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June 30, 2004

This SEED Needs Money To Grow

The SEED Public Charter School in D.C. is a public boarding school (!) that just sent its first graduating class to college. All of it. Here’s the demographics, courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor:

Ninety percent come from homes below the poverty line; 88 percent come from single parent or no parent households, and 93 percent are the first generation in their families to go to college.

Plenty more in the CSM about SEED’s program, and a more personal view in The Washington Post (in an article titled “SEED’s Harvest” — clearly this school was named expressly for the benefit of headline writers everywhere).

Now, this boarding-school goodness doesn’t come cheap: It’s about 25 grand per year, per student. Some critics say that invalidates the SEED model; if it needs grants from Bill Gates and Oprah to make ends meet, it clearly isn’t applicable to other urban public school systems. That was my initial reaction as well.

But, as some commenters on JoanneJacobs.com (link via Eduwonk) point out,

… the best way to get more funding is to show that more funding actually helps if used correctly— which this program seems to do.

Hmm. Oh yeah.

So basically what you’re telling me, SEED, is that you are Hogwarts, and with just a little bit of moolah (and come on, we can spare it — here in Florida we pay $18,000 to incarcerate somebody for a year), you can transform kids with few prospects into college-bound wizards and witches?

I can’t believe I ever scoffed at that. Since when did the central challenge of public education become finding ways to stretch a measly $4000 (the average expenditure per public school student in the U.S., more or less)? We oughtta be encouraging experiments like SEED and then trumpeting their successes — to policymakers, yes, but also to philanthropists.

Sure enough, Eduwonk reports that SEED is planting— err, planning to set up shop in some new communities. (Har har!)
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Posted June 30, 2004 at 07:19 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0) | Permasnark
File under: Society/Culture

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Sam Raimi’s Big Idea

Okay, so Sam Raimi’s idea might seem flaky…

The proposal: Position cameras above all major American cities and shoot one frame — a 24th of a second of film — each day at noon. The frames would be strung together gradually to create a continuous chronicle of each city’s development.

“It’s the same idea of all time-lapse photography, but over an outrageous amount of time,” Raimi told The Associated Press in an interview to promote “Spider-Man 2.” “So you could watch the city of Los Angeles rise, and maybe an earthquake might come in 300 years or a tidal wave.”

…but how cool would it be it someone had started this 50 years ago? It would be fascinating to see the last half-century of human habitation in LA — ooh, or Detroit, I wanna see Detroit — condensed like this.

Is he imagining a satellite, though, or just a camera bolted to the top of a hill?

I think the aerial view would be more interesting — maybe it could be a blimp or a balloon or something, not a satellite — ‘cause you’d really get to see the macro patterns of growth, the rings of development (leaving orbits of decrepitude in their wake).

It’s all very Long Now, you know?
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Posted June 30, 2004 at 03:46 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0) | Permasnark
File under: Society/Culture

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June 29, 2004

Future of Open Source

Skip this month’s sensationally-headlined Wired article “The Linux Killer.” But check out its sidebar, an article about how Linus Torvald’s laissez-faire approach to sourcing Linux is causing the enterprise legal headaches today.

To put Linux on more solid intellectual property footing in the future, the company has to become a little more corporate and a little less Dangermouse. It has to be a lot more meticulous about making sure all of its code is properly licensed to and by developers, keeping a thorough library of who-coded-what. In fact, the company may send Torvalds and the developers to re-write all the code that’s already been written, making sure to pull any proprietary code out of there.

My experiences with open-source technology have been dim so far. I tried working with OpenOffice for several months on my last computer, because Microsoft Works documents only work in MS Works and MS Office was too rich for my blood. The software just had an amateurish feel about it, it crashed my computer regularly, and the interface was unintuitive (it was a little too open-source; i.e., I felt like I had to code a macro to get it to register a carriage return). MS Word may be a fascist, irrational piece of crap technology that mucks up my documents twice as often as it improves them, but at least it deceives me into feeling I have a modicum of stability there.

Open-source browsers have been a mixed bag. There’s nothing wrong with Opera or Mozilla, per se, and especially on my old computer, I would go through weeks of heavy Opera usage, but the tangible advantages I would get from making them my primary browser and customizing them to fit snugly with Windows the way IE does (yes, yes, another proof that MS is eee-vil) seem small. It’s not all that inconvenient to me to download yet another patch to fix yet another gaping security flaw every few weeks. Ha ha.

I love the idea of open-source — distributed creation, flexibility, affordability … it sounds like the future. I refer to WikiPedia regularly, and I’ve long dreamt of an open-source-ish screenplay-writing website. I flirted with making Linux the OS for my new computer before some coworkers nabbed me a $20 copy of XP. Robin’s grooving on Firefox, and I may download a free copy of StarOffice (I work at an educational insitution, after all). Talk to Robin long enough and he’ll dangle before you visions of an open-source TV network.

My question: what’s the future — Linux or Googlezon? Open source or OpenSource™?

Or, as this Wired article suggests, are the two beginning to grow together towards a murky middle?
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Posted June 29, 2004 at 06:29 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0) | Permasnark
File under: Technosnark

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It’s Us Weekly for Us Wonks

Okay, that’s way overstating it, but that seems appropriate for a blog entry written in praise of a magazine that way overstates it.

Foreign Policy, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is by far the hippest policy mag on the rack. The Atlantic Monthly has more authority; The New Yorker is better-written; Foreign Affairs has, um, larger print. But FP has grafs like this:

American neoconservatives such as Robert Kagan look down upon feminine, Venus-like Europeans, gibing their narcissistic obsession with building a postmodern, bureaucratic paradise. The United States, by contrast, supposedly carries the mantle of masculine Mars, boldly imposing freedom in the world’s nastiest neighborhoods. But by cleverly deploying both its hard power and its sensitive side, the European Union has become more effective — and more attractive — than the United States on the catwalk of diplomatic clout. Meet the real New Europe: the world’s first metrosexual superpower.

(That’s from “The Metrosexual Superpower” by Parag Khanna, which you’ll have to register to read. It’s free.)

FP has such a funny attitude. This is from their writer’s guidelines:

Don’t send us any article or proposal that begins with “Since the end of the Cold War…” or “In the wake of September 11…” Really. Please don’t.

Notable on the website right now: an article on “Iraq’s Excluded Women” (reg. req’d); the metrosexual Europe story; one of FP’s great “Think Again” pieces (they’re like these laser-guided anti-conventional-wisdom missiles) on Al Qaeda; and one of the mag’s indispensable reviews of books in foreign languages (!), this one called “The Nokia Generation Hangs Up,” about success and disillusionment in Finland. You gotta love that!

Feel free to ignore the cover story by Niall Ferguson, author of “Colossus.” As a historian friend put it to me, “Wild claims are what make historians famous.”

But then, it wouldn’t be FP if the claim wasn’t just a little bit wild.
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Posted June 29, 2004 at 10:36 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism

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June 28, 2004

Fahrenheit (Not 9/11)

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I’ll spare you my review of Michael Moore’s crockumentary. Suffice it to say I mostly agree with Chris Hitchens. (I know, I know. I just washed my mouth out with soap.)

I am currently crossing my fingers for the dim, but newly existent, chance that someone has answered my prayers for a good adventure game for the Playstation 2.

Fahrenheit debuted at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, and according to scattered accounts, it completely knocks sliced bread off the map. It’s got a decent basic storyline — complete strangers in New York are killing each other at random, each enacting the same bizarre ritual before committing the murder — which you can actually affect depending on your actions in the game. (It starts, by the way, after you’ve just committed one of these random murders.)

And by affect, it apparently doesn’t just mean that you get the Murasame sword with seven jewels of power instead of five if you beat the silver-tongued Gorgon using only copper weapons. It seems there are serious game-shattering consequences for your actions. For instance, you could do one thing and play the game for four hours only to discover that the thing you did four hours ago completely screwed you, and now you’ve lost. Which has the possibility to be very frustrating, but if the game is dynamic enough to keep you playing, then it could also be very, very cool. From the review I linked above:

There is no inventory in the game, which is intended to add an element of realism. You’ll only have whatever you have in your hand. So, pick up the bloody white shirt. Now you’re holding a bloody shirt; what are you going to do with it? You can’t do much else; you’ve got to deal with this darn shirt in your hands first. If there’s one ridiculous thing we just accept about adventure games (other than it should always be impossible to die), it’s that there’s always room in our pockets for more inventory; whatever size, whatever shape. Fahrenheit confronts that un-reality head-on.

At some point, you will either decide to leave your apartment, or your time will run out and the police will arrive. Here is where the game really gets interesting: at this point, your player-character will become Inspector Carla Valenti, inspecting the recent ritual murder. Lucas Kane is your suspect, and here you are at his apartment. You’ll be seeing the apartment exactly as you just left it—if you had Lucas wash his shirt, you’ll see the clean shirt. If you had Lucas take a shower, you’ll see Lucas with clean arms. Quantic Dream calls this the “Bungee Story”; actions that you take have a direct effect on the plot, and not in a yes/no way; the story will evolve and move in different directions based on the decisions you’ve made as one character.

But the potential for coolness doesn’t stop there, sports fans. It seems the game also involves some psychological sophistication. You play four or five characters during the course of the game, some of whom are working at cross-purposes. How strong will your motivation be to clean up an apartment, the review asks, if you know that it makes it harder for your police detective character to succeed at their goal?

As long as the French company that designed the game (and, from its official website, has a pretty poor grasp of English, touting the game’s “simplified and really intuitive interface that allows to do an infinity of actions through its unique interface”) didn’t write the game, I’m looking forward to it. I’ll keep you posted.
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Posted June 28, 2004 at 09:19 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0) | Permasnark
File under: Video Games

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June 25, 2004

The Plan in Iran

I’m not sure I have anything intelligent to add to this op-ed on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, save that I found it fascinating. It’s by a former Iranian former minister:

Anyone with any knowledge of Iranian politics would know that the present regime in Tehran is strategically committed to developing a nuclear “surge capacity” if not a full arsenal of nuclear weapons. The real question, therefore, is whether the region, and the rest of the world, feel comfortable with the idea of a revolutionary regime, claiming a messianic mission on behalf of Islam, arming itself with nuclear weapons.

A peaceful Iran with no ambitions to export an ideology or seek regional hegemony would be no more threatening than Britain, which also has a nuclear arsenal. The real debate on Iran, therefore, can only be about regime change. And this is precisely the issue that the Europeans are loath to acknowledge as a legitimate topic of discussion.

The author, Ardeshir Zahedi, explains quite a bit about Iran’s nuclear past.

Now, read this —

… Iran’s first nuclear reactor was installed in Tehran in 1955 and the first batch of Iranians sent to Europe and the U.S. to study nuclear physics and related subjects were back home by the early 1960s. By the mid-1970s, Iran had a well-educated and motivated corps of nuclear scientists who, backed by substantial financial resources from the government, undertook research into all aspects of the new technology, including its military applications.

— and tell me that planning on that scale doesn’t blow your mind. “Okay, guys, we need to learn nuclear physics. Sooo we’re going to send a generation of scientists overseas and then have them return. It should only take about ten years.”
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Posted June 25, 2004 at 05:12 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkpolitik

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The Muckraker

The Tribune’s David Jackson profiles Seymour Hersh:

“We’re living in dark times,” [Hersh] says, gently rubbing his gray-thatched temples.

He inhabits a reality we can barely glimpse, crosscut by the chatter of encrypted satellite signals. For national security officials, leaking to Hersh is “generally better than writing a memo to the president,” remarks his friend and competitor, Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus.

In recent months, The New Yorker editor David Remnick says, Hersh “seems to begin every phone call with the line, `It’s worse than you think.’”

The secrets don’t show on his face, but when Hersh lets down his guard even a little, the inner life of the inside man seems to leak into the air around him. He is haunted by the as-yet-unpublished photographs of Iraq prison abuses. “You haven’t begun to see evil until you’ve seen some of these pictures that haven’t come out,” he says.

Link via Romenesko.
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Posted June 25, 2004 at 09:57 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism

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June 24, 2004

Internet Marketing Works

OMG, I just clicked on a banner ad for the first. time. in. my. life.

But it was for the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, so I don’t think that really counts. It’s like clicking on a banner ad for Batman: Who wouldn’t??
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Posted June 24, 2004 at 03:43 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0) | Permasnark
File under: Gleeful Miscellany

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Room-Temperature Tang, Anyone?

On the heels of grim news out of Iraq, here’s a revealing piece about nights without electricity in Baghdad by Peter Hong at the LA Times.

In the 110-degree daytime heat, there are no fans. No working refrigerators. No ice cubes.

The night provides little relief. In the pitch-black darkness of his garden, where he has taken refuge from the sauna-like air in the house, Qadr explains his disillusionment. “I’m concerned if you write what I tell you, it will sound like I support Saddam,” Qadr says.

It is 10 o’clock. Qadr speaks slowly, just loud enough to be heard over the rolling background noise of automatic-rifle fire. A small flashlight, brought by his visitor, is propped on a table for light.

“After the Americans came, I believed President Bush. I thought things would be better in Iraq,” he says. “But now, after almost a year and a half, there is no electricity, no water. There is more unemployment. My life is worse than it was before the war.”

If I could give Peter Hong an award for writing this, I would. Wait, actually, no: First I would make him go back and re-write it in the first person instead of the fungly newspaper quasi-first-person. You know what I’m talking about: “On this night, the 15 members of the Qadr family have welcomed one of those reporters into their spacious two-story concrete-and-brick home.” Gahhh.

Apparently if the word “me” touches newsprint it explodes.

It’s a style that serves only to obfuscate. For instance, I suspect that in this passage —

Ammar Mohammed, a Baghdad native also visiting the house this night, says the Qadr brothers’ fear of being mistakenly shot by U.S. troops is exaggerated.

— Hong is actually introducing his translator or fixer. I think that’s worth knowing.

So give that story a quick edit, Peter — put yourself back in it — and the Snarkmarket Story of the Week award* is yours!

*Don’t get too excited; all you get is a line of bold text.
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Posted June 24, 2004 at 10:03 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism

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June 21, 2004

Step Off, Surly Bonds

Space.com is covering the flight of SpaceShipOne out of Mojave, Calif., today. If successful, it will be the first time a privately-funded and -built craft has ferried a human being into space, 100 kilometers up. Boing Boing has some more info. SpaceShipOne, like NASA’s space shuttle, actually glides back to earth and lands, which I find totally appealing. I never liked that splash-down business.
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Posted June 21, 2004 at 09:33 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0) | Permasnark
File under: Technosnark

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