2005-06-30

Bluegrass podcast

I rather enjoy bluegrass, but only if it's fairly authentic — electric bluegrass and the like doesn't do it for me — so I'm happy to have just come across the Bluegrass Preservation Society's Radio Show, hosted by Ewell Ferguson and his cat Buster, which is handily available as a podcast. It's a little hokey at points, but not unentertaining, and the music is good. Go on, put that new podcast feature of iTunes to good use!

2005-06-29

Good news for architecture from the WTC site

It looks like the architecture of not all the new WTC buildings will be botched: Built to Be Noticed, and to Return the Favor. I can't decide if I like it until I see it, but it looks like an interesting attempt to deal with a difficult architectural problem. Even if they turn out badly, I'm a HUGE fan of buildings that try.

UPDATE: . . . Quickly followed by bad news: New Design for Freedom Tower Calls for 200-Foot Pedestal —boring, boring, boring! I recognize there are security concerns —though I'm inclined to think they're over-hyped— but the real problem with this building is David Childs and how he chose to address them. Almost from the beginning of the "rebuilding" process it was clear that architecture would take a back seat to politics and the interests of the developer, so I suppose that at this point I should just expect this sort of thing, but it grates anyway.

Better things to read on MGM v. Grokster

2005-06-28

What's next?

Are they going to try telling New Yorkers to be polite?
Watch Those Changing Rules: Finish Sodas on the Platform

Investigating the שלכן ערוך

Oren beat me to this, but I have something to add, so...
Linksim: Ha'aretz, Ha'aretz, Jerusalem Post

It's not clear from these articles, but I get the feeling it is the קיצור שלכן ערוך, not the real שלכן ערוך, which was translated and is now being investigated. The question I have is why should either of these texts have been translated? As I've discussed before, what is needed is needed in so many communities is a contemporary guide to הלכה, not translations of older works which are each problematic in their own right. I'll skip criticizing the קיצור שלכן ערוך — there's no need to beat a dead horse! — and say something about the שלכן ערוך itself.

I'm a rather liberal type when it comes to הלכה: I like leniencies and take a open attitude towards social change and norms. From this sort of the perspective the שלכן ערוך is at the same time wonderfully liberating, and very frustrating. On the one hand, since flexibility in הלכה almost always works only לחומרא, taking the שלכן ערוך as authoritative allows us to reach back before many חומרות were innovated. On the other hand, socially it can be a very outdated precisely because of its age.

Now, in practice, most observant jewish communities don't follow the most socially outdated portions of the שלכן ערוך. There has been a sort of collective judgment against them. Mostly they are simply ignored, going undiscussed. (This is in contrast to operative, but botherworthy הלכות which are the subject of apologetics.) The events in Russia, it seems to me, should remind us of two things: First, though we do not follow certain problematic parts of various texts in practice, we cannot afford to ignore them in our learning; they must be confronted and actively argued against, or they must be embraced — to do otherwise is intellectually and religiously dishonest. Second, there is a real need for contemporary guides to הלכה, available in the vernacular, which are not simply compilations of חומרות that most people can't trust, and which are unnecessarily burdensome if they do; besides satisfying a real need in among jewish communities, such a contemporary guide would likely not prompt the sort of investigation that is going on in Russia, and would require much less explaining away if it did.

MGM v. Grokster

Today's Supreme Court ruling is interesting in a number of respects which have not received the attention I would have liked from the usual suspects. As has been widely noted, this was a unanimous decision by the court, what has received little focus are the substantial divergences between various justices expressed in the concurring opinions.

The Court held as follows:
One who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, going beyond mere distribution with knowledge of third-party action, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties using the device, regardless of the device’s lawful uses.
As the decision makes clear, the Court upheld its previous ruling in Sony which "absolves the equivocal conduct of selling
an item with lawful and unlawful uses and limits liability to instances
of more acute fault." The Court held that:
the Ninth Circuit misread Sony to mean that when a product is capable of substantial lawful use, the producer cannot be held contributorily liable for third parties infringing use of it, even when an actual purpose to cause infringing use is shown, unless the distributors had specific knowledge of infringement at a time when they contributed to the infringement and failed to act upon that information.
The operative difference between Sony and MGM v. Grokster, then, is intent, specifically evidence that the conduct of Grokster and StreamCast was motivated by an "unlawful objective". Whatever else one thinks of the ruling, I don't think this conclusion about the motivations for Grokster and StreamCast's behavior can seriously be denied. (The Court's specific extension of the inducement to infringe from patent law seems to be getting a lot of attention elsewhere, so I won't say anything about it —anyway, I'm not qualified to do so.) The Court confined itself to this basis for its decision, without reconsidering Sony, in its unanimous opinion.

In the concurring opinions, however, Sony does receive direct consideration. Justice Ginsburg (probable relation), joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Kennedy, argues for a significantly stricter interpretation of the Sony test, that a product put to infringing use is not liable if it is "capable of commercially significant noninfringing uses." Justice Ginsburg argues for a shift in the interpretation of this test from "the likely existence of a substantial market for authorized copying upon general declarations, some survey data, and common sense" to the much stricter "evidence ... of both present lawful uses and of a reasonable prospect that substantial noninfringing uses would develop over time." Justice Breyer, joined by Justices Stevens and O'Connor, strongly and (I might add) very articulately disagrees.

Justice Breyer first carefully equates the facts of infringing versus noninfringing use at issue in Sony and the present case, concluding (stripped of citations and other impediments to readability):
The nature of these and other lawfully swapped files is such that it is reasonable to infer quantities of current lawful use roughly approximate to those at issue in Sony. At least, MGM has offered no evidence sufficient to survive summary judgment that could plausibly demonstrate a significant quantitative difference. To be sure, in quantitative terms these uses account for only a small percentage of the total number of uses of Grokster's product. But the same was true in Sony, which characterized the relatively limited authorized copying market as "substantial." (The Court made clear as well in Sony that the amount of material then presently available for lawful copying—if not actually copied—was significant and the same is certainly true in this case.)
Importantly, Sony also used the word "capable," asking whether the product is "capable of" substantial noninfringing uses. Its language and analysis suggest that a figure like 10%, if fixed for all time, might well prove insufficient, but that such a figure serves as an adequate foundation where there is a reasonable prospect of expanded legitimate uses over time. And its language also indicates the appropriateness of looking to potential future uses of the product to determine its "capability."
Here the record reveals a significant future market for noninfringing uses of Grokster-type peer-to-peer software. Such software permits the exchange of any sort of digital file—whether that file does, or does not, contain copyrighted material. As more and more uncopyrighted information is stored in swappable form, it seems a likely inference that lawful peer-to-peer sharing will become increasingly prevalent.
And that is just what is happening. Such legitimate noninfringing uses are coming to include the swapping of: research information (the initial purpose of many peer-to-peer networks); public domain films (e.g., those owned by the Prelinger Archive); historical recordings and digital educational materials (e.g., those stored on the Internet Archive); digital photos (OurPictures, for example, is starting a P2P photo-swapping service); "shareware" and "freeware" (e.g., Linux and certain Windows software); secure licensed music and movie files (Intent MediaWorks, for example, protects licensed content sent across P2P networks); news broadcasts past and present (the BBC Creative Archive lets users "rip, mix and share the BBC"); user-created audio and video files (including "podcasts" that may be distributed through P2P software); and all manner of free "open content" works collected by Creative Commons (one can search for Creative Commons material on StreamCast). I can find nothing in the record that suggests that this course of events will not continue to flow naturally as a consequence of the character of the software taken together with the foreseeable development of the Internet and of information technology.
There may be other now-unforeseen noninfringing uses that develop for peer-to-peer software, just as the home video rental industry (unmentioned in Sony) developed for the VCR. But the foreseeable development of such uses, when taken together with an estimated 10% noninfringing material, is sufficient to meet Sony's standard. And while Sony considered the record following a trial, there are no facts asserted by MGM in its summary judgment filings that lead me to believe the outcome after a trial here could be any different. The lower courts reached the same conclusion.
Of course, Grokster itself may not want to develop these other noninfringing uses. But Sony's standard seeks to protect not the Groksters of this world (which in any event may well be liable under today's holding), but the development of technology more generally. And Grokster's desires in this respect are beside the point.
Accordingly, Justice Breyer makes clear that "The real question here, I believe, is not whether the record evidence satisfies Sony"; rather, "the real question is whether we should modify the Sony standard, as MGM requests, or interpret Sony more strictly, as I believe JUSTICE GINSBURG'’s approach would do in practice." He proceeds to answer as follows:
As I have said, Sony itself sought to "strike a balance between a copyright holder's legitimate demand for effective—not merely symbolic—protection of the statutory monopoly, and the rights of others freely to engage in substantially unrelated areas of commerce." Thus, to determine whether modification, or a strict interpretation, of Sony is needed, I would ask whether MGM has shown that Sony incorrectly balanced copyright and new-technology interests. In particular: (1) Has Sony (as I interpret it) worked to protect new technology? (2) If so, would modification or strict interpretation significantly weaken that protection? (3) If so, would new or necessary copyright-related benefits outweigh any such weakening?

A
The first question is the easiest to answer. Sony's rule, as I interpret it, has provided entrepreneurs with needed assurance that they will be shielded from copyright liability as they bring valuable new technologies to market.
Sony's rule is clear. That clarity allows those who develop new products that are capable of substantial noninfringing uses to know, ex ante, that distribution of their product will not yield massive monetary liability. At the same time, it helps deter them from distributing products that have no other real function than—or that are specifically intended for—copyright infringement, deterrence that the Court's holding today reinforces (by adding a weapon to the copyright holder's legal arsenal).
Sony's rule is strongly technology protecting. The rule deliberately makes it difficult for courts to find secondary liability where new technology is at issue. It establishes that the law will not impose copyright liability upon the distributors of dual-use technologies (who do not themselves engage in unauthorized copying) unless the product in question will be used almost exclusively to infringe copyrights (or unless they actively induce infringements as we today describe). Sony thereby recognizes that the copyright laws are not intended to discourage or to control the emergence of new technologies, including (perhaps especially) those that help disseminate information and ideas more broadly or more efficiently. Thus Sony's rule shelters VCRs, typewriters, tape recorders, photocopiers, computers, cassette players, compact disc burners, digital video recorders, MP3 players, Internet search engines, and peer-to-peer software. But Sony's rule does not shelter descramblers, even if one could theoretically use a de- scrambler in a noninfringing way.
Sony's rule is forward looking. It does not confine its scope to a static snapshot of a product's current uses (thereby threatening technologies that have undeveloped future markets). Rather, as the VCR example makes clear, a product's market can evolve dramatically over time. And Sony—by referring to a capacity for substantial noninfringing uses—recognizes that fact. Sony's word "capable" refers to a plausible, not simply a theoretical, likelihood that such uses will come to pass, and that fact anchors Sony in practical reality.
Sony's rule is mindful of the limitations facing judges where matters of technology are concerned. Judges have no specialized technical ability to answer questions about present or future technological feasibility or commercial viability where technology professionals, engineers, and venture capitalists themselves may radically disagree and where answers may differ depending upon whether one focuses upon the time of product development or the time of distribution. Consider, for example, the question whether devices can be added to Grokster's software that will filter out infringing files. MGM tells us this is easy enough to do, as do several amici that produce and sell the filtering technology. Grokster says it is not at all easy to do, and not an efficient solution in any event, and several apparently disinterested computer science professors agree. Which account should a judge credit? Sony says that the judge will not necessarily have to decide.
Given the nature of the Sony rule, it is not surprising that in the last 20 years, there have been relatively few contributory infringement suits—based on a product distribution theory—brought against technology providers (a small handful of federal appellate court cases and perhaps fewer than two dozen District Court cases in the last 20 years). I have found nothing in the briefs or the record that shows that Sony has failed to achieve its innovation- protecting objective.

B
The second, more difficult, question is whether a modified Sony rule (or a strict interpretation) would significantly weaken the law's ability to protect new technology. JUSTICE GINSBURG's approach would require defendants to produce considerably more concrete evidence—more than was presented here—to earn Sony's shelter. That heavier evidentiary demand, and especially the more dramatic (case-by-case balancing) modifications that MGM and the Government seek, would, I believe, undercut the protection that Sony now offers.
To require defendants to provide, for example, detailed evidence—say business plans, profitability estimates, projected technological modifications, and so forth—would doubtless make life easier for copyrightholder plaintiffs. But it would simultaneously increase the legal uncertainty that surrounds the creation or development of a new technology capable of being put to infringing uses. Inventors and entrepreneurs (in the garage, the dorm room, the corporate lab, or the boardroom) would have to fear (and in many cases endure) costly and extensive trials when they create, produce, or distribute the sort of information technology that can be used for copyright infringement. They would often be left guessing as to how a court, upon later review of the product and its uses, would decide when necessarily rough estimates amounted to sufficient evidence. They would have no way to predict how courts would weigh the respective values of infringing and noninfringing uses; determine the efficiency and advisability of technological changes; or assess a product's potential future markets. The price of a wrong guess—even if it involves a good-faith effort to assess technical and commercial viability—could be large statutory damages (not less than $750 and up to $30,000 per infringed work). The additional risk and uncertainty would mean a consequent additional chill of technological development.

C
The third question—whether a positive copyright impact-would outweigh any technology-related loss—I find the most difficult of the three. I do not doubt that a more intrusive Sony test would generally provide greater revenue security for copyright holders. But it is harder to conclude that the gains on the copyright swings would exceed the losses on the technology roundabouts.
For one thing, the law disfavors equating the two different kinds of gain and loss; rather, it leans in favor of protecting technology. As Sony itself makes clear, the producer of a technology which permits unlawful copying does not himself engage in unlawful copying—a fact that makes the attachment of copyright liability to the creation, production, or distribution of the technology an exceptional thing. Moreover, Sony has been the law for some time. And that fact imposes a serious burden upon copyright holders like MGM to show a need for change in the current rules of the game, including a more strict interpretation of the test.
In any event, the evidence now available does not, in my view, make out a sufficiently strong case for change. To say this is not to doubt the basic need to protect copyrighted material from infringement. The Constitution itself stresses the vital role that copyright plays in advancing the "useful Arts." No one disputes that "reward to the author or artist serves to induce release to the public of the products of his creative genius." And deliberate unlawful copying is no less an unlawful taking of property than garden-variety theft. But these highly general principles cannot by themselves tell us how to balance the interests at issue in Sony or whether Sony's standard needs modification. And at certain key points, information is lacking.
Will an unmodified Sony lead to a significant diminution in the amount or quality of creative work produced? Since copyright's basic objective is creation and its revenue objectives but a means to that end, this is the underlying copyright question. And its answer is far from clear.
Unauthorized copying likely diminishes industry revenue, though it is not clear by how much. The extent to which related production has actually and resultingly declined remains uncertain, though there is good reason to believe that the decline, if any, is not substantial.
More importantly, copyright holders at least potentially have other tools available to reduce piracy and to abate whatever threat it poses to creative production. As today's opinion makes clear, a copyright holder may proceed against a technology provider where a provable specific intent to infringe (of the kind the Court describes) is present. Services like Grokster may well be liable under an inducement theory.
In addition, a copyright holder has always had the legal authority to bring a traditional infringement suit against one who wrongfully copies. Indeed, since September 2003, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has filed "thousands of suits against people for sharing copyrighted material." These suits have provided copyright holders with damages; have served as a teaching tool, making clear that much file sharing, if done without permission, is unlawful; and apparently have had a real and significant deterrent effect.
Further, copyright holders may develop new technological devices that will help curb unlawful infringement. Some new technology, called "digital 'watermarking'" and "digital fingerprint[ing]," can encode within the file information about the author and the copyright scope and date, which "fingerprints" can help to expose infringers. Other technology can, through encryption, potentially restrict users' ability to make a digital copy.
At the same time, advances in technology have discouraged unlawful copying by making lawful copying (e.g., downloading music with the copyright holder's permission) cheaper and easier to achieve. Several services now sell music for less than $1 per song. (Walmart.com, for example, charges $0.88 each). Consequently, many consumers initially attracted to the convenience and flexibility of services like Grokster are now migrating to lawful paid services (services with copying permission) where they can enjoy at little cost even greater convenience and flexibility without engaging in unlawful swapping.
Thus, lawful music downloading services—those that charge the customer for downloading music and pay royalties to the copyright holder—have continued to grow and to produce substantial revenue. And more advanced types of non-music-oriented P2P networks have also started to develop, drawing in part on the lessons of Grokster.
Finally, as Sony recognized, the legislative option remains available. Courts are less well suited than Congress to the task of "accommodat[ing] fully the varied permutations of competing interests that are inevitably implicated by such new technology."
I do not know whether these developments and similar alternatives will prove sufficient, but I am reasonably certain that, given their existence, a strong demonstrated need for modifying Sony (or for interpreting Sony's standard more strictly) has not yet been shown. That fact, along with the added risks that modification (or strict interpretation) would impose upon technological innovation, leads me to the conclusion that we should maintain Sony, reading its standard as I have read it. As so read, it requires affirmance of the Ninth Circuit's determination of the relevant aspects of the Sony question.
(Well, that was long but, as I said, he puts things nicely.) I think Justice Breyer is spot-on in his analysis. In particular, his emphasis on the clarity of the Sony rule in allowing ex ante evaluation of potential liability is critical in not deterring innovation, as his highlighting of the forward-looking nation of the rule. Notable, at least to me, is his admission of the limitations of the judicial branch in deciding questions concerning technology —if only more jurists (and פוסקים!) would admit their limitations! (As an aside, the advocates of דעת תורה are shocking in their hubris as much as their innovation.)

One concern that emerged from the Court's ruling is their identification of a "tension between the competing values of supporting creativity through copyright protection and promoting technological innovation by limiting infringement liability" in the subject matter of the case. It is not clear to me that there is really such a tension. We should ask: Is copyright really supporting creativity in the preponderance of the cases at issue? Does P2P-type copying actually do substantial harm to the goal of fostering creativity? I think the answer to both these questions is "no".

In a pair of recent posts on Ars, Hannibal has argued correctly that at present copyright is primary a tool to support inflated monopoly pricing by media conglomerates:
What the music industry has is not a piracy problem, but a monopoly pricing problem. The "pirates" are just giving consumers the chance to purchase music in a real market. In asking the government to help them go after pirates, what the recording industry is really trying to do is get the government to help them work against the market by maintaining their monopoly pricing. It's ironic that in the name of "free trade" and commerce, Big Content is actually fighting to counteract the very market forces that they claim to champion.
The prevalence of piracy is a symptom of a flawed, economically unviable business model, and only by adjusting its business model —not through any ruling of the Supreme Court— will the industry thwart piracy. As the exclusive monopoly conveyed by copyright is intended to foster creativity, when it is not in fact doing so I see little reason (with Justice Breyer) revise or strengthen the Sony test.

Furthermore, there seems to be little evidence that P2P-type infringement substantially deters creativity, because it appears that such activity causes a relatively insignificant decrease in revenues to the artists who actually create (which probably explains which artists, in general, seems to be less threatened by P2P networks than the industry). Justice Breyer cites some evidence to this effect. Again, if this is so, there seems to be little reason to revise or strengthen the Sony test in ways which will substantially deter technological innovation. (Keep in mind that even though Grokster and StreamCast profited from the infringement which (according to the ruling) they induced, their profit was not substantially at the expense of copyright holders who would not have seen much of that revenue anyhow.)

Thus, it appears to me that, not only is Justice Breyer right to resist revising or strengthening Sony, but that the tension in this case is not between fostering creativity and promoting innovation at all. Rather, it is between the unfettered development of business models and the unlawful conduct by others that some of these business models rely upon. The particulars of copyright, and of patents wherefrom the Court's favored doctrine of inducement is derived, are largely beside the point. The real question, which is not restricted to copyrights or patents, is whether one can pursue a business model which depends on and induces unlawful conduct in order to succeed. The Court has, quite reasonably, looked to evidence of intent to demarcate the limits here; but other than legal convenience, I see to reason why that test should not apply beyond copyright and patents.


(For what it's worth, Wilco gets a number of mentions by the Court. I guess that one way to know you've made it big.)

2005-06-27

Well, clearly they can't be frum!

2005-06-23

Summerings

Summer has always been a bit difficult for me. I'm the sort of person who does well when I'm active and have a lot of stimulation coming in from the outside. So when summer comes along and the semester (or at least finals) are over, and I have no classes to go to, no immediate deadlines to keep me plugging away, and little intellectual stimulation forcing itself upon me, I get into a funk ...or maybe it's a heat induced malaise.

This year has been no different. I had a really good year — at least I feel pretty good about it, although there were plenty of negative things that happened (not to do with school mostly) that I just refused to let get to me. After final exams were over I was thoroughly burnt out, took a few days off to recover, and promptly got sick for a week (probably from running myself ragged the previous month), which is guaranteed to get me feeling lousy psychologically too. Then came the shabbat–shavuot–shabbat hit-parade, which was time-consuming, distracting, and tiring in its own way (cooking, cooking and more cooking). In the midst of all this I've been looking for part-time work, which is a demoralizing experience right up there with applying to grad school. (It's disheartening to find out how far years of education don't get you.) And, in general, I've been going through school withdrawal. (Thankfully, I've had Ph.D. to help me through it. There's nothing to pick you up quite like identifying with really pathetic comic book characters!)

But, things are looking up! As of a few hours ago, I have a job; it looks like I'll be a Morning TV Ad Analyst for IAG Research (yes, they have a .net domain; yes, they should be a .com; yes, this annoys me). If you know my usual schedule (or merely guess it from time-stamp on a typical post), you may be wondering about that "Morning" bit. Well, it's quite funny really (though probably not for me): "Morning" is a reference to the morning show time-slot, so the hours are 6:45AM to 10:30AM. This means being up by not much after 5AM! Yay. In truth, I really have enjoyed being on an up–really–early schedule when I've done it in the past, so hopefully I'll appreciate this too (and davening on the subway!), but it's going to be a hell of a transition. And for all that, between the hours and the pay, I'll barely be able to cover rent with what I make, if that. Better than nothing though, that's for sure! Mostly I'm just happy to have job hunting done with, and to have found something which involves actual thought, if not creativity.

Also positive is that I just (as in at 4:15AM while lying in bed trying to sleep) got a clue about the term paper I need to write for Jonathan Adler's course on belief which I took last semester. Got up and typed up a string of notes. This should be enough direction to guide me as I work through the details. I think this was the first decent philosophical thought I've had in three weeks. Yayliness.

Comments on Mac PPC → Intel transition

As promised. Most of the issues involved in the transition have been hashed out by others (probably better than I could), so I'll try not to go over that ground again.

Nonetheless, here's my summary of informed opinion: In general, the consensus seems to be, rightly, that the transition to Intel is a good business decision for Apple, made at a time of strength, which will better position Apple to concentrate on what it does best: providing a superior overall user experience (hardware + software). Intel's strength in chipset engineering is critical here (freeing Apple from this task) and, along with their industry leading fab capacity, makes them a superior partner for Apple than AMD; Apple should make a good partner for Intel since Apple's closed hardware provides a perfect outlet through which to introduce new PC technologies/standards into the marketplace. The software transition is likely to be fairly smooth for Mac-only software developers, most of whom are already using Apple's development tools; this is important because many of these developers have limited resources even as they are perhaps the most significant contributors, besides Apple itself, to the Mac user experience. Major developers like Adobe and Microsoft who aren't will have a harder time, but they have already committed to porting their apps, and will want to do so promptly in order to avoid becoming the next Quark. A significant question mark hangs over scientific and media applications that rely heavily on AltiVec; in some cases there may be no way to move their applications to x86 without a significant loss in performance, and so they will need to consider other alternatives. Hopefully Intel will work to improve the SIMD capabilities of their processors in the future. For most apps, performance on Intel is likely to be equivalent or better than on PPC.

Something which has not been emphasized enough, I think, is that the real challenge for Apple in this transition lies in execution. Too much attention has been focused on the reasons behind the transition (probably since it wasn't expected). In principle, this transition should be easier than the original transition to PPC and the later transition to OS X. Apple lost developers and market-share in each of those transitions. If that is to be avoided this time around —and given the Mac's market-share today, it had better be— Apple needs to make this transition as smooth as possible in practice. A number of things raise concern in this regard:
First, it appears that this transition was decided on very recently and, while Apple has had the foundation for such a transition (OS X running on Intel) for the past five years, many critical decisions are just now being made or have yet to be made. Offering an explicit roadmap to the transition would be a strong sign that Apple has a clear game-plan and would do a lot to build confidence in the Mac community, as well as providing something to plan around for those to may be adversely affected by the transition.
Second, following in Apple's obsessive tradition of corporate secrecy, no specific commitment has been made to address the just-mentioned deficiency This is an exceptional situation in which Apple needs to be exceptionally open and communicative, yet they are proceeding as if it's business as usual —bad sign.
Third, the high cost of the developer transition systems announced at WWDC puts them out of reach of many smaller developers which, as noted above, are major contributors to what makes the Mac user experience generally so positive; Apple needs to make sure that these developers will be able to tweak and test their apps before Intel-based Macs hit the market.
Forth, Apple cannot afford to transfer resources from existing projects to this transition. Tiger is probably the buggiest major release of OS X since 10.1, and both it and many of Apple's apps are in need of updates and improvements —Apple cannot allow development to languish further in a competitive marketplace while they concentrate on the transition.
Apple is not a company known for its ability to execute smoothly; it needs to now more than ever. Hopefully Intel, which has a better track record in this regard, will be a positive force here, both through what will surely be their heavy involvement in the design of Intel-based Macs and through their own desired to be associated with a successful transition.

One interesting matter of note is that the triumph of x86 architecture is another —and impressive— example of market failure. Despite the fact that the PPC is probably a better architecture in the abstract, Apple has little choice but to switch. It is simply not feasible for almost any computer manufacturer to fund their own processor development on an "as you go" basis: the cost are simply too high, as revealed by the disappearance of the PA-RISC, Alpha, and MIPS architectures from the market. (Sun still soldiers on with SPARC, but that architecture is dead too if their recent big bets don't pay off; specialists like Cray and the embedded market are different cases, of course). In a competitive marketplace it is important minimize costs which are not also incurred by your competitors and which do not make a sufficiently strong contribution to the success of your products: processor development is just such a cost. Ultimately we will pay a price for this loss of diversity, competition and innovation in the market for microprocessors.

That's about all I have to say on the matter for now. Whatever else might be said, the bottom line is this:
What else are Mac-folk going to do, use Windows?!?

If only I had pictures...

...and a more interesting life... this would be a lot of fun: Comic Life. Alas!

2005-06-20

RCB shiurim, the obligation to feel, and self-deceit

Since it's this week, I thought I should point folks to one of the most enjoyable shiurim that Rav Brovender gave during my time at HaMivtar: פרשת שלח. He gave this as his regular Thursday-night parsha shiur shortly before I left the Yeshiva. It is one of moments through which I recall Rav Brovender at his best: asking the questions that begged to be asked but often aren't, ranging across a range of sources to find clear פשט (in this case mostly the הפטרא from יהושע and גמרא סנהדרין), and hysterically funny for much of the way there. I think it's well worth a listen.

Just yesterday I also came across another RCB shiur, this one a version of a very powerful shiur he gave over seuda shlishit at the Yeshiva one shabbat. I was overjoyed to find that he had given it elsewhere when it could be recorded. It's titled "Lessons from an Ordeal, Reflections on Thanksgiving, and Thoughts on the Situation in Israel Today", and is described thusly on the Atid website:
In this recording, Rabbi Brovender tells the story of his ordeal, and shares with us the lessons he learned about chessed and hoda'ah (kindness and thanksgiving), as well as reflecting on the "matzav" (situation) in the State of Israel today.
(In passing, for those that don't know, Atid is an organization founded by Rav Brovender and dedicated to addressing problems in the philosophy of jewish education and educational leadership in the jewish community.) The quality of the recording isn't great, so you may want to fiddle with the EQ in RealPlayer, but it's worth it. Related material is available here on the Atid website.

Combining some of the themes from both of these shuirim is a talk Rav Brovender gave to the Yeshiva on his return to teaching after his attack. The text is available here.

A substantive remark: At one point in the second of these shuirim, Rav Brovender says that he can't understand how jews can discuss giving up control of הר הבית (the Temple Mount) without crying. This is very much a "him" thing to say: he doesn't take at stand on what political stance we should adopt on giving up control of territory —presumably there is room for debate on that question— and instead he concentrates on how Judaism demands that we feel as we contemplate what stance to adopt, which is in many ways the religiously more important question and one which is too often overlooked in the polarized and ideologically charged atmosphere in which they are usually taken up.

Over shabbat, I found out that someone I have only recently met —with whom I was very impressed and whom I would have liked to get to know better— is making aliyah to Israel, and this has been on my mind since. I feel that something like Rav Brovender's remark about הר הבית is appropriate here too: I do not understand how so many apparently committed jews are not bothered or torn, or feel sad, over not living in Israel. This is not to take a stand on whether anyone in particular should make aliyah, but it is to recognize what seems obvious to me, that Judaism tells us something about how we should feel when we consider the question. Speaking for myself, I feel there are things I need to do here, namely philosophy, but I recognized that this comes at a cost jewishly and that pains me. Someday I may get offered a job doing philosophy in Israel or, being the hopeless romantic that I am, falling for a girl who wants to make aliyah may get me there. (So might failing at philosophy, but that is a thought I cannot allow myself to think.) For now, though, I must live with commitments at variance. What I can't do —what it would be dishonest to do— is to imagine away this tension by deceiving myself about the costs and consequences of my choices, no matter how much easier that might make it to live with them. I think many jews in the diaspora, especially in North America, fall all to easily into this sort of self-deceit and, in doing so, they place themselves in a position of much greater tension, though they are unaware of it, for they have placed themselves at variance with יהדות itself. While I understand psychologically how this happens, I cannot understand the preponderant complacency about this phenomenon.

2005-06-10

As You Like It

For those that will be in NYC this summer,think about seeing New York Classical Theatre's free productions in Central Park. I saw Shakespeare's As You Like It tonight and it was a lot of fun. It will be playing until the 26th; in August comes Moliere's Scapin. These productions are performed using the park itself as a stage and moving from place to place for scene changes. Watching how the passersby respond to all this is nearly as interesting as the performance itself!

2005-06-09

Ars' Hannibal on Apple's PPC → Intel Transition

Mac software I use

Since it came up in conversation tonight, I'm finally getting around to posting a list of useful Mac software that I use and would recommend, with handy-dandy commentary. In no particular order:

  • LaunchBar — The way I do just about everything, basically; you should too. (QuickSilver is similar, but wasn't as good last time I tried it; OTOH it's free.)
  • NewsFire — Best interface of all the RSS/Atom readers; not as many features as some, but it's a joy to use.
  • OmniWeb — Thumbnails beat tabs anyday! Not the fastest or most up to date, but lots of other nice features (custom site prefs, workspaces, auto-save while browsing, etc.) and a great interface.
  • OmniOutliner Pro — Simple, versatile, easy to use. (I'd use OmniGraffle to, if I had the need.)
  • OmniDictionary — Handy free little program to access online dictionaries; it works.
  • Nisus Thesaurus — Thesaurus using a columns-style browser interface.
  • Mellel — Best of the non-Word word-processors: strong on styles and structure, rapidly developing, great support and interaction with developers (see the Forum and Yahoo! Group), meets my needs really well.
  • MacJournal (v2.6.1 — last free version, still available) — Simple journal program.
  • SubEthaEdit — My choice in text editors.
  • TextWrangler — My 2nd choice in text editors.
  • Bookends — Pretty good reference manager: integrates with Mellel (look for discount pricing if you own Mellel), seems to fit my needs well enough, responsive developer and support, but the interface could be better.
  • Goban — Go! native in Cocoa for the Mac.
  • BitTorrent — Yay for legal concert downloads!
  • RPN Calculator — I liked this best of the various RPN calculators for the Mac. Essential for those of us who can use a normal calculator anymore.
  • VLC — Plays video files.
  • TinkerTool — Handy hidden options for OS X.
  • FinkCommander — A GUI for Fink.
  • Jewish Calendar — Nothing special but זה מה שיש!
  • Address Book Exporter — Exports Apple's Address Book to some useful formats, including one that can be imported into Yahoo!'s Address Book feature. (It will export files with hebrew characters is UTF-16, IIRC, so you'll need to convert to UTF-8 and possible remove the offending characters before Yahoo! will import the contacts.)

2005-06-06

FROZEN

It's true: Apple will start moving the Mac to Intel processors by this time next year. So says live WWDC Keynote coverage. More to follow.

Here's the press release.

Be My Knife

I've just recently completed David Grossman's Be My Knife. I was steered to it by a favorable review I saw some time ago (in The Economist, IIRC) and, now that I've finished it, I think it met my original expectation, although I had some doubts along the way. The structure of Be My Knife makes it a difficult read, at least for the first half: The first 2/3rds of the book are letters from Yair to Miriam (without her replies), followed by a diary of sorts that she keeps after their correspondence, and then a final section about which I don't think I should say anything. Much like reading a dialog in which the characters aren't believably distinct (ahem, Plato), reading one half of a correspondence is an extremely frustrating experience, especially when those letters are so psychologically loaded that they provide only dim insight into the other half of the correspondence and the world beyond. That said, once drawn in, this structure is a critical to the success of the novel, because it forces the reader to become intimate with the painfully deep and intimate aspects of Yair and Miriam which drive the novel forward, for that is the only entry into their world which Grossman allows. Be My Knife would not be so powerful or sad otherwise.

Ya'alon interview

Interviews with top IDF officers often yield interesting insights into the Israeli–Palestinian conflict —this is no exception. Here's an excerpt:
Overall, are we headed for a situation of dividing the land?
"In the past decade, the government of Israel and Israeli society decided to divide the land. In the present reality, I see difficulty in producing a stable situation of end-of-conflict within that paradigm."

I am not sure I understand what you mean.
"We are talking about a viable Palestinian state. Those kinds of situations can be created in Europe: Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg. But here the situation is different. The Palestinian side does not harbor a feeling of thus far and no farther - not even in regard to the 1967 borders. They are talking about Safed and Haifa and Tel Aviv. And economically, too, Judea and Samaria and Gaza are not a viable state."

So are you saying that the thought that a two-state solution is within reach, is incompatible with reality?
"That paradigm does not bring about stability, no."

You maintain that the two-state solution cannot work. You maintain that what is agreed by the whole world and a large part of the Israeli public is without foundation.
"It is not relevant. Not relevant. It is a story that the Western world tells with Western eyes. And that story does not comprehend the scale of the gap and the scale of the problem. We too are sweeping it under the carpet."

What will happen if the world nevertheless imposes a two-state solution in the years ahead?
"It is difficult to impose things that have no foundation. Something that is imposed and is unstable blows up."

What alternative paradigm do you posit in place of the two-state paradigm?
"The paradigm of a far longer process. Far longer. One that obliges above all a revolution of values by the other side. Another possibility is to go beyond the paradigm of the Western Land of Israel, to enter into regional solutions."

Are you proposing to give the Palestinians land that is beyond the Western Land of Israel?
"We were in that situation before 1967: the West Bank was connected to Jordan, the Gaza Strip to Egypt. Today it is not relevant. But let us not delude ourselves. I do not see stability in the present paradigm and in the present state of affairs. I do not see a conclusion to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in my generation."

Is the establishment of a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and in 85 to 100 percent of the West Bank not feasible?
"That is an idea that does not bring about a stable situation. No. We can go for that, but from there the confrontation will continue."

So the establishment of that Palestinian state will lead to war?
"Yes, at some stage."

Could that war be dangerous for Israel?
"Of course."

Can the establishment of a Palestinian state in the present conditions create a semi-existential threat to Israel?
"If that solution were to be imposed tomorrow morning it would bring about the continuation of the irredentism, the continuation of the conflict."

Is the idea that a Palestinian state can be established during the current term of office of U.S. President Bush, and stability achieved, divorced from reality?
"Divorced from reality."

And dangerous?
"Dangerous, of course."

If a Palestinian state is established now, will it necessarily be a hostile state?
"It will be a state that will try to undermine Israel. As long as there is no internalization of our right to exist as a Jewish state, and as long as there is insistence on concrete elements of the right of return, any such agreement will be like the construction of a house in which you plant a bomb. At some stage, the bomb will explode."

So what you are saying is that the idea of an immediate Palestinian state and of a two-state solution is a mirage.
"We have created a paradigm that generates an illusion. We have to think in long-term historical terms. Think about a lengthy process. Not something that is finished here and now and gives us an end to the conflict. There is no such solution now."

I believe Ya'alon is correct that the two-state "solution" really isn't a solution at all, though it may be part of a solution. The real, avoidable danger lurking ahead lies in creating and sustaining the idea that the creation of a viable Palestinian state will be a solution to the conflict: when that state is created without an end of conflict, shattering that expectation will result in more severe consequences than would have occurred otherwise. Hope becomes dangerous when we make expectations of it.

2005-06-04

Hell's getting mighty chilly

Good article from Ars Technica: Apple to Intel announcement at WWDC?
Also see discussion here: Ars Mac Ach discussion thread

I find this very had to believe. Moving to Intel may lower Apple's costs somewhat but, so long as Apple continues to engage in a substantial degree of custom design for their machines, Apple will not be able to match costs with the likes of Dell, HP or Lenovo. Now, I believe that all things considered the price premium for a Mac is well worth it (and would be worth it on x86 as well), but getting people to see this, or even getting them into a position where they might be able to see this, is a supremely difficult task (as Apple has discovered while trying to get switchers). Presently Apple's task is made somewhat easier by the difficulty of making direct price–performance comparisons between Apple and the competition, since they run on different architectures. By making the direct hardware comparison more difficult, PowerPC based Macs prompt users to consider what advantages the Mac might offer by way of custom designed hardware, software, and the high level of integration between the two. If Apple moves the Mac to x86, potential customers will be able to compare processor speed, etc., at a glance —Apple will certainly come out the looser in these at a glance comparisons, and many potential customers will never get beyond the initial superficial impression they create.

The only scenario to which the above concern wouldn't apply is one in which Apple gives up on being the exclusive provider of hardware on which to run Mac OS X; in this scenario, Apple wouldn't be basing its business on hardware. But, of course, this would entail giving up the high-degree of hardware–software integration that has made the Mac so appealing, and which has allowed Apple to innovate (virtually) at will. And, since Apple still makes most of its revenue from hardware, it is hard to see how Apple could survive with the inevitable decrease in hardware sales.

In short, I don't see this move being a good one for Apple's market share nor, with the transition costs, for the health of the platform in general. Apple and developers have invested a great deal in the PPC architecture, which will be lost if Apple abandons it. Moreover, with IBM's recent Power Everywhere initiative and the commitment of all three major game console manufacturer to Power derived processors, the future of the PPC was looking brighter. While there may be particular advantages to running the Mac on x86, in general I just don't see how this rumor makes much sense in the long run.

2005-06-03

HaMivtar fundraiser

So last week Thursday, Rav Brovender was in town and had a fundraiser for HaMivtar. The goal is to raise a large sum of money in order to hire someone to handle alumni relations/development and recruit, which is much needed. I decided to go, despite the fact that I don't really have funds to contribute. (I gave what I could.) I was a little shocked at how few people came: about a dozen in total, none from my time there. This has got me feeling a bit resentful, since there are quite a few people from my time that actually have jobs. Now I've heard that not everyone got the announcement — which really shows how badly they need a person to handle alumni stuff — but it bothers me that more people didn't make an appearance, even if they couldn't give much. Anyway, if anyone wants to give, I'm sure you can e-mail the HaMivtar office and they'll steer you in the right direction: office@yhol.org.il Every little bet will help.

Seeing the Rach Bee has got me thinking about Israel and Torah —basically about when I'll be able to get back to Yeshiva. I really want to make sure I make it back before I go on the market for jobs —the cost will be too high at that point— so I will have make it out before then. If I can find the money somewhere (perhaps once I've started teaching in addition to my fellowship), I'd like to spend at least a summer or two learning. For now, it's nice to feel that need to be learning again —hopefully I can turn that into some substantial learning over this summer (along with a job and philosophy).

BTW, for those that are interested, Matthew Mintz has been doing a lot of work on the HaMivtar web site, and there's now a substantial collection of audio shiurim available. Rav Brovender's parsha shiur on Shelach is just about the funniest things ever by the way; he gave it just before I left the Yeshiva — it was a nice memory to take with me as I left.

2005-06-01

CUNY Cognitive Science Symposium — Summer 2005

Since I'm going to be in New York for the summer, I'm planning on attending and very much looking forward to it. The schedule can be found here (PDF). [I post this since I had a little trouble finding it myself.]

On the French rejection of the proposed EU constitution

Since there's been plenty of discussion about what caused the rejection, I won't bother with that question. I think there is something useful to be said, however, for what needs to happen in order for a constitution to get approved in the present EU of 25. Two main points bear keeping in mind:

First, the atmosphere for a constructive debate on a constitution will not obtain until EU governments stop using the EU as an easy way of imposing legislation on their citizens without spending the political capital required to win their approval, and then putting the blame on the EU by claiming to be helpless to stop it. No wonder EU citizens believe the EU is not working in their interests and is not democratically accountable: this is just what their governments are telling them. Moreover, EU governments must keep the EU for becoming more transparent if this strategy is to remain available to them: if EU processes are made transparent, governments will no longer be able to claim that they were not complicit in deciding these policies, and will be forced to fight the political battles necessary to support them, which they are (clearly) desperate to avoid. So long as governments are manipulating the European political structure in this way, EU citizens will be unable to have a clearheaded understanding of what that structure is, or intelligently debate about what it should be.

Second, since EU governments have engaged in the sort of manipulation just described, and the results of that manipulation fill the aquis communitaire, including the treaties, those "infected" elements of EU law must not be included in any EU constitution. Including them in the constitution will place them immediately before EU citizens, and will distract citizens from considering the foundational issues the constitution is really needed to address. Debate about the constitution should concern (insofar as is possible) the structure of Europe's political institutions, not the policies they will be carrying out. But this is just what much of the French debate over the 200+ page proposed constitution was about. This could have been avoided by splitting the document into two parts: a shorter, American-style constitution proper, which would be put to EU citizens for debate and approval; and a series of "basic laws" or treaties, which specify in detail the agreed bounds of EU power, consolidating and revising of the articles of the existing treaties as required by changes contained in the constitution proper. Only in this way will the attention of EU citizens not be distracted from the foundational aspects of the constitution towards reconsideration of countless facets of EU power which have already been decided.

Lest it sound like I too am trying to slip one by the citizens of the EU, let me say the following: Certainly, citizens will want to reconsider many aspects of the current treaties, but with the EU's current institutional structure that is unlikey to occur; fixing that structure is exactly what the constitution proper will address, and so it should be the initial focus of debate. To put it more strongly, whatever parts of the existing treaties EU citizens find objectionable will remain virtually impossible to change under the EU's current institutional structure — a structure which, one must remember, was designed to be "one way" only, towards further integration and the expansion of supranational EU powers; changing that structure is a precondition for reconsidering the role of the EU in particular areas, and needs to be accomplished first. Separating the constitution proper from (what I'm calling) the "basic laws" would facilitate doing so. While some will want to vote on a single document, like the proposed constitution, precisely because a single document is more likely to raise objections and hence not to pass, they are kidding themselves if they think this will lead to dismemberment of the EU; all it will accomplish is to lock-in the current structure which has spawned so much of the dissatisfaction with the EU reflected in the French referendum.

In short, the conditions that will allow a productive debate about constitutional issues in the EU don't obtain, but the EU's political elite is blind to these concerns and proposed a constitution anyway. That document itself reflects the attitudes prevalent in Europe's political elites which accounts for that blindness. Such a document is not what Europe needs for a constitution.

UPDATE: The Dutch have said "no" too, and resoundingly so.