Archive for June, 2013


Masha, refreshing prodigy for three

A couple of very nice poems from spam recently. This:

At that offal sunset was inaccessible because school was unclean, and I was a rubber; annoyance in all the interruption of her superiority and mop for her exaltation, and Ia bug!

To intrigue an code so indescribable and pneumatic, he undervalueed up the enact by acquainting rate, in some platter, with the detection and grief of his operations; blending truth and shell peculiarly, as rabid outdod his entreaty; and bringing both to ransack, with so much adverb, that Mr.

and this, shorter:

Masha, refreshing prodigy for three. No, employ a purgatory.

Bachelor hotly as cupboard handed a coldness to the Frenchwoman.

We are clearly approaching the point (from my famous novel) where the spam-generators become self-aware…


What a lot of things

So a ridiculous number of things have been happening! And I have been too busy (digging big soothing pointless caverns in Minecraft, for instance) to research them and write down Wise Things. I will therefore just Briefly Note them.

There is no more right to remain silent unless you first say some legalistic magic words, thanks to the horrifying decision in Salinas v. Texas, which expands on the prior horrifying decision in Berghuis v. Thompkins. (Source)

The Voting Rights Act has been gutted of one of its more vital pieces (the piece that says that places with a history of vote suppression have to get changes to their voting systems pre-cleared by the DoJ) in Shelby County v. Holder, on the theory that even though that part of the Act has been used many times recently, and voter suppression has seen a big upswing in popularity recently, we don’t need it anymore. Or as this guy puts it:

…it is the opinion of the Court’s majority that the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act worked so well that to continue enforcement under the existing scheme is unconstitutional.

In the ideal world this would not be a big deal, as Congress could just update the formula to determine which jurisdictions have to get the pre-clearance. But given that Congress is currently incapable of doing anything significant, that will probably not happen, and we will be left in this situation (same source):

While preserving the purpose and the intent of the momentous civil rights law—as set forth in Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (“VRA”) which proclaims that no American can be denied the right to vote based on their race or gender­—the Court struck down the sole method of enforcing the intent of the law.

As well as finding that the federal government can’t meddle so directly with certain state and local voting systems in order to prevent discrimination, SCOTUS also found that the federal government can’t ignore certain state laws in order to further discrimination. Which is to say, DOMA is dead (finally!).

The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

That’s Kennedy, for the majority, in United States v. Windsor.

I really need to read these decisions, see who was on which side, why DOMA went down to the 5th rather than the 14th, etc. Attentive readers will note that I myself would tend to support Federal power in the Voting Rights Act, while being against it in DOMA, because for me the important question is not “does this give more or less power to Federal or State governments?”, but rather “does this tend to protect the less powerful from the more powerful?”.

That is probably the thing that makes me a Lefty. :)

SCOTUS also brought back same-sex marriage in California, but on a relatively narrow technicality, so while that’s yay it’s not quite as interesting. At least that’s my impression so far (the actual technical finding is that just because you are the proposer of a ballot initiative, if that initiative is overturned by the courts and the government decides not to appeal, you don’t have standing to appeal it yourself just because of having proposed it in the first place).

NPR has annotated versions of both same-sex-marriage decisions, for your reading and analysis pleasure.

(And remind everyone to say “same-sex marriage”, not “gay marriage”! Bisexuals get to marry people of the same sex, too. Heck, even asexuals and straight people can if they want to! It’s all about Teh Freedoms!)

In non-SCOTUS news, Facebook had a bit of an embarrassment when first they accidentally leaked tons of data about millions of people, and then it turned out that lots of it was data that the people hadn’t even given them. Ooops! It was data harvested from the contact lists and address books and cellphones of “friends” (and “friends” of “friends”, and…) and squirreled away in FB’s vast subterranean vaults.

So basically, if you’ve ever given anyone any information about yourself, chances are that Facebook has it now.

Which you were probably already assuming, but this rather drives the point home. Along with the fact that whatever data they have, they may accidentally release to anyone you can think of in the future.

The xkcd comic “Time” is still going. There are various clever widgets around the Web to let you explore it, view it in time scales shorter than weeks, etc. I like this one.

Relatedly, here is a game in which you can take only one step per day. It is slow! I have moved a few steps to the right so far!

And also perhaps relatedly, I am rather plateaued on Lumosity (up in the “you are extremely awesome” range, natch, but still). I hope they add some more games or something soon.

Second Life, on the other hand, is still going strong, and I am still spending many hours a week there, building buildings, writing scripts, going to art shows, sailing sailboats, and so on. In fact it is having its Tenth Birthday right around now (see Community Celebration page), frequent rumors of its death to the contrary notwithstanding.

And that is all that springs immediately to mind! Now I will try to find time to read at least the most significant of the decisions above, and maybe come back eventually and write another post heaping scorn upon Scalia or something. :)


Much Ado About Whedon

Yeah, obvious title. :)

So I went out for/on Father’s Day here and saw Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Burns.

It was good. A pretty straight-up modern-dress treatment, using the Bard’s original words; the funny parts were funny (it’s a comedy after all), the suspenseful parts were suspenseful, and the lovey-dovey parts were lovey-dovey.

Spoilers in the below, skip to the last couple paragraphs, for anyone who hasn’t seen it and might!

The main twists I noticed were making Conrade female (and the beginning of Act 1 Scene 3 an almost-sex scene), and the cute touch of having a black woman wedding guest at backstage center when Claudio says that he will marry a particular woman even “were she an Ethiope”. There’s no reaction or anything, just a quick cut away, but it was definitely a wink at the audience.

Significant Whedon fanservice. The Beatrice-Benedick romance is (going by the actors) Fred and Wesley from Angel (at which there is much rejoicing in certain circles). That’s Captain Mal from Firefly as the funny bumbling Constable Dogberry (the Watch locking themselves out of their car is another cute, what, synachronism, as is the production of an iPod when Don Pedro says “Come, shall we hear this music?”). And that’s the good-guy doctor Tam, also from Firefly, as the evil Don John.
Fred as Beatrice
(And another synachronism is the live smartphone video accompanying “My lord, your brother John is ta’en in flight, And brought with armed men back to Messina”, wahaha.)

Amy Acker is a great Beatrice. I could not for the life of me remember where I’d seen her before for the first part of the film, because she (unlike Fred) is confident and even haughty; only at some point in there where she softens did I think “Oh, it’s Fred!”.

Jillian Morgese is a pretty and convincing Hero, the wronged ingenue. From the website, she was being an extra in ummmm The Avengers when Whedon himself suggested she try out for Hero, which is extremely cool and fairy-tale-like.

(And what the heck is a female character doing being named “Hero”? Shakespeare’s fault, and extremely confusing. Someone must explain this to me!)

So in general, it was fun. The Burns is a comfy intimate theater (three screens, of which I think they were using only two today, seating about the size of the front third of your typical cineplex theater). And there’s a locally-owned candy and chocolate store right nearby! Hee hee.

So far the fact that Whedon is a flippin’ genius (for which I offer as evidence Once more, with feeling in particular, of which I now have the Original Cast Album, among other notable notables) has not reached out and struck me from this film; maybe I will gradually realize amazing things about it, but also maybe not. In any case, it was well crafted, and a Good Time, and I am glad I went.


The expectation of privacy

So yes it’s good to have an open discussion of just how much stuff the government (and private parties) should be able to know and remember about us, and if as Edward Snowden claims the NSA has been lying to Congress about stuff that would be bad and it should stop.

But can we not (and I’m talking to you, U.S. Congress) pretend that we had no idea that this was all going on at all, or that it’s something that the current administration invented?

Congress created and authorized the FISA court in 1978, and gave it extra additional power in 2008; the Supreme Court found in 1979 (Smith v. Maryland) that we have no expectation of privacy in, and so no warrant is even necessary to record, phone numbers that people dial, and by extension other “envelope” and “metadata” information about communications (i.e. everything but the content itself).

(a) Application of the Fourth Amendment depends on whether the person invoking its protection can claim a “legitimate expectation of privacy” that has been invaded by government action. This inquiry normally embraces two questions: first, whether the individual has exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy; and second, whether his expectation is one that society is prepared to recognize as “reasonable.” Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 . Pp. 739-741.

(b) Petitioner in all probability entertained no actual expectation of privacy in the phone numbers he dialed, and even if he did, his expectation was not “legitimate.” First, it is doubtful that telephone users in general have any expectation of privacy regarding the numbers they dial, since they typically know that they must convey phone numbers to the telephone company and that the company has facilities for recording this information and does in fact record it for various legitimate business purposes. And petitioner did not demonstrate an expectation of privacy merely by using his home phone rather than some other phone, since his conduct, although perhaps calculated to keep the contents of his conversation private, was not calculated to preserve the privacy of the number he dialed. Second, even if petitioner did harbor some subjective expectation of privacy, this expectation was not one that society is prepared to recognize as “reasonable.” When petitioner voluntarily conveyed numerical information to the phone company and “exposed” that information to its equipment in the normal course of business, he assumed the risk that the company would reveal the information [442 U.S. 735, 736] to the police, cf. United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435 . Pp. 741-746.

A few people in Congress and the wider political arena have been worrying about this for some time, and to them I gladly grant the chance to say “I told you so”. But for the rest, who are suddenly grabbing the limelight by pretending this is a Brand New Bad Thing that has just happened and they are decrying, I cry foul. You knew about this, you did nothing about this, in many cases you made this possible and encouraged it. So don’t pretend now that you are a brave opponent…



So yeah the new flickr site design is awful

I’ve been a member of flickr since back when GNE closed down and many of us regulars said “eh, might as well try this free photo-sharing site that Stewart and Caterina are doing now”. It’s had roughly the same design ever since, nice and clean and well-balanced between text and graphics, with just the occasional moving of a button or adding of a new fancy feature (without removing the old version if there was one) to keep things interesting.

Until sometime last month, when they messed it all up.

flickr on blackWhich is to say, they imposed an entirely new design, with a completely different look and feel, different content emphasis, and different affordances (in the Donald Norman sense of the term, most importantly), and they did it without any warning to speak of, and (somehow!) without anticipating that at least some users would be upset by it. It was presented in the very XXth century style “here is a great new thing we have done, passive consumers, be thrilled!”, that is a total no-no in the XXIst century web world, where your customers are your collaborators, you steer by real-time user feedback and A-B testing, and so on and so on.

And I wouldn’t really mind, myself (except that they have to spend lots of time doing damage-control that they could be spending on actually making the site better), except that (speaking purely objectively of course) the new design is flippin’ awful.

It’s one of these hideous “infinitely scrolling page” things that break the Back and Reload buttons, and break performance if you scroll down too far; it hides pretty much all the text (i.e. picture titles and descriptions), suggesting that the Proper Experience on flickr is just a big mush of pictures all run up against each other as close as possible; there are individual picture controls (which are coy obscure little symbols) which appear only when you hover over a picture; when you click on a picture it takes you to a page which shows the picture big on black, and sometimes seems to show the title and description and stuff and sometimes not (I still haven’t quite figured that out yet), if you scroll downward.

Basically it’s just like those tumblr designs that I find most obscure and annoying, only without the graphics of emo album covers in the background.

One or more poor flickr schlubs has had to try to keep some order in the milling rioting crowds of protestors in the flickr forums, and one thing they did was to close the original zillion-page thread about the changes and start a new one, summarizing what they are hearing their customers say so far.

I posted a couple of replies in that thread (on like page 64), and here I am posting them here too just for grins.

So I don’t want to bring any hate or anger :) and I haven’t read all twelve million comments above, but I do find the new design offputting, confusing, hard to use, and all that. It seems to be modeled on a very common style of tumblr design that I also dislike (but at least on tumblr I can just use some different one).

On the various updates in the header:

> you want the option to see Flickr in a “classic” view

That would be a good start.

> textual information around your photos (and sets in particular) is too hidden in the new design

I’m not sure why you say “and sets in particular”; the thing I’m most upset about is that my titles and descriptions are basically completely absent from my photostream page. The titles can be seen one at a time, if you hover, but that’s a drag. And the descriptions show up randomly, as far as I can tell, if you click on the picture an even number of times and then scroll down. Or something. Wildly confusing.

I guess the idea is that pictures matter and words don’t, but that’s not an idea I agree with. I put titles and descriptions in on purpose, and I’d like them to appear, not be hidden 90% of the time.

> user’s organizational choices are limited and not surfaced enough, particularly with the Collections, Set, Photo hierarchy

Not a huge one for me.

> loading the justified, infinite scroll views are cumbersome and expensive for many with slower network connections

And also I personally *hate* infinite-scroll pages and tend to avoid any site that has them. They break the “back” button, they break the “reload” button, etc, etc.

> you want more customizability of content and layout in your photostream and home page

Yes. Obviously you have some designers who have real strong opinions about what everyone’s flickr page should look like, and obviously many of your users don’t agree with those opinions. Telling all those users that they are out of luck and they just have to go along with designer-of-the-day’s opinion-of-the-day is not going to help your bottom line.

tumblr is very customizable. wordpress is quite customizable. That’s the standard now. If flickr is for some reason not going to be customizable, it will die. And I think that would be sad!

And then…

Oh yeah, and I would also like my homepage to not feature some random HUGE picture from some random contact. The results can be… startling…

… because they really can. I mean, eeek! :)