The Quickening of Facebook

If you’ve used Facebook in Opera and Firefox, you might have noticed that Facebook is several magnitudes faster in FF, but this has nothing to do with FF’s speed. For FF and IE users, Facebook uses a client-side architecture called “Quickening” that basically makes a few popular pages into full AJAX applications that stay loaded in the browser for a long time. All transitions between “quickened” pages are done through AJAX calls and a cache system makes sure all pages displayed from cache are updated based on changes from the server (e.g. comments others made, ad rotation) or client (e.g. comments you made).

While other sites have certainly done this before, the complexity of Facebook’s apps and level of optimization performed is staggering. The system continuously self-monitors page performance and usage of resources and re-optimizes resources like JS/CSS/sprite images to send and receive as few bytes as possible.

Video presentation goodness: Velocity 09: David Wei and Changhao Jiang, “Frontend Performance Engineering in Facebook”

Locked Down

Yesterday morning the police put our neighborhood on “lockdown”. A squad car drove through with a loudspeaker (he was clearly audible inside with all our windows closed) announcing we should stay in our homes and secure all doors and windows. A bit later there were helicopters (not unusual in our hood).  Later Kathleen called GPD a couple times and they confirmed they were attempting to apprehend a suspect and we should wait until they announce it’s safe.

Of course, they never did. When I called a third time they told me they were done.

Nothing on TV20 or in the Sun so far. How do you look up events like these?

Extreme libertarian Challenge

Radley Balko is a thoughtful libertarian blogger who provides particularly awesome coverage of criminal justice system misconduct. You should read it. In Reason magazine he’s issued a challenge for “lefty bloggers” to define their limits “on the size, cost, and influence of the federal government.” I think this has the potential to be an interesting exercise, but in another way it feels kinda cheap. A few lefties will bite, say dumb things, and libertarians will jump all over them in the comments and we’ll have really pushed the debate forward… I don’t consider myself “lefty”, but I guess I do find the conversation of how to provide a safety net and upward mobility for the poor more important than a debate over what level of taxation on the clearly rich represents “tyranny”. Continue reading  

The Kind of Press Corrupt Governments Love

While we still have a functional press, journalists have a duty to bring the truth to the public. When evidence leads us to wonder if government officials committed serious crimes, and much of the public desires the truth, there’s just no excuse for the press to look the other way.

Glenn Greenwald criticized NBC News political director Chuck Todd for joining the choir of pundits making excuses for avoiding the investigation of potential war crimes. When Todd offered Greenwald an interview, only under much pressure would he give lip service to the notion that an investigation should be done, but it’s obvious he feels no obligation to the public in pushing for the truth. He’s afraid a trial would be “cable catnip”, or a politicized media circus.

What message does that send if we have this political trial, and how do you know this won’t turn into a political trial? In fact, we know it’s going to turn into a political trial. I’ll take that back – we don’t know whether it’s going to turn into a political trial.

Government cover-ups are acceptable if they keep his news day orderly. He has other worries as well:

If you have this trial, and there is, inevitably, some appeals and some, where we have a back-and-forth, where there is some sort of, where it becomes a legal debate about whether so-and-so can go on trial, or not go on trial, what was allowed – they were, they thought that they were following the law, that they, you know, what message does that end up sending? Does that end up harming us down the road?

The message sent by such an event would be a very good one to send: criminals will be punished and organizations that permit or encourage them will be made in the least very uncomfortable.

Personal opinions don’t excuse Todd and other “journalists” from their responsibilities to the public. The free passes they give today lay the groundwork for future corruption and its quiet pardoning. Already Obama has had some shady and questionably legal actions (disregard of contract law, the embrace of state secrets privileges); more conservatives should realize the necessity of and demand a strong press persistently shining a light in the corners of the White House and Congress.

On Immigration

Radley Balko provides some good evidence toward debunking the myth that immigrant communities bring violent crime, but while these communities are safe, a report on identity theft makes a convincing case that there are serious costs unfairly imposed on the citizens whose identities are stolen to employ those communities (beyond the more distributed costs of social services).

If our society is to be permissive about the use of false documentation, what does one say to a person finding themselves on the hook for loans they didn’t borrow, wanted for crimes they didn’t commit, liable for taxes on income they didn’t receive, or being denied safety net benefits because of someone else’s actions? Also our desire to allow good-natured illegal immigrants to live quietly on false identities means criminals can as well.

The report claims that organizations like the IRS, SSA and credit bureaus knowingly maintain policies that ease ID theft, and certainly the private sector enjoys handling the money of (and preying on vulnerabilities of) the falsely documented, so it seems there are some nasty incentives at play.

I’m still very much torn on many issues, but the situation doesn’t seem sustainable and has an ugly effect on some Americans’ view of Hispanics. Certainly criminalizing a huge percentage of the population and economy isn’t a reasonable solution, and the idea of mass deportation is ludicrous (and would likely be an even bigger civil liberties disaster than we already have), but there must be practical and humane means to provide decentives to future border crossings and visa over-stays.

There’s a sane middle between the libertarian ideal of free borders and the ugly rhetoric coming out of the cultural warriors.

Prisoners of Endless Wars

Most reasonable people can agree that Gitmo detainees not proven to be enemy combatants at all (e.g. persons pulled off the street on whom we’ve never had anything more than suspicion) should be freed. The tougher question is, what about those obviously working for the enemy, but who are acquitted of committing war crimes.

Mark Kleiman points out that it would still be lawful to detain (not imprison) these individuals as PoWs.

Imagine that the Russians had captured Waffen SS Gruppenfuhrer Klaus Heinrich Schmidt in the summer of 1941 and put him on trial for, let’s say, ordering the massacre of civilians. And imagine that he was acquitted, because he was able to show that the massacre was actually ordered by another Gruppenfuhrer named Heinrich Klaus Schmidt.

Now what? Should the innocent Gruppenfuhrer Schmidt be sent back through the lines so he can resume fighting? I don’t think so. He goes to a PoW camp, to be held until the war is over. As a PoW, he has certain rights (he can’t be pressed for information other than name, rank, and serial number, or be forced to work) but the right to go back to fighting is not among them.

He points out we’ve been at war with the Taliban since 2001 and al-Qaeda with us since 1998 or so, so I think the natural question is just how long can we reasonably detain a PoW for? of course the legal answer is:

… as long as the conflict lasts, even if that turns out to be forever.

This being the case, I think we should consider changing our laws to better satisfy our desires for civil liberties and human rights in the new age of endless “wars”. Some random ideas:

  • PoWs should be given the conditions that must be met for the war to be considered “over” and these should be public along with the evidence we have on them.
  • Human interaction must be allowed and PoWs should retain their human dignity.
  • Detainments should grow more comfortable over time and the public should be kept aware of those conditions.
  • Simple soldiers/workers should age out.

PDF readers: Help us read.

PDF articles are notorious usability disasters, with the worst being multi-column documents that require you to constantly scroll in opposite directions as you move through the columns. PDF readers should let us draw a simple path through the document (maybe zoomed out) to outline the flow of text through the article (better, it could try to guess this for us). Once the path is set, the PDF reader could either:

A) tie the scrollwheel linearly to the text flow, so that simply scrolling down shifted the document to the next column to read. Maybe grey-out the columns not actively being read.

or B) rearrange the columns to make the document single-column.

Reading PDFs shouldn’t be so painful.

I should mention regular multi-column web pages have the same issues on mobile browsers. There’s a good case for using media queries to switch small viewport devices to see single-column layouts, and generally keeping all long articles single-column.