Archive for August, 2007

My Rant on “By Way of Example”, a Legal Drafting Pet Peeve

August 9th, 2007

Someone pointed me to this interesting column on the inner thought process of developers- the tension between building an application to fail fast or fail slowly. Here’s an analogue from the legal world.

One type of language I have seen a bunch of that drives me crazy is “by way of example”. Sometimes certain ideas are hard to capture precisely and people fall back on “by way of example” to help add clarity, such as “by way of example, during a leap year Februay 29 will not be considered in accounting for . . .”I don’t like this. My goal in drafting any document is to capture the meaning simply and clearly. That’s not to say I succeed all the time and occasionally ideas are so complex that a good example can paint the picture that replaces 1,000 words. It’s a tool to use sparingly, though- not a shortcut or a substitute for clear drafting. If I find myself reaching for the “example” too often, I must not be putting enough effort into capturing the ideas properly.

Leaving out the example with inexact language may be like failing quickly- though the consequences may be litigation rather than restarting the program.  Undesirable either way.  Adding the example may let the agreement fail slowly- getting the language right and using examples sparingly where really necessary let the agreement be flexible enough to accommodate changes in user circumstances.

Ford Supporting a US Gas Tax or Creating a Smoke Screen to Dump CAFE Standards?

August 9th, 2007

Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mullaly has opined that US CAFE standards are preventing car companies from addressing global warming and energy security concerns. Mullaly apparently hedged when asked straight-on if he supported a European-style gas tax that could cause gasoline prices to rise dramatically, but it sounds like that’s what he meant.

“I’ve never seen a market distorting policy like CAFE,” Mulally said.

Mullaly goes on to say that CAFE forces carmakers to produce small cars in order to meet the regulations, but consumers want big ones. What this really seems to mean is that Mullaly thinks gas prices are too low, so there is not enough incentive to get people out of big, full-inefficient cars. Replacing CAFE with a gas tax could make pump prices rise, which would make people think harder about how much of their paycheck they want to hand over at the gas station.  He offered Europe’s high (and highly taxed) gas prices as a leading factor in the relatively smaller car sizes in Europe.

It is an interesting argument: carmakers want to do the “right thing” by the enviroment, but consumers won’t let them.  I suspect Mullaly is at least partially correct.  Higher fuel costs might help swing the balance toward smaller cars.

At the same time, Mullaly’s reasoning falls well short of solid.   The success of the Prius belies the argument that consumers just aren’t interested in efficiency.  Maybe the small cars Ford makes just aren’t sexy enough.  Europe is also so different from the US that it’s tough to make an apples-to-apples comparison.  Are high fuel costs the main driver there or do Europe’s narrow streets have something to do with it as well?

More to the point, if Mullaly is saying CAFE doesn’t work because low gas prices cause a mismatch between consumer demand and carmaker requirements, wouldn’t the gas tax help that problem? Do we still need to scrap CAFE as well?

Cyber-Twitter Squatting on Bill Clinton’s Name

August 8th, 2007

I recently tuned in to Barack Obama and John Edwards’ Twitter feeds, which offer somewhat interesting, informal glimpses of the candidates. Shortly after, I discovered what is really a fake Bill Clinton Twitter feed. Someone reserved the BillClinton user name and posts asinine garbage that might be malicious if it actually had any relevance to anything.

Still, this got me thinking about “user name squatting”. It is pretty well established that someone with a “famous” name can oust a squatter from a domain name, but I wonder if they same is true of user names on social networks? If I went around and registered “RudyGiuliani” (to pick a famous and unusual name), would he have rights against me? My gut tells me that the larger the platform, the more likely name-squatting would be deemed impactful on the famous person (e.g. Mr. Giuliani). I also suspect that the nature of the platform would be relevant as well- fake Rudy Giuliani on MySpace is potentially more damaging to the candidate than fake Rudy Giuliani on Digg.

I’m going to poke around a little on this one to see if anyone has actually tried to bring “user name squatting” actions. I’ll update if I find anything interesting.

Kaboodle Gets an Exit

August 8th, 2007

Congratulations to the group at Kaboodle, who just announced their acquisition by Hearst Media. I was privileged to work with them at their inception- it’s a cliche, but you would be hard pressed to find a nicer group of people. They worked hard to build Kaboodle into a solid shopping bookmark destination, and I know Hearst has big plans for the future as well. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

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ProfileBuilder Misses the Point of Online Presence Management

August 1st, 2007

I have written previously about my wish for a social network dashboard that will let me manage my presence on multiple platforms. It is admittedly a pipe dream since no service I am aware of publishes an API for account management information- and probably never will for fear of privacy issues.

Still, I was intrigued to see ProfileBuilder’s launch this weekend and I checked it out. Unfortunately it looks as though they weren’t really ready to launch at all. There’s no explanation of what the site actually does and the text is rife with typos. More to the point, it doesn’t work whatsoever with Firefox on my Mac. Maybe the traffic they picked up from the TechCrunch crowd will stay with them until they get the site working properly, but it sure seems like a shaky start- the downside of the “Launch Early and Often” ethos.

As far as I can tell, the site aggregates content from whatever feeds I add to my profile. Aggregation is useful- Lijit is a nice tool that offers cross-platform searches of my content. It would be really great if I could aggregate (or maybe even just search) comments I have made across the internet in one location, but I don’t see the value of piling up all my content in yet one more dead end. If I can’t post from it and I can’t administer my other various presences with it, then I definitely don’t need another place to send people. Lijit is useful because it works inside my existing networks.

I am scaling back my wish. For now, all I want is a single point from which I can send out social network “friends” invitations. I list which networks I want to invite someone to, then they can check the boxes to accept one or all in one fell swoop. Should be simple, right?

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