Buying Online

July 30, 2006

The laptop quest exposes weaknesses in online vendors and suggests real-world retailers will be with us forever.

Manufacturer websites on my shortlist all have good spec sheets, but don’t answer important questions:
– How hot does it get on your lap?
– How annoying is the fan and how often does it cut in?
– How bright is the screen?
– How quickly does it boot up?
– Are keyboard and trackpoint ergonomics good?
– What’s the battery life like a) now, with screen on full brightness and b) after a year?
– Does it stop you viewing multiregion DVDs?

You look to online user reviews to answer these type questions – but few new products have them. And when they do, they’re either obviously written by their product manager (Fantastic!), or a competitor (Terrible!), or by people enraged by a probably rare quality defect.

That’s in part because if the product works, you don’t use precious time telling the world.

But if there’s a problem with the product, and you’re either public spirited or vengeful, you may post – so where are these negative posts? My experience with CNet & Amazon is that’s because negative posts can be suppressed or delayed, probably for legal reasons.

So online reviews are great for books, but I wouldn’t trust them for anything else.

That’s why people continue to buy big-ticket items from real retailers.


Why Are Muslim Fighters Cowards?

July 30, 2006

Islamic fighters hide behind innocents, a practice we consider cowardly. I suspect it’s all of a piece with Islam’s predilection for rape. The West grew from a high trust religion, Christianity, which emphasizes protection of the weak, whereas Islam is low trust, so treats the weak as fair game.

Western use of human shields is remarkable enough to invite special comment. Here a French WW2 fighter ace described his agonizing decision to proceed with a rocket attack on Wehrmacht tanks the Germans had surrounded by Dutch women and kids.

But Islamic hostage taking is SOP – from the Mullah’s 1981 US embassy hostages, thorough Saddam Hussein’s Brit civilian hostages in the Gulf War, to the present day:

The man suspected in a fatal shooting rampage hid behind a potted plant in a Jewish charity’s foyer and forced his way through a security door by holding a gun to a 13-year-old girl’s head, the police chief said Saturday.

Once inside, police say, Naveed Afzal Haq opened fire with two semiautomatic pistols.

And Hezbollah hiding behind Lebanese civilians:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed deep regret on Sunday for the harm inflicted on civilians in Qana earlier when at least 57 civilians – 37 of who were children – were killed as the IAF fired missiles at a building in the southern Lebanese town.

Olmert said that the area was a focal point for the firing of Katyusha rockets on Kiryat Shmona and Afula. He said that from the outset of the conflict, “hundreds of rockets have been fired from the Qana area.”

Not to mention Hamas hiding behind a captured Israeli soldier and Arab kids.

I don’t think this behavior arises because it’s the only route available to the powerless – these killers clearly aren’t powerless, they have billions of dollars from Iran and Syria. And would an oppressed Westerner think it OK to hide behind innocents? I don’t think so.

In fact differing attitudes to the weak lie at the core of the clash of our civilizations – Muslims think our protection of the weak is a weakness, which they can exploit. Their religion focuses on physical strength – men can beat their wives, kids can be raped and hanged, and so on.

But in our societies you don’t have to be physically strong to contribute to our prosperity – 13-year-old girls can grow up be a nuclear physicists, or even soldiers. So our nations are rich and theirs are poor.

And that makes the Israelis that died trying to avoid civilian casualties not just local heroes, but heroes of our civilization.