5.31.2007 | When crashing can be a pleasant surprise

My PowerBook G4 has served me faithfully for nearly two years now, and for the first time I had reason to bring it into the Apple Store for a potentially perplexing problem – when I selected a certain font in Fireworks MX 2004, the whole program came crashing down, and sometimes it brought down other applications with it. One incident caused a systemwide crash.

But even as I was experiencing these problems, I was still impressed with some of the recovery features of Mac OS X. For one, the systemwide crash I mentioned simply closed all my programs and logged me out instead of giving me a blue screen of death – no restart necessary. But the biggest surprise came after I took my computer in for repair.

I was told I was going to have to reinstall the operating system. Instantly I had painful flashbacks of sitting in front of a screen for hours watching a progress indicator while backing up important files before having to go through the laborious process of changing all my settings in every application. But this is Mac – they have something better.

By selecting an option during the reinstall process, Mac OS saved all my settings and applications exactly the way they were. After the process was complete, everything was preserved so perfectly that even my Firefox browser remembered the page I had been looking at when I last used it. I encountered only two minor glitches – I lost my user account picture, and I had to reinstall Flip4Mac, a program that lets me see Windows Media in QuickTime on Mac OS. But other than that, the process was painless and flawless. And most importantly, my problem was fixed.

So now though I can't say my Mac hasn't crashed, I can say that when it does, it does so more gracefully than Windows, and with a lot less time and effort lost. Kudos to the designers at Apple, and I look forward to their next release of Mac OS (10.5 "Leopard") in the fall.

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5.16.2007 | A republic, if you can keep it

With the revelation yesterday that the president may have intervened directly to keep a domestic surveillance program going despite threats of resignation from two top administration officials – then-Attorney General John Ashcroft of the Justice Department and director Robert Mueller of the FBI – we now have a basis for impeachment, a sentiment echoed by constitutional scholar John Turley in the video below:

It's not just the high officials invovled; it's the fact that the president knew what he was doing when he ordered the program to continue, and that the law involved is so clear.

This isn't the first time that the executive branch has tried to make an end run around the law. We last saw this in the Iran-Contra scandal, when the defense then that allowed Reagan off the hook was ignorance. Supposedly, he had no knowledge of the illegal actions that were taking place, a strategy called "plausible deniability" (a far cry from "The buck stops here"). The testimony offered by the Bush administration's own former deputy attorney general yesterday dashes even that defense to bits.

Unlike other critics of the Bush administration (and some Republicans in the Clinton era), I don't take impeachment lightly, and I don't believe it should be used as a political tool. As much as I disagreed with the president's decision to go to war in Iraq, and as much as his administration bungled the occupation afterwards, I don't believe that being quick on the trigger or the monumental mismanagement of a war alone makes for an impeachable offense.

I do believe, though, that if Congress allows a program that exists outside the law to continue to exist without consequences for the administration and its officials, we have a template for future presidents to follow with impunity. I do not consider this a partisan issue; I consider it a patriotic issue. The rule of law is what distinguishes a democracy from a dictatorship, a republic from the reign of royalty. Our very system of government is at stake.

Benjamin Franklin, when asked what form of government the founders had come up with at the end of the constitutional convention, said, "A republic – if you can keep it." These are trying times, and our republican form of government needs defending now more than ever.

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5.15.2007 | Frontline: Spying on the Home Front

How far is the government going in spying on its own citizens? That's the question posed by Frontline's latest insightful documentary on our government's inner workings. But the bigger question should be: how far is the government allowed to go, constitutionally speaking? The issue centers over two possible readings of the Fourth Amendment, which states rather simply:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Under one reading (mine included), the government cannot violate a person's privacy without getting a warrant first. But a new, more interpretive reading advanced by the Bush administration and its supporters says that any search can be conducted without a warrant as long as it's reasonable. Not only that, but a former Bush administration lawyer argued that the president's constitutional duties as commander-in-chief can override acts of Congress (i.e. the law).

This insidious shift in how our governing document is interpreted is not only risking our privacy. It seems a minor consideration compared to the even greater – and graver – risk to our fundamental system of checks and balances. Instead of going to Congress to authorize a new surveillance system after September 11 (and remember, this was when Congress and the president were of the same political party), the president decided he could change the status quo at will. If we were at war it would be one thing, but Congress only authorized the use of force when we went into Afghanistan after 9/11. Legally speaking, we are not in a state of war.

These are uncharted legal territories. Not only are we fighting a different kind of enemy, but we have unprecedented potential to use technology to pry into various aspects of people's lives. What is privacy, if it exists, and to what degree can the government violate it, how, and when? The answer to these questions will determine our future as a constitutional republic. Without appropriate safeguards against abuse, our rights are in danger.

Whatever is decided, precedent is already being written, and court decisions may end up defining the answers where Congress has remained silent. What's missing from all this is the voice of the people, a vigorous public debate about the balance between liberty and safety we will strike in a new age of terror. It's up to us to help change that by writing letters to newspapers and our members of Congress.

Benjamin Franklin said that those who would give up essential liberty for even a little temporary safety deserve neither. Let's hope that in the coming days, weeks and years that our country can live up to the better part of those words.

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5.11.2007 | Gonzo v. Gonzo

What happens when you take the House and Senate testimony of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales from this month and last and play them side-by-side? TV magic, that's what happens. (From Countdown with Keith Olbermann – 5/10/07)

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5.01.2007 | Delta's new design

Delta unveiled a new logo and Web site after emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy Monday, a design that aims at enhancing Delta's new international stance.

Over the past two years the airline has cut jobs and cut domestic routes, which are facing intense competition from low-fare airlines, in favor of more lucrative international destinations, which have yet to face the same competitive pressure.

The new logo, with a more sophisticated typeface and colors, seems to be aimed at gaining that type of clientèle. United has pursued a similar approach with its "It's time to fly" campaign that uses its classic Rhapsody in Blue theme in conjunction with artistic animations.

But what stood out to me wasn't just the sparse design of Delta's new livery (which incidentally saves Delta money because it uses less paint), but the bad puns on the site's home page and the press release announcing their emergence and rebranding. "'Brand' new era," "chapter of success." Who works for these guys?

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Retro cool

Did you know that you could telephone anywhere in the world for just $12 for the first 3 minutes? Apparently it's the next best thing to being there (ad in National Geographic c.1960s).

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