Media Bias

I often like to discuss the nature of media and its bias towards the news. People in the media generally believe themselves to be above reproach when it comes to liberal/conservative bias, but the reality is often quite different. Although there are dozens of studies (including ones from the Pew Research Center) that confirms that most major media outlets have a “left” leaning ideology; this study I found most interesting. The way the study was done was counting thing tank citations from both media outlets and (as a percentage) from both Legislative branches.

The nice part about the way the study was conducted is that it removes a significant part of human judgment from the evaluation process. A simple comparison can be done between the media outlet and the U.S. House of Representatives (generally considered the a fairly accurate reflection of the countries political leanings) as a whole. The result (not unexpectedly) was that almost all major media outlets do NOT represent both sides of the issue with balance; at least when when we discuss the practice of citation.

I don’t believe that its possible for people, companies, institutions to be un-bias. To deny the experiences that made us who we are would be to remove the life, color, and vigor of our statements. What is possible is for everyone to admit that bias occurs and to be honest about said bias. As I have said before, those who deny bias in any human endeavor are either ignorant or naive.

The Web API

Joel on Software has a spectacular article on Microsoft loosing the API war, and how it will affect their OS dominates in the future. The trend that Joel talks about (the move away from rich client software development) is something that programmers have been talking about for years. The advent of advanced web technologies (like J2EE, and asp.Net) is only accelerating this move. How many of you use web mail?

Harmony of Self

But in reality Justice was such as we were describing, being concerned however, not with the outward man, but with the inward, which is the true self and concernment of man: for the just man does not permit the several elements within him to interfere with one another, or any of them to do the work of others,-he sets in order his own inner life, and is his own master and his own law, and at peace with himself; and when he has bound together the three principles within him, which maybe compared to the higher, lower, and middle notes of the scale, and the intermediate intervals-when he has bound all these together, and is no longer many, but has become one entirely temperate and perfectly adjusted nature, then he proceeds to act, if he has to act, whether in a matter of property, or in the treatment of the body, or in some affair of politics or, private business; always thinking and calling that which preserves and cooperates with the harmonious condition, just and good action and the knowledge which presides over it, wisdom, and that which at any time impairs this condition, he will call unjust action and the opinion which presides over it ignorance.
–Socrates, The Republic

Why Users Blame Bad Design

An on OSnews discusses the much complained about spatial Nautilus found in the most recent version of Gnome. The argument basically goes like this; 1) computers can be difficult for new users, 2) adding real-life-alike (their words not mine) interfaces, i.e. making things in a computer environment more like real life, helps overcome these difficulties, 3) spacial file management allows users to treat windows like actual folder “objects” making them more real-life-alike, and finally 4) this makes spacial file management easier for users to interact with.

Trying desperately to contain my disdain for the mind numbing ignorance of said spatiality; I will attempt to explain why this understanding of UI is… shale we say “flawed.”

1.) Almost everything new is difficult until you understand how to use it. Just imagine trying to explain how to drive a car to someone who has never done anything but walk. “You start off by checking your vehicle’s mirrors and buckling your safety belt. Turn the car key (assuming your car using a key) clockwise to start the car, while simultaneously applying foot pressure to the car break. Stop turning the car key once the vehicle engine begins running. Put the car in the appropriate gear for desired movement….” My 3 year old daughter prefers crayons because they are “easier” to use than pencils (darn things have those erasers, are way to thin, and you have to sharpen them for the love of GOD.)

2.) Limiting interface advantages by making them act more like other interfaces REDUCES their usability. It does not increase it. I wish my frigging TV still had a dial! Why? Because a dial is a whole lot easier to use than having to press and/or hold down a damn volume button. Dials take advantage of the users wrist movements to allow quick, easy, and accurate adjustment of object with a range of possible values. How many of you remember when Apple QuickTime had a volume dial? Seriously it had a frigging dial. Like my flexible wrist movement helps a whole lot on a dang mouse. Most users resolved to adjusting the volume by clicking on the top of the dial, pulling the mouse in a semi-round fashion, letting go of the mouse, repeat 50 frigging times.

3.) How about the spacial folder metaphor? The windows remember their placement, and each folder opened opens a new window with file placement, window sizes, and window placement all remembered. God knows I got a frigging computer because I just loved having 2500 fscking folders open at the same time on my “real” desk; moving paper from one folder to another. Now I can live this joy in the electronic age too! Hey while we are at it why don’t we remove the copy and paste functionality. There’s an entirely electronic metaphor that is simply making my life too easy. The modern computer user interface was designed to take advantage of the computer environments strengths.

4.) Things like drop-down menus, shortcuts, icons, and tree views are all electronic representations of functionality that have no real-life-alike equivalent (just imagine trying to implement a drop down menu on paper.) Tons of research and development were spent to discover UI elements that would be fairly simple to understand but would still take full advantage of the electronic environments strengths. Use our drop down menu for an example. A more real-life-alike representation would be to have a full list of all drop down menu options with a radio button beside them. But once you have taught someone how to use a drop down menu, they have little trouble using it later on. The new element is now both a space and time advantage over the more real-life-alike radio button list. The best way to make a UI that users will easily interface with is to take use the environments advantages in a consistent and user friendly way. To teach the how to use a functionally clear file manager that does not relay on old metaphors to try and gain a temporary learned advantage. To teach the person how to use the pencil; not remove the pencil eraser, make it shorter, and remove all the wood.

There is a reason that Apple, Microsoft, Sun, and Xerox all abandoned the spacial metaphor within the file manager. Steve Jobs may have said it best when he said, “The problem with the spacial finder is that it causes all users to become janitors.”

Prime, not Optimus

I have spent a good deal of time lately thinking about prime numbers. A prime number is a number that is divisible by itself, 1, and no other whole numbers. For example 7 is prime because its divisible by 1 and 7 but not 2,3,4,5, or 6. Check out this link that briefly discuses the history and significants of prime numbers.

Some of the greatest mathematicians in history spent huge chunks of their life studying prime numbers; including Pythagoras of Samos, Euclid of Alexandria, Pierre Fermat, and Marin Mersenne. What makes prime numbers so interesting to mathematicians is that in math (the most structured of all sciences) primes appear fairly randomly. The density of primes can be calculated with some accuracy and there are some calculations that improve the probability of finding a prime number; but no one has discovered an algorithm for discovering the whole set of prime numbers.

Transactional Rollbacks in Linux

There was a great article in my May issue of Linux Journal that talk about using RPM to do system rollbacks. Basically (if the feature is turned on) you can say “return my system software to the way it was XX hours (or days or months or years etc.) ago…” and RPM will downgrade or remove all necessary packages to return the computer to the state it was previously. Well I found the article on line and thought I would pass it along.

World Builder

Jason points me to Nation States. Its an interactive web/world were you create your own country. On regular chosen intervals you receive “issues” that your country has to deal with. Anyone who has ever wanted to have your own dictatorship (or perfect democracy) now has the chance.

It tolls for thee

As everyone already knows, this weekend the greatest President to hold office in my lifetime has passed away. Many times in our countries history God has blessed us by having the right person, in the right place, at the right time. During his time, Ronald Reagan was that person. I can honestly say that this world is better off now than it would have been without Ronald Wilson Reagan as President.