Saturday, May 31, 2008

Prince vs Radiohead

I'd previously posted about The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince and his habit of sending DMCA takedown notices to YouTube for videos that harmlessly and peripherally reference his work.

Now here comes this story on HuffPo. Prince covered Radiohead's "Creep", some fans shot video at the concert and posted it on YouTube, and DMCA notices were promptly sent for it to be taken down -- so not even Radiohead could view the performance.

From the article:

In a recent interview, Thom Yorke said he heard about Prince's performance from a text message and thought it was "hilarious." Yorke laughed when his bandmate, guitarist Ed O'Brien, said the blocking had prevented him from seeing Prince's version of their song.

"Really? He's blocked it?" asked Yorke, who figured it was their song to block or not. "Surely we should block it. Hang on a moment."

Yorke added: "Well, tell him to unblock it. It's our ... song."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Goodbye greenbacks?

The US currency could be in for more trouble, of quite another kind.

The US is pretty much the only country whose currency bills all have exactly the same shape, size and colour, regardless of denomination -- from $1 to $100.

Actually, in recent years it's almost the same colour. Many were upset a few years ago when delicate pastel shades of other colours were introduced atop the green $20 notes (and, more recently, other notes), but you have to strain to make out the other colours: the visually impaired wouldn't be able to. Indeed, the blind or nearly-blind can't distinguish the notes in any way. (The 2004 biopic of Ray Charles, "Ray", portrayed the blind singer in his younger days demanding to be paid in $1 notes, since he wouldn't be able to count them otherwise.)

Now, in response to a lawsuit launched by the American Council of the Blind, a US appeals court has declared the near-identical nature of the notes to be discriminatory against the blind.

What happens next will be very interesting... I wonder whether, rather than resize or recolour the notes, the US Treasury will choose to emboss the denomination in Braille? Will that be possible or practical?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

On apologising

Recently I posted on how Americans can "never accept" the Iraqi wish to have an apology for wrongful deaths, instead of mere monetary compensation. In response to a comment from Sunil, I wrote: "... an apology is an implied admission of wrongdoing, which in America will lead to enormous claims of damages. So let's not even think of going there."

So this story in the NYT was quite interesting to read. Apparently some medical centres in that country are experimenting with apologising for errors, and are seeing legal claims against them, and legal costs, come down sharply. From the story:

For decades, malpractice lawyers and insurers have counseled doctors and hospitals to “deny and defend.” Many still warn clients that any admission of fault, or even expression of regret, is likely to invite litigation and imperil careers.

But with providers choking on malpractice costs and consumers demanding action against medical errors, a handful of prominent academic medical centers, like Johns Hopkins and Stanford, are trying a disarming approach.

By promptly disclosing medical errors and offering earnest apologies and fair compensation, they hope to restore integrity to dealings with patients, make it easier to learn from mistakes and dilute anger that often fuels lawsuits.

Malpractice lawyers say that what often transforms a reasonable patient into an indignant plaintiff is less an error than its concealment, and the victim’s concern that it will happen again.

Despite some projections that disclosure would prompt a flood of lawsuits, hospitals are reporting decreases in their caseloads and savings in legal costs...

Somehow I'm not surprised, but it is very welcome news. It is also interesting that the lead "apologetic" doctor in that story is of Indian origin. Though I suppose he had his institution's backing to apologise.

In India most doctors of my acquaintance are very approachable, but I have no idea what happens in case of severe error. And if the doctor is not apologetic (and the patient is not convinced that it was a genuine and rare error), there is little legal recourse.

Also one should note that, in the NYT story, the patients who were apologised to did get compensation -- substantially less than what a court may have awarded, but still sizeable. I don't know whether that happens in India at all.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Einstein on religion

Einstein spoke more about God and religion than most other scientists. "God does not play dice with the universe", "God is subtle but not malicious", and so on. (An annoyed Niels Bohr supposedly responded: "Albert, stop telling God what to do.") But the most widely quoted Einstein line on the subject is this: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

So what do we make of this letter, written in 1954 and soon to be auctioned? It contains quotes such as

"The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this."

Many people "get religion" in their old age; did Einstein go the other way? Or were his real views more subtle than either this letter, or his better-known quotes, would suggest?

Inside view of OLPC, continued

Some time back Ivan Krstić had a posting (that I linked to then) about how Nicholas Negroponte doesn't speak for the One-Laptop-Per-Child project. Now he has a new post on the subject. In his words, he's moved "from displeased to angry." To find out why, go and read it.

Many were skeptical from the outset that (a) giving schoolkids a laptop was a good idea in the first place, (b) spending $100 per child on a laptop was a better use of the money than anything else, (c) the logistics were feasible. Now it turns out (according to Krstić) that none of these worries were at all relevant in Negroponte's mind.


In fact, I quit when Nicholas told me — and not just me — that learning was never part of the mission. The mission was, in his mind, always getting as many laptops as possible out there; to say anything about learning would be presumptuous, and so he doesn't want OLPC to have a software team, a hardware team, or a deployment team going forward.

Yeah, I'm not sure what that leaves either....

Other than the incredible Carla Gomez-Monroy who worked on setting up the pilots, there was no one hired to work on deployment while I was at OLPC, with Uruguay's and Peru's combined 360,000 laptop rollout in progress. I was parachuted in as the sole OLPC person to deal with Uruguay, and sent to Peru at the last minute. And I'm really good at thinking on my feet, but what the shit do I know about deployment? Right around that time, Walter was demoted and theoretically made the "director of deployment," a position where he directed his expansive team of — himself. Then he left, and get this: now the company has half a million laptops in the wild, with no one even pretending to be officially in charge of deployment. "I quit," Walter told me on the phone after leaving, "because I can't continue to work on a lie."...

That OLPC was never serious about solving deployment, and that it seems to no longer be interested in even trying, is criminal. Left uncorrected, it will turn the project into a historical fuckup unparalleled in scale.

As for the last key problem, transforming laptops into learning is a non-trivial leap of logic, and one that remains inadequately explained....

A lot of the criticism that Negroponte has been getting recently has been over his abandoning the Linux/Sugar interface for a Windows XP interface, but, according to Krstić, that's the least of the issues. (It is an issue for him, but not for ideological reasons.) Far more important is that the OLPC project does not seem to be about education.

What is it about then? Another ego trip for Negroponte? As Krstić notes, Negroponte's previous projects have crashed and burned, as have previous efforts at laptop-based education. Yet he successfully sold the OLPC idea around the world, with essentially no justification or evidence that it would work. How did the world media, and several governments, get suckered into this giant con-job? Is everyone so much in awe of MIT that their critical faculties take a vacation?

Thank you, Government of India, for saying no early in the game.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Free Binayak Sen

His case has attracted little attention in the Indian media, except for Tehelka which ran a cover story three months ago.

Now there's a global appeal to release him. The signatories include 22 Nobel laureates. Is anyone listening?

News you won't see in The Hindu

Nandigram today.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Old post revisited

Someone left a comment on an ancient (November 2006) post of mine, so I went and re-read what I had written. While the immediate provocation was a newspaper article by a well-known scientist, a lot of what I wrote seems rather topical in the context of two recent posts (1, 2) by Rahul Basu (and discussion therein) (*).

(*)UPDATE: and one at Sunil Mukhi's.

"We don't do things that way"

“Our system is so different from theirs,” said David Mack, a former U.S. diplomat who has served in American embassies in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates... "We would never accept their way of doing things, and they don’t accept ours.”

What is this unacceptable way they have of doing things? If you kill their wives and children, and then offer them monetary compensation, it won't pacify them. They first want an apology.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

"Obliterate Iran"

This time she didn't "misspeak". She meant it.

America, america

There are many songs called "America" (Wikipedia lists half a dozen). But this one is different.