Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: April 2010 (page 2 of 5)

Yet another reason to lose weight

Seriously, who needs this?

Being fat is bad for your brain.

The New York Times blogger Olivia Judson runs down a ton of scientific evidence documenting the ways that being obese in middle age raises the likelihood of dementia in old age.

Assassination is ineffective

People are disconcertingly accepting of torture as a means of getting information from people we detain, and it seems to me that assassinations are even more popular than torture. You just don’t see many people protesting the United States blowing up suspected terrorists in countries like Yemen with missiles fired from Predator drones. It’s sad, because there are many principled objections to be made to the use of assassination as a tactic for fighting terror. A recent study makes it clear that there are practical objections as well — a 2009 study suggests that assassinations are counterproductive:

killing leaders of a religious terrorist group seems to increase the group’s chances of survival from 67 percent to 83 percent.

This week’s New Yorker also has an interesting article about the latest social science on the subject of terrorism. The article is chock full of interesting opinions on terrorists, the causes of terrorism, and the most effective approaches to combatting terrorism.

Apple goes beyond what’s necessary

Marco Arment discusses the rumored 960×640 display in the forthcoming iPhone, and argues that the tradeoffs involved with including the display probably aren’t worth it. Here’s his conclusion:

I’m sure I’ll fall in love with the high-density iPhone display as soon as I see it. But on paper, I’m still unconvinced that it’s necessary.

If I had to pick one aspect of Apple’s strategy that has led to its great success over the past decade, it has been the company’s unwillingness to stop at what is necessary. It’s why I still love Apple’s products, even though the company irritates me a lot of the time.

Why you need books in your home

Kids who grow up near books do better in school than kids who don’t, on average.

Treme episode 2 essential reference

Some links to things mentioned in episode 2 of Treme:

The state of MySQL

There is no application nearer and dearer to my heart than MySQL. I’ve build applications on a lot of different platforms over the years, but pretty much all of them have used MySQL as the data store. That said, i don’t usually pay attention to what’s going on in the MySQL community. I use whatever version of MySQL is packaged for the server I’m using and make the best of it.

Even so, there’s a lot of activity in the MySQL world. It’s now fully owned by Oracle and at the same time the open source version is being forked all over the place. People are excited about non-relational databases and looking at them instead of MySQL. You can get the full rundown of the latest on all these fronts from Stephen O’Grady.

It’s important to remember, though, that all of this stuff is happening at the edge. I’m fairly tapped into the world of software development — I read the blogs, participate on Twitter, and keep up with the latest trends. But I use plain old MySQL 5.0. Most developers are the same. MySQL just works, and they don’t pay much attention to it beyond that. Even the people who are paying attention aren’t, for the most part, running into what they see as limitations with MySQL. The people who get most of the attention are bending MySQL in unusual ways, and doing unusual things in response. They’re interesting, but not representative.

In the meantime, most developers just need to understand more about how to design a database schema and how to determine which columns need indexes.

Twitter integration with @Anywhere

Twitter has launched a new feature for third party Web sites, @Anywhere, automatically converts Twitter usernames to links with a hover effect that provides information about their Twitter account. I’ve added it to the blog. Here’s an example: @rc3dotorg.

If you’re a Twitter user, feel free to use your Twitter username (with the @) in the Name field in the comment form. Then people will see a link to your Twitter page.

If it slows things down or sucks in any other way, I’ll get rid of it.

What can we learn from the Apache security breach?

This weekend the Apache Software Foundation suffered a security breach. The post-mortem from the Apache Infrastructure Team is worth reading, because the attack was vsophisticated and they explain exactly how it worked.

Nelson Minar blames problems with passwords for the Apache security breach this weekend. Paul Querna blames Internet security as a whole. I’m still waiting for someone to blame URL shorteners, as they played a role in the attack as well.

Behavioral economics and my new laptop

Today, Apple updated the MacBook Pro line. I’ve been using the same laptop for three years, and it is, in my opinion, time to get a new one. Sadly, my determination to get a new laptop has made every symptom of sluggishness on the old computer twice as noticeable. (Eclipse “Open Type” shortcut, I’m looking at you.)

First, an anecdote from the realm of behavioral economics. In January, a five cent tax on plastic grocery bags went into effect in Washington DC. The proceeds go to cleaning up the Anacostia River. Residents of Washington DC used an average of 22 million plastic bags a month in 2009. In 2010, they used 3 million. As it turns out, people are completely willing to bring their own bags to the store if it means not having to pay a small tax. The radical change in behavior that resulted from this small tax made me wonder about the effect slow computers have on developer behavior.

When Joel Spolsky originally wrote the Joel Test ten years ago, he talked about how developers deal with the performance tax:

Writing code in a compiled language is one of the last things that still can’t be done instantly on a garden variety home computer. If your compilation process takes more than a few seconds, getting the latest and greatest computer is going to save you time. If compiling takes even 15 seconds, programmers will get bored while the compiler runs and switch over to reading The Onion, which will suck them in and kill hours of productivity.

Today, you’d substitute “check their Twitter client” for “reading The Onion,” but aside from that, the observation still holds.

My theory though is that slow machines for developers wind up increasing the workload for testers. Most of the time, a slow computer doesn’t make it harder to write code, it makes harder to test code.

I suspect that most developers have a budget in their mind for how long they’re willing to test each bug fix. I don’t know many developers who can force themselves to do a lot of testing for a one line change, even if that one line change was made to a widely used method or function. So the biggest impact of getting a faster computer is that it would enable me to run more tests within my testing budget, and to iterate more rapidly when the fixes don’t work. In the end, it results in higher quality code.

And that’s why I should have a new laptop. The QA department must surely agree. This is also an argument in favor of automated regression testing.

Treme episode 1 essential reference

Here are some essential links for people who watched episode 1 of Treme:

Update: I forgot to note Brocato’s ice cream parlor.

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