Apple is showing more concern about working conditions
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Apple is showing more concern about working conditions

Back in July, I argued that Apple’s labor costs should be higher. The company is very profitable, and it wouldn’t cut into their profits much to better compensate employees. This week, there have been a lot of developments on this front. Employees at a Foxconn factory in China threatened mass suicide if they were not given better pay. Also, Mike Daisey, who has travelled to China to observe working conditions there himself, appeared on This American Life to perform part of his one-man show, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.”

Today, Apple has made some announcements that indicate it is taking more responsibility for labor conditions in its factories. They have released a full list of their suppliers along with a detailed report on working conditions in its factories. Apple has also joined the Fair Labor Association and will allow independent inspections of its factories. Hopefully other electronics makers will follow suit.

Addressing the issues Apple has found in its inspections will cost the company more money, but they can afford it. Here’s to them spending even more in the future. As an aside, I can’t help but wonder whether this is happening now because it’s something that’s more important to Tim Cook than it was to Steve Jobs.

How Google is integrating Google+ with Search
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How Google is integrating Google+ with Search

There’s a lot of discussion of Google’s deep integration of its Google+ social network with their core search product, but Danny Sullivan is the guy who has actually drilled down to show how it works.

My main takeaway is that this is a major loss in terms of usability. Google is anteing up a huge strategy tax payment here, favoring in some cases useless Google+ pages over the content that users almost certainly actually care about. Google obviously feels that their lead in search market share is big enough that they can risk frittering it away in order to promote their social networking efforts.

Update: Danny Sullivan has posted an interview with Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt about Google+ integration.

Stop SOPA/PIPA
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Stop SOPA/PIPA

Grassroots efforts to let Congress know what a bad idea SOPA/PIPA is are continuing all over the Internet, and I wanted to make sure people know about them.

Fred Wilson is suggesting that people use #BlackoutSOPA to register their protest via their Twitter avatar.

Reddit is blacking out their site on January 18.

I would encourage everyone to directly contact their Congressperson and their Senators — that will probably have a greater effect than any form of online protest. There’s a long way to go — only 5 Senators are on the record as opposing the bill.

What to do if your Web site is stolen?
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What to do if your Web site is stolen?

Smart Football is one of my favorite blogs. If you’re a football fan at all, you should check it out. Unfortunately, the site’s owner has run into a problem. Some person (whose name is supposedly Anil Jayanna) has registered the domain name smartfootball.net and put up an exact copy of his Web site, apparently to make money on ads (but potentially to distribute malware).

From the whois results, I can see that the registrar is Melbourne IT and that the DNS for the domain appears to be handled by Yahoo. A lookup on the site’s IP address reveals that it’s hosted in Russia.

The obvious steps are to email the registrar to report the abuse in homes of getting the domain name revoked and to email Yahoo in an attempt to get the DNS turned off. Maybe I’m cynical, but I don’t believe that emailing the hosting company in Russia is going to do a lot of good.

What else should Chris do? I hear about content theft fairly regularly, but I haven’t seen too many instances of an entire site being copied in this fashion. For all the horrible misuses of the DMCA, this is the sort of thing it was actually designed to prevent. This incident demonstrates its ineffectiveness, though, because the registrar and the hosting company are overseas and are thus out of reach. I guess if SOPA were in effect the Web site could be blacklisted — but in a thankfully SOPA-free world what recourse does the content owner have?

The best thing I read in 2011
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The best thing I read in 2011

My favorite article I read in 2011 was not written in 2011. It was published in The New Yorker in 1987. It’s John McPhee’s piece on human efforts to control the Mississippi River, Atchafalaya. He also wrote a book on the same topic, The Control of Nature, which I have not read.

I have long had a passing interest in the ongoing disappearance of Lousiana’s wetlands, which I already knew were caused by degradation resulting from the construction of canals used to access oil drilling equipment, subsidence (a natural process that affects all river bottomland), and levees along the Mississippi that prevent the river from restoring the wetlands. After reading the article, though, I realized I hadn’t really understood the problem at all.

The article works brilliantly as a straightforward explanation of the mechanics of the Mississippi River and human efforts to control it. Before reading it, I had no idea that what the river really wants is to shift its course to the west into the Atchafalaya River, abandoning Baton Rouge and New Orleans and washing away Morgan City. Nor did I know that the only thing preventing it is a manmade structure that prevents the change in course. I didn’t even know that boats use locks to travel up and down the river as a result of this engineering effort to control the river. The entire description of how the river is managed is completely fascinating.

McPhee, perhaps unintentionally, provides an allegory that should prove educational to anyone who builds things for a living. It is a fascinating look at path dependence. Once the first levee was built in New Orleans, they unknowingly insured that levees would be built higher and expanded further indefinitely. All a levee does is make it easier for water to travel in another direction rather than over the levee, so everyone along the river who wants to prevent their own land from flooding has to make sure that their levee is not the most vulnerable along the river’s course. The lessons contained in this article are among the most important any engineer or problem solver can learn.

The article is long and information dense, but I cannot recommend it more highly. It’s my favorite thing I read last year.

Piracy is about user experience rather than cost
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Piracy is about user experience rather than cost

Fred Wilson exposes the truth about piracy — all too often it’s about convenience rather than money. Many people download illegally or watch pirated streams because it’s the easiest (or frequently, only) way to get the content they’re after rather than because it’s saving them a buck or two. Sports is a great example — I am a huge University of Houston fan, and often the only way to see their football games where I live is to find illegal streams online. I’d gladly pay, but there is no legitimate way to see them. That’s a pretty huge market failure.

On a related note, I agree with Matthew Yglesias that piracy isn’t even the appropriate term for this sort of thing.

Update: Every company that makes money selling access to content that can be digitized, whether it’s software, movies, television shows, music, or live performances, should organize a contest for employees to go out and find the most convenient method to get a copy of whatever it is they sell, through legal or illegal means. The only rules should be that the means should be available to the public, and they could stipulate that cost is not an object. I think most would be shocked to find that perhaps outside the world of software and music, the contestants who use illegitimate means would win the race almost every time.

Update: Here’s a post from music site Bandcamp that gets at what I was saying.

The continuing saga of the line diet
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The continuing saga of the line diet

Since it’s the beginning of the year, I thought I’d link to my post on the Line Diet. I still stand behind everything in it. I also posted an update at the beginning of 2011. In 2011, I didn’t lose any weight at all, but I was able to keep off all the pounds I lost over the previous two years, so I’m counting that as a victory. I think the key to that success was working out, and I hope to have a post up by the end of the month about what I’ve learned on that front. I keep running into people who tell me they read my original post on the Line Diet and were able to use it to successfully lose weight, so I’m going to keep linking to it.