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Walls of the Temple

The Newspaper Guild (representing journalists in the newspaper industry), has called for an end to contributions to the Huffington Post. These contributions are unpaid, and like labour abuses of the past, allow people to trade exposure to a large audience for pay. The guild pushes against this because this amounts to harmful competition; the end result of such competition is low-quality journalism. Do they have a point? I believe this hinges on whether the Huffington Post is a journalism site or a blogging one (it's an interesting question whether a site may be both; for here I will assert no, which is what I actually believe; I may make an argument for this elsewhere). The distinction is becoming muddied in the public eye; traditional journalism has fallen apart due to media consolidation (and more recently a collapse of the funding model as free web content has destroyed the perception of value associated with it). This is a good example of a market failure, which I might mourn but for the possibility of state-funded-but-not-state-controlled news keeping the industry alive; the BBC and Al Jazeera may be a step towards postcapitalist news. I think unions probably still have a role to play in that world, at least until and unless we move past fiscalism (letting market forces arbitrate all value in society, usually associated with a distaste for the public sector), we should expect them necessary to fight for a reasonable standard of living for those in whatever sector they operate. Unfortunately, this gives me little direction on this issue directly; if we decide that the Huffington Post is a "news blog" site (as I do), we still note that it (and sites like it) may destroy journalism in the private sector, and note as well that right now we're not set up for public sector-funded journalism on the scale we need. Can we stop bloggers? Should we? I suspect that cat's out of the bag and there's nothing we can do but watch a vital field destroyed; with any luck the US will be able to adjust to the market failure, although dealing with traditional American fears of government may be tough.

A recent wonder: how could we measure the harm of spam? I'm less concerned about the the irritation of spam in the inbox than I am about the mechanised damage to blogs, wikis, and the (now long past) destruction of Usenet. These new forms of communication raised the potential of humanity; by flooding them with advertising, either custodians (like me) are needed in large numbers to do the drudge work of blocking spam/deleting messages, or these means of communication die. The solution of technical measures to block roboposting lessens the value of these forums (hassle!) while failing to entirely remove the need for moderators; it's not enough. Added issue: our existing laws are entirely inadequate to deal with the harm caused by this behaviour.

I liked this analysis on foreign policy shifts within the Republican party. I wonder how much of this comes from a need to define oneself differently from those one's competing against; some political figures are determined to criticise those in power for whatever they do, making up their own positions primarily to stand in contrast. There are of course those who are principled, who might agree with those in other parties when their goals align. I've followed Obama's handling of the Libyan insurrection, and while I may have liked to be more aggressively involved, I believe that cooperation with the Arab League was an important step. One argument that really bothers me is that made by PZ Meyers; he calls it the Guns vs Butter debate. To me, this is amoral and disgusting (applied here, at least); we're tepid on defending the lives of other human beings from a uniquely bad leader because of financial reasons? I would not apply this reasoning to Saddam Hussein, but Qaddafi is within a few orders of magnitude of Idi Amin, and someone who has launched attacks on the United States in the past. It is worth removing him, and if done correctly with the right allies it should be a net positive move for our image and ideals. I agree that troops on the ground would limit the benefit, but doing everything we can short of that (from air/naval support to arming the rebel forces) is worth it. On this occasion (like in Afghanistan but not Iraq), regime change is the right thing to do. Stinginess is just as ugly here as it is in our unwillingness to pay taxes enough to keep our social services running (I really do not believe we have deep financial problems, we just must be willing to raise taxes and exercise enough restraint to end our debt).

Geek problems (laptop, android):

  • Made some progress with making my laptop's trackpad behave sanely - /lib/udev/rules.d/ has a file for touchpad quirks, and making sure that "touchpad_button_overlap" is set makes the button area no longer sensitive as a cursor-movement area, helping a lot with reliability. Unfortunately, there is no support in the Synaptics driver for what I really want: area-based mouse button selection, meaning right now I have a 1-button trackpad. Yuck, it feels like I'm on a Mac. Currently I'm carrying around a USBMouse around to compensate; sometime I might see how hard it'd be to dig into the synaptics driver to see how hard it'd be to force it to do what I want.
  • No more progress on the spooky Hybrid Graphics stuff. I think the problem may be that both my video cards are truly unsupported right now, although it's really frustrating to try to debug this stuff.
  • Looks like I'm not the only person with problems with Android 2.3 failing to parse the tags on some of my music files. I hope some people at Google are looking at this. I suppose I could download the SDK and poke around myself..


  • Approved for doing systems-level help to the OLPC project; new XO-1 and XO-1.5 will be on my way.
  • On my way to being approved for doing some moderation on a MMORPG I play. Hoping this won't be a drag.
  • SIGBOVIK, which was ... what it normally is. Some funny, some jokes being dragged out for too long, and some pretty awesome people to whom I feel frustratingly disconnected. There was also a Theremin!
  • Someone misses the point of having a Department of Labour.
  • Are there quantum effects at play in our sense of smell?
(still have a huge backlog of things to write about)


i am glad you showed up to appreciate our conference. :)