Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Is Nate Silver trying too hard?

I should mention - 1.I appreciate the job Nate Silver does and 2.I only have an issue with the first part of his post.

At issue, in Nate Silver's mind was the following passage from the Washington Post: In one of the first internal struggles of the incoming Obama administration, environmentalists and smart-growth advocates are trying to shift the priorities of the economic stimulus plan that will be introduced in Congress next month away from allocating tens of billions of dollars to highways, bridges and other traditional infrastructure spending to more projects that create "green-collar" jobs.

Notes Silver:
1. The term environmentalists is a loaded term
2. The infrastructure package has not been decided, therefore environmentalists cannot technically 'shift priorities of the stimulus plan' away from anything.

My counterpoints:
1a. "Whaaa?" I suppose 'environmentalist' is a loaded term if you also believe the world is flat. Hasn't the mass media been pushing the benefits of living a 'green' lifestyle on us since before Al Gore lost in 2000? I know I've been recycling since then (which is not an attempt to pour adulation upon myself, more to point out the fact that I have disassociated the term 'hippie' and 'environmentalist' long ago.

1b. It would behoove Nate Silver to proffer an alternative term if he dislikes the term environmentalist so much.

2. Nate Silver is very precise. I'm sure it comes with the job when working in statistics. That being said, this is the type of argument (semantics) that gets people combining the terms "liberal" and "elite" into a single phrase. While the argument has merit because the target is a newspaper, it doesn't carry an ounce of emotional persuasion because most Americans cannot identify a dangling modifier.

I appreciate Nate Silver, but he should let his statistics do the talking. It will help keep him from complaining about media bias where none exists.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Short honeymoon for women's groups & Obama

Apparently the peace brokered by Hillary Clinton between Barack Obama and her PUMAs has begun to fracture. Some have accused the President Elect of taking "a step backwards" with regards to women's rights, but a quick look at President Bush's current cabinet appears to show the number of positions being filled by women for both the current and upcoming cabinet at 5.

Are NOW and the New Agenda proposing a quota system for cabinet slots? If so, what is necessary? Do they need 10 of 20 positions filled by women? Just to be clear, my distaste is twofold:

1. for quota systems - Can we please hire/nominate on merit? I understand the concept of the glass ceiling, but we need to find a better way to solve that problem than designating a rigid system wherein the President needs to hit a certain number for each gender/racial/religious/ideological group. I would imagine most presidents have a difficult enough time finding someone qualified and matching them ideologically/politically, without the added burden of a quota system.

2. for CNN - How is it that this interest group drivel gets attached with the news agency's tag? I bet the Log Cabin Republicans are sad that they didn't get into Obama's cabinet, but I would also guess that if they put out a press release, CNN wouldn't allow it to make their ticker. Its manufactured drama that an incoming president in the midst of a terrible recession does not need.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

CNET Free Mp3 of the Day Actually Really Good: Matt Pond PA

Matt Pond PA is one of my favorite indie pop rockers, and right now, you can get a free mp3 over on CNet.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Posner Quote of the Week

[T]he public-works expenditure program that President-elect Obama is proposing, though anathema to economic libertarians, resisted by the Bush Administration, and bound to be wasteful, as all such programs are, may be the most sensible response to the depression and one clearly superior to a tax cut.
-Richard Posner's weekly comment.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Ebert's Picks from 2008

As counterpoint, Ebert includes Rachel Getting Married in his list of the best from 2008.

His opinion on film is somewhat more highly sought than my own.

Plenty of other good films in that list as well. Two examples which Ebert claims uplift the superhero archetype (guess which?), Tarsem Singh's The Fall (which imdb dates to 2006, how picky are we about original release dates?), and this final confession:

Looking back over the list, I think most moviegoers will have heard of only about 11, because distribution has reached such a dismal state. I wrote to a reader about "Shotgun Stories," "I don't know if it will play in your town." She wrote back, "How about my state?" This is a time when home video, Netflix and the good movie channels come to the rescue. My theory that you should see a movie on a big screen is sound, but utopian.

Weddings Not to Crash: Rachel Getting Married

Possible Spoiler (on hover).

I say "possible spoiler" because the plot is essentially revealed in the first shot of the film to anyone paying attention. We then spend two hours dwelling on that obvious point.

The film would be more interesting if the characters were at all sympathetic. Defenders of the film might expect me to empathize with Anne Hathaway's Kym, likely mistaking attraction for empathy. Kym's the fuck-up, which might be endearing to some, because, well, we're all fuck-ups in one way or another. But mere humanity is hardly enough to earn my interest. Ken Lay was a fuck-up, but I'm not on pins and needles for his docudrama.

Characters neither sympathetic, nor entertaining. Add to that a lack of any novel or meaningful message and you get a film that feels purposeless. I suppose you could get a "Don't Do Drugs" message from the film, but the film doubles back on that a few times to appear more nuanced. In shooting for something slightly deeper than an after school special, it somehow misses, and achieves less.

The one interesting part of the film was the setting: a bohemian wedding populated by random musicians, friends of the musician groom to be. I found myself constantly craning my neck to look at what was going on behind the action, ultimately a bad sign for a film.

If there's one major message to take from Rachel Getting Married, it's that handycams are overused. If you want to create the image of documentary honesty, try using craft sometime. Rack focus and call it a day. Maybe shake a camera in the beginning of one shot, to create the illusion of a handycam, without actually ever touching one. You should especially avoid this desperate grab at verite if you're Married to the Mob's Jonathan Demme. Nobody's really buying it from you.

The handycam trend is disturbing, and it's not just limited to Beloved's own Jonathan Demme. It comes off like an Opera singer using Auto Tone or a typograhper using Arial. Auto tone and Arial are both wildly popular. But when a professional uses either technique, it screams at the audience "You aren't worth my time."

Maybe Rachel Getting Married isn't worth yours.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Great Idea Embargo

Some have wondered why you can't view full episodes of the Daily Show online outside the US. I suppose this is likely related to DVD region codes and why I can't access BBC television via internet in the states: silly restrictions on the trade of culture across borders.

Most states maintain cultural quotas, which limit how much film, television and other media moves into the country. This creates scattered worldwide release dates and enormous import markup for media.

Perhaps most perniciously, it keeps everyone around the world culturally isolated.

It's as if everyone decided, "Well, we'll buy/sell their clothing, but we don't want to actually listen to anything they have to say."

If we trade anything throughout the world, shouldn't we start with ideas?

Auto Industry Relief/Bailout

At the risk of rehashing, there are some interesting videos to watch about the Auto Industry.

Jon Stewart argues that the Auto Industry should be supported:

The folks over at Zakaria's GPS (Tom Friedman, Niall Ferguson, Anne-Marie Slaughter) think we should cut them loose:

(Part 2 is here).

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Brin's Rule

I just realized something as I tried to find something on Hulu.

Brin's Rule: No matter how good you think your internal site navigation is, a Google search from outside is more efficient.

Page's Corollary: This holds even when your primary site navigation is a search powered by Google.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

File Names

Ever notice how you can't use a question mark in a filename under NTFS¹, but ¿ is perfectly legal?

Does the upside down question mark see a lot of use on its own?

Other legal filename characters on my system:
Smiley: ☺
House: ⌂
Integral: ∫
Sun: ☼
Gender signs: ♀♂
Suits: ♠♣♥♦
Musical notes: ♪♫
Greyscale Shades: ░▒▓
Triangles: ▲▼
Arabic Place of Sajdah: ۩

Sure, the question mark and colon are reserved because they are associated with system commands.

This wasn't a very thorough list of exclusions though. Unicode 266A, the eighth note (♪), results in abnormal behavior, but it's still allowed.²

There are some names where question marks and colons still thrive: books, film and music. As our filesystems grow increasingly cluttered with media files, you'd think someone would want to address this issue, if only for all those hapless fans of "Who's Harry Crumb_"

Maybe the workarounds haven't occurred to anyone. You'd think that a system font could reserve a little unicode space somewhere for system friendly versions of colons and question marks. That's a pretty jury-rigged solution, surely if anyone actually bothered to think about this, far better solutions could be found in under an hour.

¹ Maybe Mac/Linux handle this better. If my Ubuntu machine wasn't currently a giant paperweight, I might know.

² Make a file with the eighth note character in the middle of the title. Navigate to that directory via command line, and type "dir" to see this in action. The filename will spill over the date at the beginning of the line.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Personal TV Guide

This seems handy.

In the html section, they recommend a format for their links! They are trying to get linkers to bump up their search engine rankings! They are searchacking by proxy, and I will not play their game.
Oh, fine: TV Guide.

AdBlock on Chrome

I've been using Chrome more and more over the last few months. It's been a battle of speed vs. features for me. When FF is loaded up with a dozen extensions, its features clearly outstrip Chrome, but it slips in speed.

I stripped out a bunch of my extensions, and I'm down to these "essentials":

  • AdBlock Plus
  • Ads have grown increasingly obnoxious on the internet, this is a good way to take back some control.
  • Delicious Bookmarks
  • I bookmark anything on the internet I might want to reference later. It has become easier to build a delicious collection of personal links than to store all of those in one browser.
  • Download Statusbar
  • The built-in download window for FF is kinda obnoxious, because it resolves something via a popup that could otherwise be resolved in the same window. Chrome defaults to providing download info in a statusbar, but allows you to pop out a window for more info if you choose. The Google statusbar could still be more informative (speed info and pause/restart/multithreading options would be ideal).
  • Google Gears
  • Lets me use Google Docs offline. No doubt this will become better as more webapps use this to allow offline access. No doubt Google will include support for this extension in Chrome very quickly.
  • Linkification
  • Converts text links into a clickable links. Saves me about a dozen copy/pastes every month.
  • OpenDownload
  • Restores the "open when complete" option to the FF download dialog, a feature that was stripped from all users sometime during FF's paternalistic security freakout.
  • PDF Download
  • Keeps you from accidentally clicking through to a PDF link and losing control of your browser for a minute while it loads. Chrome's architecture should make this less of an issue, as each tab is handled in a separate process.
  • Repagination Lets you view multi-part articles in one giant page. This is currently dead, but is very handy for those obnoxious sites that put out 25 part articles with a short blurb and photo on each page. Currently dead, and needs some enterprising developer to make a version that supports 3.0.4.
  • Tab Mix Plus
  • Includes tab features that should probably be included in FF by default, like an "undo" for recently closed tabs.
  • Ubiquity
  • An addon by Moz devs that allows quick interaction with website APIs, and stands to completely revolutionize browsing.
Some of these features would be redundant in Chrome, some might not make it for a long time. But I'm still very excited to hear Chrome will support Adblocking and other extensions soon, and hope that Chrome's architecture helps it stay fast while becoming feature rich.