Quick Roundup 488

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Apple's Mistake(s)

Paul Graham asks some interesting questions about the development process for iPhone applications, and offers answers that Apple or the software developers it is alienating could use.

Apparently Apple's attitude is that developers should be more careful when they submit a new version to the App Store. They would say that. But powerful as they are, they're not powerful enough to turn back the evolution of technology. Programmers don't use launch-fast-and-iterate out of laziness. They use it because it yields the best results. By obstructing that process, Apple is making them do bad work, and programmers hate that as much as Apple would.

How would Apple like it if when they discovered a serious bug in OS X, instead of releasing a software update immediately, they had to submit their code to an intermediary who sat on it for a month and then rejected it because it contained an icon they didn't like?

By breaking software development, Apple gets the opposite of what they intended: the version of an app currently available in the App Store tends to be an old and buggy one.
I don't work in software, but I always enjoy reading Paul Graham. He makes what he's thinking about accessible to anyone, and I think anyone can use what he learns as he writes his essays. Here, his immediate subject is software development, but he is really talking about are the importance of goodwill and of checking one's assumptions against reality -- as he urges Apple to with respect to the software development process.

Wallpaper Galore!

Via LifeHacker, I learned that National Geographic has made available for download a large number of stunning images suitable for computer wallpaper.

Don't Trust that Cloud

I already am too leery about entrusting important information to the cloud, but I was still surprised to read the following (HT: Linux Today).
[A]t the Google Docs Help Forum, some perplexed cloud computing users spent the month of November unsuccessfully trying to figure out why they've been zinged for inappropriate content. Among the items deemed inappropriate and unshareable include notes on Henry David Thoreau ('the published version of this item cannot be shared until a Google review finds that the content is appropriate'), homework assignments, high school yearbook plans, wishlists, documents containing botanical names for plants, a list of websites for an ecommerce class, and a list of companies that rent motorcycles in Canada.
If it absolutely has to be there, I make my own local backups.

Superstition Kills

A story out of Africa shows that no arbitrary notion is too ridiculous not to have adherents who take it seriously enough to commit murder:
The surge in the use of albino body parts as good luck charms is a result of "a kind of marketing exercise by witch doctors," the International Federation for the Red Cross and Crescent societies said.

The report says the market for albino parts exists mainly in Tanzania, where a complete set of body parts -- including all limbs, genitals, ears, tongue and nose -- can sell for $75,000. Wealthy buyers use the parts as talismans to bring them wealth and good fortune.
Thousands of albinos have gone into hiding as a result of this nonsense.

-- CAV


Mike said...

On the "albino body parts" subject...

I'm curious if you or any of your readers have any thoughts about the concept of body parts as a commodity.

In society today, there is a concept that I will use the Catholic term for, for lack of a better: the "sanctity of the body." To a liberty-minded individual, the more salient meaning would appear to be the "inviolacy" of the body, or something inherent to the individual's right to live free of harm by physical force/injury. But that doesn't quite capture the "sanctity" element. For whatever reason, in (nearly) every culture on Earth, there is a sacredness to the body spanning the spectrum from mystical to profane. The purchase and sale of body parts is generally a black-market exercise here and now in 2009.

I'm writing a novel that explores a culture where the body is just another commodity, and as such I realized my own perspective on this is very limited. (To serve the plot, in the world of the story, any part of the body except the brain can be artificially replaced, but the synthetics are never quite as good/strong/robust/resilient as an original organic part, so there are markets in both implants and transplants.)

Even here and now in the world today, suppose a poor person was willing to sell his leg to a rich amputee for a substantial payoff... how would you consider that? Assume there was no overt coercion -- obviously the financial pressures of everyday life consititute some level of background duress, otherwise none of us would want for anything -- but otherwise the deal is on the up-and-up, functionally speaking.

I'm interested in Objectivist or other perspectives, and it seems the albino parts "luck charm" story hits wide of the mark, but is on the same playing field.

Gus Van Horn said...


The basic Objectivist position, as I understand it, is that since your life belongs to you, so does your body: If you want to sell an organ, you should be perfectly free to do so.

See also this article on the subject by Craig Biddle, "Altruism: The Morality of Suffering and Death (Exhibit 347R: Organ Donation)," which considers the widespread idea that people should be forbidden from selling organs.

The essential difference between such a trade in organs and what is going on in Africa has nothing to do with ideas like "inviolacy of the body" -- which, given the track record of the Catholic Church, is probably just a sneaky way of saying, "Your body is really God's property. Hands off."

Rather, people are having their lives (and body parts) taken from them without their consent in Africa, which is plainly not the same thing as someone deciding that they will chance living the remainder of their lives with one kidney.


mtnrunner2 said...

>Don't Trust that Cloud

Sounds like user's rights (or at least, their capabilities and convenience) are being obscured by the clouds.

I guess that's what you give up in exchange for a free service. Personally I don't think it's anyone's business to "approve" my documents, so I'd switch to private hosting if that happened to me.

Gus Van Horn said...

"I don't think it's anyone's business to 'approve' my documents, ..."

Well, in the sense that the storage space is Google's property, it is, of course, but I'm completely with you that, as a customer, I find that unacceptable.

I already use Google Documents only rarely, and now, I guess I'll "not use" them even more often!

Mike said...

Oh, don't let me give you the wrong impression -- what's happening to the Albinos is wholly abhorrent. My concern was with a parallel hypothesis: What if the owner of the body parts IS willing to deal?

Your answer is along the lines of what I was thinking, but it seems almost too simple in the light of the clear societal resistance that exists to the concept. Simplicity is a virtue in science, but people don't always think objectively.

Gus Van Horn said...


I think there are two things going on. First, many people ARE, basically, superstitious concerning their bodies. (And, so long as that's mainly the case, good luck legalizing the organ trade.)

Second, it IS one's own body. It's what makes one alive and it is very much part of one's sense of self, for lack of a better word. I'd be shocked (not to mention, very inconvenienced) if, say, I donated an eye to enable a loved one to see, and found myself partially blind and scarred as a result. I'd be VERY uncomfortable about donating a kidney.

For most people, deeply-held superstition combines with legitimate concerns for one's welfare and psychological concerns to make organ donation hard to contemplate and organ sales abhorrent to contemplate.

That's my stab at it, anyway.