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thread topic flowchart for september 2008



In a nutshell, why I dislike this election cycle.

(via Jeremy H)

on computer literacy and the presidency

You may have heard about the latest “McCain’s so old…” joke: McCain’s so old, he doesn’t even know how to send email! Well, it turns out the Oval Office doesn’t even have a computer, for starters. As for the last two presidents to serve during the era of email, Washington Wire has a surprise for you:

President Clinton, who oversaw the 90s tech boom, sent just two emails during his time in office, and doesn’t own a blackberry, according to a nugget in a Vanity Fair article on his wife’s failed presidential bid.

President Bush said last year in an interview that he refrained from using email as president, even though he enjoyed using it to keep in touch with friends, because of potential political risks.

“I don’t want to receive emails because, you know, there’s no telling what somebody’s email may — it would show up as, you know, a part of some kind of a story, and I wouldn’t be able to say, `Well, I didn’t read the email,’” Bush said in a 2006 interview with CNBC. “So, in other words, I’m very cautious about emailing.”

So I wouldn’t expect Obama to be personally replying to your Facebook pokes (does anyone use those anymore?) or Twitter @replies. And I know this will crush your spirits, but Obama does not actually post all those tweets himself. Nor does he actually friend you on Twitter. That whole bit about his holiness Barack Obama living in your heart? It’s sort of a figure of speech. Sorry about that.

I wonder what Merlin Mann would think about the president spending half his day staring at a Blackberry.

t. boone pickpocket

Gee, why would an oilman like T. Boone Pickens, who owns one of the largest natural gas refueling networks in the country, be spending so much of his money to start a dialogue on renewable energy–particularly wind? Out of the goodness of his heart, right? Let’s ask an energy industry expert:

Wind turbines generate electricity very irregularly, because the wind itself is inconsistent. Therefore wind turbines always need backup power from fossil fuels to keep the electricity grid in balance. Gas turbines are the best way to do this. They are able to respond quickly and push power production when wind generators stop suddenly. They can be turned on and off almost instantly, whereas traditional coal-fired plants need to be maintained in a very inefficient standby mode if they are to respond to large fluctuations in power demand.

A proliferation of windmills, then, can become a windfall for gas sellers. Just look at the cases of Spain and Germany, Europe’s leading producers of wind power.
. . .
These gas players can afford to lose money on wind power in the short term to reap huge profits in the long term. In fact, this was the strategy first implemented by Ken Lay of Enron in 1990s. Enron was the power and gas company that started the first large-scale manufacturing of wind power in the U.S. It also brought up the ideas for a cap-and-trade system, to increase the competitive edge of gas over coal.

An ulterior motive? I’m shocked. Shocked!

how to report a bug

Steven Frank has an excellent post on reporting software bugs in OSX applications. I’ll take this one step further: several of those steps are good advice when seeking support for any application. He addresses one of my pet peeves well into the post:

Include the entire text of error messages

Be sure to tell the developer whether or not an error message is generated as a result of the problem. If an error message does appear, it’s very important that you include its exact wording. There may be multiple error messages in the application with similar wording.

BAD: “I always get an error message when I print”
BAD: “I always get an error message when I print, something about a driver”
BETTER: “I always get an error message when I print: ‘Driver could not be found'”

Barring a tech support team with excellent and up-to-date documentation (which, given its probability, is likely manned by Santa’s elves), the guy on the other side of the phone cannot divine the messages you are seeing. Are you reading this, mom?
(via Daring Fireball)

doesn't make me want to switch back, but it's funny

The first Bill Gates-Jerry Seinfeld commercial:

Take a good look at the picture on his Shoe Circus card. If you’re a geek or a fan of The Smoking Gun, you’ve probably seen it before.

the march of tech productivity continues

For those who are fans of hyperproductivity app Quicksilver, Mozilla Labs has a treat for you! Ubiquity is a browser-side command interface that lets you manipulate things you see in your browser (currently, Firefox only). By pressing CTRL+Space, you bring up a command line in which you can type, say “weather chevy chase, md” to bring up the weather in a translucent popup. Or you can highlight a bunch of listings on craigslist, press CTRL+Space, type “map these”, and instantly see a google map with the selected listings plotted.

Even my words of amazement can’t do it justice. Look at this demo video. And then marvel, because it’s a 0.1 release.

Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

The only downside to the platform is that it’s not OS-wide. I would have to switch to Firefox on my Mac and keep it open to take advantage of the features. So it doesn’t do file management or work with any other apps–something Quicksilver does so well. But still, we’re getting so much closer to the point where we can simply speak or type a command into our computers and get precisely the information we want in the form we desire.

don't hold your breath for "pelosiisms"

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s message on energy, already evolving in recent weeks, might have to evolve a little more.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, the speaker twice seemed to suggest that natural gas – an energy source she favors – is not a fossil fuel.

“I believe in natural gas as a clean, cheap alternative to fossil fuels,” she said at one point. Natural gas “is cheap, abundant and clean compared to fossil fuels,” she said at another.

Sure, she hasn’t the slightest clue about how the magical electricity fairies make her wall outlets work. And sure, she’s a heavy investor in the alternative energy sources that would benefit from regulating the hell out of the oil industry. But, man, at least she didn’t say “nuc-yu-lar”. Correctly pronounce the ways we can destroy the nation’s energy industry? Yes, we can!

windfall profits will kill the tech industry

And here’s yet another reason I don’t understand the tech industry fawning over the Democratic agenda. How about that windfall profits tax? I’ve asked it before: how will we decide what a “windfall” is? While I suppose that the candy-farting unicorns who would proliferate under an Obama administration might define it for us–with magic!–I’d guess it will be based on some estimate of profit margins.

Well, surprise! Oil companies aren’t even in the top 20 industries in profitability. However, Healthcare Information Services, Information & Delivery Services, Application Software, Internet Information Providers, and Networking & Communication Devices are. Go ahead, you smug web 2.0 geeks–cheer on the angry mob. Just don’t look for sympathy when you get caught in the crossfire.

(Yahoo! link via What I Learned Today)

why the less wired candidate may be the better prez

Lee Gomes writes in this week’s WSJ Portals column on why we really shouldn’t give a damn whether or not the next President is insanely wired:

It’s a fair question to ask: Can someone who never touches a computer truly be in touch with what is happening in the world? The computer industry has worked very hard over the past few decades to cause us to suspect as much. But what about the opposite question: Does anyone who spends all day in front of a PC, forging a river of data posing as information, have any time to think?
. . .
The president wouldn’t need to worry about his email inbox; a staff would be standing by ready to handle it. Memos, position papers, summaries of newspaper reports and all the rest, would be delivered via printouts, since words on printed paper appear to have more of an impact than words on a flickering screen.

The president could use his computer time any way he wished: a favorite blog, YouTube videos, a mind-clearing game of Spider Solitaire. So many of his constituents would be doing the same thing at the same time, it would be a good way to keep up with the common folk.

The severe time rationing is necessary because a computer, far from making you more productive, instead loads you down with things to do, and it’s important for the machine to know who is boss. Most people don’t have the luxury of off-loading their email-reading chores to a group of competent assistants. It’s an office perk that presidents are still important enough to deserve.

The President of the United States is not a mid-level corporate executive. He is the leader of nearly two million non-postal employees in an unwieldy federal bureaucracy shaped by over five hundred yammering ankle-biters. Do you really want him to be shuttling between email on his Blackberry and skater-dog videos on YouTube?

obama and government "innovation"

Barack Obama seems to think that one can’t put a price tag on innovation, as Sen. McCain wants to do with his (admittedly economically questionable) $300m bounty on a new, more efficient car battery. Apparently he hasn’t heard of things like “the venture capital industry,” which essentially does exactly that. To say nothing of earlier cited examples like the X-Prize, or the $1m price for improving Netflix’s search algorithm.

Someone remind me again why geeks love this guy. Is it his inability to comprehend economics? (In the linked speech excerpt, he says we need government involvement to find affordable energy, and then commends European alternative energy efforts.) Or is it just that John McCain is old?

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