recommended reading

11.3.10 by Tim + 113 comments!

I recently re-read a book entitled Siddhartha, and I think it’s great. It’s all about this kid Siddhartha who is trying to find enlightenment in India around the time of the Buddha, inspiring Herman Hesse to say all sorts of beautiful and/or insightful things along the journey. It makes me want to eat healthier food, it makes me appreciate everything a lot more, it makes me want to go outside and just be there. I highly recommend it.

Slightly less conventional literature: The infinity plus one document, or “How to Join the Hidden Brotherhood and Enjoy a Wonderful New Life of Money, Friends, and Power”. It’s presented as a collection of 27 writings, in non-linear novel format, allegedly typed up by Rev. Doktor Christopher J. Staley from a “shaggy mass of papers scattered with scrawls and doodles stuffed into a manilla envelope” that he received by mail from a man named Griston Reeves who he met while drunk in a restaurant called Big Roy’s Eggy Wegg. It’s trippy, sometimes unsettling stuff, but very well written. It’s long, but I would recommend it as well. This one i found online, and you can find it here. there’s no contents page, so you’ll have to substitute chapter numbers in the url yourself.

This post means that the last three are mine. Someone else write something! I am still trying to moderate comments from time to time. new spam quote! “What blog platform are you using? I’ve been looking for a new one, and this seems much cleaner then wordpress.”

Glenn Beck at CPAC- Fact Check

2.24.10 by LucasWBSmith

Glenn Beck gave a speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference. And I took the liberty of reading and fact checking.

First, Mr. Beck makes an important mistake in his speech; He refers to all progressives as communists. Guess what Glenn? When Republicans ended slavery it was considered progressive, so does that mean that the beloved Republican icon Abe Lincoln was a communist? I think not!

This assumption is a faulty one and because he likens all progressives to communists he flaunts his own shortcomings as a thinking human being.

Mr. Beck also claims that the sole difference between a revolution and an evolution is that “one requires a gun.” At face value Mr. Beck’s arguments seems valid. Generally revolutions are violent and do involve armaments of some kind, but this definition is simple. Revolutions are radical and sudden shifts in power and ideology of government. Evolution on the other hand is what democracy is supposed to do. The constitution was written to be a pliable document, something that will change as needed to serve each generation. If anything our Founding Father’s condoned progressivism and evolution in government.

Mr. Beck also uses a Roosevelt quote where Roosevelt argues that we should only tax or take property for the good of the community. What wrong with that? The Constitution says provide for the general welfare, defense, etc. Those things don’t come cheap. Beck also goes on to claim that it is anti-founding fathers. But remember that the Founding Fathers granted the right to tax because it is a necessity for a government to function.

Mr. Beck proceeds to trash the government for a spiraling debt and incredibly high taxes. Mr. Beck is right we should be addressing these problems. But we must first recover from this economic crisis. Secondly, we must be willing to be taxed; the answer to the deficit isn’t to cut all programs. It is to cut the bad ones, stop adding unnecessary ones, and tax to gain revenue. The problem is the current system needs reform. We need to be progressive in how we handle finances and government.

One of the greatest examples of Mr. Beck’s flawed logic is that he attributes his knowledge and success to reading books at the public library. First, libraries are not free they are paid for via taxes. Secondly, libraries are about sharing things collectively as a community, which is one of the most pure and central tenets of communist philosophy. Put simply all communism is kindergarten gone global.

Beck goes on to oversimplify the Constitution, where he claims that “the only job of the United States government is to save us from bad guys.” Sure provide for the common defense is there. But what about providing for the general welfare? Maybe Glenn skipped that line. Furthermore, The Constitution allows for the federal regulations of interstate commerce, that is tantamount to encouraging the government to do something. Also, the “small government” rhetoric that Mr. Beck uses has been tried; it was called the Articles of Confederation and it failed. The Founding Father’s tried to maintain a small federal government, but it was a disaster. The government could not raise money, inflation skyrocketed, and it created piecemeal state policies because the federal government did not have the authority to act uniformly. That is why the same Founding Fathers came together and drafted the current Constitution, which created stronger and larger federal government.

Mr. Beck then proceeds to dedicate a large portion of his speech to trashing Woodrow Wilson. He attacks him for the Fed, for the income tax, and for taking us into WW1. With the Fed, there are legitimate concerns as to its purpose and it warrants reforms, but Mr. Beck fails to provide any. The income tax is not bad, and I will get to that below. And WW1, we had to fight after the German’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare killed 159 Americans. Mr. Beck says that government should be responsive to the people, Wilson was simply doing what the American people demanded: War.

Mr. Beck then proceeds to attribute the Great Depression to Hoover’s reign of unchecked spending. But that is not true. Hoover was a classic fiscal conservative. He cut taxes but he cut them so much that we had a deficit because revenues were so low. Hoover then failed to act when the economy crashed, making it much worse.

But on top of Beck’s logical fallacies, the progressive movement brought about many important changes that are fundamentally important to America’s democracy.

1. Graduated Income Tax- Yeah I know taxes are “bad”, but it is because of this tax that government works. It also is the fairest tax imaginable, the rich have more money so they can spare the most. People who are poor can’t spare a lot, so the government takes as little as possible.

2. The Roosevelt Administration passed laws that placed minimum standards on the quality of the food we eat, specifically in the meat packing industry. If you want to know more I recommend Upton Sinclair’s”The Jungle”.

3. Roosevelt “busted” trusts to free up markets so that we would have actual free market competition.

4. Pendleton Act- Mandated that 10% of federal offices be given on merit not political connections, a major step forward

5. National Parks

6. Campaign Finance Reform- These laws were recently overturned by the Supreme Court, but were the first laws to attack political corruption

7. Under Wilson, who Beck claims to hate, we passed child labor laws. Who can say now that was a bad idea?

I recommend people go to the following websites: for the text of Glenn Beck’s speech. for info Hoover’s economic policies because you should probably at least peruse it.

I also recommend taking a US History class.

computer interfaces

10.23.09 by Cypy + 95 comments!

When designing interfaces for humans to interact with computers, the first question is: what is the goal of the interface? Most likely, the answer will be, to let the human use the computer program in the most efficient way. The goal is to minimize the time the human spends to accomplish a task. To increase (although I despise this word in this context) productivity. In a text editor, this would mean that the human could plan and write their text quickly and easily.

Imagine Jo Plumber, getting on her computer, and opening a piece of software for the first time. Let’s imagine she is using a client to collaborate with other people online. The client is an online text editor, an email client, and a file manager. She is greeted with an unfamiliar interface, because she has never seen this software before. Jo, however, is a smart gal, and will figure things out eventually. Let’s observe what happens. what?

holy cow!

Because the software engineers who made the client planned ahead and knew that people would use this particular client for many different things, they included many features. They wanted Jo to know about all the features, so they gave each feature a button in the window, and made sure the client would display them to Jo. They also expanded all the panes they could think of displayed all the navigation. How does Jo feel about this? Jo sees nothing but clutter. Everything is new, and the immediate goal is not to use all the features, but to familiarize herself to the software. What is the best way to do this? Take it in parts. As I said before, Jo is smart, and knows how to handle this situation. She starts by completely destroying the window. She searches for all the view options, and turns everything off that can be turned off. She simplifies until it can be simplified no further.

much better

much better

Great, it only took 10 minutes to find out how to hide all that clutter. Now that Jo is down to the basics, she is ready to begin exploring her options. She wants to write an email to her friend, Hockey Dad, so she searches the long list of options for something resembling email. MailBox looks like a good choice. She clicks it. It opens a new window that contains an email inbox. It looks cluttered, and once again, she steps through the process of elimination to simplify the email window.

Jo has the right idea. Software seems to work best when it starts simplified, and lets the user add to it as they get to know it better. There are many benefits to starting simple. First, the typical user is not Jo, and would not be able to calmly navigate through a complex piece of software. Jo, someone who knew what she was doing, still had to spend time manually simplifying the software to suite her needs. Second, initial complexity can lead to terrible, redundant, buttons. Let’s take a look at the initial window that Jo saw again. Here is a snippet of the window: the top button bar.

look at all those pretty buttons

look at all those pretty buttons

Now let’s take a look at a snippet from the sidebar:

(and that's only half of the sidebar)

(and that's only half of the sidebar)

…and finally, here’s a snippet from the main panel of the window:

main panel

Now, go back, look at the pictures of the main panel, sidebar, and button bar, and try to find the “help” button. Did you find it? In how many places? THREE. Yes, there are THREE help buttons. Not only is this redundant, cluttered, bad design in general, this is exceptionally bad design on a Mac, considering that all programs have a “help” menubar item by default. ONE help button is too many. In case you need a little extra HELP, I highlighted all the occurrences in this illustration.

The first time someone uses software, their goal is usually to learn how to use the piece of software. The software could help them with this goal, by starting off simple. As the user gains more experience, they will want more uses. Every time they use it, they may want it to be slightly more complex. Software companies could include options to turn on more complex features after the initial startup, but interfaces in the beginning are best kept to a minimum.

Are you listening, FirstClass?

friggin society

9.29.09 by Tim + 79 comments!

news about the first basketballers v footballers fight at ku, and later on the second fight, spread like crazy by word of mouth. normally i’d be ok with that, i mean sure i’m curious too, and i think its just as silly as everyone else. but then i read in the university paper that 4 people showed up at LMH on september 19 after being raped, for treatment and evidence collection, and 2 of them were told they’d have to go elsewhere because the hospital was understaffed. now rape makes me angry, the fact that these people were told to leave and go somewhere else makes me angry, the fact that the news of the fights seems to have been given higher status in the paper makes me angry. worst of all, i heard about the first fight within a few days of it happening, and more than a week after 4 rapes occur, 3 of them were news to me. seriously? seriously?!? do we as a student body just not think its that big a deal? if a friend of mine were raped, as soon as i got over the horror enough to do something, i would want people to know, i would want them to be angry, up in arms. i feel like, if all were right in the world, the news would spread like crazy. and even if that’s not the case, can’t we at least have the decency to care more about it than we do about some silly mutual aggression?

The crushing of my dreams

9.22.09 by Tim + 83 comments!

So this is definitely not actually about the crushing of my dreams. But! I am a little sad. Solidarity has decided they’ve been spending too much time fundraising and not enough time being anarchists, so they’re closing their library. So essentially it was just too expensive. The books are going to the Ecumenical Ministries place on campus (which is really cool, i like those guys a lot) and they’re looking for a place to put their copier and zines and computers and so on. Still, i’m a little sad to see it happen.

I’m not sure what to think about the KU student elections. It’s a popularity contest, but a very strange one, where its hard to tell what exactly the popularity is based on. Chalk advertisements “{candidate x}: I won’t blow the job” and “If you like puppies, vote for {candidate y}.” My only complaint about its democratic-ness is that we don’t get a chance to judge the candidates based on qualities that actually have something to do with the offices they’re running for. I’m at a loss as to what to do- I don’t mean to complain about the candidates, if i did, I’d have to tell myself “then run already!” but I also can hardly complain about the system, because I have no idea how the heck you’d go about fixing it.

I was glancing through the Daily Kansan (ku student newspaper) this caught me off guard. The title suggested that ku’s academic ranking should be improved by attracting better students. “Our graduation rates have to be better…”- Lynn Bretz. This would be ok, if it weren’t for the follow up: “Improve these and rankings will follow.” now i’m behind increasing graduation rates and attracting better students 100%, but it kind of feels like that’s understood as a means to an end here. here’s the worst part- “There are many ways to raise rankings without actually improving education.” Maybe it was not intended the way I interpreted it, but obviously someone interpreted it that way and had no qualms about printing it as if it were no big deal.

thats all i got. the end!

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