29 August 2008


So every now and then, I say
Ball's in your court, Ethan.
and nobody ever understands me. It's a quote from MI2. As I remember it, it was spoken about every other line. Well, turns out not. As that transcript shows, the line was only spoken twice, but never with "Ethan." It was "Hunt" and "Mr. McCloy."

I'm going to enjoy saying
Ball's in your court, Mr. McCloy
more than ever before, because "McCloy" is such a fun name to say. However, I suppose I can't be shocked anymore when people have no idea what the hell I'm talking about.

26 August 2008

iPhone disappointment

Gmail provides IMAP, but no push. That means: if I get an email at Gmail, Gmail will not notify my iPhone. Instead, I have to configure my iPhone to poll my Gmail account for new messages. I can do that at 15', 30', or 60' intervals, at the cost of some battery.

Yahoo Mail does provide push. So, I now have Gmail forward a duplicate of most emails (except mailing lists, e.g.) to my Yahoo Mail account and the iPhone gets pushes from that one. But if I reply or compose in the Mail app, it will be from my Yahoo address instead of the Gmail one. That's a bit of a bother.

If the situation were reversed – if I preferred Yahoo for my mail and Gmail was the one that pushed – then I could fix this. In the Gmail account on my iPhone, I could set it to use Yahoo's server for outgoing mail. But, as it stands, I cannot do that for the Yahoo account. I can navigate through the Settings menu and even click the "delete this outgoing mail server" button for the Yahoo server, but nothing happens. No explanation: the iPhone just ignores me.

This probably seems mysterious if you're unfamiliar with the territory. Especially since silently ignoring the user is a very bad user interface behavior, and Apple is usually really good at UIs.

The Internet Pessimists claim this is a business move. You see, Apple provides its own push email service as part of MobileMe. And a MobileMe subscription costs. If I could set my Yahoo account to send via Gmail, I would effect for free the primary feature of MobileMe, push email. But, if I were a Yahoo user, there would be no such issue. The whiners claim that Google, by being a nice partner with Apple, is intentionally not implementing push so as to not compete with MobileMe.

(Putting on my cynic's hat.)

That doesn't make sense to me. The partnership I see is Yahoo and Apple; they're in cahoots to pull (har) iPhone users away from Gmail.

(Switching to the geek hat.)

For those interested, I currently have to tap three times on each composed message in order to switch the "from" address to my Gmail one. At least I can make it work. Alternatively, the Gmail mobile site works quite well in Mobile Safari, so I go there if I'm planning on composing/replying. The Mail app is really just for me being notified about new emails.

(Switching to the runner hat and grabbing water bottle.)

25 August 2008

Italy trip

As that one post alluded to, I'm headed to Italy. I am participating in the ASE 2008 Doctoral Symposium, held in L'Aquila. I'm tacking a few days in Rome on the front- and back-end of the trip. I fly on 10 and 24 September, between Phil's and Sean's weddings.

Any suggested activities? I'm a bit clueless. Rory lent me a 2007 guide, but I haven't started in on it yet.

I give you my list.
That's really it at the moment. The first four are all I remember from my trip in 2001 – excluding Capri and almost drowning in the Mediterranean. I don't want to make my own sight-seeing. I think I just want to go about my normal routine, but do it in Italy.

(What is my normal routine?)

I might couch surf for the last few days!

24 August 2008

Initial iPhone report

I've had it since Friday. It arrived at the store on Monday, but they did not notify me.


I like it. Battery life was a problem the first day, and probably will be any other day where I'm so constantly using the internet. Battery life is only an issue if I'm asking the it to entertain me all day, and I won't be. So the major obstacle is fine.

Money is the other major, and I'm not paying much more than I used to for a simple plan plus 200 text messages. (Responsibly) cutting Netflix makes it about even, and I'll occasionally skip a lunch out to make myself feel better. I have disabled text messages (but I haven't updated my voice-mail greeting yet!) and am still figuring out how that will affect me.

I'm not going to escape until truly enticed. There are SSH clients – even in the app store – but I have not investigated.


  • Automatically geocoding my photos is also awesome. The camera is weak, but anybody who would complain should have a dedicated camera device.
  • Makes good use of the vCard spec for contacts; cooperates with Address Book.
  • Syncing is a snap.
  • Mobile Safari is a very nice interface.
  • The alarm app is well-designed.
  • I've used YouTube more than I expected.


  • To save battery, I disable Wi-Fi and 3G when I don't need them, but this requires a few menus. It'd be nice if a few simpleton apps could do this and make it one tap.
  • I miss being able to get near a certain contact by hitting the key for the first letter; gesturing is relatively inaccurate. The pane of favorites helps.
  • The GPS is sometimes sluggish to acquire, even without buildings. Especially on the highway, it seems. I wonder if the speed is a factor.
  • The app store gives no refunds, and there's no way to really know what the functionality of an app is until you purchase. I've been burnt by two apps ($23) so far.
  • The app store has a really bad search function.
  • Two of my pictures were apparently taken at a desert in China. The camera app gives no indication of the current GPS accuracy (it starts at about a few hundred kilometers – or half the globe apparently – and works its way down to about 10 meters), so I have no idea if it's prepared to tag a photo (it tags them automatically) with /accurate/ location data.
  • No photo apps can upload photographs (circumventing iPhoto) without stripping out the location metadata. Seems it's an SDK limitation as of yet. (So says Karl van Rondow via an appreciated, prompt email response.)
  • I don't see a seek-bar when it's in iPod mode; that's pretty lame.
  • No exposed file system.


  • 3G isn't yet in Lawrence, but I've been told by December. This may affect battery life.
  • A bigger form factor than I'm accustomed to.
  • No Flash apps in Mobile Safari yet.
  • No EDGE data while talking (perhaps with 3G, haven't tried it).


Originally uploaded by nicolas.frisby

Online Hotel Booking Debacle

I used a website to book a hotel for my Italy trip. When I hit the submit button for my credit card information, FireFox told me the data was being sent without encryption and allowed me to cancel the submission. Then I found a confirmation email in my inbox anyway! Huh?

But before I found the confirmation email, I had switched to another website to book the same hotel, but for $100 more. I then used the first website's lame, non-interactive "chat" feature to request that they cancel my transaction.

Then I noticed that the second website (a much superior website except for the price) offered a much more certain cancellation procedure, so I did that just to be sure I didn't get a double purchase.

I then realized that the surprise confirmation was probably some how valid: Would their system be bad enough to send me a confirmation email without actually receiving my credit card info? That seems like something even the most sloppy company wouldn't let happen. Because it was $100 cheaper, I sent them another "chat" message asking them to ignore my first one and just verify with me that the confirmation is valid and they actually have my credit card information. Then I sent them an email trying to explain the whole situation, because this is kind of ridiculous.

Any bets on what is going to happen? For full disclosure: I only included my "booking ID" in the email, not the two messages.

19 August 2008

41 Whys

I was Googling for information on that thing little kids do when they just keep asking "Why?" I didn't really find the discussion I was after, but I did find this Wikipedia article. And that will have to do as my hook.

Last night, during an insomnia spat, it dawned on me that existentialism is basically the reason that little kid always wins.
  1. Wow, Micheal Phelps is awesome!
  2. Because he won 8 gold medals; that's an amazing achievement.
  3. Because that's really hard to do.
  4. Because there were many other good competitors.
  5. Because they were very dedicated to training.
  6. Because they wanted to win Olympic gold medals.
  7. Because people respect gold medals.
  8. Because most people cannot do it.
  9. Because they haven't trained enough.
  10. Because it doesn't seem worth the effort.
  11. Because they don't like it that much and they don't believe they could ever reach the Olympic level.
  12. Because they are not successful enough.
  13. Because it wasn't in their genetics or formative experiences.
  14. Because their parents didn't make it a priority.
  15. Because they weren't good at it.
  16. For the same reasons their children aren't.
  17. Because that's how people become dedicated enough to sporting activities to get to the Olympics.
  18. Because there's really no other reason to put that much effort in.
  19. Because sporting activities are not really of any importance.
  20. Because sports don't have any inherent value for people except for the competitors.
  21. Because sports don't really affect other people.
  22. Because their livelihoods don't depend on the outcome, except for risk-takers.
  23. Because our quality of life depends on caring for ourselves and our loved ones and having the freedom to make choices.
  24. Because modern Western culture emphasizes family and freedom.
  25. Because those are our traditions.
  26. Because people acting under those beliefs have survived – it's social evolution.
  27. Because families sustain the young and then provide unconditional emotional support while capitalism justifies actions that give people an advantage.
  28. Because the roles of bread-winner and home-keeper were effective at raising healthy and capable children and anonymizing inequity behind markets means consumers don't realize the ultimate, negative consequences of their actions.
  29. Because "out of sight, out of mind."
  30. Because abstract things that don't affect our immediate safety don't carry much weight in our minds.
  31. Because the human mind evolved in environments that did not include such complex systems.
  32. Because before we formed societies, there were no natural systems under our influence that actually had indirect consequences on our survival, like global warming, terrorism, deforestation, water pollution, or fair trade. (Things like meteors and natural climate change did exist, but we had no mental model of our influence over those things.)
  33. Because no human system could effect change on a global scale.
  34. Because no human systems had yet reached the global scale.
  35. Because there weren't enough of us yet.
  36. Because our species' growth rate wasn't that big.
  37. Because we didn't have the knowledge to survive en masse.
  38. Because we didn't develop language until relatively recently.
  39. I don't know.
  40. I'm tired.
  41. I just played 40 rounds of the why game with you!
  42. Want some cake?
Disagree with anything?

It always boils down to something like "I don't know why we were the first species to develop language; we just were." And that's a pretty dissatisfying reason to work with when you're trying to make a difficult decision. There is no root cause to rely on, unless you bring faith into the picture. But I also find that dissatisfying. I'm looking for some reason that exists beyond my mind.

Here's what I find most frustrating. Tyler C just got a free subscription to Seed magazine, and in the first issue there was an article that caught my eye. One of the two experts says,
[Thoughtful evolutionary biologists are] saying, "Look, there are basic aspects to human nature that are common to all members of our species and have been there a long time." What's exciting is that we've developed this cognitive mechanism to free us from the things that determine so much of our behavior. And by doing so, we've sort of cut the rope from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Emphasis mine. That sentence pisses me off. I can identify my natural tendencies, I just don't know if I should listen to them. "Being free of them" is really confusing. Very few things compare to their immediacy, but our societal norms tell me it's laudable to deny some of them and to embrace others. Who says so? Why is that?
  1. Because philosophy over the past 3000 years has not identified – Ooooo! Is that cream cheese icing?
Whatever the reason, is it good enough? Or is it also something vacuous and underwhelming like, "we just were."

11 August 2008

02 August 2008

An odd justification for stewardship

I had dinner with Ilya last night. We like to discuss how we make decisions and to butt heads about it, but part with a smile anyway. During our discussion, I realized one reason why the notion of planetary stewardship – sustainability and such – appeals to me.

I recently recognized my existentialist thoughts as such. The relevant idea is that values do not exist outside of individuals: there is no way to justify an action outside of yourself. I find this debilitating. I cannot justify the consequences of my potential actions, so I have trouble choosing an action. I'm scared to act if I can't explain why it's the right thing to do. And I can't because – rationally – such a "right thing" simply does not exist.

One reason stewardship appeals to me, I realized, is because it minimizes consequences. I strive to not influence the planet. I want it to proceed as if we were not here. There's an angelic, ethereal feel to that: existing without leaving a mark.

It's interesting that an accepted value such as sustainability can be derived from self-doubt.