Category: Miscellany

WordPress 4.0 Should Have Been 3.10

Some time in the next few days, if all goes according to plan (not always the case with software), WordPress 4.0 will burst forth onto the Web design scene causing nary a whimper in the fabric of spacetime in the process.

wplogoYou’d think that an upgrade to a major rev level like 4.0 would mean huge changes to the functionality and/or core engine of a product used as widely as WordPress (probably approach 100 million sites on the Web by now).You’d be wrong.

This version is such a tiny incremental upgrade it is undeserving of being called 4.0; it would be far better labeled 3.10. As far as I can tell, not one significant change is taking place that WP users are likely to care much about. Here’s a page at WordPress.com that allegedly lists the most important end-user features and enhancements. I think you’ll agree there’s not much there to get your heart pumping. Here‘s another attempt to put some lipstick on the pig. I just don’t see it. Some nice improvements to be sure but enough to call it a major new rev? Nope.

One of my biggest objections to WordPress (which I use…a lot!) has been the too-frequent upgrade path. That’s one reason all the ballyooing about this one has me scratching my head.

 

Answering Kids’ Questions Creates Amazing Insight

Today’s edition of the Daily Good newsletter — which has quickly become must reading for my life — contains a review of an amazing-sounding book called Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am? edited and compiled by Gemma Elwin Harris.

goldfish_book_for_kidsThis book follows an earlier title, Big Questions from Little People: And Simple Answers from Great Minds, which set the model for the two books.

Ms. Harris gathers big questions that children think about and presents them to international experts on the subject matter. They then work together to craft simple answers that kids — with some help from an adult depending on their age — can understand and integrate. I wish this idea existed when I was a kid; I’d have devoured it.

One questioning mind asked why we don’t remember things that happened when we were babies. The answer is quite cogent:

We use our brain for memory. In the first few years of our lives, our brain grows and changes a lot, just like the rest of our body. Scientists think that because the parts of our brain that are important for memory have not fully developed when we are babies, we are unable to store memories in the same way that we do when we are older.

Also, when we are very young we do not know how to speak. This makes it difficult to keep events in your mind and remember them later, because we use language to remember what happened in the past.

There are many more examples in the review, which I highly recommend.

 

Admitting Ignorance and Uncertainty Can Bring Hope

In the wake of President Obama’s clearly (and intentionally) misunderstood comment about not having a policy in northern Africa and the Middle East, it is good for us to recall this observation by famed physicist and clear thinker, Richard P. Feynman:

It is in the admission of ignorance and the admission of uncertainty that there is a hope for the continuous motion of human beings in some direction that doesn’t get confined, permanently blocked, as it has so many times before…

In fact, it is the expression of confidence and certainty in delicate, complex situations that is the greater sin here. His opponents like this in neat little bumper sticker sayings because they in turn believe that that is the deepest level of thinking of which their adherents are capable. I judge them to be better thinkers, more insightful in the presence of actual knowledge, which includes the simple act of saying, “I don’t know” when you really don’t.

 

Why Would Hamas Reject Extension of Cease-Fire?

To the extent that the Middle Eastern conflict is about gaining international sympathy and support for an ancient cause, Hamas appears not to understand the strategies very well at all.

By rejecting a four-hour extension of the recent 12-hour cease-fire offered by Israel, Hamas shifted world frustration and anger from Israel to itself. I can’t figure out what would motivate them to do that. It seems to me the world at large tends to look askance at Israel in the current situation, whether this is a result of good PR on the part of Hamas in painting the picture of the conflict with a certain tint or of actual over-reaction and aggression on Israel’s part. Most of the opinion pieces I’ve read from the political center have tended to scold Israel for overreacting, not just in this current situation but in general.

But when Israel agrees to a humanitarian cease-fire and then offers to extend it and Hamas says no and immediately launches some missiles, it makes other nations consider Hamas “the bad guy.”

I’m not intending here to minimize war. It’s not entirely about image. But it is about image, standing and support by the international community. It is about death and destruction but in the longer term it is also about geopolitical outcomes.

Maybe I’m missing something here?

SV Billionaire Shows Us Why Private Ownership of Land is the Next Big Controversy

Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley billionaire VC, has been fighting for some time to avoid having the great unwashed traverse his beachfront property over a dirt road people in the area have used for decades to access Martin’s Beach. The case is in its final phase in a court in San Mateo County.

Protesters demand billionaire VC Khosla re-open public beach access

Protesters demand billionaire VC Khosla re-open public beach access

The legal issues in the case are a bit complex to try to explain here. They involve years of tradition, the California Coastal Commission and its right to control beach access, Mr. Khosla’s argument that requiring him to open the road would in effect require him to operate a business at a loss. But at its root, this is less a legal battle than it is a social conflict. Khosla will almost certainly win the war; he has enough money to keep appealing even if he loses and he seems tone-deaf enough to keep at it now even if a compromise could be struck. But in the long run, it may be a pyrrhic victory.

Excruciatingly wealthy people like Khosla, who made his money as a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, may be perfectly within their rights to lord it over the little people. The question they will face — perhaps sooner than later — is whether they really ought to want to do so.

The abstract notion of income or wealth inequality in our nation — a terrible bane that holds the seeds for our society’s ultimate demise — is tough to get people excited about. As HBO’s John Oliver said on his show recently, the reason even “commoners” feel at least sort of OK about income inequality is because they’ve been sold an absolute bilge of a bill of goods that they, too, might be wealthy one day and then they wouldn’t want that Bad Old Government seizing all their hard-earned (NOT) gains, would they? But take away the peoples’ beaches? Their parklands? Their roads? Ah, then, my friend, you’ve got a war on your hands.

For many years, the people of the Half Moon Bay area have been able to travel from the nearby Highway 1 to Martin’s Beach over that dirt road, pay a small fee for parking, and enjoy what is seen by many as one of the finest beaches on the gorgeous Central Coast. The former owners were local heroes but they tired of trying to maintain the place as a sort of semi-public beach. Their solution was to sell it off.

The Coastal Commission says that in order for Khosla to qualify for some of the development permits he wants, he has to concede the public beach access. His attorneys have a spate of arguments in opposition and, as I say, they may ultimately prevail. But at what cost to Khosla and his family? And at what cost to other similarly situated billionaires around the nation who are flexing their green muscle in ways that just piss people off?

if Khosla were as smart as he is reputed to be, he’d be looking for a better solution than, “Screw ’em. It’s my freaking beach.” But hue probably won’t. And when he finally prevails and the beach is closed to the public for good, that will sow yet another seed of the open rebellion that may be the only way for the Little People to begin taking back their country, one private beach at a time.

 

Cantor’s Defeat Being Oversimplified by Media

The defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va) in Tuesday night’s primary is being attributed by many if not most media “analysts” as a result of his surprising vanquisher David Brat’s single-issue campaign against immigration reform. The talking heads are saying that Cantor’s stunning loss can be directly attributed to his compromise position on immigration and that the outcome signals a need for the GOP to toe a much harder conservative line on that issue in this November’s elections.

I think these analysts are wrong.

Virginia GOP Congressional Candidate David Brat

Virginia GOP Congressional Candidate David Brat

There were, I think, a number of issues on which Cantor was defeated by an electorate that had sent him back to Washington seven times, often on huge margins of victory. Among these: absence from the district on national political business; the general malfunctioning of Congress and the resulting disaffection; Cantor’s identification with some of the least popular tactics used by the Republicans during the last two sessions of Congress.

In fact, national polling continues to show that even Republicans are in favor of some form of immigration reform. So to lay the blame for Cantor’s blistering loss (56-44) is clearly to allow Brat to define the basis for his victory.

The interesting question is whether Brat, who appears on some national issues to be somewhere to the right of Ted Cruz, can carry the General Election in November with his ultra-right-wing views. He will apparently be opposed by a brand-new Democratic challenger, Jack Trammell, who, coincidentally, is a professor at the same small college where Brat is on the faculty. The district has about 57% GOP registration but the question is whether in the general election, Brat will prove too conservative even for Cantor’s old constituency, resulting in a Democratic pickup.

 

Big Toyota Settlement Misses the Point Again

toyota_logoU.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today announced that the government had settled a criminal complaint against Toyota by accepting a $1.2 billion fine. That’s a hefty sum and I don’t want to diminish its stinging value on the $234 billion company. The fine represents more than 8% of the company’s operating profit of $14 billion.

But not one individual went to jail in the case. And therein lies the problem.

The “corporation” didn’t make the decisions that led up to the accidents, injuries and five deaths caused by the design defect. Individual employees and executives did. Fining the company doesn’t discourage any individual from behaving in ways that result in similar issues arising in the future.

The auto industry, not uniquely but famously, will generally put profits ahead of consumer safety. GM just proved that by waiting a full 10 years after discovering a serious flaw in the ignition switches on millions of its vehicles before finally issuing a recall under government pressure. You can bet that if some vice-president or the CEO of Toyota or GM was facing jail time for their malfeasance, issues would get resolved much more quickly. But as long as the company can do a cost-benefits analysis and conclude it’s cheaper to pay the fines and lawsuit verdicts than to fix the problem, public safety will continue to take a back seat.

Corporations are not people, not so long as they can avoid jail hen they break the law as Toyota here admitted. Criminal prosecution for misconduct must reach to the individual decision-makers responsible for the conduct. It’s long past time for that shift in American judicial philosophy.

 

 

My Newest Acquisition: Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ – 14 Hours to Charge? Are You Kidding Me!?

I spent a lot of time over the past few days looking into buying a replacement for my barely functional original iPad. I didn’t want a mini size device and I was completely disenchanted by the iPad 2. The iPad Air was my dream but out of reach financially.

After a lot of work, I settled on the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ model. I’m a heavy user of Amazon content and an Amazon Prime member so it seemed logical.

So far, I’m modestly pleased with everything but my latest discovery.

The battery on this sucker takes 14 freaking hours to charge for 8-9 hours of use!! That’s if I charge it the same way I charge my iPhone and my iPad, by plugging the furnished USB-2 cable into my iMac. Apparently, I can cut that to “just” 7 hours if I use a power adapter plugged into the wall. And if I want to spend $20 and buy Amazon’s proprietary fast charging adapter, I can get the charge time down to 4 hours. Which is still twice as long as it takes my aging iPad to charge.

I’m considering taking this sucker back and exchanging it for an iPad 2 despite the latter’s crummy specs. I’m a fairly heavy user of the tablet and if I have to have it tethered virtually all of the time, it’s not going to be a very usable tool.

Wow. What a terrible design.

 

This Cynical View of College May Not Be Too Far from Truth

You have to give Matthew Saccaro of Salon.com this much: when he takes off on a sacred cow, he thoroughly slaughters it, leaving behind nothing but steaming entrails. Mr. Saccaro takes his verbal Samurai sword to the notion of a college education in America today and lays it low with some devastating observations that are, frankly, hard to dispute.

His conclusion:

Attending college might be the worst decision you can make as a young adult in America. You’re paying for nothing that you can’t get elsewhere for less money or free, save for the piece of paper with a con man’s signature on it.

He cites the dizzying pace at which college costs have accelerated in recent years, the massive amounts of (perhaps eternal) student debt piled up in the process of getting a degree, the bleak (at best) employment prospects, and the lack of anything resembling an education in the classic sense of the word as the primary reasons for his conclusion.

higher_ed_bubbleThere has been much conversation and consternation over the past few years about the so-called “Higher Education Bubble.” This bubble, when it bursts (as it inevitably will), is going to have a substantial ripple effect throughout our nation’s economy. It’s only a question of whether it will be the Bubble That Broke the Economy’s Back.

As Mr. Saccaro says, “There’s not a worse decision a young American can make than attending college sans parental money or massive scholarship.”