Thursday, November 06, 2003

My 2 cents on the Confederate flag uproar
Not much to say that hasn't been said elsewhere, but to me, this tells me two things:
1) The other Democrats are desperate to blunt Dean's momentum. The way that they've seized onto this issue, it looks like they're desperate for an angle with which they can gain an edge (to ruthlessly mix metaphors).
2) Fundamentally, Dean is right, even if he didn't exactly express himself in the best way possible. However, I can't see the Democratic party reversing its losses in the South in the near future without a major sea change.
Two political links of the day
First, the most distinctive ballot measure you're likely to see (not counting San Francisco's Proposition BB of about ten years back, which is a close contender): this measure in Bolinas.

Second, apparently the Democratic party switched from winner-take-all primaries to proportional representation. Yes, really. This should make for an interesting convention. Read about it in CalPundit.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Political question of the day
There's no shortage of actors who have become Republican politicians. There are the obvious examples (Schwarzenegger, Reagan), and I'm sure without too much difficulty you could find a bunch more minor people (Fred Thompson, Sonny Bono, Fred Grandy, etc.). However, when Juliana and I were searching on this question the other day, we were able to find one actor who became a Democratic politician: Ben Jones, who played "Cooter" on the Dukes of Hazzard. He served two terms in the House (winning his first term after the incumbent was indicted for perjury), and made a few more unsuccessful House runs. As far as profile goes (both as an actor and as a politician), it's considerably lower than the Republican side of the ledger. And according to this article, he's only the third ever, after Helen Gahagan Douglas (who was a theater actress) and Shiela Kuehl, a California State Senator with a rather undistinguished acting career. Hardly an impressive slate.

To me, at least, while some of the reasons are obvious, it seems surprising that the disparity would be that large. Anyway, this post was inspired by seeing this article.
Technical note, concluded
Okay, I think I've fixed the issue with the comments. Let me know if there appear to be any problems.

For those interested in the details: At some point when I wasn't looking, probably when Blogger changed their engine, they moved from 8-digit post ID numbers, which are reasonable, to 18-digit post ID numbers, which strike me, personally, as just a little bit of overkill, but what do I know? Anyway, in the past, the post ID numbers were passed to the comment script as numbers, and everything was fine. But now, passing an 18-digit number as a number gets it truncated. So I changed things to pass their numbers as strings, and it should work happily.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Technical note
For some reason, the number of comments for new entries isn't properly displaying (at least, not in my browsers). My teams of top scientists are working on the problem. But if I don't acknowledge your comment, it's probably because I haven't even noticed it's there.
Interesting legal issue of the day
So, I'm not an expert on copyright law, but I have read enough to have heard of Feist v. Rural Telephone (though I don't think I would be able to remember the name offhand). To make a long story short, a white pages publisher used information from a rival company's directory; the other company sued for copyright infringement, but the Court ruled that the information in the white pages, being factual, was not entitled to copyright protection, and the presentation, being merely alphabetical, was not sufficiently original to warrant protection either.

Now, it appears possible that these actions might be made illegal. I'm actually of a very mixed opinion about this. I suppose the sticking point is that after a company has put all this work in to create a database of information, it doesn't seem fair to me (for lack of a better term) for another company to be able to take it and make money from it. It's the last point which is key, at least in my own personal ethical system. (It's also why, of the two bills mentioned in the article, I would vastly prefer the spirit of the Bliley version; I obviously benefit from having directory information available online for free.)

I learned of this initially when reading about b-r is simply the best baseball reference site there is, and I frequently use it and am very glad to have it as a free resource. (I believe it's also the only website I've outright donated money to -- this was well before their sponsorship system, and though there was an offer to use old donations towards sponsorship, I didn't really want to bother.) b-r gets a large (though declining, these days) percentage of its information from Sean Lahman's baseball database, which is also free. But what I didn't know is that, apparently, much of the original information in the Lahman database was extracted from a CD-ROM version of Total Baseball, which is not a free product. And, oddly, though I know that this process was (and is, for now) perfectly legal, it still makes me feel a little uneasy. I know it doesn't make sense.
On a more pessimistic note
Despite my ill-founded optimism below, I have to admit that now is not the best of times to be a Bay Area sports fan. Not counting the minor teams (which actually have done quite well, with the Earthquakes and CyberRays both bringing home a title in 2001, and the Sabercats winning in 2002), none of the area teams has won a title since the Niners won the Super Bowl in '94 (well, technically the Super Bowl itself was '95, but it was for the '94 season), and none seem particularly well-positioned to in the future. I don't need to tell anyone here how close the Giants came in 2002, but they probably can't win with their current personnel (especially given the age of a lot of the team) and they don't seem to have the money (and definitely don't seem to have the minor-league talent) to replace them, with Magowan looking to cut payroll. The A's are probably going to stay in contention for a few years, but it'll require a steady stream of shrewd dealings and good minor-league developments just to keep them treading water, given their financial constraints; it's hard to see them getting noticeably better in the near future, so essentially they'll need a healthy dose of playoff luck to get a title, and they haven't exactly been showing that in spades. The 49ers are in a similar situation: while it looks that the team they'll have is going to be at least competitive, I can't see it getting measurably better in the near future, and I can see it getting a lot worse if they fail to retain a lot of their current players. York's performance as an owner has not exactly inspired confidence so far, either. The Raiders, like the Giants, came close in 2002 (though the '03 Super Bowl was much less close than the '02 World Series), but they also were looking at a very short window of opportunity, and judging by their performance and injury record this year, it looks like it's already closed. The Warriors, though I might be optimistic about their relative performance, are not going to contend for a title any time in the foreseeable future. And finally, the Sharks, which were a trendy pick for a Stanley Cup winner a year ago despite never even reaching the conference finals, instead sunk straight to the basement, traded away all of their talent, and saw the one player who looked like he might be a franchise cornerstone (Nabokov) instead revert to mediocrity. Since they're also cursed with penny-pinching ownership, the outlook here is not so good.

Well, at least I have all these past memories to console me...of course, they only apply to the Niners anyway.
Minor annoyances at work
There are two things which happen at work which annoy me disproportionately:
1) People taking the elevator for one floor. I always take the elevator in the mornings from the basement to the sixth floor, and in the evenings I make the reverse trip. I'm always astounded by the number of people who will hop on the elevator to go up or down just one floor. I frequently have to go down to the 5th floor, and I always use the stairs. What's the point of taking the elevator?

2) People who don't run for the bus. If the bus is sitting there, and you're late (I can understand not making an effort if you know the bus isn't going to leave yet), then it's more than a little inconsiderate to nonchalantly stroll to the bus and expect everyone to wait for you. Show some hustle!

Yes, I know that not everyone at the Lab is in as good physical condition as me (not to say that I'm in great condition, but at least I'm young and healthy). But these are perpetrated by all sorts of people.

Monday, November 03, 2003

I know I'm a fool to type this...
...but I'm actually moderately optimistic about the Warriors. Oh, don't get me wrong; I'm hardly expecting them to make the playoffs, but I think they could actually be decent this year. Starting the season with two of their top players hurt and another suspended, they managed to pull out a victory over a decent team and hung in against two of the best teams in the league. And that's all I need for unsupported early-season optimism!
Very random link
Hey, I think it would be cool to have one of these.
Lyrics quiz!
This is a very amusing variant on the old lyrics quiz (it's fill-in-the-blank, rather than just name-the-song). The comments in the scoring were also good. Overall, though, my score was pathetic (32). See if you can do better!