Liberals Who Pine for Conservatives

As a lib­er­al who grew up with, works with, and lives with great peo­ple who are con­ser­v­a­tives, this piece by the Wash­ing­ton Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. speaks vol­umes about how I feel about them. Which is that con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es are an impor­tant par­ty of a pro­gres­sive soci­ety. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, as Dionne points out, we haven’t seen that kind of con­ser­v­a­tive in the past year when dis­cussing the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion or health care reform:

Many who call them­selves con­ser­v­a­tives pro­pose to cast aside even gov­ern­ment pro­grams that have stood the test of time. They seem to imag­ine a world in which gov­ern­ment with­ers away, a phrase that comes from Friedrich Engels, not Buck­ley. Or they tie them­selves up in unruly con­tra­dic­tions, declar­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly that they are dead-set against gov­ern­ment-run health care and pas­sion­ate defend­ers of Medicare.

And while mod­ern con­ser­vatism has usu­al­ly sup­port­ed the mar­ket against the state, its old­est and most durable brand under­stood that the mar­ket was an imper­fect instru­ment. True con­ser­v­a­tives may give “two cheers for cap­i­tal­ism,” as Irv­ing Kris­tol put it in the title of one of his books, but nev­er three.

The world and this coun­try des­per­ate­ly needs both lib­er­als and con­ser­v­a­tives, but those who tru­ly cham­pi­on those val­ues and can peace­ful­ly and con­struc­tive­ly reach a compromise. 

Top Level Domains for Companies

Yes­ter­day, Canon announced they were acquir­ing the gener­ic top lev­el domain .canon. I pre­dict as this prac­tice becomes more com­mon­place, it is going to result in a web-brows­er secu­ri­ty night­mare. There are already plen­ty of peo­ple who don’t under­stand how to read a web address to com­pre­hend if they are actu­al­ly at the site they think they are. This is going to open up a whole new world to shady folks who use con­fu­sion and social engi­neer­ing to pull off all sorts of bad things.

Ad Blocking Software

I don’t have a real­ly good solu­tion to what Ars Tech­ni­ca’s Ken Fish­er describes as dev­as­tat­ing to web­sites (ad fund­ed sites, any­way). How­ev­er, I don’t use ad block­ers myself. I’m a big fan of ad-sup­port­ed, freemi­um ver­sions of soft­ware and sites, and it’s my way of sup­port­ing those which I am not will­ing to out-right pay for. It’s not that I don’t know now to install or use these, I just choose not to. Frankly, when a site, appli­ca­tion, or even a tele­vi­sion pro­gram offers rel­e­vant ads, I’m often thank­ful to have seen them. I sub­scribe to the idea that effec­tive adver­tis­ing is just seen as infor­ma­tion, not a sell.

TiVo Releases Biggest Update in a Decade

In some­thing of a sur­prise to me, Cole­man-Dyer house­hold favorite TiVo released a updates pret­ty much every­thing today. Pri­mar­i­ly, they showed off their upcom­ing DVR hard­ware, called TiVo Pre­miere. I have to say, it looks very slick:
The new hard­ware is a small­er form fac­tor and has a very stream­lined look. What’s more, the new remote there may look just like the TiVo XL remote, but it has a slide-out key­board (sim­i­lar to many pop­u­lar mobile phones). This allows you to enter text in search fields, but also can be used to quick­ly fil­ter your “Now Play­ing” list. And speak­ing of the inter­face, it has been com­plete­ly over­hauled to match the look of the Flash-based TiVo Search beta that was includ­ed in the most recent ser­vice update. They also added the fea­ture that I most want­ed: playlist profiles.

I’m real­ly excit­ed to see that Tivo, despite years of ques­tions regard­ing their future, is still work­ing to remain fresh and keep their top spot in the field of DVRs. (Both images from GDGT)

Portal Gets a Mysterious Update

Also in the sur­prise-to-me-release cat­e­go­ry, Valve released a rather strange update to their 2007 hit Por­tal today. Though not much in terms of game­play was added, the ever-present radios placed through­out the game now seem to have some sort of sig­nif­i­cance. Car­ry­ing the radios to var­i­ous points with­in the lev­el unlock a new game achieve­ment. What’s more, the radios begin to broad­cast var­i­ous sig­nals such as Morse code, data trans­mis­sions, etc. Some very crafty gamers have found that this is actu­al­ly a rab­bit hole lead­ing to a out-of-game alter­nate real­i­ty cam­paign. Por­tal remains one of the most amaz­ing games ever and if this is the how Valve choos­es to start a mar­ket­ing cam­paign for a sequel, then this bodes well for the future of the game. Here are a cou­ple of screen­shots I took while explor­ing some of the new game features:

Updat­ed: It looks like Por­tal 2 is offi­cial (this Decem­ber) and it is like­ly com­ing to the mac, too.

Ruining it for the Rest of Us

The Pew Research Cen­ter has put up a nice, inter­ac­tive graph­ic show­ing some mar­riage sta­tis­tics by state. So, based on what we’ve always been told, you might expect lib­er­al states — espe­cial­ly those which have allowed same sex mar­riages — to have some of the worst numbers. 

It does­n’t real­ly pan out that way, though. In par­tic­u­lar, the states with the high­est per­cent­age of men hav­ing been mar­ried three or more times are some of the red­dest of the red states: Arkansas (10%), Okla­homa (9%), Ten­nessee (9%), Alaba­ma (8%), and Mis­sis­sip­pi (8%). The state with the low­est per­cent­age in this cat­e­go­ry? Blue, gay-lovin’ Mass­a­chu­setts at 2% (stats aren’t much dif­fer­ent for women, inci­den­tal­ly). So much for the gays ruin­ing mar­riage; we het­ero­sex­u­als seem to be devalu­ing that hal­lowed insti­tu­tion just fine on our own.

Clarity Trumps Brevity

Dan Sil­ver­man does­n’t like his Avaya desk­top phone1 very much. He explains how its cryp­tic but­tons don’t real­ly pro­vide enough infor­ma­tion to make sense of their func­tion. He also includes this gem on what hap­pens when indus­tri­al design fails (which is almost always, to some extent):

Yes, in the case of elec­tron­ic devices, the design should intu­itive­ly con­vey how it works with­out the need for a man­u­al. But if the design is bad, a man­u­al is the next best thing.

Writ­ing the man­u­al or the help should be inte­gral to the process of design and not left until the end (or worse, after the prod­uct ships). Good man­u­als and help can indeed be the next best thing to an inspired design and make prod­ucts far more usable.

1see how I invent­ed a new phrase to describe an old thing based on the way we do things now?

One Hundred Year FUD

Nate Ander­son at Ars Tech­ni­ca takes a trip down mem­o­ry lane for the con­tent indus­try’s cen­tu­ry-long fight against tech­nol­o­gy. Every step is a fight against the con­ve­niences we enjoy every­day (and these fools lat­er learned to monetize):

The anx­ious rhetoric around new tech­nol­o­gy is real­ly quite shock­ing in its vehe­mence, from claims that the play­er piano will destroy musi­cal taste and the “nation­al throat” to con­cerns that the VCR is like the “Boston stran­gler” to claims that only Hol­ly­wood’s pre­mier con­tent could make the DTV tran­si­tion a suc­cess. Most of it turned out to be absurd hyper­bole, but it’s inter­est­ing to see just how con­sis­tent the words and the fears remain across more than a cen­tu­ry of inno­va­tion and a host of very dif­fer­ent devices.

So here they are, in their own words—the copy­right hold­ers who demand­ed restric­tions on play­er pianos, pho­to­copiers, VCRs, home tap­ing, DAT, MP3 play­ers, Nap­ster, the DVR, dig­i­tal radio, and dig­i­tal TV.

I Think You Know Why I’m Calling You

John Gra­ham-Cum­ming recounts his suc­cess­ful efforts to have the British gov­ern­ment for­mal­ly apol­o­gize for its treat­ment of Alan Tur­ing:

On the bus home I heard direct­ly that Alan Tur­ing’s nieces had many mem­o­ries of their Uncle Alan. They even still had his ted­dy bear. I hung up and sat at the back of the bus and cried qui­et­ly. I had always felt that Alan Tur­ing’s treat­ment was appalling, but to hear the fam­i­ly speak of the man was too much. I was con­vinced that I had to see my cam­paign, which had start­ed on an impulse, to its completion. 

Gra­ham-Cum­ming did all this in a lit­tle more than a month and as he states “most of it from the top of a red Lon­don dou­ble-deck­er bus using an iPhone.” I’m per­son­al­ly thrilled at his suc­cess as it has been a long time com­ing. Whether we know it or not, Tur­ing played a large part in all of our mod­ern lives and cer­tain­ly the recent his­to­ry of Britain. 

So What Does Health Care Look Like in Other Countries?

So, what does health care and insur­ance look like in oth­er coun­tries? T.R. Reid answers five com­mon mis­un­der­stand­ings about oth­er coun­tries’ health care and insur­ance sys­tems:

In many ways, for­eign health-care mod­els are not real­ly “for­eign” to Amer­i­ca, because our crazy-quilt health-care sys­tem uses ele­ments of all of them. For Native Amer­i­cans or vet­er­ans, we’re Britain: The gov­ern­ment pro­vides health care, fund­ing it through gen­er­al tax­es, and patients get no bills. For peo­ple who get insur­ance through their jobs, we’re Ger­many: Pre­mi­ums are split between work­ers and employ­ers, and pri­vate insur­ance plans pay pri­vate doc­tors and hos­pi­tals. For peo­ple over 65, we’re Cana­da: Every­one pays pre­mi­ums for an insur­ance plan run by the gov­ern­ment, and the pub­lic plan pays pri­vate doc­tors and hos­pi­tals accord­ing to a set fee sched­ule. And for the tens of mil­lions with­out insur­ance cov­er­age, we’re Burun­di or Bur­ma: In the world’s poor nations, sick peo­ple pay out of pock­et for med­ical care; those who can’t pay stay sick or die. 

For some more myths about health care reform, you can vis­it FactCheck.org (a site which is rou­tine­ly name-checked by hon­est peo­ple of both par­ties) or CNN Fact Check on Pres­i­dent Oba­ma’s address tonight.