Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: July 2010 (page 1 of 3)

The hidden costs of Apple’s app store

Derek Powazek talks about the burden that the app store approval process puts on iOS developers:

Apple’s App Store was a constant source of stress in the development process. Every time another story of Apple randomly booting an app from the store came out, the whole team quaked. The idea that we could do all this work and then Apple could deny the app, or even keep it in limbo forever, made us second- or third-guess every design decision. “Will this pixel hurt our chances of getting accepted?”

America’s national priorities

Matthew Yglesias asks this question of members of Congress who vote for deficit-funded war appropriations but vote against any domestic programs that raise the deficit:

Is the performance of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Khost Province more important to the long-term interests of American citizens than the performance of the Riverside County Public Schools?

The question becomes more pointed when you factor in the odds of success of each project. Given the same expenditure, the odds of stabilizing Afghanistan are very low while the odds of improving schools are very high.

Links for July 28

Scaling is always a catch-up game

Kellan Elliott-McCrea on scaling:

Scaling is always a catch up game. Only way its ever worked. If you never catch up then something isn’t working, but it isn’t original sin.

See also: Don Knuth on when to optimize.

The sanitized version

The big news yesterday was WikiLeaks’ release of a massive number of secret military documents on Afghanistan and Pakistan written between 2004 and 2009. Before releasing the documents, WikiLeaks allowed the New York Times, Der Spiegel, and the Guardian (UK) to review the documents and attest to their legitimacy.

Amy Davison, writing writes the following in response to the New York Times’ assertion that the documents do not contradict the official accounts of the war:

What does it mean to tell the truth about a war? Is it a lie, technically speaking, for the Administration to say that it has faith in Hamid Karzai’s government and regards him as a legitimate leader–or is it just absurd? Is it a lie to say that we have a plan for Afghanistan that makes any sense at all? If you put it that way, each of the WikiLeaks documents–from an account of an armed showdown between the Afghan police and the Afghan Army, to a few lines about a local interdiction official taking seventy-five-dollar bribes, to a sad exchange about an aid scam involving orphans–is a pixel in a picture that does, indeed, contradict official accounts of the war, and rather drastically so.

The contradiction between what we learn from the leaked documents or from the best reporting I read from Afghanistan reminds me of the story about Dell and Intel that I linked to yesterday. Dell got in trouble because they were taking kickbacks from Intel in exchange for not putting AMD chips in their servers, and then hiding that revenue and attributing their profits to other things. Dell wound up paying a $100 million fine for accounting fraud. The Intel-Dell deal was obviously good for Dell’s bottom line and, given that Intel freely entered into the arrangement and continued to pay Dell year after year, worked for them as well. But public corporations are required to disclose where they get and spend their money, so the secret deal got them in trouble.

On the other hand, the government is free to classify embarrassing or inconvenient information that doesn’t serve their goals, and of course, government officials leak that information off the record whenever it’s convenient to do so. When someone without authorization to do so leaks that information, as in this case, we hear lectures about the national interest and federal law. Is it too much for us to demand the same level of transparency from the government as we do from public corporations?

Links for July 26

  • The New York Times reports on Dell’s ugly business practices. They started taking money from Intel in exchange for not offering CPUs from other companies, and tried to hide that revenue from investors.
  • Tim Bray talks about the state of Perl.
  • WordPress is dropping support for PHP 4 and MySQL 4. Next year, they’re dropping support for PHP 5.1. I was going to take this opportunity to beat up on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and its horrible outdated packages, but I see that RHEL 6 will support PHP 5.3.2 and MySQL 5.1.47.
  • The New York Times ran an insightful op-ed by Van Jones arguing that our culture is not mature enough to deal with the way the media works today.
  • Finally got around to making this ricotta cheese from Serious Eats. It was easy to make and delicious.
  • I’m not one of those people who sees income inequality as a huge problem unto itself, but I think it’s a sign that there may be problems. And it has been growing rapidly in the US for the past 30 years. One thing’s for sure, Republicans have done a great job of making sure rich people keep getting richer.
  • Former CBS and NPR correspondent Daniel Schorr died last week. I love the anecdote about Richard Nixon retold in this article.
  • Researchers trying to figure out whether working out using a Wii was dangerous learned that working out with a Wii isn’t very effective.

Links for July 23

It’s Friday, do some recreational reading:

  • Mobile carriers are loading Android handsets up with crapware.
  • Khoi Vinh on why he left his dream job. I thought I knew what he was going to say, but it turned out that I didn’t.
  • The Science of Sport looks at the power output of riders in the Tour de France. I’ve looked at the wattage measurement on the rower at the gym. These numbers leave me in awe.
  • Apple doesn’t sell most of the handsets, but it makes most of the profit.
  • Pamela Samuelson writes about the Berkeley Patent Survey, which asked technology startups about how they view patents and whether they file for them.
  • Kerry Emanuel looks at how the media covers the climate change debate.
  • My thinking on the decline of the newspaper industry is that national news coverage will be fine, but that local news is in real trouble. James Rainey has a great example of why local news coverage is really important.
  • Andrew Leonard looks at how mobile carriers in China are adapting Android.
  • Clay Johnson explains why Congress could use some software developers.
  • Tyler Cowen looks for an explanation for the fact that economic output is up despite the fact that employment is down.
  • Historically speaking, Republicans are not fiscally responsible.
  • One way for America to improve its deficit problem is to be more prudent when it comes to our use of the military.
  • I plan on digging into the Washington Post’s report on Top Secret America this weekend.
  • Turns out there are ATMs in Antarctica.

Shipping and editing

Everybody linked to Tom Taylor’s essay, You’ve either shipped or you haven’t. I didn’t, because it was trite and smug. Lots of people liked it because it made them feel good about themselves. He has since admitted that it was trite and smug, not in those exact words. Anyway, even trite, smug essays can provoke great responses. In this case, an essay from Paul Ford about how the skills of editors (who ship all the time, often on a daily basis) apply to the web.

Framing is losing

Here’s Ezra Klein on framing:

One of my rules in politics is that whichever side is resorting to framing devices is losing.

I find I buy into this much more than I buy into the idea that proper framing is the key to political success. (Sorry, George Lakoff.)

Links from July 18

  • BP is trying to buy up academics who might potentially serve as expert witnesses in lawsuits against them in the future.
  • James Surowiecki explains what’s good about the financial reform bill.
  • Edible Geography talks street food in Mexico City.
  • Stephen O’Grady discusses the argument over whether WordPress themes must be licensed under the GPL.
  • US politics may be awful, but they’re not as bad as Belgian politics. The lesson in this story is that democracy can only work if people have some level of trust that their fellow citizens are committed to the common good.
  • On a related note, right wingers are still comparing President Obama to Hitler and Stalin. Anyone think this is good for democracy?
  • Oil Leak Could Transform Repairmen Into Superheroes. There’s a headline worth clicking on, no?
  • Gay marriage marches onward toward global acceptance.
  • The words people use on their blogs reflect their personalities.
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