Shared posts

18 Apr 18:41

Professor Files Charge Alleging University Violated Title IX in Denying Her Tenure | News | The Harvard Crimson

by overbey
Theidon, who holds the title of John J. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences—an endowed position—said that although she received indication that she was a strong candidate for tenure, she was ultimately denied a permanent professorship at the University. She alleges that the denial was in retaliation for her public expressions of support for sexual assault victims, as well as for complaining that she was not receiving the same pay as her male colleagues.
18 Apr 19:52

OKAY, WELL, THANKS FOR LUNCH. IT WAS REALLY GOOD SEEING YOU...



OKAY, WELL, THANKS FOR LUNCH.

IT WAS REALLY GOOD SEEING YOU AGAIN. REALLY GOOD. I’VE MISSED YOU.

I MISSED YOU TOO.

SO MUCH.

… 

… 

OKAY, SERIOUSLY, I’VE GOT A PILATES CLASS AT 3. IT WAS NICE RUNNING INTO YOU.

IT WAS, WASN’T IT?

LET ME GO, DAN.

18 Apr 19:32

The Coming Real Estate Hyperpocalypse: All YOUR Fault!

by Tim Cavanaugh
Ryan Overbey

“But I also remember how intense the reaction was during the recession, when all the masters of the universe got together to “rescue” us from the threat of reasonably priced homes. All those same people are still working overtime to keep the so-called recovery alive. Fear them.”

Some good folks are pig-biting mad about my recent article noting that the rate of foreclosures has dropped dramatically as a result of the reinflation of the real estate market.

So many nuggets of #yellowjournalism in this @NRO piece by @bigtimcavanaugh, it’s hard to pick my favourite: http://t.co/Pxac3REJ9l

— Sam Heppell (@HeppellSam) April 17, 2014

Some of the vituperation is coming from the usual gang of housing justice fairness activists incensed that anybody (let alone a majority of homeowners and experts) would oppose the practice of giving public assistance to people who borrowed money with no intention of paying it back. But a lot of the abuse stems from a sentiment I agree with — that declaring victory on mortgage defaults means you have to ignore how bogus the “recovery” of the real estate market is.

There are three main claims: 1. Banks are sitting on a massive number of non-performing loans and putting off foreclosure starts because that would mean realizing big losses on their balance sheets. 2. For years the “shadow inventory” of hopelessly distressed homes was said to be in the multimillions, and since it’s not clear what happened to those (estimated) numbers, there are still second, third and fourth shoes waiting to drop on the market recovery. 3. The short-term recovery of the market is the result of massive public expenditures, government support for real estate inflation, and outright deception; so the whole house of cards must eventually collapse.

I agree with the general idea here, and in fact I find the whole concept of the real estate “recovery” infuriating. But facts is facts, and there just isn’t a lot of support for the idea that a second coming of the real estate correction is imminent. The Wall Street Journal had bank-owned property at only 309,000 units in October. Also in October, CoreLogic had the full shadow inventory, including REO and other seriously distressed property, at just1.9 million — about three months of inventory even if it all hit the market at once.

It’s certainly true that banks dragged their feet on foreclosures in the past, through a combination of swamped processing infrastructure, general reluctance to own real estate, and probably an effort to disguise how dire their balance sheets were. But in fact, the reinflation of real estate increases the bank’s incentive to foreclose on a bad loan. In most cases, foreclosure is just a way of minimizing losses: you lose the value of the loan but you end up with an asset you can unload in order to make up some of what you lost to the deadbeat. But foreclosing on a bad loan in a rising market can be an attractive deal: The lender can potentially end up owning a property that is worth more than the amount of the remaining principal. For the same reason, bad borrowers in rising markets will try to avoid default and foreclosure. That happens more often than you might think: A Boston Fed report [pdf] from 2009 — a time when house prices were still plummeting — found that a third of bad borrowers managed to “self-cure” without any loan modification or outside help. That portion can only go up as the incentive to hang on to the property increases.

That said, I fully agree that the 2006 crash was only a partial correction that was interrupted, less than midway through its healthful work, by massive fiscal, monetary and regulatory interventions. As a function of income, real estate began 2006 outrageously overvalued; it hit the trough of the downturn only noticeably overvalued; and today it is stunningly overvalued. This is an imbalance that began in the 1990s and has gotten more pronounced, and it is well outside of historic norms.

For most of postwar history, a house cost about 1.5 to 2.5 times more than a person earned in a year. Today, even after the much-whined-about correction, it is more than four times as much. In 1940 the median U.S. income was $1,368; and the median house price was $2,938, a little more than double the income figure. In 1960 the income figure was $6,200, while the house price was $17,200, 2.77 times as much. In 1980 the ratio was 1/2.62, with income at $18,000 and house price at $47,200.

But by 2011, supposedly the bottom of the correction, a house cost more than four times what an American earned in a year: income $50,054; house price $212,300. It is a massively unfair situation, and like most contemporary unfairness, it is directed against the young, who are looking at an ever-growing chasm between what they earn and what it takes to buy a house.

The standard explanations for this imbalance are laughably inadequate. Does anybody believe this is all the result of low interest rates (which by the way are an artificial phenomenon that can’t be sustained indefinitely), or that houses today are that much more valuable because they have bigger bathrooms and granite countertops? As Edgar Guest might have said if he were a certified financial planner, it took a heap o’ swindlin’ to make these houses into overpriced homes. Land-use policy, relentless Realtor propaganda, heedless pro-homeowner lawmaking by both parties, and maybe most of all the IRS’s unjust mortgage-interest deduction (which indirectly encourages real estate ownership by directly encouraging real estate debt) all had a hand in creating this monster.

As 2006 proved, some parties can come to an end even though they have massive political, business, financial and popular buy-in. Like many of you, I long for the second coming of the real estate crash, and I’m encouraged that RealtyTrac estimates there are still 9.1 million homes underwater. But I also remember how intense the reaction was during the recession, when all the masters of the universe got together to “rescue” us from the threat of reasonably priced homes. All those same people are still working overtime to keep the so-called recovery alive. Fear them.

Never doubt that a large group of panicking idiots can prevent the world from changing, especially when they have all the guns, all the money and all the microphones.

17 Apr 18:42

NoSQL Meets Bitcoin and Brings Down Two Exchanges: The Story of Flexcoin and Poloniex

by overbey
Ryan Overbey

“Any masters student in a top school can build an eventually consistent datastore over a weekend, and students in our courses at Cornell routinely do. What they don't do is go from door to door in the valley, peddling the resulting code as if it could or should be deployed.”

The problem here stemmed from the broken-by-design interface and semantics offered by MongoDB. And the situation would not have been any different if we had used Cassandra or Riak. All of these first-generation NoSQL datastores were early because they are easy to build. When the datastore does not provide any tangible guarantees besides "best effort," building it is simple. Any masters student in a top school can build an eventually consistent datastore over a weekend, and students in our courses at Cornell routinely do. What they don't do is go from door to door in the valley, peddling the resulting code as if it could or should be deployed. Yes, yes, the broken-by-design apologists will trot out the usual refrain that goes "there is nothing wrong with MongoDB as long as you always deploy it knowing that it can give you back bogus answers." Yeah well, there is nothing wrong with flammable mattresses either, just make sure there is no source of ignition nearby. It just turns out that we then get charred family tragedies, because people are fallible. Little websites that start out as a pokemon collection or Magic the Gathering trading cards suddenly turn into world's largest Bitcoin exchange handling half a billion dollars, and oops.
17 Apr 18:05

How quirky is Berkeley? The Giant Orange of Spruce St.

by Tom Dalzell
Giant orange at 722 Spruce St.  Photo: Colleen Neff.

The Giant Orange at 722 Spruce St. Photo: Colleen Neff.

Of the thousands of examples of quirky material culture that I have seen in Berkeley, my favorite is a giant orange on Spruce Street. It has nothing to do with Roald Dahl, but everything to do with old, weird America, a brilliant phrase coined by Berkeley’s extraordinary cultural writer Greil Marcus.(...)

Read the rest of How quirky is Berkeley? The Giant Orange of Spruce St. (553 words)


By tomdalzell. | Permalink | 8 comments |
Post tags: Bruce Dodd, Giant Orange of Spruce Street, Greil Marcus, Quirky Berkeley, Tom Dalzell

16 Apr 21:15

Ludaversality and its discontents

Doing anything outside of the norm was historically considered Ludacris.

17 Apr 00:26

Samsung Launches Website Highlighting ‘Meaningful’ Design

by John Gruber

You can’t make this stuff up.

14 Apr 16:00

Cardinals trounce Bears in first ever birding Big Game

by Ilana DeBare
Ryan Overbey

Rich kids even win at _birding_.

Jack Gedney and Maureen Lahiff search for birds on the UC Berkeley campus. Photo: Peter Maiden

Jack Gedney and Maureen Lahiff search for birds on the UC Berkeley campus during Sunday’s inaugural Cal vs Stanford Big Game birding competition. Photo: Peter Maiden

Ten birding Bears! Four song-filled hours! Sixty-four species! But alas, no victory.

The Berkeley birding team organized by Golden Gate Audubon Society fell eleven species short of their cross-bay rivals on Sunday morning, in the first ever Cal-versus-Stanford Big Game birding competition.

The Stanford team spotted 75 species to Berkeley’s 64. Berkeley may have been undone in part by the humble sparrow.

“We had a lot of sparrows,” said Rob Furrow, a Santa Clara Valley Audubon member who led the Stanford team. “White-throated Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows, Lark Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows.”(...)

Read the rest of Cardinals trounce Bears in first ever birding Big Game (699 words)


By Ilana BeBare. | Permalink | 3 comments |
Post tags: Birding, Birding Big Game, Cal-versus-Stanford birding competition, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Golden Gate Birder, Stanford, UC Berkeley

15 Apr 05:33

Chris Culliver pleads not guilty to hit-run, brass knuckles charges

by Associated Press
Ryan Overbey

By the end of the offseason, what percentage of the 49ers roster will be charged with felonies?

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor hit-and-run charges and felony possession of brass knuckles.
15 Apr 03:19

Oberlin backs down on 'trigger warnings' for professors who teach sensitive material | Inside Higher Ed

by overbey
Ryan Overbey

TW: meta-discussions about trigger warnings

14 Apr 17:10

Very Worrisome

by Josh Marshall

I totally get the very correct desire to avoid violence. But allowing a bunch of militia freaks and gun-toting thugs to run off federal agents trying to act against a rancher who's refused to pay grazing fees for using federal lands for 20 years seems like a very, very bad idea. If you've missed what happened this weekend, read this.

14 Apr 20:01

★ No One Said Following Is Easy

by John Gruber

Ina Fried, reporting for Recode on the ongoing Apple-Samsung court case, “Top Android Executive Says Google Didn’t Copy Apple’s iPhone”:

Lockheimer testified that Android, too, was the product of long hours and hard work.

“The hours were pretty grueling,” Lockheimer said, speaking of the early days of Android as the operating system was being developed in 2006 and 2007. “They continue to be grueling, by the way. … We work really hard.”

Later in the article:

One thing that was not initially contemplated for the first Android device — at least initially — was any sort of touchscreen.

Weird use of initially in that sentence. As shown below, touchscreens probably were “contemplated” for the first Android devices (they expressly mentioned the potential to support them eventually) but they were explicitly rejected in the specification for Android 1.0.

“Touchscreens will not be supported,” Google said in a 2006 specification for Android devices. “The product was designed with the presence of discrete physical buttons as an assumption. However, there is nothing fundamental in the products [sic] architecture that prevents the support of touch screens [sic] in the future.”

Obviously, Google later changed course and a touchscreen became mandatory. Lockheimer said the vision evolved as the company learned what it heard screen manufacturers tell it what was coming down the pipeline.

This testimony defies credulity. Consider the timeline. As Daniel Dilger documents in a report today for AppleInsider looking at Android design documents entered as evidence in the trial, in August 2006, the draft Android 1.0 design document mandated up/down/left/right/select hardware buttons and explicitly stated that touchscreens would not be supported. Then, the very next revision of the specification, in April 2007 — a draft described as a “major update” — multitouch touchscreens became mandatory. In August 2006 Android was planned as a BlackBerry/Windows Mobile style hardware-button platform with no initial support for touchscreens. In April 2007 it became a platform where multitouch touchscreens were mandatory. The only way one could believe that this change was driven by what Google heard from screen manufacturers is if what the screen manufacturers told Google was, “Holy shit, what are we going to do about the iPhone?”


But what caught my attention is the “hard work” angle in Lockheimer’s testimony. Long hours of hard work don’t disprove that Android copied the iPhone. In fact, copying the iPhone would imply more work. They effectively designed the Android platform twice: first as a BlackBerry/Windows Mobile style hardware button platform, and then as an iPhone-style touchscreen platform.

The word copying is pejorative, so let’s just call it following. Of course Android followed the iPhone’s lead. But what else was Google to do? It took genius to conceive and create the original iPhone. But once it was revealed — and especially once it hit the market — anyone with a lick of sense could see that this was how all such devices should work. If Google had stuck to its original design for Android, it wouldn’t have succeeded in a post-iPhone world — it would have been Windows Mobile without the existing market share.

The first successful implementation of a radical idea is usually and correctly lauded as the innovator. The second is derided as an imitator. But by the time you get to the third and fourth, the idea becomes a category.

It was inevitable that competitors would follow the iPhone’s lead, and it was inevitable that Apple would feel wronged when it happened. What I wonder about is whether it was inevitable that Apple would sue. Are they pursuing Samsung in court because Samsung is so clearly their most successful rival in the handset industry, or is it because Samsung so clearly copied — not merely followed but gratuitously copied — so much from Apple? I suspect it’s both — that it was the combination of Samsung’s blatant copying and mimicry of the iPhone’s trade dress, combined with their success, that has compelled Apple to fight them tooth-and-nail in court.1

I suspect Apple’s goal is not so much about procuring redress for Samsung’s past actions, but rather to send a message. I doubt Apple will be awarded enough money from this Samsung lawsuit to have made the effort worthwhile directly. But indirectly, if the message gets through to competitors that Apple is willing to pursue lawsuits like this with a seemingly irrational fervor, and it makes them (the competitors) gun-shy to copy future Apple products, to follow Apple too closely — it may not be so irrational after all.2


  1. They’ve sued other companies, too — most notably HTC. But nothing with the fervor and high stakes of this Samsung lawsuit. 

  2. I also believe that Apple’s executives — Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, Eddy Cue, all of them — truly believe that suing Samsung, fighting the case until the bitter end, is the morally right thing to do. Remember what Steve Jobs told Walter Isaacson about his willingness to spend “every penny” of Apple’s cash and “go thermonuclear war on this”. I believe Apple’s current leadership feels exactly the same way. The fact that this is not entirely rational, that it’s driven in part by emotion, anger, and a sense of justice, serves Apple’s interests by disincentivizing would-be future copiers. A crazy opponent is a dangerous opponent. 

13 Apr 19:01

bag-of-dirt: Portrait of a Soviet medical orderly of the 1st...

by joanna-molloy


bag-of-dirt:

Portrait of a Soviet medical orderly of the 1st Guards Cavalry Corps during the Battle of Moscow on the Eastern Front, January 1942.

14 Apr 11:15

Prubechu: For the love of Guam

by Michael Bauer

Prubechu: A San Francisco love letter to Guam

Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu Dining13 Prubechu

I can’t tell you exactly why, but diners can taste the difference in food that’s made with love and passion. It’s much like a singer who knows all the right notes, but the song falls flat. It’s not until he or she is invested in the words does the song come to life.

While not every dish was perfect on my review visits to Prubechu, it was clear that chef/owner Shawn Naputi cares deeply about what he is doing. He is from Guam, and at this modest restaurant that took over the space of Roxy’s Cafe, he and co-owner Shawn Camacho share their connection for their homeland on the five-course fixed-priced menu ($40).

It is to my knowledge the only Chamorro restaurant in San Francisco, and it’s another example of why food is so exciting — it connects people to their homeland and gives others a glimpse of where they’ve came from.

14 Apr 16:08

Prepare your taxes while watching tonight’s lunar eclipse

by John Timmer

Early tomorrow morning, starting at about 1am on the East Coast, there will be a total eclipse of the Moon that will be visible from most of North America. The first signs will be a gradual dimming, followed by the appearance of the Earth's shadow a bit before 2am Eastern Time; by 3am, the total eclipse will begin, lasting for about an hour and a half.

This will be the first of four eclipses that are grouped in what's called a tetrad. Although there have been only 142 tetrads over the last 500 years, they tend to cluster; there were none between 1582 and 1908, but we'll have eight tetrads this century. (The first already occurred in 2003/2004.) The other eclipses in this tetrad will be in October of this year, followed by one each in April and September of 2015.

Read on Ars Technica | Comments

13 Apr 06:46

New-Age Bullshit Generator

by overbey
Ryan Overbey

so so very good.

After sitting through hours of New Age rhetoric, I decided to have a crack at writing code to generate it automatically and speed things up a bit. I cobbled together a list of New Age buzzwords and cliché sentence patterns and this is the result.
12 Apr 23:02

Changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier...



Changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier in Kiev, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Photo by Eve Arnold, 1975.

12 Apr 12:56

Higher standards

Many people are—quite rightly, in my opinion—upset about the prospect of DRM landing in the W3C HTML specification at the behest of media companies like Netflix and the MPAA.

This would mean that a web browser would have to include support for the plugin-like architecture of Encrypted Media Extensions if they want to claim standards compliance.

A common rebuttal to any concerns about this is that any such concerns are hypocritical. After all, we’re quite happy to use other technologies—Apple TV, Silverlight, etc.—that have DRM baked in.

I think that this rebuttal is a crock of shit.

It is precisely because other technologies are locked down that it’s important to keep the web open.

I own an Apple TV. I use it to watch Netflix. So I’m using DRM-encumbered technologies all the time. But I will fight tooth and nail to keep DRM out of web browsers. That’s not hypocrisy. That’s a quarantine measure.

Stuart summarises the current situation nicely:

From what I’ve seen, this is a discussion of pragmatism: given that DRM exists and movies use it and people want movies, is it a good idea to integrate DRM movie playback more tightly with the web?

His conclusion perfectly encapsulates why I watch Netflix on my Apple TV and I don’t want DRM on the web:

The argument has been made that if the web doesn’t embrace this stuff, people won’t stop watching videos: they’ll just go somewhere other than the web to get them, and that is a correct argument. But what is the point in bringing people to the web to watch their videos, if in order to do so the web becomes platform-specific and unopen and balkanised?

As an addendum, I heard a similar “you’re being a hypocrite” argument when I raised security concerns about EME at the last TAG meetup in London:

I tried to steer things away from the ethical questions and back to the technical side of things by voicing my concerns with the security model of EME. Reading the excellent description by Henri, sentences like this should give you the heebie-jeebies:

Neither the browser nor the JavaScript program understand the bytes.

Alex told me that my phone already runs code that I cannot inspect and does things that I have no control over. So hey, what does it matter if my web browser does the same thing, right?

I’m reminded of something that Anne wrote four years ago when a vulnerability was discovered that affected Flash, Java, and web browsers:

We have higher standards for browsers.


Tagged with w3c drm eme standards security


Have you published a response to this? Let me know the URL:

12 Apr 02:03

Male aunty

by Victor Mair

Joel Martinsen came across this snapshot a couple of days ago:


Here's the story

The sign says:

Zhāopìn
Zuòfàn āyí
(Nánnǚ bù xiàn)

  招 聘
做饭阿姨
(男女不限)

Help Wanted
Cook Aunty
(Male or female)

Baidu Fanyi translates the last line more literally as "not limited to men and women".

We've been grappling with gender a lot lately, and it looks like we have more gender bending going on here.

The key term is āyí 阿姨 ("aunt; auntie; aunty; nurse[maid]"). The first syllable is a noun prefix designating terms of relationship; the second syllable contains the semantic core of the word — note that the character used to write this syllable has the female radical.

Chinese families often hire an āyí 阿姨 ("aunty") to help with the children, but many of the āyí 阿姨 that I encountered in China served primarily as cooks for the families where they were employed. In this case, it is fairly clear that cooking duties are being emphasized.

But wait a minute! What about the last line, which declares that this "cook aunty" can be either male or female (or maybe even something else!)? It would appear that āyí 阿姨 ("aunty") is losing its gender designation in China, so for many people it no longer sounds strange to think of a "male aunty".

It's no stranger than to speak of a "male nurse", though I must confess that, when I was young and first heard that expression, I felt confused. Similarly, it took me a while to get used to the fact that stewardesses could be male (never mind that "stewardess" is obviously the femininization of "steward"). See: "'Male stewardess' just didn't fly". More generally, see also this Wikipedia article on "Gender marking in job titles".

[Thanks to Rebecca Fu, Jing Wen, and Cheng Fangyi]

11 Apr 15:45

Meet the Bag Man

by John Gruber

Eye-opening feature by Steven Godfrey for SBNation on the stream of money paid to college football recruits and players:

Remember, your job as a bag man isn’t to hide the benefit. It’s to hide the proof. In a region as passionate about college football as the American South, there’s no real moral outrage when new cars or clothes or jobs for relatives appear.

“We can only get away with whatever’s considered reasonable by the majority of the folks in our society. That’s why it’s different in the SEC. Maybe that’s why we’re able to be more active in what we do. Because no one ever looks at the car or the jewelry and says, ‘How did you get that, poor football player?’ They say, ‘How did they get you that and not get caught, poor football player?’”

11 Apr 15:53

Scaling the Facebook Data Warehouse to 300 PB

by John Gruber

Pamela Vagata and Kevin Wilfong, writing for the Facebook Engineering Blog:

At Facebook, we have unique storage scalability challenges when it comes to our data warehouse. Our warehouse stores upwards of 300 PB of Hive data, with an incoming daily rate of about 600 TB. In the last year, the warehouse has seen a 3x growth in the amount of data stored. Given this growth trajectory, storage efficiency is and will continue to be a focus for our warehouse infrastructure.

600 TB of incoming data per day is mind-blowing. I can’t fathom it. And it’s great that they’re sharing this information. There can’t be that many entities dealing with this scale of data storage, and the others likely aren’t sharing what they’ve learned. This is the cutting edge of computer science.

11 Apr 16:08

Eye-Openers: Beef prices hit an all-time high

by Paolo Lucchesi
Beef cattle roam the brown-dirt fields on a ranch on the outskirts of Delano, in California's Central Valley, on February 3, 2014.  At this time of the year normally, the fields would be covered in lush green grass but the western US states's worst drought in decades has reduced the land to a parched moonscape. California rancher Nathan Carver, who's family has owned a ranch nearby for five generations, remembers tales his grandparents told of the Dust Bowl years in the 1930's, but this is as bad as he has ever seen it in his lifetime, he said.   AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BrownFREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Beef cattle roam the brown-dirt fields on a ranch on the outskirts of Delano, in California’s Central Valley, on February 3, 2014. At this time of the year normally, the fields would be covered in lush green grass but the western US states’s worst drought in decades has reduced the land to a parched moonscape. California rancher Nathan Carver, who’s family has owned a ranch nearby for five generations, remembers tales his grandparents told of the Dust Bowl years in the 1930′s, but this is as bad as he has ever seen it in his lifetime, he said. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. Brown

From the local scene:

  • Beef prices has officially hit an all-time high in America — and they’re not expected to come down anytime soon: “Extreme weather has thinned the nation’s beef cattle herds to levels last seen in 1951, when there were about half as many mouths to feed in America … The retail value of ‘all-fresh’ USDA choice-grade beef jumped to a record $5.28 a pound in February, up from $4.91 the same time a year ago.” [Los Angeles Times]
  • Hapa Ramen, Juhu Beach Club, Kin Khao, Nopalito and the case for paying more for ethnic food. [Edible SF]

From the national scene:

  • The obit for Steven Shaw, pioneering online food writer. [New York Times]
  • Quinoa quarrel? Quinoa quarrel. [Harper's]
  • Peets Coffee opens a new location just steps from the White House. [Business Times]
  • Get to know the Breslin’s lamb burger. [Serious Eats]
  • “How I Learned to Love Vegetables—by Following the Grateful Dead” [Bon Appetit]
11 Apr 00:53

"We're updating our novel-length Terms of Service?"

by Mark Liberman

Yesterday I got an email from airbnb.com, under the heading "We're updating our Terms of Service". It starts this way:

Hi Mark,

Our business and our community have grown, so we are updating our Terms of Service, Host Guarantee Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy. These changes will be effective for all users on April 30, 2014. When you use our site on or after that day, we will ask you to agree to the new terms.

It goes on to explain:

We have put up a page to explain these changes in more detail. You should review the documents in full on your own. The old and new versions of both documents can be found at the “Terms of Service”, “Privacy Policy” and “Host Guarantee Terms and Conditions” tabs at https://www.airbnb.com/terms

Airbnb is only as strong as its community. We are so grateful to see our community strengthen as we grow. Thank you for your time!

The Terms of Service tab  is a document comprising 28,246 words of legalese. The Privacy Policy tab comprises 8,729 words. The Host Guarantee Terms and Conditions  comprises 16,700 words. There's Guest Refund Policy tab weighing in at a mere 1,406 words, and a couple of other tabs that are merely magazine-article size.  Ignoring them, we get 28246+8729+16700+1406 = 55081 words, or about the size of a short novel, though much less readable.

I'm used to long click-through agreements that no one has the time or interest to read, but this seems to be some kind of a record.

If I were to read this material out loud, at a rate of 150 wpm, it would take 55081/150 = 367.2 minutes, or about six hours and seven minutes. With silent reading at 400 wpm, it would be a mere two hours and seventeen minutes. "Thank you for your time" indeed.

Is it actually legal to impose a semi-impenetrable 55,000-word contract on someone, simply by asking them to click on a link claiming to have read and accepted something they could not possibly have read and understood?

Update — In the comments, Patrick Gribben points us to Austin Carr, "Inside Airbnb's Grand Hotel Plans", Fast Company, April 2014:

When I first heard of "the sheet," I assumed it was bogus. Word was that Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky had boiled down his strategic road map–all of Airbnb's secret plans for 2014–onto a single piece of paper.  

Yet on an early evening in late January, I am sitting in a conference room at Airbnb's San Francisco headquarters across from Chesky and Chip ­Conley, Airbnb's recently ­appointed head of global hospitality, and Chesky is wondering aloud whether to show me the fabled ­document. Even as he's talking about it, I am still ­unsure whether I'm being punked.  

After a second of deliberation, Chesky pulls the trigger: He sends an employee to retrieve the sheet. He then slides it in front of me, as Conley, only half-joking, declares, "The infamous paper to take over the world!"  

The 8.5-by-11-inch typewritten sheet highlights the company's four ­major goals for 2014, each with specific objectives, product features, target launch dates, and year-end milestones. I can't reveal them all here–Chesky will debut new initiatives sometime this summer. But the document is a remarkable piece of work, an example of bold corporate strategy boiled down to its essence. Sixty people have been working for five months to distill many ideas to this core.

 So for the CEO, sixty people work five months to distill their world-domination plans into one "8.5-by-11 typewritten sheet", while the rest of us are asked to read and agree to 55,000 words (= several hundred "typewritten" pages) in order to allow ourselves to be dominated?

 

 

 

10 Apr 20:33

Dropbox tone-deaf? Hardly

TechDirt has a story calling Dropbox "tone-deaf" for adding Condoleezza Rice to their board of directors, given that she played a central role in creating the surveillance state that we now find ourselves in. (Yesterday Ed Bott said the same on Twitter. I argued with him. A more detailed version of the argument follows.)

Tone-deaf is an interesting idea. Literally it means that someone can't carry a tune. Using it as a metaphor for a company, I think they're saying they have an integrity issue. Dropbox seems to be a company we can trust to fight the government on our behalf. Hiring Rice seems contrary to that and to the interests of its users. They aren't what they say they are, therefore they're tone-deaf.

But it's only tone-deaf if you were expecting a different tune. I think it's refreshingly honest and open. It tells the users that it's very important for Dropbox to have a way to communicate with governments at a very high level. Someone has to rep the company at meetings that are now taking place regularly where new rules are being created to govern the Internet. Private rules that we may not know anything about.

The net never was as open and liberal as it seemed to us. That's what we learned from Snowden's leaks. Every large tech company is quickly becoming part of the governmental structure of the world. Eric Schmidt, for example, travels with a former aide to the US Secretary of State. I'm sure at times when he meets with world leaders he's carrying messages for our government and vice versa.

That's the reality. Dropbox could have tried to hide it from users, but they chose not to. That appears to be in harmony with other tech companies. We may not like the song they're singing, but it's not tone-deaf.

10 Apr 21:42

France Says Non to After-Work E-mails

by Andrew Johnson

French employees will no longer be expected to check e-mails from their bosses when they leave the office, according to a new trade-union deal. After-hours correspondences, including phone calls, will now legally be off-limits for employers.

The deal will affect employees in the technology and consulting sectors in the country, which the Guardian reports include France’s Google, Facebook, Deloitte, and PricewaterhouseCoopers branches.

Employers will also be prohibited from pressuring their workers to check in on work-related communication after hours.

“We can admit extra work in exceptional circumstances, but we must always come back to what is normal, which is to unplug, to stop being permanently at work,” said General Confederation of Managers chairman Michel De La Force.

The measure is an extension of the nationally mandated policy of limiting employees to a 35-hour work week.

10 Apr 14:40

Secret may be the next thing

Ryan Overbey

At first glance, Secret appears to be basically boredatlamont or harvardfml for Bay Area tech workers.

Twitter and Facebook

Twitter and Facebook are part of my "rotation." When I take a break from work, I go to each to see what's up. It's a habit, like checking email was a decade ago. I check even though there's usually not much there of interest.

I don't have any early-days memories of Facebook, because I wasn't part of its early adopter crowd. But I was there for the beginning of Twitter. And I remember what an eye-opening experience it was. All of a sudden the lives of the people I related to on the web were opening up to me. I could see where people go, even learn about their families. But then the experience got diluted, as I followed more people, and more people, strangers, talked to me as I tweeted. The experience re-formed into a sort of social media haze, people promoting this and that. Although we don't call it spam, that's really what most of what's on Twitter is.

Napster

I tried Napster in the winter of 2000, found nothing there of interest, but I was looking for a specific song on June 18. Father and Son, by Cat Stevens. (It was Father's Day.) I had just heard it on the radio, and wanted to hear it again. Back then, if you can believe it, this was a problem. Unless I had a song in my personal collection of CDs I had bought at a record store, the best I could do was wait until it came on the radio again. Then I had a thought -- maybe it's on Napster. It was. That, and everything else. In the period between my first and second visits, the system had boomed with people of my age, and now our music was there too. It was an amazing experience to be able to browse old tunes the way I browsed the web. I wrote about it, a lot. The experience of music had been transformed. People were talking about music in the supermarket and airports! This was new.

Father and Son still reaches inside me to find the confusion that reigned between my father and myself when I was younger. I'm 58 now, but the Dave-of-17 is still very much alive inside, and is moved by that song. "From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen." That's the power of a new medium, in this case, Napster.

Secret

Now it may be Secret's turn. True, there's no API, and no web client. It's not politically correct. It's possible that there can't be an API for a service that tries to deliver anonymity. I don't know. All that said, I'm having the kind of experience with it that I had in the early days of Napster and Twitter. I'm learning things, meeting people and hearing things from them they could never say if we knew who they are. Sure there's a lot of the first time thrills that come from saying nasty shit about people we all know. I've even read nasty shit about me. Big deal. The first time people used SimCity they destroyed the built-in cities. That's fun for an hour or so, then you try building a city, and that was fun (for me at least) for years.

Secret is not in my rotation yet, I have to remember to check it. But when I do, it gives me lots to ponder, makes me want to ask questions, and gets me thinking about who else is in this world, and how different some of them are from me. Sure the stories are probably mostly fiction, but this is what people dream about -- their fantasies. Who they would like to be. They do something no one can afford to do on their blog or on Twitter or Facebook, they show vulnerability. And that's interesting, and in Internet communities, new.

PS: There are cats all over this piece. The logo of both Secret and Napster are cats. And Cat Stevens wrote the song that got me into Napster.

09 Apr 23:30

Lime Shortage Update: Prices still high, Tommy’s bumps up prices

by Paolo Lucchesi
A straight-up Margarita at Tommy's Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco, Calif., is seen on Monday April 23rd, 2012. John Storey

A Margarita at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco. Photo: The Chronicle/John Storey

Two weeks ago, we wrote about the Great Lime Crisis of Spring 2014 and how Bay Area restaurants and bars were coping with the skyrocketing prices.

Long story short: Lime prices remain high and there’s no relief in sight, though some restaurateurs say that prices are slowly decreasing under the $100/case mark. That’s obviously still a big difference from the usual ~$20/case.

That said, given the sustained shortage, restaurateurs who were hoping to ride out the storm are having to make changes. Case in point: The Mecca of Margaritas — Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in the Richmond — is raising prices this week.

Owner Julio Bermejo said two weeks ago that he wouldn’t compromise on the quality of the cocktails, but if the high prices kept up for a few more week, he would have to raise prices. That day is here. Later this week, Tommy’s will slightly bump up the price of their famous house margarita 50 cents, from $8.50 up to $9. All other margarita drinks will increase $1.

“I still believe we offer the best value for any two-ounce margarita made with 100 percent agave Tequila and lime juice squeezed on demand,” Bermejo adds.

Meanwhile, Tacolicious has switched up its compromise, too. They’re not doing the two margaritas anymore (one with pasteurized juice, one with freshly squeezed juice), instead opting for a even freshly squeezed blend of limes and Meyer lemons, available for the normal price ($9.50).

Restaurateurs and bartenders: Do share your tales and compromises surrounding the lime shortage. Email us at insidescoopsf[at]sfgate.com.

· Let’s talk about the Lime Shortage of Spring 2014 [Inside Scoop]

09 Apr 20:45

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s response, and how to contact Brandeis

by whyevolutionistrue
Ryan Overbey

Regardless of one’s political views, one must admit that it is hilariously incompetent to extend the offer of an honorary degree only to later rescind it.

If you are one of the many people who are upset at Brandeis University’s withdrawal of an honorary degree from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, you can leave a message with the President, Fred Lawrence. He has a public Facebook page, on which I’ve left the following message (you have to “like” the page first). My message will probably be removed quickly , but perhaps if many people left messages, they’d get the message (note: as of a few minutes ago, my message was still there, along with others).

Screen shot 2014-04-09 at 1.20.35 PM

 His email address is also publiclawrence@brandeis.edu, and you can find a general email contact form (a box to fill in) here.

I’ll be sending emails later, but I must now prepare for a talk.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has responded to the rescinding of her degree. Read her whole eloquent statement at the link, but here is an excerpt:

 I wish to dissociate myself from the university’s statement, which implies that I was in any way consulted about this decision. On the contrary, I was completely shocked when President Frederick Lawrence called me—just a few hours before issuing a public statement—to say that such a decision had been made.

. . . Having spent many months planning for me to speak to its students at Commencement, the university yesterday announced that it could not “overlook certain of my past statements,” which it had not previously been aware of. Yet my critics have long specialized in selective quotation – lines from interviews taken out of context – designed to misrepresent me and my work. It is scarcely credible that Brandeis did not know this when they initially offered me the degree.

What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. The “spirit of free expression” referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014. Neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say. They simply wanted me to be silenced. I regret that very much.

Not content with a public disavowal, Brandeis has invited me “to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.” Sadly, in words and deeds, the university has already spoken its piece. I have no wish to “engage” in such one-sided dialogue. I can only wish the Class of 2014 the best of luck—and hope that they will go forth to be better advocates for free expression and free thought than their alma mater.

Damn, did she deserve that degree! Brandeis’s behavior is reprehensible and cowardly. President Lawrence, are you not ashamed of your university?

I couldn’t resist posting this comment, from a Brandeis graduate, that appeared on President Lawrence’s page. I don’t know who Sam Hilt is, but good for him!

Screen shot 2014-04-09 at 2.38.07 PM

 


09 Apr 12:00

7 quick facts about R

Ryan Overbey

lern2code < lern2stats

Based on a slide deck by David Smith:

  1. R is the highest paid IT skill (Dice.com survey, January 2014)
  2. R is the most-used data science language after SQL (O’Reilly survey, January 2014)
  3. R is used by 70% of data miners (Rexer survey, October 2013)
  4. R is #15 of all programming languages (RedMonk language rankings, January 2014)
  5. R is growing faster than any other data science language (KDNuggets survey, August 2013)
  6. R is the #1 Google Search for Advanced Analytics software (Google Trends, March 2014)
  7. R has more than 2 million users worldwide (Oracle estimate, February 2012)

I can see a couple of actionable items based on this list:

  1. if you’re interested in data science, you should consider R
  2. if you are already using R, ask for a raise

Original title and link: 7 quick facts about R (NoSQL database©myNoSQL)

09 Apr 01:10

Heartbleed is serious

I'm not waiting for various businesses to contact me, I'm contacting them asking if they're vulnerable and if so what's the plan.

Changing your password is not a fix. Every site that is using a version of OpenSSL that has the bug has to be updated or patched. Obviously, the sooner the better.

Technical details here including the C code for the bug and the fix.

So far I've only heard from only a couple of very seriously technical sites, pubnub.com and oauth.io. It's not clear if credit card companies, online stores like Amazon, banks and brokerage firms, are vulnerable, and if so how quickly they're installing the patched software. We're in that awful period where the vulnerability has been fully documented publicly. No one knows if any hackers were aware of the problem before it was discovered, but there is no doubt the bad guys know about it now.

This is one of the reasons why the Internet of Things hype is so scary. Right now, in 2014, our entire financial system is accessible through a compromised system. That's bad enough. But what happens when our bodies are wired to the net. And our cars, homes, everything. It's great to think about when everything is working and everyone plays nice. But if you know anything about software and networks you know that's a naive dream.