:: Thursday, December 5 2013 ::
On the drive home from work I heard the news that Nelson Mandela had passed away. He was 95, which seems an excellent age to live to, especially given he spent nearly three decades in prison. He would probably not characterize it this way, since he spent a lot of time trying to ensure that South Africa didn't disintegrate under the weight of its past, but it seems to me a nice middle finger to the people who supported apartheid that he lived for so long after his imprisonment, and did so much. I also appreciate the fact that he was able to come around to peace and reconciliation, despite an earlier support for armed resistance. On a personal level, Mandela forms part of my earliest memories of politics - I remember vividly the boycott of Coca Cola, and my own complete incomprehension that something like apartheid could exist in the world.
:: Tuesday, November 19 2013 ::
:: Saturday, November 16 2013 ::
:: Tuesday, November 12 2013 ::
Last night, one of the members of the West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, spoke at the University of Central Arkansas. He was brought in by the English department to talk about writing, both the books he is publishing and the journals etc. he kept while in prison. It was interesting - he received a standing ovation as he walked in, and when he had finished reading. I hadn't been sure what to expect, but it wasn't what I got - he was surprisingly erudite in certain areas, and his last few years in prison had made him quite spiritual (in an esoteric way). In addition, his description of what for him was mundane prison life was frankly riveting. A friend noted afterward that everyone should have to see someone who has served time in prison talk about their experiences. Overall, it was a fascinating evening. The local newspaper did a write up of the event which has some additional details and some interesting quotes.
:: Thursday, October 3 2013 ::
Hendrix College restarted their football program this year. It's been a fraught thing for students and faculty, but seems to have launched without a hitch (I took photos at the first game - if I remember I'll try to post them here). Now a couple of stories have been released detailing why a small college might want to have a football program. The short version: follow the money. Read more about it at SB Nation and Deadspin.
:: Wednesday, September 11 2013 ::
While trying to embed a Google Plus post, I think I discovered a bug or a feature in my blog software. I'm going to try again...
:: David (15:33 in Arkansas, 22:33 in Paris) - Comment
I heard about, then promptly forgot, that I could embed facebook posts in other sites. I'm going to try it here, and see what blows up.
:: David (14:53 in Arkansas, 21:53 in Paris) - Comment
:: Sunday, September 8 2013 ::
Another day, another attempt to wrest control of your identity by a (the) social network. I've been thinking about the various and sundry attempts I've made to build my own stack - some successful (this blog runs on custom software), some less so (I wanted to build my own like tracker - didn't happen). The open web was supposed to give us access to these tools - someone else builds them, and we benefit. The shared economy. But there was a revenue stream to be had, and now we are the product, and everything is once again locked down. Add in the NSA for some solid tin-foil fun. The one good thing I see is that people are becoming aware that privacy is a myth, and some of the best and brightest are taking this on. But there's not an easy answer - unless you run the whole stack out of your house, it's hard to see a path to real privacy. Well, excepting going offline altogether...
:: Saturday, August 31 2013 ::
I bought myself an early birthday present - the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM Lens
which is a brand new thing in a zoom lens - previously you couldn't get a 1.8 aperture in a zoom. I did some test shots with it after we picked it up, and it's quite something. I'm concerned about the weight of the lens, but the image quality is very nice - much better than I think any of my other lenses will do.
:: Sunday, August 25 2013 ::
:: Thursday, August 22 2013 ::
I'm very pleased to see some high profile folks addressing the whole 'math in economics' question. Noah Smith wrote a rather lengthy essay on why he doesn't find the insane math some economists use to be particularly helpful.
Math can also be used as obscurantism; if every paper in a field starts with a dense thicket of formal statements and functional equations, it will be difficult for even very smart outsiders to come in and evaluate what the people in a field are doing with their time. Again, I doubt all but the most cynical macroeconomists would be intentionally obscurantist; they would just be subtly rewarded for doing things that ended up having an obscurantist result.Paul Krugman responds by noting that math can offer a clarity that words might not, but acknowledges that "[w]hat is true is that all too many economists have lost sight of this purpose; they treat their models as The Truth, and/or judge each others’ work by how hard the math is."
One of the things that every intro to econometrics class tries to instill in students is the idea that the formula is there to represent a well-thought-out model. You don't just throw math at the problem until it goes away. However, this seems often to be the last time that point gets made. I sincerely hope this conversation leads to some reflection among economists about the role math is playing in their work.
:: Wednesday, August 21 2013 ::
I've been letting this whole 'why aren't people having kids' thing percolate for a while. It seems like the nationwide excitement got ramped back up after the Time magazine cover story. Thinking as an economist, the question seems ridiculous - people can't afford to have children. Economic uncertainty. Hollowed out middle class. Etc. But there's a lot more - falling birth rates in developed countries is a thing, and the causes are surely more complex. So it's sitting up in my brain, waiting for a moment to come out. But, as may be clear, if I let things percolate nothing ever gets posted here. So this is where I am, at least on this topic.
:: Saturday, July 13 2013 ::
We headed up to Alaska for a week. I shot a lot of photos. Still working through them - turns out sorting good from bad is kinda hard! The trip was nice - saw family friends that I've not seen in a while. I think I will need to go back to Alaska at some point, as it was extraordinary!
:: Tuesday, June 18 2013 ::
Some recent economic data shows the labor force participation rate still in the toilet. Another way of saying that is 'people still don't have jobs, six years on'. Because I've been doing an awful lot of driving of late, I've listened to quite a lot of folks discuss causes, effects, and next steps (I listen to a lot of podcasts in the car, from the London School of Economics, the BBC, and others). It's more than a little depressing that, with so very many people focused on the problem, we've made no progress at all. When I lived in Japan in the late '90s/early 2000s I often wondered 'how do you lose a whole decade?' I guess now I know.
It's always interesting to me when a widget I've included on the blog changes in a fundamental way. I see Twitter has changed things quite a bit, which makes it a bit like coming to my web page to see someone else has updated it.
:: Saturday, June 8 2013 ::
The PRISM program is interesting not only from a tech and privacy perspective, but also from an economic one. Much like the recent GMO wheat debacle, there is a real question as to what impact this will have on foreign consumption of goods and services. I've seen people calling for boycotts of cloud services, for example. Don't get me wrong - this isn't some 'sky is falling' type of comment. It's just a note that there can be an impact. Probably small, for any individual incident (probably). Build enough small incidents, though, and you end up with where American food is - generally suspect - our beef has been banned repeatedly is Asia, our wheat and corn modified (which is not appreciated some places).
:: Thursday, April 18 2013 ::
Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas needs to be voted out of office in 2014. He runs as a Democrat but votes on major issues like a Republican. Internet, make it happen.
:: Thursday, April 4 2013 ::
Information on the Arkansas Oil Spill is flowing so fast (no pun intended) that it's hard to keep up with. The company (ExxonMobile) has been having some bumps with the first amendment (for example, the local media were told they could go with governor on tour of the effected area, then Exxon threw them out). A no-fly zone was imposed, then rolled back to allow media after an outcry. Local politicians have been scrambling to look like they care (some of them probably do, to be fair). Implications for the Keystone XL pipeline are being debated endlessly in the media. And it turns out that the Kalamazoo spill was also a spill of this type, which is not crude oil in the traditional sense, but some sort of slurry of oil and sand and stuff. Rachel Maddow did a show detailing how, three years later, the Kalamazoo spill still isn't cleaned up. I'm hoping to go take a look tomorrow and see if there's anything to be seen from on lake Conway (the lake that is asserted to be oil free).
:: Tuesday, April 2 2013 ::
I wrote a major post about the Arkansas oil spill yesterday, but forgot to press 'submit'. Very frustrating. On the other hand, now I'll have a bit more information. In the meantime, watch the video of the spill if you haven't already.
:: Sunday, March 24 2013 ::
A pleasant Spring break spent touring the state, as well as some new sights in Memphis. The weather did not exactly cooperate (it snowed one day while we were in Eureka Springs, for example), but hiking and sightseeing was nevertheless accomplished. I may also have a new goal - creating a travel guide for the state, and publishing it for fun and profit. We'll see. I'll need some more experienced consultants to make it happen, but it's very clear to me that there is a major gap in travel guides in Arkansas, and I just don't think wikivoyage is up to the task. Add it to the list of things I'm going to do once I'm unemployed.
:: Friday, March 15 2013 ::
One of the things I love about having a blog is that, years later, I can refer back to it and figure out what the heck was going on in my life. Like a journal, but also handy for pointing updates to others. So: updates. We just got a new pope. OK - that's not really my life, but it's a noteworthy event. It also intersects with a number of social issues I have an interest in, like gay rights and poverty/development. He's very bad on one, but looks promising on the other. We'll see. More locally, the Arkansas legislature has been particularly insane this year, having turned over to Republican for the first time since reconstruction. It looks as though they're trying to take everything back to the 1800's. On a more personal note, my friend Jason and his wife Janae will be visiting us for the next week. It will be nice to get out of the house and see Arkansas through the eyes of a tourist for a while. Hopefully I'll take my camera along and get lots of nice 'Spring in Arkansas' pictures. Finally, on the subject of pictures, I attended the first (what I hope is annual) Raspberry Pi Bake-off last night at Hendrix College. I took the camera along and got a few photos.
:: Tuesday, March 5 2013 ::
Hopefully the last update on the Tamron lens I had worked on - after shipping it back a second time (when the fit and finish just weren't acceptable) it came back last week seemingly good as new. I took a few photos of some baby owls near our house over the weekend and the action was back to nice and clean and silent.
:: Tuesday, February 26 2013 ::
Related to my previous post, about how online comments aren't very good, is my new pet project, events. Scheduling parties online isn't very good either. The problem is facebook and their walled garden. 85 percent of the people I want at my party are on facebook. Which leaves several who aren't, and what the heck do I do with that? I'm trying several tools to see if one of them works, but of course it's hard when you only have so many parties...
:: Friday, February 22 2013 ::
TechCrunch has an excellent article up titled The Best Platform For Online Discussion Doesn’t Exist Yet. In it they discuss their work on integrating first facebook comments and then another platform (Livefyre), and how, in general, we don't have this whole business worked out yet. There's also some wonderful nostalgia for the days when we actually tried to track across the web who else was talking about a topic (automatically!) - and the rise of the troll.
Right now, I have an account at my local newspaper, at a podcast I listen to regularly, at several (non-commercial) blogs I follow, and at several (commercial) blogs I follow, all of which I would love to easily know the status of - has someone responded to my comments, has someone written elsewhere on the same topic, has the story been updated with new information? It's interesting to think about all of this as 'race against the troll' - it seems like, for the most part, the troll hasn't been solved, but has been relegated to a dull roar. On any particular post it seems like not a lot of spam gets through. And even if it does, on most boards there's enough traffic that I'd still like to be reminded that I posted there, and that updates have happened. And, like tumblr, I'd like to know when my material has been used or referred to elsewhere. I just can't decide if this is one of those 'romanticized solutions that cannot ever happen', or a legitimate problem waiting to be solved.
:: Wednesday, February 13 2013 ::
Spent the evening taking pictures to update my LED Light Bulb page. Thinking I may reverse the order of the data, so the most recent stuff is first. I'm always a little surprised when the post-data-collection phase (i.e. the updating the web page part) takes effort. I tend to think of the data collection as the 'hard part', but in fact it's a little bit different than that.
:: Monday, January 28 2013 ::
About a year ago I purchased a new zoom lens for my camera (for search engine purposes I'm going to give the full model info - it's the Tamron SP AF 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC). The first real trip I took with it was to the Cayman Islands this past Christmas. It performed beautifully. Except when it didn't perform at all. Certain photos, specifically when I was near 300mm and pointing the lens more or less at the sun, would cause my camera to say there had been an error in the communication between the camera and the lens. Although it was very infrequent, I decided when I got home to send the lens in and see what would happen. Today I received the note that they were 'adjusting or replacing the aperture assembly'. Which was also what I found when I went searching for the error on websites after it happened. I'm pleased that the lens has been fixed, but it always makes me nervous when something happens to more than a few people - will I have to be concerned about the lens doing this again? I'll keep my fingers crossed!
:: Friday, January 25 2013 ::
According to the wikipedia article on the history of blogging, "The term 'weblog' was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The short form, 'blog,' was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog Peterme.com in April or May 1999."
I took a few more years to really get into it, although in 1999 I was already keeping an online travel journal of my time in Japan. But for the traditional blog it took me another four years. So, on January 25th, 2003 (ten years ago today), I posted my first blog entry: “A little experiment in use of web-based weblogging. What could be more fun?”
I'm not exactly sure what 'non-web-based weblogging' would look like - don't ask me.
I'm pretty sure this was the same day I got the software up and running, although more likely is that, the night before, I was up until 4am plugging away at it, and finally got it working after waking up at noon. Over the next ten years, the software was my go-to programming task when I felt the need to do some hacking.
One of the things that accidentally worked very well for me was that, because my blog was flat files rather than some higher-tech solution, the old pages still look the way they did when they were posted. This preserved, for the most part, both the design and things like the so-called blogroll. I noticed one of the links from 2003 was the Baghdad blogger, who was at the moment I was writing possibly the most famous blogger in the world. In many ways I felt connected to the other bloggers of the time - everyone was getting famous, either because they themselves were interesting, or because their situation was interesting, and later everyone was getting a book deal. It seemed like simply writing something interesting often enough was a ticket to fame. And at first it felt like a very exclusive club.
Early on, the blog felt like a great social tool - the long format meant you really felt like you knew the person on the other end, even if they were a work of fiction. Thinking about this today, it's interesting how this has evolved into the 'catfishing' in the news because of Manti Te'o. But outside of that, or maybe even including that, in the first few years blogging was our social network.
Today, blogs have evolved into the new version of magazines. Social networks serve the purpose of talking about your day, generally. And just like with print, long form has given way to short form. Even though people mock the 140 character limit of twitter, I'm fairly certain most facebook posts meet that length limit as well.
So what does the next ten years hold? I don't know. I like long-form writing sometimes, but often I'm creating a dedicated web page for it (like my recent how-to for creating a custom lightroom web gallery (still in progress)). But sometimes you just need more than a paragraph to express an idea. I also expect facebook to die, and some other social tech to replace it. I hope that will be something more open, allowing me to integrate what I say here into it in a more cohesive way than adding a link to it on my wall with a pithy comment. But truth be told, even if it isn't, I expect I'll still be back from time to time to wax lyrical on somesuch topic or another.
:: Saturday, January 19 2013 ::
20 years ago a friend of mine in high school lent me some books, I'm going to say two or three, which were the first books in fantasy series called The Wheel of Time. Since that time both the person who lent me the books, and the author of those books, has passed away. A new author stepped in to finish the final volume, and in a recent blog post he expresses some of the same thoughts I have about books that have been with me my entire adult life. I associate them first with my friend, but also with my first trip abroad - the sixth book accompanied me on my 'grand tour' of Europe in college. I've discussed the books with many, many people, some of whom I never would have guessed would read them. In short, they have been with me in a way that very few books have been, for a very long time. And this week, the final book of the series arrived on my doorstep. Partially written by the original author, partially by someone else, it's a massive tome. And I find myself somewhat reluctant to read it - to finish the journey. It's been a long time coming, and I'll be sad to see it end.
:: Wednesday, January 16 2013 ::
I was looking at my site analytics, checking to see how some new content was doing, and, as always, my old college paper on the anti-globalization movement was my highest ranked page. Probably because it's late, my brain wandered off with that and came back with the point that a lot of people are using my paper to learn about a topic. Even more probably use information I or someone like me has posted to wikipedia. And it sort of opens the question of 'who is an academic'. And again because it's late I immediately leapt to the term 'content creator'. Which puts researchers and artists on the same big playing field. It also then led me to an idea recently discussed on Econtalk (a podcast I listen to, often so I can yell at the host in my head how wrong his and his guests' analyses are) - the attention economy (and note that I linked to wikipedia there!). In the marketplace of people's attention, I am carving off an infinitesimally small slice of one narrow topic. But in doing so, for that brief span of time I am preventing them from doing literally anything else with their attention. Which makes me wish I'd been a better paper writer back in the day.
:: Tuesday, January 15 2013 ::
Did a little housekeeping on the blog - moved 2011 and 2012 to their own page, for a start. It's been interesting to watch blogging grow, come into its own, and then descend again. A recent article I read on TechCrunch talked about how some startup that had been designed to help people have longer conversations was now suggesting you chop your posts into shorter bits. Just like twitter. And it's true - I post a million things on facebook for every thing I post here, because getting a coherent series of sentences is much harder than getting one sentence that makes sense. I'm not going to mourn the loss of civilized discourse because long form writing is dead, though. I think we're doing just fine at communicating - we're just finding our way with new tools.
Looks like Facebook has been doing some crazy things with their widgets - it's currently floating over top of everything else. I've actually been doing some serious web page creating over the past few days, working my way through creating custom web galleries for Lightroom (it's a program for organizing your photographs). I note this because often when it's time to work on web pages, I have to rebuild the entire infrastructure from scratch (the perils of changing computers so often). But this time I should be able to fix the whole thing in no time flat! Which is good - Facebook is apparently making some kind of super-exciting announcement today (well, an announcement, at the very least - super-exciting is probably hoping for too much) which might mean they will be shaking up all their code base and breaking things. We'll see what happens.
:: Friday, December 21 2012 ::
The end of the year has been full of parties, and nationally, of guns (due to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting) and so-called fiscal cliffs. It's astonishing to me how effectively the same topics get avoided again and again. We'll see if this time things are different, on either topic, but I'm not holding my breath.
:: Saturday, December 8 2012 ::
So I decided to compare phone plans. Since I never talk on the phone, minutes were not of interest. I just wanted to know what the cheapest plan (with data) I could find was. I also wanted to know whether buying a phone outright made sense.
Short answer: none of the big plans could compete. Even a little bit. Note that the T-Mobile plan is 100 minutes talk, Virgin is 300 min, and in general I've assumed 2gb data.