Archive for the 'Discussing ideas' Category

Apple, Adobe, and “open”

Today Apple CEO Steve Jobs posted Thoughts on Flash, explaining why Apple will not allow Adobe Flash Player on iPhones, iPods and iPads. In the post, Jobs makes the following assertion:

Adobe claims that we are a closed system, and that Flash is open, but in fact the opposite is true.

So according to Jobs, Apple is open and Flash is closed. But according to a WSJ interview with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, Flash is the open one:

I find it amusing, honestly. Flash is an open specification.

So who is really open?
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Are web standards the new OS APIs?

The arrival of the following two posts on the same day is just too ironic for me not to write about:

More and more it seems that APIs which have existed for decades on all POSIX systems (which includes all popular OSes except Windows) are being re-implemented as web standards. This is an interesting trend, which I think is being fueled by a confluence of factors:
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Ideas for a better programming language

When I look at the programming languages available today, it seems that all of them try to optimize execution speed or developer time at the expense of the other. For example, although compiled C code is extremely fast, it can take many more programmer hours to write a robust application in C than in a higher-level language. On the other side of the coin, a moderately complex problem can be solved by a Ruby programmer in a few minutes, but the resulting code is executed slowly, running on an interpreter (soon to be a VM, but still slower than native code) and requiring garbage collection and lots of runtime checking. Are these sacrifices necessary? I don’t think so. How is it possible to make a language that simultaneously optimizes execution speed and developer time? I believe the answer lies in static code analysis, particularly at the compiler level.
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Content owners: Use web-based distribution now

(This post is for content owners, such as recording and publishing companies and independent artists, as well as for consumers. While it is aimed primarily at content owners because they are ultimately the people who decide how content is distributed, it is important that consumers also read it so they know how to facilitate the changes I propose.)

The Internet and its widespread availability to the general population (not yet true in many countries, but hopefully changing soon) have made distributing digital content to large numbers of people very easy. Books, academic journals, music, videos and many other creative works can be transferred from one computer to many others in a matter of minutes or often just seconds. However, most of that content is not allowed to be transmitted in that way. Why not? What can content owners and consumers do about it?
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A call for sensitivity to copyright sticklers

I am a copyright stickler. I try to discourage infringement of copyright laws whenever possible. As a result, my wishes often directly clash with the wishes of others that I socialize with. I suspect other copyright sticklers can relate. Though I wish more people cared about not infringing copyright, it’s difficult to change people’s minds on this issue so I won’t attempt to do that here. Rather, I will outline a situation where I felt uncomfortable discouraging copyright infringement in hopes that it will show you the social influences that make such a situation possible and how you can avoid encouraging such a situation.
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Approaching issues without dichotomizing them

In the readings for one of my courses, I ran across a particularly relevant article discussing the way we often needlessly dichomotize an issue and reasons why it can be very unwise. The article is actually the first chapter in Deborah Tannen’s book “The Argument Culture: America’s War of Words”. The name of the chapter is “Fighting for Our Lives”. I located the chapter on a University of Wisconsin-Madison web page. Unfortunately, this particular copy of the chapter omits references, but I doubt those would be too hard to find.

The basic premise of the chapter is that we should try to avoid looking at issues from opposing sides when doing so does not make sense. Some examples of debates I’ve heard on numerous occasions that should probably be discussed in a less argumentative form are “Which is better: Windows or Linux?” and “Which is right: intelligent design or evolution?”.

I think the reason that we sometimes tend to create debates or opposing sides is because it’s easier and, in the short term, more productive (arguably) to focus people’s energy on a clearly-defined side than it is to have people channeling their energy in different ways trying to better understand the problem. A good example of this is the tactic of Oceania’s leaders (from the book “1984” by George Orwell) to promote intense hatred for the current enemy of the state (Eastasia or Eurasia) in order to focus people’s attention on defeating the enemy rather than on determining why they were at war. This likely applies to current-day wars as well.

It’s a good idea to keep this article in mind when discussing ideas that are in danger of being forced into opposing sides. I think it’s best for all of us if we try our best to fully understand a situation rather than take the easy out of debating it for the sake of proving ourselves right.