North Wind And Sun

Twitter nearly gimps itself, calls change “small settings update”

Posted in Uncategorized by Ricardo Bilton on 13-May-2009

From ze Twitter blog:

We’ve updated the Notices section of Settings to better reflect how folks are using Twitter regarding replies. Based on usage patterns and feedback, we’ve learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow—it’s a good way to stay in the loop. However, receiving one-sided fragments via replies sent to folks you don’t follow in your timeline is undesirable. Today’s update removes this undesirable and confusing option.

Twitter has over twenty million users, which is more users than Netherlands has people. You know how many of of those 23 million people I follow? 211  – and that includes a few joke accounts like Professor Oak and accidents like Eminem.

So it’s a bit astonishing to me to find that to see that Twitter is actually trying to make it harder to see what all of those million and millions of people are up to. Instead, the Biz crew wants me to follow Oprah and Ashton Kutcher.

Here’s the honest to goodness truth, Biz – I don’t care with Oprah as to tweet about. I never cared for what she had to talk about. Why would I go out of my way to see how her life is faring? I’m sure is faring perfectly well.

But I do like following people I haven’t heard of. That’s one of the greatest things about Twitter – discovering people I never knew existed. That’s why this recent settings change irks me. Tweaking the nature of the @ reply might make it easier for Oprah to read the Tweets of the eleven people she follows, but it makes it far harder for many other users to see how the people whom they follow are talking to.

Thankfully, the Twitter folks added this:

Despite this update, you’ll still see mentions or references linking to people you don’t follow. For example, you’ll continue to see, “Ev meeting with @biz about work stuff” even if you don’t follow @biz.

The Twitterverse might have jumped the gun slightly on this one, as that addendum severely weakens the severity of the tweak. At least Twitter isn’t completely obliterating the existence of people you don’t know. Still, as with all things, it’s better to be given the option to have the @ reply system kept intact. It’s obvious that the people complaining the most are the people who care the most about keeping the sytem intact. Why not give those people the option to opt-in? How much does that really change for the rest of the userbase?

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Could Hog CAFO’s have given rise to swine flu?

Posted in Uncategorized by Ricardo Bilton on 28-April-2009

Makes sense to me.

Paula Hay at Peak Oil Eutepenuer writes:

One of the ways Influenza-A viruses can spread is through manure. Given that H1N1 is an Influenza-A subtype it is entirely possible, if not likely, that flies could carry virus-containing manure particles from Granjas-Carroll CAFO lagoons to people. These need not be injected by the flies directly into humans, such as with West Nile Virus; it is enough that a fly might deposit manure particles containing the virus on a person’s face, hands, or uncooked food.

The argument that the nature of the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – has given rise to swine flu makes far too much sense to ignore. When you have large groups of animals stewing in their own manure, diseases are bound to spread.  Hay is right to likewise argue that the events over the last few days should cause us to question the food industry’s trend towards consolidation.

We shouldn’t be surprised.  Scientists and journalists have been warning of the danger of avian influenza for years. The only difference between the current scenario and the one predicted  is that we are talking about pigs instead of chickens. But that’s just biology. Pigs and humans are closer genetically than chickens and pigs. It was only a matter of time before a virus the caliber of H5N1 made the jump to humans – pigs are only a detour.

Paul Roberts dedicated an entire chapter to this issue in “The End of Food.” In it he writes, accurately, that the nature of modern  food production, the very thing that allows so many people to be (over)fed is the same thing capable of obliterating us, especially in light of the fact that so much of our food is produced by a very select group of corporations. But changing any of it, he also writes,  is an uphill struggle, as the last thing a company like, say, Smithfield would want to do is increase prices. Customers would just drop the swine and begin eating beef or chicken.

In any event, Smithfield denies the claims that they are the cause, and we still waiting on documented proof for any of this. Give it a few days.

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NCTA to FCC: Well…they do it too!

Posted in Uncategorized by Ricardo Bilton on 29-July-2008

(Note that the title to this post should be read in the reader’s best five year-old voice.)

National Cable and Telecommunications Association vice president Daniel L. Brenner submitted a list to the FCC which detailed the network traffic and bandwidth consumption polices of various American Universities.

In the letter attached to the list, Brenner presents his argument, which, at first glance, is particularly sound:

If temporarily delaying P2P uploads to prevent congestion is deemed somehow to violate the principles of the Commission’s Internet “policy statement” then surely the more severe outright prohibitions on P2P usage imposed by wireless carriers and by colleges and universities must violate them as well.

He goes on:

If there is to be regulation, therefore, it must apply equally to all providers […] But the far better approach, in the absence of any evidence that network management is harming competition or consumers, is to allow different network providers to continue to see out the network management techniques that are best suited to preventing congestion on their particular networks and maximizing customer satisfaction.”

In other words, if the FCC allows colleges and universities to manage their network traffic, then they are most certainly contradicting themselves denying ISPs that very right. Makes sense.

But on closer inspection, Brenner slips up. Instead of referring to companies like Comcast as ISPs,  he lumps them with colleges and universities, calling them “network providers.” Of course, therein lies the key difference between MIT and Comcast – while MIT is an institution of higher learning, Comcast is – and this should go without saying – a company. Calling Comcast merely a “network provider” is ignoring the fact that they are also a main source of Internet services as a whole, and not solely what Brenner calls “networks.”

One question that I wish I had an answer to is whether the FCC even has jurisdiction over the network management practices of colleges and universities in the first place. Does a typical university network qualify as delving into interstate or international communications,  areas where the FCC enforces its regulations?

In all, Brenner’s letter strikes me as a surprising juvenile ploy, and a classic one at that. What better way to attempt to take the focus off your constituents’ own practices than to implicate some other, unrelated party?

Surprised? Students pirate texbooks

Posted in College, Piracy, Torrents, Uncategorized by Ricardo Bilton on 19-July-2008

This is a textbook.

I propose – if it hasn’t been proposed already –  a new rule in the vein of Rule 34, only far less explicit.

It’s essentially this: If something can exist digitally, someone is pirating it right now.

I mention this in light of situation surrounding textbooktorrents.com, which, last I checked, had been taken down by DreamHost. Textbook torrents, a torrent tracker that, until recently, provided students with free, largely illegal textbook torrents was named in a Chronicle of Higher Education report about textbook piracy.

Now, I’ve been trying to rationalize two particular facets of the situation – why it exists, and why it matters – and I’ve reached a few conclusions.

Why it exists should be fairly obvious. The situation is a perfect storm of financial disincentives and technological prowess. As anyone who has ever been a student certainly knows, textbooks are expensive, often excessively so, and nearly out of the range of the wallets of most college students But that’s not exactly unique for textbooks. Technological prowess factors in when we realize that the group that high textbook prices affects the most is also the group that knows the most about illegally downloading material via the Internet. Thus, textbook piracy becomes an act that we can bind fairly well to a certain group of people – college students.

But why does this matter? Unlike, say music or movies, textbooks are often vitally important to successful completion of a course. When you look the average price for a college textbook it should start to make sense why students would pirate them – they are bloody expensive. This is not reason to condone piracy or any act that takes money away from authors, but it certainly reveals something about the financial situation of the average college student. This is why it should be looked at a bit differently than music or movie piracy.

I wonder if this difference can explain the publishing companies’ comparatively  tame anti-piracy tactics, which usually involve threatening emails to the sites that host content rather than crusades against the people who download from them.