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The Early List – May 3, 2011

Good Morning,

Just two quick links this morning.

First, via Consumerist, computer scientists have successfully taught a computer to properly say “Thats what she said…” 79% of the time.  I realize the majority of you are wondering why this is important, but the programming problem behind this is a really interesting one.  Essentially, its a language processing problem where the computer has to be able to 1. understand what is being said literally, and 2. be able to recognize a subtext inside the normal meaning.  This is important because it is the same type of steps a computer will have to take to process sarcasm or humor.

From Ars Technica, we have the story about the record industry’s attempts to lobby the US and New Zealand governments to ban iPods and Tivos in 2005.  Well, not those products specifically, but instead the acts of “cd-ripping” and “time-shifting”.  CD ripping is well understood, but time-shifting appears to be “watching a tv program at any time other than the time it is broadcast.”  The courts in the US have continually maintained consumers have the right to do both the above actions, but that hasn’t stopped the record industry from lobbying in countries where the courts have not made strong statements.

Thats what I have for today…

The Early List – May 2, 2011

Good morning everyone,

I really don’t have a comment about this, because the headline says it all:  Does Franklin Graham Support Trump For President After His Speech In Vegas?

More intersestingly, Ars Technica had a discussion this weekend about whether Netflix (who consumes nearly 40% of US bandwidth) is lowering internet piracy of movies.  The idea here is simple.  People looking to watch movies (or tv) have two different goals.  The first is to minimize expense, while the second is to maximize ease of access.  For the average internet user, piracy has an extremely low (free) expense, but a very high ease of access barrier (getting the correct software, finding a torrent, making sure its a real torrent, downloading it over the course of minutes or hours, then watching it).  At the other extreme, traditional movies are easy to access (go to a theater or buy a dvd and watch it) but a high price.

Netflix has taken a middle position.  For a small fee, you have better access than even traditional methods give you, and you don’t have to risk getting sued.

This goes back to one of the issues I am continually raising about the future of the internet.  The entertainment companies like their theater/dvd model because it gives them the maximum amount of control over what you watch and when you watch it.  Piracy is the obvious (though illegal) pushback against that goal.  Netflix has shown that giving consumers maximum legal access can not only be profitable, but also make piracy much less attractive.  Unfortunately, like the situation with the cable companies and their fight against consumers getting better broadband access, entertainment companies are stuck in a “buy a disk” mindset.  We can hope that Netflix and similar companies can be the push that these companies need to allow better access to their products.

Will someone please give cursive writing the burial it deserves?

Finally, Consumerist is taking a magnifying glass to checking account disclosure documents and not liking what it finds.  The infographic they show is especially interesting.

The (Slightly Later) Early List – April 22, 2011

A slightly later edition of the early list for this Friday.  I have way too many links to share this morning, but given the date, I will start with the religious articles, and save the important technology news for the end of the post.

I have articles coming set in the context of the next three days in the Christian calendar, but I would be remiss, given that today is Friday, to not start off by linking to Tony Campolo’s most famous story.  I heard this story told live once, and it still has an effect on me.

However, thats not the Friday article.  The Friday article is a much more reflective piece from Internet Monk on the meaning of the death of Jesus.  I would love to be able to sum up the meaning of this day better than that, but I cant.

In addition, I would like to link to Shane Claiborne’s article on the Easter message of non-violence.

Moving in to politics, Slacktivist (who wrote the article that will be linked tomorrow for Easter Saturday), has a fantastic post on the incredible irony of Oklahoma, a state who holds the name “Sooner” as a badge of honor, passing anti-immigration legislation.  The article links directly to an Ethics Daily transcription of a speech that was given at a rally at the state capitol on April 16.

At Patrol, David Sessions is annoyed at the constant use of the term “Christian Budget“.  Sessions’ views on the issue are pretty close to my own, and he pulls a quote from an article in the New York Magazine which hits the nail right on the head, “Donning the moral mantle allows you to be right without any of the unpleasantness of having to explain yourself.”

In more pure politics, Slate has a prediction of what will happen if the US fails to raise the debt ceiling.  The best part of the article is that they realize its not an “end of the world” type situation, more like an “everybody gets hurt and there are no winners” result.

Finally, a couple of technology links for the morning.

Consumerist links to a comic that explores what would happen if Thomas Edison was confronted with an iPhone.

Ars Technica has a story on the victory of Gamefly (and by extension Netflix) over the US Postal Service.  I was a Gamefly subscriber for two years, and I am a current Netflix user, so anything that keeps these companies healthy is good for me.

Also from Ars Technica, a status report on Apple and Google’s attempts to catch Amazon on the cloud music streaming front.  In short, Apple is in a much better position, but given Amazon’s first move, it may hold back to see how the legal situation is resolved.

That’s the list for today!

The Early List – April 21, 2011

It’s the early list for April 21’st, 2011.  Today we have a new development in Slurpee technology, a follow up to the debt ceiling articles from yesterday, and a warning of the lack of Christian peace witness to the Obama administration.

While 7-11 has had dual chambered Slurpee cups for years, drinkers were forced to either use two straws, or switch a straw from one side to the other.  Well, fear no longer my friends, because 7-11 is introducing a straw which pulls from two different sources at one time.  In their article, Consumerist points out one of the hidden uses of this technology.  Imagine if you filled one half of the container with a vanilla milkshake, and the other with a root beer Slurpee.  Instant root beer float.  My only worry would be how differing consistencies on each side would affect their mix in the straw.

Two technology articles for the day.  First, via Ars Technica, the content industry is flip-flopping on its demand for all cell phones to include fm radios.  Part of me wants to commend them for dropping a stupid idea, but its the content industry, so I will probably just blame them for having it in the first place.

From the Consumerist (but reported everywhere else as well), book lending is coming to the Kindle.  I am still waiting to see a workable library system in a world where books are in a digital format, but I certainly commend Amazon for trying.  And their idea of letting you store notes you took on the book for the next time you borrow it is great.  However, some of the terms that Amazon is using for this are pretty steep.

An update on Stan Collender’s articles from yesterday on the debt ceiling issue.  He notes that the Republican threats over the debt ceiling are incredibly misguided, considering that the budget they presented would require a 6 trillion dollar increase to the debt over the next decade.  So even if the Republicans got exactly the budget they proposed, they would still have to raise the debt ceiling anyway.

Finally, three days after the US war in Libya started, my uncle posted the following message.  “There were lots of protest marches against the wars in Afganistan and Iraq, where are all the war protestors now that we are in Libya?”

At the time, my hope was, “well, its only been a couple days, give them time to get organized and started.”  Unfortunately, time has only proven his question to be the correct one.  The peace movement, which was so vocal in the late days of the Bush administration, appears to be much more subdued under the Obama administration.  Ethics Daily posted an article this morning titled “What has Happened to Christian Moral Witness in Warfare State?”  The article shares the concern that the peace movement may be giving the current administration a pass at the moment.  They do link to an earlier article where Christian leaders from both sides responded to the start of the attacks, which does feature some criticism, but most of the voices appear to be from the pro-war side, and criticize the President for waiting so long.  That is a position I cannot agree with.

Thats everything for today…

The Early List – April 20, 2011

It’s the early list for April 20, 2011.  Today’s list is full of political news, mainly focused on the debt ceiling issue.

But before we head off into that morass, here’s something a little more fun…  PEEPS!  This is a gallery of the winning entries into this year’s Washington Post Peeps diorama contest.  Just when I think I spend too much time on activities that don’t matter much, something like this comes along and I realize that I am pretty much just like the rest of America.

I dont normally like to link to a single blog multiple times in the same list, but Bruce Bartlett’s Capital Gains and Games has been one of my best resources at following this process.  Bartlett was a policy advisor for Reagan and a treasury official under Bush Sr., but holds the view that both Supply and Keynesian economic tools are appropriate  for different situations.  He’s made a lot of conservatives angry at him over the last decade for outspokenly criticizing George W. Bush’s economic strategies, and for taking the view that tax increases may be necessary to balance the budget.  Bartlett reposted a 2010 article he wrote for Forbes titled “When Will America Face Its Fiscal Crisis?”, which is a good summary of what the S&P downgrading means, and what strategies the government has to resolve it.  Another writer on the same blog, Stan Collender, has two articles on the debt ceiling issue.  The first covers the problem that Americans seem to not want to raise the debt ceiling, but also oppose every other method the government would have to deal with the problem.  The second provides some background on the issue.  Finally, last week, Bartlett linked a response to the Ryan budget titled “Ryan Gives The Wealthy A Free Pass”, which is a much nicer way to label it than the way Red Letter Christians did when they said “The Ryan Plan: A Declaration Of War On The Poor”.

In the tech world, Ars Technica reports on Microsofts attempts to convince the Supreme Court to make patents easier to kill.  The great irony is that (it appears) everybody but the Obama administration and the company that is suing Microsoft seems to be on Microsoft’s side here.  Ars sums it up best  as “This is particularly unfair because there is a lower standard—”preponderance of the evidence”—to prove infringement. And a plaintiff can compel the defendant to disclose a project’s current source code as part of the discovery process. The result, the groups said, is a game of “gotcha” in which it’s easier to use a project’s records to prove that it is currently infringing a patent than to use those same records to prove the patent is invalid.”

Also from Ars Technica, unlike the American government, which bows over to the cable duopolies, Europe is apparently adopting a “name and shame” approach in which competition is allowed, but the government will publish a report listing how net-neutral and consumer friendly each provider is.  This would allow consumers to know how their net access is being throttled and choose their provider accordingly.  Competition and more information, what a unique idea!

Finally, Patrol has an opinion article up on the idea of “Christian Art”.  Fitzgerald’s driving point is that much of what we call “art” in history was done with religious purposes, but we don’t call that “Christian Art”.

Thats the list for today.

The Early List – April 19, 2011

Happy Portal 2 day!  Its the early list for April 19’th.

I have never been a fan of technology copyright lawsuits, and I am on record as saying Apple’s lawsuits over the use of the term “app” are completely frivolous.  But I have to say, “Really, Samsung?”  As a fan of the standard Android interface, to see it modified into something so less flexible is kind of sad. (via Ars Technica)

The big privacy fight over Googles wifi packet sniffing is moving into the courts.  Ars Technica has a nice breakdown of the legal side of the issues.  I am kind of torn in that I think that a person using an unsecured wireless link is kind of asking to be snooped upon.  However, Google’s pickup of the communications was done intentionally, not incidentally.

Do customers actually know what they want?  Walmart de-cluttered its aisles and lost over a billion in sales.  Customer happiness went up, but spending went down.  (via Consumerist)

I am linking this article from Mother Jones with a little bit of trepidation, as it definitely has a political bias, but its coverage of the various research done on preset ideas and whether people are actually capable of unbiased opinions on subjects they already believe  is very interesting.

Finally, (via Ars Technica again) churches are asking you to give up your electronics for Holy Week.  I would be be happier with this if they were picking on all the other activities that people can fill their time with too.  How would it go over if they asked people to give up books for Holy Week?

The Early List – April 18, 2011

Before we launch into the list for today, a few housekeeping items. I planned for the last weekend to be my first non-list post, with a review of the movie “Blindness”. Unfortunately, Blindness had a scene in it which I am still trying to process, so the review remains unfinished. Additionally, I am going to be building off the List part of the site, in that I plan to pick a couple of the links I posted last week and write some longer pieces in response to them. This will be the plan moving forward, though there is some original content upcoming, focusing on subjects such as whether there is any specific religious concerns in the online privacy debate, using technology to form community, and the future intersections of tech and faith.

Now to the list.

Via Bad Astronomy, a beautiful set of time lapse images of the sky. One of the things I miss the most living near a city is the reduced amount of stars I can see in the sky at night.

Two links from Ars Technica this morning. First, another company has entered the ring to try to move tv into the 21’st century. The only question now is whether what the company is doing is legal or not. Also, Oracle gives up on OpenOffice. The story details Oracle’s pickup of OpenOffice in the purchase of Sun, its attempts to control it, and its eventual loss of control to the open LibreOffice alternative.

Finally, since we have now entered Holy Week, two articles on the events surrounding the beginning of this period of the Christian calendar.

The Internet Monk site links to an N. T. Wright talk explaining the significance of the cleansing of the temple.

And Tony Campolo (via Red Letter Christians) writes on the significance of Christ riding on a donkey in the message of love defeating power.

Thats everything I have for today.