Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: September 2011 (page 2 of 2)

Responsive design is the near future of Web page layout

Where is Web design headed? For a preview, check out the Boston Globe. It looks like a perfectly normal newspaper Web site, until you start resizing the browser window. The page layout is dynamically altered so that it properly size whatever window is being used to view it. There’s no more “click here for our mobile site” button or a link beseeching you to download the site’s app in somebody’s app store. This technique is called responsive design, and its creator, Ethan Marcotte, consulted on the Boston Globe’s implementation. He’s written about his role in the project on his blog.

I suspect that responsive design is going to be adopted widely. The Boston Globe provides a compelling blueprint. The next step will be approachable frameworks that enable people to create responsive designs without having to build them from scratch on their own. As soon as I saw the new site, other sites that redirect you to a special site just for mobile devices or offer links to a mobile version of the site seemed completely out of date.

I want to build everything in this fashion from here on out.

Racial profiling on 9/11

You’ve probably already seen this story, but I’m linking to it in case you haven’t. On 9/11, fighter planes were dispatched to shadow a passenger flight from Denver to Detroit because several passengers exhibited, in the eyes of the crew, suspicious activity. When the flight landed, the SWAT team showed up and handcuffed and detained the “suspicous” passengers.

I was at the gym yesterday and saw a chyron on CNN about this story, and I immediately assumed that this was yet another case of unfounded panic and probably racial profiling. Without hearing any of the details, I was immediately frustrated by this latest example of the security state gone insane.

Of course the three passengers in question were released after a few hours with no charges against them, because they were not in any way terrorists. Yesterday one of the detained passengers, Shoshana Hebshi, posted a first-hand account of what happened.

The three “suspicious” passengers happened to be brown people who were coincidentally seated on the same row. What happened to them when the plane landed?

Someone shouted for us to place our hands on the seats in front of us, heads down. The cops ran down the aisle, stopped at my row and yelled at the three of us to get up. “Can I bring my phone?” I asked, of course. What a cliffhanger for my Twitter followers! No, one of the cops said, grabbing my arm a little harder than I would have liked. He slapped metal cuffs on my wrists and pushed me off the plane. The three of us, two Indian men living in the Detroit metro area, and me, a half-Arab, half-Jewish housewife living in suburban Ohio, were being detained.

The cops brought us to a parked squad car next to the plane, had us spread our legs and arms. Mine asked me if I was wearing any explosives. “No,” I said, holding my tongue to not let out a snarky response. I wasn’t sure what I could and could not say, and all that came out was “What’s going on?”

This is America in 2011 and what bothers me most is that my initial leap to conclusions at the gym was borne out completely.

How to fix the economy

Last month Tim Bray reminded me that I should be reading The Economist. The thing I like best about The Economist as a publication is that its editorial stance is to be uniformly in favor of global economic growth. While I am certainly much more left wing than their usual reader or their editors, I am essentially in agreement with them that the number one priority of economic policy must be continued, long-term economic growth, even if I disagree with them on other priorities or occasionally on the best approach to creating sustainable growth.

In any case, whether or not you agree with The Economist on anything, they are the best advocates out there for center-right, pro-business policy. Even if you disagree with their conclusions, their arguments are worth grappling with.

Their policy prescription for dealing with the current jobs crisis and economic slowdown is straightforward — Western governments should pursue policies that prop up demand encourage job growth now and make binding commitments to address structural deficits later. This should sound familiar, because this has been the Obama administration’s position since President Obama took office. It’s also the position of nearly all economists who are not partisan hacks. And the truth is that if President Obama resigned tomorrow and House Speaker John Boehner took over, it would probably be his policy as well.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that this policy course is stunningly obvious, the odds are that a gut-level impulse toward austerity, a misplaced fear of short-term inflation, and pursuit of partisan advantage are all conspiring to render not just the US government, but governments all over Europe, impotent in the face of this crisis. And as The Economist points out, an economic crisis is also a human crisis:

… the human cost of the economic crisis is paid largely by those who are out of work, for joblessness increases depression, divorce, substance abuse and pretty much everything that can go wrong in a life. Worse, today’s joblessness is a particularly dangerous sort. A disproportionate share of those out of work are young, and youth unemployment leaves more scars, in terms of lower future wages and greater likelihood of future unemployment (see article). Joblessness is also becoming more chronic. In America, famous for its flexible labour market, the average jobless spell now lasts 40 weeks, up from 17 in 2007. In Italy half of those without work have been so for more than a year. Long-term unemployment is harder to cure, as people’s skills atrophy and they become detached from the workforce. Its shadow lingers, reducing future growth rates, damaging public finances and straining social order for years to come.

People are looking to Belgium with envy because their lack of a government prevents them from pursuing pro-cyclical austerity measures that deepen the crisis. I thought that multinational organizations like the OECD and the G-20 were created in order to facilitate coordinated responses to global crises like the one we’re facing right now. Instead we’re seeing little collective action to turn the global economy around, and very little on the policy front from individual countries as well. In the meantime, things continue to slide downhill.

Michael S. Hart, RIP

Michael S. Hart, the inventor of the electronic book and the founder of Project Gutenberg, died this week. Project Gutenberg has his (public domain) obituary. Hart was born in 1947. The last published work to pass into the public domain was published in 1923 and it seems probable that copyright terms will be extended indefinitely such that no published works will enter the public domain again.

Update: Nat Torkington has posted a nice remembrance.

Farewell to the Obscure Store and Reading Room

As part of his semi-retirement, Jim Romenesko is shutting down The Obscure Store & Reading Room, one of the few remaining first generation blogs. I always felt honored to be in his blogroll back in the day.

Java 7 looks kind of awesome

Sure, you may know me as a very amateur political commentator or guy who builds Web stuff, but I spend most of my day writing Java code. My first impression of Java 7 was that it is a disaster due to some compiler bugs that result in unstable code. While it’s certainly prudent to wait for Oracle to work out those bugs, I am actually pretty excited about the language features in new version. One of the biggest complaints about Java is all of the extra typing you have to do compared to scripting languages like Ruby and Python, so it’s always good to see things get a little simpler. The new features certainly won’t convince anyone who isn’t already a Java developer to switch to it, but they will make life a little easier for those of us who use Java already.

Torture in the USA, the continuing story

Normally if I let a link sit around this long before posting about it, I’d let it go, but this one is particularly important.

I don’t have much to add to this article by Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, but I wanted to link to it because it’s important. US citizens who were tortured by the US military while they were in Iraq are suing Donald Rumsfeld personally for authorizing the violation of their Constitutional rights. Both cases have won on appeal against attorneys for Rumsfeld and for the US government, who have tried to have them dismissed for a variety of reasons.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am completely against torture and I define torture broadly. If you’re one of those people who believes that torture is OK as long as it’s reserved for the worst of the worst, what you must understand is that it never works that way. The “worst of the worst” gets defined down until everyone falls into that category. In this case, the people subjected to torture were whistleblowers who worked for the US government.

You might argue that’s obviously immoral and illegal, but nobody has ever been held accountable for their treatment. And that brings us to a sentence from her more recent article on Dick Cheney’s memoir:

By deciding to repudiate torture while doing everything in its power to protect the torturers, the Obama administration has succeeded in elevating not only Cheney but the idea that, in America, some torturers are too important to be punished.

Right now the only thing standing between the United States and a torture regime is the Obama administration’s promise that it will not torture detainees. That’s not nearly enough.

I’d strongly encourage you to read both articles. I’d argue that the second describes the cause of the effect described in the first.

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