Archive for September, 2006

First they came…

September 29, 2006

First they came for the Socialists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left
to speak up for me.

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Another hero of mine

September 29, 2006

I’ve mentioned that I like Craig Newmark (of Craigslist) before. I just saw this little tidbit about him which is worth highlighting here:

The founder of craigslist, the free social networking and classifieds Web site, said on Thursday he is not interested in selling out, a few hours after social networking site MySpace was valued at $15 billion.

“Who needs the money? We don’t really care,” Craig Newmark said in an interview at the Picnic ’06 Cross Media Week conference here.

“If you’re living comfortably, what’s the point of having more?” Newmark said.

[…]

“We both know some people who own more than a billion (dollars) and they’re not any the happier. They also need bodyguards,” he said.

It’s just that this kind of attitude is so rare in the world today.

Part of it is doubtless pure pragmatism; even after the dotcom bust, web companies are prone to unjustified and insanely large valuations – see the $15 Billion quote in the article, or do a search for some of the estimations of what YouTube is worth. Newmark at least has the good sense to keep it real.

But I also believe that he really does feel that way about the potential money (overvalued or not, it’d be easy for him to find some sap to sell that company to for hundreds of millions). And it’s refreshing to hear someone in that position say that.

Amazing Photos of Mars

September 27, 2006

Because it’s such a huge part of my day to day life, it’s easy to take technology for granted, and lose sight of just how friggin’ miraculous it is. But there’s still a few things that fill me with a childlike sense of awe and wonder. This is one of them.

The photo is of the Cydonia region of Mars, as 13.7 meter resolution, the infamous site of the “face” that appeared in a Viking photograph 30 years ago (which looks much less like a face in this photo). The image is both striking and hauntingly beautiful – do yourself a favor and click it to see the high resolution version.

This is a photo of another world. What’s depicted here doesn’t exist anywhere on the planet Earth. And it was brought to my desktop; I can call it up whenever I want to, and see a picture of Mars, a place so distant it would take over eight minutes to reach it at the speed of light.

Perhaps even more spectacular is this panoramic taken by the Opportunity Rover:

(Go ahead, click through to the high res)

Here’s what strikes me every time I look at that photo. At first glance, it’s not too dissimilar from some of Earth’s desserts, but there’s an huge (though nearly invisible) difference. There’s not a living thing anywhere in that photo. Not a plant, not an animal, not even so much as bacteria. Though you can’t see it, the atmosphere would be unbreathable for humans.

It’s truly an alien place. And there it is, right there on my computer screen.

If that’s not awe inspiring, I don’t know what is.

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Take a Harvard law course online, for free

September 24, 2006

This is pretty cool. Harvard Law is offering all the course lecture videos and notes for Cyberone: Law in the Court of Public Opinion online for anyone to access. It’s the best kind of college class – interesting material with no tests to take (I’ve long contended that being tested inhibits the learning experience, but that’s a subject for another post).

It’s exciting in a way because it hints at the future “democratization” of education. While I don’t expect Harvard to start handing out any more diplomas than they do now, the open sourcing of courses and lectures can still have far reaching effects. I look forward to the day that this is the norm for every course from every college.

Quick Note

September 21, 2006

I’ve killed the daily posting from Del.icio.us to this blog; it just didn’t seem that popular based on traffic analysis (and I never liked the way Del.icio.us formatted those posts anyway). I’ve relegated Del.icio.us to the sidebar, and you can look forward to only substantive posts from now on.

Anyone who is interested in those links can either add me to their own Del.icio.us network or else subscribe to those links using this feed.

My hero

September 21, 2006

I’ll admit that I’m envious of some of the people who built many of the web’s best blogs and sites. Not because of the money involved (which there really isn’t much of, except for a few cases), but rather just because I’d like to create something that so many people enjoy. It’s gotta be a thrill to build something so many people connect to.

In any case, I have a new hero in this domain: Mark Zuckerberg, the twenty-two year old CEO of Facebook. He built something that millions use, millions love, and is currently valued at around a billion dollars.

But this is my favorite part:

Yahoo! is in talks to buy Facebook for an amount up to $1 billion, according to this page one piece today in the Wall Street Journal. This set of negotiations comes on the heels of Facebook’s talks with Microsoft and Viacom, intense bidding for something that was a college project two-and-a-half years ago.

You would think Facebook’s 22 year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s head would be spinning — he owns 30% of the company — but, nah, he’s sticking to his old ways. According to the Journal piece, Facebook executives turned down an 8:00 a.m. conference call with Microsoft because Zuckerberg doesn’t wake up that early.

There’s a man with priorities I can respect. If I had but one goal in life, it would be to reach a position where I can turn down a potentially $1 Billion deal because I want to sleep late. He’s a man with his priorities straight: Family, life, then work. It takes a lot of balls to show that to corporate execubots at big companies like this; I respect that.

Edited to add:

The original Wall Street Journal article is behind their damned paywall, which is why I haven’t quoted it directly (or even read it myself). Techcrunch offers another anecdote from the same article though, in the same vein as the above:

At one point in the Yahoo negotiations, the talks extended into the weekend, says a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Zuckerberg, this account continues, said he couldn’t take part because his girlfriend was in town. Others pointed out they were closing in on a billion-dollar deal. Mr. Zuckerberg said it didn’t matter: his cellphone would be off, this person says.

This dude rocks. I would like very much to buy him a drink one day.

Jon Stewart on 9/11

September 11, 2006

This is one of the most powerful 9/11 videos out there.

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9/11

September 10, 2006

It’s morbid, I know, but I still watch these from time to time. They still make me cry.

There’s a full collection of videos here. It’s tough to watch more than a few at a time, if you can watch any at all.

The biggest difference between now and watching it that day is that these videos are raw. The ones that they showed on CNN when this happened were generally sanitized; it wasn’t until almost a year later that I saw one with the sound in tact, and heard the screams, the profanity, and the sickening crunch of the tower collapsing.

I still watch these because I think we’re in danger of forgetting, as a nation and as members of the human race. And we should never, under any circumstance, forget this day.

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Well, the Jonbenet story fizzled so it’s time to poke the long dead corpse of…

September 7, 2006

Preliminary inquest hearings into the deaths of Princess Diana and her lover Dodi al Fayed are expected to take place early next year, judicial authorities said on Thursday.

God damn, why can’t the dead rest in peace anymore?

Why winner takes all democracy isn’t democracy at all

September 7, 2006

Despite the fact that I pay closer attention to the news than most, like most Americans I’m hopelessly ignorant about the politics in the rest of the world. As such, I really don’t have anything intelligent to say about Mexico’s electoral crisis and it’s final resolution a few days ago, at least as it pertains to Mexico. Watching the resentment displayed by the losing side in Mexico though has, in my ethnocentric way, given me an insight into American politics.

No one will really know who won in Mexico. Like Florida in 2000, the Washington State Governor’s race in 2004, and to a lesser extent Ohio in 2004, the margin was easily small enough that some overzealous election workers could, and likely did, swing the result one way or the other.

The result is a contentious, emotional, caustic dispute. The side that won feels it’s supported by popular will, while the side that lost feels disenfranchised. When all the power goes to half the country, it’s no surprise that the system breeds such polarization, resentment, and corruption.

Here’s the problem: Anyone who gets 50.1% of the vote, gets 100% of the power. Conversely, the guy who gets 49.9% of the vote gets 0% of the power. It’s not difficult to understand the anger people feel given these stakes, it’s all or nothing, the victor gets the spoils. This is a systemic problem with dire consequences. The people who voted for the loser are right to feel disenfranchised because, quite frankly, it’s disenfranchising. Their opinions aren’t heard, their interests aren’t served, their voices are subjugated by a majority that’s only marginally larger, if their victory was legitimate at all.

Looking at the US right now, we seem to have taken this systemic flaw to its extreme. Most of the time, the disproportionate power allocation afforded to electoral winners is mitigated by wide victory margins and having the minority party in control of at least one of the House, Senate, or Presidency. Currently though, we have one party rule with a President who won under contentious circumstances the first time, only to be re-elected by a slim margin (with huge sentiment against him), and is acting as if he has a “mandate” to pursue his agenda despite the fact his approval ratings now sit in the low 30’s. The opposition party (the Democrats, in this case), wield no real power in the House or Senate despite controlling 40+% of both.

Because of the way our government is set up, Bush only has to serve the interests of 51% of the population. The same would be true if a Democrat were in charge; both parties serve the center of their base rather than the center of the country, and absolutely no one tries to represent the whole country and balance the interests thereof.

I’ve proposed a solution to this before, a reform to our voting system based upon game theory that would select the most centrist candidates rather than the most polarizing (reposted below this post). However, such a drastic overhaul is unlikely to happen anytime soon (if ever), and reform is needed now. So I’ll propose two modest solutions here, designed to distribute power in a more proportionate way to the way to the will of the electorate.

My first solution would be to have the runner up in any Presidential contest get the VP position. There’s a risk in this, as it further entrenches the two party system; but since that seems to be a fact of life anyway, at least it means that 90% of voters will be represented in the executive branch, and might even encourage some more bipartisanship than we see today.

The other solution is to change the way Congress works. Currently, the majority party is also the majority in every congressional committee and holds every committee chair. They set the agenda and decide what legislation ever sees a vote. The adjustment I would make is to give parties control of a proportionate number of committees to seats held in Congress; a party with 49% of the seats should control 49% of the committees (This also means that a third party would actually have a chance to control a committee without having to win 218 seats).

Naturally I don’t expect either of these changes to come about any time soon; the powers that be have nothing to gain from sharing that power. But until we do get some major changes to the system, I don’t think it’s fair to call what we have any sort of democracy.

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