Misc: March 2009 Archives


March 18, 2009

Ezra Klein complains that congresspeople want to twitter rather than blog:

But this is the problem with the public sphere's quick embrace of Twitter. It's intimacy without communication. McCaskill doesn't actually say anything in 140 characters or less. The illusion of transparency comes because in everyday life, we only hear about the dinner plans of people we actually have a relationship with. What's useful about intimacy, however, isn't the exchange of trivia but the access to different perspectives. And I'd really like to hear her perspective! It would be rather nice if senators and congressmen routinely wrote posts explaining their thinking on major issues. A public service, even. Instead, they've all embraced Twitter.

It's not just McCaskill. It's McCain and Dodd and Hoekstra and Boehner and a half dozen more converts every day. And that's no accident. Twitter allows the benefits of blogs -- an authentic connection with your audience -- without exposing you to the dangers of actual, substantive engagement.

I think that's a fairly accurate assessment of Twitter. One the one hand, the Twitter message size limit really lowers the entry barrier to posting anything. It's just not that hard to write 140 characters about anything. On the other hand, because it's really hard to make any kind of sustained point in 140 characters, unless you're incredibly good with words if you want to say anything substantive (i.e., something other than "On my way to the airport") you're mostly limited to preaching to the converted, snark, one-liners, etc. After all, what else could you be expected to say in the space allotted? On the third hand, a lot of people's blogging was lifestyle updates anyway, and Twitter actually seems like a more suitable medium for that: if you want to blog about your new hat it's a lot easier if you don't feel like you have to write a review of it.


March 17, 2009

This really makes me want to move to Angola:
Because of a shortage of vaccines, doctors were unable to save any of the children taken to the city's main pediatric hospital, the hospital's chief, Dr. Luis Bernardino, told the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In any case, many of the children were brought in too late to save, he added.

Rabies deaths in Luanda, where more than four million people are jammed into vast slums, may actually be much higher; the count was based on one hospital.

Roaming packs of dogs have been blamed. Even after deaths began last year, the city did little, Dr. Bernardino said, because it has no service to vaccinate dogs. However, recent news reports from Angola have been contradictory. One said thousands of dogs had been rounded up for vaccination, tested and released if they were rabies-free -- but that can be determined only after the dog has died, by taking a brain sample.

That's pretty scary. This week it's packs of rabid dogs, next week it's zombies. There's no vaccine for zombieism, either, but at least you can tell whether they're infected before they're dead.


March 13, 2009

OK, it's depressing that we need it, but this is a pretty cool idea:

Basically, it's a portable, wheeled shelter designed so that homeless people can sleep in it at night and move it around with their belongings inside during the day.


March 8, 2009

A few years ago I briefly subscribed to Bicycling Magazine. I don't think I paid for it; it was some sort of freebie from my credit card company or something like that. Anyway, I quickly came to the conclusion that it's primary purpose was to induce me to shell out for new gear and declined to renew my subscription. Despite that I continue to receive copies on semi-regular basis, complete with the requisite occasional threats about how if I don't pay up I'll stop getting them. Empty threats, apparently, since it's been years now. This makes me wonder, exactly what do I have to do to stop getting the magazine? I realize that the business of magazine publication is primarily advertisement, but don't the advertisers want any evidence at all that people actually subscribe voluntarily?

March 6, 2009

The Cook County Sheriff is suing Craigslist to force them to remove erotic services (i.e., prostitution) advertisements from the site:
"I've said all along that I'm not blaming them for prostitution," Dart said. "What I am blaming them for is that one part of their site is being horribly misused. Either shut that part of the site down or put some real monitoring in place."

Craigslist, the Web's biggest publication of classified advertisements, promised in November to begin cracking down on ads for prostitution after coming under fire by several state attorneys general.

"Misuse of Craigslist to facilitate criminal activity is unacceptable, and we continue to work diligently to prevent it," said Susan MacTavish Best, a Craigslist spokeswoman. "Misuse of the site is exceptionally rare compared to how much the site is used for legal purposes. Regardless, any misuse of the site is not tolerated on Craigslist.

"Craigslist is an extremely unwise choice for those intent on committing crimes since criminals inevitably leave an electronic trail to themselves," Best continued. "On a daily basis, we are being of direct assistance to police departments and federal authorities nationwide."

I don't really understand Craigslist's argument here. A quick look at the erotic services ads makes it pretty clear that it's full of advertisements for prostitution. It's true that many of the advertisements don't explicitly quote prices, but some do and it's pretty clear what the rest are about. CL's rationale for offering this category of services is to facilitate legal services (escorts, massage, etc.) and I guess there is some plausible deniability that that's what these ads are for rather than for prostitution, but it's more of the "you can't be totally sure" variety than something you'd really believe. It's certainly true that it wouldn't be very convenient for CL to censor this section of their site—and the idea that users are going to do any censoring is pretty implausible. So, whatever CL's intentions, I think it's pretty clear that their system facilitates prostitution and that whatever measures they are taking aren't really sufficient to suppress it.

That said, it's quite possible that as CL claims, the CDA preempts state-level enforcement, so this may all be irrelevant.


March 5, 2009

The Times reports on the discovery of a discarded jug containing a very small amount of plutonium found at the Hanford production facility. This part is pretty cool, though:
Through isotopic analysis, reactor simulations and other techniques, Dr. Schwantes and his team determined when the plutonium was separated and which reactor provided the fuel. Since every reactor produces spent fuel with a unique "fingerprint" of small variations in isotopic concentrations, similar analyses could help investigators determine the source of material for a terrorist bomb.

The researchers also demonstrated how another isotopic signature could be used to calculate when an amount of plutonium had been split from a larger batch, and how big the original batch was. That could aid in determining whether a seized amount of plutonium represented only part of a larger cache.

Overview here (original article here, but behind paywall). I'd seen this in The Sum of All Fears but I didn't know it actually worked. The coolest part is that they are able to detect when you divide a sample. It turns out that Sodium 22 production depends on the amount of Pu in the sample, so you can use it to model the history of the sample, including the size of the original sample.


March 1, 2009

This is interesting. Volt, one of Microsoft's major job shops, just uh, asked their employees to take a 10% pay cut:

We have evaluated all pay rates for our Microsoft agency temporary workers and have concluded that we will be asking each of you to share in these measures by accepting a 10% reduction in your pay rate. These reductions are very difficult for Volt to implement since we value each and every one of you; however this is mandatory in order to continue your assignment at Microsoft and to respond to this economic environment.

We want to support you in continuing your assignment at Microsoft and respectfully ask that you respond by going to the upper left hand corner of this email under the ?Vote? response option and select, ?Accept? by close of business Tuesday, March 3, 2009. By accepting you agree to the pay adjustment in your pay rate. Volt has prepared a formal written amendment to your employment agreement for your signature and will execute this amendment in your scheduled meeting.

That's sure a delicate way of putting it. If it's "mandatory", than you're not "voting", but rather you're simply accepting an ultimatum: "take a 10% pay cut or lose the work." I'm not saying that Volt has done something wrong, but it's not like people are going to be somehow fooled into thinking they're voluntarily taking one for the team.