Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: January 2007 (page 1 of 4)

Paul Boutin reviews Office 2007

His main complaint is that it’s so different that it’s frustrating to existing users:

The Ribbon mimics the tabbed interfaces of the Firefox and Internet Explorer 7 browsers. It looks cool, but it took me most of five minutes to find, set, and test the Track Changes options my editor expects. As my deadline loomed, I panicked when I couldn’t find the option to save in Office 2003 format. It was hiding behind a new jewellike logo in the upper left corner called the Office Button.

Microsoft’s reviewer’s guide makes clear that all of the keystroke commands you know and love are still here. That will assuage speed-typing accountants who might otherwise refuse to switch. But as nice as the Ribbon and other user-interface upgrades are, it’s only natural that most users will react with annoyance rather than wonder when they find out they can’t switch to some kind of “Classic mode” in order to finish a write-up that was due 20 minutes ago (like this one).

This is always a big risk for UI designers. If you force users to re-learn how to use the application, why shouldn’t they just learn to use something else instead?

Here’s a link to the review.

Why Democrats shouldn’t abandon the south

Bob Moser provides a history of the Republican takeover of Southern politics and explains why Democrats should keep trying to get elected here. He believes that the key is to eschew the pandering, centrist sales pitch that Democrats have been giving in hopes of sucking up to moderate Republicans and offering up candidates who clearly distinguish themselves from their opponents. I like it.

But Dean’s approach–both in his campaign and with his new “fifty-state strategy” for the DNC–was hardly a hit with white national party leaders, who complained bitterly about the expense of hiring Democratic organizers, in the words of ex-Clinton adviser Paul Begala, to “wander around Utah and Mississippi and pick their nose.” In the 2006 midterms, national Democratic campaign committees shunned the fifty-state approach and backed only a handful of Democrats in the South. The chosen Southerners fit the “Republican Lite” mold to a T: social conservatives who emphasized “fiscal responsibility” and steered clear of calling for troop withdrawals in Iraq. The ideal Southern campaign, agreed Begala and his ilk, was Harold Ford Jr.’s lavishly financed Senate bid in Tennessee. Aiming to “out-Republican” his opponent, Ford spent the campaign bashing “illegals,” waving the flag, ridiculing the very notion of gay marriage and calling up a quote from the Bible to address every issue.

Ford’s loss was widely chalked up to race-baiting attack ads run by the Republican National Committee. But his defeat–like those of all but one of the Democrats’ chosen candidates in the South last year–can also be viewed as a lesson in the limitations of Clintonian compromise. So can the results from the border South state of Kentucky, where self-described “liberal” John Yarmuth–whose pleas for national funds fell on deaf ears–pulled off a startling upset in the state’s 3rd Congressional District by running a campaign that was the antithesis of Ford’s. “The mistake Democrats have made here over the years is that they never provided a sharp contrast,” says Yarmuth, who bested five-term Republican incumbent Anne Northup. “I said from day one, ‘Anne and I are 180 degrees apart. If she believes something, I don’t.’ I was that clear. I wanted the voters to have a real choice and see where they’d go.” They went with the frank-talking, antiwar, labor-loving candidate his own party considered too “liberal” to win. Meanwhile, the two party-funded challengers in Kentucky, both staunch social conservatives aiming to join the Blue Dog Coalition in Congress, got their clocks cleaned. “There’s a Beltway mentality that succumbs too much to conventional punditry,” says Yarmuth. “The voters are way ahead of the Democrats and way ahead of Washington.”

Via Exile on Jones Street.

Clay Shirky on virtual worlds

Interesting thoughts on why game worlds outperform virtual worlds like Second Life:

In this telling, games are not just special, they are special in a way that relieves designers of the pursuit of maximal realism. There is still a premium on good design and playability, but the magic circle, acceptance of arbitrary difficulties, and goal-directed visual filtering give designers ways to contextualize or bury at least some platform limitations. These are not options available to designers of non-game environments; asking users to accept such worlds as even passable simulacra subjects those environments to withering scrutiny.

Scott Rosenberg op-eds the Vista launch

Scott Rosenberg has an op-ed in the Washington Post on the occasion of the Windows Vista launch. In it, he explains how the Vista delays are typical of many large software development projects:

The software business remains full of optimists who, bless them, think they know how to fix their field’s problems and overcome this dismal record. Their confidence springs from the computer industry’s experience of the exponential growth in the capacity of its semiconductor-based hardware. Computer chips have reliably doubled in capacity every year or two for the past few decades, and that has made the increased power (and decreasing cost) of personal computers feel like magic.

But unlike computer hardware — the microchips and storage devices that run programs — software isn’t rooted in the physical world. It’s still written, painstakingly, line by line and character by character; essentially, it’s all made up. Software straddles the wide-open realm of the imagination, where it’s created, and the fixities of everyday reality, where we expect it to work. And so far, it has proved uniquely resistant to engineering discipline.

This op-ed serves as a useful introduction to his new book, Dreaming in Code, which I had the privilege of reading and providing feedback on before it went to press. I’ll post my review of it soon.

Ari Fleischer sinks Scooter Libby

I haven’t been following the Scooter Libby trial very closely, but it sure looks to me like Ari Fleischer might have done Libby’s defense in yesterday. Here’s Michael Isikoff:

What’s significant is the detail that Fleischer provided. He said that Libby told him not just that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA, but that she worked at the counter-proliferations division. That was a particular detail that is significant to people who know about the CIA. The counter-proliferations division is in the Director of Operations. That’s the secret arm of the CIA. It’s the most sensitive arm of the CIA. Something that Libby and his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, very well knew. They knew the CIA like the back of their hands.

Fleischer testified that Libby that this conversation took place a few days before Libby claimed that he learned Plame’s identity from Tim Russert.

Via The Washington Note.

Why my link blog is dead

I loved the link blog. Short, sweet entries, simple layout, utter elegance. But very few people subscribed to it, so I’m moving all of the action back to the main blog, which gives me the benefit of doing more pull quoting. I made this decision last week, but then I saw what Jason Kottke had to say today:

When I compared the number of subscribers to the main feed to the number subscribing to the remaindered feed, the main feed number was nearly 3 times higher. Even worse is when I looked at my server logs for the feeds (I stopped looking at my stats months ago)…visits to the main feed are outpacing visits to the remaindered feed 5:1. Which means that somewhere between 75-85% of the people who are reading kottke.org via RSS aren’t even getting most of what’s on the site!

Exactly. Rather than merging the two feeds, though, I’m just putting all the content on the main weblog for now.

Abbas Raza explains Shiism and Ashura

3quarksdaily editor Abbas Raza, who grew up in a Shiite family, explains the origins of Shiism and the Shiite holiday Ashura today. He also has some pictures of Shiites observing Ashura in New York City this morning.

The imperial Vice Presidency

Dick Cheney’s office will not disclose who works there or what they do:

Think about that. The Vice President of the United States refuses to divulge who works in his office. Rozen’s article provides an estimate of 88 persons on the VP’s staff, which I take to mean that the OVP won’t even say how many people are on staff. These are people on the public payroll. Wouldn’t you say the public is entitled to know?

More than 100 federal court rulings have cited Wikipedia

The pervasiveness of Wikipedia is only increasing. The New York Times reports on judges citing Wikipedia in their rulings:

A simple search of published court decisions shows that Wikipedia is frequently cited by judges around the country, involving serious issues and the bizarre — such as a 2005 tax case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals concerning the definition of “beverage” that involved hundreds of thousands of dollars, and, just this week, a case in Federal District Court in Florida that involved the term “booty music” as played during a wet T-shirt contest.

More than 100 judicial rulings have relied on Wikipedia, beginning in 2004, including 13 from circuit courts of appeal, one step below the Supreme Court. (The Supreme Court thus far has never cited Wikipedia.)

Unrelated: Is it just me, or is the permalink feature that the New York Times had launched gone? Guess they want to cede even more ground to Wikipedia.

Update: Never mind the comments about permalinks. The article tools weren’t showing up because I had JavaScript turned off.

Microsoft steals feature and patents it

This looks bad:

Today, someone (thanks!) pointed me to a patent application by Microsoft for an “Object test bench”. The patent application, filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office, is here.

The patent claims the invention of “a facility” (the object test bench) that “receives an instantiated object, displays the instantiated object visually, receives a command from a developer relating to the instantiated object, and provides a result corresponding to the received command. As an example, the facility invokes a method provided by the instantiated object or retrieves a value of a property of the instantiated object.”

Now, you may or may not be familiar with BlueJ. In case you aren’t let me say this: this is an exact description of the core BlueJ functionality (interactive object instantiation and invocation) that we have implemented, distributed, and described in published work since the mid-90s. (In case you are familiar with BlueJ, read on a bit in the patent. The description gets more and more detailed, and the more you read, the more it resembles BlueJ in every small detail. It’s almost creepy.)

It sounds like a lot of things I’ve seen, including BeanShell and irb.

Update: The patent application will be withdrawn.

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