August 2nd, 2012

What happens when you boycott:

Yes, CFA hires LGBT people. No one’s been fired for being gay or coming out. It’s a job. A job that can’t be taken for granted when work is scarce across the country. We have to eat too.

Boycotting Chick-fil-A doesn’t hurt the company. It hurts the employees.

She makes a point.

The CEO of Chick-fil-A is a very rich man. The boycott, well intentioned and righteous, will not affect him, or his opinions.

Read the entire piece though, to see why she changed her mind.

What it feels like to be a freelancer:

An experiment giving people the chance to know what it feels like to be a freelancer by offering them $5 for a drawing.

It’d be funnier if it weren’t so accurate.

July 30th, 2012

Jonah Lehrer, who until about 30 seconds ago was one of my favorite authors, has been caught making shit up:

Over the next three weeks, Lehrer stonewalled, misled, and, eventually, outright lied to me.

[…] When, three weeks after our first contact, I asked Lehrer to explain his deceptions, he responded, for the first time in our communication, forthrightly: “I couldn’t find the original sources,” he said. “I panicked. And I’m deeply sorry for lying.”

Popular authors lying to us has become far too common a story.

I just do not understand why anyone, in this age, would think they could get away with it.

The nicest place on the internet.

July 28th, 2012

For the first time, the New York Times now makes more money from its subscribers than from advertising:

They’re still trying to stabilize advertising and that hasn’t been wildly successful yet. But the digital subscription effort has been more successful than many people wanted it to be.

July 27th, 2012

Slightly insulting posters about neighborhoods in Chicago.

We’re all entrepreneurs:

Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business.

The small business is the idealized social form of our time. Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur. (Think of Steve Jobs, our new deity.) Autonomy, adventure, imagination: entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us.

Odder, it doesn’t seem specific to a generation. It is the hallmark of our culture.

When I talk about my company, I see the same glean of envy, the twitch of oh-lucky-you, across every age. I see every person I know thinking and dreaming in terms of their turn on the signing-side of the check; to be the name on the door.

No one I know thinks of their job as anything other than a rest stop. They have somewhere else they want to be; somewhere their own; somewhere small and free and without the confines of a schedule and a boss and an employee handbook they didn’t write. Wealth as an afterthought to the notion of self-sufficiency and self-determination.

I wonder when, or why, that change happened. Has it always been like this? Is the myth of the career something, like so much else, due more to nostalgia than to experience?

Later, a short film about love.

For forty years, NASA’s Landsat has been circling above our heads, watching us.

It’s seen St. Helen’s erupt, and watched as the earth recovered.

It’s seen Beijing rise and the rain forests fall.

It’s recorded as our cities have grown, spreading out like a virus into the surrounding landscape.

How bullshit is born into the world:

Search Google News for “fluoride” and you’ll find a shocking article showing that, holy shit, fluoride lowers your IQ! The stuff in your toothpaste! The stuff cities put in drinking water!

Submitted without commentary.

Why Bill Gates is better than Batman, an infographic.

July 26th, 2012

Sprint, our nation’s second favorite how-are-they-still-around wireless carrier, had a good quarter:

CEO Dan Hesse said in his call this morning that this was the first quarter Sprint became a net gainer of subs from its rivals rather than a leaker to them.

What changed:

Sprint activated 1.5 million iPhones in the quarter, pretty much in line with expectations. Some 40% of the new iPhone activations were new customers to Sprint, and these come with lower churn and support costs than other handsets it sells. Sprint boasted more new customers coming via the iPhone than AT&T and Verizon had…

Hesse bet big on the iPhone, believing it would be the key to staving off his company’s accelerating decline and irrelevance. While it’s too early to say it was the right move, so far, so good.

July 25th, 2012

Of the six policies economists love, but politicians hate, my favorite is easily:

Four: Eliminate all income and payroll taxes. All of them. For everyone. Taxes discourage whatever you’re taxing, but we like income, so why tax it? Payroll taxes discourage creating jobs. Not such a good idea. Instead, impose a consumption tax, designed to be progressive to protect lower-income households.

Of course, this would never, ever work.

The reason should be obvious; if we only tax consumption, the wealthy will find ways to consume things in a way which avoids the tax. A cash economy will flourish, and the middle class, increasingly reliant on credit to make ends meet, will be caught in the middle.

If we can’t figure out a way to reliable tax millions of dollars in income, how exactly does anyone think we’ll be able to reliably millions of dollars in goods?

Still, utopian thinking is fun.

Thanks, Jason.

John Siracusa’s 24-page review of OS X Mountain Lion:

Mountain Lion is not the Mac OS of the past, but it also sets a course to a destination that is quite distinct from iOS. Despite the oft-cited prediction that Mac will eventually be subsumed by iOS, that’s not what’s happening here. Apple is determined to bring the benefits of iOS to the Mac, but it’s equally determined to do so in a way that preserves the strengths of the Mac platform.

Gruber makes a similar point in his review:

Mountain Lion and iOS 6 certainly share a slew of features and code […] But they are very much two different and distinct systems, one for traditional keyboard and pointer device personal computers, and another for touchscreen mobile devices.

It’s time to put economics back into the economic debate:

On the probable consequences of economic reforms, though, leading economists are more likely to be right than politicians running for re- election. Their solidarity needs to be taken seriously. Too much of what passes for economic debate in Washington is the product of faith, not evidence.

July 24th, 2012

David Barnard, founder of App Cubby, made a few guesses at the financial incentives Sparrow may have had for selling themselves to Google:

In the 60 days between April 8th and June 7th, I’d estimate they made less than $30k, a run rate of just $180k a year. The release of 1.3 and subsequent price drop in mid June generated another surge in the charts, but look how quickly that trailed off.

The revenue spikes can help provide runway, but sustained revenue in the neighborhood of $30k a month doesn’t bode well for a funded company with a full-time team of 5.

While his overall analysis is interesting, and I’m sure incorrect, it’s his summary that caught me:

The age of selling software to users at a fixed, one-time price is coming to an end. It’s just not sustainable at the absurdly low prices users have come to expect.

Ezra Klein, discussing the latest ads from Obama and Romney:

There’s an interesting interplay between these two spots. Obama is accusing Romney of wanting to give too much to the most successful. Romney is accusing Obama of being insufficiently appreciative of the most successful.

On some fundamental level, in other words, the two campaigns agree on the broad narrative of this race, and are even reinforcing the other’s messaging.

While they’re each distorting the truth, each campaign is also being, to some extent, honest.

In Dallas, TX, a 23 year-old accidentally fired his concealed weapon while reaching for his wallet, injuring two customers and himself.

Meanwhile, in central Florida, a 71 year-old man drew and fired his concealed weapon on two would-be robbers at an internet cafe, stopping the robbery and maiming the criminals.

Chris Foresman does some quick math on how the iPhone is doing marketshare-wise in the US:

Combined, the iPhone netted 61 percent of smartphone sales from the two largest US carriers, which share two-thirds of the US mobile market. Most of the remaining sales were shared among various Android device makers.

It annoys me that this type of comparison is only possible by totaling up the carriers’ numbers. Why doesn’t Samsung, HTC, LC, et. al. report units sold – not units shipped – like Apple?

I just cannot fathom a reason to hide that information, or why their stockholders allow them to.

July 23rd, 2012

David Carr attempts to explain just what type of business Yahoo has become:

(F)or most Americans, Yahoo is where they get news.

Yahoo reaches more than 75 percent of the total Internet audience in the United States, with 167.2 million unique users in June. On any given day, 30 million or more people stop by. Globally, about 700 million people visit the site in 30 languages every month.

It can be argued that Yahoo is burning out, but slowly, and has been for awhile. It can be argued that while they maintain a large presence of content, they lack any type of moat, or niche, to protect that presence; that any upstart could unseat them from any category provided the right momentum. They are a shrinking giant.

I’d argue that Yahoo is simply a very boring company, with a very simple business model. What Yahoo lacks is a shiny bobble with which the technology press can attach their collective fixation.

Adam Ozimek, admittedly pro gun rights, wonders whether new laws would have prevented the tragedy in Aurora:

You can argue that strict gun laws may reduce the number of gun related assaults and murders, and this is worth discussing, but it does not seem plausible that it would stop people like this shooter.

Meanwhile, Dan Baum reminds us of how intractable both violence and guns are in America:

If tomorrow President Obama signed the ultimate gun-control law—a total ban on the sale, manufacture, and import of guns—we would still be awash in firearms for generations to come.

The next few weeks will bring a plethora of opinion, diatribe, and sanctimony from all sides of the perpetual gun rights debate in America. Whenever possible, one should try to consider all sides. It’s far more complicated than our emotions want it to be.

Thanks, Andrew.

July 19th, 2012

Marco Tempest’s incredible digital tanagra depicting Nikola Tesla’s life:

Hugely popular in the early 20th century, tanagra theater thrilled audiences by using a series of mirrors to transform the image of an actor offstage and project a tiny version onstage. Tempest felt that tanagra theater offered the perfect visual sleight-of-hand to introduce audiences to the sad story of Nikola Tesla.

After watching the video, be sure to read how Tempest and his team crafted the illusion.

The scale of everything.

The oldest galaxy we’ve ever seen.

Kenneth Hayworth is trying to make us all immortal:

“Our grandchildren will say that we died not because of heart disease, cancer, or stroke, but instead that we died pathetically out of ignorance and superstition” — by which he means the belief that there is something fundamentally unknowable about consciousness, and that therefore it can never be replicated on a computer.

The world needs a few more mad scientists.

July 18th, 2012

Mr. Wizard was kind of a dick.

Miles Davis and the blind listening test:

Is that what the critics are digging? Them critics better stop having coffee. If there ain’t nothing to listen to, they might as well admit it.

Davis had a way of speaking, especially about music, that just seemed, for lack of a better word, cool. His quotes here are no less than perfect.

But my favorite Miles Davis anecdote of all time is easily this one:

In 1987, Miles attended a reception to honor Ray Charles and was seated next to a scion of Washington society. When she asked him what he’d done to get invited to the reception, he responded, “I’ve changed music four or five times. What have you done of any importance other than being white?”

July 17th, 2012

A new study finds women scoring higher on IQ test than men for the first time. The study averages tests conducted in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Estonia and Argentina:

“Over the last 100 years, everyone in the developing world has been gaining about three IQ points, but women have been gaining faster,” Flynn told ABC News. “This is the result of modernity. In every country where women have an equal chance of modernity, women have caught men.”

The changes, Flynn said, can be explained by changes in opportunity and education that have come about in the last century — for example, less reliance on rote memorization in education and an emphasis on improving logic and analytic skills.

I’m not shocked at the findings. I’m more shocked this hadn’t been proven earlier.

Canadian’s are now, on average, richer than Americans:

In 2011, the average net worth of a Canadian household was $363,202, compared to $319,970 in the U.S., according to Environics Analytics WealthScapes data published in the Globe and Mail.

Of course, they’ve also got the tyranny of universal health care up there.

So it’s not all wine and roses.

The article, and @ahc, both point to a very reasonable explanation – housing prices.

Applefied Ads:

Lately I have noticed how ultra simple Apple’s advertising has become … It spawned an idea. What would it look like if this formula was applied to all products?

Simple works. Usually.

July 16th, 2012

A five minute lecture from Charlie Kaufman on culture, creation and identity, directed by Eliot Rausch:

What I’m trying to express – what I’d like to express – is the notion that, by being honest, thoughtful and aware of the existence of other living beings, a change can begin to happen in how we think of ourselves and the world, and ourselves in the world.

The full lecture is available from the BAFTA’s website.

One of the most brutal political ads I’ve ever seen, and about as concise as you can get.

Allen Tucker wonders if we should be spending more on things:

When we change your mindset from getting the best deal to getting the best quality, it changes the emphasis from shopping to deciding what’s important. Because we only buy quality, we are forced to wait until we can afford what we really want. That wait time leads to better decisions, and it forces us to make do with what we have.

As I’ve watched more than a few friends comment on this piece, I’m struck by how often it’s being misread. Many seem to think Allen is saying we should buy more expensive things.

That isn’t what he’s saying at all.

The thrust of Allen’s argument is more that we should be ok with spending more; that you “get what you pay for.”

In our collective drive to get the absolute best possible deal on everything, we often overlook the intangibles associated with higher prices. Low-margin products, cut to the bone of any excess, provide little room for craftsmanship or service. Cheap products are often just that – cheap; disposable; built to last just long enough.

This isn’t to say cheap products don’t have their place, or that we should willingly spend whatever the asking price of anything is. Rather, it’s that price should not be the primary concern, with all other intangibles a distant second.

The comic tragedy of publishing to the Windows Marketplace:

From time to time the tale gets so surreal and horrible I sometimes wish Franz Kafka were alive to describe it instead of me.

Joe Belfoire, a VP at Microsoft, posted a response and apology to the team in their comments section:

Your blog post is making the rounds of our team because we’re sensitive to the pain you went through and we want to learn and do better.

Lest anyone be confused, app stores, with all their warts, are how we’re going to get software from now on. This process, these hoops, this ridiculousness; this is the future of software distribution.

As a software developer I’ve come to accept that there now exists a gatekeeper between me and the marketplace; accepted that there is some one standing astride the road, checking my credentials, inspecting my cargo, and yes, taking a bribe for letting me through.

The benefits of this gatekeeper are debatable, though numerous.

The draw backs are bewildering; places where, as a software developer, one may feel like they are banging their heads against brick walls, shouting into silence. Inane policies, dense guidelines, slow responses, baffling restrictions, and a general sense that, you, in the singular, don’t matter much.

The worst of these grievances often come from a rather mundane source; the subjectivity of another human being.

Stores are developed under assumptions. The platforms constructed along what is perceived to be the most common use case, or at least, the use case the platform prefers. Anything abnormal, anything unexpected, even when completely logical, is often impossible. A human who isn’t you didn’t anticipate what you’re trying to do.

Guidelines are written in broad language; fungible bits of text which can be read loosely or literally. It is expected that a human will interpret the guidelines, not a machine. A human is expected to render a judgement based on their best guess at what the framer’s meant.

This is a brave new world for everyone involved.

When reading stories like Toshl’s, or when experiencing my own personal head-pounding crisis with reviews, I try to keep that in mind. That the process is inherently fragile. That each mistake, or issue, is not necessarily the fault of the system as a whole. That the idea itself, or the intent of the idea, is not the convict in the crime. The mistakes are more oversights than some grand scheme to ruin my life, or the life of another developer.

There’s some guy or gal somewhere just trying to do their job; trying not to get fired for doing the wrong thing, for letting the wrong application through the process. Some developer trying to build something that works.

Responses like the one from Belfoire are pitch perfect.

“We’re learning. We’re sorry. We’ll get better.”

So far, they always have.

On the ethics of killing a monster:

It had a single fused eye in the middle of its forehead. The irises pointed to the sides. There seemed to be four lids surrounding the eye like a box. It was blind, of course. A large part of the brain and head were missing. There was no nose … It was unworldly. Alien. It was, someone said, “one of God’s little jokes.”

Every day, when I went to the ward I hoped the baby would be dead, but it lived on.

David DeSento on the science of compassion:

The compassion we feel for others is not solely a function of what befalls them: if our minds draw an association between a victim and ourselves — even a relatively trivial one — the compassion we feel for his or her suffering is amplified greatly.

Derek Powazek asks us to reconsider the business side of the social network:

We’re all desperately hoping that Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr will figure out the secret ingredient that turns a large-scale community of free members into a cash machine. What if we’re all just waiting for the impossible?

While his general line of thinking is correct – it is difficult to monetize social networks – most of his examples are incorrect.

Facebook had a net income of $1 billion dollars in 2011.

Digg was profitable after it introduced advertising.

No one knows whether Twitter is profitable or not. Some estimate it is, some estimate it could be, some estimate it can’t be. They’re a private company and are under no obligation to tell us which answer is correct. I’d place even money on “could be profitable if they chose to be”.

Tumblr’s essentially the same situation.

Social networks can be profitable. In fact, it seems the only thing holding any social network back from being profitable is a reluctance to introduce advertising. They hem, they haw, they try numerous experimental we-are-so-clever ideas before, ultimately, selling ads.

The cycle is so predictable it’s comical.

The notion that communities flee when advertisers enter is ludicrous, with counter-examples too numerous to document.

If it seems like most internet companies fail, you’re right; most businesses fail. It has nothing to do with any inherent problem with content sites, or social networks, or whatever other category of business seems to be the whipping boy du jour.

July 13th, 2012

This is a line-by-line analysis of the second verse of 99 Problems by Jay-Z, from the perspective of a criminal procedure professor:

It turns out that, while some other law professors have noticed 99 Problems, no one has yet provided a detailed, accurate analysis of the Fourth Amendment issues Verse 2 raises.

Go learn something.

Poverty in the United States, an infographic.

In a rambling attack on Daniel Tosh’s supporters, Lindy West makes a point:

If people don’t want to be offended, they shouldn’t go to comedy clubs? Maybe. But if you don’t want people to react to your jokes, you shouldn’t get on stage and tell your jokes to people.

Tosh – whose shtick consists, by and large, of saying amazingly offensive things with all the charm of a drunk college student – is being both tarred and feathered for telling “rape jokes” at a comedy club in L.A.

West’s attack on Tosh is vapid, at best. She simultaneously denounces Tosh’s sense of humor while championing comedians who’ve told jokes of the same kin; the likable get a pass. Silly, though perfectly aligned with the general stupidity of the contravesary it decries.

But barely lit in her screed is a great notion; we are just as free to be offended as we are to offend.

Do I find Tosh’s joke offensive? No. I’ve heard worse. I’ve said worse. Had I been in that club, I’d probably have laughed. I see Tosh’s point. Rape is never funny, and that makes it hilarious. There’s a discomfort and disquiet discussing it; there’s tension in the evocation of the word, of the act, the taboo of changing its context – of one’s reaction to it.

But nor am I offended that people are offended.

Performers make a contract with their audience. They will say something, and the audience will react to it. If you’re good at your art, you get the reaction you expect; someone laughs, someone cries, someone listens.

If the audience doesn’t like what you have to say, they are not “silencing” you. They are not censoring you. They are disagreeing.