9/27/10

9/22/10

When you say "scalable," I hear "I don't value your work"

It's completely natural. When a particular process within a business expands rapidly, the business tries to reduce or eliminate the most human-resource-intensive aspects of that expanding business. Because if a process takes individual attention from smart, well trained humans, that shit be way expensive, yo.

So, businesses cut corners. They replace individual attention with standardized processes that can be handled more quickly, handled by computers, or outsourced to Mumbai.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it's my job to make it work, and I'm not too bad at my job.

But more often it fails, and things just don't run as well as they ought to.

If the business is, say, a huge computer and mobile device manufacturer, failure to scale just isn't that bad. Maybe some customers are upset. Maybe the bottom line loses a couple percents of a percent of a percent from last quarter's billions.

But if the business in question is a bank, and the process in question is signing a legal affidavit about a foreclosure, failure can equal a miscarriage of justice. And if it's as widespread as this MoJo article suggests, it could also be another blow to our fragile economy.

img: Mr. Burns, by Johnny Tirita

9/21/10

That's mighty white of you


Guy Consolmagno, who is one of the pope’s astronomers, said he would be “delighted” if intelligent life was found among the stars. “But the odds of us finding it, of it being intelligent and us being able to communicate with it – when you add them up it’s probably not a practical question.”
Speaking ahead of a talk at the British Science Festival in Birmingham tomorrow, he said that the traditional definition of a soul was to have intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions. “Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul.” Would he baptise an alien? “Only if they asked.”

Of course, the Mormons won't wait to be asked.

img: "Alien Smoking Pot" by liber

9/15/10

My life*


via Penny Arcade


* I don't play Halo, I play better games, but still

9/14/10

Um.

via Josh Marshall,
The guy who tried (and failed via skateboarder) to burn a Koran over the weekend down in Amarillo and runs a group dedicated to detering "promiscuity, homosexuality and non-Christian worship practices through confrontation and prayer" has a day job guarding plutonium at local nuclear weapons production facility.
img

9/12/10

The next big thing in weight loss: Freeze your ass off

ZELTIQ out of Pleasanton, CA has received FDA approval to market its CoolSculpting system for noninvasive reduction of fat in 'love handles'. The device essentially freezes fat cells under the skin, killing them in the process. It then takes a few weeks for the apoptosis to work itself out and the company claims patients can expect an average 20% fat reduction in the treatment area. The CoolSculpting procedure is not meant as a tool for weight-loss, but to specifically help shape the flank.
I give it less than a year before we hear about some idiot nearly killing himself trying this @ home with liquid nitrogen. Hey, it beats giving up krispy kreme. 


Source: News, image

9/9/10

Won't anybody think about the children?



Via NPR,

Based on surveys Barnes collected, the top five worries of parents are, in order:
• Kidnapping
• School snipers
• Terrorists
• Dangerous strangers
• Drugs

Terrorists? Snipers? Really? What the hell is wrong with this country?

But how do children really get hurt or killed?
• Car accidents
• Homicide (usually committed by a person who knows the child, not a stranger)
• Abuse
• Suicide
• Drowning

Car accidents are definitely my biggest fear, so I guess I'm… realistic? That's depressing. 

9/8/10

All the kids from Beaver Lick, Ohio, didn't even try in the first place.

Microsoft bans a player from Xbox Live for saying he's from "Fort Gay," even though he really is from the actual town, Fort Gay, West Virginia.

Oh, the hapless Xbox Live moderator. Hired at 9 bucks an hour to intercede in verbal race wars on a nightly basis; how is he to know that when a kid who sounds like Beavis says, "Yeah, I'm from, uh.. uh... FORT GAY," that he's just another kiddo from West Virginia who wants to spawn camp for a few hours?

Times is tough all around.

9/7/10

Real Journalism. Brought to you by Goldline.

My love affair with Glenn Beck's "The Blaze" continues. Here's a story from today's front page.
In New York Area, Stealing Buses is Easy
An investigative report finds that a joyride is well within the realm of possibility.

9/5/10

One might, in fact, blame the patriarchy

Slate's DoubleX column: "Is the New York Times' book section really a boys club?"

[Note that the Slate column chooses to show Franzen instead of any of the widely quoted female authors, such as Jennifer Weiner (pictured), which leads this blogger to ask: Is Slate's DoubleX column really a boys club?]




"I write books that are entertaining, but are also, I hope, well-constructed and thoughtful and funny and have things to say about men and women and families and children and life in America today. Do I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan 'Genius' Franzen gets? Nope. Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby? Absolutely." 
Weiner seems most concerned about how we, as a literary culture, draw the boundaries around a certain group of books. Let's call this category zeitgeist fiction—commercial fiction that is for some reason deemed worthy of serious analysis, either because of sales (Twilight), cultural impact (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), or surprisingly spry writing (High Fidelity).*Weiner and Picoult raise the following question: Is pop fiction written by men more likely to be lifted out of the "disposable" pile, becoming the kind of cultural objects august institutions like the New York Times feel compelled to pay attention to? And are the commercial genres most commonly associated with male writers and readers—science fiction, legal thriller—more likely to be taken seriously than their female equivalents (chick lit, romance novel)? Or as Weiner puts it, would certain male writers—Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper, Carl Hiaasen, or David Nicholls—"be considered chick lit writers if they were girls?"
It's a totally valid question.

Another question for you readers: Is Franzen really that good? I've avoiding reading his stuff so far. I'd rather pick up almost any of the other mentioned authors. 

9/2/10

Blazing new trails!

"The Blaze is experiencing a high load at the moment. Please be patient while we get things back up and running."

9/1/10

The Case Against College Football


It is September, which means that NCAA sanctioned intercollegiate football is about to begin a new season.  Each year at this time students, alums, and pundits eagerly await a new opportunity to experience the tradition and pageantry that is complaining about NCAA Football.

While there are as many differing complaints as there are teams, most of the loudest complaints revolve around the notion that the NCAA does not sanction a National Championship at the highest level of intercollegiate football.  Instead, a coalition of the six most powerful (read: richest) conferences (The Southeastern Conference, Pac 10, Big 10, Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference, and the Big East)(Oh, and Notre Dame) has formed a scheme called the Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, to artificially create five post-season games involving (hopefully) the best 10 teams from those conferences.

Then, to make matters worse (or so goes the loud complaining), the BCS relies on a complex system that involves human polling (the USA Today/Coaches poll and the Harris Interactive College Football Poll) and six different computerized ranking systems (Anderson/Hester, Richard Billingsly, Wes Colley, Kenneth Massey, Jeff Sagarin, and Peter Wolfe) to create a ranking of the top 25 teams.  It is from these rankings that teams are selected to play in the five BCS post-season games.  The top two teams in the final version of the BCS rankings play in the fifth and final game which is known as the BCS National Championship Game.  It's also worth noting that, regardless of ranking, the winners of the six member conferences are automatically granted a slot in the five BCS games.

The reason any of this matters is, of course, money.  The BCS, thanks to it's shiny new TV contract with ESPN, will dole out about $143 million this year, mostly to its member conferences, with slightly under 20% going to any other conference lucky enough to get a team in.

Obviously this scheme does not make the members of the other, lesser, poorer conferences very happy, but even more obviously, the BCS and its member conferences don't give a damn.

All of this is cause for complaint, I'm told, because the BCS system doesn't generate an actual national championship.  There are several reasons given as to why this is so, but most of them revolve around the notion that no championship is valid unless some form of tournament was employed to determine the winner.  I say hogwash.

There is no need for a national championship in college football.  There's no need for a national championship in any intercollegiate sport.  The various institutions have, for mutual benefit, arranged themselves into conferences.  Each conference determines an annual champion according to rules agreed upon by the members.  In all cases those rules are based on the notion that each team in the conference plays a schedule of games each season against some or all of the other teams in the conference, and based on the win/loss records generated by those games a champion is determined.  This is a perfectly valid outcome.

Greed is the only reason there's any talk of a national championship in college football.  Greedy TV networks want to broadcast it so they can gouge their advertisers for more money.  Greedy stadium owners want to sell tickets and parking and hot dogs.  Greedy fans want to claim that their favorite team is better than some other teams.  The irony is that for all the hyperventallating about a national championship, it is greed that has kept the current system in place.

There are 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division 1-A).  If we assume, for the sake of argument, that there was a national championship tournament of eight teams, and that a committee (similar to the selection committee that selects the teams for the NCAA basketball tournaments) was responsible for choosing the participants, there would only be about 25 or so teams out of those 120 that would ever have even a remote chance of being included.  Which is to say that less than 25% of all the FBS teams would ever have a chance to play for the title.

Currently there are 35 post-season bowl games, which means that 70 teams have an opportunity to participate in a post-season game.  That's 58% of the 120 teams in the FBS.  Each of those games pays out money to the annual participants and to the participants conferences.  So, wisely, the presidents of the 90 or so schools in the FBS who cannot possibly hope to ever compete for a national championship have opted to keep the current system.  A system that generates revenue, that encourages participation, and that doesn't give a damn about a national championship.

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