Awesome things we got at the Sherwood Forest Faire
Posted on 2011-03-27 22:08:00
An adorable steampunk penguin! Look at him:
Also, Firefly-themed teas from the Austin Browncoats - specifically Simon and Hands of Blue.
Also, unrelated: a few more random pictures from this month.
23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism review
Posted on 2011-03-26 19:36:00
Tags: reviews books
I recently finished 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism. I was expecting it to be how dreadfully awful capitalism is. (these kinds of books depress me)
Instead, its main point was that capitalism is the best system (certainly compared with all the others we've tried) but making it extremely "free market" makes it worse, not better. The 23 things include "Making rich people richer doesn't make the rest of us richer" (trickle-down economics doesn't really work), "We are not smart enough to leave things to the market" (think subprime mortgage crisis), and "Big government makes people more open to change". (you're more likely to take a chance starting a business if you don't have to rely on your current job for health insurance, etc.) The arguments are generally well supported, or at least "well supported" as far as economics is concerned. (burn! But that's what you get for small sample sizes...)
Anyway, I enjoyed it and it was a pretty quick read. It's a physical book and so available for borrowing.
I am the linkman
Posted on 2011-03-22 11:15:00
Tags: gay taxes links
- Firefox 4 is out today! Read about some of the changes (I've been using the beta for a while: it's significantly faster than 3.6) and download your copy today!
- Another poll shows more than half of Americans say gays and lesbians should be able to marry, which shows a "dramatic, long-term shift in public attitudes". In 2004 only 32% of Americans did, compared to 53% now. That is astounding!
- Another graph of tax rates over time - it uses relative colors rather than absolute, so it's less data-heavy than this old one, but it's certainly prettier! Yet another indication that taxes are quite low historically.
- Newly packed trains a mixed blessing for MetroRail - turns out they are meeting their projections, but they don't have money to buy more trains or expand the existing ones.
- After the Carmen Sandiego flashback, here's the story of Oregon Trail.
- Hurley from Lost visits a Lost-themed bar, appropriately named "Bharma". Jorge Garcia seems like a cool guy :-)
rant: wisconsin, libya
Posted on 2011-03-17 10:54:00
Tags: rant essay
I support the public workers' rights of unionization and collective bargaining. But Democratic senators fleeing the state to avoid passing the bill seems to be going a bit far. Protests, demonstrations, all these are good ways of expressing opposition. Even recalling some of the Republicans - that's what the recall law is there for. (and this isn't a California-type situation; they still need plenty of signatures) Effectively shutting down the government because you disagree with a bill is not. They were out of the state for three weeks(!) before the Republicans were able to use tricks to pass the bill. It's hard to have the moral high ground when you're not present to vote, though...
Yes, I'm aware that the Texas Democrats did this back in 2003, but that was to protest a highly-unusual out of season redistricting. It's more justified when you're protesting a bill with how the government works.
I meant to write this a week ago, and apparently the US now supports a no-fly zone and airstrikes in Libya. But I wish people would step back and carefully consider whether we want to get militarily involved in another country. Yes, Qaddafi is bad and toppling him would probably be an improvement. But it's a huge step for the US to even enforce a no-fly zone - it's essentially an act of war. (since we have to take out ground defenses as well as shoot down any planes) So what happens if Qaddafi's forces beat the rebels anyway? Do we bring troops in on the ground?
Again, Qaddafi is bad, etc., but we can't compare the situation now versus the ideal (Qaddafi toppled, Libya goes into a friendly democracy with little bloodshed) - we have to look at what effect our actions are going to have. There has to be more thought behind it than this guy is bad, so we should get rid of him. (see: Iraq)
can't buy me links
Posted on 2011-03-15 14:35:00
Tags: gay politics links
From the Atlantic:
- A neat map of the counties of America by how their median family income has changed over the last 30 years. Austin is a "Boom town"!
- Secret Fears of the Super-Rich - the most surprising thing for me was that the survey respondents (with an average net worth of $78 million) don't consider themselves financially secure, but would need 25% more than what they have to feel that way. Some of the big problems are ensuring their children grow up without a giant sense of entitlement, and constantly wondering if people like them or are just being friendly for their money.
- How 2 Colbert Staffers and a Game Journalist Rewrote Carmen Sandiego for Facebook - she's back!
From other places:
- Sadly, a same-sex marriage bill got sent back to committee in Maryland. But, tomorrow a bill will be introduced to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Probably doesn't have a great chance of passing, but it's good to know people are fighting for it. It surprises me that according to an HRC poll, 51% of Americans oppose DOMA! Maybe there is some hope after all...
- One of the four Democratic state senators in New York who voted against the same-sex marriage bill...lives with his gay partner. Yes, it's still hypocritical if you're a Democrat.
- Katamari Hack - make a Katamari on any web page! (works in Firefox 4 and Chrome...and maybe others)
- Weatherspark has a ton of weather data in a nice format. Here's data from Camp Mabry.
LJ for WebOS: the saga ends!
Posted on 2011-03-15 13:06:00
Tags: lj for webos palmpre projects
After my last LJ for WebOS adventure, I was a bit down. But, I look at the App Catalog today, and the most recent review has been upgraded from 1 star to 3 with the text: "A recent update has greatly improved the readability of the themes, so is[sic] that's what put you off before I suggest taking another look."
Yay! Thanks, random person!
Why so few webOS 2.0 apps?
Posted on 2011-03-15 10:37:00
Tags: essay palmpre
(in response to this Precentral article)
As a developer that has apps that run on webOS 1.4.5, here are my current development choices:
1. Work on them using only 1.4.5 APIs, which means any webOS device out there can use my app. (possibly excepting people on Tercel in Mexico - what's up with that?)
2. Use some of the nifty new webOS 2.0 APIs. This means that the vast vast majority of webOS users won't be able to use the app. I don't even have a device that runs webOS 2.0 to test on.
3. Spend time trying to port them to Enyo, which is very clearly the future.
Right now my time is divided between 1 and 3. Using Metrix, I can see that somewhere around 2% of my users are running webOS 2.0+. Not to mention, even if I spent time adding webOS 2.0 specific features, those won't be highlighted in the App Catalog as far as I know.
So...yeah. There's very little incentive to spend time on webOS 2.0 right now.
I have two free apps in the catalog - PasswordHash (a simple utility for generating passwords based on a master password and domain) and GAuth (generates codes for Google's two-factor authentication). PasswordHash was my first webOS application and it's really only useful if you use that password-generating scheme. GAuth is useful for anyone that uses Google's two-factor authentication. Guess which app is more popular?
Mind-bogglingly enough, PasswordHash gets downloaded ~7 times/day while GAuth is only downloaded ~2-3 times/day. (actually, PasswordHash had a day two weeks ago when it got 84 downloads!) Maybe people are misunderstanding what PasswordHash does and then deleting it?
Salvaging the looks of LJ for WebOS
Posted on 2011-03-13 15:01:00
Tags: lj for webos palmpre projects
An excerpt from the most recent review of LJ for WebOS: "...most recent update has made it so ugly that it is unusable." This makes me sad!
So - here's my plan:
- the most recent update added themes, some of which are not terrible (I think). So I added a dialog box on first launch that points this out and makes it easy to try them.
- I also created a "plain" theme (see the first screenshot on the LJ for WebOS page, so if you really hate every one of the other themes, at least you can fall back to that one. I also made it the default theme, which made me a little sad but people can always change it if they want.
Here's hoping this will make people happy! Of course, people rarely go back and change their reviews so I'm probably stuck with that one...
Posted on 2011-03-10 11:06:00
- Sleep is more important than food - hmm, I've never thought about it that way.
- The power of lonely - or, being alone can help you form memories better and develop your sense of empathy.
- The need to code - this is pretty much how I feel. I'm lucky that I get paid to do so :-)
- Go Easy on Yourself, a New Wave of Research Urges - self-compassion = important!
And, not touchy-feely:
- Has Santorum Slipped On Outlawing Gay Sex? - Santorum is my least-favorite Republican presidential probably-candidate, which is saying something...
- There’s Nothing Special About Ohio - included here for gratuitous slams on Ohio from Nate Silver, a native Michigander.
my dentist = awesome
Posted on 2011-03-07 11:43:00
Tags: health reviews
I got a filling in the tooth, didn't hurt at all, and I was out within 30 minutes. Teeth stuff doesn't usually stress me out, but this whole tooth-breaking really had me on edge, and now I feel much better!
Anyway, if you're looking for a dentist, check out Dr. Harger at Shoal Creek Dental. The staff is all very friendly, too!
More health woes
Posted on 2011-03-07 11:04:00
Not only was David (and I, to a lesser extent) sick this weekend, last night I broke a tooth! So I'm at the dentist getting a filling that hopefully won't fall out. At least my rash is going away...for now.
Posted via LJ for WebOS.
Answered: why did HP (i.e. @palm) announce new #webOS products so early?
Posted on 2011-03-03 10:31:00
Tags: palm essay palmpre
I've seen a lot of speculation (especially now that Apple's announced the iPad 2, which will ship next week) as to why HP/Palm announced their slate of new products so early. So let's take it from the top:
(this is all speculation, of course)
So why did they announce in February when the Pre3 and TouchPad aren't releasing until "summer"?: The Pre3 and TouchPad won't be ready until summer. If HP could release either early they absolutely would.
Well, obviously, but why didn't they wait to announce until shortly before they released? Well, for one thing, the Veer is releasing in "spring". Surely HP wouldn't want to have one event for the Veer and another for the Pre3 and TouchPad.
Also, I think HP is in a tough spot. Palm hasn't had a new phone announced since last October...and that was the Pre 2, which looks exactly like the Pre/Pre Plus with better specs. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but that's not exactly new and exciting. A lot of people were saying that if Palm didn't announce anything new and exciting by CES (later modified to Feb. 9), they'd leave for an Android phone.
But HP CEO Leo Apotheker said they'd ship products within weeks of announcing them! What gives? My guess is that he said this in frustration after learning that the products they were announcing on Feb. 9 weren't going to ship for months.
Why are the Pre3 and TouchPad taking so long, anyway? What about HP's scale and billions of dollars? The Palm acquisition wasn't finalized until July 31. That's just 6 months ago...and you have to imagine that at least the first few months was HP looking at the insides of Palm and figuring out what they wanted to do. That leaves very little time for HP to get more people working on Palm stuff. And usually adding more people slows things down in the short term!
Plus, there are some serious technical challenges here. In addition to working on webOS 2.0/2.1/whatever, for the Pre3 they have to deal with the fact that this is the first webOS device that doesn't have 320px width, not to mention it has a new processor and HSPA+ support. And the TouchPad is all new hardware and the OS looks substantially different. Apple worked on the iPad for a long time before it released.
Bonus question: Will the TouchPad be cheaper than the iPad? No. Apple has the advantage here of huge economies of scale, plus an iteration under their belt to lower costs. I guess it's vaguely possible that HP will lower their usual profit margins or even take a loss, but this isn't a "razor/blades" type model - I can't imagine HP's making any money on app sales, so where would they make money? If HP is willing to take the very-long-term view about increasing webOS adoption, maaaaybe. But I doubt it. My guess for the 16GB WiFi model: $599 ($100 more than the equivalent iPad).
Posted on 2011-02-28 13:10:00
- This is old news (apparently), but Kayak has this neat map of places you can fly to for a given price. You can also filter by activities, spoken languages, and temperature!
- On Kickstarter, the Haptica Braille Watch is very cool, but running out of time and needs a lot more money. Chip in if you can!
- Just a reminder: we spend a whole lot of money on health care, but we're kinda average compared to other countries.
- A beautiful time-lapse video of the Milky Way in the night sky.
- At the rate the Kindle price is dropping it will be free by November. (maybe for Amazon Prime customers?)
The Paradox of Choice review
Posted on 2011-02-27 15:49:00
Tags: reviews books
The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less is my latest read. The main thesis is that we have way more choice than we used to, and at some point this becomes a bad thing.
One famous study involves an "exotic, high-quality" jam display at an upscale supermarket. In one version, there were all 24 flavors available for sampling and purchase; in another, only 6 flavors were available for sampling (but all 24 were still available for purchase). The higher number of jams attracted more people to the display, although people tried the same number of jams on average. But 30 percent of the people that sampled from the small selection of jams bought a jar, while only 3 percent of those that sampled from the large selection bought a jar.
This is something that sounds crazy at first, but when I picture myself in the two situations it makes total sense. If I see there are 24 flavors but only 6 out on display, I would assume that these are the best flavors and I can limit my choice to just them, as opposed to trying some random subset of the 24.
A lot of the book is about limiting the things you have to choose from. He talks about maximizers (who will try every choice then pick the best one) versus satisficers (who will decide what is "good enough", then pick the first choice that meets that). As you might expect, satisficers tend to be happier, and it's a good way to deal with many many choices, considering that your time and effort in making a choice is not free. This is essentially a "second-order decision" to limit your choices.
Another tidbit: when a choice is reversible (e.g. you have the option of returning something you've bought) people tend to be less happy, because then they have the option (another choice!) to change their mind. When you're committed to something you tend to like it more.
Another bit I liked was about "hedonistic adaptation". When you get something nice, you're happier at first, but once you're used to it your happiness reverts to whatever it was before (more or less). To combat this, the author recommends developing an "attitude of gratitude" - thinking about the things that are good in your life and comparing them to what you had before. This helps because the natural tendency for people is to always look at the nice things that they don't have.
To wrap-up: it was an interesting book although a bit repetitive (it shared a few discussions with the ice cream book). I would recommend it, and it's available for borrowing (physical media ftw!)
Posted on 2011-02-24 09:22:00
Tags: palmpre projects work programming
Anyway, finally I had the bright idea to actually compile the Java code so I could compare the results, because I generated at least twenty different codes trying various permutations of things, none of which were right.
Another thing I learned! If you return an error string from a constructor, this does essentially nothing. You still get a constructed object. So, if your library is doing this, there's a 99% chance that no one's going to notice without a lot of pain in suffering.
Adding to my troubles: I am involved in some heavy yak-shaving at work.
Another new webOS app: Private Browser
Posted on 2011-02-22 13:24:00
Tags: palmpre projects
As promised, I have another new webOS app, Private Browser, that's out today! It lets you keep your browsing history private and save bookmarks that are protected behind a password. Here's a short video overview - I did it on the first take, so forgive the awkward pause near the end...
New webOS app: State Lines
Posted on 2011-02-20 20:30:00
Tags: palmpre projects
FlightPredictor, my top-selling webOS app, just sold it's 1000th copy this weekend! To celebrate this milestone, I'm proud to announce:
State Lines, the popular iPhone app, is now available on the Palm App Catalog! An indispensable resource when traveling, it's also fun to browse nearby states and see how their laws differ from yours!
This port was made possible by the good people at Two Steps Beyond and my inability to sleep over the past few weeks. For more exciting developments brought on by the lack of sleep, stay tuned later this week!
Kickstartin' the weekend
Posted on 2011-02-18 16:04:00
I mentioned Kickstarter a few weeks ago, but the site is really starting to grow on me.
Creating things energizes me, which is why I love programming little side projects and webOS apps. The next best thing is creating vicariously through someone, which is exactly what Kickstarter is. It's low risk, since if the project doesn't make Plus, people come up with a lot of awesome stuff and present it very compellingly!
Here's my Kickstarter page with a list of projects that I've backed/are interested in. Probably the coolest is the Haptica Braille Watch, although they have a lot of money to raise in a short amount of time. The Shape of Design has a nice (albeit long) video. Also, Math dice!
You can also view projects by location: here are the Austin ones.
Ken Jennings is a standup guy
Posted on 2011-02-17 13:12:00
He did a Q&A with readers of the Washington Post, where he comes off as generally awesome. Best response:
Believe me, I was enjoying (almost) every second. Getting beat on the buzzer is frustrating, but are you kidding? I AM PLAYING A PRIME-TIME GAME SHOW AGAINST A SUPER-ADVANCED ROBOT! This is the coolest thing I will every do in my life by a factor of a million. The future is here.
Sprint and @palm: I get a phone call
Posted on 2011-02-16 14:34:00
Tags: activism palm palmpre
After emailing the CEO of Sprint about carrying the new webOS phones, I got an email from Vanessa, a woman in his office who wanted to give me a call to address my concerns. I hesitated but figured sure, what the heck?
Vanessa called this morning and we had a pleasant but short chat. Basically, the message was the same as I had read on webOSroundup - no plans to announce right now, but she emphasized that that doesn't mean they won't end up carrying them at release. So basically it sounded like nothing more than "yup, we haven't said anything publicly". I asked how soon before launch they know that they're going to carry a phone and she said usually very close to the launch, which was a little confusing since clearly they'd have to do testing, etc.
Interestingly, she said she had used a webOS phone but just recently switched to Android. Hopefully that's not a bad sign!
Anyway, I was impressed that someone bothered to call, even if there was really nothing to report. Makes me hope even harder that Sprint ends up with the Pre3...
Happy @TheAtlantic day! and more links
Posted on 2011-02-15 15:13:00
Tags: palm links
It started out a little slow, but there are a lot of good articles in this month's issue. Like:
- Mind vs. Machine, an article about the Loebner Prize (i.e. Turing Test) written by one of the people trying to convince the judges he was human. Particularly topical now that Watson is playing Jeopardy...
- How Skyscrapers Can Save the City. High density development=good in my book!
- Inside the Secret Service - unprecedented access gives a good view how the Secret Service protects people. Also: I forgot President Bush had a live grenade thrown at him in 2005, and Clinton may have been almost assassinated in 1996. Scary stuff!
- When Freedom Is Bad for Business - remember when President Bush said that invading Iraq would help them rebuild their economy? Yeah...not so much. Iraq is currently 174th out of 183 countries for "ease in starting a business".
- The Moral Crusade Against Foodies - pretty hard hitting piece.
On to non-Atlantic links!
* Apparently Palm is giving away Pre 2's to "all qualified developers". They're certainly supporting their developers, almost to a comical extent at this point :-)
* A fancy treemap view of Obama's 2012 budget proposal. Always good to remember where we spend most of our money, and why cutting earmarks to balance the budget is patently absurd.
* Speaking of Iraq, remember "Curveball", the source who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons program? He now admits that he made it all up. Whee!
* Neil deGrasse Tyson on why science should invest for the long-term and not just on practical problems: basically, because we've gotten a lot of practical use out of long-term ideas.
Groupon for engagement photo session
Posted on 2011-02-14 11:25:00
Our wedding photographer Eric Hegwer has a groupon for a $70 engagement photo session. He took great pictures for us at our wedding, and this seems like a great price - check it out!
Future U.S. History Students: 'It's Pretty Embarrassing How Long You Guys Took To Legalize Gay Marriage'
My email to Sprint re the Veer/Pre3
Posted on 2011-02-13 02:07:00
Tags: activism palm palmpre
(sent to Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint, at email@example.com)
Mr. Hesse -
My name is Greg Stoll, and I'm a happy Sprint customer. I joined the Sprint family in 2009 with the introduction of the Palm Pre, which I purchased in August, shortly after its introduction. The reason I switched to Sprint from T-Mobile was the availability of the Palm Pre - the webOS operating system was compelling enough for me to switch to a new network.
But, once I joined, I was pleasantly surprised - the Sprint coverage in my area has been great, and the customer service I got has been superb. I have sadly had to deal with this more than most as the first-generation Palm Pre's had some hardware difficulties, but every time I came back to the store I was helped by friendly and knowledgeable people who dealt with my problems quickly and fairly. For this reason, I recommended Sprint to my partner, who switched from AT&T just a few months ago to get a Samsung Epic 4G.
I'm sure you've seen the presentation by HP about their new smartphones Veer and Pre3, which are scheduled to come out this spring and summer. I am writing you to ask you to please seriously consider making these devices available on Sprint at launch. I know that Palm had some rough times with the Pre and Pixi, but more experience with similar form factors with the vast resources and marketing of a company like HP will make the Veer and Pre3 much more likely to succeed in the market.
It seems like HP is gearing up big time to promote these phones as well as webOS, and I think Sprint would be a great fit for their reintroduction after the absence of the Pre/Pixi Plus and the Pre 2. I know that personally I will be getting a Pre3, and while I'd like to stay with Sprint given my good experience with y'all, if it's not available I'll be forced to switch to a competitor.
Thank you for your time!
cleanin' out the old linkbox
Posted on 2011-02-11 14:15:00
- A map of US states, labelled by which country their economy is the same size as. Texas is Russia!
- That Netflix graph of ISP download speeds I posted earlier - here's a cleaned up version that's much easier to read.
- A reminder: The IBM computer Watson plays on Jeopardy this coming Monday-Wednesday. Should be fun to watch!
Posted on 2011-02-11 02:02:00
Tags: reviews books
My latest Kindle read is Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won. It's a combination of Freakonomics (not that I've actually read it...) and Moneyball (but not just for baseball). I've read a few books like this but this was the most entertaining - the writing style is light and breezy but the analyses seem fairly well done. Some of my favorite chapters:
- Football teams should really really go for it more on fourth down than they do. One estimate showed that, in ~1000 fourth-down situations where they should have gone for it, they punted it away almost 90% of the time! The authors attribute this to loss aversion, specifically coaches that try strategies that are not "common sense" and fail are more likely to get fired, while if you do the "safe choice" even if it's less efficient, nobody holds it against you (i.e. "No one ever got fired for buying IBM"). (Incidentally, this is the second place I've read about stickK in the last month - it's a site where you set a goal for yourself and pledge to donate money to a cause you don't like if you fail. Something I'm considering for weight loss!) They also discuss similar seeming inefficiencies in basketball (pulling a star who's in foul trouble), baseball (always saving your closer for the ninth inning, even if there's a more important situation earlier in the game), and hockey (pulling the goalie when behind happens way too late). One prominent exception is Bill Belichick, who has such job security that he can do crazy things and people trust him.
- There are two fascinating chapters on the home field advantage. I will lay out the salient facts and present their conclusion:
* The home field advantage varies from sport to sport (from ~65% in soccer to ~54% in baseball) but doesn't vary much between different leagues of the same sport, and it's been remarkably consistent over time.
* It does not seem to exist for free throws in the NBA, or shootouts in hockey, or penalty kicks in soccer, or punts and field goals in football.
* Schedule padding in college football does account for about half of the home field advantage. In the NBA, teams get a more friendly schedule when they play at home (more days between games), which accounts for ~20% of the home field advantage.
* A lot of other things don't matter.
Their conclusion is (highlight to read) the biggest factor is "officials' bias" - not necessarily on purpose, but the home fans have a psychological effect on the officials, who call more fouls on the visiting team. In soccer, the length of injury time is affected. In baseball, balls and strikes are biased towards the home team, especially in high leverage situations. Notice that all of the situations where the home field advantage doesn't exist the officials have basically no impact on the outcome!
- There is a most excellent chapter on the "curse" of Chicago Cubs. First, the Cubs aren't really unlucky - they generally succeed in the playoffs as you would expect given their regular season record (i.e. not much). If you want an unlucky team, look no farther than the Houston Astros! (reached the NLCS 4 times, the NLDS 7 times, and no World Series wins) Interestingly, the St. Louis Cardinals have been surprisingly lucky. (all three teams play in the same division, sadly for this Astros fan)
So the question is why the Cubs don't put together a better team. Generally, there is a financial incentive for teams to do better: more fan attendance at games. The Cubs, however, have the least sensitive attendance with respect to their record - their attendance consistently hovers around 90%. This is very much not true for (say) the Chicago White Sox. And despite usually fielding a not-very-good team, the Cubs are the fifth most valuable franchise in baseball (thanks partially to WGN showing their games around the country).
So...what's up with the Cubs fans? Apparently they are loyal to a fault, and the atmosphere at Wrigley Field is more like a party than watching a baseball game. In perhaps my favorite statistic ever, attendance at Wrigley Field games is four times more sensitive to beer prices than to winning or losing! (and as such, beer is the third-cheapest at Wrigley out of all MLB ballparks) To quote the authors:
In other words, Cubs fans will tolerate bad baseball and high ticket prices but draw the line at bad baseball and expensive beer. That makes for a fun day at the ballpark but doesn't give the ownership much incentive to reverse the culture of losing.
This backup was done by LJBackup.