Roger Ebert on privatization
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Roger Ebert on privatization

Turns out the same skills that make a person a keen observer of movies or theater are also useful for observing the real world. Here’s Roger Ebert in The gathering storm:

Sometimes in the noise of the news there will be a single item that pops out with clarity. That happened when I heard about Tracy, California, which is charging $300 every time the fire department answers an emergency call that doesn’t involve a fire.

The essay also explains why it’s so expensive to park in Chicago. I wondered about that last time I was there.

To go back to the beginning, some of my favorite writers were at one time theater or movie critics. New York Times columnist Frank Rich was a theater critic, as was technology journalist and entrepreneur Scott Rosenberg.

The deeds done in our name
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The deeds done in our name

James Fallows on the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility report on the torture memos written by John Yoo and Jay Bybee:

My point now is not to go through the A-bomb debate. It is to say that anyone who is serious in endorsing the A-bomb decision has to have fully faced the consequences. This is why John Hersey’s Hiroshima was requisite basic knowledge for anyone arguing for or against the use of the bomb. The OPR report is essentially this era’s Hiroshima. As Hersey’s book does, it makes us confront what was done in our name — “our” meaning the citizens of the United States.

If you want to argue that “whatever” happened in the “war on terror” was necessary because of the magnitude and novelty of the threat, then you had better be willing to face what the “whatever” entailed. Which is what this report brings out. And if you believe — as I do, and have argued through the years — that what happened included excessive, abusive, lawless, immoral, and self-defeating acts done wrongly in the name of American “security,” then this is a basic text as well.

Motivation is subject to depletion
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Motivation is subject to depletion

Here’s an important article on employee motivation I saw on Hacker News:

The great majority of employees are quite enthusiastic when they start a new job. But in about 85 percent of companies, our research finds, employees’ morale sharply declines after their first six months—and continues to deteriorate for years afterward. That finding is based on surveys of about 1.2 million employees at 52 primarily Fortune 1000 companies from 2001 through 2004, conducted by Sirota Survey Intelligence (Purchase, New York).

The fault lies squarely at the feet of management—both the policies and procedures companies employ in managing their workforces and in the relationships that individual managers establish with their direct reports.

Most of the prescriptions in the article are standard management advice fare, but I think they key point is worth remembering — people are generally excited about their jobs until the realities of the situation beat it out of them. The main responsibility of managers is to help them hold onto that enthusiasm.

The risky aspect of HTML5
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The risky aspect of HTML5

The theory is that if all the User-Agent providers implement all these algorithms exactly as specified, complete interoperability will be achieved and people who build Web applications need no longer concern themselves with the differences between User Agents. Which would of course be wonderful.

Will it work? Nobody knows; it’s a science experiment. Just because nobody has ever succeeded in specifying a workable networked object model doesn’t mean this project will likewise fail. But it does mean that when considering the future of HTML5, we should recognize that this is a very hard problem, and there’s no guarantee that that part of it will come off.

From a blog post on HTML5 by Tim Bray.

For people who want to pay attention
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For people who want to pay attention

But the Net is the greatest listening engine ever devised. These days anyone can choose, with its help, to be well-informed. You have to make the effort to figure out which key people are really on top of what you care about, so that you can start listening to them. Plus, you need to deploy some saved searches. Once you’ve done these things, then when you turn your computer on in the morning, it’ll tell you if anything’s happened that you need to know about.

Tim Bray in The Listening Engine.

HipHop is an accelerator for PHP from Facebook
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HipHop is an accelerator for PHP from Facebook

Today I’m excited to share the project a small team of amazing people and I have been working on for the past two years; HipHop for PHP. With HipHop we’ve reduced the CPU usage on our Web servers on average by about fifty percent, depending on the page. Less CPU means fewer servers, which means less overhead. This project has had a tremendous impact on Facebook. We feel the Web at large can benefit from HipHop, so we are releasing it as open source this evening in hope that it brings a new focus toward scaling large complex websites with PHP.

Facebook developer Haiping Zhao announces HipHop for PHP, a tool that translates PHP to C++ and compiles it using g++.

Can we call hardware/software integration a trend?
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Can we call hardware/software integration a trend?

Ted Leung points out some parallels between the iPad and Oracle’s new strategy integrating Sun’s hardware:

I spent most of yesterday watching the Oracle/Sun strategy webcast, and a major theme was the way that Oracle plans to tightly integrate Sun’s hardware, and to optimize the entire hardware and software stack. The Oracle Exadata database machine was repeatedly touted as an example of this kind of integration. If the benchmarks and early customer experiences are indicative, this integration has paid off handsomely, as it has also with the Sun Storage 7000.

And the bottom line:

Many of us in the “open” world decry vertical integration because it is almost inevitably closed, but the kind of engineering virtuosity that is on display does impress.

The real State of the Union
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The real State of the Union

Whats truly depressing, however, is that as a country we seem to have completely lost the will and the capacity to collectively confront these challenges. Our union has been torn asunder by a clash of ideologies and special interests and brigades of power-hungry partisans that has resulted in a paralyzing political stalemate. In response, our citizens have become angry, cynical, distrustful and dispirited.

From Washington Post business columnist Steve Pearlstein’s The State of the Union speech Obama would give in a more honest world.

The philosophical argument against Flash
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The philosophical argument against Flash

At the core, because Flash is the only de facto web standard based on a proprietary technology. There are numerous proprietary web content plugins — including Apple’s QuickTime — but Flash is the only one that’s so ubiquitous that it’s a de facto standard. Flash is the way video is delivered over the web, and Adobe completely controls Flash. No other aspect of the web works like this. HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are all open standards, with numerous implementations, including several that are open source.

The simplest argument in favor of Flash support on the iPhone (and The Tablet, and everywhere) is that Flash is, by dint of its popularity and ubiquity, part of the web. But the best argument against Flash support is that it is harmful to the web as a whole to have something as important as video be in the hands of a single company, and the only way that’s going to change is if an open alternative becomes a compelling target for web publishers.

John Gruber on why it’s worth resisting Flash.