The next sound you here will be Microsoft soiling itself

Google is introducing Google Spreadsheets.

Mike asks: why? His view is that most spreadsheet users will be unwilling to put spreadsheet data onto a server they don’t control out on the Internet. I think there certainly are some of these people, but I don’t think this is a major problem for Google for several reasons.

First, most people don’t care about the implications of Internet storage. The runaway success of web-based email tools (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.) makes this very clear. I don’t know about you, but I routinely receive sensitive information in my email, or certainly information that could be used to access sensitive information. It’s clear people will trade this security hit — if they even realize it exists — for convenience.

Second, I assert without supporting data that most spreadsheets aren’t in any way sensitive. No one would have gained anything by hacking Google Spreadsheets and viewing our wedding plan last year, for example. Most spreadsheets, even the ones with financial data, are wholly mundane and of use or value only to those who create and reference them. Even in a world of perfectly sophisticated security-minded consumers, this leaves an enormous volume of spreadsheet applications that are perfect for Google.

Third, the killer app here is sharing. The tools that people like 37 Signals are creating aren’t better than standalone desktop apps at what they do, but they’re good enough that people use them because doing so makes sharing the information trivial. “Collaborative spreadsheeting” in an office or between offices is an activity fraught with peril; the usual result is several competing versions all sitting in everyone’s email attachment folder. I know Mrs. Heathen and I fought this issue with our wedding data, and I know a certain theater company that would love to be able to share a single sheet without constantly locking people out. Google can address this as a baseline quality of Spreadsheets, and in doing so create a value that Microsoft cannot emulate at all.

Now, obviously Google can’t possibly be aiming to eliminate Excel. It really is a good program; it’s perhaps the best thing to ever come out of Microsoft. However, it’s become almost required, since there are vanishingly few alternatives that are visible to normal people (OpenOffice doesn’t count), and it’s expensive. Casual spreadsheet use probably generates more sales than real number crunching, and that’s the market Google will target here. If you don’t have to buy Office after all — alternatives to Word are legion, and only the marketing droids need PowerPoint — how much money per seat do you save?

Things we won’t be blogging this week

You may wonder what we have to say about any of these things. The answer is “not a fucking thing.”

  1. The dead chihuahua story.
  2. The dead Iraqi Jordanian.
  3. The implications of the dead Iraqi Jordanian.
  4. How we integrated Markdown into the site.
  5. Roger Fucking Clemens.
  6. Heather Mills’ porno past.
  7. Anything about the estate tax.
  8. Why we’re frustrated with certain of our hardware suppliers, or who they are.
  9. The World Cup.

Carry on.

Scalzi nails the marriage bigots

Over at Whatever, John explains why the whole “defend marriage” thing is an utter LIE on its face:

  1. Same-sex marriage already exists in the United States. It has for two years. The definition of marriage in the US already includes members of the same sex marrying each other.

  2. By pressing for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between men and women, it is the marriage bigots who are looking to change the definition of marriage.

  3. The language of the proposed constitutional amendment would end thousands of legal marriages — both the same marriages that legally exist now and all the same-sex marriages that would occur between now and whenever the theoretical moment would be that the 37th state ratified the amendment.

  4. The proposed constitutional amendment would make second-class citizens of all same-sex married couples by stripping them of a marital status they currently enjoy, while allowing all other legally married couples to continue being married.


As long as the marriage bigots can frame the debate as “defending marriage,” they can avoid acknowledging their agenda is patently hateful. But the accurate frame is that they’re attacking marriage — and attacking actual marriages — to change the definition of marriage into something that is in line with a discriminatory social agenda.

Fun with horsepower

So, can a Ferrari 550 catch up with a Fiat hatchback after a 31-second head start in a single-lap race? How about if an F1 car starts 1:27 into it? Who wins? The results aren’t surprising, but it is fun to watch.

They’re still trying to make iPods illegal

Or, at least, charge you money for making copies of CDs to put on your iPod. No, we’re not kidding:

Simply put, SIRA fundamentally redefines copyright and fair use in the digital world. It would require all incidental copies of music to be licensed separately from the originating copy. Even copies of songs that are cached in your computer’s memory or buffered over a network would need yet another license. Once again, Big Copyright is looking for a way to double-dip into your wallet, extracting payment for the same content at multiple levels. Today, so-called “incidental” copies don’t need to be licensed; they’re made in the process of doing *other* things, like listening to your MP3 library or plugging into a Net radio station. If you paid for the MP3 and the radio station is up-to-date with its bookkeeping, nobody should have to pay again, right? Not if SIRA becomes law. Out of the blue, copyright holders would have created an entire new market to charge for — and sue over. Good for them. Bad for us.

At least SOMEONE is

OMIC notes that the Boston Globe is the only group still covering the signing statement issue; in this installment:

WASHINGTON — The board of governors of the American Bar Association voted unanimously yesterday to investigate whether President Bush has exceeded his constitutional authority in reserving the right to ignore more than 750 laws that have been enacted since he took office. Meeting in New Orleans, the board of governors for the world’s largest association of legal professionals approved the creation of an all-star legal panel with a number of members from both political parties. They include a former federal appeals court chief judge, a former FBI director, and several prominent scholars — to evaluate Bush’s assertions that he has the power to ignore laws that conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution. Bush has appended statements to new laws when he signs them, noting which provisions he believes interfere with his powers. Among the laws Bush has challenged are the ban on torturing detainees, oversight provisions in the USA Patriot Act, and “whistle-blower” protections for federal employees. The challenges also have included safeguards against political interference in taxpayer-funded research. Bush has challenged more laws than all previous presidents combined.

“My polls are in the toilet and the midterms are coming up! Quick, invent some issue to energize our stupid, bigoted base!”

Bush urges gay marriage ban enshrined in Constitution. From the CNN story:

“Sadly, President Bush is playing election-year politics with this divisive issue,” the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Friday. “He is shamelessly using this ploy to energize his right-wing base. We should never rewrite the Constitution to enshrine intolerance.”

We especially like when he calls Bill “the Sisyphus of Morons”

Olbermann rips O’Reilly a new one, again. The video is a few minutes long, but watch it. Bill has been citing the Malmedy massacre in World War II as evidence that US troops have always committed war crimes, which, apparently at least in HIS head, means that it’s ok, and that we need not worry about Haditha. Fox’s blowhard prince gets his facts completely wrong TWICE. There was a massacre at Malmedy, and unarmed POWs were shot dead by their captors; that much he gets right. The prisoners were, however, Americans, and it was them who ended up the victims at Malmedy. Not that this troubles Bill at all, natch.

But thank God for Olbermann.


44 years later, Centralia, PA is still on fire.

In 1962, workers set a heap of trash ablaze in an abandoned mine pit which was used as the borough’s landfill. The burning of excess trash was a common practice, yet at that particular time and place there existed a dangerous condition: an exposed vein of anthracite coal. The highly flammable mineral was unexpectedly ignited by the trash fire, prompting a quick effort to put it out. The flames on the surface were successfully extinguished, but unbeknownst to the fire fighters, the coal continued to burn underground. Over the following weeks it rapidly migrated into the surrounding coal mines and beneath the town, causing great concern. […] In 1969 — seven years after the fire was started — a more involved effort was made to contain the fire using trenches and clay seals, but the attempt was met with failure. In the 1970s, concerns over the severity of the extensive subterranean fire were stirred when a gas station owner noticed that the contents of his underground fuel storage tank seemed hot, so he measured the gasoline’s temperature, and found it to be a troubling 180 degrees Fahrenheit. […] The fire still burns today beneath about four hundred acres of surface land, and it’s still growing. There is enough coal in the eight-mile vein to feed the fire for up to two hundred and fifty years, but it may burn itself out in as few as one hundred years.

It’s not a total loss, though. Centralia is the inspiration for the Silent Hill game and movie franchise.

Urban Legends, Debunked

You know that old saw about a frog placed in tepid water not noticing as you raise the heat, and then eventually being boiled alive? We first heard it at a Baptist camp used in a tortured analogy about pop music, which made us pretty suspicious even at 12. As it turns out, it’s pretty much bullshit.


Found over at Wil Wheaton’s place, but he’s quoting this guy:

If more Americans read books every night instead of watching TV, we’d live in a more productive society. If more Americans watched the news and read real newspapers and magazines, instead of crappy programs like American Idol, then I’m confident that George Bush would not be our president. But heck, that’s what our leaders really want deep down… a mindless, uneducated populous that will work 40 hours a week so they can earn enough money to buy things to keep them distracted from the evil deeds that our leaders and suits in Fortune 500 companies are conducting everyday under your noses.

Heathen Birthdays

Today, the Former Heights Attorney reaches enlightenment, i.e. the answer to life, the universe, and everything. Wish him well.

DHS at work

They’ve slashed antiterror funding for Washington and New York. Clever.

In addition to Washington and New York, the grant decisions included a 46 percent drop for San Diego, where several of the Sept. 11 hijackers lived; a 61 percent decrease for Phoenix, where an FBI agent suspected that terrorists were taking flight training; and a 30 percent reduction for Boston, the point of origin of the two jetliners that crashed into the World Trade Center. Phoenix Mayor Phillip Gordon called the grant reduction from $10 million to $3.9 million “outrageous.” He said that Phoenix, the nation’s fifth-largest city, includes a network of dams, a nuclear power plant and numerous other potential targets. “Shame on them,” Gordon said. “They are literally stripping the ability to protect this area by actions that are incomprehensible.” Winners included Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as smaller cities such as Louisville (up 70 percent), Charlotte (64 percent) and St. Louis (31 percent).

It’s getting harder and harder to be surprised by how completely stupid this Administration is.

Depressing, stupid, and unsurprising

We were geeky growing up, and still are. Really geeky. Our favorite toys growing up were a telescope (“Holy crap! Look at the moon!”), a toy microscope (“Holy crap! Look at that bug!”), a 500-in-1 electronics project kit (“Holy crap! Why’s that resister smoking?”), and the ubiquitous chemistry set (at least before we got a computer, anyway).

Sure, giving an alcohol burner to a 12-year-old may seem like a bad idea, but the value of the open-ended exploration a real chemistry set provides is hard to underestimate. But it’s got fire in it, and the tablespoons of various and sundry scary-sounding substances in there makes people in a post-9/11 world freak all out (not to mention the safety hysteria), so now it’s pretty much impossible to buy a real chemistry set — and never mind that the crap under your sink is way scarier in the right hands.

It’s not just the administration that’s anti-science; it’s the whole damn country that’s intellectually incurious.