How To Read Op-Ed Articles

I’ve recently added some “controversial” feeds to my news reader (by which, I mean political and religious-themed topics) to broaden my knowledge base. I’m intentionally trying to add feeds that give arguments from opposing viewpoints (ie. conservative vs. liberal, intelligent design vs. science, etc) in the hope that some median truth might come forth. Like Scott Adams, I really don’t have enough information to form an opinion about most of today’s “hot button” topics, so I felt like this might be a reasonable course of action to remedy the situation.

Today, I was reading an article on TomPaine.com by Robert Dreyfuss (Iraq: Game Over) detailing how the recent election in Iraq which propelled the Shiites into control and left the Sunnis out in the cold will eventually plunge the country into civil war. I was okay with the article until I got near the end. Dreyfuss writes: “For Bush, the results present an almost excruciatingly difficult problem. The White House will begin to look ridiculous as it touts Iraq’s scandal-plagued, fraud-ridden election as the birth of democracy” (my emphasis).

My first reaction was: Scandals? Frauds? I hadn’t heard about any of this. But that’s okay, I thought. I don’t always keep up with these things and the media rarely reports anything particularly relevant anyway. I might be willing to concede there was a recent story about the corrupted elections. But wait. Something is missing from Mr. Dreyfuss’s article. Where is the supporting evidence for his claim? One would expect such an inflammatory claim to be linked with some kind of source material. Scandalous, fraudulent Iraqi elections might be common knowledge in his circles, but it sure isn’t to this simple programmer.

So off to Google News I go. I type in “iraq election fraud” and out comes a huge list of articles on the subject. For simplicity, I only looked at articles on the first page of the search result. After all, I’m just a simple programmer, not a pundit looking for the slightest justification for his point of view.

The top few articles do indeed announce Iraq Election Fraud (Fraud claims amid Iraq election coalition talks, Iraq Election Fraud in Favor of Groups Backed By Iran Regime, and Iraq Election Fraud Allegations Probed). This starts to ring a bell. Reading further, one finds that the losing Sunnis are the ones claiming election fraud. Reading futher, one finds absolutely nothing to substantiate their claim. In fact, most often, after the opening sentence that says “Sunnis are taking to the streets claiming election fraud,” the rest of the article talks about Iraqi violence and unrelated topics.

Okay, so somebody cried “fraud!” because they’re a sore loser. No big deal. Happens all the time. It’s human nature. In this case, somebody took them seriously, so the UN started looking into the election. Well, it turns out that more recent news articles (UN: No reason to rerun Iraq election), state that the UN found that the election was not at all fraudulent. The UN elections official, in fact, said.. let me get this right.. the election was “transparent, credible and good.”

So going back to Mr. Dreyfuss.. what da hell is he talking about?? His article was posted on December 22, while the articles that the UN found the election A-OK didn’t start appearing until December 29. So presumably, the basis for Mr. Dreyfuss’s inflammatory statement is “Sunnis are taking to the streets claiming fraud.” NOT: “Sunnis are taking to the streets because X, Y, and Z cases of fraud were found and verified.” This mild extrapolation of facts leaves me wondering if Mr. Dreyfuss is, well, full of crap.

At the very least, it leaves me wondering if it will always take this much research and effort for me to get real information from articles about politics and religion. But hey, it gave me something to write about on this otherwise boring pre-New Year’s workday.

Activists Unite!

I would like to point out the following two Slashdot articles to the throngs of technically saavy political activists that read my site:

Analog Hole Legislation Formally Introduced

It’s time to mobilize in the fight against big media corporations! Fight for your right to “fair use,” that is, your right to tape The Daily Show for later viewing!

ISPs Race to Create Two-Tiered Internet

Honestly I haven’t been able to read this article yet due to the generally suckiness of the Internet so I don’t know what it’s all about, but I gather it proposes a business-level Internet (the one that would be good and cost a fortune) and a consumer-level Internet (the one that would suck and cost a small fortune).

Photo Organization And Me

Why is it so hard to find decent digital photo organization software?

Okay, admittedly, I am extremely picky about my software, and apparently the rest of the world isn’t. I want my software to look pretty and have a lot of horsepower under the hood. Almost all software is either pretty and superficial (and unfortunately popular), or ugly and powerful. (Wait, am I talking about software or people? Nevermind.) There’s also another important criteria in software… ease of use. It is almost impossible to find software that is pretty, powerful, and easy to use. The only examples that come to mind, out of millions of software titles around the world, are a handful of Microsoft Office products and maybe Adobe Photoshop. Hard acts to follow.

So what do I need in photo organization software? It must import from my digital camera. It must capture from my scanner (both of them). It must, must, must allow me to add meaningful captions to my pictures, and the captions must, must, must be permanently tied to the picture files. (Because someday, I will probably switch photo organization programs, or even computer platforms, and I want my captions to come with my pictures.) That means, most likely, it must support editing JPEG EXIF tags and TIFF tags. It must have the ability to not only organize the physical structure of the files and directories on the disk, but it must also be able to “virtually” organize the pictures into albums, group by categories, sort by dates and keywords, and things like that. It must be able to export slideshows and/or browsable picture albums to an easily distributable format so I can give CDs (or DVDs) to people and they can just plug them in and use them. And of course, it must be able to open an external editor to manipulate the pictures (because I have Photoshop and there’s no reason to use anything else), and it must NOT waste my screen space with cheesy effects and uselessly redundant editing features.

Here’s the problem: There is no software in the world, from freeware to ridiculously expensive, that meets my needs. Some are close. Picasa, for example, is very close… it’s definitely pretty and easy-to-use, but it is not powerful and fails quite miserably on the scanner support and picture captioning front. Perhaps someday it will work for me, but not now, and I need instant gratification.

So what’s the solution? Write my own software, of course. That’s what it always comes down to! Because I’m the only one that knows how to design decent software. (Here’s how I do it: Look at any Microsoft product, and make the software as pretty, powerful, and easy-to-use as that. Works every time.)

My biggest dilema is tying the captions to the pictures. With the TIFF format, this is not too much of a problem. Unfortunately, TIFF files are big, unwieldy, and not universally supported. With the smaller JPEG files, there is EXIF, but it is a sketchy standard and almost universally not supported.

While search fruitlessly for photo organization software, I saw an intriguing concept in a program called PFS Manager, found on profotosoftware.com. (Other software has this concept, but it was the first one I located.) The web site is riddled with typing and grammatical errors, so I’m a bit reluctant to actually download and install the trial, but it appears to be a database manager for pictures. Literally. As in the catalog is stored in some database format, most likely MS Access files.

So I thought to myself, what if I went a step further in this concept, and stored the pictures in the database as well? As binary. Crazy? Think of the advantages: The image data can be exported to any file format and any size needed. This is very handy for creating web pages, small JPEGs to email friends, big JPEGs to take to the photo printing place, or backing up the original, full-size images. The same database can even be placed on a web server to serve up picture data (with the appropriate web app, of course). The images can be cataloged and searched extensively. And, most importantly, picture caption data will be tied directly to the pictures themselves. The concept appeals to me a lot.

So what am I waiting for? Well, time, mostly. I have most of the building blocks necessary to put this together, but I have little time or motivation for writing an application of this magnitude right now. (Though, in a sense, Galleria had some of this functionality already.) So I will place this idea on the shelf and perhaps come back to it sometime in the future, if I don’t find something else I like in the meantime. Wish me luck!

Influential Songs of My Childhood, Part 2

Believe it or not, I heard (and didn’t turn off!) the Charlie Daniels Band’s The Devil Went Down To Georgia this morning on the way to work. It struck me that this was another Influential Song From My Childhood, though admittedly not of the same caliber as the last one. I guess this would be more of a Song I Remember From My Childhood. (Btw when I say “my childhood,” I’m specifically referring to the time that I lived in Centreville, VA, c. 1970-1980, before it became the booming, overcrowded metropolis it is now.)

I have a pretty clear memory of being on the back porch stairs, discussing this song with someone. I don’t remember who; perhaps one of the neighborhood kids. I think we were intellectually discussing, as 9/10 year old boys do, the alternate “son of a gun” lyric we never heard on the radio. It’s funny how this brings up a rather clear mental picture of my back steps, and the slightly prickly, evergreen-like bushes next to them which were excellent places to crawl around in, and my whole back yard. The stairs had these black metal railings that were sort of wobbly but still pretty solid. There was a little dogwood tree off to the left as you stood on the stairs. Mom always talked about tethering David to that tree to keep him out of trouble (I don’t know if that’s true or not). Off to the right, there was a large empty area suitable for badmitten or volleyball or croquet, and beyond that space there was a long clothesline running way down to Samson’s doghouse, near the edge of the trees. And, of course, there was the swing set somewhere in the middle. I remember it being a bit on the rusty side, and I specifically remember being a little afraid of it ever since I was stung on the chin by a wasp hiding in a nest in one of the metal crossbars. Behind the swings were the remnants of a sand pile, which I don’t remember ever using myself, but maybe I did. Beyond the back yard, of course, there were acres and acres and acres of forest to play around in. Trails, streams, swinging vines. Good times.

It’s strange to think that now, that whole back yard area is gone completely and forever, as if it never had existed at all. Earlier this year, Cynthia and I visited the site of my childhood home on our way back from Maryland. The house itself is, remarkably, still standing, looking much the same as it did in the 1970s. But it is now claustrophobically surrounded by apartments and townhouses on all sides. It’s really hard to reconcile the difference between what I see in my memory and what I saw looking at the real site. Ah well, time marches on.

Keep Boycotting EA Games!

Here is more evidence (as if any were needed) to support continuing the boycott on EA Games: According to this Reuters article, another game developer is suing EA Games for allegedly stealing his features and putting them in Madden ’06. Admittedly, the features in question, well, suck, but the point is that EA brazenly stole them. Well, allegedly. Most likely, the guy suing them is full of crap and just trying to get a free ride from a mega corporation, but the point is that the mega corporation in question is probably stealing ideas right and left anyway, and then giving them to their sweat shop of programmers to implement. And the result? Games that suck anyway. Not that I would know, since I never buy any of them.

Overhaul Looms

I officially hate the way my site looks again.

I’ve come to the conclusion that visually designing and laying out a web site is very hard. Or, perhaps I should say, design and layout is not hard, but finding a design and layout that does not get old fast is very hard.

I started out my “new” portal with the goal of making it simple to use. Now, when I look at it, I find that there is way too much clutter on the screen. If one were to look at a typical blog (which is almost always hosted on blogger.com or livejournal.com), one would find only two columns of “stuff:” A simple little menu on the side and a big column of blog text. Granted, blogs are not portals, but I think my portal could benefit from some layout changes.

First of all, the front page needs an overhaul. A first-time visitor would probably be confused. Where’s the content? What’s this page about? Who is this Krehbiel dude? Why is he here? The content menu at the top is too hard to find. Most of the information on the side menus doesn’t need to be there on the front.

On the other hand, a veteran visitor will need to be able to jump right to the blogs of interest and/or other things. It’s hard to balance the needs of a first-time visitor against the needs of a repeat visitor. Tough stuff.