“Extra-Vehicular Activity”

My name is Jonathan Gala. I come in peace for all mankind. Read more at jongala.com.

Missed Connection

You: were anyone else riding the N train sometime around 2001 when the train conductor said:

"Next stop: Prince Street.  Or, as I like to call it, ‘The Station Formerly Known As Prince Street’, heh heh heh…

…that’s just a little joke of mine. Feel free to pass that along.”

I: was just about to wait 11 years or so to have this memory bubble up in my brain.  I think we should meet.

Monet's Case for Flash

Look, I am all on board with open web standards, and using SVG, canvas, CSS3 and yada yada to make web content more expressive.  Between about 2003 and 2006 I went from doing maybe 30-40% of my work in Flash to about 2%.  By 2008 I was at 0%.

But projects like this show that there is a real case for the use of Flash on the web.  You could not make this site without Flash, or if you could, it would be even more brutally CPU-intensive than Flash, for all 7 people that could run it.  This project is beautiful, responsive, and runs in basically every desktop browser.

Consider also that this project, or something very like it, could have been made in about 2004, and could have been running in IE5.5.  Think about that.

You could also just think about the last time you wanted a non-rectangular click target without calculating coordinates and  worrying about event bubbling.

We have found our future and it is not Flash, but don’t let your alignment in the rich content debate fool you into thinking that Flash is worthless.

The Philosophical Taxonomy of Limited Slip Differentials

I heard of the Wikipedia: Get to Philosophy game a few weeks ago, which sounded fun.  The idea is: click on the first link not in parenthesis in any article, and continue doing so, and you will end up at the entry for Philosophy.

I tried the page for Limited Slip Differentials and got there in 12 steps (this is my browser history):

LSD -> Philosophy

Not bad.  Later I found a dirty little secret: many sequences rely on the Natural Science —> Philosophy sequence, but it’s broken now, because there is a Truth-Fact loop.  Which seems poetic.  You can get around this by adding a rule to the game, which is in the event of a loop, go with the second link.  Which seems fair. 

Why Macs Cost More

Just read “Why Macs Cost More" by Matt Richman, in response to the whole "Apple makes more on one computer than HP does on seven" thing.  Based on earnings and volume reports, it was calculated that:

"If the average selling price of a Mac runs about $710 more than a PC (ASP of a Mac - ASP of an HP machine), and about $320 of that is profit, then the remaining $390 must be those higher costs. Apple’s computing hardware, and the software development behind OS X, actually cost more to manufacture."

Richman explains this by saying that commodity PC components are cheap, with this remark:

"I’ve owned or used at least a half-dozen Dell and Winbook laptops over the years. Each required at least one service call during its three-year life cycle, one as many as three, leaving a single piece of plastic from among the original parts … Apple customers are people willing to pay $390 more for computing hardware and software, and reward the company with commensurately higher profits."

He closes with the classic “you get what you pay for” line.  

Well, there’s a funny thing here: my current MacBook Pro has died at least three times, and the only original parts are the screen (which is failing, with noticeably uneven backlighting) and the hard drive (oh please god don’t die).  I had to have the keyboard and topcase replaced to fix a broken trackpad, a new motherboard to fix a problem with the graphics card, I’ve had two batteries suddenly stop working, and the current one now reads “service battery” in its status, one of the fans died … I’m probably forgetting something.  Through this process, despite buying the $100-per-year ProCare service, I actually had to buy a Mac Mini to work on for a week while the laptop was being serviced — the work I would have lost would have cost as much or more. I spent hundreds of dollars paying for out-of-warranty repairs, not including the cost of the Mac Mini (which I sold once I was done with it).

What did I pay for?  What did I get?

Here’s the funny thing, though: if you asked me casually how I like my computer, I’m liable to say “it’s great!” because when it works, I love it.  The software and the design are great, and really a pleasure to use.

I let the good outshine the bad in my impression of this machine.  I would buy another MacBook Pro.  Is it unreasonable to think that owners of the reviled commodity PCs might do the same?

I love this little guy so much.  New and improved!

Only Suspected

Dave Winer, on Twitter and the NYT pay wall:

Neither company has a way to sustain itself finanically.  

Not only that, they don’t have any ideas. 

The difference between the Times and Twitter is that we’ve known that about the Times for a long time, and only suspected it about Twitter. “

Is he serious?  There are three main things that anyone even casually interested in the web has known about Twitter for a few years now:

1) They are very popular.

2) They have trouble scaling.

3) They have no business model.

Winer is just now, with the QuickBar, beginning to suspect that Twitter might have issues with financial sustainability? The huge and fast-growing company that doesn’t charge its users and doesn’t run ads on its site? That Twitter?

Shirky on Wikileaks

Clay Shirky has written a short post on Wikileaks:

My personal view is that there is too much secrecy in the current system, and that a corrective towards transparency is a good idea. I don’t, however, believe in total transparency, and even more importantly, I don’t think that independent actors who are subject to no checks or balances is a good idea in the long haul.

If the long haul were all there was, Wikileaks would be an obviously bad thing. The practical history of politics, however, suggests that the periodic appearance of such unconstrained actors in the short haul is essential to increased democratization, not just of politics but of thought.”

I think that says it very well.  Read the rest here:

http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2010/12/wikileaks-and-the-long-haul/

Diplomatic Cables and Channels

In general I consider Wikileaks a legitimate and important, if problematic, player in the world affairs.  I think that the recent release of US diplomatic cables will prove to be a net negative for world affairs, though, for a simple reason: by undermining the US diplomatic apparatus, you encourage — even force — the US to accomplish its goals outside of diplomatic channels.

Wikileaks’ prospect for effective political and social change is in establishing healthier cultures of transparency and accountability.  The US diplomatic culture in response to this leak seems overwhelmingly likely to be defensive and opaque.

The private, coarse messages that all diplomatic parties hold are now aired for only some of the players in the game, giving the others a real advantage — even if it is hypocritical — and the biggest loser is the US. The US is in a position of backpedaling, apology, and facing diplomatic partners that will likely be reluctant to work with them lest they be exposed, and suspicious of their real positions and motivations.

There is no “pause” button on diplomacy. The US must maintain its international relationships, and must continue to pursue its goals with foreign governments. It must now pursue those goals with a damaged diplomatic apparatus. You might as well just say to them “Act illegally or extralegally. Don’t use official diplomatic channels.  Use the CIA.  Use military intelligence.  Use unofficial, deniable, unaccountable means to accomplish your goals.  Work off the record.  Play hardball.” 

There is plenty to criticize in Wikileaks’ work. The fact that they redact certain names and details shows that they acknowledge certain moral responsibilities in disclosing information; I question whether they do enough in that regard, and whether the release of many of these cables was warranted from the point of view of true whistleblowing, which is exposing malfeasance.

And of course this leak can be criticized from the point of view of endangering players in the field, or in comparison to the Plame outing, or from the more general standpoint of national security, and those are worthwhile discussions.  But apart from all of that, I don’t think that this will wind up making for progress towards Wikileaks’ and Assange’s goal of accountable and ethical political and economic institutions. If anything, it may be counterproductive. Which is too bad, because regardless of how you feel about their methods, the goal is something we can all root for.

See When!

You can tell how desperate Friendster is for traffic from their email notifications.  I got a birthday reminder, and instead of saying “Dave’s birthday is coming up on the 28th” it says “Dave’s birthday is almost here!  See When,” linking through to the site, where you have to log in because you haven’t been there in eight months.  Ouch.

Rain Away

So I’m checking out this compilation of hip-hop samples, and I come across Rain Rain Away by Bob Azzam.  And there is no way you can convince me that this track isn’t some practical joke, with a rhythm track extracted from some hip-hop cut and pseudo-60s vocals dubbed over it.  

I mean, what was going on in 1968?

Also, have a little vocal with your reverb, brother.  Love that.