Month: February 2010

Syria Changes, to a Point

NY Times Lens: Syria Changes, to a Point

Ed Kashi’s images of daily life in modern Syria are incredible.

Do you like going to Syria?

It’s a funny thing. I do like the idea of going there. There are moments where I actually like being there. But in general, I find it to be a bit of a frustrating and almost depressing place because you’re so close to having it be a cool place. It’s interesting. It’s colorful. People are lovely. There’s so many interesting things. But ultimately, that heavy arm of security apparatus, that paranoia, that mistrust – it sort of hangs in the air. If it doesn’t poison, it really detracts from the experience there.



Steve Jobs hates Adobe Flash and doesn’t want it on the iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad but that’s besides the point. I’ve been noticing that my computer has gotten increasingly unstable as my workday goes on. Later in the day (like now) typically the computer was running hot, fan on, Safari running slow and hanging at times (MacBook Pro 2.5GHz, 4 gigs RAM, System 10.6.2, Safari 4.0.4).

My friend Steve Splonskowski, a Macintosh developer and someone I trust was visiting and he had ClickToFlash running and claimed it helped by enabling the loading of Flash selectively. ClickToFlash is a Safari extension that creates both a ClickToFlash menu item in Safari and pull down menus on flash movies that allows selective loading of them. It’s clean, simple, and it works.

ClickToFlash has completely solved my computer’s overheating problem by keeping Flash at bay. I still watch movies with Flash but it doesn’t load automatically anymore, I have to load it where I want it. Loading it is simple and one can build a whitelist of sites where one wants it to load automatically, like Vimeo and sites like that.

Flash may or may not be evil but I now know how unstable it made my computer. Thanks Steve, and thanks ClickToFlash developers.

Watch a master teacher work: Ways into Shakespeare’s Othello

Ways into Shakespeare’s Othello

English teacher Sabrina Broadbent leads a masterclass on Shakespeare, using her expertise to engage a group of Year 10 students.

Let me state up front, I’m a poor reader, was a poor student, hated Shakespeare, and at this point in my life I’m as cynical as ever about education.

But, I have to say, Sabrina Broadbent knows how to engage students and make Shakespeare come alive and if you watch this video my guess is you’ll agree. It takes some time but it’s well worth it.

This is one more example of the old adage: a good teacher can make any subject come alive. Sabrina Broadbent is a great teacher.

Granted, her students are more than educable, they are excellent students with excellent memories but my guess is a teacher like Sabrina could and would find ways to make Shakespeare accessible and exciting to people like me with language disabilities.

Teachers like Sabrina give me hope.

Insight on copying


I first learned about Insight through this post at Signal to Noise: “Smart” pasting at The New Yorker site.

If you copy text from a site that has Insight installed, when you paste it the paste will include a link back to the original post. That link is easily deleted if you don’t want it but if you do nothing, will be included.

The comment thread at Signal to Noise which is now closed is fascinating: many people think it’s invasive to modify what a user copies. Only in the end does someone come up with the idea that these users who are copying are copying content that is not theirs. The least they can do is allow a link back to the original content. But, of course that link can easily be deleted so no one is forced to accept links back to the original text.

This seems like a great idea to me and as someone who has found entire essays of mine lifted and reposted elsewhere, not to mention having my photographs stolen from flickr and reposted with some else’s copyright, I’m all for at least nudging people who take other people’s original content toward acknowledging the content’s author.

Oh, and I don’t have Insight installed here.

Playing musical instruments may improve reading

Playing musical instruments may improve reading

Learning to play a musical instrument could help to improve children’s reading and their ability to listen in noisy classrooms, according to new research.

“Our eyes and ears take in millions of bits of information every second and it is not possible for the brain to process all of that, so the sensory systems in our brains are primed to tune into regularities or patterns in the signals it receives.

“People who are musically trained are better at picking up these patterns because they learn to recognise notes and pitches within melodies and harmonies.

“The better you are at picking up these patterns in music, the better reader you are. This makes sense as letters and words on a page are really just patterns.”

‘Family Guy,’ Palin and the Limits of Laughter

‘Family Guy,’ Palin and the Limits of Laughter

This is an excellent piece by New York Times writer Dave Itzkoff.

Andrea Fay Friedman has her act together as does Gail Williamson, executive director of the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles:

“Within ‘Family Guy,’ the character was fully included, well-rounded, dynamic, not dealing with stereotypical Down syndrome issues,” Ms. Williamson said. She added: “Am I a fan of that kind of humor? Eh. It’s beside the point.”

“If we’re asking for full inclusion in the schools and full inclusion in the world,” she said, “ we should appreciate full inclusion with other genres. Even if those genres are not what we appreciate.”

The unfortunate part of this situation is that most people are not clued in to the more nuanced issues here which Gail Williamson speak to. The way Palin speaks of her son Trig and has complained that Family Guy crossed a line isn’t really “PC” (politically correct), it’s knee jerk professional victim/sympathy vote stuff. Friedman speak to this:

“My mother did not carry me around under her arm like a loaf of French bread the way former Governor Palin carries her son Trig around looking for sympathy and votes.”

In the same sense that many thought the country was “post racial” with Obama’s election, it seems that some might think the country is “post disability” as more people with disabilities are fully included. Like the race issue, this issue is complex and has high profile people like Palin who are skilled at playing the victim card for her son and for herself.

Turf War at the New York Times: Who Will Control the iPad?

Turf War at the New York Times: Who Will Control the iPad?

The New York Times has never gotten it right, ever. They have the best news in the business and the best brand and they cannot seem to figure out how to get money out of users.

It’s simple: do what Salon does. Charge a yearly subscription and paying it gives you an ad-free reading experience. Simple. Salon charges $3 a month and the New York Times could easily charge a bit more (but not much more).

[via Daring Fireball]

Rock Groups

Rock Groups

Steven Strogatz has a great column in The New York times on arranging rocks (or any objects) in patterns to better visualize arithmetic.

I’ve been coming back to this particular column the past week and enjoying scanning and rescanning it. I’m still a mathaphobe but I do like patterns so thinking of arithmetic this way helps.

Facebook Login and convergence

Facebook Login

John Gruber and many others have commented about this in the past day and I’d let it pass me by if I hadn’t seen examples of it first hand in people I know.

Read Gruber’s post and the link to ReadWriteWeb’s initial post: Facebook Wants to Be Your One True Login and the comments under that post and you’ll get a sense of what’s going on here.

Facebook is in fact like the old AOL for many users and this is comforting for them but in fact, facebook is a site on the web among millions of others and these users don’t seem to get this. For them, facebook is the internet and they use it for everything: chatting, email, posting.

Couple that with the fact that many of these users use Google to search for everyday sites they visit (instead of using bookmarks) and you have a recipe for, well, not disaster but unknown humiliation on the part of many facebook users. Unknown because they have no clue how stupid they look. And, this is not just to knowledgeable people like Gruber or me but to anyone who has half a clue about the fact that facebook is in fact, just a web site among others.

It very well may be that the idea that users can sort out and choose the sources that they like, bookmark them and visit and/or track those sources is too much to ask of many users. They want a single place to go and that single place used to be AOL and is now facebook.

This is a type of convergence and it’s being driven not only by preference but by ignorance and that’s scary.

How user feedback helped create a popular iPhone app

Meet the guys behind Pocket God

This is an interesting development story: two guys make a quick and dirty iPhone game app, it’s not very good, users post terrible reviews and give them feedback on how to make it better. The two developers take the feedback and release version 2 quickly, incorporating many of the suggestions. Feedback continues for 14 weeks and thirty updates until in the end, the app is selling well and users love it.

Digging out of a bad initial review isn’t something many can do but these guys did it and now they have the best selling app in the Apple App store. Fascinating story.