Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: July 2008 (page 2 of 3)

iPhone 2.0 password masking

Apple made a clever user interface change with iPhone 2.0:

iPhone password masking

When you enter text into a password field, it briefly displays the character you just entered. After a few seconds, it changes the character into the mask, but it gives you some visible feedback that you’re entering the characters you think you’re entering. (I always had problems entering passwords correctly until this feature was added.)

It’s an acknowledgement that entering text using a virtual keyboard isn’t foolproof, and it provides a good compromise between masking passwords so people can’t see your password over your shoulder and enabling users to avoid typos when entering them.

By the way, this screen shot was taken using the new screen capture feature in iPhone 2.0.

Update: Commenters have noted that other phone makers have been doing it this way for years. I guess what this really means is that the iPhone is the first phone that I’ve ever used to enter a password.

Another look at the long tail

Stanford professor Anand Rajaraman takes a look at the recent debate about the long tail from a different perspective:

It is instructive to look at the Facebook Facebook app trends study published by Roger Margoulas and Ben Lorica at O’Reilly Research. The study shows that at last count, there were close to 30,000 facebook apps. Usage, however, is highly concentrated among the top few apps, a classic example of a hits-driven industry (see graph on right) — no long tail. However, these hits have been produced by the collective action of millions of Facebook users, rather than by a small set of savvy media executives. And there’s a lot of churn: new applications join the winners and old winners die and are buried in the tail.

The real Long Tail created by the internet is not the long tail of consumption, but the long tail of influence. Earlier, the ability to influence the decisions on who the winners and losers were rested with a few media executives. Now every social network user has some potential influence, however small, on the result. The long tail of influence, combined with instant feedback loops, leads to a short tail of consumption. The Facebook app market is a leading indicator of the path the entire media industry will take in years to come.

If you’re not reading his blog, Datawocky, you’re missing out.

FISA fight ends with a whimper

Amanda Simon is blogging the debate over the amendments to the FISA bill for the ACLU. This is a tough one to take, and honestly I don’t expect the next President to make things any better regardless of who it is. Here’s Gore Vidal in September 2000:

You have two candidates. Gore is by far the better trained and more intelligent and is going to win. It’s as simple as that. But I worry because he, too, is funded by corporate America. Luckily he’s intelligent and will hopefully turn out pretty well. But what I’m concerned about is how the corruption of the system has become totally accepted. This can be changed by an act of Congress, but no one will be propose it.

Will it happen? No burglar who ever reached the second floor ever kicked the ladder away.

That last sentence is one that has come to mind frequently in the years since. Vidal’s incorrect prediction that Al Gore would win stings a bit, too.

Here’s Glenn Greenwald on today’s events:

Rather, the insultingly false claims about this bill — it brings the FISA court back into eavesdropping! it actually improves civil liberties! Obama will now go after the telecoms criminally! Government spying and lawbreaking isn’t really that important anyway! — are being disseminated by the Democratic Congressional leadership and, most of all, by those desperate to glorify Barack Obama and justify anything and everything he does. Many of these are the same people who spent the last five years screaming that Bush was shredding the Constitution, that spying on Americans was profoundly dangerous, that the political establishment did nothing about Bush’s lawbreaking.

It’s been quite disturbing to watch them turn on a dime — completely reverse everything they claimed to believe — the minute Obama issued his statement saying that he would support this bill. They actually have the audacity to say that this bill — a bill which Bush, Cheney and the entire GOP eagerly support, while virtually every civil libertarian vehemently opposes — will increase the civil liberties that Americans enjoy, as though Dick Cheney, Mike McConnell and “Kit” Bond decided that it was urgently important to pass a new bill to restrict presidential spying and enhance our civil liberties. How completely do you have to relinquish your critical faculties at Barack Obama’s altar in order to get yourself to think that way?

The curse of arrogance

From the comments on Wired News’ Hans Reiser article today:

but in all seriousness, the reason so many of us are motivated about this trial is because we can project ourselves into the defense seat. watching as 12 hopelessly irrational commoners convict us super-brights on nothing but a pool of circumstantial evidence. its a scary thought.

Working in the world of software development you see this kind of arrogance frequently.

Physical CDs, what should I do with them?

We’re reorganizing the closet, and I had the chance to get down all of the boxes of CDs that I’ve accumulated over the years. The question is, what do I do with them? I never touch them any more, because I’ve ripped them all. I have a copy on my laptop, a backup on an external hard drive, and another backup copy on my iPod. Do I really need the CDs any more?

Would you keep them? If not, what would you do with them?

Barack Obama’s FISA shame

How did Barack Obama go from saying this on January 28:

Ever since 9/11, this Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand.

The FISA court works. The separation of powers works. We can trace, track down and take out terrorists while ensuring that our actions are subject to vigorous oversight, and do not undermine the very laws and freedom that we are fighting to defend.

No one should get a free pass to violate the basic civil liberties of the American people — not the President of the United States, and not the telecommunications companies that fell in line with his warrantless surveillance program. We have to make clear the lines that cannot be crossed.

To saying this on June 20:

It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives — and the liberty — of the American people.

Talking Points Memo has a collection of Barack Obama’s statements on the subject. Glenn Greenwald has also been all over this issue.

Update: Barack Obama responded directly to his critics on his blog today. I continue to disagree with his rationale for supporting the compromise but I’m somewhat pleased that he’s engaging with his critics. Be sure to read Glenn Greenwald’s analysis of Obama’s statement. I agree with every red flag he raises.

The Long Tail revisited again

Tyler Cowen agrees with and expands on Chris Anderson’s response to Anita Elberse’s article arguing against the existence of a “long tail” effect enabled by online retailing.

Ethics on a Web where links are currency

My previous post on the Boing Boing controversy generated some pushback from readers who argue that deleting posts is changing history, and that bloggers just shouldn’t do it. (As I mentioned in the comments, I have never gone back and deleted old posts and don’t foresee doing so.)

I agree completely with the idea that deleting old content breaks the web and can be seen as an attempt to change history. It’s Orwellian to go back and alter or delete content when your opinion changes. If a newspaper went back and removed all of the stories in favor of the war in Iraq, it would lose any standing it might have as a respectable media outlet. And I feel the same way about blogs. Deleting old content is in all likelihood an act of dishonesty.

However, the way search engines work these days makes things a bit more complicated. Google’s great innovation in indexing Web sites was to use inbound links to sites as a metric for the significance of a Web site. The more sites link to your site, the higher your rank in search engine results, and being linked to by more popular sites is more helpful.

Google’s algorithm doesn’t care whether I link to a racist Web site to denounce it or ridicule it. It treats that link as it would any other link to that Web site — a vote for its significance. This strikes me as a fundamental problem without a really good solution. If I linked to one of my favorite blogs many times, and and later its domain expired and was purchased by a site that promotes bigotry, what should I do? Leaving the links in place lends the credibility of my site to that site in the eyes of the search engines, even though the content has changed completely. A human reader following a link would clearly understand from context that something had changed about the link destination, but the indexers probably would not.

In this day and age an outbound link to another site has a real cash value, and given that, I’m not sure what the correct behavior is for a Web site that links to others. I wouldn’t give $5 a month to a cause I fundamentally disagree with, should I provide that value or more to a Web site I don’t agree with by leaving links in place that don’t lead to the same content that they once did? It strikes me as a real ethical conundrum.

Perhaps the right answer is to excise the links from the old posts and to add a note explaining why the links were removed. Then the content is not fundamentally altered, and the behavior of the blogger is fully explained. That seems like a better compromise than just deleting entire posts.

The wrong tail

Harvard marketing professor Anita Elberse has conducted a study which seems to reveal that customer purchasing behavior with regard to hits is the same online as it is offline. In her Harvard Business Review article, she reports:

For Chris Anderson, the strategic implications of the digital environment seem clear. “The companies that will prosper,” he declares, “will be those that switch out of lowest-common-denominator mode and figure out how to address niches.” But my research indicates otherwise. Although no one disputes the lengthening of the tail (clearly, more obscure products are being made available for purchase every day), the tail is likely to be extremely flat and populated by titles that are mostly a diversion for consumers whose appetite for true blockbusters continues to grow. It is therefore highly disputable that much money can be made in the tail. In sales of both videos and recorded music—in many ways the perfect products to test the long-tail theory—we see that hits are and probably will remain dominant. That is the reality that should inform retailers as they struggle to offer their customers a satisfying assortment cost-efficiently. And it’s the unavoidable challenge to producers. The companies that will prosper are the ones most capable of capitalizing on individual best sellers.

Chris Anderson, the author of the book The Long Tail, responds to the article on his blog. He argues that her different results are due to differing definitions of “head” and “tail”.

Adobe is making Flash searchable

Looks like one argument against building Web sites in Flash is going to bite the dust. You still shouldn’t build Web sites in Flash.

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