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December link roundup, Part I - Baxil [bakh-HEEL'], n. My Sites [Tomorrowlands] [The TTU Wiki] [Photos]
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December 20th, 2007
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December link roundup, Part I
Alright, I need to clear these out before the minimized browser windows take over my Dock completely ...

GENERAL

Finally found something I'd like for Christmas.

'Study Reveals Why Monkeys Shout During Sex' (Probably NSFW: Clinical text descriptions)

Glow-in-the-dark cats! Now with 90% less tripping-over-at-midnight!

PUN ALERT: I heard a rumor that the Metal Gear Solid webcomic "The Last Days of FOXHOUND" is going to start discussing transhumanist themes in a new spinoff. Supposedly, they're going to name it Dresden CODEC.

(Speaking of which, best Dresden Codak comic ever -- Philosophy: The RPG.)

"Is it always illegal to kill a woman?" -- a look at how far advertising has advanced in a mere 50 years.

Amazon.com gets trolled. Amazon.com assigns response duties to someone with a sense of humor.

Make a low-tech refrigerator with clay, sand and water. (Via tropism.)

Is stress making us sick?


WRITING

Essay on the lifespan of literary genres; why "science fiction" as a genre is (un)dead; and why it's still worthwhile.

13 Clichés To Avoid In Blogs. ("Top (n) lists" is #12.)

Is Aleister Crowley George W. Bush's grandfather? I'm filing this one under "writing" instead of "politics" because, as a conspiracy theory for TTU, this is MADE OF PURE AWESOME. (In the real world, even if true, I still can't work up any paranoia over it.)

Definr: Nifty scripting tricks let you look up a dictionary definition in nigh-real time, without the multiple page loads and/or giant ads involved in (say) Google-searching the word.

'Early morning conversations with my brain': How Wil Wheaton knows he's a writer.


TECHNICAL

Fixing Mac (and generic) wireless connectivity issues.

Google Code Search is now letting us see how programmers swear inside their source code.

Five types of end users that tech support folks have to deal with.

Blacklists Don't Work: An essay on why the approach used by spam filtering and antivirus applications is doomed from the outset. Good-but. The frustrating thing is -- the general point is true, but the article has some serious logic flaws. For instance: "Why don't Mac users run anti-virus software? Why don't UNIX users run anti-virus software? Because they don't need to. ..." Right. "... They don't run as administrators." WRONG!! This statement in comments (12/12 4:53AM) calls bullshit: "Here's the fundamental law of computer security: don't be the easiest, most common, target on the net."

Interview: What it's like being IT manager at the South Pole.

What do security software and used cars have in common? Market forces favor bad products over good ones. (Dear libertarians: The invisible hand doesn't solve everything plzkthx.)

Ever wondered if perhaps, someday, you could achieve programming superstardom by coming up with a way to somehow notify people that they've got new e-mail? Don't bother. It's patented. :-p


POLITICS

Hey, remember the "up or down vote" GOP? The new, improved Republican Senate doesn't. In a blisteringly recordbreaking way.

Now that's chutzpah: "In response, Romney delivered an address that simultaneously pleaded for religious tolerance and urged intolerance of what he termed the "religion of secularism."

If you've seen the documentary "The Aristocrats" (or heard some variation of the joke), take a look at this political take of the classic. A little too close to the truth to be funny.

Fox News with a laugh track (VIDEO): Oh my god, they made Bill O'Reilly watchable!

What do you think about this painting of Jesus? The author claims that your reaction is a pretty good litmus test for whether you understand Jesus' actual teachings.


ECONOMICS

"The Total Stupidity of Crowds": How playing games with iterative risk pooling has made EVERY investment that gets anywhere near mortgages dangerous and suspect. A good, non-technical summary of why the subprime mortgage crisis is going to wipe a lot of people out quickly when it starts snowballing.

Morgan Stanley issues recession alert for U.S. File this one under "well, duh"; but the real significance is that the cracks in the wall of Wall Street confidence are showing.

Oldie but goodie: Gapminder. Play with world economic statistics; roll your own animated graph from hundreds of different data.

10 Absolute "Nos!" for Freelancers. Meant for web designers, but the principles hold elsewhere.

BONUS BAXILIAN WRITING:

Back in 2004 [friends-locked], I submitted an anonymous story to Tom Tomorrow's blog regarding the evils of debit cards [the quoted part overlined "More, from a reader"]. I'm pretty sure any statute of limitations that might apply to my time at the bank has expired, so let me take this opportunity to repost the link, open the floor to questions, and caution people: DO NOT USE DEBIT CARDS.

In the intervening four years, my stance has moderated a bit: As long as it requires a PIN for expenditures, and as long as you have your pin memorized instead of written down, you're probably OK. Probably. But one thing has not changed: any ATM and/or debit card with a Visa/Mastercard logo is A LICENSE FOR PEOPLE TO STEAL YOUR MONEY.

If a stranger goes on a shopping spree with your credit card, you're legally liable for no more than $50 as long as you report it promptly. But if a stranger goes on a shopping spree with your debit card, you're at the mercy of your bank to get your money back, and in the meantime I hope you don't have to pay rent or utility bills. As they say, read the whole thing.

--

Standard disclaimer 1: Links were picked up from all over the Internet; including blog posts, Reddit, Livejournal, and you. (If you linked it first, I probably got it from you; say so and I'll be happy to name-drop.)

Standard disclaimer 2: All these links (and many more!) are also available, nicely tagged and labeled, at my del.icio.us account. Yay social bookmarking!

Current Location: ~spiral
Current Mood: hungryhungry
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Comments
 
From:antwondotcom
Date:December 20th, 2007 11:32 am (UTC)
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Holy god, is that an ass-ton of links. Tons of interesting reading to peruse.

And yes, you preach the same party line that I do regarding debit cards. Lord knows why one would care to be exposed to such risks, given the alternatives. Just pleased to see someone similarly skeeved by such things for a change....
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From:roaminrob
Date:December 21st, 2007 04:54 am (UTC)
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Is it a testament to the guy's oldtimerism on the 'net that he's blogging in exactly the way that weblogs first started weblogging? :-)
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From:baxil
Date:December 21st, 2007 01:05 pm (UTC)
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Ironic that you should ask this of Twon, who once upon a time was one of the prominent voices of the A/C movement.

What's that, you ask? A/C was a backlash against E/N. What's E/N? "E/N," standing for either "entertainment/news" or "everything/nothing," was what what-we-now-call-blogging used to be named back when a "weblog" was a collection of visited links.

So, er, yeah, dude. I think you just dated all of us. :-)
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From:zuki_san
Date:December 20th, 2007 11:52 am (UTC)
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Actually, the name of the rpg they're all playing is "Dungeons and Discourses." And there's a group on the forum steadily working towards making it real. It's awesome.

(Will come back and comment on more links later. Dresden Codec pun makes me squeal with delight.)
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From:baxil
Date:December 21st, 2007 01:07 pm (UTC)
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Yay! You've just singlehandedly justified this whole post -- someone else liked "Dresden CODEC"! ]B=8D

Cool to hear that D&Disc has some life beyond the comic strip. I'd be curious to see if anything ever comes of that.
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From:balinares
Date:December 20th, 2007 01:46 pm (UTC)
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Sometimes I wonder if the whole US banking market isn't carefully tailored so as to make debit cards as uninteresting as possible, since credit cards are much, much, much more interesting financially for banking institutions.

Over here, debit cards have ALL had mandatory PINs for decades, and any undue debit MUST be refunded fully by the banking institution, including any resulting cost if it makes you go in the red. Consequently, credit cards are almost inexistent -- although a few small credit-oriented institutions are trying to get them into people's hand, though, since they're a good way to squeeze even the poorest for money.

I'm worried this will come across as my-country-vs.-your-country, and I don't know how to word it so it won't. :/ Because this is very much not my purpose. What I wish to point out is that the flaws you (RIGHTFULLY!) point out are, I think, not inherent to debit cards themselves. They are inherent to the particular implementation of debit cards you are describing.

And it makes me wonder, somehow, about who does profit from the prevalence of credit cards.
From:antwondotcom
Date:December 20th, 2007 06:33 pm (UTC)
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I'm pretty sure the marketing timeline is the other way around in the U.S. Both credit cards and ATM cards have been around and in heavy use for forever - "assume that every American owns several credit cards and is in debt on them up to their eyeballs" is a cavalier statement that is depressingly close to the mark - but Visa and MasterCard-branded debit cards are a comparatively new invention. These debit cards have been pushed onto the public fairly aggressively, via both advertising ("see how convenient it is? as effortless to use as a credit card, but connected directly to your bank account!") and tactical maneuvers ("lost your ATM card? here, let us replace it with a Visa debit card instead....")

And with cause, from the banks' point of view, for a variety of reasons. Accidentally use a credit card a bit too liberally and you'll find yourself carrying a balance, potentially at a high interest rate... which pales in comparison to if one uses a debit card a bit too liberally and is hit with a string of overdraft charges for subsequent checks and debits against the account, decking one to the tune of $15+ per event. Also, if your credit card is stolen and a mess of debt is run up, you're not on the hook for more than $50; if your debit card is stolen and a mess of debt is run up, though, you're potentially on the hook for $500. (Many banks voluntarily abide by the $50 limit for debit cards as well... though you're left to trusting the banks' good graces that they'll abide by this self-imposed cap.)

All this on top of the problem Baxil outlined: if you and the credit card company lock horns over matters, you can always hold out and just not pay, nasty phone calls and related headaches be damned. If you and the debit-issuing bank lock horns over matters, they can just claim the money by fiat and leave you to twist in the wind to prove things otherwise. Debit cards deny you of whatever leverage you might've had in this situation.

It's not like they're an inherent evil... but yes, the U.S. implementation of them is fairly lacking and decidedly on the tilt in the banks' favor.
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From:baxil
Date:December 21st, 2007 12:04 am (UTC)
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> assume that every American owns several credit cards and is in debt on them up to their eyeballs

Yep. Credit card debt carried by the average American: $8,562.
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From:baxil
Date:December 21st, 2007 12:36 am (UTC)
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The thing is, it is a my-country-vs-your-country issue, and you're not wrong.

There's a profound difference in attitude, and we've really got the scary end of the deal. America at this point is pretty much a corporate state, with every politician competitive at the national level in the pockets of lobbyists, and the media cheerleading all the time. The Democrats would make a great right-wing party anywhere in Europe, and today's Republicans have no sane analogue in any other first-world country.

Fed policy for the whole last decade (and for quite some time before that) has been to push the economy forward with consumer spending; and when consumers ran out of money to spend, to give consumers credit and keep the trend up. These attitudes are disturbingly common among the moneyed elite. The income gap between the wealthy and the rest of us has soared. And the Fed's response to the cracks starting to show in the economic wall? Lower interest rates! That'll get consumers spendin' even more, by cracky, and then everything will be happy forever!

... It's pathological, really. It's not just about credit cards. Credit cards are a symptom, not a cause.
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From:sashajwolf
Date:December 20th, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC)
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What do you think about this painting of Jesus?

I liked it immediately, and having read the article, I am boggled that any Christian could disapprove of it. Dudes. He washed the feet of the man he knew was going to betray him to his executioners. He sent one of his disciples to heal the most zealous of their persecutors.
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From:natetg
Date:December 21st, 2007 07:21 pm (UTC)
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The painting is odd.

Foot-washing has ritual significance in various Christian sects. Especially associated with Jesus washing the feet the apostles before the last supper. Thus, the poster conflates the people who are having their feet washed with the apostles for them. (Even if there aren't twelve.)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feet_washing

The line of flags in the background and posh suggests this is set at the United Nations, but it's Jesus washing the feet of Kofi Anan ; at the UN Kofi should be the host and thus the one doing the washing.

Jesus paying attention to the feet instead of facing the people is a rather unusual depiction as well. I think that Jesus would have been speaking to these people - he's not likely to be in full agreement with any of their policies.

The eye-lines of Merkel and Blair are also strange d since all of the others are looking at Jesus (or Kofi's foot), but Blair is looking down the line, and Merkel is staring into space.
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