Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: January 2011 (page 2 of 3)

Finding value in Facebook

Tim Bray on making Facebook work:

My hypothesis is that Facebook works great when you’re only friends with people who, when they post pictures of their kids, you actually want to look at them. Or, as someone said over dinner tonight, with people who you’d walk across a bar to talk to if you saw them.

The lasting success of the libertarian project

Former Cato staffer and software developer Timothy B. Lee argues in The Return of Bottom-up Liberalism that generally speaking, libertarian philosophies have done very well in the policy arena over the past few decades:

Rather, what’s happened is that liberalism in general has internalized key libertarian critiques of earlier iterations of liberal thought, with the result that a guy with a largely Friedmanite policy agenda can plausibly call himself a liberal. And actually, this shouldn’t surprise us at all, because Friedman called himself a liberal too.

I think he’s absolutely right about that, at least in terms of economic policy. Even the much-maligned health care reform bill is very market-oriented in that it sets up a marketplace in which private insurers compete as opposed to establishing a new government-run insurer.

Kokichi Sugihara’s optical illusions

Just go check out these optical illusions created by Japanese professor Kokichi Sugihara. I never get tired of this sort of thing.

Finding meaning in neuroscience

Here’s another article that gets at what I found interesting about the Steve Jobs piece I linked to yesterday. In this one, David Brooks (not that David Brooks) writes in the New Yorker about What the science of human nature can teach us. The piece is the biography of one hypothetical person as seen through the eyes of neuroscience.

In it, a hypothetical neuroscientist tells the hypothetical subject of the article how he finds meaning in life through his scientific view of the world:

I guess I used to think of myself as a lone agent, who made certain choices and established certain alliances with colleagues and friends. Now, though, I see things differently. I believe we inherit a great river of knowledge, a flow of patterns coming from many sources. The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past we call genetics. The information passed along from hundreds of years ago we call culture. The information passed along from decades ago we call family, and the information offered months ago we call education. But it is all information that flows through us. The brain is adapted to the river of knowledge and exists only as a creature in that river. Our thoughts are profoundly molded by this long historic flow, and none of us exists, self-made, in isolation from it.

The article is sort of a slog up to that point, but I enjoyed the end.

Update: It is that David Brooks. I almost regret linking to the article now. And yeah, I agree with the linked blog post here that the stuff about the Composure Class at the beginning is just completely stupid. I almost gave up on the article early on due to sheer annoyance.

Further update: Apparently David Brooks has written a whole book on the Composure Class. The day that I linked to this article is one that will live in infamy.

Reminder: Romantic gift giving for pragmatic people

Since Valentine’s Day is approaching, I thought I’d remind people of my 2007 post, Romantic gift giving for pragmatic people.

How Steve Jobs brings hope to the world

Andy Crouch, A World Without Jobs:

As remarkable as Steve Jobs is in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (ruthless and demanding) leader—his most singular quality has been his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope. Nothing exemplifies that ability more than Apple’s early logo, which slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure—the bitten fruit—and made it a sign of promise and progress.

A thought provoking piece on Steve Jobs and finding hope in a secular world.

School segregation, the ongoing issue

Dana Goldstein writes about school segregation in the modern era, on the occasion of Martin Luther King Day:

American schools are more segregated by race and class today than they were on the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, 43 years ago.

What really drew me to her story is her simple explanation of how the soon to be dismantled school assignment program here in Wake County, North Carolina works. I’ve been following the story around this for years and never understood the nature of the program until I read this blog post:

The Wake County program located high-achieving, themed magnet schools within poor neighborhoods, and opened them up to any interested student. For each seat at the magnet school occupied by a middle class or affluent kid from across town, an inner city child was given the opportunity to bus to the neighborhood school the wealthier kid would have attended, if he hadn’t chosen the magnet instead.

In fact, given that participation in the program is completely voluntary, I’m not sure what’s at issue or what the goals of the new school board are.

Another theory on Google’s dropping H.264

Horace Dediu has another theory on why Google is dropping support for the H.264 video codec:

I rather think that Google’s decision is a misguided emphasis on technical details in lieu of engaging in a deep strategic re-evaluation.

Don’t miss the interesting comparison to Apple’s decision to go with the PowerPC over Intel processors back in the day.

I’m sort of obsessed with this decision by Google not because of its effect on me personally, but because I’m curious as to how companies come to these kinds of decisions. It’s complex and fascinating.

On our uncivil discourse

I sat down to write a post about the Tucson shooting last weekend and the toxic rhetoric that may or may not have contributed to it, but then I found that Fred Clark of the Slacktivist made the very point I was hoping to make, so go read him instead:

Violent language and violent rhetoric can be a problem, but I do not think it is the main problem afflicting our diseased political discourse.

The main problem, rather, is disingenuous rhetoric that coolly and calmly demands a violent response from anyone who believes it or takes it seriously. This talk may have nothing to do with guns or crosshairs or “reloading,” but it is the logic of life and death. That logic doesn’t just raise the possibility that some unhinged person on the fringes might take it wrong. It suggests and requires violent action as an unavoidable moral obligation.

Read the rest.

One reason Google dropped H.264 support

Matt Drance offers one hypothesis for why Google is dropping H.264 support:

If H.264 becomes and remains the dominant codec, then Google needs to convince all of its partners to bundle H.264 decoder hardware in order to preserve a competitive video experience on Android. It cannot, however, guarantee them favorable licensing terms, because it is not a licensor in the H.264 patent pool. Android and Google could end up with a problem on their hands if OEMs hesitate or get hit with lawsuits.

Enter WebM/VP8. By overseeing both the technology and policy, Google has much more power to insulate its partners, and thus the entire Android platform, from disruptive patent or license disputes. If all goes well, it could go a step further and require Android OEMs to include VP8 decoder hardware from a (hand-picked, of course) list of vendors, guaranteeing a minimum standard of video playback on all Android devices. Google could even acquire one or more of these vendors for good measure.

Why dump H.264 entirely? Why not hedge your bets, especially if H.264 is working right now? Google says “our goal is to enable open innovation;” what it in fact means is “we prefer patents we own.”

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