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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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas all!

Once this holiday season is over, I’ll be getting back to the LotW. It’s been a month, I know. I haven’t bothered to take the time to assemble more links.

I also have some updates for the Atom-based media center (HTPC) project that will be worthwhile, too.

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Links of the Week: November 21st

I’ve been meaning to post an updated LotW for a while but between Firefox crashing like a stunt car driver and real life obligations, it’s been difficult to make find some time so I could sit down and hammer it out. I confess that there are other reasons I wished to delay the inevitable (I didn’t feel like it–hey, that’s a legitimate excuse).

So, here you go. Clicky-clicky on the link. Apologies if some of these are a little old–I needed to flush out the 450+ tabs I’ve got open in Firefox.

Academia

Professionals in academia pose something of a problem. To find out more, read the article!

Biology

Dolphins are deep thinkers. Capable of planning ahead and teaching their offspring tasks that have no immediate survival benefit, these creatures exist as an aquatic near-analog to humankind.

Health

What happens when you cross Disney with flu shots? No lines. Okay, so the lines still exist–sort of. Now, if only certain large retail chains could learn the same lesson…

Is tech causing attention loss? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m of the opinion that the human brain is incredibly adept at evolving. What we consider an ailment today (ADHD) might very well be an evolutionary advantage tomorrow. Of course, only time will tell, but it still humors me to imagine that Twitter, Facebook, et al might be contributing to the increasing “stupidification” of our youth.

History

Josh sent this one to me. It’s a collection of great aviation quotes from various sources throughout history starting with World War I. Contributed quotes are pulled from both factions in numerous conflicts. Check it out.

Legal

Enjoy freedom of the web while you can. While the FTC may begin regulating the disclosure of compensation toward blog authors, one has to speculate whether this extension of the FTC’s (or the FCC’s) authority will end. There are some who feel that since the Internet is in the realm of communication, it should therefore be held against the FCC’s decency standards and such. Good luck. I hope that never happens. As with the author of the previously linked article, I’m concerned what the language of this stipulation may be interpreted to mean. The implications are worrisome.

Linux

I installed Mandriva in a VM about a week ago for my own personal amusement. It hasn’t changed much. I still hate it. It is one of the most awful and disgraceful half-broken reimplementations of Red Hat ever conceived. I’m also reminded of why Yum appeared when I glance through the convoluted package manager that is urpmi. Still, nothing beats ports or portage. (I have a rant against aptitude and family, but I’ll save that for another time.)

Literature

This doesn’t really fit in the literature category, but I can’t think of a better place to put this interview with Umberto Eco. Frankly, I’ve never read any of his works nor am I familiar with him (thank you Wikipedia). What he states in Spiegel’s interview is enlightening and entertaining–maybe even a little strange.

Mathematics

Ever wondered what a three dimensional mandelbrot might look like? Wonder no more; introducing the Mandelbulb.

Operating Systems

Earlier this month, news spread that OS X Snow Leopard will break most Hackintoshes. This amuses me.

Paranormal

I’m not of the persuasion to believe ghosts exist. Rather, I believe that apophenia is the most rational explanation for unusual phenomenon attributed to paranormal events. In this sense, apophenia refers to pattern recognition made by humans that is attributed to the Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVP. Nevertheless, the Scole Experiment is of vague interest. It would be interesting to repeat the experiments in a highly controlled environment, because I am skeptical that the claims made by Scole’s “researchers” are all that valid. Consider it a curio.

What sent me along this topic was my research of Carl Sagan. This isn’t exactly paranormal, but among Sagan’s suggestions of topics in need of more research was that of random number generators being influenced slightly by thoughts. Naturally, Sagan didn’t believe such a thing were possible. He did feel that science needed to put it and other claims to rest.

While this article isn’t of the paranormal, it is still a mystery–the mystery of Oak Island, to be exact. What’s buried there? Who knows!

Science

There’s an amazing tribute to Carl Sagan on Youtube called A Glorious Dawn (featuring Stephen Hawking). What an incredible use of a vocoder!

Technology

Here’s a list of 11 open source companies to watch. Unfortunately, the list is comprised of one entry per page. If you’re on a short fuse today, don’t bother. It’ll annoy you.

There is a war in progress. It is a war for the web. I’d like to subtitle this as “The Dangers of Consumerism.” Let’s just hope that the war isn’t won by media conglomerates.

Windows 7 is the most secure Windows-based OS ever. Err, maybe not. “A” for effort, I suppose. While I am a fan of Windows 7, there’s no way in hell I’d trust the OS inside an unfiltered ecosystem.

Mark Cuban has a plan to kill Google. I wonder if he’s also willing to go to jail for anti-trust violations and/or bribery? His proposal certainly smacks a great deal of the latter. Hey, Mr. Cuban, why don’t you–I dunno–try innovating?

Is there anything to like about the NoSQL crowd? Maybe!

Robert Scoble has a very worthwhile post on what he describes as the chat room/forum problem. In it, he explains why most forum-like communities “devolve” over time whereas blogs almost paradoxically increase in value. There isn’t a paradox, mind you. I won’t spoil it.

Web, The

Ever wondered what the click-through conversion rates really are? Here’s some insight.

The fate of Mr. X. Or, rather, why American Airlines is evil and stupid. If you don’t read any of the other links in this post, please read this one.

Web Technologies

How can you achieve painless registration? Here are some suggestions.

Weird and Unusual

No language is complete without a canonical “Hello, world!” application. Neither in this respect is a cornfield.

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