Thursday, January 31, 2008

Security and Privacy

This essay is a fantastic elaboration on the Benjamin Franklin remark that those who would sacrifice privacy for security deserve neither.

The essayist points out that while security and privacy are sometimes a trade-off, sometimes they're not. Locks on your door increase security without taking away privacy. Holograms on money make it harder to copy, but don't invade my privacy.

There are ways to make us safer that don't involve reading everyone's email. Privacy of correspondence and phone calls should be preserved. Freedom of speech must survive. Because if we unnecessarily give up freedom to make ourselves safe, we will all die a little inside. We should fight criminals, but not by any means thinkable. Some means are unjustifiable.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Patent Troll

This is why Sam thinks patents should be harder to get. A company patented the smartphone. This is a patent for an invention that already exists, and has for several years. Despite other people inventing it, (which is called "prior art" in patent jargon) and despite the supreme court recently ruling that you can't patent something "obvious" (which is a highly technical term in the law, meaning something that's obvious), the patent office still granted the patent.

Now Apple and Motorola and a dozen other companies have to defend against ridiculous lawsuits. This is dumb.

As I understand it, the people who decide patents are horribly overloaded. The backlog is years long, and there's just not enough people to handle it all. It needs fixing. I may disagree with Sam's solution, but I agree with his diagnosis.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Janet McCain Huckabee

I recently learned that Mrs. Mike Huckabee's maiden name is McCain.

Weird. Coincidence? Or conspiracy?

I guess since there are lots of people running for president, something weird had to come up. Like Obama and Dick Cheney being cousins.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Senator Clinton's narrative

There's an editorial in the New York Times that I think is very insightful. Gail Collins writes about how the story that the Clinton campaign weaves that justifies the Senator becoming a President has become distorted by Bill Clinton campaigning heavily.

It's an interesting analysis of narrative and story. And unfortunately, it's very important.

I think we should be choosing a president based on what ideas they have for governing and leading the country. The policies they would choose to enact, and the things they value and will prioritize when making choices.

However, we're people. And people need stories. And feelings. And so we choose a celebrity president who tells a story that makes us feel the way we want to feel. I tell myself I'm being meta by supporting Obama, because since I like how his story feels, others will like it, so he'll get elected and be effective. But maybe I'm lying to myself, and I just like his story.

I think all 3 leading Democrats have basically the right priorities and policies. So is it okay that I judge which one has the most convincing story? Which one makes the best argument about why she or he should become president? Or am I a bad person and it's a bad system?

Stupid sentience.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Why we sleep

Radiolab is awesome. This episode will be Sam's favorite.

The show in general is an exploration of the stories of science and how it weaves into our lives. And this episode engages the question: Why do we sleep?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Edward Tufte on the iPhone

Edward Tufte is the man. He has written several essential books about graphic design, and how to make images that convey information effectively and accurately. Not just graphs that don't lie, but also information that's easy to read, versus information that overwhelms and confuses.

He has a video where he demonstrates the iPhone, praising and critiquing it. (It's mostly praise.) He explains why what you see works so well, and offers a few suggestions for ways it could work even better.

It's pretty...

Friday, January 25, 2008

I'm on YouTube again!

Yes, this is another video starring me!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Warrantless wiretapping

Slashdot has a good summary of the story so far. Nutshell: Bush spied on us illegally. Needed phone companies to help. Phone companies can't be sued if they thought they were acting legally and the government fooled them.

And yet the Senate is talking about passing a law giving retroactive immunity to phone companies for crimes they may have committed. That's wrong.

If you call your Senator today, it might not happen.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Jibbly jibbly jibbly...

I was about to write my Mom and say, "Doesn't it warm your heart to know I'm not biking in this very cold weather?" (Yes, for other parts of the nation, 25 isn't cold. But for here, it's madness.) Of course, I wasn't biking because my bike was in the shop, since cables had broken and the chain was about to.

But now I'm writing instead about how great turtlenecks are. Yes, coupled with a backpack it's like a midget with weak hands is trying to strangle you. But I have saddlebags, not a backpack! No, what I'm writing about is how painful bare skin is in weather like this. Cold, dry weather. And how nice my neck feels when I unroll my turtleneck and cover the last inch of bare skin.

Ooh! I want a bear skin turtle neck! Or is that a mixed metaphor? But bear skin isn't a metaphor, it's actually made of...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Democratic Presidential Candidates

I just watched this clip from yesterday's Democratic debate.

The thing that strikes me is that Senator Clinton THINKS like a senator. It's a kind of leadership, and I agree with her on pretty much every issue. But her way of outlining ideas is the same analysis that you hear senators give every day as they rant for hours about legislative minutia.

This has nothing to do with gender. John Kerry was the exact same way. Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, senators often do poorly in presidential contests because they think as senators. As someone who's one of 100 who get to vote on a bill.

Of course, all the remaining Democratic candidates are senators. But Obama and Edwards don't think like senators. I feel like a vote for them isn't a vote against the awful other guy. Still, a governor is someone with much more practice analysing situations from an executive perspective. Huckabee or (ew) Romney might have a rhetorical advantage over Clinton. I'd rather McCain got the nomination, because I respect him, and then we'd be guaranteed a former senator for President.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ads of comedic destruction

I was recently introduced to Terry Tate, Office Linebacker. Seriously impressive stuntwork in this one.

It reminded me of the Gap ad that was much better with the final music choice. A "yay, we're funny" pop-rock song version of this exists, and it's much less awesome. Go Edvard Grieg!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Can you copyright a game?

So, Hasbro is suing Facebook. Turns out they don't like it when you play Scrabble online. Well, not Scrabble®. "Scrabulous", an obvious rip-off.

Except here's the thing. You can't copyright a game. Not the rules. You can copyright the words in your rules booklet. You can copyright the image of the board. But if I change the colors and font of a scrabble board, and rephrase the rules in my own words, it's totally legal.

Because game rules aren't creative expression, while drawings and photographs and paragraphs expressing ideas are. I think this is fair. I hope judges kick Hasbro to the curb, too.

Friday, January 18, 2008

White House deleting emails

So not only did the White House erase old emails during the first 6 months of the Iraq War, but they didn't even save any emails on other days.

Grumble grumble. Makes me wonder what they're hiding, if they deleted all their emails.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Spooky election results

I thought I never wanted to hear another word about the New Hampshire primary. But this is about voting technology and accurate counts.

Apparently if you break out voting results by whether the ballots were computerized or counted by hand, you get mirror image results. That is, people who voted by computer? Clinton 53%, Obama 47%. By paper? Clinton 47%, Obama 53%.

This could be a freak coincidence, or the computers could be switching the votes. Both are possible.

Man, everyone needs to vote by filling out a piece of paper. Touchscreens are bullshit. I'm all for scantron counting the paper to speed up the process, because there's a physical document we can recheck if we don't trust the computer. (Not to mention random sampling to make sure in the first place.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Comcast getting investigated

Yes, my evil TV provider is being investigated by the FCC for deliberately slowing internet to people suspected of movie/music/software piracy.

Suspected by Comcast, not the government. And they're being investigated by Republicans. How bad do you have to be when the Bush administration thinks you need to be regulated?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Human skateboard

I love good animation. And this is some of the best pixilation I've ever seen.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Presidential Birthplaces

I just learned that Lincoln was born in Kentucky.

And while birthplace is an accident, it's interesting that Ohio has the second most presidents with 7, following only Virginia with 8.

Grover Cleveland was from New Jersey. Did not know that.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Feminism Today

Gloria Steinem wrote an excellent piece in yesterday's New York Times.

She talks about how strong sexism is today, and how we hold Senator Clinton to a higher, impossible standard than the other candidates.

I think her observation that child rearing is done almost exclusively by women, and some men find powerful women infantalizing due to this, is interesting. I've heard it argued often that we don't accept women in charge, and that they're not allowed the same range of emotion male leaders are, but never this type of explanation.

And then there's Maureen Dowd's column today. She asks lots of great questions, but doesn't have many answers.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Violent movies REDUCE violence

A new study reveals that violent movies produce a DROP in violent crime. Yes, violent movies reduce violence.

The author, a mormon who hates violent movies, looked for a correlation between violent movies and violent crime, and found that during a week when a violent movie is showing in theaters, violent crime goes down. His theory is that young men, who commit most violent crime, are busy watching movies instead of getting drunk and hurting people.

The haters all will say that violent movies and TV and video games desensitize us to violence, so even if there's a short term drop in violence, movies of torture eventually lead to long term increases in violence. Both sets of studies beg the correlation question: do violent criminals become violent because of media, or are they already violent, and drawn to that media.

In any event, the mormon economist observes that any movie that draws in young men results in less crime. The final line of the Times article sticks the landing:

“We need more Adam Sandler movies,” he said. “Even though I’m not a big fan of Adam Sandler, that’s the implication."

Monday, January 7, 2008


This movie is excellent. And very weird. It's anime, and it's about a machine that lets people enter other people's dreams. Japanese dreams.

Props to Sam and Erin for pointing me to it. It's disturbing, but awesome.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Planet Unicorn

This video is weird. Random. And funny.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Busting Bad Patents

Sam will like this one.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation is working to destroy bad patents that are limiting creativity. They find people who have patented obvious stuff that they didn't invent, and are suing others for using it. The EFF is collecting evidence that the "invention" existed before the patent, and has already invalidated one of their top 10.

I love the Patent Busting Project.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Take copyright away from corporations?

This blogger suggests taking the current 125 year copyright away from corporations, who sue people for legal uses of copyrighted material. He suggests bringing it down to five years.

Individuals would still get to copyright stuff for a long time, just not companies.

While I think it would be an improvement, I do think he goes too far. I'd be content with the original 28 year copyright term. Long enough to provide an incentive to make stuff, to make money. Short enough to allow cool stuff to become public domain, so we can creatively adapt it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Stranger Than Fiction

This movie is fantastic. Beautiful story, gorgeous pictures of people in Chicago. Well acted. Being about a man who finds out he's the main character in someone's book, it has to have a great plot. And it does.

Interestingly, this movie is one of about twenty titled "stranger than fiction". If you include "Ruth is stranger than fiction", which probably sucked.