Links: August 20th

I have a wide selection again for you today. I meant to post the Links of the Week yesterday but ran into two problems: 1) I was busy and distracted for most of the day and 2) I think this picture speaks for itself. I wasn’t motivated to sift through all those tabs!


Ket Fenwick has a piece titled “Why People Won’t Read Your Thesis“. He does raise some interesting points, although I can’t really say I agree. First, writing in academia at the graduate level–as I understand it–is to effectively prove that your understanding of a particular subject is not simply extensive but also well-researched. Conversational tones are OK for blog posts and informal writing; I can’t say such a tone is appropriate for academic papers or even documentation. Simply put: Some writing styles are more appropriate for certain disciplines than others. I propose an alternative. If you’re particularly passionate about a given subject and you’re a graduate student, write a book! If it’s important enough such that the average person should know about it, then it’s worthwhile to write material in the writing style of your choice to convey just how important your research is. Academia isn’t going to change. (A little warning about the link: The author’s writing style feels a little awkward and “bumpy” which I think serves to dispute his intent.)

News: International Relations

Ever wondered what other countries think of our political debates? For one, when it comes to health care, the British media is firmly on the side of–wait for it–our media. Although The Independent provides solid numbers, the numbers themselves are largely meaningless without context. Furthermore, since every site I’ve found that provides access to the WHO/OECD data requires a subscription, it’s difficult to gain more data for further study. Whether you’re for or against health care reform, you have to confess that articles like this one are decidedly biased in favor of a system more like Britain’s.

News: Stupid is News

Unsurprisingly, a Virginian woman was arrested when she posted a picture of an officer’s house. The Slashdot summary is biased in favor of the woman, of course, and while this is publicly accessible information, I think it’s important to understand that this woman was going out of her way to post it. The reason certain information in the public eye isn’t a danger is because it typically requires work to acquire. Frankly, I find this ordeal stupid; she got what was coming to her. Were these not officers, I’d imagine she would’ve been charged with stalking! Oh, what a queer world this is.

Along these lines, a judge has thrown out tickets given to citizens who received them for running red lights, declaring the camera program as illegal in Santa Ana, California. Whether you agree with them or not, the tampering performed by the city to increase ticket revenues is a disgrace and endangerment of the public.

News: Tech in the Media

Ever wondered what drives those late-night click fests through Wikipedia or Google? Slate explores why, and it may be a far more basic drive than you think.


Brandon Bloom has an interesting writeup on why he dropped Django. I often wondered how useful Django was for general purpose web projects considering it was originally written as a publishing platform for a newspaper. Not to mention there are many competing frameworks available. Personally? TurboGears is the nicest, but being as TG2 is still stabilizing (IMO) and the documentation is a bit lacking, moving to a Python-based framework is something I’m holding back on. I was originally going to rewrite an ancient project to work under TG2 but chose PHP because of its ubiquity. I’m also reminded of why I dislike PHP so much…


Don’t know the difference between dynamic versus static languages and strongly versus weakly typed? Here is an excellent post that provides some examples of each. In unrelated news, I’m sick of arguing that Python is a strongly typed dynamic language. It’s amazing how many people don’t believe that.

Any idea what makes a programming language successful? It might not be the relative popularity, power, or expressiveness of that language. Instead, take a look at these pictures comparing the lead developers/inventors of each language. See a pattern?

Here’s an interesting blog post detailing “better arguments” in favor of (or against) programming languages. If you have a favorite language to love or hate, this is a worthwhile read, and you might just think twice about complaining that a certain language is “slow.” In the words of a famous meme: maybe you’re doin’ it wrong?

Speaking of PHP which I rail on somewhere in this list of links (where’s Waldo?), here’s a list of 30 best practices for beginning PHP developers. Most of these are pretty obvious, but if you’re just getting started, you really should read this. PHP is an easy language to learn, but it can also result in poor, insecure code if you don’t know what you’re doing. The point that should be listed as #1 is at #16: Never, Ever Trust Your Users. This is true–don’t ever trust input to be correct.

Is Scala reaching a tipping point? I think so. I just started getting interested in it about two to three weeks ago and finally got around to ordering a Scala book. Now, all of a sudden, I’m hearing about nothing but Scala! It integrates well with Java, runs on the JVM, and sort of reminds me of Python-mates-with-Java.


Bone-setting glue might make those screws and plates a thing of the past.

SETI is finally performing real science. Okay, that was harsh. Let me try again: SETI’s search for intelligence outside our own humble abode is being used as a dual-purpose detector and thus far, they’ve made some pretty important discoveries (no ET yet).

Hunter (Trekk) linked me this one, too. I never realized that shampoo bottles can build up a dangerous charge and shock you.

Why do more leaves turn red in the US and yellow in Europe? It might have something to do with a protective mechanism from the last ice age–and insects.

Yes, this is science (even though it’s tech!). If Twitter were 100 people, here’s what it would look like. I could spend hours on David McCandless also has a book coming out in February that looks really good. Put it on your wish list.


Tired of those smug Twitterers (twits?) peddling links to a variety of URL shorteners? I have found a solution. It’s called hugeurl. It does exactly what it says.

Aussie police discovered the merits of passwords when their database was effectively trespassed upon. Why not “cracked?” Simple: They didn’t have a password for their MySQL root user.

In case you missed it, there was a vulnerability in many XML implementations earlier this month. Make sure your libraries are up to day.

Danny Dover has a really good post for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). It’s a cheat sheet for web developers. Actually, he’s got a whole mess of them. I’d link them all, but you’d see a solid sentence of red. Instead, I’ll suggest you start here. It’s a worthwhile read and has made me consider redoing a significant part of this site–except for the fact that there isn’t anything terribly important here! If you have a major web-based project, web application, or simply run your business on the web, you really need to read Mr. Dover’s posts. No, really. You should.

Along a similar thread, here’s a list of 30 web developer cheat sheets linked from DZone.

Oh, and here’s another list–this time it’s of the 16 “most essential” Firefox addons. I use “essential” loosely here. I don’t use most of the addons listed here and there’s several important ones missing. Among them are: NoScript, Flashblock, WebDeveloper, Firebug, and Session Manager. I also use FoxClocks, Stylish, and TabCounter for the LOLcat factor. Yeah, that meme needs to rest. Anyway, maybe I need to make my own list of essential addons?

The Dreamliner has been delayed with even more trouble.

The web versus the desktop. Why is this a neverending debate? Tobias Svensson explores this topic in depth.

Ben Huh (yes, that’s his real name) is puzzled by the success of LOLcats. I am, too.

Weird and Unusual

Hunter (Trekk) linked this one to me. Ever heard the Mario Bros theme played by an RC car? Now you have.

Here’s an adventure in flying (don’t try this). If you wondered what would happen if you were to fly without a government-issued ID, read on!


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