Week in Review for 8/17/2008

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  • Among other app store facts, Jobs confirms remote kill switch
    This confirms the rumors but begs questions of under what circumstances would Apple use the capability, would they refund users for paid applications, and would they notify them ahead of time? There are also security implications if an attacker is able to exploit this capability for their own ends.
  • Open source implementation of Google’s Map/Reduce
    Take this one with a grain of salt for the language and sarcasm. It makes a good point about building truly useful open source frameworks that provably work. The sex appeal derives from the fact it is an implementation of several Google designs.
  • Debunking the usefulness of technical jargon in non-technical use
    Merlin describes the problematic language more accurately as buzz words. Berkun’s indictment of “jargon” is overbroad, though I do agree with him if we narrow this to buzzy business speak. By contracts, legitimate technical jargon serves a purpose, allowing experienced specialists to communicate more quickly in order to solve problems.
  • Google testifies to Congress that they are not using DPI for ads
    Google send in a response to a Congressional query during the hearings around the likes of NebuAd. It’s encouraging but since Google is not directly under investigation, has to be taken on faith.
  • Google may not use DPI, is using DoubleClick tracking cookies
    More details around the queries sent out to companies not directly involved in the hearings. A bit less complimentary of Google. Focuses on the rise of behavioral tracking and advertising and the concerns on opting out and customer notification.
  • More support for filtered, national wireless broadband
    Good details on the technical basis of some opposition to a national, free as in beer wireless broadband network. In short, they are mostly bogus based on similar networks deployed elsewhere and a defensive play by existing operators fearing the competition. There are also still substantial free speech issues with the filtering component of the plan.
  • First all drone USAF air wing
    An interesting change from when the first UAVs were introduced and promised not to replace combat pilots. The unit in question, the Reaper, is more of a fighter-bomber and is already being used to replace manned planes for certain kinds of missions. These are still remotely piloted rather than totally autonomous, so not sure the arguments about phasing out human discretion hold water. Interesting to note rising fuel cost is cited as a reason for increasing popularity of operating UAVs.
  • Interview with Emmanuel Goldstein
    The focus is the new book, a compilation of articles from 2600. They also discuss 2600 itself and a bit about hackers more generally, to establish some context around the book.
  • Psystar sending customers Leopard restore discs
    The vendor also provides recovery discs for Windows and Linux, as they pre-install those operating systems as well. Still, it seems like they are unwilling to back down on their choice to offer a Mac clone option.
  • Information on overtime for tech workers
    Good information for tech workers who may not be clear on what it means to be “exempt”. I am a little unclear on the reasoning behind exempting administrative and IT workers from overtime benefits, but this is the law on the land as it currently stands.
  • Evidence that contradicts claims of network congestions, meltdown
    Further evidence here is provided by an operator themselves. Reasons cited are normal seasonal dip in usage as well as a slower utilization of video sharing and social networking sites.
  • Broadband speeds, adoption stalling
    Study cites higher costs of fiber services, poor availability among other reasons. Study publishers have an agenda but the gist of it seems to match consumer experience in terms of higher cost for basic DSL and frustrations trying to get fiber.
  • Understanding the roots of piracy in gaming and how to improve
    This is a compelling first hand account of a creator competing with pirates. What is encouraging is his filtering out of the marginal responses and how constructive and positive his ultimate response is.
  • Tax on downloadable content returns in California
    The problems with this are similar to internet sales tax. This is not a collective license fee or media use tax, it is an additional cost of legitimate downloads. Worse, the sponsor has pulled some shenanigans to try to get it on the books in California.
  • Contemplating Linux three years hence
    This is really more of a survey of Linux at present. I am not as optimistic about where it will be in a few years, though it is the time scale, not the outcome I dispute.
  • BBC failing to follow through on promises around open version of player
    An opinion piece that thinks the BBC dropping DRM doesn’t go far enough. It gives them some credit but thinks it would be even better if they backed open formats, like Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theora. Philosophically I agree but I am not sure that is practical, at least until FF3.1 is finished.
  • UK considering upping copyright infringement penalties
    This is the down side of the Gowers Report, recommendations to the government that in some ways may be good for legitimately stopping piracy buy in their actual enactment appear a bit vague and may inadvertently hurt incidental infringers.
  • History of phone phreaking and a prominent phreaker
    A good bit of history. Phreakers largely predate hackers but there is much in common in terms of philosophy. Joybubbles was a very singular example of a phreaker, to boot.
  • Debian on OpenMoko phone
    This is hardly surprising though it demonstrates practically the difference between OpenMoko and other efforts. I am skeptical that freesmartphone.org with Debian offers all that much more of a usable experience, though.
  • Self assembled materials for chip fabrication
    This actually appears to be a hybrid approach with traditional lithography. There appear to be some advantages of smaller scale structures but also of efficiency. The resulting structures appear best suited to storage applications rather than CPUs, per se, since they appear to due better with repetitive structures.
  • Streaming music carrying the major labels forego DRM
    They still use some tricks to discourage wholesale copying but the lack of strong DRM doesn’t appear to be a deal breaker with the labels. Good news and further evidence the tide is turning on DRM in the music industry.

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5 Replies to “Week in Review for 8/17/2008”

  1. Hi Thomas:

    You wrote:

    “..I do agree with him if we narrow this to buzzy business speak. By contracts, legitimate technical jargon serves a purpose, allowing experienced specialists to communicate more quickly in order to solve problems. ”

    Out of curiosity, can you offer some examples of legitimate technical jargon that you think accelerates problem solving? I agree that there it does exist, but most of what passes at technical jargon obscures more than it helps. As a recent example from my own experience, calling something a “metadata infrastructure”, when “database” will do, has more to do with ego and inflation than speed and problem solving.

  2. Let me just make a tweak to your problematic phrase by suggesting that its components, “metadata” and “infrastructure”, by themselves are fine if used as technical jargon. Metadata has a precise denotation of data about data and an equally precise connotation that under most circumstances such data is inert, it should not alter the normal function of an application one way or another. Or, perhaps, that if it does affect function, it does so through metaprogramming, or dynamic programming techniques, as with some examples of Java’s annotations and Python’s analogous language feature, decorators.

    So it goes for infrastructure, that this is the basic operational framework on which an application relies. Pithier than constantly referring to operating system, database server, web server, web server modules, code frameworks, etc. expansively when referring to a some aspect of these necessary pieces outside of actual application code.

    That being said, the need for such technical precision is dependent on the presence of potential ambiguity in a discussion. I agree that even in technical conversations simpler, less precise terms will often due when there is no ambiguity, no possibility of a mistake because two techies thought different things on hearing the same, fuzzier term. In a context where such ambiguities exist, the more precise jargon ensures that everyone is on the same page.

    There is a cost to using technical jargon correctly, too, that has to be considered. Techies working together have to make sure that their definitions and understandings of these terms match. There is obviously a risk if they do not, which can easily be hidden by an over reliance or too much confidence in the arbitrary precision of the terms themselves.

    Sadly, while I picked this small bone of contention, I think there is a corollary even among more technical circles. In my experience, many techies don’t realize that there may be some differences in how each person in a group may define or understand technical jargon. My point, really, is just that in a group that gets this and is willing to pay the cost, the precision can speed up discussions that may be riddled with non-obvious ambiguity that may be more painful to clear up with simpler language.

  3. Thanks – I think we agree more than not. Here’s one small point:

    > You wrote:
    >
    > Metadata has a precise denotation of data about data and an
    > equally precise connotation that under most circumstances such data
    > is inert, it should not alter the normal function of an application one
    > way or another.

    You’ve helped me clarify my point with this. I agree that metadata has a precise meaning. My opinion, and complaint, is few people who use the word are using it with precision. Instead they use it to feign precision – they want to sound like they are saying more than they are. And that is my problem with jargon. In fact to me I would only say the word metadata is jargon when it is used imprecisely, or to create the pretense.

    Simply asking “What do you mean by that?” goes a long way. But when people are faced with an engineer who constantly throws out acronyms or esoteric words, and uses them to intimidate, something that occurs often in tech circles, it makes asking for clarification seem like an act of weakness. Rather than, as you say, a way for a team to develop shared definitions of words that do accelerate progress.

  4. I think we are largely in agreement about your main contention. You have repeated one point with which I still disagree. Whether a word is jargon or not is irrelevant of its usage, so I still disagree with your statement that “metadata is jargon when it is used imprecisely or to feign precision.”

    The precise definition of jargon is ”special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand”. I don’t dispute that it has the connotation you mention, that people prone to use jargon often do so exactly because it is “difficult for others to understand”. I just think that reserving that term totally for that one negative class of use robs us of its positive uses, as well.

    So metadata is jargon whether it is used in the way to which you object or in the way I have also seen it used, as a way for non-bogus techies to speak in a more precise, condensed fashion.

    Maybe I am being pedantic and unproductively so. It seems similar to me to the various usages of hacker and just as unlikely to be resolved unambiguously. Maybe since my view seems to be in the minority, I have to live with constantly explaining myself when I use the term, jargon, non-pejoratively or just learn to let it go altogether. Doubly so because I will be the first to admit that the instances where jargon serves as well as or better than simpler though less pithy explanations are increasingly rare.

  5. I don’t think jargon is exclusively a negative term, either. It’s like a local lingo, very useful for speeding up certain discussions. Of course it can be annoying when one runs into it being used out of context to make the speaker/writer look cool. A put-on, like a fake British accent to sound posh.

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