A Bad Precedent?

While Microsoft has certainly used unlawful practices in the past to build the Windows empire, I fail to see how Opera’s EU antitrust case was anything more than a thinly veiled (and successful) attempt by Opera—and later additional competitors—to strong-arm Microsoft into directly promoting their products.

Users of Microsoft’s ubiquitous Windows operating system in Europe who have chosen its Internet Explorer as their default browser will receive in a software update an option to switch to a rival. [NYT]

I understand the chicken-or-the-egg problem in providing users with an unbiased choice of browser on a new system, I guess I’m just uneasy with the idea of governments getting in the business of mandating that a marketplace of software be presented to users of every device that comes with software.

If Windows must give new users a choice of browsers, who decides the options, and why shouldn’t every OS have this requirement? There are many commercial text editors, instant message apps, etc. Why shouldn’t those be presented as options? Apple routinely adds new applications to its standard distribution that greatly reduce the value of existing commercial apps. Should we not let them? Is it in the best interest of average users to have to choose from a continuously growing list of low-market share and potentially poorly-compatible, insecure, or abandon-ware browsers?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this would turn out to be great for the software industry and users (but mostly lawyers), but I think at some point we should sunset the argument that people don’t understand what web browsers are.

Reverse Glasses and Map Flopping

Update June 2013: These exist!

Years ago I had an idea for “reverse” glasses. All they would do is invert horizontally–or flop–the image your retinas receive as if you were viewing through a mirror. I suspect after a brief period of adjustment you’d be able to function fairly normally wearing them, but your common surroundings would appear oddly different, like the first day waking up in a house with a reversed floor plan.

Asymmetrical skateboarding spots limit your trick options because, as a skater–even if you’re great at skating switchstance–you’re either regular or goofy foot. If there’s only one obvious direction to hit something from, you kind of lose half the available tricks to try on it. Flopped glasses couldn’t switch your natural skating stance, but they would let you see every spot as having a flopped equivalent, which is where the game developers come in.

Every 2 or 3-dimensional game should have a “flop map” option, which would flop the player’s map (but not the controls). This would be fairly trivial for the developer, but would give players double the (perceived) number of unique maps to play on. Obviously this is only interesting on asymmetrical maps like a city or a famous golf course–flopping most sport courts/fields wouldn’t have any real effect.

Another feature of the glasses: They would “correct” what you see in mirrors to be exactly what the world sees–parted hair/crooked teeth/wristwatch on the opposite side. Weird and awesome.

Moyers Considers Similarities Between Afghanistan and Pre-War Vietnam

Bill Moyers treats us to LBJ’s telephone recordings, highlighting some of the similarities between today and the days before our escalation in Vietnam. I wish we could hear the conversations of all our presidents like this. Moyer’s concludes with this:

Now in a different world, at a different time, and with a different president, we face the prospect of enlarging a different war. But once again we’re fighting in remote provinces against an enemy who can bleed us slowly and wait us out, because he will still be there when we are gone.

Once again, we are caught between warring factions in a country where other foreign powers fail before us. Once again, every setback brings a call for more troops, although no one can say how long they will be there or what it means to win. Once again, the government we are trying to help is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent.

And once again, a President pushing for critical change at home is being pressured to stop dithering, be tough, show he’s got the guts, by sending young people seven thousand miles from home to fight and die, while their own country is coming apart.

And once again, the loudest case for enlarging the war is being made by those who will not have to fight it, who will be safely in their beds while the war grinds on. And once again, a small circle of advisers debates the course of action, but one man will make the decision.

We will never know what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had said no to more war. We know what happened because he said yes.

Latest 9/11 Victim: our Justice System

Greenwald makes a pretty convincing case that Bush/Obama’s “justice system” for accused terrorists is merely for display purposes only.

If you’re accused of being a Terrorist, there’s not one set procedure used to determine your guilt; instead, the Government has a roving bazaar of various processes which it, in its sole discretion, picks for you based on ensuring that it will win. Even worse, Holder repeatedly assured Senators that the administration would continue to imprison 9/11 defendants even in the very unlikely case that they were acquitted, citing what they previously suggested was their Orwellian authority of so-called “post-acquittal detention powers.” Is there any better definition of a “show trial” than one in which the defendant has no chance of ever being released even if acquitted, because the Government will simply thereafter assert the power to hold him indefinitely without charges?

9/11 didn’t “change everything”; we let the Bush administration do that. Al-Qaeda had no ability to rewrite the rules of what happens to an arbitrary individual pulled off the street by the U.S. government. They couldn’t force us to torture captives, or to view detainment as its own justification or proof of wrongdoing. We tore down our own principles of justice and due process.

The cost of rebuilding them is to take the (real) risk of acquitting some individuals truly guilty of horrible crimes. While we won’t get that from Obama or any politician facing reelection, here’s to the hope that America’s willingness to sacrifice principles for revenge will die with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Voicing Opposing to UF’s E-cigarette Ban

Update Nov. 15: My letter to the editor in Monday’s Alligator.

Recently I wrote about the potential e-cigarettes hold for harm reduction, so when the University of Florida proposed a regulation that would expand its tobacco use ban to explicitly include e-cigarettes, I decided to speak up. Today I sent the following e-mail to Paula Fussell, Vice President for Human Resources. Continue reading  

Stewart’s Crazy Solution to Global Warming

During Jon Stewart’s interview with Al Gore, Stewart half-jokingly proposes one solution to the problem of oil interests slowing the move towards cleaner energies:

Stewart: Partner up with Exxon and say, “You own the oil and gas now; you can own the new thing.”

I have to admit, granting the oil companies monopolies on the replacement technologies would be a pragmatic solution to the problem. It would be messy, full of complicated conditions, and would horrify those that feel the oil companies should pay for the damage oil is doing, but the alternative we’re facing is a very slow mush toward the new paradigm while the planet suffers.

Moments later Stewart acknowledges that clean technologies will also eventually be controlled by a few large corporations, and of course he’s right. We’re just going to slowly trade one set of executives and lobbyists for another and with the unlikely hope that the new ones will hold the planet’s best interests above the bottom line.

More Cannabis Research Around the Corner?

Today almost no credible evidence suggests that cannabis belongs on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, alongside drugs like heroin. This position has stifled medical research of the drug and its component chemicals for 39 years, making research extremely expensive and arbitrarily difficult to secure compared to that of much more harmful drugs.

A few organizations have spent enormous amounts of money going through the formal petition process in good faith to reschedule cannabis, and each petition has been met with blatant obstructionism; lengthy delays, arbitrary dismissals, last-minute over-rulings. The current petition hasn’t been acted on since its submission seven and a half years ago.

Two signs suggest we may soon see a relaxation of the unjustified limitations imposed on researchers.

1. One of the last influential and independent voices claiming that the drug had no medicinal properties (ignoring an absurd amount of evidence) was the American Medical Association. Today they finally fixed that. They make a very reasonable request:

Our American Medical Association (AMA) urges that marijuana’s status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines. This should not be viewed as an endorsement of state-based medical cannabis programs, the legalization of marijuana, or that scientific evidence on the therapeutic use of cannabis meets the current standards for a prescription drug product. [AMA statement pdf]

Sativex vs Old Timey Meds!2. Sativex is an oral spray pharmaceutical made from the whole cannabis plant; it should look suspiciously familiar to these medicinal extracts used around the turn of the century. Already approved in Canada, it’s breezing through U.S. phase III clinical trials for M.S. treatment, with FDA approval potentially a couple years away (barring political shenanigans). Upon approval, whole-plant cannabinoids–not just the isolated THC in dronabinol–can finally be easily studied for the treatment of other ailments.

If a cannabis extract proves to be as effective and safe as many scientists expect, I think it’s likely the public will demand more research in this area via some alteration of the Controlled Substances Act. My bet is that politics will keep marijuana in Schedule I, and (a generic name for) Sativex will be placed in Schedule III. This would ease research considerably while ensuring GW Pharmaceuticals enjoyed a healthy monopoly for years to come.

As for why cannabinoid research is so damned important, see GW Pharm’s site.

E-cigarette: Potentially a huge harm reduction win

I first learned about e-cigarettes from Reason’s coverage of the FDA’s rush to ban them, and of the rightful criticism of that intent from the American Association of Public Health Physicians. Without smoke (e-cigs are miniature vaporizers), nicotine use is likely to be many magnitudes less harmful to the body.

The hope is that e-cig use wouldn’t be more harmful than downing a few espressos, but the research to confirm that absolutely needs to be done. In the meantime, we should allow adult smokers to try them. Taking them off the market would be ironic and cruel to today’s smokers and their families, who are absolutely certain that their–now FDA approved–smoking habit is leading them to an early grave.

We should also carefully regulate e-cigs, answering some hard questions. Should we restrict use to places where smoking is allowed? I’m not so sure that’s wise. An e-cig user is obviously taking an expensive step to reduce the harm to herself and others; should we punish her and force her to be around smoke, or use tolerance of e-cigs to encourage other smokers to also switch?

If a bit of vaporized nicotine turns out to be completely benign to bystanders, the public should concede that e-cig use just isn’t smoking (and we should rename it). We coffee and soda addicts enjoy the privilege (burden) of being able to catch our fix nearly anywhere, so we should consider being more accommodating for the sake of public health. We’re often talking about our parents and relatives.

Now it looks like Philip Morris may buy exclusive rights to e-cigs in the U.S. If their intent is to kill e-cigs, it would be consistent with their evil. On the other hand, PM would likely have the resources to get e-cigs through FDA approval, so literally the lives of many nicotine addicts could be saved if we allow PM to use its marketing muscle to turn smokers into e-cig users. Do we hate Philip Morris more than we care for the well-being of smokers?

Update: Great info on this topic at TobaccoHarmReduction.org, run by Dr. Carl Phillips, Associate Professor in the University of Alberta Department of Public Health Sciences.

Groups that are truly anti-smoking should embrace any alternative, but those that are more interested in making life difficult for smokers or nicotine users do not like these products because they could make nicotine users more comfortable.

One of the site’s headings: “Smokers have more choices than just quitting or dying.” Can’t agree more.

Get higher quality images within printed web pages

Due to web images being optimized for on-screen display (let’s say 96 DPI), images on printed pages are usually blurry, but they don’t have to be:

  1. Start with a high-resolution image. E.g. 2000 x 1000.
  2. Save a version with dimensions that fit well in your printed layout when placed in an IMG element. E.g. 300 x 150.
  3. In your print CSS, fix the size of the IMG element in pixels to match the dimensions in (2).
  4. Using the original image, recreate the image file in (2) with significantly larger dimensions (identical width/height ratio). E.g. 600 x 300.

The Good News: The printed page will have an identical layout as in (2), but with a higher quality image. This is because–according to my testing–even browsers that use blocky “nearest neighbor” image scaling for screen will scale nicely for print.

The Bad News: Continue reading