Friday, December 28, 2007

Blatant Advertisement

So I thought I'd toss up a couple ads that have come up on my site that caught my eye for one reason or another:

There's something of a Ying/Yang balance going on in that advertising bar.

This advertisement has no such balance:

Oh boy! A free weekly column from Ann Coulter! While you're at it, do you think you could rip open my hard drive and defecate inside? Or perhaps you could just sprinkle some anthrax inside the fan box and then give me a blood transfusion from an ebola-infected monkey...

And finally:

These are almost certainly a result of my post about POLITICAL coverage. Why don't these advertisers use negative keywords like "political" and "campaign" and save themselves a few bucks and from annoying people by bombarding them with insurance ads?


I was given an iPod Touch for Christmas!

However, instead of posting about the iPod touch (there are hundreds of websites extolling the virtues of the product) I'm going to talk about an awesome program for creating content to put on the iPod Touch.


"It is an open-source, GPL-licensed, multiplatform, multithreaded DVD to MPEG-4 converter."

I've used it to rip some DVDs to my computer and load onto my Touch. It's worked like a charm so far. In addition to having presets for easy export to various mediums:

HandBrake allows you to choose how large you'd like the resultant file to be or choose the degree of quality. This is a huge boon for a number of reasons:

1- It allows you to create files that can be easily burned onto a CD.
2- Because the iPod Touch's screen is small, you don't need DVD quality to enjoy a movie... so you can decrease the file size accordingly.
3- Alternately if you're watching anything by Peter Jackson or If you have an iPod to TV adapter, you can choose much higher video quality for when you plan to view it on a larger screen.

Number two is a big one for me because I have the 8 gig version and want to conserve space. I also enjoy watching documentaries which generally don't rely upon stunning visual effects. I'm still experimenting with how low of video quality I can choose before it becomes unwatchable.

Any suggestions on applications or modifications for my new toy?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Study on Partiality of Political Coverage

From TalkLeft

I was surprised to read the results of this study:

First off, I think that it's only to be expected that Hillary is the focus of much of the political punditry. She has been campaigning as the political frontrunner for months and continues to do so in spite of her statistically tenuous claim to that distinction.

I was also struck by the lack of explanation into the methodology of the study. What is "scientific content analysis" and how can it determine what constitutes positive and negative coverage? If a member of the media says "critics believe ____" in some cases, that person is merely couching their own views in the amorphous third party of "critics" or the even more ephemeral, "some people." In other cases, the person is using the construct of "critics" or "some people" to raise a legitimate point and to attempt to further explore or explain that candidates point of view.

How does the scientific analysis determine which is which?

Running Strong

Although I still have a stress fracture in my right foot that is preventing me from running, it does not hinder in the least my consumption of running-related media. I found this article on LetsRun and thought it was a good reminder of how - health benefits of actual exercise aside - marathons actually prevent deaths.

God Save the Queen!

The English Monarch's annual Christmas Day message was broadcast live this year - as usual - but was also subsequently posted to YouTube by the royal administration a short time later.

At the time of this posting, the number of people who viewed the speech on YouTube (900,000) was almost thrice that of the number of people who tuned in to watch it live.

Other governments should embrace the use of YouTube for disseminating their messages in an easily accessible, reviewable medium.

For more information, click here and/or here.

Quick Follow Up Re: Doping

This blog really started to get whatever traction it currently has when I wrote about my displeasure with a New York Times article whose presentation - not content, mind you - compared Bannister's alleged use of performance enhancing drugs with that of Marion Jones.

I just wanted to note that the recent press regarding Marion Jones' malfeasances is making those comparisons - however diluted by caveat - horribly inappropriate.

I'll say it again: Marion Jones is a disgrace to her sport and country while Sir Roger is exactly the opposite.

I did enjoy this somewhat dated piece in the New York Times about Dr. Bannister's accomplishment.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Wii Can Do It!

So, as I'm inclined to do pretty much every day, I was reading Techmeme a few days ago. I came across this article about the "physical benefits" of playing video games on the Wii system as opposed to on a generically controlled console.

The following statistics were among the only sited by this article:

Project Gotham Racing 3: 125.5 kJ/kg/min
Wii Sports bowling: 190.6 kJ/kg/min
Wii Sports boxing: 198.1 kJ/kg/min
Wii Sports tennis: 202.5 kJ/kg/mi

The study concluded thusly that Wii gaming: "was not of high enough intensity to contribute towards the recommended daily amount of exercise in children... In a typical week, active gaming rather than passive gaming would increase total energy expenditure by less than 2 percent."

I find it very hard to take seriously the results of a study that basis its conclusion on data that suggests that a person playing Wii Sports tennis expends more energy than a person playing Wii Sports boxing.

(For the sake of journalistic impartiality, these videos both were among the top 10 videos found with a YouTube search of "Wii Tennis" and "Wii Bowling," respectively. I also opted to use amateur footage because I thought it would necessarily be less contrived than professional footage made to illustrate how easy the Wii is to use.

I have a Wii. I've played both and it's not even close. To quote Jules (Samuel L Jackson) from Pulp Fiction, "it ain't the same fuckin' ballpark, it ain't the same league, it ain't even the same fuckin' sport..."

Well, obviously it's not the same sport. At the end of a typical Wii boxing game I am generally pretty darned tuckered out - and I consider myself to be in better shape than the general population. Wii Tennis, on the other hand, simply involves a flick of the wrist. I can't imagine that minute for minute, the amount of energy expended while playing Wii Tennis even begins to approach that used for Wii Boxing. In short, Wii Tennis requires far less effort than Wii Boxing.

Based on that alone, I question the validity of the study. But even aside from that, even if playing the Wii is only - according to the hard scientific data - slightly better for ones' health than another gaming system, it's still better.

Furthermore, there's the chance that playing a Wii Sport may encourage someone to go outside and play its real counterpart. Before you scoff at this justification, at least stop and think about the fact that emulation is at least an option with Wii Sports. It's not like someone can decide to go out and play Halo in real life.

And Wii gains even more props for actually inquiring whether the gamer would like to take a break to go outside and play. No other system encourages you to do something other than play it.

So while playing Wii is certainly not as healthy as many activities, as far as video games go, it's close to the top.

Though RockBand gives you a pretty sweet workout as well... groupies too...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Last Minute Christmas Present? (Or really late Chanukah present)

As the recent report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found, most people are narcissistic enough that they would likely love to receive something from this site for Christmas.

Hypocrisy, Thy Name is David Gregory

After all his talk about how the internet is to blame for political polarization and that blogs are effectively polluting the public discourse, David Gregory has the stones to be a part of this pollution:

And again:

Words fail me...

Thanks to Think Progress for the tip(s).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Krugman on Presidential Experience

From TalkLeft.

In response to this article in the Boston Globe, Paul Krugman posted the following on his blog:

"This story gives a lot of context to the debate over health reform now. Obama clearly sees himself playing the same role as president that he did as a state legislator — as a broker among groups, including the insurance industry, as someone who can find a compromise solution that’s acceptable to a wide range of opinion.

My thoughts: being president isn’t at all like being a state legislator, Illinois Republicans aren’t like the national Republican party, 2009 won’t be 2003, and the insurance industry’s opposition to national health reform — which must, if it is to mean anything, strike deep at the industry’s fundamental business — will be much harsher than its opposition to a basically quite mild state-level reform effort.

The point is that if national health reform is going to happen, it will be as the result of a no-holds-barred fight of an entirely different order from what Obama saw in Illinois. The president’s role will have to be far more confrontational, involve far more twisting of arms and rallying of the public against the special interests, than Obama’s role as a state legislator in the Illinois case. And it will take place against a backdrop of fierce attacks not just from the industry but from Republicans who fear, rightly, that any kind of reform will move the country in a more liberal direction.

My worries about Obama are that he doesn’t seem to understand this — that he thinks that in 2009, as president, he can broker a national health care reform the same way that as a state legislator, in 2003, he brokered a deal that mollified the insurance industry. That’s a recipe for getting nowhere."

I think that Krugman's point that Obama's experiences in the Illinois State Legislature haven't prepared him for the Presidency misses the target. I don't think that the target even existed to begin with.

Of course Obama's experiences in the Illinois State Legislature are dissimilar to what his experiences would be in the White House. This argument loses its credibility because it can be applied to any candidate's previous experience.

Among the democrats, a huge amount of attention has been paid to "experience" and how X candidate is the only one with the requisite experience for the job.

The Presidency is unlike anything else. I'll gladly agree with Krugman on that point. However because there is no experience that can identically simulate the experiences of a President aside from holding the office oneself, candidates are forced to present themselves - and the electorate is forced to evaluate those candidates - on the basis of actual experience.

While this is obviously an imperfect method of evaluation, this process of analogical comparison is the only one we have.

Being a Southern Baptist minister is far less comparable to being the President of the United States, but that doesn't mean that Mike Huckabee's experiences as a Southern Baptist minister wouldn't influence his presidency.

Being held captive for years in a POW camp is (hopefully) not like being the President of the United States but that experience has certainly contributed to who John McCain is and how his presidency would be.

I realize that my argument is approaching hyperbole so I'll simply return to my original point.

Being a Governor is unlike being the President. Being a Senator is unlike being the President. Being a House Representative is unlike being the President.

Being the President is like being the President.

Because none of the candidates - on either side - have been President of the United States, none of them have perfectly applicable experience of which to boast. As such, we must evaluate them on the basis of what their experience have been and how we believe those experiences have prepared them for the presidency.

Analogies are almost always imperfect, but they remain the best way of comparing two dissimilar things.

Krugman should realize that.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Internet: The Cause of Polar Politics?

At a National Press Club event a couple of weeks ago, NBC White House correspondent David Gregory argued that blogs and the internet were to blame for the polarization of today’s political arena. He specifically pointed to the phenomenon of "people try[ing] to divine or assign [the press's] motives" for asking certain questions at White House press briefings.

First, let me make it clear that I don’t believe that there’s anything wrong with the press being subjected to high levels of public scrutiny. Just as political institutions within a democracy ought be transparent, so too should the media that reports on them. While I agree that a journalist's job, first and foremost, is to obtain and disseminate news rather than pursue a private agenda, I am aware that any substantive report will reveal something of the reporter's predisposition. Whether it is a blatant indication of prejudice or a subtle nuance indicated by who the reporter chooses to interview or the use or omission of certain adjectives, there is almost always something to be divined.

Secondly, I would like to address the claim that blogs and the internet are to be blamed for political polarization.

In his book, Marketing to the Social Web, Larry Weber writes that, "You might have noticed that consumer opinion on the Web tends to split widely over books, movies, music, indeed, most products. Look at the Amazon book reviews; they tend be written by people who either absolutely loved the book or loathed it. Someone who is simply indifferent won’t bother to say anything. It's people who have an interest one way or the other who are going to take the time and energy to voice their opinions -- that’s evidence of community." The expression of political opinion mirrors that of consumer opinion.

To modify the old adage: if you don’t have anything nice or naughty to say, you're unlikely to say anything at all. As a result, people who take the time to participate in blogs, forums and other forms of social media are by and large people who possess strong opinions.

Rather than ask why the internet and blogosphere are polarized, a more fundamental question is to ask why the polarization of politics has been blamed on the internet and blogs.

Politics – especially during an election year (and really, what year isn’t an election year these days?) – is inherently polar. Each party is trying to distinguish itself from its rivals, as is each candidate. Even after the voters on both ends of the political spectrum have made up their minds to vote for whichever candidate wins their party’s nomination, politics becomes a game of those nominees subsequently picking wedge issues and positions. These positions slowly but inexorably chip voters off of the block of undecided voters in the middle, and add them to each candidate's flock. Ultimately - one side wins and the other side loses.

People’s views are forced into this binary function in part because they must vote one way or the other. It should not come as a surprise that this electoral dichotomy is reflected in the political discourse that addresses it.

Unlike the internet, this is hardly a modern development. Political polarization and factionalism were identified by our founding fathers more than 200 years ago. In Federalist 10, James Madison –as Publius – wrote "…a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."

This is a fair description of practically any established online community. Looking back, the debate between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists was just as polar a debate as can be found on any modern political message board or blog. While the debate between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists was waged between elite members of American colonial society with quills, parchment and printing presses – the modern debate is far more egalitarian, accessible to anyone with a keyboard and an opinion. Although the medium for the debate and the debaters themselves have changed, the underlying sentiment has not.

It is true that far more consideration went into the writings of Publius and Brutus than a typical blog post. The ease and speed with which anyone can become a pundit is both a boon and a bane because it allows for vehement expression without one of the quill era's crucial hurdles: forced deliberation prior to distribution. Two-hundred years ago, the very labor-intensity of writing and disseminating a message necessitated that the content be thoroughly vetted for worth before it was published.

This is an inescapable byproduct of technological advancement. The printing press allowed things to be widely published far more easily than they could as hand-copied documents. The advent of television decreased journalistic deliberation even further. The internet’s enabling of nearly real-time discussion of events is simply the next step in the evolution of media.

Just as faction was both loathed and lauded within The Federalist Papers, so too does it play a positive and a negative role in the modern political process. By allowing freedom so that faction can be made to combat faction, the universal accessibility of the internet can facilitate the balance of these seemingly diametric views. These opinions exist whether or not they are expressed and cannot fairly be attributed to any particular medium.

Simply because the internet and blogs are the battlefield doesn't mean that they are to blame for the battle.

While it is easy to focus on the harshest and most extreme comments on any issue, the internet provides a forum for airing and discussing these difference in order to find common ground. In this sense, the internet is a far more powerful uniter than it is a divider.

Ultimately, the polarization of politics predates the internet by eons. While the internet – like all new technology - adds new dimensions to existing problems, it almost invariably provides new solutions as well. David Gregory’s comments focus myopically on the former element of the puzzle and attempt to scapegoat the internet for one of the most basic proclivities of mankind: having and desiring to share opinion.

David, don’t shoot the messenger.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I Will be Retiring Shortly...

Because I am now independently wealthy. Check out the email I just got:

I'm out. If you need me, I'll be at an elegant villa somewhere, sipping wine and showering beautiful women with diamonds and hundred dollar bills...

Pomonkeying Around

Students of Pomona College - next door to my alma mater of Claremont McKenna College - protested the possibility of a speech from Alberto Gonzales.