We have a new tradition at my house.

This year, we (well, ok, I) decided to order 1776 from Netflix in anticipation of the Fourth of July (I should have tweaked the queue to make it arrive a little closer to the Fourth).

It’s a musical about the buildup to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I think it tried hard to be historically accurate in many respects. William Daniels does a great job as John Adams. And the songs are quite good. Some are funny (I especially like the one where they choose who will actually write the Declaration) and some are poignant.

All in all, I think it’s a great way to remember what the Fourth of July celebration is about, and I think we’ll be doing it again each year (until we get sick of it).

There’s still time for you to see it before the Fourth. I recommend it.

Google Is Too Slow

Google has a well-earned reputation for returning high-quality search results quickly.

But, it seems like they may not have been fast enough between their announcement and general delivery of their GMail email service. The big draw was that they would boost the maximum capacity to 1 GB of space, while others were only offering 2-4 MB of space for free accounts.

Unfortunately for Google, it seems that they have given the competition time to react before the GMail beta test is complete. Yahoo already announced an increase to 100MB which will be sufficient to keep most of their customers from making the effort to switch to a new system.

And, now, it seems that Microsoft is announcing that the Hotmail capacity will be increased to 250MB for free accounts starting this July, and 2GB for premium accounts. I suspect that the vast majority of Hotmail users will continue to stay with Hotmail rather than go through the trouble of switching their addresses, and learning a new system.

GMail has some cool features and a nice, clean, interface. But Hotmail has some advantageous features too. But, most importantly, they have an established base of users who need to have a good reason to switch.

I think that Google underestimated Microsoft’s agility. They’re not the first to make that mistake, and probably won’t be the last.

GMail will have to try harder to add sufficient value with their service to lure customers away. I look forward to their attempts, because the competition will be good for all of us.

In fact, it already has been good for us.

Testing 1 2 3

One of my excuses for not posting very frequently lately is that I had been studying for a Microsoft certification exam that I took on Thursday (I passed!). I had earned an MCSE about six years ago (back when the current SQL Server version was 6.5, and Windows Server was NT 4.0) but it has since expired, and I figured that it was time to renew my certification to prove to potential employers that I have current knowledge and that my brain still works.

So, I’ve been thinking about tests and testing recently.

I had a junior high school geometry teacher who was otherwise very forgettable, but I remember that one day she sympathized with some students’ complaints about certain tests not reflecting their knowledge and she said that: “All a test can measure is how well you took that test.”

I liked that.

The Microsoft test was of the type where a fairly elaborate scenario would be described, a problem situation posed, and then a set of potential solutions offered. The test taker was supposed to choose the “best” answer (or sometimes all applicable answers). Often there was an unambiguously best choice (in my opinion), but at other times there were several reasonable choices and I thought it was at least controversial to call one of them “best”. I found that I was often trying to psycho-analyze the test writer; looking for clues in the scenario description for what he might have wanted to emphasize. Now, psycho-analyzing test writers from their questions might be a useful
skill, but it was not a skill that the test purported to measure.

Another problem I have with testing is that the tests are often closed-book, time pressured experiences. People with good memories and who are fast readers and decision-makers do better than others. But, in the real world (especially in modern technical fields) it’s unrealistic to expect people to remember all the facts they need or to come to a conclusion in a matter of seconds. The skill you should really be looking for is the ability to solve a problem with all of the resources available in a typical work environment, and in a reasonable length of time (not a matter of seconds). But, such testing would be more difficult to control. So, we end up measuring an approximation of the desired skills because measuring the actually desired skills is too
difficult. (Which reminds me of an I Love Lucy episode in which Lucy claimed to be looking for an item that she lost in another room “Because the light’s better here.”)

I don’t have a real solution to any of this.

I understand that it can be important to get an idea of a person’s skills. And, also, that it’s helpful for the individual to learn about which areas he could focus on to improve. And, imperfect testing is better for these things than no information at all.

But, I guess I hope that people are aware that test scores do not necessarily accurately reflect a person’s knowledge and capabilities. And, I hope that we can come up with better ways of judging these things in the future.

Unfairenheit 9/11

I wasn’t very happy with Christopher Hitchens’ treatment of Bob Hope’s humorousness, or Ronald Reagan’s intelligence. But, he seems to be at the top of his game today when focusing on Michael Moore and his new Fahrenheit 9/11 film.

It’s possible that the difference is in my own prejudices for Hope and Reagan and against Moore. But, I really think that the difference is in the quality and correctness of Hitchens’ analysis.

In other words, go read this.

UPDATE: If anybody is still confused about whether this film is an honest criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of 9/11 and the War on Terror, or a one-sided attempt to deceive people, they should please read this article by Dave Kopel.


Orrin Hatch is a bad man.

Read this and weep.

Basically, he’s introducing a bill in the Senate that will punish those who “induce” the violation of copyrighted material. The bill seems to be aimed at peer-to-peer networks. It could, however, be interpreted to cover lots of other things (like VCRs, TiVo, who knows what else???).

This might be constitutional, but it doesn’t pass the “ARE YOU FUCKING INSANE???” test.

There’s nothing like stifling creativity by threatening people who might introduce innovative technology but are afraid that they might be punished by bad, vague, law.

And, doing all this under the pretense of protecting children just rubs salt in the wound.


Once More, With Thinking

A funny thing happened to me as I watched Groundhog Day last night.

I noticed something new.

I think that I may have seen the movie ten times by now. I really like it, and I highly recommend it to anybody who hasn’t seen it (or who hasn’t seen it in a while).

Last night I decided that a moment in the movie, that I had dismissed as irrelevant before, is probably significant. The point is when Bill Murray’s character gets hit in the head with a shovel. I now think that this triggered the events that make up most of the movie (perhaps his exposure to the cold on the highway had an effect as well).

This is interesting to me because it points out how even though we seem to be watching the same movie over again, we really aren’t. Each time we are more familiar with the movie and are able to focus on different aspects; like anticipating great lines/scenes, looking for continuity issues, thinking more deeply about how certain aspects relate to other things that come up later.

I’ve heard many parents complaining about how annoying it is to them that their small children like to watch videos over and over again. The thing that they should realize is that it’s a different experience every time, because their knowledge of it (and other things) is different every time.

Kerry Campaign Helps Economy

Great News!

Even though John Kerry is probably upset by the strong signs of economic recovery, his campaign is (unwittingly) doing its share to help.

It seems to me that its success in separating lots of stupid people from $100 million within three months is bound to improve the economy.

I suspect that those who get the money from advertising revenue will invest it much more wisely than people who contributed it to the Kerry campaign would have.

Reagan’s Intelligence

Since we’re nearing the end of the official day to remember Ronald Reagan, I thought I’d add one more point that lots of people still seem to have missed.

Many people think that Reagan was successful because he used his acting skills to ingratiate himself with the American people, but he was really just a stupid man (an “amiable dunce”) mouthing other people’s words and ideas.

Those people are wrong.

If you doubt me, please read this Reason Magazine interview of Reagan from 1975. I still recall reading it at the library in 1980, and being surprised myself at how thoughtful Reagan was.

You should also read the Reagan speeches from here (scroll down), articularly this famous speech from 1964 which he wrote and delivered for Barry Goldwater’s failed campaign.

And, if this isn’t enough, you could check out the book described and reviewed here.

Ronald Reagan was a genuine intellectual. Most of the people who don’t know that by now are the people who don’t want to.

I’ve missed his messages for a while now. I’m glad we still have his words from the past, and the improvements in the world he left behind.