Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: August 2009 (page 1 of 4)

Links for August 31

Useful media criticism

Matt Thompson wrote a really good blog post a few weeks ago that I didn’t link to because I assumed everybody saw it, The 3 key parts of news stories you usually don’t get. It explains why people can watch the news on TV or read the newspaper and still not really understand the issues of the day. The argument is that the media tends to cover what’s happening right now without providing useful context or explaining the significance of the news.

I wanted to go back and link to Thompson’s article because it provides useful context for Matthew Yglesias’ explanation of why this is a big problem:

The bias toward process stories is not ideological in its intent, but it’s strongly ideological in its impact. Creating public confusion and ignorance while obscuring what’s really happening tends to favor elites versus people of modest means, it favors the status quo over change, it favors insiders over outsiders, and it favors narrow interests over the public interest.

This is why I read blogs. There are plenty of blogs that are just as focused on the day to day goings on of politics as any newspaper or cable news show, but I don’t read them. (It’s why I don’t subscribe to Think Progress any more.) I strongly prefer blogs that focus on digging into the substance of issues, and the good news is that there are plenty of them out there. Oddly enough, the newspaper that to me represents the worst journalism has to offer, the Washington Post, also employs one of the best public policy bloggers around — Ezra Klein.

Links for August 29

Sometime soon I’m going to write about how being a programmer makes me think differently about toothpaste. In the meantime:

Links for August 28

What do you guys think of the new link format? Good? Bad? Should each link be a separate post?

  • It’s Snow Leopard day. Here’s a wiki for tracking which applications are Snow Leopard compatible. Here’s John Gruber’s upgrade procedure, which I will be following.
  • Ted Leung revisits the age old debate — is open source development incompatible with good design?
  • ComputerWorld tests free antivirus software for Windows.

Links for August 27

  • Simon St Laurent looks at reasons why there’s buzz around HTML again.
  • Mac OS X Automation explains Services in Snow Leopard (my copy arrives tomorrow). Via Daring Fireball.
  • A new poll reveals that people don’t actually even know what the public option is. The public option is a government-managed insurance plan that will compete with plans from private insurers in an exchange, available to individuals and small businesses that do not participate in group insurance. Here’s a longer explanation. In the meantime, the current Republican talking point seems to be that Medicare is a poorly run government program that we should preserve at all costs.
  • The MySQL Performance Blog looks at the Redis database. Redis is one of those schema-less databases people are all talking about these days.
  • Matt Raible takes a look at Java REST frameworks.
  • The UK is looking at plastic alternatives to traditional pub glasses. That wins my “stupidest thing I read today” award. Via Bruce Schneier.

Links for August 26

  • Nefarious idea of the day: requiring users to view and regurgitate an ad to prove that they’re human. (Microsoft has applied for a patent on this approach.)
  • Frank Bruni’s final column as the New York Times restaurant critic. I loved his advice for navigating a menu, which ends with, “Then scratch off anything that mentions truffle oil. Choose among the remaining dishes.”
  • By way of the Footnotes of Mad Men, a newsreel from the 1964 World’s Fair. Worth watching for the explanation of computers alone.
  • Andrew Sullivan on the American way of torture. I’m just going to keep linking to this stuff until I stop encountering people who believe that the way we have treated detainees does not constitute torture.
  • Hypocrisy watch: we send Bill Clinton to North Korea to retrieve US journalists who have been unjustly imprisoned, and we also imprison Iraqi journalists without charging them with any crimes.
  • Today’s compromise is tomorrow’s landmark legislation. Let’s pass a health care reform bill.
  • Ted Kennedy was the first member of Congress with an official Web site.

Storing data for Google Maps

I hinted at this in my link post, but I thought I’d write up the whole thing in hopes of discussing it. I have a page that will include a Google Map with markers for a number of locations (potentially a large number of markers). For an explanation of how to add markers to a Google Map, check out this page.

So the question is: how do you get the address data from my database to Google Maps?

The process is to geocode the address and then apply the marker to the map. There’s a simple example at that link.

Here are some possible approaches:

  1. Write some code (PHP in this case) that emits the JavaScript used to geocode the addresses and put the markers on the map. Unfortunately then you have a mixture of JavaScript and PHP code that looks a lot like JavaScript on your page.
  2. Print out a JavaScript data structure that contains all the information for the markers and then iterate over that data structure in JavaScript.
  3. Put the map data in hidden elements on the page where it can be extracted using JavaScript. The downside is you have hidden elements on your page. The upside is that your PHP is completely separated from your JavaScript.
  4. Create a service that returns a JSON data structure of the marker information that can be called using XmlHttpRequest and call that from the page. That offers a clean separation of the JavaScript from the PHP but unfortunately could add latency to the page.

I’ve done some searching to find out how people handle this problem, but haven’t seen any good answers yet. Any ideas?

Links for August 25

  • Glenn Greenwald on what all Americans should know about the 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report that was released on Monday.
  • Alex Tabarrok (the more doctrinaire libertarian half of the team at Marginal Revolution) explains why you must have a public option if health care reform will include an individual mandate. Further proof that I was completely wrong in arguing that the public option is not necessary.
  • Spencer Ackerman explains the insidiousness of torture — once you’ve embarked on a program of torture, the logical response to not getting the information you expect is to order more torture.
  • If you’re trying to embed Google Maps in your Web site and want to start with a centered map of the United States, Lebanon, Kansas is the spot.
  • Today I was trying to come up with good ways to avoid mixing JavaScript code with PHP code. Here’s a Stack Overflow question on the topic. I almost wonder whether using AJAX is better than writing PHP that emits JavaScript.

Links for August 24

Trying yet another format for daily links. Here we go:

  • This is accountability.
  • Footnotes for last night’s Mad Men. If you like those, there’s a whole blog of Mad Men footnotes by the same author.
  • I wanted to second this notion from Matthew Yglesias that it’s stupid to blame Obama’s mistakes for the trials and tribulations of passing health care reform. This is an incredibly complex, emotionally charged issue, and trillions of dollars are at stake. Plus the opposition party is willing to lie constantly to scuttle reform for political reasons. There is no simple road map to reform.
  • The next World of Warcraft expansion (due sometime in 2010) will feature an in game launch event. The theme of the expansion is that an evil dragon unleashes an event that rips the original game world apart, so it’ll probably be worth renewing your game account just for that event when the time comes.
  • How rich are the super rich? Richer than ever.
  • Security researchers are looking at ways that botnets can be controlled through Google or Twitter. As far as I know, right now the most common approach is via IRC. Honestly, it strikes me that the simplest approach would be to set up a blog on BlogSpot and have all of the zombie PCs subscribe to the RSS feed.

Women’s rights

While I was tinkering with my server over the weekend, the New York Times Magazine was publishing this incredibly thought provoking cover story on women’s rights. Seriously, read the whole thing. I’m not even going to pick out any of the most interesting facts cited so that you have to go look for them.

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