As usual, he’s right

Over at Freedom to Tinker, Prof. Felton sums up why the iPhone is important even if you don’t get one:

[…]the iPhone’s arrival and the attendant frenzy mark the beginning of a new phase in the mobile phone world — a phase based on the radical notion that it’s possible to make a pocket-sized device that is a pretty good phone and a pretty good networked computer at the same time.

From a purely technical standpoint, this isn’t surprising at all. Phones are basically computers, and we know how to cram a decent computer into a small, low-power package. The engineering isn’t trivial but we know it can be done. Apple might have modestly better engineering, and significantly better human-factors design, but what they’re doing has been technically possible all along.

Yet somehow it hasn’t happened, because the mobile carriers don’t want it to happen. They have clung to their walled garden models, offering limited, captive services rather than allowing easy development of Internet applications for mobile devices. An open system would provide more benefit overall, but most of that benefit would accrue to consumers. The carriers would rather get a big share of a small pie, than a small share of a big pie.

In most markets, competition keeps this kind of thing from happening, by forcing producers to account for consumer preferences. You would expect competition to have forced the mobile networks open by now, whether the carriers liked it or not. But this hasn’t happened yet. The carriers have managed to keep control by locking customers in to long contracts and erecting barriers to the entry of new devices and applications. The system seemed to be stuck in an unstable equilibrium. All we needed was some kind of shock, to get the ball rolling downhill.

The iPhone could well turn out to be that shock. The carriers will hate it, but the consumers will be the real winners.

Oh, those wacky Supremes

In addition to basically gutting attempts to desegregate schools, they’ve also just made price fixing legal again. Oh boy.

The Roberts court is likely to be the most reversed, and most quickly reversed, ever — but it’s going to take a while. In the meantime, they’re going to create some truly awful rulings.

How New York Plans to Prevent Embarrassing Video of Cops & Etc.

This is just absurd. In short, the mayor has proposed a city ordinance that requires anyone shooting video on public property have a permit and a million dollar insurance policy. As the linked BoingBoing post points out, this sort of law is designed for selective enforcement. While they’ll certainly ignore tourists shooting the skyline, we expect the law will get trotted out tout de suite as soon as some citizen journalist manages to get video of cops beating unarmed protesters (again).

New Yorkers need to step up and quash this bullshit with a quickness. The rights of citizens to shoot video in public, and of public employees, should be absolute. They work for US.

No, we didn’t get one, and no, we don’t want one

We’re pretty much behind this post about not getting an iPhone, and are even moreso in the “glad we got the 8525” camp after reading this very iPhone-friendly writeup from perpetual Apple booster John Gruber. The whole idea of a “smartphone” without cut-and-paste, or the facility to sync notes back to the desktop, strikes us as folly. The list of things our cheaper Windows Mobile device can do that the iPhone can’t grows longer, and as it turns out they’re things we like to do.

In particular, check this out (from Gruber’s article):

Mail: I hope you like top-posting, and quoting the entire message you’re replying to. Me, I despise that style of email, but iPhone Mail doesn’t really work well any other way. One problem is that the iPhone doesn’t support the concept of selected text. That means you can’t just select a specific portion to quote of the message you’re replying to; nor can you select a chunk of the quoted message and delete it while editing. The only way to delete text is one character at a time (although the keyboard does let you press-and-hold to repeat). And to top it off, there’s no way to reply without quoting anything at all.



Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow got some great shots of a street in New Haven completely re-dressed in 1950s drag for some exteriors shot for the new Indiana Jones movie. The level of detail is pretty spiffy.


Now, even Fox News push-polling doesn’t come out in the GOP’s favor:

If there is an all-out war between the United States and various radical Muslim groups worldwide, who would you rather have in charge — Democrats or Republicans?

The result: Dems 41%, GOP 38%.

It’s all in the emphasis

Just now, we heard a bit of commotion and looked out our window to see a shirtless man quietly being arrested by three of Houston’s Finest, right there in our driveway, between Mrs Heathen’s car and the trashcan. He had apparently been nabbed red-handed rooting through said trash (which contained an old, nonfunctional, but once-upon-a-time expensive CD player). He was not being arrested for the trash-rooting; rather, he was being popped for burglary elsewhere in the neighborhood this afternoon.

So, it’s a matter of choosing between “Holy crap, there’s a BURGLAR IN OUR DRIVEWAY being arrested by three cops!” and “Holy crap, there’s a burglar in our driveway BEING ARRESTED BY THREE COPS!”

(P.S.: Don’t tell Mrs Heathen.)

Holy Crap

It’s come to our attention that a certain Dallas-area blogger is celebrating his TENTH anniversary.

Wow. The time, where do it go? It seems like only yesterday we were taking our lives into our own hands riding with a hell-bent-for-leather cabbie to some, er, entertainment venues on the night before the wedding. Wow.

Amount of surprise? Zero.

Bush has signaled that he will not comply with a Congressional subpoena for documents related to the (clearly political) firings of the US Attorneys, citing executive privilege. More from Aunt Nel.

As noted above, there’s no surprise here. Bush has made it abundantly clear he feels his office is answerable to no one, notwithstanding the checks and balances we all learned about in civics. Sadly for him, he’s incorrect. Sadly for us, his stubbornness is actively damaging our republic.

Dept. of Annoyances

For the second time in a year, our DSL is down.

For the 6 years prior, the DSL was never down. Since changing providers last October, we’ve had now two distinct problems — one of which, a drastic reduction in bandwidth, lasted for weeks.


As it turns out, kidnapping is illegal in Europe

That Italy is seeking extradition of 22 American CIA operatives involved in the “extraordinary rendition” program is old news. Now Germany is joining the club, as they’re miffed our government snatched an innocent German citizen. We expect both the Italian and German requests to be denied by the Bush administration, further straining our relationships with our European allies, and further damaging our credibility.

Thanks, George!

You people are getting disturbingly stupider

From a Newsweek poll:

Perhaps most alarmingly, 41% of Americans answered ‘Yes’ to the question “Do you think Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was directly involved in planning, financing, or carrying out the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001?”

That total is actually up 5 points since September 2004.

Further, a majority of people couldn’t identify Saudia Arabia as the country of origin of most of the 9/11 hijackers, even given the question in multiple choice format. 20% answered Iraq, while 14% believed the hijackers came from Iran.

Robert H. Tourtelot: Internet Tough Guy and Sadly Misinformed Attorney

Travis Corcoran, an online acquaintence of ours, runs an interesting business called SmartFlix (nee “Technical Video Rental”; it’s basically NetFlix for geeks, specializing in how-to/technical video). Occasionally, someone unfamiliar with the First Sale Doctrine will contact him and get all up-in-arms about his firm renting their videos. It’s an utterly misguided anxiety — it’s deeply settled law, and foolish to complain about besides; ask Hollywood how much Blockbuster makes for them — but it happens, and so Travis keeps an attorney on retainer to deal with these folks.

Usually, they just don’t understand, and when the situation is explained, they go away. Usually, too, they don’t have lawyers of their own.

That’s what makes this dialog so hilarious: the copyright owner has retained a bloviating bully as an attorney — one Robert H. Tourtelot — who is subsequently wholly outclassed by Travis. It’s great stuff.

  • Part I, wherein the story begins, legal discussions occur, it is made clear that Tourtelot’s client has no leg to stand on, and Travis suggests to the copyright owner that he find a more qualified attorney;
  • Part II, wherein the septuagenarian Tourtelot invites Travis to come to California at his expense for a fistfight, and Travis calls his bluff;
  • Part III, wherein Travis points out that, 5 days later, the promised ticket to California has not arrived;
  • Part IV, wherein Tourtelot begins making vague allegations about “Travis’ history,” whatever that means;
  • Part V, wherein Tourtelot suggests Travis is a “pedifile” (sic), and Travis notes that he’s begun his complaint to the California Bar.

Perhaps the best part of all this is what happens if you Google this legal eagle. Travis’ blog has more googlejuice than the lawyer’s site, and now BoingBoing has picked up the story, so it’s really only going to get worse.


Update: Travis tells me there will be more updates over the weekend, so stay tuned.

The last bit is funny enough you almost don’t need the rest of the article

Bullz-eye’s roundup of Bands that should Reunite includes Creed:

We’ll just go out and say it: we want Creed to get back together because…we miss having them to kick around.

Music lovers hated Creed. It didn’t matter what color your musical stripes were; if you loved music, you hated Creed. What people overlook is how incredibly rare it is for one band to rub so many people the wrong way. This actually makes them special. Look at the music scene today. Is there anyone that is universally loathed like Creed was? Not even close. Yes, there is a strong anti-emo movement taking shape, but since there are so damn many emo bands, fans are torn between hating Panic! at the Disco more than Fall Out Boy or Taking Back Sunday. Kevin Federline was just a punch line; no one cared enough to hate him. But people did care enough to hate Creed, and their decision to call it quits in 2004, frankly, has thrown the rock & roll universe out of whack. Not only did their breakup create a void at the bottom of the rock food chain, it also created a void at the top. Quick, who’s the biggest band in the world? It’s a trick question: there isn’t one, and that is not a coincidence but merely the result of the rock & roll universe balancing itself out.

Like it or not, the music world needs Creed. They sell millions of records to the people who are least likely to buy music, which is good for the industry. More importantly, their existence makes every other band try a little bit harder, so they won’t be compared to Creed. And Lord, could we use a few musicians that are willing to try a little bit harder. Look at the tossers that pass for rock stars now. Pete Wentz is dating Ashlee Simpson? That’s like Robert Smith dating Taylor Dayne. James Blunt, meanwhile, will sleep with anything with a pulse. Pete Doherty is such a loser that he made the world stop caring about Kate Moss.

These guys are child’s play compared to Scott Stapp.

Stapp will perform songs about God while unapologetically drunk (or, if his recent arrest report is accurate, stoned); shoot sex tapes with Kid Rock; throw glass bottles at his wife; and start bar fights with 311. All the while he’s shirtless, holding his arms in a Christ pose, and meaning every single word of nonsense that comes out of his mouth. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a rock star acting like a rock star, and there are few rock stars who are more fun to hate than Scott Stapp and Creed. Admit it: you sort of miss them, too.

(Via TBogg.)

Fred Clark R00lz

On the Colonel Jessups of the world:

“You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. … You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.”

The above is from the famous speech by Jack Nicholson’s character in Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men. Nicholson’s Col. Jessep was a “tough” guy in the sense of “tough” conveyed by the current euphemism for torture: “tough interrogation techniques,” which is to say tough in the sense of “brutish, counterproductive and not too bright.”

It’s worth noting that “the wall” that Nicholson’s Col. Jessep was defending was Guantanamo Bay, which means the truth that Jessep can’t handle is this: Nobody needed him on that wall. Controlling that tiny slice of Cuba used to stand as the last line of defense between us and … well, between us and not controlling that tiny slice of Cuba. In any case, after decades of military service on “that wall,” we were ultimately unable to defend Guantanamo from lawlessness and tyranny because we put it there ourselves.

Emphasis added. Read the whole post.

Dept. of Disgusting Hacks

Quite some time ago, we wrote to our Senators regarding the USA scandal.

Today, we got the following from Hutchison:

Dear Mr. Heathen:

Thank you for contacting me regarding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the dismissal of eight U.S. Attorneys in 2006. I welcome your thoughts and comments on this issue.

On December 7, 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice dismissed eight of the 93 U.S. Attorneys serving at that time. These federal prosecutors are political appointees, confirmed by the Senate, and serve at the behest of the president. There has been much discussion about the process and reasons behind these dismissals, but ultimately the decision is one of the president and his administration. Former President Bill Clinton demonstrated this decision-making power when he fired all 93 Attorneys in 1993. President Bush has expressed his confidence in Alberto Gonzales’ abilities, and continues to support his service as Attorney General.

I appreciate hearing from you and hope you will not hesitate to keep in touch on any issue of concern to you.

Sincerely Kay Bailey Hutchison

Wow. It’s like she’s not even been paying attention. Sure, Clinton, like nearly every other incoming president, dismissed all 93 upon taking office. What he didn’t do was fire some mid-term to replace them with unqualified party hacks who promised to pursue more political cases, and to chase more cases against Democrats. He certainly did not encourage a vote-suppression program via the USAs, which is precisely what Rove, et. al., have been attempting with there phantom Democratic voter fraud cases.

But keep on circling those wagons, Kay. I’m sure Texas has plenty enough wingnuts to keep you and Cornyn in office for a while. Fortunately, I think your days of being the majority are over; rallying to the most unpopular postwar president is surely going to help, too.

Dept. of Vendor Love

We’ve been fans of Levenger for better than 15 years, so it’s nice to report they’re still cool. Five years ago, we gave Mrs Heathen (who was at that time merely Heathen Girlfriend) a nice briefcase for a college graduation present. She loved, and loves said bag, so she was sad to report last week that the bag had broken. Specifically, one of the metal D-rings on either end of the bag had worn completely through due to abrasion with the strap’s metal clip. (The other side was also warn to nearly the point of failure.)

The leather’s fine. In fact, it’s gotten a great patina over the years; it’s just that someone at Bag Makers For Levenger R Us picked a poor combination of alloys — obviously, the strap hardware is much harder than the bag hardware, and the result is eventual but unavoidable failure. Oops.

Well, we called ’em, and we knew we were going to do well when (a) they picked up after one ring and (b) it was a real person, not an ARU. We described the issue, and also our desired outcome (repair, not replacement — the bag itself is fine, and further has sentimental value). The representative quickly offered to cover any cost of repair; we’re to send them the bill.


Bush: Still a douchebag on stem cells

Once again, Bush puts his nutbird base ahead of scientific progress:

WASHINGTON – President Bush has chosen to use his veto pen three times — twice on the stem cell issue where politics, ethics and science collide. Pushing back against the Democratic-led Congress, Bush plans to veto a bill Wednesday that would have eased restraints on federally funded embryonic stem cell research, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

Too cool to be real?

BoingBoing reports that, back in the 80s, some record labels and bands jumped on the nascent computer bandwagon in a big and very geeky way, by putting the binary audio of a computer game on a flexi-disc record. Sufficiently geeky fans could then dub the record onto a cassette, which they’d then load into their computers (typically, Sinclairs).


Dept. of Odd Synchronicity

We’ve just realized that we have, for some time, enjoyed the professional output of two completely different slightly famous people named “Alex Ross.”

First, there’s the Alex Ross who writes about music for the New Yorker, and on his aforelinked blog.

Second, there’s the Eisner-winning comic book graphic literature artist Alex Ross whose work is unusual for the medium, as its typically painted.


Mike Bloomberg Has No Filter, and It’s a Good Thing

Speaking in Mountain View, CA, “Mayor Mike” gave the Republican establishment and the Administration in particular both barrels:

[W]hen [the interviewer] asked him about a hypothetical independent candidate deciding to enter the race, Bloomberg launched into a broad critique of the Bush administration and Congress — without naming names — and a lament on the empty theatrics of the presidential debates to date.

“I think the country is in trouble,” Bloomberg said, listing the war in Iraq and America’s declining standing globally as two principal examples.

“Our reputation has been hurt very badly in the last few years,” he said. “We’ve had a go-it-alone mentality in a world where because of communications and transportation, you should be going exactly in the other direction.”

He also faulted the U.S. government’s failure to halt genocide “and protect freedom elsewhere in the world.”

In a speech later in Los Angeles, Bloomberg revisted the theme, saying partisan gridock in Washington had paralyzed government and left “our future in jeopardy.” He said the nation’s “wrong-headed course” could be changed if there is a commitment to shared values and solving problems without regard to party label.

“It all begins with independence,” he said, opening a University of Southern California conference examining ways to build consensus in a divided government. Progress, he added, “means embracing pragmatism over partisanship, ideas over ideology.”

In Mountain View, Bloomberg seemed to side with President Bush when he decried “an anti-immigration policy that is a disgrace” and called for a more open migration policy. And he dismissed the notion of deporting illegal immigrants as part of immigration reform.

“We need to recognize we’re not going to deport 12 million people already here,” he said. “Let’s get serious, we don’t have an army big enough to do that, it would be devastating to our economy, it would be the biggest mass deportation of people in the world.”

The mayor said there had been too little discussion of health care and education on the campaign trail, and later blamed journalists for not asking hard enough questions of the candidates.

In one of his harshest comments, Bloomberg dismissed creationism — the theory that the universe was created by intelligent design — mistakenly calling it “creationalism.” The remark made plain that Bloomberg has no interest in running in the Republican presidential primary, where outreach to Christian conservatives is critical.

“It’s scary in this country, it’s probably because of our bad educational system, but the percentage of people that believe in Creationalism is really scary for a country that’s going to have to compete in the world where science and medicine require a better understanding,” he said.

This is an interesting example of the bit of political set theory we saw this morning at Tom Tomorrow’s blog: In the GOP, there are sincere conservatives, bright conservatives, and conservatives who support the Administration. It’s possible to find examples of each of these categories, and some persons may belong to any two of them, but there are no conservatives who belong to all three.

More cops being assholes

Surprise, surprise, surprise. A Minnesota cop decided, on his own, that a 140-pound musician wasn’t allowed to ride his bicycle on a public street, and decided to taser him to prove his point. Heathen hope very much that said musician has the attention of several very good, very bloodthirsty personal injury lawyers at this point, because shit like this is just that: shit.

(Via BoingBoing.)

Pakistan announces it would like to remain absurd, backward

Their parliament is insisting Britain withdraw Salman Rushdie’s knighthood:

The award of a knighthood to the author Salman Rushdie justifies suicide attacks, a Pakistani government minister said today.

“This is an occasion for the 1.5 billion Muslims to look at the seriousness of this decision,” Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, religious affairs minister, told the Pakistani parliament in Islamabad. “The west is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism. If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so unless the British government apologises and withdraws the ‘sir’ title.”

Easy math about hard tests

Via Slashdot, we find this excellent deconstruction of the bad math behind many so-called “hard” tests.

As one who took several medical licensure and specialist exams, and the Virginia bar exam, passing all, I might be inclined to pat myself on the back, but my former background as a mathematician won’t let me do that. I do remember, however, some remarks from a noted orthopedic surgeon about his own specialty exam: “It was a hellishly hard test, and went on for hours,” he said, “but I’m really glad I passed the first time I took it. Only about 35 percent who took it passed the exam.”

He was describing, with only the slightest tinge of boastfulness, the qualifying exam for specialists in orthopedic surgery. Passing the exam entitled one to join the “college” of orthopedic surgeons, and list oneself as specialist.

“Was it all multiple choice?” I asked. “And how did they grade it?” I was thinking of my own exams. “Did they count only the right answers.?”

When he said Yes to all the questions questions, I did not have the heart to tell him what I knew as a mathematical certainty–that the exam was, like most graduate medical exams, and large parts of legal licensing bar exams in most states , virtually a complete fraud.

Ouch. What the author is driving at is simple: unless there’s some penalty for guessing, “very hard” tests aren’t good measures of anything. This, as you may recall, was a key difference in scoring between the SAT and the ACT at one time (and may still be).