Friday, December 30, 2005

The Year of the Blog

This will probably be my last post of 2005, so I just wanted to say a few things before the year ends. First of all, I'd like to thank Michelle for encouraging me to start a blog and for sharing in my enjoyment of blogging, even if she really isn't all that into it herself. I'd also like to thank MDS for encouraging me to blog more frequently and for stimulating discussions on Data Janitor with his comments.

I don't know if 2005 really was the breakout year for blogging, but it seemed that way to me. I'm not talking about my little corner of the blog world here because I'm not really trying to do anything special here. I was just looking for a new creative outlet and a way to stay in touch with people. I found that, but I also found myself getting involved in the community aspect of blogging, which was not something that I had expected. I can definitely envision a future where more and more journalists work independently and publish their stores in a blog-like format. Readers will be able to assemble a virtual newspaper using feeds from their favorite sources. I used to fear the demise of the traditional newspaper, but I'm now looking forward to it. I no longer buy into the argument that if you give people the option to pick and choose news stories on their own, they will ignore the stories and opinions that they don't want to hear or disagree with. My experience has been the exact opposite.
You can start off reading a single blog or only the bloggers who share your interests or political beliefs, but the blogs you read will inevitably link to other blogs or online media sources. If you like what you're reading in a blog, there's a good chance you'll check out the blogs it links to. If you like what you find there, maybe you'll start checking that blog out on a regular basis too. Before you know it, you're checking out several dozen blogs and reading about topics and ideas that you never used to be interested in. At least, that has been my experience.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Man Bites Dog

According to this story, Cintas employees (with some help from management) are suing the labor union Unite Here for violating a privacy protection law during a campaign to unionize workers at a Cintas plant in Emmaus, PA. The employees are upset that the union organizers obtained their home addresses through a private investigator based on license plate numbers collected in the company parking lot. This apparently violates the little-known Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994. I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised that this law is on the books.

It's unclear whether the workers who organized this lawsuit are more outraged by the invasion of their privacy or the union campaign to organize their plant. If this lawsuit really comes from and is supported by the workers at the plant, I don't see how organized labor has much of a chance of growing or even surviving in its current form.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The People Who Move Us

I am not a big fan of Mitch Albom's writing, but I don't detest him enough to start a blog dedicated to taking shots at him. There are a number of good writers on the web who do a yeoman's work dissecting and exposing the lies, misinformation, and faulty logic that is written and uttered by public figures, but Morrie Schwarzenegger isn't one of them. Mitch Albom is a Terrible Writer spends some time critiquing Mitch's writing, but most of the time, it's just making fun of him and the people who read his books.

That being said, this piece is absolutely hilarious. Full disclosure: I have an extremely soft spot for humor that centers around the People Mover. As funny as this story is, the comments are even more hilarious because no one seemed to realize that the story is a joke.

Least Essential Albums

The Onion's A.V. Club released it's annual list of least essential albums today. I love the least essential albums list. This year's list is somewhat of a disappointment, however. I've never heard any of the music on this list, but that's nothing new. For some reason, the albums that they "honor" and the categories that they have made up don't seem as ridiculous as they have in years past. If I had to pick a favorite, I'd say that this year's best award category is: Least Essential Acoustic Anniversary Version of an Album Everyone's Sick of Already (Alanis Morisette, Jagged Little Pill Acoustic). The money quote comes from the review of The Rose Vol 2: Music Inspired by Tupac's Poetry.

In a shocking lapse in his once-remarkable posthumous work ethic, Tupac Shakur somehow failed to put out a new album this year: It appears that dying in 1995 is finally starting to catch up with him.

Check out some of the least essential albums of years past here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Ask Your Doctor if Orencia is Right For You

The drug that Michelle has been working on for almost the past three years just received FDA approval this week. The drug is designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis. I don't really understand most of the information in this press release, but it sounds like a promising new treatment.

Takin' Care of Business

I stumbled across this guy's blog today, and he offers some good advice for anyone who is considering starting their own software company. He gains a large amount of credibility in my book by being the founder of his own software company. I have a lot of respect for people who strike it out on their own and start a business, especially people like this fellow who leave behind a lucrative career in software development for the uncertain world of software entrepreneurship. I often day dream about joining their ranks, but my lack of product ideas and unwillingness to do the dirty work involved in starting a business generally brings me back down to earth.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

No Fair

I have to admit that I have gotten caught up in the whole pop economics fad that has been spreading across the media landscape like wildfire. I had never really paid any attention to economics before, but I am fascinated by the explanations of everyday phenomena offered by the great pop economists of our day. I know enough about economics to know that there is plenty of disagreement amongst reputable economists over all but the most trivial economic problems, so I try to absorb all of these pop economic lessons with a side of skepticism.

One consequence of my new found love of economics is that I find myself thinking like a pop economist when I'm out in the world conducting my business. I have been interested in the idea of "fairly traded" food products for a while and have been meaning to figure out what exactly this label means and pass this knowledge on to my loyal readers. As luck would have it, our friends over at Marginal Revolution have beat me to it. I must admit that I don't really follow the entire argument or even the terminology of the discussion (what exactly is a "development optimist"?) That's ok, because I was always more interested in whether or not fairly traded food products actually deliver on their promise to pay the workers in the field a living wage, not the macroeconomic implications of fair trade. The WaPo article linked to in this piece and a link left in the comments section address this issue more directly. The verdict is a hazy, at best. It is unclear whether trade actually helps the people it purports to benefit. It is possible that any positive impact that it has on the life of an impoverished coffee plantation worker might be offset by the bureaucratic overhead imposed by the fair trade apparatus.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Three Girls for Every Five Boys

I was in NYC recently and I noticed a billboard for the Jewish online dating service JDate in Times Square that struck me as a very atypical dating service advertisement. Check out this link for a picture of the billboard. Incidentally, the aforementioned link is courtesy of the Belligerent Intellectual, a person whom I have never met but frequently posts comments on a blog that I check our on a regular basis (authored by another person I've never met).

The thing I can't figure out about this ad is why does it feature a group of three women and five men, none of whom appear to be romantically involved with anyone else in the ad? I could understand if this was an ad for a social networking website that also offered matchmaking services, but as far as I can tell, JDate is what it claims to be, a dating service for Jewish singles. What kind of reaction are they trying to get out of their target demographic in response to this ad? Maybe the reason they are focusing on a group of people instead of one happy couple is to convey the message that a lot of young Jewish singles are using JDate in order to diffuse any remaining stigma surrounding online dating services. Maybe they are having trouble attracting women to their service and are trying to persuade them to check it out by showing them a surplus of eligible Jewish bachelors. Maybe there is a religious or cultural preference for dating in groups that I am unaware of?

My guess is that I'm reading too much into this ad. It's probably most likely that the ad agency that put this one together used the time-tested rule that you can sell any product if you show people who are hip, young, and attractive using it and appearing to have a good time.

Intelligent Medicine

Doonesbury weighed in on intelligent design yesterday. As far as I remember, this is the first time that this issue has made its way into Doonesbury. It's takes intelligent design to one of its logical conclusions, with amusing results.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

America's Finest News Source

I read out a number of blogs that cover the latest goings on in the current battle over the teaching of evolution in our nation's science classrooms. That's why I was surprised that I didn't hear about this story until I read about it in The Onion today. The whole thing would make a create feature story in The Onion, if only it wasn't true.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Sushi Drive

When you think of Japan, three things that probably come to mind are excellent cuisine, food models, and microelectronics. It's good to see that someone has put together a product that leverages Japan's excellence in all three of these disciplines.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Lost Lennon Tapes

In today's Syracuse Post-Standard, Sean Kirst recounts a night in October of 1971 when the Beatles (sans Paul) almost got together for a reunion concert in Syracuse. Lennon and Yoko Ono were in town for the opening of Ono's first major art exhibition, which was on display at Syracuse's Everson Museum of Art. Read Kirst's column here. Also check out the front page of today's paper (PDF). Make sure you read the "Art or Hokum?" editorial excerpted from the September 27, 1971 edition of the paper. The caption on the photo mentions that Lennon and Ono headed to the Onondaga Nation territory after their visit to support its efforts to keep Interstate 81 from cutting through their reservation. Apparently, they were unsuccessful.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Disposable A/V Club

Am I the last person on earth to learn about disposable video cameras? Apparently, they have been on the market for six months now, but I just learned about them today. I think it's a really interesting concept, though I don't see myself purchasing one anytime soon. I have two questions about these miracles of consumer technology. My first question is how much of the pricing model is based on re-packaging and reselling the cameras multiple times? On a related note, I wonder how hard it would be for an enterprising hacker to figure out how to turn one of these things into a video camera that you could use over and over?


I'm not a huge fan of Microsoft Windows, though I'm not one of those people who harbors an irrational hatred of everything produced by Microsoft. That being said, I've never bought into any of these anti-trust rulings that they have faced, including the latest installment, from South Korea. Microsoft has, in my opinion, the least sustainable monopoly in the history of private business monopolies. Microsoft has numerous competitors (various Linux vendors) who offer a complete operating system including applications that can read files created by Microsoft applications and write files that can be read by Microsoft applications. This operating system and its applications can be yours for the low, low price of nothing. I run Linux on my home computer, and I agree that it's not as polished or user-friendly as Windows, but I can still surf the web, check my e-mail, and read and edit word documents and spreadsheets. There are people who need to use Windows because the applications that they have to use are only available on Windows, but the majority of home PC users don't fall into this category.

I don't really understand how stripping Windows Media Player and Messenger out of Windows is going to help Korean consumers and software companies. Furthermore, forcing a company to help consumers access their competitors products sets a bad precedent. Why not try and capitalize on the negative sentiments against Wal-Mart and try to force them to include links to local mom & pop stores on their website?

The success of the Firefox web browser proves that Microsoft's monopoly is not as strong as some people make it out to be. Firefox would not have been successful had it not been open source (see Opera). Anyone who wishes to cut into the market share of any of Microsoft's core applications will have to follow Firefox's example. There are enough computer users today who are tech savvy enough to try a new application if it is free and easy to install and use. If the new application really is an improvement, word will spread and market share will develop. This won't dethrone Windows in and of itself, but if enough "killer apps" are developed to replace Microsoft applications, it will make leaving Windows for Linux or some other OS easier for the average consumer. Since these applications will almost certainly be open source, there will probably already be versions available for Linux, Mac, and other OSes by the time they become widely used on Windows. If not, an army of software developers from around the world can be pressed into service (for free, once again) to port the application over to a different OS.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Dagwood on Outsourcing

Two comic strips that rarely take on sociopolitical issues weighed in on outsourcing and the class struggle today. Dagwood and Blondie learned the true extent of globalization in today's comic.

Baldo learned an important lesson about the class struggle in America today.

It's pretty difficult to inject social commentary into a comic strip that usually avoids commenting on such matters. Baldo succeeded in making an interesting point, but Blondie largely failed. There are a number of reasons for this. For one, Baldo, a comic strip that has roughly 70 fewer years under its belt than Blondie, arguably has a more richly developed set of characters. Comic strips have at most four panels a day to make some kind of a statement. By building up a set of characters with distinctive and nuanced personality traits, a comic strip writer can add humor, drama, and insight to a comic strip without having to draw it or write it out explicitly. Since we know nothing about the fellow at the electronics store who is helping the Bumstead's or their personal economic philosophy, the only thing that this comic strip tells us is that Dagwood & Blondie haven't read the business page of any of the newspapers that they inhabit since the early 1970s.

Baldo, on the other hand, relies on the relatively new character Che and his already established revolutionary credentials to deliver a poignant observation about the class struggle in America. Che, whose name is an allusion to Che Guevara, I assume, is one of Baldo's classmates who generally parrots the standard socialist student boilerplate about capitalism and worker oppression. In today's comic, we learn that Che is a child of privilege and Baldo learns that the people who yell the loudest about worker oppression often know very little about working themselves.

If you enjoy the comic strip commentaries I write from time to time, be sure to check out the Comics Curmudgeon, who does this on a daily basis.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Brother, Can You Spare Some Gas?

I was approached by a guy with a gas can in downtown Syracuse today who asked me for some spare change because he and his wife had just run out of gas. He gestured over to his car, parked on a nearby street. There was definitely someone sitting in the passenger seat who at least appeared to be a woman so that part of his story was plausible. His plea would have been a little more convincing had the car not been idling at the time. It also would have been a little more convincing if he was near a gas station instead of in the middle of the downtown retail and entertainment district.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Meet Your Insane Mommy

I'm hardly the first person to comment on the woman who went nuts on Trading Spouses. I've never even watched the show, with the exception of this clip (full disclosure: I couldn't even finish watching it, not because it's not hilarious/disturbing, but because the I really can't get into reality show drama and I hate that annoying background music they always play).

My first question is why did this woman agree to be on the show? Isn't the whole concept of trading spouses anathema to Christian morality? I understand that an actual spouse swap is not being performed, but if people are getting bent out of shape about someone wishing them "Happy Holidays", you'd think that a show even mentions the concept of wife-swapping would be condemned as an affront to the sanctity of marriage.

My second question is how stupid is she? I'm sure that the producers of Trading Spouses were barely able to contain their excitement when they interviewed this woman for their show. I've never seen the show, but based on the commercials I've seen and articles I've read, it's pretty obvious that the idea is to match someone up with a family that is the complete opposite of their own. You would think that Christian fundamentalists would be acutely aware that not everyone in this country is down with their program, given the never-ending stream of screeds, boycotts, and demonstrations their leaders generate to combat the never-ending threats to their way of life.

The answer to both of these questions is that this woman, like most people, wanted to be on TV. Until TV evangelists develop their own reality TV programs, people of faith will be forced to cozy up to the liberal elites in Hollywood they so despise or give up their dreams of becoming a quasi-celebrity. The weird thing about Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy is that for a show that purports to undermine the institution of marriage, it's full of old timey family values. Take the subtitle "meet your new mommy" for example. They only swap the wives on this show. A radical feminist interpretation of this subtitle might suggest that this show reinforces the idea that wives are the property of their husbands, who are free to exchange them for goods, services, or other wives. A more nuanced interpretation would suggest that at the very least, fathers are generally not involved in the lives of their families enough to make an interesting TV show based on two families swapping fathers. After all, the father leaves for work before the kids wake up, comes home late, eats dinner alone, then passes out in front of the TV. You could swap most fathers with a trained circus bear and the family would be none the wiser for at least a couple of days. Finally, in order to trade a spouse, you need to have a spouse, which means that this show probably features more in-tact nuclear families than per episode than most other shows on TV.