Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Surge On

Monday, October 1st, 2007

Here’s a pretty fun video lampooning the “surge” strategy in Iraq.

Why I Hate the Wordpress Editor

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

I mean, copulating Infernos, why is it that my self-hosted Wordpress blog can’t easily post an embedded Youtube video? The version of Tiny MCE that comes with Wordpress loves to mangle my formatting of code, if you save directly from the code part of the editor, you are fine. If you ever slip into the visual portion of the editor again, even to later edit a posted piece, it mangles the tags and rearranges them and the formatting and reeks havoc with the entire post, breaking enough stuff so that the entire site’s layout gets schtupped. Even turning off the visual editor does not solve the problem

And I’m using a nice default installation of Wordpress with few plugins activated, using the default Kubrick frame, with few alterations, none of them at a logic level.

It’s not just embedding video that is a bear. Even embedded images can cause aggravation, never quite aligning right.

For me, the greatest aggravation is that the “code” section of the editor is not really the final code. Coding like tags for <p> and <br /> get magically transmogrified or created on a level inaccessible and invisible to the user. When I want to see the code, I want to see it complete an unexpurgated. I don’t want the editor protecting me from my deprecated tags and non-strict XHTML. I’m an adult. It’s my blog. I can handle it.
So why don’t I hack it myself, or use a plug-in? I have found Wordpress plugins to be generally of beta quality, with lots of niggling problems and an incompleted feel to them. I am not a hacker. I don’t know the code well enough, and to learn it and then implement a solution takes more time than kludging together a makeshift solution, and the small aggravation of slight imperfection in formatting annoy me less than the trouble of fixing them would.

The Wordpress user forums are fine, but I have found, especially with the constant updating of the code, that answers are often out of date, and even then they are rarely ideal solutions. Getting one’s own questions answered is hit and miss.

A content management system (CMS), meant to satisfy a wide and diverse user base, is a difficult beast to wrangle. Wordpress is the best I have come across, for my purposes. But it still annoys me.

Eating the Competition’s Lunch

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Where is the next great computer computer company?  Where once was Lotus came Microsoft, where once was AOL came Yahoo, where Yahoo was came Google.

Joel Sposky just posted a long essay on software obsolescence and transitions.  IBM’s balky introduction of a Lotus-branded version of OpenOffice called Symphonys is his starting point.  He tracks the demise of the venerable spreadsheet Lotus 1-2-3 and the subsequent rise of Microsoft’s Excel. While Lotus concentrated on coding efficiency to make their programs work well for the current generation of computers, Microsoft concentrated on adding features and just waited the six months for the computer hardware capabilities to catch up.  Joel sees a parallel in today’s browser-based market for AJAX applications, where network bandwidth and processing power still matter a lot.  Sposky sees the demise of Google’s Mail as imminent.  A smaller, more innovative company will build a software development kit (SDK) that supplants Google’s internally developed code in efficiency, and most importantly, portability and interoperability with other web-based applications.

I find Sposky’s analysis, while knowledgeable and erudite, to be misguided.  Firstly, AJAX applications like Google Mail might be very high profile, but unlike Lotus’s 1-2-3, they contribute little to Google’s bottom line.  Google serves ads , and that’s how they make their money, and they have always been open with their application programming interfaces (APIs) in this regard.  An API isn’t an SDK, but WTFDYC (what the fudge do you care), they can serve the same purpose for developers.  An API is really more important than an SDK anyway, as computing is more service-based, rather than product-based as in Lotus 1-2-3’s heyday.

Google’s true strength is not in it’s little AJAX doodads like Google Mail. It’s search algorithms are improvable with clever work by a competent team Mumbai programmers.  It’s true strength lies in it’s massive server farms, that allow it to serve the planet’s search needs, and it’s ability to store an easily accessible, frequently updated indexed database of the Internet’s content.

So until someone manages to set-up server farms to rival Google’s, with their massive parallel operations, I don’t think Google has much to worry about.   It would take billions to catch up to Google’s server farm supremacy,  which might be already rivalled by Yahoo or Amazon.  These are Google’s true competitors.  Yahoo has been trying to gain back the prominence that Google poached from it, becoming a sort of universal AOL, while Amazon has dipped its toes into search and web applications.  It’s worth noting that Microsoft’s entry into the service based world has been pretty flat.  They have the advantage of their installed base of server software to build on, but the various Unix flavors are superior to them, in numbers and quality.  Microsoft is a desktop software company.  They are also still the best on the desktop.  (Sorry folks, Apple is a boutique hardware company.)

If you really want to talk about obsolesence, talk about the aforementioned AOL.  The stupid company bought into its own public relations baloney and thought they were more than a bunch of convenient phone numbers with modems at the end.  But they didn’t own the phone lines that kept the whole thing together.  Once  the phone and cable companies, got their act together they ate AOL’s lunch.  The service part of what AOL provided was provided for free, and with better quality, by Yahoo.  Then Yahoo, bought their own hype and thought that they were the destination rather than a waypoint and so Google, doing a better job of indexing, ate Yahoo’s  lunch.  The Internet is all about connectiong little people like me together.  When company’s think they are more important than the little people they connect, then they fail, as the little people go to the new companies that let them be themselves.

Cue the munchkins.

Ennui

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Wow, it’s been ten days between posts on this blog.  It’s not that I haven’t had ideas in my head, or that I’ve been too busy.  It’s just that I haven’t bothered.

Ennui is a most dangerous feeling.

Vietnam and Iraq

Monday, September 10th, 2007

It’s an open secret that the Bush administration wants to bomb Iran.  So if Iraq is like Vietnam, according to the forty-third President, then is Iran like Cambodia and Laos?

This is going to end well.

Predatory Lending Is Wrong

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Predatory lending is a real and serious problem. Lenders are not legalized confidence men, but have a fiduciary duty to look after their clients’ interests. Predatory lenders are those that have abrogated that trust, and they are, unfortunately, the norm. A borrower has an explicit right to expect that a lender will be honest and forthright in his dealings, and that the lender will make a conscious effort to make a loan on terms that are most advantageous to the borrower.

When this fiduciary duty is not kept, bad things happen. It is a crime, just like a doctor performing unnecessary surgery or a lawyer billing unnecessary hours to pump up their fees.

(more…)

Michael Vick Pit Bull Discussion

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

There’s a pretty good discussion about the moral implications of the Michael Vick pit bull case in the comments to one of my recent blog entries.  It’s mostly me against the world.  Check it out.

Real Cabinet Choices for an Imaginary Presidency

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Here are my executive cabinet choices for a pretend Michel Evanchik presidency. Making these choices was a good thought experiment to define my own political preferences in some specific and tangible ways. It’s a fun intellectual exercise that my readers should try as well.

These are largely symbolic choices, and a final choice might be changed in consideration of administrative ability (and the candidate’s willingness to serve). As we have painfully seen in the forty-third President’s administration, enthusiasm is no substitute for competency:

  • Agriculture: Willie Nelson, country singer and friend of the small farmer
  • Interior: Robbie Cox, President of the Sierra Club
  • Commerce: Cory Doctorow, free software advocate and corporate copyright skeptic. I’d let him clean up the Patent Office.
  • Justice: Nadine Strossen, President of the ACLU
  • Defense: Wesley Clark, the last successful American general
  • Labor: Andy Stern, President of the Service Employees International Union (more…)

Vick Pit Bulls To Be Destroyed

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons quarterback, has plead guilty to charges of illegal dogfighting, and as part of that action, the more than fifty pitbulls on his property were seized by the government. Now it is likely that these dogs will be euthanized.

So how is this better for the dogs? I’d rather have a brutal chance at survival than to be hopelessly sent to the gas chamber. Vick is charged with, among other things, killing some of the dogs in his possession by hanging and drowning. Now the state is about to do the same thing to these dogs that Vick did, albeit in a more constrained and sanitary fashion. But death is death and killing is killing. So they’re sending Vick to jail because he didn’t kill the dogs nicely enough?

A Need For Volunteers in Iraq

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

There is a great concern that the military is being stretched thin in Iraq.  The war against the insurgency is lasting much longer and the fighting is much harder than the war’s planners ever envisaged.  Troops are serving longer tours in country and getting less time recuperating out of country.  National Guard and Reserve troops are playing a much greater role than planned, putting a particular strain on these formerly “weekend warriors”.  Yet a significant and loud minority in this country persist in supporting a large American military presence in the war.  The problem is that the troop levels necessary to carry on the large-scale engagement insisted upon by the war-hawks are not sustainable in the long run, not without a draft or a great increase in voluntary enlistment.

I do not support the war.  I have a very simple test for determining my support –  would I fight in it myself?  I will not call on other men to fight when I will not.  My reasons are simple.  Firstly, I have a healthy fear of death.  Secondly, to overcome this scruple over staying alive with all my body parts intact, the cause must be sufficiently important for me to risk my life for it.  Iraq is simply not important enough.  When President Bush recently compared actual failure in Vietnam to possible failure in Iraq, I shrugged my shoulders.  While the U.S. might have suffered emotionally from losing the Vietnam War, from a practical point of view, no real U.S. interests were harmed.

So I will not support a war that I will not fight in.  But as the fight is going on, I encourage all those who would fight, to volunteer.  If you support the war, and are between 18 and 42 years of age, and are not enlisted in the military, then please shut up.  Don’t ask others to fight your battles.