Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Unsafe water or just not enough taxes?

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The New York Times writes a very interesting article about water safety. It starts out with the attention-grabbing headline that millions of Americans are drinking dirty water. It then goes on to point out that only 6% of water-safety violations have resulted in fines or other government punishments.

What it does not say, however, is how many of these municipalities, after learning of the violation, went on to repair their system and later become compliant. After all, as far as public health is concerned, the important issue is that the water is cleaned up, not that somebody is forced to pay a large fine.

Unfortunately, the only references to this in the article are vague handwaving terms like "hundreds of other systems" (out of how many? A thousand? A million?) and "many". What percentage of systems were fixed quickly? What percentage were fixed after a long delay? What percentage have not been fixed after a long time? That, we don't know. It could be 0.01%, 5% or 95% without affecting the text as-written.

So what is really going on here? Do we really have a crisis of people drinking contaminated water? Or do we just have some Congresscritters looking for another scare tactic to blame the Bush Administration for (which the article explicitly does)? Do they think cleanup is lacking or do they just want to impose more fines?

Unfortunately, the New York Times will be of no help answering these questions.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Administrivia: Captchas and comment moderation enabled

1 comment:
I don't like making people jump through hoops in order to post comments, but it appears that the spammers have finally found my blog. Rather than have to log in every day to delete spam from my message comments, I've enabled the use of captchas (where you need to type in a key word in order to proceed) and moderation (where comments won't appear until I approve them.)

I apologize for the inconvenience. I wish I could do something more satisfying, like slowly torture the spammers to death, but I don't know where they live, so I don't think I'm going to be able to exercise that option.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Finding Common Ground on an Open Internet - a joint statement from Lowell McAdam, CEO Verizon Wireless and Eric Schmidt, CEO Google

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This message was posted to a popular internet tech blog and appears to be genuine. You might also find it of interest.

From: David Farber
Date: October 22, 2009 7:27:48 AM EDT
To: "ip"
Subject: [IP] Finding Common Ground on an Open Internet - a joint statement from Lowell McAdam, CEO Verizon Wireless and Eric Schmidt, CEO Google.

A Technology and Telecommunications Policy Blog
Thursday, October 22, 2009

Finding Common Ground on an Open Internet

The following is a joint statement from Lowell McAdam, CEO Verizon Wireless and Eric Schmidt, CEO Google.

Verizon and Google might seem unlikely bedfellows in the current debate around network neutrality, or an open Internet. And while it's true we do disagree quite strongly about certain aspects of government policy in this area--such as whether mobile networks should even be part of the discussion--there are many issues on which we agree. For starters we both think it's essential that the Internet remains an unrestricted and open platform--where people can access any content (so long as it's legal), as well as the services and applications of their choice.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

How many geeks does it take to change a lightbulb?

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Or more accurately, how long and how much does it take to get a specialty lightbulb?

The green-circle light around my car's cigarette lighter burned out. These things happen, especially in a car that's 8 years old. So I removed the old one (it's easily accessible in my car) and went looking to buy a replacement.

Easier said than done.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Comments on "iTunes and Cocoa"

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This week, John Gruber wrote an article commenting on the fact that the latest version of iTunes is still a 32-bit application using Apple's Carbon APIs (vs. the newer Cocoa APIs Apple encourages developers to use today.

John makes many good points and discusses the subject very thoroughly. If the question interests you, I highly recommend you jump through the above link and read the article. I'll wait for you to come back here when you're done reading.

Done reading? Great.

During the article, John writes:

Cocoa was not magic pixie dust that inherently made the Finder radically better. But so why did Apple bother? Because Cocoa and 64-bit are the future of Mac OS X. And, for many new APIs, they are the present.

This is a very plausible explanation for why Apple chose to port nearly all of the system applications to the 64-bit Cocoa libraries. It is also really good marketing PR - what better way to encourage others to use your new libraries than to point our that you yourself are using them everywhere.

But there's another possible reason that I think may make even more sense: the need to test all those new libraries.

The 64-bit Cocoa APIs are brand new. As such, they need to be thoroughly tested. What better way to test them than to use them in as many applications as possible? Since the outside world doesn't have the new libraries, there won't be any third-party applications using them, and real-world applications almost always provide better testing than contrived test cases.

With all the system apps using the 64-bit Cocoa libraries, it means developers and testers will be exercising these new libraries with every app they run. Additionally, it guarantees that the application code is portable to both 32- and 64-bit environments, since Apple will still have to ship and test 32-bit versions of them. (Some of the early-model Intel-based Macs only have 32-bit processors.)

If they didn't port all this code to 64-bit Cocoa, then the 64-bit Cocoa libraries would end up shipping with a lot less testing. This would result in bugs being discovered post-release, as third-party apps are developed. That's something no developer ever wants to have to deal with. Aside from the embarrassment, sometimes you find bugs where the best fix is to change the API in a way that breaks applications. This isn't a problem if the API hasn't been released and the only apps are your own. It is difficult, often impossible, and always embarrassing to do this after you have shipped those APIs to customers. Once an API is shipped to customers, its published interface can't change, forcing you to fix the bug in other ways, which may be awkward, less efficient, or downright hack-ish.

As for why Apple didn't port iTunes to 64-bit Cocoa? My guess is that iTunes 9 was under development for quite some time, while the new APIs were still in a state of flux. If you've got a release schedule to meet (and iTunes 9 had to ship on the same day as the new iPod announcements) then you don't want to attempt porting to a potentially unstable platform. Far better to ship on-time and then begin your porting effort afterwards.

Will iTunes be ported to 64-bit Cocoa in the future? It wouldn't surprise me, but there may not be an overriding need to do so at this point. Now that the 64-bit Cocoa libraries have shipped, the "libraries need testing" argument no longer applies, so we're back to the "how will it improve the iTunes app itself" argument. John's article discusses this at length and provides a good explanation, so I won't repeat his arguments here.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Printing costs and a minor surprise

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This evening, I decided to compare prices on printers and printing supplies. I've always believed that ink jet printers cost more per page than other kinds of printers, but as it turns out, the reality is not as simple as that.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The economy isn't making people eat poorly - laziness is.

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For quite a while now, the self-appointed food cops, politicians and their lackeys in the press have been claiming that the economy is why people aren't eating healthy. They claim that the poor are eating so badly because all they can afford is fast food.

Well, it just ain't true. According to a University of Washington study, healthy foods do not cost more than junk food. Sure, there are some very expensive healthy foods, but most of the basic staples (rice, beans, chicken, carrots, etc.) are much less expensive than fast food and are plenty nutritious.

So why do the people eat so badly if it's not because of cost? According to the article, it's time and convenience. It takes 9-16 hours a week to shop for groceries and cook and serve them at home. In households where all the adults work, nobody wants to take that kind of time, so they eat out, and fast food is cheaper than other kinds of restaurants.

In other words, these people are not eating fast food because they aren't making a lot of money. If they suddenly make more money, they will still not want to go grocery shopping or cook meals for the family. I suppose some might start going to more upscale restaurants, but most families are going to require a really huge raise if they want to eat like that every night.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

CCF comments on the Nanny State

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The Center for Consumer Freedom writes about the rampant increase of "nannyism" in our government, where in the name of "it's good for you", lawmakers are trying to literally control every aspect of your life because you might prefer something different for yourself.

They quote H.L. Mencken: "The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false face for the urge to rule it." He got it right over half a century ago, and it's far more true now than ever before.

The above link also links to three YouTube clips of a TV interview that the article summarizes: part 1, part 2 and part 3.

I'm pretty much in agreement. If I want to eat really tasty food and give up the chance to live an extra year in a nursing home, that's my right. The government can issue press releases telling me that they think I'm making a bad choice, but they have absolutely no right to force me into agreeing, or raising my taxes for daring to disagree.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Israeli dew collectors

1 comment:
Ganked from yourish.com. Also read the article it links to.

An Israeli tech company has developed a passive device that allows plants to collect dew and excess rainwater, while also cutting off sunlight to weeds. Farms using these (at a cost of about $1 per plant) can use 50% less water - a real boon when growing crops in the desert.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

iPhone 3GS and whiney pundits

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Yesterday, Apple announced the new iPhone 3GS. It looks like a really nice new model - faster processor, more memory, a compass, etc. Apple announced pricing of $200 for the 16GB model and $300 for the 32GB model (and $100 for the older 8GB 3G (no "S") model).

But these prices are for "qualified customers only", meaning they are subsidized prices. You can get them if you are a new AT&T customer or if you are approaching the end of a contract (making you eligible for a new phone at subsidized prices. If you're not "qualified" and don't want to wait for your contract to expire before upgrading, then you have to pay full price (See the fine print at the bottom of this page) which is $400 higher. But in an unusual gesture, AT&T is offering "early upgrade" pricing of only $200 higher for customers who have less than a year left in an existing iPhone contract.

As far as I know, this is standard for the cell phone business. If you want to buy a new phone and you're nowhere near the end of your contract, then you have to pay full price, which is several hundred dollars higher than the subsidized price. That was the case with both of my phones from Verizon and is (as far as I know) the case for all phones from all carriers in the US.

But apparently, many iPhone users are completely clueless about this, or they just enjoy complaining. This afternoon, I ran across this article which was apparently written by someone who has never done business with a cell phone company before. He makes it sound like existing iPhone customers are being punished, because they have to pay more than new customers. (He doesn't make any mention of the fact that existing customers can get the same price if they wait for their contract to lapse.) And the people commenting on the article seem to be taking it as a personal attack by Apple Corporation itself.

To these people: get a life, get a brain, and learn to read contracts before signing them. You're not going to get something for nothing, no matter how loudly you scream "but I want it and I want it for free and I want it now". If you want to act like a 6-year-old child, then my only answer to you is "go to your room until you learn some manners."

If you want to complain about industry-standard pricing practices, fine, but this is hardly isolated to the iPhone. If you don't want a contractual obligation, then you aren't going to be able to get a subsidized price. But given the hatred Apple got in return for selling the first-generation iPhones without a subsidy (for $600), I doubt the whiners would like that either.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Atlanta Investigation Uncovers Deceptive 'Humane Society' Agenda

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Atlanta Investigation Uncovers Deceptive 'Humane Society' Agenda

Just another reason why I tell people not to give any money to the so-called "Humane Society of the United States".

If you support animal welfare, donate to the American Humane Society or even better, to a local animal shelter. They have a greater need for the money and they will spend it on helping animals instead of on political activism.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Million vs. Billion

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Normally, I don't post comics here (I save that for my LJ, where I put the less-serious posts) but this one tells a world of truth.

1000 Times

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New iPod shuffle, now without any controls!

1 comment:
Update 3/17/2009: New information about the controls (seven operations on the middle button, not five), fixed a typo, and added a little more commentary.

This week, Apple released the third generation iPod Shuffle.

This unit is even smaller than before, if you can believe it. 1.8" x 0.7" x 0.3".

So how'd they get it this small? Simple, they removed all the controls.

Well, not really, but it seems that way. On the iPod itself, there is only a slider switch (off, sequential play, shuffle play) and the headphone jack. It is charged and attached to computers via the headphone jack and a proprietary USB cable.

So how do you actually control the thing? It uses a special set of headphones, with three buttons on the cord. This is the same kinds of headphones introduced for the iPhone, for "hands free" operation. On the cord, the "+" and "-" buttons control the volume. Between the two is a big flat button, whose behavior will depend on how you push it:

  • Click once to play/pause
  • Double-click to skip forward a track
  • Double-click and hold to skip forward within a track
  • Triple-click to skip backward a track
  • Triple-click and hold to skip backward within a track
  • Press and hold and a voice synthesizer will say the title and artist of the track currently playing
  • Press and hold until you hear a beep tone to skip to have your list of playlists recited to you. Click to select the playlist last-announced.
If you think this seems unusually complicated for an Apple product, then we're in agreement. It may be sleek and "kewl" to eliminate all the buttons, but when that design forces you to cram seven distinct features onto a single button, it's a bad design. Sure, it's documented, but let's be honest - how many iPod owners have ever read the documentation?

And, of course, there's the problem of what to do if you don't want to use Apple's headphones. Maybe you've got better-sounding ones, or you want to plug your shuffle into your car stereo or something. Without the proprietary earphones, the shuffle starts playing when you turn it on and stops when you turn it off, and that's all you can do. Not at all acceptable unless someone starts selling a set of controls you can attach in-line with a generic headphone/line cord.

My prediction is that this iPod is going to be quickly replaced with something more like the second-gen model, that has actual controls. Or there will be a new accessory to provide a more proper set of controls for those people who don't like the Apple headphone buttons and/or want to use a different set of headphones.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Yet another buraucracy overgrows its usefulness.

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In recent news the Author's Guild has decided to take a legal stance against the Amazon Kindle. Specifically, they object to it text-to-speech ability (where it can read books to you.)

The guild thinks that this infringes on their right to license audiobooks separately from the text.

Neil Gaiman thinks this is BS. I concur.

And since I'm not a guild member that might have future retribution to consider, I'll go so far as to say that if the Author's guild thinks it's a good idea to follow in the footsteps of the RIAA and MPAA, screwing over content creators in favor of the lawyers, then their organization no longer has a reason to exist at all.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Mitt Romney: Let Detroit Go Bankrupt

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This article is a few months old, but it's still relevant today (and I just got around to reading it.)

Detroit doesn't need wads of cash to prop up a system that has failed and will continue failing if it doesn't change. It needs to radically restructure itself, taking advantage of things like the bankruptcy laws to make the process less painful. Mitt Romney spells it out in the article.