Tag Archives: link

A fatal flaw of Wall Street in one sentence

Emphasis mine:

JetBlue distinguished itself by providing decent, fee-free service for everyone, an approach that seemed to be working: passengers liked the airline, and it made a consistent profit. Wall Street analysts, however, accused JetBlue of being “overly brand-conscious and customer-focussed.”
The New Yorker: Why Airlines Want to Make You Suffer

Like software, and so many other things, all airlines suck, but some airlines suck less than others. JetBlue sucked less than most of the others; they sold a decent product—treating people like humans, making a cramped, stressful experience as tolerable as reasonable—for a decent price, made money doing it, and they are being punished for it. Having watched the changes that come from it firsthand, I’d say “maximizing shareholder value” is easily one of the worst things to happen to any business. Now JetBlue is selling the same crap as all the other airlines, which means they are no longer our “go to” airline for trips. Now, we’ll just shop around like everyone else.

Microsoft vs. LaTeX

Ed: This WordPress theme makes the titles all-caps, thus mangling “LaTeX.” My analytics should get interesting in a little while.

I haven’t read this entire article yet, but the opening paragraph has the best comparison of Word and LaTeX I’ve seen yet:

Microsoft Word is based on a principle called “What you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG), which means that the user immediately sees the document on the screen as it will appear on the printed page. LaTeX, in contrast, embodies the principle of “What you get is what you mean” (WYGIWYM), which implies that the document is not directly displayed on the screen and changes, such as format settings, are not immediately visible.
plosive.org: An Efficiency Comparison of Document Preparation Systems Used in Academic Research and Development

Between work and school, I deal with Word and LaTeX a lot. LaTeX less so than Word given Word’s ease of use for everyone, but I work with enough math content at work that I needed to learn at least the basics. But, once I got the hang of LaTeX, I’ve been using that as my “go to” for document preparation, despite the state of LaTeX to be a lot more crunchy than I think it needs to be (that’s a separate blog post entirely). Still, even after using LaTeX consistently for a few years, I find it hard to explain it to someone who hasn’t so much as even seen it.

This bit in the abstract is interesting as well:

We show that LaTeX users were slower than Word users, wrote less text in the same amount of time, and produced more typesetting, orthographical, grammatical, and formatting errors. On most measures, expert LaTeX users performed even worse than novice Word users. LaTeX users, however, more often report enjoying using their respective software. We conclude that even experienced LaTeX users may suffer a loss in productivity when LaTeX is used, relative to other document preparation systems.

I really need to read the article to find why this to be true but two things come to mind immediately:

  • Know your tools. If LaTeX is a core requirement for submissions, then take the time to really learn it.
  • Always double-check your work. There are no excuses for not checking work before submission.

Coca-Cola Disconnects Voice Mail at Headquarters

Coca-Cola is one of the biggest companies yet to ditch its old-style voice mail, which requires users to push buttons to scroll through messages and listen to them one at a time. Landline voice mail is increasingly redundant now that smartphones are ubiquitous and texting is as routine as talking.

I stopped answering arbitrary phone calls both at home and at work a few years ago, and it’s been one the best productivity hacks I’ve ever done. At home, I can count the number of people for whom I will answer the phone on one hand and have fingers to spare. At work, if you want to talk to me, set up a meeting and I will be more than happy to show up or call if off-site. Our voicemails get sent to our email inboxes, but those get lost in the flurry of everything else. Rarely is there anything so urgent as needing my immediate attention, and oftentimes the work I do requires enough concentration that interruptions like the phone are devastating to my productivity. The voicemail system at work is just wasted on me.

“We have to tell the police that they are us and we are them.”

If the army can arbitrarily kill thousands in Iraq, why can’t they kill a few people in Staten Island, Missouri, or Ohio? You “support the troops” why don’t you support us, they ask. . . Fair question. There is an answer. We made a bad mistake. Now we understand. We have to unwind this. We have to tell the police that they are us and we are them. When they kill us they are killing themselves. . . We can support the troops by honoring their sacrifice. By caring for them when they come home. Or caring for their families if they don’t. But don’t expect to get a pass when you break the law. Police must be held to a higher standard, because of the power we give them. Certainly not a lower one.
Scripting.com: NYPD are the people

Even though the people grant officials special privileges, officials are still beholden to the same fundamental rights and principles that govern all citizens. Officials must be willing to have their decisions reviewed, criticized, and adjusted as required by the people that put them in that position of authority. We have a shared responsibility to exercise our right to free speech when necessary to ensure that our other rights are not infringed. Ultimately, transparency is maintained through free speech by the people’s demand of it, and those in authority understanding they share that duty as fellow citizens.

Everything those in authority have is a privilege, neither a right nor immutable, and is open to scrutiny and adjustment. If those in authority do not see themselves as beholden to the same laws that apply to everyone else, then they do not see themselves as fellow citizens, and therefore have no business being in the position of authority entrusted to them by the people that placed them there.

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator can start imposing censorship here in the United States”

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator can start imposing censorship here in the United States, because if someone is going to intimidate someone from releasing a satirical movie, imagine what would happen if they see a documentary they don’t like, or news they don’t like,” the President added, expressing concern for the idea that some movie producers might fall victim to “self-censorship” to avoid angering another country. . . “That’s not who we are and that’s not what America is about,” Obama continued.
Ars Technica: Obama thinks Sony “made a mistake” pulling The Interview after hack

My understanding is that it was the theater owners who initially pulled the film, not Sony, but the point still stands. I can understand them being skittish after what happened in Denver, but come on. If there was an attack being staged large enough to attack multiple theaters in multiple cities simultaneously, I’m confident the federal authorities would have picked up on it way before that would have been executed. Regardless of who actually pulled off the hack and made the threat, the theater owners completely caved to an anonymous, baseless threat, plain and simple. We’ll be feeling the implications from this for years to come.

Sony has a chance to redeem their industry by using their own, and other, channels to distribute the film, but that redemption is timed. Time heals all wounds, which means there will come a point in time when releasing the film just won’t matter, but that would be a very muted showing of our resilience. The big “fuck you” would be to at least release the film digitally through as many distribution channels before the end of the year. The wheels of big corporations tend to move slow, but I’m sure if Sony’s CEO were to pick up the phone and call the CEOs of Netflix, Apple, and Google, this movie would be out within a matter of days.

The Ampersand is Important

How many times do I have to say this? We’re the Skull & Daggers—that’s with an ampersand. So I don’t want to see anybody spelling out “and.” This was not a random decision. We chose the ampersand because it’s the cleaner, more elegant option, and it resonates with our target audience. We may be vandals, but we’re not savages.
The New Yorker: Please Adhere to Our Biker Gang’s Style Guide

Use of the ampersand must be made judiciously, but is a very wise one when done. I might be biased.

The story is, as they say, the thing.

You can’t fault Jackson for his physical world-building. The attention to detail—every set, every special effect, every prop and suit of armor and ruined town, every last smoldering candlestick and dragon scale—is unparalleled. Middle-earth feels real. But in these Hobbit movies, the more important thing to get right is situational realism: How the plot turns, what the characters do, if they move through space in a believable way. All this is thrown out the door. The sincerity of Thorin and Bilbo’s struggles is completely undermined by the story’s blanket disregard for physics, logic, and credibility. Gone into the ether is Tolkien’s gentle, thoughtful, and more plausible children’s tale.
Wired: Peter Jackson Must Be Stopped

So, let’s get this straight: a director pulls together a killer trilogy of films that strikes a cultural chord, but then later does a series prequel that is, as far as I can tell, universally maligned, mainly for its reliance on stunning special effects to make up for a crap story. That sounds familiar. I haven’t seen the Hobbit films, despite my being a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. I finished the movies before I ever read the books, but once I finished the books, I could see a place for both the original texts and the films. They pair well to me, and if I remember correctly that was the general consensus; the edits made to the original Lord of the Rings books to make them fit film were, for the most part, reasonable. Based on everything—everything—I have read about the Hobbit films, that is most certainly not the case. The story is, as they say, the thing. The Hobbit films lack a good story in spite of the quality of its source material and its special effects, and fandom pretty much hates it. This should come as a surprise to no one.

Maybe once I am finished with school I will be less guarded with my time, but for now this is good to know that I’m not missing much so that I may use my time more wisely. Maybe I’ll read The Hobbit during break.

LA Weekly: Pulling The Interview Is the End of Free Speech in Hollywood

The truth is, America’s commitment to free speech is dwarfed by our commitment to capitalism. Seth Rogen can stand in his house and say anything he wants about Kim Jong-un – but Sony has the choice to fund him, and even if it agrees, AMC can still pull the plug. The corporation, not the individual, has always had the power to decide what movie is a thoughtcrime. We’re just only now visibly seeing the suits flex their clout.
LA Weekly: Pulling The Interview Is the End of Free Speech in Hollywood

I think noting that this issue is not new is just as important.

This American Life: 129 Cars

We recently had to buy a new car. I say “had to” because the one we were driving at the time was twelve years old and had 185,000 miles on it. A lot of little things weren’t working. The engine itself—block, pistons, and transmission—was fine, which I’ve had more than one mechanic say if the engine is fine then the car is maintainable; everything else can be replaced or really isn’t necessary to getting from one place to the next, but if the block, pistons, or transmission get damaged, selling it for parts or trading it in for a new one is far easier than replacing the block. Sure, you ostensibly pay more in payments than in repairs, but then at least you know that you have reliable transportation. Since all this was coming from my mechanics over the years, I’ve had a hard time even attempting to refute the logic.

But over the last couple of years a lot of little things were going wrong, and driving our old car was a death by a thousand cuts. The driver-side sunshade decided it wouldn’t stay in the roof any more; the keyless entry stopped working entirely, we had to manually manipulate all the locks; and the A/C stopped working altogether. When we saw the cost to replace the struts and repair the A/C, we decided buying a new car was the cheaper option, at least for the first year, but easier in terms of convenience over the long term. Good enough reason as any since we felt we had successfully continued our long tradition of driving our cars into the ground.

When we were coming to the realization that we were going to have to buy a new car in the next six months, I had already heard about the 129 Cars episode on This American Life, and grabbed it off of iTunes for 99¢. Since then I must have listened to it a hundred times. This quote, and you really have to hear the delivery, cracks me up every time:

A customer says they’re not ready to buy a car. Let’s go over it again. They’re at a car dealership. They got in their car, drove through hell to get here, looked for a parking spot for ten minutes, parked, got out of the car and walked into a car dealer. Not because the coffee’s good, we went over this, because the coffee here’s not good. They came here because we sell cars and they want to buy one.

There was a lot of useful information in there that, while not directly applicable, altered our approach such that we were able to have much more reasonable time purchasing the car. In talking with people each car company and each dealership all have their own ways of doing things. But that quote, I think, comprehensively framed our mindset walking into the dealership. They didn’t need to know that our current car was falling apart, but we didn’t waste their time and ours deluding ourselves or them that we were “just looking.” They know we were in the market for a new car, but they also knew—because we told them—we were weighing our options in what they knew to be a competitive market. I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say we were not hostile in any way, and ended up with a great deal without a lot of hassle.

If you are in the market to buy a new car, I highly suggest listening to that episode a few times to catch all the details. I still listen to it from time to time if only to hear that quote. I have found it immensely useful in other areas as well—washers, dryers, refrigerators, furniture, and anything else that requires a salesman to coordinate the purchase. Unless you are in the washer business, you are not “just looking.”