Updates to LotW, Sept. 29, 2009

There’s an update to the Links of the Week from September 29th, 2009 submitted by Yamin who also happens to be the author of a rather brilliant article “The Problem with Design and Implementation“. Yamin posted a comment linking to this gem, which is also a worthwhile read.

If you get a chance, you should check out Yamin’s blog, too. There’s tons of good stuff over there.

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Links of the Week: January 30th

I’ve been collecting quite a few gems this week, especially with the launch of the Apple iPad (which, according to my mother, sounds like a product that could be confused with a feminine hygiene product). There’s a great deal of excitement and resentment surrounding Apple’s announcement. I’m sure it’ll be fascinating to see how it plays out.

I’d like to link to a site run by a couple of buddies of mine (for whom I occasionally do contract work) dedicated to the Apple iPad: iPadForums.net. Dan’s put quite a bit of effort into consolidating a significant amount of news and information–even prior to the announcement–so it’s worth investing some of your time into browsing the site or contributing.

Apple, Inc.

This last week’s news has almost entirely focused on Apple’s latest announcement related to the iPad. I won’t bore you with the details, because a quick Google search would certainly turn up anything you may have missed. Furthermore, since most of your are Slashdot readers, I’m convinced you’ve likely seen at least one story related to the tablet… thing. Daring Fireball has a glowing review of the iPad (of course).

There’s even another article here that speculates Apple’s release of the iPad is a “great day for open technologies.” I’m a skeptic, but the author raises a few good points.

Apple’s marketing department is nothing short of amazing.

My most favorite article, however, is this one. “Is Apple Evil?” may be considered by some to be a knee-jerk reaction to what is–for lack of a better term–nothing more than vendor lock-in in a sleek case, but I think it’s worth reading. Is it crazy to think that Apple may be trying to control everything about their products, including applications? Maybe, but I think Aaron Swartz may have hit the nail on the head. I hope he’s wrong for the sake of the industry, but judging by Apple’s past behavior, my gut is telling me he’s right.

Earlier this month, a company by the name of Freescale Semiconductor released reference designs of a new tablet that might serve to compete against the iPad. In a similar thread, electronics firm MSI also plans to enter the tablet market, albeit with Android OS (thank you, Google). Hopefully this showdown will result in a win for consumers: There’s no sense to have a locked-down device.

So the vendor lock-in business doesn’t bother you, because you see the iPad as an appliance rather than a computer? Maybe the $99 developer fee (yearly) doesn’t scare you off because you don’t care? Well how about this: the iPad is an antisocial device.

If you’re part of the bandwagon that feels Apple has every right to lock down their devices, consider this: Apple says jailbreaking is illegal. Of course, this article relates to the iPhone and EFF’s attempt at pressing for DMCA exemptions, but since the iPad runs iPhone OS, you can see where this is going. The FSF even steps in and takes a few shots, stating why they feel the iPhone and free software don’t mix. Since the iPad is essentially a giant iPhone, I expect this debate to be on going for years to come.

Since the Apple App Store is going to play a significant part in iPad usability, I think you ought to read this article by Paul Graham. Essentially, Apple’s treatment of developers is starting to breed resentment.

There’s also a pretty big debate going on related to Amazon’s Kindle versus the iPad. Both solutions are DRM’d to the hilt, so regardless of whoever wins, the consumer still (technically) loses. Amazon, however, has been pushing to keep the prices of eBooks low in spite of the wishes of some publishers. But consider, for a moment, what it would be like if a central authority controlled what you could read. Are the eBook wars beginning?

Speaking of DRM, Ars has a great write up on the limitations imposed by the iPad.

Biology

Ever wonder what color dinosaurs were? There might be new, emerging answers. I still say: Nothing would completely ruin the intimidating pose of a tyrannosaurus rex than for a human visitor to gaze upward at the beast’s monstrous frame, frightened, and hear a thunderous… BUCKAW! Cretaceous chicken: You’re what’s for dinner.

I’ve never been a fan of Jazz, but if you’re particularly interested in the brain, this article “The Neuroscience of Jazz” should make for a fascinating read.

Business

When do you fire your co-founders? No, don’t panic! It’s not about being (intentionally) mean to those who might otherwise have good intentions. It’s about business: If you’re going to put together a team to make a business work, you need to find people who will do exactly that. Obvious? Maybe, but you really need to read this article if you’re planning on starting a venture of some sort. Frankly, I think this is pretty important advice.

Climate

Looks like there’s still fallout over those e-mails that pointed to what was essentially data hiding and disingenuous science.

Speaking of climate, here’s an interesting thought experiment on using Clojure to analyze climate data. Read ahead for a surprise ending.

Culture

While this article takes jabs at Americans and the English, I think it’s a very good read for anyone who travels, especially overseas. Cultural sensitivity may have negative connotations thanks to political correctness, but there are times when it most certainly pays off (business).

Developers, Developers, Developers Develop

Did you know that some indie games have made money? It’s true! Just look at those figures. This is pretty impressive news. Microsoft may be evil (WGA comes to mind), but they certainly aren’t as evil as Apple.

I stumbled across a brief article on 0MQ, a “new” approach to messaging. If you’re planning on writing a networked application in the near future, you may ought to consider 0MQ instead of writing your own custom socket wrappers.

Education

Setting a rather odd precedent, a German family has been granted political asylum… for home schooling.

Health

New and “damning” evidence has surfaced related to the doctor who linked vaccinations with autism, New Scientist reports.

Hardware

Well, it looks as if the PS3’s hypervisor has been hacked, potentially opening the doors to new and interesting uses of the console.

Life and Living

I wish I had heard this advice years ago. There are always more than two options. It’s centered more around business and entrepreneurship but has wide application to literally everything. This is a great read.

Mathematics

Here’s an interesting topic discussing vector clocks. I’ve not encountered these before, but this looks like a great tutorial if you’ve run into a situation where you find yourself horribly confused by them: Vector Clocks are Easy.

Speaking of the dazed and confused, here’s an article detailing why students hate algebra. I highly recommend reading this thought-provoking article, particularly if you were in school at some point during the 1990s or later. Thinking back on it, the issues Dan Meyer raises are exactly why I hated algebra when I was a student.

This completely boggles my mind because I was never especially strong at math. It sure sounds interesting though: using the sum of squares to “translate” complicated equations.

Natural Resources

There’s a war that will be raging against China soon. No, it’s not likely to involve troops on the ground, planes, and other implements of war–at least, not in the traditional sense. There’s a battle underway involving rare earth metals. It’s ironic that these precious elements–almost a requirement in building “green” technology–has been sourced largely from China, one of the biggest polluters in the world. The Chinese are planning to reduce their exports of rare earth metals by a significant margin. Worse, because of environmental restrictions and low market prices, the US’ ability to produce a sufficient quantity of high quality ores has almost completely diminished. Some geologists estimate we have enough of the materials locally to become self-sufficient and maintain that status for over 150 years. Too bad.

Programming

Here’s an article by Raphael Mudge about using “tries” to offer accurate spelling suggestions. It’s excellent and quite thorough! Definitely recommended reading for anyone putting together a modern web 2.0 application that offers something akin to spell checking.

Here’s a list of 10 tips for a new Django developer. I’ve been tempted to try Django for a while now, if only because Pylons and TurboGears miss some of the configurability I’d expect from a web application framework and require some tweaking in order to support table prefixes. (But prefixes are stupid! Real developers use schemas! Yeah, well, if I’m using an ORM like SQLAlchemy and someone is really desperate for MySQL support, I haven’t much choice!)

Did you know that writing multithreaded code can be like juggling chainsaws? Okay, maybe not quite (you won’t lose a limb). Still a worthwhile read for anyone who might have to deal with massive concurrency.

Scala 2.8 is getting closer to completion.

Here’s a great piece on the debate (again) about DirectX versus OpenGL. Honestly, I really wish this is a debate that would die. As the author points out: It exists mostly due to marketing hype.

Programming Humor

Here’s a humorous piece on github that demonstrates Python programmers with varying proficiencies attempting to calculate the factorial of a number. I’m with the whole import math; math.factorial(6) crowd.

Also in the humor section, but in what I would like to describe as the “sad but true” section, is this gem. Hint: This is satire.

Security

There’s a vulnerability affecting FreeBSD 7.1-8.0. However, unlike what the Slashdot article suggests, the exploit is a local exploit–not a remote one.

Survival School

Should you ever find yourself in free fall from 20,000 feet or higher, this guide is for you.

Technology

The FreeNAS project has decided that they’ll be switching from FreeBSD to Debian for their 0.8 release. While I think the move is stupid since it completely eliminates ZFS from the equation (a great reason to stick with FreeBSD), I don’t think it’s quite the end of the world. Already, at least one company has announced they plan to create a fork. The discussion surrounding the project’s reasons is here. Though there are a few reasons suggested, it seems to me that the most “important” one is the lack of hardware support (not that I’ve ever really encountered problems in FreeBSD myself…). And frankly, I hate Debian. Ubuntu may be impressive, but the Debian roots make me want to cry in terror.

Oh noes! The Russians have released pictures and video of their newest stealth fighter. While it looks like a 1:1 copy of the F-22 nose cone, the rest of the aircraft hardly looks that different from an Su-27. Personally? I’m not worried.

Flash is doomed. It’s about damned time.

Web, The

Looks like Facebook has decided to scale down custom tabs. Also in that link is a template you can use to assist in migrating your Facebook whatever-it-might-be to the new size. (Disclaimer: I don’t use Facebook, but I find it interesting that they’d be reducing the maximum width from 760px to 520px when most professional designers are considering even higher widths.)

Video

With HTML5 and many video providers (including Youtube) supplying beta access to non-flash embedded video, have you ever wondered why they only Chrome, Safari, and MSIE? It’s a licensing issue. More details are available here. In short, the MPEG LA will not (and probably cannot due to the nature of how they issue licenses) offer coverage for free software.

X

There was an interesting Ask Slashdot a couple days ago related to some system of maintaining what amounts, effectively, to two distinct, isolated desktops on different monitors. On proposed solution was awesome (no, really, that’s the name). I don’t think that’s the ideal solution as it’s intended for almost exclusive keyboard access but it is certainly an interesting solution.

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Links of the Week: January 22nd

I admit, I’ve been too lazy to update my blog. Believe me, the wait for your LotW was worth it. Some of these may be a little old (greater than one week), but if you haven’t read them elsewhere you can catch up here.

I’ve also got a few more in the pipeline, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait ’til next week if you haven’t seen some of these links.

Astronomy

What the heck is this? Some people think it’s a comet–others think it’s a hyper-velocity impact in the asteroid belt. Whatever it is, it’s perplexing.

Business

Looks like the CEO and founder of Real Networks, Rob Glaser, has stepped down. RealPlayer was pretty impressive in the days of dial-up and blocky video, but I think the point Glaser lost public trust occurred a long time ago when Real was known for installing difficult to remove adware. I remember using Windows 98 and having random pop-ups appear shortly after installing Real Player. I promptly removed it and vowed never to go back. I guess some business practices are difficult to forget.

Developers, Developers, Developers, Develop

No, it’s not about Microsoft–or not completely. It’s about why no one knows what they’re doing. If you want a rather bleak outlook on the world of software, software authorship, and tool development, here it is. There’s much discussion on customer needs (“are you absolutely sure about that?”) and wants (“you wanted a what, too?!”). Oh, and there’s also a little discussion about about CS curriculum at the end.

Disasters

We’ve all heard about the terrible disaster in Haiti. What’s worse, much of the aid we’re sending isn’t getting to the people who need it most. It’s just a tragedy. Slate Magazine covers a far more interesting question: If we can’t get food, water, and shelter to the people, then where are the reporters getting theirs? It’s a fair question.

Economics

In a not-so-surprising article on Forbes, it turns out that working doesn’t always pay for the middle class. The story is about a single working mother who could take a $200,000 a year job and wind up effectively paying greater than 70% of her earnings in taxes, tuition for her daughter, and other such things, or taking a $60,000 a year job and wind up paying far less. The upshot is essentially that our society punishes success and rewards mediocrity.

Games and Gaming

Apparently a number of people are upset with Blizzard’s updates to the World of Warcraft armory. They’re afraid that up-to-the-minute activity tracking of their characters is a violation of privacy. Personally, I think it’s a great tool: If someone rolls “need” on an item and wins it but never equips it (the armory differentiates between obtaining and item and actually equipping it), they just screwed you.

Politics

I thought this one was funny. I’m sure you’ve heard of it by now but if not: Did you know that the IRS commissioner has someone else prepare his taxes because the current tax code is too complex? In a humorous twist, he mentions that (truthfully) the complexity of the tax code is the fault of Congress and he is powerless to do anything to simplify it. While it is true–Congress does write the tax code–the IRS commissioner, if he had the testicular fortitude to commit himself to doing something good, could pressure Congress. Granted, pressuring Congress into doing something they don’t support will never work, but the IRS commissioner could create a great deal of good press for himself.

So, you voted for Obama for hope and change? Chances are, you also don’t support some of the ludicrous file-sharing verdicts issues against people caught, well, sharing files. Guess what? Your beloved president thinks that a $657,000 verdict is just fine even though the Copyright Act allows for a maximum penalty of $150,000. That’s right, President Obama supports a verdict that penalizes a college student for more than four times the allowed penalty by law.

Programming

There’s an interesting post here from the author of a new (well, sort of new) project called “Shed Skin.” It’s a Python-to-C++ compiler. It might be worthwhile to look at as something of a curio and maybe even as a learning tool for someone wanting to learn a bit more about compilers or C++. While I’m personally more interested in Unladen Swallow, I think this Python to C++ conversion tool is of interest.

This isn’t really programming but it deserves to go here. I vaguely recall having to block several Microsoft IP addresses a couple of years ago due to similar issues, but this is absolutely ridiculous.

Science

A friend of mine was talking about some literary installments set in the Star Wars universe wherein some starships of enormous size were mentioned (around 27 kilometers). I often wonder if the Roche limit would be applicable to such large creations, effectively rendering them nearly pointless or useless…

Michael Benson of the Washington Post thinks the International Space Station is a waste and we should do something interesting with it like fire it into deep space. Or to the moon. Or somewhere. It’s a stupid idea, but I have to say: I agree with him. It has (err, had) so much potential early on and much of that has since been lost.

There’s a viral video of a cleverly done scientific hoax. The video is a little choppy and amateurish, but I can certainly see it being a fairly convincing step-by-step guide on creating something that doesn’t exist. Spoiler: The hoax video uses polymer spheres that absorb ~300 times their own weight in water. Once engorged, these spheres possess an index of refraction identical to that of water and therefore “magically” appear when removed from a water-filled container. The hoax is pretty clever.

Sociology

So apparently some math major decided to use the Drake equation to explain why he has no girlfriend. Aside from the obvious–he’s using the Drake equation to explain why he’s a bachelor–I think the idea is ludicrous. The Drake equation essentially consists of adding together a bunch of unknown probabilities in effort to estimate the likelihood of other life, although XKCD explains it best. There’s also a comment on Slashdot that calls him out in a rather humorous and statistically sound manner!

Also along these lines of attractiveness and the likes, a new study indicates that attractiveness holds consensus among men, not women. Imagine that: A new study confirms that men and women rate attractiveness differently. Holy cow. Next they’ll fund a study to determine if men and women actually have different reproductive organs.

Believing that you can become smarter may actually make you smarter. There’s a big surprise. While the study is new, the moral is something that has been known for a very long time: motivated people who believe they can do something generally do. There’s also some discussion about how ethnic/racial minorities do better in situations where they’re told they can do better–also not surprising.

Technology

Ever wondered what a really big boat engine looks like? Enjoy. Oh, and a few more pictures are available here.

Max Klein has an interesting write up on on how Google Wave changed his life. Whether you’re an early adopter and have had Wave for a while or not, this article is certainly worth a read–more so if you have absolutely no idea what Wave’s worth truly is.

Did you know that self-proclaimed “audiophiles” can’t tell the difference between Monster Cable and a coat hanger? That’s right: Those super-expensive shielded audio cables provide no noticeable difference in sound quality than most standard cabling. It’s the placebo effect combined with brilliant marketing.

Did you know that everything you’ve heard about the QWERTY layout might be wrong? Reason covered a (very) lengthy discussion back in 1996 on the rumors that have surrounded QWERTY for decades–and still persist some 14 years later! As it turns out, many of the “studies” performed that concluded the Dvorak layout to be far superior were largely rigged against QWERTY. The humorous part to me was reading through the comments on Hacker News largely defending Dvorak. This reminds me of the Monster Cable thing I linked above. Speaking of which, here’s a rant against the anti-Dvorak “crusaders.” Sounds more like snake oil to me.

Amazon kicks some serious butt. No, really. Check this out: Amazon is offering a 70% royalty option for authors who release their books on the Kindle. That’s gonna seriously get some publishers upset–and that’s a good thing.

World Wide Web, The

So it looks like Firefox 3.7 is dead for now. With the release of Firefox 3.6, I can only hope they’ve addressed the crash issues I’ve faced with more than 200 tabs loaded at once. Sadly, 3.5 has been far more unstable than any other browser including IE betas. I’m half tempted to revert to an earlier version of 3.x.

I’ve received more than my fair share of “Join now!” messages from Yelp, and while I never did like the company, these allegations make me cringe. Sure, they could be made by business owners who–by merit of being business owners–are upset they’d receive bad reviews, but I think the shear number of businesses calling out Yelp’s questionable practices speaks for itself. Naturally, there’s a retort on Yelp’s site related to many of the accusations. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle.

In the realm of bizarre, weird, and perhaps even down-right wrong, an online dating site, OKCupid, released statistics related to profile pictures and their myths. Some of the findings are surprising and potentially worth future sociological studies. (Hint to sociology majors: Yes, I’m really talking to you.)

This is humorous. Bill Gates finally relented and gave in to the Twitter crowd. It’s humorous to me precisely because I only recently started my account there, too.

Here’s an interesting piece on reducing total HTTP requests per visitor. Some of the suggestions are implemented by many sites (including some web application software like WordPress) while others are largely unsupported by a few browsers such as the data URI option.

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