March 2012 Archives

Interactive, motion-filled US Windmap

A pretty stunning visualization of wind direction and speed over the continental US. Data is pulled from the National Digital Forecast Database every hour, so the visualization is almost in real-time. And, impressively, they're using HTML5 to draw the map and wind animation.

Beautiful + impressive.

Anchorman 2, confirmed.

Ron Burgundy, on Conan last night:

I actually have an announcement. I want to announce this to everyone here in the Americas. To our friends in Spain, Turkey, and the UK -- including England -- that as of oh-nine-hundred mountain time, Paramount Pictures and myself Ronald Joseph Erin Burgundy have come to terms on a sequel to Anchorman. It is official. There will be... there will be a sequel to Anchorman. There will be a sequel.

Bloomberg Tech Blog: "Now Can We Start Talking About the Real Foxconn?"

Tim Culpan, on 20 March :

There are also things happening at Foxconn that just aren't sexy to talk about: the cheap accommodation and subsidized food for workers, the Foxconn-run health centers right on campus, the salary that's well above the government minimum and other companies, the continuous stream of young workers who still want to work there.

The problem with Mike Daisey's lies is that they've painted a picture of the Evil Empire, a place devoid of any happiness or humanity. A dark, Dickensian scene of horror and tears. They also make anyone who tries to tell a fuller, more balanced account look like an Apple or Foxconn apologist because your mind is already full of the "knowledge" of how bad it is there.

To the public, a story about a 19-year-old shrugging her shoulders and claiming work is not so bad just can't stand up against a 12-year-old working the iPad factory lines. The naïve and youthful smile of a kid having found his first girlfriend at a Foxconn work party pales in comparison to a crippled old man holding an iPad for the first time. Compared to the lies, the truth just doesn't make good theater.

And again, on 23 March:

If one of the most ardent and well-versed groups in the whole labor debate struggles to put a finger on exactly what the standards are for good employment practices, then there's little hope that the rest of the industry's stakeholders can reach a conclusion, let alone actually achieve it.

Some things are clear. Worker deaths are bad. Underage labor, with such ages clearly defined, is also bad. A safe, clean, healthy work environment is good. Social welfare such as health-care and pensions, also good. Student internships are a grey area while that ultimate desire of all workers - a decent living wage - hasn't exactly been solved in the West. So far neither local laws nor industry self-regulation have succeeded in turning these principles into rules the industry will comply with. Meanwhile, neither camp has done anything to compare conditions at Apple suppliers with the rest of the industry, the country, or the rest of the world.

His second set of points hit the nail on the head. We know what's good and bad -- but we don't know how to contextualize what we know about Apple and Foxconn in the larger global picture. More importantly, we're not clear how to move forward. So, yes, we can all acknowledge there's a problem and something needs to be done. But until there are clear standards and actionable, realistic, mutually agreed upon steps forward, the caustic, circuitous discourse will continue.

Mike Daisey: "It's not journalism. It's theater."

Ira Glass, showing again why he's among the best journalists in America today:

I have difficult news. We've learned that Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China - which we broadcast in January - contained significant fabrications. We're retracting the story because we can't vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.

The China correspondent for the public radio show Marketplace tracked down the interpreter that Daisey hired when he visited Shenzhen China. The interpreter disputed much of what Daisey has been saying on stage and on our show. On this week's episode of This American Life, we will devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory."

Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That doesn't excuse the fact that we never should've put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.

We're horrified to have let something like this onto public radio. Many dedicated reporters and editors - our friends and colleagues - have worked for years to build the reputation for accuracy and integrity that the journalism on public radio enjoys. It's trusted by so many people for good reason. Our program adheres to the same journalistic standards as the other national shows, and in this case, we did not live up to those standards.

Friends and loved ones encouraged me to see Daisey's show and listen closely. They pointed to my like of Apple products. I read about it, thought about it, and tried to balance it with the picture of conditions that Apple (and now others) puts out about their industrial hygiene and environmental practices. It didn't all fit, but I made room for it.

Today, then, the shocker -- This American Life is retracting the previous show and dedicating an hour to setting the record straight. Who does this in this day and age? Who makes a public pronouncement of their own fallibility and goes out of their way to correct it in an ethical way that respects their audience?

I'd argue very few do this. Corrections are relegated to the dusty interior pages of print papers and magazines and hidden from online viewers, for the most part, in the nether regions of websites. NPR may be the exception (as a slight aside, their ethics portal clearly and nicely lays out their stance on a number of things, including retractions, social media, and the like).

Looking forward to hearing the show and continuing to support This American Life's breed of ethical, conscientious, and respectful journalism.

One amendment: I doubt working conditions are perfect in Apple's contractor's factories in China and elsewhere. We know that efforts are being taken to improve them. We know that Apple is beginning to be more transparent about what goes on and is working with independent auditors to get some more precise data about working conditions. And we know they have a long way to go to true transparency.

Industrial hygiene and environmental audits of this type are difficult -- they're heavily biased because they are scheduled visits, often with predetermined and specific objectives. What Daisey's conflation of theatre and journalism does, though, is undermine legitimate reports of working conditions. Exaggeration for theatre may be fine, but the maniacal press tour -- with his descriptions of specific chemical exposures, guards with guns, underage workers, etc passed off as fact -- doesn't work. No one will argue that conditions should improve - but for them to improve, we need a true understanding of baseline conditions, actionable interventions to make the situation healthier, and regular reporting to understand how the situation is changing.

Backblaze, External Drives, & Obfuscation

FOUND: Advanced Mac Help for Online Backup -- addresses specifically the Spotlight issue and how to force Backblaze to rescan for external drives.

I love Backblaze. It has worked well for me for the past few years; some recent changes in their version 2.0 product have made it even better.

One thing that's always annoyed me, though, is how long it takes Backblaze to recognize an external drive. This morning, it was nearly instantaneous; last night, the drive sat hooked up but didn't start backing up. No idea why. Plugging and unplugging the drive didn't work. Restarting didn't work. Nothing I did made Backblaze recognize the drive.

I decided to consult their support page on external drives this morning. It had the following outstanding gem (emphasis added):

When an external drive is plugged back in, it may take Backblaze a minute or two hours to schedule the files on the external drive to be backed up online.

A minute or TWO HOURS?

My other complaint is with how external drives are handled for people who travel. Again, from the same page above:

If the drive is detached for more than 30 days, Backblaze interprets this as data that has been permanently deleted and securely deletes the copy from the Backblaze datacenter. The 30 day countdown is only for drives that have been unplugged.

If you are going on vacation for a long time, you can shut down your computer with the external drive attached. Backblaze does not detect that the external drive has been unplugged and won't start the 30-day countdown. You can then leave your computer off and unplug your external drive for six months, and Backblaze will still keep all your files backed up including those on your external drive. When you come back from vacation, make sure to plug your external drive back in 30 days from after you turn your computer on.

I travel a fair amount for my doctoral research -- and increasingly to India, Nepal, and Guatemala. On occasion, I'm gone for well over a month. My options, seemingly, are to lose my online backup (of all my photos, video, and data) or leave my computer off while gone. Neither are satisfactory.

I can understand the decisions they have made -- they don't want to host terabytes of people's data without need; they're not additional storage capacity for people -- but, for me, this makes things difficult and annoying. My primary machine is a 2011 MacBook Air. It is simply not possible to take all my files with me; I've got a few hundred gigabytes of photography and documentary work backed up to multiple locations in my apartment, but I'd love to have them somewhere offsite and presumably safer. I could purchase a small portable drive and take it everywhere, but that seems unnecessary and no more secure (could lose the drive, drop the drive, etc).

A final niggle -- MDSworker and MDS go nuts on the /Library/Backblaze directory. It needs to be manually added to the "Prevent Spotlight from searching these locations" pane in System Preferences. Seems like this could be automated during the install / first run process.

I'm not switching services -- I don't think there's a better alternative (and yes, I've tried Crashplan -- it caused Java to kick my MBA fans into overdrive all the time, which drove me nuts, and was less reliable). I love Backblaze's native app. Their tech support has been helpful and responsive. Their web interface is snappy, their storage boxes are amazing, and they seem committed to offering a great experience.

All that said, I think the three issues above could be fixed. Two are seemingly related to their software. The final one could be resolved with a tiered pay plan with an additional option that costs more -- but is a bit more flexible and doesn't delete external volumes after 30 days of inactivity.

Jony Ive on Design at Apple

An interview with the London Evening Standard.

What is more difficult is when you are intrigued by an opportunity. That, I think, really exercises the skills of a designer. It's not a problem you're aware of, nobody has articulated a need. But you start asking questions: what if we do this, combine it with that, would that be useful? This creates opportunities that could replace entire categories of device rather than tactically responding to an individual problem. That's the real challenge and very exciting.

Our goal is to create simple objects, objects that you can't imagine any other way. Get it right and you become closer and more focused on the object. For instance, the iPhoto app we created for the new iPad completely consumes you and you forget you are using an iPad.

In my opinion, this is what sets Apple apart. The design has evolved to a point that the product nearly melts away. The hardware that creates the experience has been reduced to the bare minimum. Apple makes the trick seems simple - but, in fact, it is next to impossible. Vision, iteration, and refinement - repeated over and over - has yielded the most intuitive and best technology products we've ever seen.

Pop Song Carbon Footprints

A little silly, but fun. My favorite is below.

"Light My Fire" by the Doors

The time to hesitate is through. No time to wallow in the mire. Try now we can only lose, And our love become a funeral pyre, Come on, baby, light my fire

Carbon Footprint: A traditional open-air funeral pyre burns for around six hours, using approximately 385 lbs. of wood. A single funeral pyre produces 362.25 lbs. of CO2, though in India four million tons of wood are used annually for traditional cremations.

Guardian Blog: Once the smoke clears: how clean cookstoves can transform lives

Julia Roberts, writing in the Guardian:

Alarmingly, nearly 3 billion people still rely on solid fuels to cook their food each day. When burned in open fires and inefficient cookstoves, fuels such as wood, coal, charcoal and animal waste create a toxic smoke that fills homes and communities the world over.

Two million people die annually from pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer and heart disease caused by cookstove smoke, and millions more suffer from these ailments for years, as well as from injuries such as cataracts and burns.

Women are predominantly the household cooks in most countries, and with their children swaddled to their backs or at their side as they cook, the entire family becomes victim to this silent killer.

Before they can even begin cooking, however, women will likely have spent hours searching for wood and other fuel sources. Children often accompany their mother on this journey, which keeps them from attending school or earning an income.

Such a nurturing act as cooking should not put lives at risk. There are effective solutions, which can save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women and combat climate change.

Edits

Amazing new creation by Ian Coyle (a Portland based badass).

Short narratives in film and photography. A quarterly publication.

This inaugural issue is a personal retrospective on the ideas of exploration and home.

(via Daring Fireball)

Ignoring the Megapixel Race

Mark III

Thought I should revise my previous post on this beastly camera, which was addle-brained and pointless.

Some points of interest: the camera only adds 1 megapixel to the count of its predecessor. This sets a good precedent that is arguably happening across the dSLR industry -- a move away from MPs as the ultimate benchmark of performance and a focus on the fundamental quality of the image. This move also offers a clear contrast with Nikon, Canon's biggest competitor in this space, who is pursuing a different strategy with their product lines.

The camera also finally offers 50 and 60 frames-per-second video capability, albeit at a reduced resolution of 720p. This feature has been available on a number of lower-end Canon cameras for quite some time; its a nice / needed upgrade here.

Lastly, the price has been upgraded. $3500 at Amazon. Assume it will come down with time - but that's a lot of money.

Camera Labs sums up the reason photographers and gadget-geeks are excited pretty nicely:

The headline specifications are a new 22.3 Megapixel full-frame sensor with 100-25600 ISO sensitivity (expandable to 102,400 ISO), 1080p video at 24, 25 or 30fps and 720p at 50 or 60fps, a 61-point AF system (with 41 cross-type sensors), 6fps continuous shooting, a viewfinder with 100% coverage, 3.2in screen with 1040k resolution, 63-zone iCFL metering, three, five or seven frame bracketing, a new three-frame HDR mode, microphone and headphone jacks and twin memory card slots, one for Compact Flash, the other for SD; the control layout has also been adjusted and the build slightly improved. So while the resolution and video specs remain similar to its predecessor, the continuous shooting speed, AF system, viewfinder, screen and build are all improved, and again there's the bonus of twin card slots.

Sample shots and videos are available at the following: Canon Japan and dpreview.com (and their preview).

The Old Fashioned: A Complete History and Guide to this Classic Cocktail

Back in November, slate.com published a long, thorough, kind of insanely detailed history of the old fashioned. My favorite part of that actually comes from a Letter to the NYT Editor dated Jan 1, 1936. The author simply names himself "OLD TIMER."

Consider, for instance, the old-fashioned cocktail. Time was when the affable and sympathetic bartender moistened a lump of sugar with Angostura bitters, dropped in a lump of ice, neither too large nor too small, stuck in a miniature bar spoon and passed the glass to the client with a bottle of good bourbon from which said client was privileged to pour his own drink. In most places the price was 15 cents or two for a quarter.

Nowadays the modern or ex-speakeasy bartender drops a spoonful of powdered sugar into a glass, adds a squirt of carbonic to aid dissolution, adds to that a dash or two of some kind of alleged bitters and a lump of ice, regardless to size. Then he proceeds to build up a fruit compote of orange, lemon, pineapple and cherry, and himself pours in a carefully measured ounce and a halt of bar whisky, usually a blend, and gives one a glass rod to stir it with. Price 35 to 50 cents.

Profanation and extortion.

The whole article is worth a read. Check it out here.

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