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Posted Tuesday, 22 September 2015 When Apple made a phone, it turned out it wasn’t really competing in the handset business; it was competing for the next dominant personal computing platform. The more I think about an Apple car, the more I think that it might be the basis of their future “computing environment”: a space that is completely aware of and responsive to its occupant(s). In that sense it might be more of a long-term competitor to the Amazon Echo (and whatever Android variant Google is pitching at the same space) than to Tesla’s cars. From this perspective, maybe the thing that’s kept the AppleTV on hold for so long is that they were trying to go down this road, but they kept failing to pull it off (to their standards) in the living room.
Perhaps they learned a few things along the way. Just a thought. Addendum Three points for clarification: • I’m actually not claiming that an “Apple Personal Space” is either the focus of any initial product or any concrete long-term plan. The iPhone almost ran the iPod operating system, and it doesn’t seem like Steve envisioned the success of the App Store (and thus iOS as a platform).
I’m pointing out that Tesla focuses on cars, Uber focuses on transportation, and Google focuses on technology, while Apple focuses on experiences. If they trap a user in a physical bubble, it’s in the company’s DNA to turn that bubble into the world’s most carefully studied and controlled experience. • Obviously the iPhone upended the incumbent handset industry, so Nokia certainly saw Apple as a competitor. But I doubt Apple ever viewed Nokia that way, because they never saw Nokia as competing in the personal computing business.
The competitors were Microsoft and Google: Apple was after the growth of a new industry; the sales in an existing one were collateral damage. • If Apple’s first offering is disruptive, it will most likely be due to innovations they bring to the auto manufacturing process (and are thus relatively invisible to consumers). Any truly compelling mass-market “computing environment” would evolve iteratively over years. Posted Saturday, 28 February 2015 The old “” joke/commentary didn’t sit right with me the first time I read it, and after stumbling across it again I now see why. Among other things: It’s a complaint without a solution. I’ve never met anyone in the software industry who is happy with the hiring process, and that includes everyone who’s designed the process.
Nobody seems to have a solution to separating the potential stars from the mehs, and anyone who claims they do either doesn’t have enough perspective to understand the difficulty of the problem (young interviewers who have been trained in one particular hiring style seem to be blessed with the arrogance of blind faith), or they’ve perfected the art of hiring the mediocre (a sufficiently rigorous process can probably rule out almost all the disastrous hires, but will likely also lose a few starsand it’s finding the stars that is the problem). Pouting that interviews suck without suggesting any improvements is just childish, and doubly so if you’re complaining not about the bizarre “puzzle question” or “culture fit” interviews, but about being questioned on knowledge and experience. Technical interviews can be annoying and they can be done badly, but I’d still much rather work in an industry that does tech interviews than one forced to rely solely on CV reviews and personality-driven poking at “soft skills”. Engineers aren’t carpenters. There’s always a terrific slight of hand going on when software developers try to draw analogies to other fields. Blue-collar credentials and being treated like a unique, creative, and highly-paid professional just aren’t compatible. “Programmers” are the architects and structural engineers who design the buildings; they get programming languages and frameworks and IDEs to hammer the nails.
I have no doubt that the industry is full of coders banging out one CRUD app after another, but their work bears a lot more relation to architects customizing a house design to a particular site (or, a better analogy, 19th-century railroad engineers applying the standard truss designs to design bridge after bridge) than it does to contractors framing house after house based on the designs they’re handed. The exceptions—coders who really want nothing more than to follow some formula and take no responsibility for the result—are exactly who interviewers are trying to weed out. It’s disrespectful to carpenters. Of course, there are carpenters who are creative craftsmen of the first order.
Those aren’t the guys you’re going to bend over backwards to hire to frame your walls. The whole story seems to be built on the premise that the only skill a carpenter has is the ability to drive a nail straight, making any notion of an “interview” farcical. (Returning the first point, I suppose the implication is that driving a nail is the of carpentry.) The interviewee is worse than the interviewer. Let’s just cover the first few questions: So, you’re a carpenter, are you?
How long have you been doing it? If the only way you can describe your work is “I’m a programmer. For ten years now.” then I just don’t believe you.
Yes it would be friendlier if the interviewer led a bit with “What kind of work have you been doing?” or “Tell me about some of your favorite projects.” but you’ve got to meet a weak interviewer in the middle. The main premise of this complaint about programming interviews is that a programmer is a programmer is a programmer, and the details don’t matter, and that’s straight-up bullshit. Have you worked on high-performance systems? Distributed applications?
User interfaces? Large-scale software?
There’s a hell of a difference between a framer, a cabinet-maker, and a furniture-maker. As an interviewer I’m open to the idea that someone good at any one of these probably has great potential for any of the others, but if you’ve got nothing more to say about your career than that you’ve done general things in a general sort of way, you can’t exactly blame me for taking my own direction on what details I’m going to dig into. First of all, we’re working in a subdivision building a lot of brown houses. Have you built a lot of brown houses before? I don’t see a lot of brown paint in the world.
Some, but not much. There is, however, a lot of brown stain, and brown shingling, and brown brick. And all those kinds of brown would seem to be of major interest to a carpenter: if something is being stained instead of painted then I’d think that would affect the choice of wood. Maybe even how it’s joined. I don’t know; I’m not a carpenter. Questions like this are exactly how a good interviewer separates a blinkered newbie from an expert with perspective.
If you’re building a software library that will be called by a UI, then responsiveness matters. If you’re writing an order processing system open to the public, then you need to consider denial-of-service issues. If the overall software system will be distributed, then the architecture needs to take rollout into consideration. Shrugging off context is only a professional qualification for field-goal kickers. What about walnut? Have you worked much with walnut? In this hypothetical, we’re talking about a job building houses.
Houses are most commonly built using platform framing of stud walls made from spruce, pine, or fir. Relatively cheap. Walnut is an expensive hard wood. I don’t think it’s used much (if at all) for stud wall construction, but it is occasionally used for post-and-beam construction, which involves either metal brackets or traditional cut joinery, and for nonstructural finishings. Any real carpenter would know the differences between varieties of wood, between the two major types of wood construction, and between the different roles wood can play in a project. And he’d definitely know which projects he’d worked on that involved which.
If a programmer walked into an interview and gave answers this evasive about how many projects he’d done in Java, he’d be an obvious no-hire. Not having certain experience is one thing; not even knowing what experience you have is another matter entirely.
We can argue about the extent to which an employer should balance hiring for existing skills and hiring for potential to learn, but you can’t claim the latter unless you can point to prior success at learning new skills. The punchline is not a joke. The punchline is that the interviewer hires a car salesman who’d sold brown cars with walnut interiors. I’m with the interviewer on this one. Our hypothetical carpenter was effectively arguing that even if he’d only ever hammered together pine stud walls he could easily learn to do finish carpentry with walnut for a client very particular about his browns. If learning this stuff is so easy, then I’d rather hire someone who understands what the goal is of finish carpentry. And ideally someone who showed some interest in the project and the skills required to do it, not just the job.
The whole anecdote smacks of entitlement. Given all of the above, the true subtext of this “joke” is that calling yourself a programmer entitles you to a job. But the really galling part is that the “calling yourself a programmer” bit needn’t even require relevant programming skills or experience. It’s effectively a declaration that “programmers” are a different class of people in possession of some unquantifiable gift, and it’s beneath them to justify their value.
It’s “I’m smart; pay me” brattiness. Posted Friday, 23 January 2015 The costumes may change, but remains remarkably relevant. No need for a full play-by-play; we can skip straight to the awards. Best national theme winner: Germany A wall! Runner-up: Canada Slightly overplayed the hockey theme by turning her vagina into the goal Loser: France Throwing on a beret does not a national theme make.
Best non-national theme winner: Venezuela Did not expect anyone to be able to pull of a “tree” theme this well. Loser: Gabon This is what I expected a tree theme to look like.
Dishonorable mention: Tanzania Rope? That’s your theme? Disney princess audition winner: Spain Runner-up: Ethiopia Disney with scissors winner: Lithuania “Is that today?” winner, who put her outfit together from what the other girls could spare: Kosovo Runner-up: Colombia Average-looking lady in supermarket “winner”: New Zealand Runner-up: Nigeria Honorable mention: Slovenia Lost the award with those shredded arms. Hat-based hobbling winner: Peru “I don’t have the confidence to pull this off” winner: Jamaica Runner-up: Nicaragua Of course, there are a few categories that certain countries continue to dominate: Pedophile winner: still Croatia In the running: St. Lucia Disqualified for actually turning me on. And for hedging her bets by qualifying for the hat-hobbling category. Loser: Mauritius “Doesn’t realise she’s being graded on this” winner: still Curacao Unfair advantage winner: still Greece “Pretty sure your national costume is actually a woolen jumper” winner: still Ireland “National character goes back no farther than the mid-oughts” winner: still Serbia Could we be witnessing the start of a generation-long leadup to contention in the hat-hobbling category?
Serbia plays the long game No national character winner: still Belgium Any country on earth could have gone with this. And lack of arms doesn’t count as character. I’m forced to admit that again this year, there are a few outfits I actually don’t mind: Actually kind of nice winner: Haiti Overall hotness trumps the cheesy leaves. Runner-up: India More nudity going on here than you notice at first glance. Honorable mention: Kazakhstan Beautiful fashion-wise.
A little more skin next year and you’ve got a chance, Kazakhstan. Finally, we have a couple of new awards for 2015: “They have black people?” winner: Switzerland Runner-up: Singapore “What’s with the rabbit?” winner: Hungary. Posted Tuesday, 10 July 2012 There’s a specific form of logical fallacy or cognitive bias that I’ve never seen explicitly listed in collections of such. It is related to the and to the bias. I call it the fallacy of causation, or the fallacy of the single cause. I don’t think we’re wired very well to reason about outcomes that result from many different inputs. My experience is that most people have a natural intuition that every event can be traced back to a prior event that caused it.
This is even seriously proffered as a self-evident axiom of our reality: the “there is no effect without a cause; there is no creation without a creator” trope is a standard justification for creationist stonewalling. What is notable is that we are biased to think in terms of a single prior event as a cause.
When there is a scandal or disaster we immediately try to find a villain. Inevitably the media seizes upon a single person, or a cohesive group all of whom are described as conspiring together to cause the event. Blame seldom (if ever) falls on multiple completely independent villains: the finger should point in one direction and one direction only. In addition to this, we seem to naturally want to mark people as either responsible or not responsible for some outcome, with little space for gradations of responsibility. This is used just as often for exoneration as for vilification: disasters involving bureaucracies are often chalked up to “systemic problems”, with every actor claiming that because they weren’t completely responsible for the disaster they can’t take the blame. It should go without saying that such an intuitive model is fundamentally wrong—every event has many causes, and responsibility for an outcome is shared by many people whose choices led to that outcome—but that doesn’t make it any less appealing.
Religion, our legal system, and Freudian analysis all seem to be built upon the assumption of single causes. In many cases I’m sure the assumption of single causes is a reasonable simplification, but such simplifications become less tenable for outcomes dependent on complex interactions between multiple actors.
As society has become more complex, outcomes only seem more dependent upon more complex interactions between more actors. Job Creators The meme that has brought this to mind lately is use of the euphemism “job creators” in place of “rich people”. The idea seems to be that someone making a million dollars a year (the modern definition of “millionaire”) is likely to hire a maid, a nanny, a personal assistant, etc.; a middle-class family making under a hundred thousand dollars a year is unlikely to have any full-time employees. Giving a millionaire an extra few hundred thousand a year might mean they hire a new chauffeur, and that certainly feels like “creating a job”. Giving a few hundred families an extra thousand a year would likely mean only that they have a few more meals a year out at a restaurant; the few minutes of work each such meal creates for waiter, busboy, and cook don’t have quite the same resonance. A single rich person gets to claim the title of job creator all on their own; middle-class families earn the title as a group as thus nobody claims it at all. (Note that one need not take a stance on trickle-down economics to note the asymmetry of the “job creator” label.
All I claim is that extra middle-class income clearly creates some jobs; whether the effect is larger or smaller than the same total sum distributed to wealthier families is a question for economistsalthough I can’t pretend I don’t have my own expectations on the matter.). • My main problem with creationism is not religious, but intellectual. Saying that complex intelligent creatures were created by another complex intelligent creature is no more interesting than explaining that people give birth to other people.
Creationism is thus not an intellectual theory; it’s an excuse to stop thinking about the issue of origin. • I’m explicitly addressing personal income here.
While the profits of small businesses can be taxed at the same rates as individual income, the term “job creators” is being applied to individuals, not businesses. (Given that employee salaries are not taxed as profit, any connection between tax on profits and hiring by businesses is much less direct.). Posted Monday, 27 February 2012 MG Siegler recently that the reason Android is having some success against the iPhone but little against the iPad is because of support from mobile carriers. John Gruber linked to Siegler’s piece,: My hypothesis has long been that Android has very little traction in and of itself. What has traction is the traditional pattern where customers go to their existing carrier’s retail store to buy a new phone, listen to the recommendations of the sales staff, and buy one of the recommended phones There is no such traction for the idea of going into your phone carrier store and buying a computer. That’s why carrier-subsidized netbooks didn’t take off, and that’s why carrier-subsidized Android tablets haven’t either.
I don’t disagree with the idea that the sales dynamics for phones and tablets are different, but I’d come at it from a different angle. The reason the iPad is so dominant in the tablet space is precisely because of the biggest criticism it got before launch. Nobody needs one. Everyone these days needs a mobile phone. In fact, most people need one that can also do email and Facebook as well. This is true of people who don’t have much interest in phones, or technology in general. It’s even true of people who actively dislike their phones.
Having a smart phone is the price of living in modern society. Nobody needs a tablet. You’re not excluded from modern society if you don’t have one. If you actively dislike using a tablet, then you won’t use one. When I was interviewing at Apple, there was one thing that one of the senior engineers in the iOS group said to me that I’ll never forget. We were talking about how management and engineering work together, and he was telling me that sometimes it goes wrong: so we were working on what became MobileMe, and management came up with a set of features, and everyone knew that they could be implemented, and we did our best to implement them.
But when we gave what we built to users, they weren’t delighted. It was a problem. Management wasn’t happy, and engineering wasn’t proud of the product, and everyone was trying to figure out what went wrong I don’t think that phrase—“[users] weren’t delighted”—would have come out of the mouth of an engineer at any other company. It wasn’t meant as a euphemism; his entire point was that the product was good but not great, and that the company couldn’t figure out how a network synchronization system could delight users, no matter how well it was implemented.
When I mentioned his phrasing later this engineer claimed he hadn’t realized he’d said those words. He didn’t even see why they might sound odd. In his world, success was measured by user delight.
Everything else was a side note. The point is that more than any other technology product I’ve ever seen, the success of the iPad stems from user delight. Other products from PCs to laptops to digital cameras to mobile phones have solid practical justifications behind them. I have no doubt that we’ll get there with tablets—someday a tablet will be as indispensable as a laptop—but that’s not the situation today.
I’ve only played with display models of Android tablets in stores for a few minutes at a time, and I haven’t tried the newest batch running the latest software version, but the big difference between Android and iOS for me is that Android has never made me grin. Even if an Android tablet were as good for web browsing and email and reading as an iPad, I still don’t think it would crack today’s market. If you want somebody to slap down $500 for a gadget they know they don’t really need, you have to make them grin. Postscript I think this model also offers a useful way to look at Amazon’s Kindle.
I don’t think the hardware or software have put many grins on many faces, but the e-reader market has had practical selling points from the start. Amazon isn’t going after user delight; they’re just trying to suck less. Posted Sunday, 26 February 2012 Is there any better demonstration of scientific culture, and the ways it differs from other fields, than the faster-than-light neutrino flap?
Consider: • Some scientists notice a pattern in their data that looks a little odd. • They are unable to explain the pattern using existing laws of physics, and come up with a new theory to model the pattern. The new theory contradicts some of the foundations of modern physics. • This new theory is shared with the scientific community. • Other scientists are extremely skeptical of the new result, but don’t dismiss it out of hand.
• The community considers how the experiment could be replicated, what weaknesses and sources of error exist, and how those issues could be addressed with further experiments. • The follow-ups demonstrate that the original data was probably flawed, and identify the likely cause.
• Experimentalists learn a little bit more about avoiding similar sources of error in the future. This is precisely the process that happens every day in scientific research. The ideological commitments, grandstanding, and rhetoric that are the hallmarks of both political debate and the humanities are the exception in the sciences, not the norm. Posted Sunday, 19 February 2012 Just a couple of quick thoughts after reading Sven Schmidt’s, and then getting and installing a for my own personal email: • My biggest motivator for using encrypted email isn’t privacy (or paranoia); it’s politics. The TSA and other agencies consider any attempt to retain privacy strong evidence of terrorist activities. By using encryption—particularly for completely mundane correspondence—you strengthen the culture of privacy among honest citizens. (I’m not suggesting that the case for privacy is entirely clear-cut and won’t dwell on the complexities of the arguments here.
Suffice it to say that I believe protection from unreasonable search and seizure is one of the the things the US Constitution did get right.) • If Apple really does consider itself in competition with Google, then privacy tools are weapons Google can’t defend against. Gmail loses all value to Google if all its messages are encrypted such that only the sender and receiver can read them. Apple Mail loses nothing if encrypted mail becomes the normin fact pervasive use of certificates, keychains, and encryption all increase people’s reliance on personal computing devices at the expense of stateless web interfaces. Posted Wednesday, 01 February 2012 A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal published written by a collection of scientists claiming distortion of science in support of climate alarmism. I don’t necessarily agree with everything they wrote, but their central point seemed quite sensible: whether or not “drastic actions on global warming are needed” is not something on which all scientists agree.
I’d go farther and say that it’s clearly not even a scientific question; it involves a great deal of politics (i.e. How do we balance different values as a society) and economics (how will various types of “drastic actions” affect our ability to address these different values).
But the main thrust of the letter is that a climate change orthodoxy is being imposed upon the scientific community to support this political stance. The letter provides a few examples. The Journal has since published, which I will attempt to translate for ease of comprehension: Do you consult your dentist about your heart condition? In science, as in any area, reputations are based on knowledge and expertise in a field and on published, peer-reviewed work. If you need surgery, you want a highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations. Science is based on appeal to authority.
But all those signature drives that claim to establish a “consensus” on climate change by collecting names from anyone with a higher degree? Those still count.
You published “No Need to Panic About Global Warming” (op-ed, Jan. 27) on climate change by the climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. Science is also based on ad-hominem attacks. While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science.
The only people allowed to comment on “climate science” are those who publish papers supporting drastic action on global warming. Neither physicists nor meteorologists may comment. Nor may statisticians, geologists, or chemists. The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert.
Nor may anyone who fails to bow to the climate change orthodoxy. There is an overwhelming consensus among those who agree with that consensus. This happens in nearly every field of science. For example, there is a retrovirus expert who does not accept that HIV causes AIDS. And it is instructive to recall that a few scientists continued to state that smoking did not cause cancer, long after that was settled science.
There have been cases when the prevailing interpretation of the data has turned out to be right, and those who questioned it were wrong. Climate experts know that the long-term warming trend has not abated in the past decade.
The warming trend has not become less intense or widespread in any way whatsoever. In fact, it was the warmest decade on record.
We don’t know what a warming trend is. Observations show unequivocally that our planet is getting hotter. And computer models have recently shown We created an imaginary world where the following is true: that during periods when there is a smaller increase of surface temperatures The warming trend has become less intense in some areas. Or less widespread but just as intense. Or less intense and less widespread.
Warming is occurring elsewhere in the climate system, typically in the deep ocean. Such periods are a relatively common climate phenomenon, are consistent with our physical understanding of how the climate system works, and certainly do not invalidate our understanding of human-induced warming or the models used to simulate that warming.
The orthodoxy is that global warming is happening even when you can’t see it in surface temperatures. Pointing out that you can’t see warming in surface temperatures will be interpreted as a denial of this orthodoxy. Thus, climate experts also know what one of us, Kevin Trenberth, actually meant by the out-of-context, misrepresented quote used in the op-ed. Trenberth was lamenting the inadequacy of observing systems to fully monitor warming trends in the deep ocean and other aspects of the short-term variations that always occur, together with the long-term human-induced warming trend. There is data we don’t have, and we wish we had it. But we don’t need it because we know exactly what it is. It’s “data” in the same sense that a computer program is the planet Earth.
The National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. (set up by President Abraham Lincoln to advise on scientific issues), as well as major national academies of science around the world and every other authoritative body of scientists active in climate research have stated that the science is clear: The role of scientific bodies is to craft simple nuance-free statements on behalf of their members. Please ignore that the op-ed to which we are responding opened with Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ivar Giaever rejecting such a statement (and resigning from the relevant society in protest). The world is heating up and humans are primarily responsible. We are equally certain of global temperature trends and their precise causes. Impacts are already apparent and will increase. Reducing future impacts will require significant reductions in emissions of heat-trapping gases.
“Apparent”, “increase”, and “significant” may be interpreted by politicians as required. Research shows that more than 97% of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused. Research shows that 97% of papers published by climate-change research journals do not go out of their way to claim that climate-change research is unimportant. It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses. Anyone who disagrees with our values or economic priorities is reckless. In addition, there is very clear evidence that investing in the transition to a low-carbon economy will not only allow the world to avoid the worst risks of climate change, but could also drive decades of economic growth. Climate scientists are well qualified to make macroeconomic predictions.
Posted Monday, 16 January 2012 My were my. Like last year, I don’t have many unique insights into the next twelve months. Unlike last year, however, I’m not going to try quite so hard to pretend I do.
Here are six modest predictions for 2012: 1. Apple releases iPad 3 I feel almost silly doing the prediction since all the rumor sites are already treating all these details as a given, but I’ll repeat them anyway, partly because I very often don’t believe many of the things spouted by rumor sites: the iPad 3 will be released around March or April, and the major new feature will be a retina display (i.e. Double the resolution of the current crop of iPads).
I don’t have any real prediction on whether LTE support will be available, but I’d bet slightly against it. Price of gold way down This is my major financial prediction for 2012, and for once I’m actually backing it with nontrivial amounts of my own money—I’m shorting gold. I currently work in a building with a lot of people with strong backgrounds in finance. They all tell me I’m wrong and give a number of compelling reasons for the price of gold to keep rising.
And yet every such argument both assumes the efficient markets hypothesis and utterly negates it. What’s more, all the worries I hear about inflation—even from those who make their living in finance—seem to completely misunderstand what the Federal Reserve does (and tries to do). Gold can’t continue to outperform everything forever. My personal bet isn’t restricted to 2012 (I’m willing to wait two or three years for the price to collapse), but I think chances are good that the slide will begin this year. Microsoft and RIM get new CEOs. There are three items here, so note that I’m predicting that neither Jim Balsillie nor Mike Lazaridis will be CEO at RIM by the end of the year.
I’m also taking another stab at Balmer stepping down, which I’ve been predicting for a while. I have difficulty understanding how management teams so demonstrably unable to navigate the current technology landscape have survived so long. So for the record, this is a prediction based on lack of understanding. Always a solid foundation 6.
Obama wins Meh; what do I know about politics. But it seems to me that a rich corporate candidate is quite vulnerable to Obama’s populist style. I don’t think “government is always job-killing” is going to fly in this election cycle, and without that the Republicans are in trouble. Posted Friday, 06 January 2012 This site is clearly in need of some serious updating (in terms of both content and layout—I only recently discovered the atrocious rendering under IE). Hopefully I’ll manage to get around to that at some point soon. For now, however, I’m just back for my oh-so-brief annual self-shaming: I’m reviewing the results of my.
Patriots win Super Bowl (difficulty 0.6) Not so much. Celtics or Heat win NBA Championship (difficulty 0.5) Also not so muchalthough I was much happier seeing the Mavs win than I would have been getting the prediction right.
I think the lesson from the above two is that I just shouldn’t make predictions about major sports outcomes. It’s a mature enough market already, I have nothing in particular to add to the conversation, and there’s no fun or glory in getting it right, anyway. Live and learn. Weakened filibuster and secret holds in US Senate (difficulty 0.4) I haven’t been following politics as closely in 2011 as in some prior years, but I don’t think this happened either.
In fact it appears that the Senate is even using a new procedural trick to prevent recess appointments. 2011 predictions not going at all well. Immigration reform passed (difficulty 0.8) Listen, if you’re going to get your predictions wrong, you may as well make outlandish predictions. Charges brought against Assange in US; he avoids extradition (difficulty 0.6) Well he avoided extradition, so that’s something.
The US seems to be happy just letting the WikiLeaks thing blow over. As even before making the prediction, it’s entirely possible that WikiLeaks made it easier for governments to hide information in the future, not harder. IPad remains most popular tablet (difficulty 0.3) Low difficulty, but I nailed it. Want commentary? Provides far more cogent analysis of the iOS and mobile marketplace than I ever could. New iPad released (difficulty 0.3) I listed a low difficulty, but I did nail all the details: released around April with a camera but no retina display. My accuracy on computing-related predictions is marginally better than my foresight regarding sports or politics.
Blackberry loses spot as most popular mobile OS (difficulty 0.7) Oh what a difference a year makes. RIM went from to. In the same time iOS grew slightly from the mid- to the high-20s, and Android appeared to gobble up most of what RIM, Microsoft, and Symbian dropped: that platform went from 23 to 46 percent of the market.
Clearly tech industry predictions are my sweet spot. Ballmer no longer CEO of Microsoft (difficulty 0.7) I was wrong. But, seriously?
Are the shareholders of Microsoft just as complacent as the company’s management? I admit Metro looks good, but MS has lost every shred of leadership and credibility at this point. Another good year for stocks (difficulty 1.0) I predicted 13500 for the DOW, 3150 for the NASDAQ, and 1500 for the S&P 500. Actual opens on the first of the year: 12400 (8.15% below prediction), 2660 (15.56% below prediction), and 1280 (14.67% below prediction). My “partial credit” formula scores this as a hit at difficulty 6.2, which seems a tad high for me. It wasn’t a particularly good year for stocks (but nor was it an atrocious one).
Final tally Definitely hit three, definitely missed five, and two were middling. In truth, I should have seen this coming; I felt pressure to publish 2011 predictions and so I forced myself to a lot of guesses I didn’t feel very confident about.
Under 50% again. Live and learn. Posted Saturday, 10 September 2011 Let the objectification begin! (/continue!) Miss Albania, Xhesika Berberi I hadn’t realized Prince of Persia was set in Albania.
Miss Angola, Leila Lopes A blue christmas tree adorned with plastic dolphins. Interesting choice. Miss Argentina, Natalie Rodriquez You’re not going to convince me this dress wasn’t ruined by a producer backstage who said “whoah; way too much cleavage. Let’s just stuff a few feathers down there” Miss Aruba, Gillain Berry “I don’t actually have the confidence to pull this off.
Whatever.” Miss Australia, Scherri-lee Biggs Trying to come up with snarky comment that in no way mentions camels or their feet. Miss Bahamas, Anastagia Pierre I do have the confidence to pull of Miss Aruba’s outfit, but I was on a budget. Miss Belgium, Justine De Jonckheere This contest unfairly discriminates against countries with no character. Miss Bolivia, Olivia Pinheiro Is she trying to further emphasize those creepy eye things on either side of her head by squinting? Questionable strategy.
Miss Botswana, Larona Motlatsi Kgabo I don’t know; it’s a shovel or something. Let’s just say this costume doesn’t conjure the care-free self-indulgence of some of the other costumes. Miss Brazil, Priscila Machado I’m not even going to pretend those aren’t stripper boots. Miss British Virgin Islands, Sheroma Hodge Least functional hat ever. Miss Canada, Chelsae Durocher I like the headdress, but the gown looks suspiciously like it was made from 80s-era Star Wars footie pajamas.
Miss Cayman Islands, Cristin Alexander The outfit does a good job of delaying the realization that this contestant is about as a attractive as the average woman at an upscale suburban supermarket. Miss Chile, Vanessa Ceruti Oh, mad props to Vanessa, who is definitely my favorite so far. She heard “National Costume” and decided “Halloween” is close enough.
“Sexy trapped Chilean miner” is a solid costume choice. Miss China, Luo Zilin “I’m got a rockin’ bod under here. Trust me.” Miss Colombia, Catalina Robayo I’m starting to suspect that each contestant was forced to use exactly the same amount of fabric, so if they wanted to be naked they needed to find something else to do with the material. Miss Costa Rica, Johanna Solano Some contestants go for care-free, others go for “I will chain you to an altar, slice you open, and eat your heart.” Yes this thought turns me on. Miss Croatia, Natalija Prica Miss Croatia is apparently hoping that most of the judges are pedophiles. Miss Curacao, Eva Van Putten Does she know she’s being graded on this? Miss Cyprus, Andriani Karantoni There are a few Disney auditions thrown in every year.
Miss Czech Republic, Jitka Novackova “If you make me angry, I turn green and it fits!” Miss Denmark, Sandra Amer Cleavage is make-or-break in a Disney audition. Miss Dominican Republic, Dalia Fernandez It’s like she’s a mermaid, except dressed in a stupid outfit! Miss Ecuador, Claudia Schiess I didn’t realize that “plastic-man arms” was a real fetish, but I think I have it. Miss Egypt, Sara El Khouly Interesting cross between Cleopatra and Beethoven. Miss El Salvador, Mayra Aldana “The next person to offer to help me find my sheep gets punched in the balls.” Miss Estonia, Madli Vilsar “National costumes? Buy me something pretty.” Miss Finland, Pia Pakarinen “I’m hot too, but I’ll at least make a gesture. They’re kind of like fins, right?
As in Finland?” Miss France, Laury Thilleman Is she really bribing the judges with cupcakes? Miss Georgia, Eka Gurtskaia Once you convince yourself there’s an army of midgets under there waiting to swarm the stage, you can’t stop thinking about it.
Let’s move on. Miss Germany, Valeria Bystritskaia She got a tip from Miss Croatia about the pedophile judges. Miss Ghana, Erica Nego Another victim of the fabric quota system. Miss Great Britain, Chloe-Beth Morgan Listen, the fabric thing was a joke. If you want to wear a miniskirt, then just wear it. This is getting ridiculous. Miss Greece, Iliana Papageorgiou “Austerity measures meant I got nothing but a sheet.
But we all know I won this round anyway. I respect Miss Curacao for not even trying to beat me.” Miss Guam, Shayna Jo Afaisen Late in the design stage, it became clear that the “Guam” message had been somewhat diluted by the commitment to mermaid authenticity. Miss Guatemala, Alejandra Barillas “Is the pirate craze still going on, or am I five years late?” Miss Guyana, Kara Lord “Yeah, sticks coming out of my neck and a coiled snake on my head. Why are you looking at me like that?” Miss Haiti, Anedie Azael “My mother made it for me. The dress has handles, see?” Miss Honduras, Keilyn Gomez The fabric quota has been lifted! Miss Hungary, Betta Lipcsei Purple vampire bunny outfit. Miss India, Vasuki Sunkavalli Apparently Miss India’s costume.
Let’s just assume that she was going to wear a leather bikini and stripper boots, give her an A, and move on. Miss Indonesia, Nadine Alexandra I actually really like this. Got to start rationing the snark.
Miss Ireland, Aoife Hannon I was sure the national costume of Ireland included a thick woolen sweater Miss Israel, Kim Edry “Our national costume is a set of army fatigues, so I just decided to do a second eveningwear round.” Miss Italy, Elisa Torrini “This way I can spill tomato sauce on myself and nobody will know.” Miss Jamaica, Shakira Martin “It looks a lot better if you’re high. But doesn’t everything?” Miss Japan, Maria Kamiyama “I’m a geisha, but I’ll still cut you! [giggle]” Miss Kazakhstan, Valeriya Aleinikova This is just close enough to a nun’s habit that I refuse to find it sexy. And I find everything sexy. Miss Korea, Sora Chong You know how on diorama day at school there was always that one kid who showed up not realizing the project was due, and he had to throw something together from whatever all the other students could spare from their dioramas? Plan ahead next time, Sora.
Miss Kosovo, Aferdita Dreshaj This must be a trick of the light, because I know no Miss Universe contestant would wear shorts. This is a sad day for pageantry. Miss Lebanon, Yara El Khoury-Mikhael Someone said something stupid and got sent to the corner Miss Malaysia, Deborah Henry Hey Deborah, could you get that book from the top shelf? Just reach way up there. Yeah, just like that Miss Mauritius, Laetitia Darche She knows nobody knows shit about Mauritius.
We’ll take her word that that’s their national costume. Miss Mexico, Karin Ontiveros What’s sexier than a giant skull? Nothing, that’s what. Miss Montenegro, Nikolina Loncar “Well if Miss Greece is going to win, then this should get me second, right?
Oh.” Miss Netherlands, Kelly Weekers A lot of girls would actually wear that crown. I respect Kelly for knowing her place as a servant and sticking with the toy boat as headgear. Miss New Zealand, Priyani Puketapu “Blankets for sale! Ten dollars each! Blankets for sale!” Miss Nicaragua, Adriana Dorn We’re blurring the line between hat-wearing and hobbling at this point. Miss Nigeria, Sophie Gemal Is the Nigerian national costume really “Twizzlers”?
Miss Panama, Sheldry Saez The gray feathers look too much like Doctor Octopus’s adamantium arms for me to offer any fashion commentary. Let’s just say that if Spider-man wants to get from the Atlantic to the Pacific he should take the long way around.
Miss Paraguay, Alba Riquelme Fail on cleavage. Fail on shoes. Fail on sexy shoulders. Alba is not winning this contest; that’s for damn sure. Miss Peru, Natalie Vertiz Excellent combination of skin, cheap souvenir art, and weaponry. Miss Philippines, Shamcey Supsup It’s like a poorly-dressed princess decided to frolic in a pile of autumn leaves.
Miss Poland, Rozalia Mancewicz Another Disney contestant. Hard to judge the cleavage from this angle, but I’ll be generous and offer a solid B. Miss Portugal, Laura Goncalves “We all know Miss Greece is going to win, so I just threw on something colorful from my closet.” Miss Puerto Rico, Viviana Ortiz An awesome body and terrible taste.
You’re looking at Rob’s target dating demographic. Miss Romania, Larisa Popa Is she trying to dress like both a vampire and his bloody virgin victim? Miss Russia, Natalia Gantimurova I like to imagine that she’s naked under that hat. Miss Serbia, Anja Saranovic Serbia gained independence in 2006, so witness the exotic fashion stylings of the mid-oughts! Good to see that in their five years they’ve managed to come up with a couple of logos and a flag, though.
Five or six centuries and this is going to be a really good look. Miss Singapore, Valerie Shu Xian Lim Anyone else get the feeling that we caught her halfway through a magic trick, and she’s about to step aside to reveal that the assistant who just stepped behind her is now gone? Miss Slovak Republic, Dagmar Kolesarova She got everything at Primark for under £20. She’s totally ready for the “national costumes” bop.
(Apologies to all the non-Oxonions who have no idea what I just said.) Miss Slovenia, Ema Jagodic “I’m hot. That’s all that matters.” Miss South Africa, Bokang Montjane “You may be hot, but I know what I’m doing. Judges: vote for me and I will rock your worlds.” Miss Spain, Paula Guillo “I’m too good for pageants, and I refuse to be gawked. How the hell did I get here?” Miss Sri Lanka, Stephanie Siriwardhana In mourning apparently.
Lucia, Joy-Ann Biscette “I was expecting the wings to be bigger. Whatever.” Miss Sweden, Ronnia Fornstedt “The backstage producer made me put on underwear. What a bitch.” Miss Switzerland, Kerstin Cook She was planning on entering the Disney category, but after seeing Miss Sweden she grabbed a pair of scissors and spiced it up a little. Miss Tanzania, Nelly Kamwelu Who says national costumes have to be about the past?
This will totally be the national costume of Tanzania in the year 2782, when swords and sorcery rule the earth. Miss Thailand, Chanyasorn Sakornchan The costume is all well and good, but let me just interject here with a more general statement on fashion: pantyhose are awful. Just a terrible, terrible invention.
But pantyhose are an affront to all that is right and good about women’s fashion. Thank you for your attention. Miss Trinidad & Tobago, Gabrielle Walcott Gabrielle is the clear winner of this year’s “mostly naked with a feather or fabric background” contest. Thanks for playing, rest of South America and the Caribbean. Miss Turkey, Melisa Asli Pamuk Another Disney princess with a pair of scissors. Miss Turks & Caicos, Easher Parker That country is made up. No wonder she got her outfit out of a dumpster.
Virgin Islands, Alexandrya Evans And this year’s loser of the “mostly naked with a feather or fabric background” contest. Failure from the knees up. Miss Ukraine, Olesia Stefanko If I want a girl with turnips hanging from her belt, I’ll give you a call, Olesia.
But don’t wait by the phone. Miss Uruguay, Fernanda Semino Did we catch her adjusting her codpiece? Miss USA, Alyssa Campanella Sexy Napoleon!
Miss Venezuela, Vanessa Goncalves The dragon theme is compelling but not overdone; the hat is indulgent but not ridiculous or distracting; the body is smoking. Winner of the “random mythical creature” costume contestunless Miss Greece’s goddess outfit counts. Miss Vietnam, Hoang My Vu I’d like to ring her gong, if you know what I mean. No; seriously—I used to be a percussionist and I enjoy ringing gongs.
But after that some sex with Miss My Vu would be nice, too. Posted Sunday, 14 August 2011 Three questions: • Would the absence of social media have prevented these riots? • Would copycat riots in cities beyond London (and in different corners of London) have occurred without television and newspaper coverage? • Does organization via social media instead of traditional word of mouth make it easier or harder to track down and prosecute “organizers”? And one for Nick Clegg: • Do the Lib Dems intend to remain part of a government that claims the right to prevent citizens from communicating with each other? Posted Thursday, 11 August 2011 There’s been plenty of digital ink spilled over the patent system in the wake of Google’s on the matter. The conversation seems to move pretty fluidly between discussion of patents in general and discussion of software patents.
My understanding is that the portfolio Google is complaining about involved more than just software patents, but I may be wrong; the point is that arguments about software patents is at least partially orthogonal to the Google situation. Like the vast majority of software engineers I know, I’d much prefer that software were not patentable. But my main complaint with those defending the status quo is over arguments like this (quoted ): Nobody has ever told me exactly why the patent system is fundamentally broken. Whatever the underlying point, this is a textbook example of framing the discussion such that major catastrophic problems are necessary to overturn a product of history. In my experience, “fundamental” is an extremely ambiguous term, particularly where brokenness is concerned. By some definitions, any problem that can be hidden, at least temporarily, does not count as “fundamental”. Arguing that something is broken can degenerate into a whack-a-mole game, where you point out a negative consequence of some issue you consider fundamental, a way to hide that particular manifestation is devised, another similar negative consequence of the same issue is discovered, and another patch devised, and so on.
Finding bugs is almost always harder than fixing them, so there’s a serious asymmetry of effort here. If the rules are that we play until someone is exhausted, the defender will inevitably win. After all, the defender is happy to invest their time in a system they want and expect to continue on to the future; if the attacker wins the argument and the “fundamentally broken” system is scrapped, then they get no benefit from all the investment they’ve made understanding the system. This situation arises in everything from terrible software architecture to ad-hoc reasoning frameworks.
But as for software patents, the focus of the argument shouldn’t be on whether a system for software patents could be fixed; it should be on whether there is any value to software patents at all. The patent system was created as a way to foster innovation, at the price of a well-understood evil: monopoly power. There’s never been any debate that patents have negative consequences. Thus it’s worth asking what the positives are. I can’t speak to drug patents, or manufacturing patents, or wireless technology patents. Maybe in those fields a big chunk of innovation is performed for the purpose of getting patents.
But I’d argue that there is more innovation in software than in every other field put together—new algorithms, human interfaces, programming languages, and engineering methods are being experimented with constantly. And 99.9% of all this innovation never gets patented in any way, shape or form. I don’t mean that 99.9% isn’t patentable; I’m saying that 99.9% of software that probably could be patented under the current system—precisely the types of innovation the patent system was created to reward—isn’t patented. Thus the absolute upper limit on what we’d lose without software patents is 0.1% of innovation.
But I’ll go farther than that. I have never encountered a single piece of software that was created primarily for the purpose of claiming patent rights.
The vast vast majority of the 0.1% of software that does get patented—and quite possibly all of it—would still have been created if there were no patent rights to software. Companies file patents on software they happen to have built for other reasons; they don’t build software to file patents. Software patents are “fundamentally broken” because they do harm, and they provide absolutely no benefit whatsoever. As has been pointed out so often, the monopoly rights granted by patents actually stifle innovation, and in software there is no increase in innovation to even slightly counterbalance this.
The contribution of software patents is net negative to innovation. When Google writes a letter to Congress demanding legislation to prohibit the patent office from issuing any software patents in the future, and invites other large tech companies to sign it, then they’ll have claimed the high ground on the patent issue. Until then, they’re just whining because they lost the last round in a game they’re perfectly happy to play.
Update 2011-08-16 At risk of sullying my opinion with facts, I’ve stumbled across detailing a few actual numbers for software patent filings. Posted Saturday, 30 July 2011 Most of the coverage of the current debt limit debates that I’ve seen has suffered from what I consider the single greatest problem with mainstream news reporting.
It focuses so much on the here and now that larger story lines are overlooked. Again and again I’ve heard the situation called “crazy” and the politicians completely incompetent.
There’s no question that they’re playing a very dangerous game, but I think some of the underlying reasons are quite sane. While both parties agree that the debt limit should be raised (the Tea Party crowd are a lunatic fringe not worth considering to be rational actors here), there is also general consensus that entitlement reform (e.g. Social Security) has been put off for far too long. Arguments that either of these is a partisan issue don’t really hold up; every rational actor in Washington, and every economist, agrees. The trouble is that entitlement reform is normally impossible for politicians. Anybody who votes for cutting Social Security benefits is vulnerable to outsiders who claim they would have opposed such cuts.
The current “crisis” looks like it’s shaping up to be the perfect (potential) solution. If the only possible way to avoid catastrophic default is to set up a deal guaranteeing major spending cuts, but deferring the details of such cuts until later, and making the default source of cuts entitlements, then everyone can credibly claim that they never supported cutting entitlements at all. When later negotiations to find other cuts fail and entitlement spending goes down, both parties can blame “partisan gridlock” for what happened.
Americans tend to loathe Congress (approval ratings are currently around 20%, with 70% disapproval), they simultaneously like their own congressional representatives (who usually have quite good approval ratings). A “blame the system” excuse is thus a perfectly reasonable re-election strategy, and the most rational approach to passing unpopular but necessary legislation. Obviously this is wildly inefficient. Obviously it’s a way to end up with cuts that haven’t been thought through (in fact that’s an important part of the strategy).
But it’s not crazy and it’s not incompetent. It balances short-term political incentives and long-term national priorities. Note that I’m not directly suggesting that the rancor is pure theater to cover for Machiavellian back-room dealing. I think the rancor is real, and much of the confusion is real, and the danger of catastrophic economic consequences is real. But there’s a reason (beyond suicidal stupidity) that fiscal conservatives starting wielding the debt limit as a weapon, and there’s a reason politicians will (hopefully) be able to converge on some very unpopular cuts in a last-minute cloud of calamitous panic. There is a way out of this everyone can live with.
Finally, I should point out that my argument above doesn’t mean the process really arrives at something resembling a “moderate consensus”. There’s been a huge amount of collateral damage in the attempt to make any progress at all on the unpopular entitlement consensus, and it’s been inflicted primarily by those on the right of the debate. It’s still entirely possible that the attempt at progress still fails, while the collateral damage still takes place, and the nation really does hit the debt limit.
So there will almost certainly be huge amounts of blame to spread around. I’m just arguing that there’s substantially less pure unadulterated crazy than most of the headlines would suggest. Posted Saturday, 30 July 2011 I moved into a small unfurnished apartment in Brooklyn a few months ago, so I had a relatively blank slate to start from in setting up a work area.
I’m in the company office most days, but try to work from home one day a week, in addition to the hours I spend working at home on nights and weekends. One major factor in my setup is that I’m in a studio apartment. While I think I have plenty of space for one person, there isn’t room for lots of semi-redundant furniture. Ideally, I wanted one good surface I could use for computer work, for pencil-and-paper scribbling, and for dinner.
(My semi-annual moves have also converted me somewhat to the “minimalist” philosophy. I’d rather have one good table and one good reading chair than a whole stack of mediocre furniture.) I tend to spend long hours working at the computer, and I can’t entirely dismiss the about sitting for long periods. I’ve also been through one (thankfully minor) bout of RSI when I was younger, and the universal piece of advice I got from everyone—doctors, computer users, and musicians—was that variety of posture is the best way to avoid recurrences. I thus decided that I wanted to try a work setup that allowed me stand for at least part of the day. My basic setup looks like this: The table is about 41 inches (104 cm) high, which is about right for a standing desk for most people. I’m fairly tall, a keyboard right on the table surface is perfectly usable when standing but still a few inches below what I’d need for the recommended 90 degree elbow angle. I wouldn’t want a higher table, but raising the keyboard with a few books is trivial.
Table The table itself is an IKEA with a countertop. I particularly recommend the Utby frame: unlike standard IKEA table legs, this is good tubular steel fully cross-braced at both the top and the bottom with good quality hardware; it provides a very solid platform with no wobble at all. What is more, the crossbar at the bottom of the Utby frame is a sturdy and convenient footrest when standing or working from a high chair. Monitor Of course the most striking thing about my setup is probably the arm I’m using to mount my monitor: The articulated part of the arm is an, however that arm comes with a very short mounting post (the pipe sticking straight up from the desk) which leaves the monitor much too low for work while standing. Claims you can replace the provided post with your own length of pipe, but their post is of a very hard-to-find diameter, and it screws into the desk clamp using a different kind of threading than any pipe I could find in any home improvement store.
I even showed the bits to a machinist in the neighborhood, and he said it would be next to impossible to find an off-the-shelf replacement, and that any custom solution (welding on an extension, or machining a custom thread onto a piece of cut pipe) would be prohibitively expensive. After a few emails to Ergotron, they finally agreed to send me the longer post from their for nothing more than the price of postage. I appreciate their customer service, but it’s a huge shame that this longer post isn’t normally available to the general public, even as a special-order part. The articulated arm provides movement in all directions, and a 14-inch (35 cm) vertical height range.
Mounted at the top of the longer post, this lets me position my monitor either right down at desk level or at full standing height: It also lets me swing the monitor right out of the way, leaving the table clear for other uses: The one catch to mounting the monitor post to the desk is that you need a relatively big lip to the table top. This is yet another advantage of the IKEA frame+countertop setup over standard tables: I could simply mount the countertop asymmetrically to the frame, leaving a big lip on the left-hand side and a smaller one on the right. The monitor itself is a. It was relatively cheap (under $200) and meets my needs, but it’s definitely not a high-quality piece of hardware: the integrated speakers are weak and sound tinny, and I consider the text all over the front ugly and distracting.
What’s more, there’s no integrated webcam or microphone, so this is definitely not a videoconferencing setup (I need to pull the laptop out for Skype and Facetime calls). If Apple ever comes out with a desktop retina display, I might consider paying the premium to replace this piece of commodity kit. Computer I wanted to keep my work surface as clear as possible, so I came up with a way to mount my laptop under the table. I bought a large from, sawed off the shelf mounting arms, and used the little plastic loops The Container Store hands out for free at the counter to screw the basket to the underside of my table: A basket an inch shallower would be a bit better, but I’ve never encountered any problems with my knees knocking against it so the current setup is fine. Sliding the laptop into position and attaching power, monitor, and sound cords is hassle-free. Obviously I could do something about cleaning up the messy cables, but I don’t have to look at them when I’m working so they don’t bother me.
Standing and sitting As you can see in the background of the first photo, I also have a couple of “bar height” IKEA chairs (the ). I did sit on these to work for a few weeks, but hours and hours of shifting around on one eventually works the joints a bit loose, leading to some worrying play in the legs. After tightening the hardware back up they seem perfectly sturdy again (and are great so far as guest and dinner chairs), but I’m glad to have moved on to something else for working. Standing right on my wooden floor left me a little sore, so I bought a cheap: It was the lowest-end option I could find, yet it works great—a bit of texture feels nice in bare feet, it’s soft enough to eliminate the soreness, and it’s held up perfectly to abuse under my work chair, so I never need to bother moving it. My chair itself was my primary indulgence, and the purchase I was most worried about, because I didn’t even get to see it in person before ordering (and waiting over a month for delivery). It’s a: I’ve only had it for a few weeks now, but so far I’m very happy with it. It was expensive, but it definitely feels like the highest-quality piece of furniture I’ve ever used, and that includes the Aeron chairs I’ve had at various offices.
It’s clearly a stool, not a typical chair, and it’s quite big—its shape is a triangle over two feet (60 cm) to a side, with the corners cut off. The size was the biggest surprise to me, and is a huge advantage. In addition to perching on a side or sitting on the chair like a saddle, it’s even big enough for me to sit on cross-legged, which is how I end up spending much of the day.
The versatility fits my goals perfectly: I change postures constantly throughout the day, switching as soon as I start to feel at all uncomfortable, but I never need to interrupt my work to do so. In terms of design, it’s also worth noting that the chair is perfectly symmetrical. As you can see, there’s a lever for height adjustment under the corner.
In fact, there is such a lever under each of the three corners. There’s no “correct” orientation of the seat and it rotates freely, so there’s nothing to think about when hopping on. I hadn’t even realized that rotating your chair the right way round before sitting in it presented any cognitive load at all until I didn’t have to worry about it. I got the “high cylinder” model, which allows seat heights from 33 inches (84 cm) at the top, higher than the Heriksdahl chairs and perfect for working, all the way down to 22 inches (56 cm), the height of a “normal” chair, which is an astonishing range. The foot ring height is also fully adjustable, and the foot ring is easily strong enough to take my full weight with no give at all.
I also got “gliders” instead of caster wheels, and this is a crucial feature: a high stool with wheels would be unusable for perching. In fact, working on gliders at home and casters at work has made me think that I might choose gliders for my next office chair; any chair on wheels (which are always free to pivot, regardless of whether you’re rolling or not) provides a much less stable platform. Again, I hadn’t realized the annoyances that come with standard office chairs until they were taken away. Whiteboard Of course, every geek needs a whiteboard.
Luckily, I have a wall facing my little work area but no other part of the apartment, so I was able to mount a (and an additional ) without it intruding on any other spaces. (It does overlook this space when it’s a “dining area”, though, which is a bit of a shame.) Here’s a view from the opposite side of the table from the other photos. Posted Friday, 17 June 2011 David Pogue of the Samsung Chromebook, but does like the attempt: For now, though, you should praise Google for its noble experiment. John Gruber: Would everyone have praised Apple for its “noble experiment” if the $500 iPad had been too big and heavy, felt like it was worth only $180, and was “a 3.3-pound paperweight” when offline?
This is the big leagues. There is no credit for trying.
That’s not just glib, it also ignores the fact that Apple did create a device that was too big, too heavy, and too expensive, with crucial make-or-break features that just didn’t work. It was called the Newton.
And I suspect even Gruber would concede that Apple deserves at least some praise for that effort, which probably nudged the industry further along on a number of fronts. A dismal failure as a product, but an interesting and educational failure. Taking Gruber’s side, however, times are different now.
The Newton wasn’t trying to replace anything; it was an entirely new category. The Chromebook is going head to head with both the iPad and the laptop, both robust and popular products. It’s one thing to release a product and have customers realize that it isn’t good enough for them to use much. It’s quite another to ask them to choose it over an alternative and leave them crippled as a result.
By this logic, the pre-iPad tablets could still merit praise even if they did suck. And if the iPad had sucked, it also could have been worthy of praise—I suspect that Gruber himself might have given Apple the same kind of kudos that Pogue offers Samsung/Google. In a post-iPad world, however, there’s no A for effort.
The expensive and flaky horseless carriages of the early 1900s do merit praise for blazing what turned out to be a crucial trail; those that came after the Model T don’t. Posted Saturday, 15 January 2011 My, but I’ve delayed long enough. Time to come up with some predictions for 2011. As usual, I’m assigning difficulties between 0 and 1 to each prediction. Patriots win Super Bowl (difficulty 0.6) One of the things that makes the NFL so compelling is that even an overwhelming favorite seldom has a better than 70 to 80 percent chance of winning any given game (see, for example, ). As a result, even if one team is clearly better than all others, the chances of winning two playoff games and the Super Bowl are slim.
My difficulty is roughly in line with the 8-5 odds given by professional sports books. Celtics or Heat win NBA Championship (difficulty 0.5) I wanted to just predict a Celtics championship, but they only have a realistic chance if they’re healthy for the playoffs. Again, my difficulty is vaguely in line with the current betting odds. Two quite boring predictions, I know, but these are the only sports I’ve been following lately. Weakened filibuster and secret holds in US Senate (difficulty 0.4) The public is getting a bit tired of the partisan gridlock (even those who like the results), and there’s currently a political situation that makes changing the Senate rules feasible: the minority party in the Senate controls the House, so there’s no danger of legislation being passed against party policy, and they are also threatening to become the Senate majority in the near future, so weakening the power of the minority is appealing.
I expect the Democrats to pass rules changes weakening the filibuster somewhat (e.g. Requiring 40 votes to extend debate instead of 60 votes to close it) and limiting secret holds by individual senators. Immigration reform passed (difficulty 0.8) Despite the inflammatory rhetoric surrounding immigration, I think it’s one of the few issues where the two parties agree that reform is needed, and I (perhaps naively) believe that Congress does want to demonstrate some significant accomplishments during this session, before the 2012 election wars. The current system of allocating a tiny quota of green cards by lottery is absurd on a number of levels; a points-based system more like Bush’s old proposal seems like it could pass. Charges brought against Assange in US; he avoids extradition (difficulty 0.6) Building an espionage case against Julian Assange and in the US seems straightforward.
I seriously doubt that countries are in the habit of granting extradition for such cases, however. Whatever happens with the sexual assault charges, I expect that Assange can avoid his US legal troubles by simply staying out of the US.
Technology 6. IPad remains most popular tablet (difficulty 0.3) 2011 will finally see some competition for the iPad.
That competition will appeal only to those with religious objection to Apple, however. (The iPad’s price, in particular, leaves very little room for competitors.) 7. New iPad released (difficulty 0.3) Released around April; camera(s) included; otherwise very similar to the current model. I’d love to see a on an iPad and think that its new glass technologies might make it to the iPad (i.e. The display is directly on the back of the glass, and not under it like current laptops), but I don’t expect the resolution to change in this iteration. Blackberry loses spot as most popular mobile OS (difficulty 0.7) With the iPhone coming to Verizon there’s a very good chance that the iPhone will retake a lead over Android, but both platforms have far more momentum than the Blackberry. RIM is fighting to keep hold of its current (quite loyal) user base; Apple and the Android crowd are going after new smartphone customers.
Ballmer no longer CEO of Microsoft (difficulty 0.7) It’s been a long time coming. There is no question at this point that Microsoft has lost its leadership position in technology. Worse, even among normal consumers its reputation is mediocre at best. The company is flailing in the consumer space, and its success is becoming more and more confined to the enterprise space. You don’t have to call this failure—when IBM made a similar shift to enterprise consulting its profits grew—but shareholders aren’t going to put up with a CEO who has squandered such a dominant position in so many markets. Financial 10. Another good year for stocks (difficulty 1.0) Europe may be facing some major institutional problems (more bailouts and defaults are inevitable, although none should be disastrous enough to allow anyone out of the Euro), but the US is looking pretty strong—even the employment numbers should finally start perking up in 2011.
I expect another 15% rise across the board: Dow to 13500, NASDAQ to 3150, S&P 500 to 1500. As usual, I’ll take partial credit for this prediction: a hit at difficulty 1.0 if I’m within 1%, 0.7 if I’m within 10%, 0.5 if I’m within 20%, etc. (Difficulty is given by e^(0.03963(1 - percenterror)).).
Posted Monday, 03 January 2011 Another year is dead and gone, so I suppose it’s time to review: 1. LeBron signed by Nets (difficulty 0.7) Wrong; LeBron James went to the Miami Heat, and only Chicago seemed at all competitive. On the bright side, I was right that he’d leave Cleveland. Semenya and Pistorius ruled ineligible (difficulty 0.4) Another swing and a miss.
After a series of semi-secret tests and dealings, Semenya has retained all her medals and been cleared to compete. It’s possible that she’s agreed to undergo some form of treatment (as I suggested she might to regain eligibility), but I can hardly claim victory based on guesses about what’s going on behind the scenes. As for Pistorius, there was a devastating report from two of the scientists who helped to overturn his initial ban: they that the science shows his prosthetics give him as much as a 10 second advantage over normal runners in a 400-meter race. Despite this, I don’t believe any ban has been handed down—I haven’t been following the story closely, but I don’t think Pistorius has tried to compete against traditional runners this season, so the issue hasn’t arisen.
Still, my prediction missed the mark. 0 for 2 so far this year 3. Obama ends “don’t ask don’t tell” (difficulty 0.7) Just got this one in under the wire: the DADT policy. Technically the military now has discretion to set its own policy and DADT is its legacy position (presumably to be phased out quite quickly), but the government policy is now over. Android becomes most popular OS; iPhone remains most profitable (difficulty 0.7) This was quite a vague prediction, and I came really close to getting it sort of right, but actually got it really, really wrong. The “almost right” part was that Android would catch the iPhone: showed a dead heat between Android and the iPhone, and if trends have continued then Android has already passed the iPhone in US market share.
Even if a newer report could verify this, I never specified US market share only, so I’m only “almost” right here. The “really wrong” bit is that I completely ignored RIM’s BlackBerry phones, which still have higher market share in the US than either Android or the iPhone. AT&T loses iPhone exclusivity in US (difficulty 0.6) This is a tough one; Apple has inked the contracts with Verizon (amazingly enough, this “secret” information is so widely known that even I have inside sources to confirm it), but CDMA iPhones didn’t ship in 2010. Can we parse the words and say that AT&T’s “loss” occurred in 2010? Microsoft buys Pre (difficulty 0.9) I knew it was an outlandish guess at the time. My theory that Microsoft’s internal projects were doomed was heavily supported by the, however Windows Phone 7 has received quite positive reviews, so I no longer think technology is the main problem.
What’s more, the Pre has lost what little momentum it had when I made the prediction. Accounting Standards Codification Asc 350-40 Internal-use Software on this page. We’ll see how/whether that platform translates to tablets. In short, it was HP who snapped up Palm’s Pre platform, and even if it were up for sale today I don’t think it would be a good match for Microsoft.
Apple Tablet released (difficulty 0.5) Considering how little we knew about the iPad at the time—and the number of different theories—you’ve got to give me credit for the specificity of my predictions here. I even hit the price range within $100 either side. Microsoft fades even more (difficulty 0.3) Keep in mind that the efficient markets hypothesis suggests this should have had a difficulty of 0.5. Yet it seems rather obvious in hindsight. Since last year Google’s share price has declined from $620 to $604 (-2.5%). Apple went from $215 to an astonishing $325 (+51%). Microsoft declined from $30 to $28 (-6.5%).
I got this one right. ITunes gets live events (difficulty 0.7) I was wrong about this, and I think the reason I was wrong is clearer as the vision for the iOS platform has become clearer.
While I still think that live events through iTunes would be a great feature, Apple seems comfortable with third parties creating their own streaming apps for DRM-laden media. I loathe that this means Flash on the desktop, but iPhone and iPad apps for watching live sports can be done decently, and iOS is more important to Apple right now than the desktop.
As a result, there’s no great urgency for Apple to step in, and lots of worry from media companies about handing too much control to Apple’s media store empire. With the Apple TV starting to emerge as more than a hobby for Apple, however, I must wonder at what point the media companies start thinking that handing over some control and doing content delivery via iTunes would be worth avoiding the need to maintain their own apps (and distribution infrastructure) for four different platforms (Windows, Mac, iOS, and Apple TV). Price of gold declines (difficulty 0.5) My Microsoft prediction demonstrated by financial acumen; this prediction not so much. Gold was around $1100/oz when I made the prediction. It’s now around $1420/oz: a 30% rise. My conclusion is that I just have no idea how to value gold.
All the major currencies are doing weird things I don’t understand right now, so I guess gold could keep going up. But it’s been going way up for a long time, so maybe it should come down. Stock markets perform well (difficulty 1.0) This one requires some arithmetic. I predicted rises of about 20% across the board: DOW at 12500, NASDAQ at 2700, S&P 500 at 1350. In fact, the DOW is at 11670 (6.7% below my prediction), the NASDAQ is at 2691 (just 0.3% below my prediction), and the S&P is at 1271 (5.9% below my prediction), for an average error of 4.3%. I call that pretty good, and according to my formula it counts as a hit at difficulty of 8.77. If I had written some bullshit explanation of my guess and avoided such round numbers for the targets then I’d look like more of an expert than all the investment advisors.
Which, for all my ignorance, I probably am. Final tally I missed six (1, 2, 4, 6, 9, and 10), nailed four (3, 7, 8, and 11), and was kind of close on one (5). This is significantly below the 50% mark, but I focused on outlandish predictions for 2010, so I don’t feel that terrible about it. Live and learn. Posted Wednesday, 15 December 2010 I’d like to congratulate Oxford’s environmentalists for another outstanding effort at Christmastime carbon reduction. The between-term travel of Oxford’s huge student body causes an absolute explosion of emissions—a single return flight from Oxford to the US, for example, represents roughly 20% of an average person’s annual emissions—and so the focus that this period receives is well-deserved.
Admittedly, making Oxford students feel more comfortable staying in town over the holidays isn’t nearly as difficult as forcing them to stop eating meat or switching the university to renewable energy. All it takes is a few well-circulated messages to organize get-togethers for the reduced population still in town, to help make them feel less isolated in a deserted university. Links with the various clubs representing overseas students are also easy to build. And of course students forgoing expensive airfares save quite a bit of money, some of which can be put toward one or two really memorable Oxford experiences. Who wouldn’t be a bit tempted by a formal Christmas day feast alongside fellow students in one of Oxford’s grandest halls? Most importantly, this is one of the rare opportunities when active participation by environmentalists willing to make a small personal sacrifice in service of the cause actually makes a difference—sustaining a community instead of condescending to one.
Staying in town to organize (and socialize) instead of heading home for the holidays is a far cry from refusing to take hot showers or tumble dry clothes. Such organization, planned and promoted well in advance, certainly doesn’t stop every overseas student—or even a large proportion of students—from traveling home for the holidays. A small population, however, is happy to stay in town if there is a community to support them, and the emissions savings from even that small population is enormous when compared with the savings from other environmental initiatives. Kudos to an efficient, practical, and well-considered approach to carbon reduction.
There is no such effort at Oxford; the environmentalists all hopped on their flights home to eat with the parents. Posted Wednesday, 08 December 2010 ( Preface: I use the term “social issues” here to refer generally to issues of concern to society, including everything from civil rights to economics to natural disasters. Such topics are sometimes categorized as either current affairs or political issues; I feel that both those terms carry baggage—reaction-driven in-the-moment decisions and electoral tactics, among other things—that is best introduced independently from the underlying issues.) As social issues have become an increasing focus of public attention—in some sense a new entertainment industry—there has been a trend towards “religious perspectives” on these issues. Religious advocates are quoted in newspapers, appear on talk shows, and even hold their own public meetings to discuss social issues. I’d like to take the opportunity to offer some nuanced and carefully considered advice to such advocates: Shut the fuck up. This isn’t a defensive attempt to silence those with whom I disagree. In fact, I agree with the doctrine of humanism which modern advocates publicly claim forms the core of their religions, and this doctrine is highly relevant to many social issues.
What is more, I’m perfectly comfortable with advocates arguing ignorant anti-scientific rhetoric when they are given the opportunity; my expectation remains that the more explicit and well-understood such positions are the more they will fall out of favor. I’m advising religious advocates to shut the fuck up for a different reason: I find their marketing offensive. It’s one thing for the Pope to offer unhelpful or counter-productive advice on dealing with earthquakes; it’s quite another for him to embrace an earthquake as an opportunity to pitch his product. I totally get that he thinks his product makes the world a better place, and that it makes people happy, and that every single person would be better off if they bought it.
But I suspect Steve Jobs feels the same way about his products, too. The most egregious cases of poor taste in marketing occur when it is the religion itself which has precipitated the problem under discussion. When discussing the abuse of children by priests, it only makes sense to invite someone from the Catholic church to participate. Appropriate participation, however, is limited to answering the concerns that are raised.
Instead Catholic advocates consistently choose to argue that these incidents should not be “reasons to turn away from the Church”, digressing to long rants about all the good the church does. For all of Tony Hayward’s tone-deaf PR after the 2010 BP disaster in the Gulf, he didn’t try to turn every interview into a plug for big, gas-guzzling cars. Suppose a chainsaw is recalled because the chain occasionally comes loose and amputates a user’s limbs. This is not the time for the company spokesman to argue that amputation is no reason to turn away from the company’s chainsaws. It damn well is a reason, and we all know it. So shut the fuck up and tell us how you’re going to stop it from happening again.
Even if the chainsaw is perfectly safe—the best chainsaw ever made, even—I’m not okay with chainsaw advocates in the news proclaiming “AIDS is terrible. We hate AIDS. Buy chainsaws.” If you can’t contribute to a discussion of AIDS without trying to sell chainsaws, then just shut the fuck up. Religion has sunk so low that we don’t even bother to register disgust at its marketing tactics any more. That says a lot about an industry that claims the moral high ground. Posted Friday, 03 December 2010 The news has been dominated this week by “cablegate”. In short, 250,000 classified reports from US diplomats to the US State Department were leaked to a group called, and WikiLeaks is publicizing the entire set.
Although the policy revelations contained in the reports released so far have merely helped to confirm long-assumed truths of international diplomacy, the extremely candid assessments of foreign officials given by diplomats are quite embarrassing to all concerned. Many politicians and government officials in the US consider the release espionage (or even terrorism) and are demanding legal action.
WikiLeaks’ Motivations The motivations of Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief and spokesperson of WikiLeaks, are described in he published in 2006. Assange begins with the premise that open, transparent government is good and that any form of secrecy is bad. The point of releasing an organization’s secret internal communications, however, is not that the release itself increases the organization’s openness—quite the opposite. Assange argues that releasing any secret information that becomes available forces the organization to become more closed, taking even more care than before to protect its secrets. This extra care reduces the efficiency of the organization, weakening it and making it more vulnerable to its “opponents”. The assumption seems to be that these opponents will be more open, and thus “better”.
If these essays are accurate portrayals of Assange’s (and WikiLeaks’) motivations, then the direct goal motivating the release of US government secrets is not democratic reform of the US government. The goal is instead the weakening of the US government’s ability to do its job such that all opponents of the current regime—other nation-states, advocates of secession and internal revolution, and presumably also mundane electoral processes—are more likely to topple it. In this model, it doesn’t matter whether the contents of the diplomatic messages are inflammatory or not; it is sufficient merely to induce fear within the US government that future (possibly much more inflammatory) information will be disclosed. I consider it quite likely that Assange is simply wrong about the effects of such leaks. The key is to recognize that the only “opponent” of the current regime with any realistic chance of reforming/displacing it is internal democratic reform in favor of transparency, and I argue that these leaks have hugely weakened such a movement. The information released has repeatedly brought to public attention the benefits of occasional secrets.
It is obvious, for example, that frank and detailed profiles of foreign leaders are useful, but equally obvious that these will frequently be unflattering and thus best kept private. The cables also reveal that Yemen was willing to cooperate with the US in attacking terrorist cells in its territory, but was unable to conduct such attacks itself and felt that allowing US attacks would make the Yemeni government look weak; they agreed to allow US attacks on the condition that the Yemeni government can claim responsibility—a compromise that few Americans, at least, would fault, but one dependent on the ability to keep secrets. Further, the cables demonstrate consistent best-faith efforts to consider all sides of nuanced cultural, political, and moral issues in ways that are simply not possible in public partisan political discourse. I expect the vast majority of Americans following the story in much detail would become less, not more, supportive of a fully-transparent US government. But perhaps more important is the number of Americans who really do follow such stories in any detail. It is disingenuous to claim that WikiLeaks is merely “releasing” information—they are actively driving publicity and press coverage of the information in a carefully-crafted media strategy. Despite the fact that the documents being released were classified, and despite the “government secrets!” hype that’s been drummed up, the documents released so far contain few if any genuine revelations, only embarrassing paper trails for information that’s always been available to journalists willing to cite “unnamed sources”; most of the interest in cablegate is actually interest in WikiLeaks itself, not the content of diplomatic cables.
Assange’s philosophy that even leaks with no direct impact increase the fear of future leaks may in fact be exactly backwards: voluminous leaks with no impact could result in a public less interested in the content of future leaks, and the government’s discomfort may be slightly eased by the expectation that each future release from WikiLeaks is likely to receive less attention. Other justifications for leaking of government secrets A common political justification for WikiLeaks’ actions is that democratic governments must be held to account and that transparency is necessary for this to happen. My reading of Assange’s essays is that he does not see this as WikiLeaks’ primary role—he does not see such leaks as a sufficiently powerful tool to provide full transparency—but it is frequently given as a defense of leaking government secrets in general. Frankly, I’m still having trouble following the logic. Democratic governments are held to account by their democratic processes, which decide (among other things) what level of transparency to provide.
More transparency potentially offers more accurate democratic decision-making, while less transparency could potentially offer increased governmental efficiency in some areas. The argument that democracy is unworkable without voter omniscience is one against democracy, not in favor of slightly more transparency.
Posted Tuesday, 30 November 2010 It’s hardly a new phenomenon, but the public “debate” over health care reform in the US focused primarily on opposition that took the following form: • Misrepresent the new proposal. • Present existing problems as newly-introduced problems. • Provide no alternatives; suggest that the choice is between the current proposal and some abstract principled ideal (instead of the status quo). • Ignore (or misrepresent) approaches that have been robustly implemented elsewhere. I followed that debate in the US media, but I was living in the UK at the time and this rather unproductive rhetorical pattern—particularly tactic 4—was frequently cited as “typically American”.
There seemed to be an assumption that British politics were less susceptible to such insular ignorance. It took less than a year, but we’ve already been provided with an example of the exact same tactics being used in an attempt to block policy reform in Britain, this time with respect to funding for universities. Comment Installer Un Vasistas.
As a quick primer for non-Brits, university students currently pay only a fraction of the true university tuition cost—the balance is funded by the government. Further, students are entitled to government-provided loans for living expenses while they are enrolled at university. The new proposal is for students’ tuition fees (which would be capped at £9000 per year) to be paid by the government but recorded as a loan to the student. Every year after graduating the student would be obliged to repay a part of this loan dependent upon their income (anyone making under £21,000 need repay nothing in that year); after 30 years any outstanding debt would be forgiven. Under both current and proposed plans, government costs are paid out of the general budget (i.e. General tax revenue). As with the health care debate, this proposed policy shift highlights a number of interesting issues.
What drives the real cost of a university education, and how can this be controlled? What motivates people to pursue university degrees, and what discourages them? Most importantly, what is the “value” of a university degree, whether economic, social, or otherwise? Is that value delivered primarily to the student, or is there an external benefit to society of having more graduates?
How do these values differ between universities, courses, and students? I have read a fair amount about the new funding proposal, and I have not found a single discussion in the mainstream media about any of these issues. Instead, we have a parallel of the health care debate: • Plenty of implication that students will now need £9000 cash in hand to go to university. In fact, the new proposal reduces the money a student needs when they start university; the only increase is the amount they must repay afterwards. • Arguments that low-income students will be discouraged from attending university because they don’t want to get into debt.
Low-income students are already piling up debt with loans for living expenses during university, and that’s not to even mention the years of real income students forsake by studying instead of working. These are not new problems, and it’s not at all clear whether the new proposal will make them worse or better. • Student protests are demanding that government retain “free education” for all students—despite the fact that education has never been “free” either for society as a whole ( someone is paying for it) or for students themselves. There is an attempt to make this proposal a referendum on the notion of social mobility, which everyone on every side of the debate supports anyway. • British awareness and understanding of the US univer.