Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: February 2010 (page 1 of 4)

The Atlantic doesn’t get blogging

I’ve always been impressed with the stable of bloggers The Atlantic has amassed. There are some who I actively avoid, but it’s an impressive group overall. The latest redesign shows that whoever was in charge really doesn’t understand what’s good about a good blog. Take a look at this post from Ta-Nehisi Coates explaining to readers just what happened. Coates used to have a blog that had his posts listed in reverse chronological order, just like this one. Now he’s got what amounts to a category page on the Culture channel. I think that multi-author blogs are kind of iffy anyway, and diluting the pure voice of Coates (or any other blogger) in this way is very likely to kill their readership entirely.

The other bloggers at The Atlantic have weighed in as well, and they’re not too happy (with good reason). Here’s James Fallows and here’s Andrew Sullivan.

I’m sure that theory was that mixing up blog posts with all sorts of other content would give more exposure to the magazine content, but what it winds up doing is driving away the readers who wanted a quick fix from whichever blogger they were reading. This is especially true for the blogs that supported commenters. Any dedicated community of regulars is likely to just dissolve when subjected to changes like the ones The Atlantic has imposed. What they’re liable to wind up with is a group of commenters that are more like the ones you see on newspaper Web sites — committed cranks, total morons, and drive-by ranters who lower the value of the site every time they push the submit button.

Next we see how The Atlantic does damage control.

What you can do to kill software patents

Patrick Mueller has some patent-related tips for software developers and people who make stuff in general. He was asked to testify in a patent infringement case because the defense attorneys found a paper he wrote published on the Web, and thought it would help their case.

His tips are simple enough:

  • Document the crap out of the things that you make.
  • Put your documentation on the web, and make sure search engines can find it 20 years from now.

Be sure to click through to read about his experience as a fact witness.

The two sides of health care reform

James Surowiecki ably describes the gulf between Democrats and Republicans on expanding access to health care. Democrats see the fact that 50 million Americans don’t have health insurance as a problem that the federal government should solve in the near term, and Republicans don’t. Democrats also see the fact that for certain groups of people, it’s impossible to get affordable health insurance at all as an individual as a problem, and the Republicans don’t. Or at least they don’t see either of those problems as being worth doing what it takes to solve them.

But there’s another side of the issue that he completely ignores — the fact that health care costs are rising rapidly and that both Medicare and employer-funded health insurance are headed for disaster. Most retiree health plans are already in deep trouble, and the second order effects are severe. One of the reasons General Motors has been uncompetitive is that a substantial portion of the revenue they earn from each car they make goes to pay for health insurance for retired autoworkers. Republicans do not seem to want to engage on this issue, even if America’s system were perfect today, the rising costs insure that it’s going to have big problems down the road.

And this, to me, is the bigger problem. Republicans and Democrats can debate until the end of the world whether the government should make sure everyone has health insurance. I am strongly in favor of universal health care, personally. But regardless of where people stand on that issue, our government is going to have to engage with the issue of rising health care costs and growing Medicare enrollment sometime soon. The fact that Republicans are unwilling to treat the problem as the impending crisis that it is disqualifies them from being taken seriously as far as I’m concerned.

Stupid software patents

Earlier this week Tim Bray explained why he’s given up on software patents and today we learn that Facebook has patented the activity stream, which was not their idea in the first place. Of course the patent examiners wouldn’t know that, further illustrating the fact that the patent office shouldn’t be in that business and that nearly all progress in software is iterative. We don’t need patents.

Enjoy your fresh, farm-raised salmon

Andrew Leonard on a Salmon farming disaster in Chile:

Who could have predicted that the mass forced farming of an exotic fish to please the Wal-Mart low-price palate would result in a horrific virus-borne plague of anemia?

I don’t eat farmed salmon if I can help it.

Roger Ebert on privatization

Turns out the same skills that make a person a keen observer of movies or theater are also useful for observing the real world. Here’s Roger Ebert in The gathering storm:

Sometimes in the noise of the news there will be a single item that pops out with clarity. That happened when I heard about Tracy, California, which is charging $300 every time the fire department answers an emergency call that doesn’t involve a fire.

The essay also explains why it’s so expensive to park in Chicago. I wondered about that last time I was there.

To go back to the beginning, some of my favorite writers were at one time theater or movie critics. New York Times columnist Frank Rich was a theater critic, as was technology journalist and entrepreneur Scott Rosenberg.

Twitter is migrating from MySQL to Cassandra

For those of you keeping track of the trend of applications moving from SQL databases to dumber forms of storage, Twitter has decided to move to Cassandra. Seems like a logical decision for them.

Just so you know, episode II

Another installment of everyone’s favorite new feature:

  • Web analytics are incredibly inaccurate.
  • White people tend to favor government entitlements that they perceive as being spent on other white people and oppose those that they see as being spent on minorities.
  • Nobody really knows what the effects of salt intake are on health, other than if you eat no salt, you will die.
  • Famous global warming denier and “skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg is full of crap.

The deeds done in our name

James Fallows on the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility report on the torture memos written by John Yoo and Jay Bybee:

My point now is not to go through the A-bomb debate. It is to say that anyone who is serious in endorsing the A-bomb decision has to have fully faced the consequences. This is why John Hersey’s Hiroshima was requisite basic knowledge for anyone arguing for or against the use of the bomb. The OPR report is essentially this era’s Hiroshima. As Hersey’s book does, it makes us confront what was done in our name — “our” meaning the citizens of the United States.

If you want to argue that “whatever” happened in the “war on terror” was necessary because of the magnitude and novelty of the threat, then you had better be willing to face what the “whatever” entailed. Which is what this report brings out. And if you believe — as I do, and have argued through the years — that what happened included excessive, abusive, lawless, immoral, and self-defeating acts done wrongly in the name of American “security,” then this is a basic text as well.

Just so you know

I am strongly in favor of the correction of misperceptions. Here are a few links to that end:

  • Latino immigration seems to lower crime rates, not raise them, especially violent crime rates. Los Angeles (50% Hispanic) and Portland (America’s whitest city) have roughly the same violent crime rates.
  • Just because the Justice Department rejected a finding of misconduct doesn’t mean that the findings in the torture memos were sound legal advice. They weren’t sanctioned because the standards for what constitutes misconduct are incredibly permissive. Jay Bybee is let off the hook because he was a middle man, and John Yoo is let off the hook because he sincerely believes his crazy theories on Presidential power.
  • The IPCC report on climate change was not rife with errors.
  • There are no circumstances under which it is better to eat a 100 calorie pack of Twinkie Bites instead of an apple.
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