Polling Data

Tracking polls fascinate me and Delan McCullagh’s got a nice feature at Wired on Keeping Track of Tracking Polls. I knew for instance that most polling companies aside from Rasmussen will work for candidates, but I didn’t realize Gallup pushes undecided voters to choose between candidates.

Based on McCullagh’s analysis, the most accurate tracking data seems to be at Rasmussen’s Portrait of America website, and it’s very bad news for Al Gore and Ralph Nader. Gore because he’s losing by 7 points — which isn’t that big given the margin of error but translates into a huge loss in the electoral college. Nader because he’s well below the 5 percent threshold the Green Party needs to get federal matching funds in 2004.

I Want to Download Software

The first time I paid for software online and downloaded the program to my hard drive rather than go to a store or wait for it to arrive via UPS, I thought it was an interesting novelty. Today I pretty much consider it a necessity.

I ran across a program today that I really wanted and was all set to pony up $60 for, only to realize I’d have to pay an additional shipping and handling fee and wait several days. Yuck. I hate waiting. I hate waiting so much that I left the company’s web site without placing an order.

There is some software that I need so badly I’ll put up with waiting for it to arrive by snail mail (or, as with some games, the file size is simply too large to accomodate downloading), but if it’s something I want but could probably live without, having to wait for UPS or whatever is typically a deal breaker.

Single Women and In Vitro Fertilization

Back in August I wrote about an Australia court’s ruling that overturned laws in some Australian states banning single women from having in vitro fertilization (|Australia Prime Minister Wants to Ban In Vitro Fertlization for Single Women|). In that case a law passed by the state of Victoria was overturned on the grounds that it violated Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act which, among other things, makes it illegal to discriminate based on marital status.

Last week, the Australian Supreme Court announced it would hear an appeal on behalf of Australia’s Catholic bishops to have that court ruling overturned, and the Australian prime minister is apparently continuing his efforts to have the sex discrimination act amended in such a way as to make the ban on in vitro fertilization for single women pass muster.

The case here is complicated somewhat because apparently the Australian government subsidizes such infertility treatments through its health care system. The state shouldn’t discriminate between single and married women as far preventing in vitro fertilization, but on the other hand it shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing such treatment for either single or married women.

Some commentators such as Leslie Cannold (Woman’s Quest for Solo Parenthood Ignites Debate) are being a bit hypocritical when they portray any opposition as aimed at undercutting women’s independence since apparently the woman in this case is more than happy to be dependent on the state to provide her for her fertilization treatments.

Women certainly should have access to in vitro fertilization, but definitely not a right for taxpayers to pick up the costs of the expensive procedure.


Woman’s Quest for Solo Parenthood Ignites Debate. Leslie Cannold, WomensENews.Org, October 25, 2000.

Richard Dawkins Letter to Prince Charles

Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, recently wrote an open letter to Prince Charles regarding Charles’ opposition to genetically modified food. The letter says in part,

On the other hand, we must beware of a very common misunderstanding of Darwinism. Tennyson was writing before Darwin but he got it right. Nature really is red in tooth and claw. Much as we might like to believe otherwise, natural selection, working within each species, does not favour long-term stewardship. It favours short-term gain. Loggers, whalers, and other profiteers who squander the future for present greed, are only doing what all wild creatures have done for three billion years.

The human brain, probably uniquely in the whole of evolutionary history, can see across the valley and can plot a course away from extinction and towards distant uplands. Long-term planning–and hence the very possibility of stewardship–is something utterly new on the planet, even alien. It exists only in human brains. The future is a new invention in evolution. It is precious. And fragile. We must use all our scientific artifice to protect it.

Pretty sound advice, except that in his book Weaving the Rainbow, Dawkins has pretty clear animal rights sympathies and repeats the animal rights canard about speciesism being the last acceptable form of bigotry. Of course the rights view is completely incompatible with the stewardship view of nature, so I’m wondering just where Dawkins comes down on this debate (and after reading Weaving the Rainbow it is clear he doesn’t always invest the sort of time and energy in other issues as he does into evolutionary biology issues).


Salon.Com has look at how the WWJD? phenomenon became big business and how the person who started the craze is trying to trademark the phrase in order to stop some of the tackier products featuring the phrase.

How tacky? A couple weeks ago my wife and I were buying groceries for my grandmother. In the checkout line they were actually selling WWJD? hanging air fresheners for cars. Yuck.

Spam for the Rest of Us

Ugh. CNNFn has a story about what John Sculley is doing these days. The short answer — he’s turned into a vulture capitalist fronting for Gizmoz.

Gizmoz, it turns out, is one of a small group of companies with a vision — spam for the broadband age. That’s right folks, now rather than just getting those “Girls, girls, girls” and “Need some easy money?” spam in plaintext or HTML, Sculley and company want to send you full motion audio and video.

Here’s own CNNFn summarizes the plans of one of Gizmoz’s competitors, RadicalMail,

At the heart of the Radical approach is a small applet written in the Java programming language and delivered via e-mail. When a user clicks on the mail icon to open the message, the action pings the Radical computer servers to deliver a video file, Flash animation, an audio clip like a pop song — whatever the client wants to send. This content comes to life most often within the e-mail window.

You just got DSL and now the spammers want to make it unusable by clogging up your Internet connection with their crappy ads. This is progress?

Of course the spammers see it differently,

Such technology holds the promise of giving companies unprecedented access to information about their customers — and raises the threat of unprecedented privacy intrusions. The marketer can tell, for instance, when clients open their e-mail, whether they stay with the streaming media file, and whether they follow through on a transaction.

As a result, the competitors are careful to emphasize that these e-mails are not unwanted “spam” spewed at random across the Internet. Instead, they say they rely on “opt-in” mailing lists and “permission-based” marketing programs, in which consumers request the information they send.

Yeah right. Most opt-in marketing schemes are bogus because, a) they default to opting you in, and b) they make it too difficult to get out.

Sometime in the past couple years I installed Quicktime on one of my computers and now regularly get updates from Apple about its upcoming products. Similarly, several years ago I signed up to receive some updates via email from Wired owned sites, and could not for the life of me figure out how to unsubscribe later. Finally the stupid e-mail stopped when Wired’s internet properties changed hands and the part I’d been subscribed to got dropped.

One of the people quoted in the CNNFn story is still using yesterday’s buzzwords, extolling the virtue of e-mail as push media. Except when it comes to spam like this it’s more like pushing and shoving.