekly podcast musings for as long as he’s produced one, too. As van der Merwe writes, it’s hard to separate the app from the author.

That’s because Marco is not only a successful developer, but a thoughtful and pragmatic entrepreneur as well. Though occasionally not what you’d expect from an software author (he advises settling a wrong-headed software patent suit out of court rather than bankrupt yourself fighting it), his ideas and opinions on making independent software development a life choice are borne out by the evidence of Instapaper. He’s the poster boy for good software design and difficult choices carried through to a functional software tool, and the ease of making a living though the iOS App Store.

In short, becoming familiar with the author made me want to use his product all the more.

March 13, 2012

Apple About To Eclipse Entire Retail Sector

Jonathan S. Geller, writing for Boy Genius Report, says Apple is about to reach a market capitalization more impressive than Exxon-Mobile’s: the entire US retail sector.

Click through for an astonishing graph. Note the near-vertical climb in Apple’s market cap over the past year.

Rumors: Apple HDTV Components Hit Apple’s Suppliers

Jordan Kahn, writing for 9 to 5 Mac, reports on a usually reliable financial analyst's note today:

“A new report from Misek (via BusinessInsider) claimed small quantities of TV components are starting to move through Apple’s supply chain. He also said production of up to 5 million units could kick off as early as May, and he still expects the product to launch by Q4 of this year”

Misek accurately predicted the new iPad's slightly lower resolution Retina display last year.

Still unknown is how Apple will work with content providers (cable companies? TV production companies?) to fill their new television product with programming people actually watch.

March 9, 2012

Pinterest: We're Not Going To Be Sued Into Oblivion

Matt Lynley, writing for Silicon Alley Insider:

“Pinterest does not believe it infringes on copyright law and is protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

We’ve reached out to Pinterest to find out what their official policy regarding images that potentially infringe on copyrights. Now we have our response from Pinterest:
Pinterest provides a service platform through which people share images, videos, commentary and links with friends or with others. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provides safe harbors for exactly this type of platform. If a copyright holder objects to any of the postings – and so far very few have objected – Pinterest will follow the safe harbor procedures set forth in the DMCA.
So, as long as Pinterest removes content if it gets a legitimate copyright complaint, it is in the clear.”

Clearly the Pinterest founders have thought this through, and sought legal opinion on the matter before investing their time and money booting the company. The test will come when someone big, like a media company, files a tort claim rather than a DMCA takedown request.

Actor Who Played Child Anakin Skywalker Swears Off 'Star Wars'

Courtney Garcia, writing for MSNBC.com, quoting Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin Skywalker in the first Star Wars prequel film:

“According to The Sun,  he destroyed his “Star Wars” memorabilia, and now only makes appearances at sci-fi and comic book festivals, refusing to even watch the films because they are too “creepy.””

Then he’s in agreement with about 99.9999% of Star Wars fans who had much the same to say about his role, and the prequels in general.

Anakin Skywalker: the Wesley Crusher for a new generation.

March 6, 2012

ESPN: Colts To Part With Peyton Wednesday

ESPN.com:

“The Indianapolis Colts will release franchise quarterback Peyton Manning.”

HOLY CRAP.

Manning signed a very lucrative long-term contract with the Colts one year ago, after a 4700-yard passing season. Then came the surgeries, the lost season, and now this.

While I really liked watching Manning march his offense down the field for last-minute touchdowns, my hope is that he doesn't wind up with the Washington Redskins next season. We've had plenty of aging Pro Bowlers sign big contracts only to flame out one or two seasons later. Our next quarterback must come from the upcoming draft.

Paula Deen Accused of Racism, Harassment

Rob Beschizza, writing for Boing Boing:

“According to a lawsuit filed in Georgia, butterwitch Paula Deen used a racial slur beginning with “n” to describe the perfect wedding.”

Sounds like Paula Deen just became too heavy for the Food Network to carry any further. Brother Bubba doesn’t sound like a lightweight, either.

March 5, 2012

Former Mets Star Lenny Dykstra Sentenced to 3 Years In Prison

Len Dykstra

CNN.com:

“Former New York Mets great Lenny Dykstra was sentenced Monday to three years in prison after pleading no contest to grand theft auto.”

Dykstra was a local hero when he played for the 1986 Mets, the last Mets team to win the World Series. We called him "Nails."

That was the last full year I lived in my parent's house, leaving the following year to pursue my career. What great playoff and Series games they were, first against the Houston Astros and Mike Scott's near-unhittable split-finger fastball, then against the Boston Red Sox.

The following year I was living in New Hampshire among Sox fans, but I never let them forget that Bill Buckner's error against the Mets cost them the World Series. Again. This was long before the Sox' two World Series wins this century.

And now he's going to jail, not only a thief, but a financial scammer. Dumb.

They paid him for his baseball, not his brains.

Windows 8 and Metro Show True Multiplatform OS Promise

Andy Ihnatko, writing for The Chicago Sun-Times:

“I’ve been using the developer preview edition of Windows 8 on a multitouch tablet for a few months, and now I’ve been using the new consumer preview for a little less than a day. My overall opinion is so high that it has to be stated right here in the first paragraph: Microsoft has really cracked something here. With the Metro user interface, they’ve created a simple and beautiful design language that’s relevant to a broad range of devices and to the ways that people use computers in the second decade of the 21st century.”

Microsoft's new Metro UI (user interface) has garnered nothing but praise since its first demo last year. Andy claims not only to be interested, but "tempted."

How exciting this is … MS will produce something later this year that is not only well-crafted, but original as well. Long criticized for solely producing derivative work (Excel after Lotus 1-2-3, Word after Wordperfect, Windows after OS/2, DOS after DR-DOS), the company is poised to unveil something truly new into the world: a novel touch UI.

As Andy goes on to say, though, MS shoehorns the Windows 7 desktop UI into the product, sans Start button. The old desktop metaphor is useful for legacy software (MS Office, the company's other cash cow), but it apparently doesn't sit well next to the new touch UI.

So it's up in the air as to whether Windows 8 on desktop and laptop machines, where both the old desktop and new Metro UI are available, will be a hit. But on ARM-based tablets devices, where the Metro UI is the only interface provided, Windows 8 appears to be a winner.

Obama Leads Handily Among Latinos

Byron Tau, writing for Politico:

“According to the latest national Fox News Latino survey, none of the Republican contenders for the presidential nomination poll above 14 percent in a head-to-head matchup against Obama. That’s a 17 point drop in support from John McCain’s 2008 share of the Hispanic vote, garnering 31 percent of the that group four years ago.”

(Via Luke Russert.)

Analyses of the last two US census results have indicated a surging US Hispanic population. As one commenter wrote, “the future is brown.”

If this trend and polling data are accurate, the GOP will have a long-growing crisis on its hands in the next decade. It could have been avoided.

President George W. Bush’s administration helped author legislation to reform US immigration law during his second term, a rare even-handed proposal welcomed by Democrats and independents. It was roundly condemned by Republicans, and failed to reach a vote in the Senate.

The failure of immigration reform was a key issue among Latinos in the last presidential election. It appears to have long coattails. Act in haste, repent ... and repent.

March 3, 2012

Dept. of Energy Signs Agreements to Develop Small Nuclear Generators

Ars Technica reports that the US Department of Energy has signed agreements to assist in development of small nuclear reactor technology designed to power small areas. The technology includes sealed reactors, trucked into place and returned to the manufacturer when their fuel wanes.

These agreements join renewable energy projects and efficiency improvements in a portfolio of public effort to realign US energy production away from fossil fuels.

The US DOE announcement is here.

This is the kind of thinking and planning we get for appointing a Nobel laureate in physics to head the DOE.

Words To Live By

Always be Batman

March 2, 2012

What Democrats Can Learn from Santorum About Populism

Clive Crook has a terrific look at American populism, Rick Santorum and the US political Left in BusinessWeek.

It says something about the fattening of American liberalism that a right-winger like Santorum can more effectively garner support from blue-collar voters than can liberals in a time of economic uncertainty and high unemployment. The Left has gotten fat off America's excess, and protecting that fat has weakened its response to voters' struggles.

Santorum is a right-wing nut, but he's an honest nut. He believes every damn word that comes out of his mouth. Can anyone say that about Romney or Gingrich?

(Via Luke Russert.)

Woman called 'slut' by Limbaugh is 'stunned, outraged'

Headline should be: Limbaugh Makes Argument That Women Should Not Vote For Republicans.

Halimah Abdullah, writing for MSNBC.com:

“The ongoing debate over birth control took a particularly nasty turn recently when conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and “prostitute” for speaking out about the issue.”

Limbaugh went on to say that “we” should get something in exchange for the requirement that insurance companies provide women free contraceptives: movies of the sex had using the contraceptives.

Limbaugh, voyeur. Dope.