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Friday, 11/21/03

For the backstory, read Nick Confessore's Washington Monthly expose of Tech Central Station, an online journal of opinion and a quasi-thinktank. TCS turns out to be a subsidiary of the DCI Group, a Washington lobbying firm with a history of inventing fake grassroots support for various embattled clients.

Arnold Kling is a conservative economist I read pretty regularly. I think his opinions are generally wrong, but he writes well and his economic credentials are solid, so I like to triangulate his pronouncements with the likes of Krugman and DeLong. Kling is a TCS contributor, and he reacted angrily to the implication that his writing should be suspect just because TCS is run by a K Street firm -- he, after all, didn't know the biases of his editors and TCS' ownership.

I think this is a neat journalistic paradox. Confessore makes an excellent case that TCS is selling opinion to the highest bidder, while the TCS opinion-generator with whom I'm most familiar has excellent grounds to defend his own reputation.

Now that we know TCS is aligning its editorial content with DCI's clients, TCS's institutional credibility disappears. But because the contributors were in the dark, their individual credibility remains unaffected. At worst, the contributors only require more careful evaluation, because they come with no cover.

I think this story is so cool because obviously, the same argument can be made about writers at any publication. Skepticism is always a virtue, but it's hard to maintain, so humans cheat, and people who regularly read specific publications tend to build a syllogistic web of trust. It's not perfect -- just because I adore Dahlia Lithwick in Slate, and thereby discovered James Surowiecki, Virginia Heffernan, and Steven Landsburg, doesn't mean I trust Edward Jay Epstein, but I gave Epstein the benefit of the doubt longer than I would have in a more neutral context.

TCS is an elegant hack of the way people extend trust to journalistic institutions. I think it's unethical, but it's hardly illegal, and it's probably not even uncommon. I'm glad to know it exists. 12:13PM «

Wednesday, 11/19/03

Brian Weatherson at Crooked Timber comments on a loopy TIAA-CREF proposal to stop investing in companies that support gun control. By way of a whimsical correlation between support for gun control and strong economic performance, Weatherson points to the NRA's thorough blacklist of pesky civilians and corporations, including the Kansas City Chiefs, who are apparently having a pretty good year.

This list is surprisingly entertaining. Some notes:

Update: I initially attributed Coretta Scott King's inclusion to "some NRA intern", forgetting momentarily that the national organization is easily crazy enough to condemn the anti-gun views of the widow of an assassinated winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. I don't know what I was thinking.

Also, John Gruber writes to point out that Steve Buscemi made sure that his Reservoir Dogs action figure would not come with a little toy gun. While commendable, Buscemi conveys his conviction somewhat less intensely than Drew Barrymore, who after once making a movie called "Guncrazy" now refuses to allow guns in the Charlie's Angels movies, which she produces. Ms. Barrymore is definitely on the list. 06:26PM «

Thursday, 11/06/03

Ira Glass was interviewed by the Onion this week:

... my feeling about the pledge drive is that I don't like things to be bad. I just didn't want to be boring on the radio. I couldn't face that, so we put a lot of work into trying not to make it boring, some years with more success than others. [...] At one point, we sicced one of our contributors, Jonathan Goldstein... We told him that $20 million was the total amount of money the public-radio stations needed to raise in the fall pledge drive. We sent him out cold-calling people, trying to get them to donate the $20 million and end the whole thing right there.

Onion: Did it work?

Glass: No. He was not able to raise any money.

I was reminded of this approach when dad forwarded a note today that Ray Kroc's late widow left NPR a record-smashing bequest of $200 million when she died last month of brain cancer. 11:28AM «

Tuesday, 11/04/03

I started to take Cocoa seriously when Project Builder introduced the ability to use external editors. I've been writing perl in BBEdit for years, and finally I could use the same lovely editor for Objective-C. You don't mess with a man's editor, after all, and Project Builder's editor is distinctly unlovable.

Unfortunately, PB supported external editors passive-aggressively. Single-clicking a file in PB displayed its contents (required to visually trace a path of execution), but PB's syntax-aware symbol checking went away. This meant the ability to command-click the text "NSRun" and bring up a popup menu including "NSRunCriticalAlertPanel", useful both for remembering long symbol names and for quickly jumping to the right point in an arbitrary header file, effectively didn't exist unless the user wanted to dig into the prefs and shut off external editing.

Symbol awareness would have to have been rejiggered slightly to work in an external editor, but the path of least resistance could have meant refraining from inserting the selected symbol into the text, but still displaying its name and providing a shortcut to the relevant header file. Instead, they yanked the feature. That's sloppy.

Rather than fix this apparent oversight, Xcode makes the situation much worse. I can't even view a source file in Xcode when an external editor is in use. That's beyond sloppy, and into the realm of the punitive. It suggests that external editors were a check-off item for the Project Builder team, and once the feature was hacked together the subject was closed.

Xcode is an IDE. It's supposed to maintain file organization, support building and debugging, and make sure the trains run on time. There's no reason it has to micromanage the editing process, and no reason it should, because it's not so good at it, offering lackadaisical find-and-replace, botched scriptability, no Glossary, and none of the almost pathological extensibility that BBEdit has honed over its last three major revisions. I haven't been using Xcode long enough to know if it crashes less than PB did, but PB's instability was sufficient reason by itself not to trust it with maintaining open files.

Xcode's IDE features (smart groups, clever presentation of errors and warnings, the new symbol browser, zero-link, predictive compilation, and Rendezvous-savvy builds) all range from impressive to terrific, but its editor is still a hick town compared to BBEdit's thriving metropolis. I dearly wish Xcode would play to its strengths, and cut its losses.

Update:: My distaste with Xcode led me to write the above before I fully appreciated the depths of its hostility to external editors: as Michael Tsai points out, not only will Xcode-with-BBEdit refuse to display the contents of a file, it won't even show context during a debugging session. This is akin to, say, asking a mechanic why your car makes a rattling noise but refusing to let him turn on the engine, or look under the hood.

My temporary workaround:

Xcode contextual menu snap

I turned off external editing, then reassigned .m and .h files to BBEdit in the Finder. I can thusly open an Xcode file in BBEdit taking only about three times as long as doubleclicking. This is easier, I think, than constantly dragging Xcode file icons to BBEdit's icon in my process dock.

I am sure I will get at least half a dozen emails from people suggesting that a multiple-button mouse/trackpad would make this workaround more palatable. They are all correct, notwithstanding that the problem wouldn't exist if Xcode, in this critical respect, didn't try so hard to suck so much. I'm going to get up from a long coding session and find myself covered in hickeys. 04:09PM «

I find marathon runners perplexing, so I have appreciated Maciej Ceglowski's account of his preparation for the NY marathon, written from a perspective that acknowledges the skepticism of non-runners. Now the marathon diary itself is up. An excerpt:

These are my people! I wait until I see a group of Slavic faces and yell "Czy sa tu jacys Polacy? (Any Poles here?)" The crowd cheers! I am intoxicated with my powers; I spend the next mile stirring up Green Point, and the rest of the race calling out Viva Mexico! after discovering that Mexican spectators go even more apeshit than my own countrymen. I try Viva Mexico! out on one group of brown faces and a mariachi band strikes up! Huge Mexican flags pop out of nowhere, there is mad cheering.

03:23PM «

Sunday, 11/02/03

My housemate suddenly moved out in early October. It proved slightly more difficult to replace him than to move out myself, which is analogous to saying it's easier to swim the ocean than to leap across it, and I wound up wasting the last three weeks in the unpleasantness of simultaneously entertaining the apartment-hunting meatmarket and packing up the majority of my worldly possessions for transfer to a new locale.

I had a place lined up around the 22nd, but the fellow moving out decided he was going to wait until the end of November, so to avoid making a quick decision and repeating this drama in six months, I wound up putting my stuff into a storage unit and moving in temporarily with the little woman. Today is the first day since October 7th that I haven't had to think about moving; tomorrow I will have to put myself back into it.

If I have been a poor correspondent over the last three weeks (and I've certainly been a poor blogger), this is why and I do beg your indulgence. The worst should be over with now, and if you have a line on a quality apartment in the Belltown/Queen Anne/Wallingford/Ballard/Capitol Hill areas, by all means please drop me a line. 08:05PM «

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