Thursday, November 27, 2003

Voting is, apparently, one of those "grass is greener" things. People are very aware of the drawbacks of whatever voting system they have, and idealize the voting system they don't have. I've tried to explain to friends what Dan Simon explains in a recent blog post -- that no voting system is immune from manipulation and disconcerting results. In fact, in any systematic voting system, one ought to expect unusual results every so often. If the US, with its electoral college system, never had a case where the winner of the popular vote lost the election, one ought to wonder if the system were broke in some way.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

More evidence that Microsoft is insular: its security experts think security is uncool.
Microsoft security architect Carl Ellison said that one popular culture problem is that security just isn't considered cool. (ref)

That's not borne out by the security experts I meet outside Microsoft who revel in their elite status among geeks. Among sites like SlashDot security is very cool - "black hats" and "white hats" find and identify bugs for the coolness factor. There are also many, many books on security, including some really bad books - an indicator that the publishers are so hungry for books on the topic that they'll publish garbage and people still buy it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

One of the quandaries of modern technology and the modern economy is figuring out what it's buying us. Wireless is fun, but it will be even better if it improves productivity. Here's some pretty good evidence it is:
San Mateo's putting a wireless umbrella over the whole California county so that the cops don't have to come back to the police station to synchronize. They say they were spending as much as three hours per day driving back and forth to the police station. It completely changes things. (ref)
I'm sure out of those three hours gained, one is lost again browsing the Web and another is lost again in IMing with buddies, but that's still a significant productivity gain.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

I talked with my Mom about violent movies recently. She can't watch movies like Reservoir Dogs at all. Movies I find innocuous she finds violent (she found my description of Office Space made it sound too violent for her). She made the inevitable complaint that these movies are trivializing violence and desensitizing us to brutality, blood and death.

I'd like to take the contrarian view that this isn't true but I'm not sure. I first argued weakly that perhaps we weren't really getting desensitized, that she had a sample size of one looking at herself and her reactions to movies and TV news. But I didn't really believe that argument myself - it seems obvious that if you see all of the Terminator movies you're not going to be shocked by Total Recall. My next ineffective argument was that perhaps video violence serves a useful purpose - that we're less likely to panic the first time we see somebody get in a car accident in real life, and we can respond more effectively. But that argument is actually the opposite of my first argument, assuming that desensitization does happen. Apparently studies have been done but I haven't seen anything particularly convincing either way.

It does occur to me that perhaps desensitization isn't the problem we think it is.

  • How broad an effect does desensitization have? If you can watch Lethal Weapon and cheer when Riggs kicks the drug dealer in the nuts and breaks his arm (scene 19C), does this mean you'll cheer when you see somebody do that in the street? Not bloody likely (pun intended). Without the setup of movies, seeing this for real would be terribly upsetting, shocking, and not likely to make you cheer. So maybe desensitization is not that transferrable.
  • What effect does desensitization have? Sure, we don't feel so much like vomiting after years of watching gut-churningly violent movies. But does it necessarily make us approve? Or does a movie like The Gift make us consciously condemn the wife-beater even though that role is played by Keanu Reeves?
  • How does violent entertainment affect us differently? Surely there are many factors that change how violent entertainment affects us, such as age, upbringing, gender and personality. So I've watched a bunch of Jackie Chan movies, and now I take karate class and love it. I don't think I'm more likely to hurt somebody else now though, except in self-defence, and maybe not even then. Is it only a minute fraction of the population that is more likely to commit violence through exposure to violent entertainment?
After three years of effort, my book is out! Thanks to:
  • Eric Rescorla for everything

  • Jim Whitehead and Greg Stein for getting me started, reviewing chapters and writing blurbs

  • Clay Shirky and Larry Masinter for writing more blurbs
  • Radia Perlman for encouragement and having me in her series

  • Brian Korver, Elias Sinderson, Andrew Sieja, Yaron Goland, Geoff Clemm, Terence Spies, Kevin Dick, Gary Gershon and Andrew McGregor for technical reviews and advice

  • Peter Raymond and Rick Rupp for diagram ideas, Keith Ito for his tracer tool

  • Everybody on the various WebDAV mailing lists

  • Rachel Gollub and Rob Alvelais for friendship and support

  • Prentice Hall editors and production staff: Mary Franz, Noreen Regina and Anne Garcia and Techne Group's Dmitri Korzh (for their patience)

  • My mom and dad

My amazon sales rank is 863,536 so far. Whatever that means.

Blog Archive

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.