Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: June 2010 (page 1 of 3)

The state of the video tag

YouTube’s developer blog has a sort of state of the video tag post, explaining why the HTML5 approach works for experimental purposes but isn’t going to soon displace Flash as the default for their service. The problem of browser makers not agreeing on a single video standard to support is huge:

First and foremost, we need all browsers to support a standard video format. Users upload 24 hours of video every minute to YouTube, so it’s important to minimize the number of video formats we support. Especially when you consider that for each format, we also provide a variety of sizes (360p, 480p, 720p, 1080p). We have been encoding YouTube videos with the H.264 codec since early 2007, which we use for both Flash Player and mobile devices like the iPhone and Android phones. This let us quickly and easily launch HTML5 playback for most videos on browsers that support H.264, such as Chrome and Safari.

Just supporting one more format will roughly double the amount of storage they need for videos. (The exact amount will vary based on the effectiveness of the compression algorithm.)

Their full list of reasons why the video tag is not ready for prime time is worth reading, and it underscores a larger point with regard to standards as well. The bottom line is that it’s easier for Adobe to iterate on Flash than it is for browser makers to iterate on HTML. Adobe can add new features and push them out in an update that works in all of the popular browsers. And it seems like it’s easier to get people to update their Flash player than it is to get people to upgrade or switch from Internet Explorer. That’s what leaves us stuck on the least common denominator when it comes to implementing things with HTML. In other words, Flash isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

My prediction is that the trend over the next few years will be Flash on the desktop and more robust HTML5 applications for mobile platforms, thanks to the lack of Flash on iOS and strong support for HTML5 on both iOS and Android.

We need to restore economic growth

The big macroeconomic debate is over deficit spending. Should the federal government keep borrowing money and spending it to lower unemployment and hasten economic recovery, or should it focus on fixing its balance sheet by cutting spending and possibly raising taxes? Ireland went for the latter approach, and the New York Times reports on the results. Ezra Klein has the Cliffs Notes version. I’ll go even shorter: it’s been a disaster for Ireland.

The perils of endless war

This morning I was talking about English nationalism and the World Cup with a friend, and the discussion shifted to an op-ed in this morning’s Washington Post by Andrew Bacevich on the corrosive effect of long wars on the military and on democracy. Here’s how his piece begins:

Long wars are antithetical to democracy. Protracted conflict introduces toxins that inexorably corrode the values of popular government. Not least among those values is a code of military conduct that honors the principle of civilian control while keeping the officer corps free from the taint of politics. Events of the past week — notably the Rolling Stone profile that led to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s dismissal — hint at the toll that nearly a decade of continuous conflict has exacted on the U.S. armed forces. The fate of any one general qualifies as small beer: Wearing four stars does not signify indispensability. But indications that the military’s professional ethic is eroding, evident in the disrespect for senior civilians expressed by McChrystal and his inner circle, should set off alarms.

My friend sent along the poem The Cuirassiers Of The Frontier that really hits the theme of Bacevich’s piece. The poem, on the subject of soldiers in the Roman army, closes with the following two lines:

We, not the City, are the Empire’s soul:
A rotten tree lives only in its rind.

It’s not hard for me to imagine that’s how General McChrystal’s team in Afghanistan see themselves.

Who benefits from Dave Weigel’s firing

Tyler Cowen on who benefits from Dave Weigel’s firing:

At a more general level this is a tax on journalists, who now have a greater fear of being fired for past actions. It’s also a tax on the moody, the volatile, the web-savvy, the non-mainstream, and a subsidy to in-control smooth talkers and careful writers.

Actual antenna engineer discusses the iPhone 4

The fact that a blog exists on the topic of antenna engineering is proof that we live in marvelous times. AntennaSys weighs in on the much-discussed iPhone 4 antenna issue. I come away with the impression that it’s a flaw that users will have to live with, but that it’s one they’ll be able to live with. If you want to learn more about the iPhone’s display, check out this post by retinal neuroscientist Bryan Jones. Like I said, marvelous times.

Wrapping up Treme

Season one of Treme is finished, and I totally failed to produce the last two installments of the Treme essential reference. I think it’s because as the season drew to a close, the fictional plot points overwhelmed the factual depiction of New Orleans and its customs that so captivated me throughout the run of the series.

To fill in the gaps, I would recommend (as I did every week), Treme explained from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and of course the ongoing series of interviews about Treme at A Blog Supreme.

Fans of the show will not want to miss David Simon’s interview with Alan Sepinwall, which includes a lot of exposition on what Simon intended with the show. Here’s what he had to say in response to complaints about the show being “too preachy”:

So I read Back of Town, and it tells me that we’ve not gone so far awry that the people who actually lost their homes, some of them are still exiled, all of them went through the torture of Katrina and its aftermath – the show is resonsant in its details. And that matters to me, in the same way it mattered to me that Marines found “Generation Kill” to be compelling in its depiction of modern warfare. And I don’t really care what Democrats or Republicans or politicians or people who were for the war or against the war thought about “Generation Kill.” I don’t care that somebody blogging in New York says when a character rants in New Orleans that they feel they’re being preached to.

Treme is, more than any other television series I can think of, a show made to be appreciated in this era. Here’s one of the questions Sepinwall asks Simon:

Just like you did on “The Wire” and “Generation Kill,” you threw people into the deep end of a culture they’re not that familiar with. Specifically with the Mardi Gras Indians, you clearly felt comfortable not having to even use the kid (Darius) for exposition. It was just, “We’re going to watch them work, we’re going to show them doing their thing. People will figure it out, or they won’t.”

Simon’s answer is interesting, but here’s my answer from a fan’s perspective. These days we have Google and Wikipedia to help us fill in the blanks. There are bloggers of all stripes writing about Treme. And of course the New Orleans Times-Picayune and NPR have been doing their part to fill fans in with all of the background information they can stand. So there’s no need for David Simon to fill in the blanks with boring explanations — fans who are interested have the Internet for that. It’s a show for the modern fan who’s willing to put in the effort to get the most they can out of television as a piece of literature. I appreciate they fact that they didn’t waste my time with stuff I could figure out on my own.

Best World Cup coverage

The Telegraph newspaper has the best World Cup coverage. Their live match commentary is often brilliant. Here’s their instant reaction to the late score by the United States that pushed the UK England* into the second spot in the group, where they will likely face Germany in the next round:

The USA have come fashionably late to the party, leaving us at the mercy of the Germans. It’s World War Two all over again.

That is wit on demand.

* Updated after a commenter reminded me that England goes it alone in soccer.

A general model for GUI applications

Matt Gallagher at Cocoa With Love provides his general model for Cocoa applications. The terminology is specific to Cocoa, but the model applies to nearly all GUI applications. Needless to say, the way you fill in the blanks in his model is what makes an application unique and useful.

File sharing doesn’t seem to diminish creativity

Just as background, here’s what the Constitution says about intellectual property:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

The Constitution makes it clear that copyright and patents exist not to make sure that people can profit from their creations but to encourage innovation and creativity. Researchers at the University of Kansas have found that the number of creative works being produced have increased since file sharing became available. It’s important to keep this in mind when people talk about strengthening copyright laws or escalating copyright enforcement. Piracy may be unethical, but it doesn’t seem to be stifling the production of creative works.

Car alarms don’t work

As I was listening to a car alarm go off last night (and again this morning), I wondered whether as a security measure they are effective at all. My guess was that the massive number of false positives insures that they go completely ignored when they go off. I was right. Transportation Alternatives has the numbers. Don’t go around thinking The Club is a better choice, either. Professional thieves target cars with The Club so that they can avoid walking around with a pry bar.

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