“links” Category

Software On the Wall

Quentin Hardy wrote about Nest for the New York Times Bits blog:

The device also collects enough data that Nest can start to draw from really large data sets on consumption and correlate that knowledge with information  from other sources, like weather forecasts, to make a more powerful product.

Each Nest thermostat “is as powerful as a high-end smartphone, and they communicate with each other inside a house,” says Tony Fadell, Nest’s founder and chief executive. “We can gather all that data, mix it with other data we store in the cloud, and push different algorithms to different houses to see how people react.”

Software on your wall.

September 5th, 2012

Party of Drones, Party of Medicare

Adam Sewer details the Democratic party’s sudden silence on issues like Guantanamo and wiretapping they found so pressing in 2008:

2008: “We support constitutional protections and judicial oversight on any surveillance program involving Americans. We will review the current Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. We reject illegal wiretapping of American citizens, wherever they live. We reject the use of national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. We reject the tracking of citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war…We will revisit the Patriot Act and overturn unconstitutional executive decisions issued during the past eight years.”

2012: The platform is silent on this issue. This isn’t surprising since, at the urging of the Obama administration, congressional Democrats passed up the opportunity to reform the PATRIOT Act when they had a majority in both houses of Congress

Weird world where the GOP embraces Medicare and the DNC is the party of drone attacks, and drone attacks on U.S. citizens no less.

September 5th, 2012

Starter League

Code Academy, an organization that teaches people how to program, build web applications and create new ideas to improve the world, has re-launched themselves as the Starter League.

Here’s how they describe what they do in their blog post announcing the re-launch:

However, simply “teaching people to code” was never our only purpose. We wanted to provide a path for people who wanted to start change — in their industries, in their communities, in their lives. To us, being a Starter means so much more than just being able to write code; it’s about being driven to do something meaningful with it. A Starter is an innovator, a disruptor; someone who is burning to solve problems and is willing to bust their ass to learn what they need in order to do so.

I love that. I think there’s two ways to think about what the Starter League is doing: first is they’re creating this century’s education. They take people with no knowledge of how to build web applications and teach them—but most importantly, they surround them with people who, like them, want to create meaningful services for people, and with individuals and companies working in the field. By doing so, they create a path for people to start a career, and an environment where they can meet people to work with and for ideas to bounce around and develop. In many ways, this century’s university programs should look a lot more like what the Starter League looks like.

Second, they’re teaching people to think. Universities tend to teach people how to read, analyze and memorize, but not to spot failings in services they use throughout their daily lives and how they could be fixed, nor to think about what the problem really is when something needs improved. The Starter League is trying to do that, and that’s the kind of thinking that is going to be important in this century.

The Starter League is dedicated to a rather narrow group of disciplines, but I am incredibly excited about what they’re doing. I believe organizations like this are the beginning of how we re-make education.

September 4th, 2012

Harvest [Sponsor]

Thanks to Harvest for sponsoring this week’s RSS feed.


Harvest is a painless time tracking tool for creative professionals available anywhere you find yourself working. Track time via the web, desktop or your mobile device. Within seconds, turn your billable hours into an invoice. Get started with a free 30 day trial today.

Sponsorship by The Syndicate

September 4th, 2012

When Paul Krugman Says All the Evidence, He Really Means Some

Paul Krugman claims that all (and he means all!) evidence shows that public healthcare systems have less bureaucracy than private systems. Peter Suderman points out this isn’t quite so, uh, true:

I know this flies in the face of Krugman’s dogma. But these are just the facts.

I love Krugman, because you know he’s uttering some convenient half-truth when he criticizes someone else for being dishonest. He’s refreshingly honest that way.

August 31st, 2012

David Koch Reveals He Doesn’t Have Horns, As Democrats Suspected

So it turns out that David Koch has his own view points and no horns and everything:

Billionaire industrialist David Koch, who is helping steer millions of dollars to elect Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans, on Thursday told POLITICO he disagrees with the GOP’s stance on gay marriage and believes the U.S. needs to consider raising taxes to balance the budget.

Oh, and don’t forget that he believes defense spending may need cut as well.

Doesn’t it feel icky to agree with the bogeyman on gay marriage and possibly even taxes?

August 31st, 2012

Breaking Bad, Exploding Fallacies

Andy Greenwald, while recapping last week’s episode of Breaking Bad:

Breaking Bad, by contrast, explodes the fallacy that any good can come from evil; by setting us up to wish otherwise, it makes the viewer complicit in the criminality.

Dead-on. Breaking Bad dares viewers to sympathize with and make excuses for Walter’s actions, while making it clearer and clearer with each passing episode that whatever supposed justification Walter had at the beginning was a rationalization for him to do something wrong.

It’s no accident that, in the beginning of the show, it was very easy to sympathize with what he was doing. He’s a brilliant guy working as an un-appreciated chemistry teacher and at a car wash just to make ends meet, and then he gets cancer. It’s easy to sympathize with his decision; he’s a guy in a not so great position that’s going to do something wrong to pay for his treatment and leave his family with enough money to survive.

But from the very beginning, Walter could have chosen not to. He could have asked others for help; he could have taken his friend Elliot’s offer to pay for his treatment; and, as time went on, he could have exited the business at a number of points. But at each juncture, he chose to cook methamphetamine. While the show certainly shows a transition in Walt, it also argues very persuasively that there never was a point where Walt changed from a good family man into an evil drug lord. Heisenberg was inside of him all along, and every one of those decisions was wrong. And, in a sense, our initial sympathy for Walt and his decisions enabled what he’d done.

August 30th, 2012

Amazon Reshapes Computing

Great piece about Quentin Hardy about how Amazon’s web services have changed computing:

EdX, a global online education program from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, had over 120,000 students taking a single class together on A.W.S. Over 185 United States government agencies run some part of their services on A.W.S. Millions of people in Africa shop for cars online, using cheap smartphones connected to A.W.S. servers located in California and Ireland.

“We are on a shift that is as momentous and as fundamental as the shift to the electrical grid,” said Andrew R. Jassy, the head of A.W.S. “It’s happening a lot faster than any of us thought.”

I think of this along the same lines as increasing automation in manufacturing. It’s eliminating a tremendous amount of jobs, but it’s also (1) allowing products and services to be created that never could have existed before, and (2) means that people who had to do low-meaning work like build and maintain servers for online services can now focus on making those services better or creating new ones entirely.

In the short term, it creates a tremendous amount of dislocation and economic difficulty for people who suddenly can’t be employed at wages they used to receive. In the long-term, though, we’re commoditizing and automating these kinds of repetitive work so people can be freed up to focus on creating. I believe we’re in the middle of a revolution as important as the movement from agriculture to manufacturing.

August 30th, 2012

When Fact-Checking Isn’t So Facty

There’s been a lot of chatter after Paul Ryan’s speech last night that it was filled to the brim with lies. David Weigel has a pretty typical list of them for Slate, which you can read through at your pleasure if you’re interested.

Problem is, most of what people are labeling lies or falsehoods or whoppers or whatever term you prefer, aren’t. This isn’t fact-checking so much as disagreement-checking dressed up as such. I’m going to take Weigel’s list item by item. I’ll start with what Ryan actually said, then Weigel’s argument as to why it’s a lie or misrepresentation.

1. Closed GM Plant in Janesville

Here’s what Ryan said:

When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory.

A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you. this plant will be here for another hundred years.”

That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

Here’s Weigel:

The GM plant in Janesville. Ryan mentioned it in a pretty effective section on the Obama-induced pangs of his hometown. But as Matthew DeLuca explained two weeks ago, GM announced the closure during the Bush presidency. Ryan hustled to save it. He voted for the GM bailout, in another attempt to save it. You can call that proof of government’s failure, sure, but Obama didn’t force it on the city.

Ryan didn’t say, though, that Obama caused the plant to close, so the “Well, GM decided to close it during the Bush administration” line of reasoning is a non-sequiter. He’s saying that the recovery Obama promised, the help that he promised to give, never came for Janesville. As Conn Carroll points out, that wasn’t the only comment Obama made about Janesville during the election; in October, Obama said he would lead an effort to retool “plants like the GM facility in Janesville” to build fuel-efficient cars. That never happened.

Ryan’s arguing two things. First, this is an example of promises Obama made and never fulfilled; there’s nothing factually inaccurate about that. Second, he’s using his hometown as a microcosm for the rest of the U.S. where the promised recovery never happened, and where people are still out of work. You can disagree with whether it matters, or whether Obama’s really responsible, but that isn’t “fact-checking.”

2. Medicare cuts

Ryan:

And the biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly.

You see, even with all the hidden taxes to pay for the health care takeover, even with new taxes on nearly a million small businesses, the planners in Washington still didn’t have enough money. They needed more. They needed hundreds of billions more. So, they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama. An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for. The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we’re going to stop it.

So our opponents can consider themselves on notice. In this election, on this issue, the usual posturing on the Left isn’t going to work. Mitt Romney and I know the difference between protecting a program, and raiding it. Ladies and gentlemen, our nation needs this debate. We want this debate. We will win this debate.

Weigel:

“$716 billion, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.” Not really true, either. The Medicare spending “cuts” are of the sort that Ryan defended when he was rising through the House—reductions in future reimbursement rates.

Weigel’s link goes to an article by Kevin Drum which attempts to explain why Romney and Ryan’s claim that ACA uses cuts to Medicare to fund its own new spending is wrong. Drum argues that this isn’t true since, because taxes for Medicare are put into Medicare trust funds, the only way to take money out of Medicare is to reduce taxes being paid into it or increase money paid out. Therefore, Romney and Ryan are wrong.

Unfortunately for Drum (and Weigel), that’s nonsense. Romney and Ryan’s claim is that ACA used cuts to Medicare spending to allow for the reform’s new spending, which Drum even acknowledges as true. In other words, Obama took Medicare, a program whose rising costs are one of the central drivers of our budget mess, used up important cuts for it, and then replaced that reduced spending with new entitlement spending under his healthcare reform.

It’s not at all inaccurate, let alone a “lie,” to call this funneling funds from Medicare to another entitlement. It is, and worse, it’s irresponsible. It’s not irresponsible because it cuts Medicare spending, but rather because it significantly cuts Medicare spending with one hand and replaces it with new entitlement spending with the other.

Democrats have also alleged here that Ryan is being dishonest because his own plans call for these cuts to Medicare as well. But as Ryan said in his speech, there’s a big difference between making cuts to fund new spending (as Obama did), and making cuts as part of a plan to make Medicare solvent.

Again: agree, disagree, that’s all fine—but there’s no fact-checking involved here.

3. Credit Downgrade

Ryan:

It [Obama's presidency] began with a perfect Triple-A credit rating for the United States; it ends with a downgraded America.

Weigel:

“A downgraded America.” S&P’s rationale for downgrading the United States from AAA to AA+ “assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, due to expire by the end of 2012, remain in place.” This was “because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues.” Ryan’s promised to keep those tax cuts for now, then try and flatten the code into two low rates, and we don’t know what the S&P Tiki Gods think of that.

I agree with Weigel here—it’s a very misleading statement, because it implies our credit rating was downgraded due to the administration, when the reality is there’s quite a bit of blame to go around, but most of it falls on the Republicans for their embarrassing handling of the debt ceiling crisis. This line, in my view, would qualify as bullshit.

4. Voting against the Simpson-Bowles Commission

Ryan:

He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.

Republicans stepped up with good-faith reforms and solutions equal to the problems. How did the president respond? By doing nothing – nothing except to dodge and demagogue the issue.

Weigel:

The “bipartisan debt commission” Ryan referred to was Simpson-Bowles. He served on it, and voted against the report, because it didn’t tackle Medicare costs—which sort of brings us back to the “$716 billion funneling” issue.

Weigel’s suggestion here is that Ryan is hypocritical to vote against Simpson-Bowles and then criticize Obama for ignoring it. Again, this has to do with disagreement and not with the facts, but there’s nothing hypocritical about criticizing the President for ignoring his own commission and proposing no serious solution of his own to replace it. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Moreover, Ryan voted against the commission for not reforming Medicare, and then released his own plans.


I don’t do these kinds of political posts very often because I tend not to find them very interesting, but in this case, I think it’s worth wading into the weeds a bit, because most of these claimed “fibs” are nothing of the sort, and it’s become very widespread across the web. If there’s a similar reaction to Biden or Obama next week, and their statements aren’t at all lies, I’ll do the same then. The echo chamber both sides envelope themselves in is terribly annoying, and so it’s good every once in a while to poke holes in it.

August 30th, 2012

Motor Trend: Model S “Breakthrough Accomplishment”

Motor Trend tests the Tesla Model S and finds it’s really quick, and has excellent range:

But the range that matters is really a psychological/perceptual one, not a specific number. Think about it: We drove from Fontana on the eastern edge of the L.A. basin to San Diego and all the way back to L.A.’s Pacific edge on one charge. Five hours of continuous driving. This is a breakthrough accomplishment that ought to knock down the range anxiety barrier that’s substantially limited EV sales. (Tesla is also preparing to deploy a network of super-fast chargers to supply some 150 miles worth of range in 30 minutes along many common long-distance driving corridors). Using Tesla’s home charger (240 volts at 80 amps) a full extended-range battery refill requires 6 hours (4 hours for standard-range recharge).

So the high-end model very realistically has a 200 mile range. That’s not bad at all. Still expensive, of course, but Tesla’s pushing this industry forward.

August 29th, 2012

Overestimating China’s Strength

Minxin Pei argues that by overestimating China’s strength, and the CCP’s grip on power, the U.S. is not thinking through potentialities for China’s future and how we should respond to them:

The most consequential effect of this disconnect is the loss of an opportunity both to rethink U.S. China policy and to prepare for possible discontinuity in China’s trajectory in the coming two decades. The central pillar of Washington’s China policy is the continuation of the status quo, a world in which the Communist Party’s rule is assumed to endure for decades. Similar assumptions underpinned Washington’s policies toward the former Soviet Union, Suharto’s Indonesia, and more recently Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt and Muammar al-Qaddafi’s Libya. Discounting the probability of regime change in seemingly invulnerable autocracies has always been an ingrained habit in Washington.

August 29th, 2012

Copying Apple and Failing

Eli Dourado:

This does not look like a market in which Apple’s competitors are successfully copying it. It looks like a market in which Apple’s competitors are trying to copy Apple, and failing.

True, but Samsung’s become the most successful Android licensee in the market, at least in part due to copying Apple. While they haven’t succeeded in undermining Apple’s success, they have succeeded in carving out a very nice place for themselves in the market. I don’t think that’s “failing.”

It does show, however, how successful Apple’s strategy is. Apple’s intent is to dominate the market by releasing new, better products at a very rapid pace, and releasing new products that re-define the market. As a result, competitors have to play on their terms, which inherently favors Apple. As long as Apple is the primary innovator within computing (and is willing to undermine their existing businesses to do so), they can continue to be successful.

(Via Alex Tabarrok.)

August 28th, 2012

Checkmark [Sponsor]

Thanks to the people at Built by Snowman for sponsoring this week’s RSS feed. Checkmark is the to-do app for every-day tasks like picking something up at the grocery or store or, if you’re me, putting something in the mail. Checkmark makes it ridiculously easy to add new tasks, much easier than Apple’s Reminders app. For $2.99, it’s a no-brainer.


Checkmark is the fastest way to create location- or time-based reminders for iPhone.

In just a few seconds you can create new reminders — it only takes 3 taps! You can watch this little movie we made to see it in action.

In only 3 taps you can remind yourself to:

* Do laundry when you get home
* Pick up milk next time you’re at the grocery store
* Call your wife when you leave work
* Remember to pick up a cake at 3 pm tomorrow
* Make a haircut appointment on Tuesday at 10 am

You can even add a timer to location-based reminders so the alert goes off when you’re ready to get it done — like 15 minutes after you arrive home.

Checkmark is available in the App Store for $2.99.

Sponsorship by The Syndicate

August 27th, 2012

“First” and “Obvious”

Watts Martin:

Look. Apple got market share by doing stuff that nobody else in the phone market was doing. There were a lot of similar (but not identical) things that other companies did in bits and pieces, but there simply wasn’t anything else like the iPhone before the iPhone. Ironically, the most revolutionary thing the iPhone brought to the market had nothing to do with what these battles are over: it was the web browser. We already forget just how much it blew the doors off anything available in a device that size in 2007. The biggest sign that Apple got that right is how dominant WebKit-based browsers are on mobile devices now.

The iPhone’s touchscreen-only design is only obvious now because Apple executed so well on the concept. At the time, it certainly wasn’t obvious that was the direction mobile devices were going; the sheer amount of criticism leveled at the iPhone then is all you need to look at to see that’s true.

August 27th, 2012

Last Interview With Neil Armstrong

Here’s the last interview with Neil Armstrong. I highly recommend taking the time to watch it; Armstrong talks about his life, the beginning of his work on the space program, and all the way through to the landing on the Moon. Just excellent.

August 25th, 2012