Comedy in Real Time

I caught Bill Maher’s last show last night. It was quite good; I especially liked the give and take between Joe Scarborough and Bill–Joe was in a particularly right-wing propaganda mode, but then tried to gain back “journalistic integrity” by agreeing with Bill on the issue of accountability for the Plame leak.

But Scarborough’s views on Reagan, on Bush being unpopular just due to “historical precedent,” and his conviction that the middle east will benefit from our intrusion in Iraq is just par for the right-wing echo chamber course.

I also caught Comedians of Comedy, the comedy central show with Zach G. that shows four comedians on the road joking around with each other. The show opened awesomely–with Zach resolutely telling a female comedian that “men can have fake orgasms too” in a crowded diner, and then proceeding to actually fake one.

Someone in the crowd of the diner screamed out, “I’ll have whatever he’s eating!” at the end.

The MDI Plague and Window Management Woes

There is a nice article on Wikipedia that discusses the multiple document interface, a horrible hack that took hold in the Windows world to deal with the fact that Microsoft’s default window manager was inadequate to handle multiple windows existing under the same application.

I think Mac OS/OS X handles the MDI plague best by simply grouping all application windows under a single application class, with a single menubar. But usability experts have debated whether that makes the most sense, since the menubar can change, for example, depending on what window is in focus. I think users get used to that, and it also allows the menubar to be as long as necessary while the window can remain as small as necessary. That’s a nice win.

However, given our current model on *nix/Windows of menubars for every reasonably complex window, and given the lack of the MDI hack in GTK+, we do have a mess for applications that need more than one window to operate properly, i.e. Glade and The Gimp.

What I’ve been doing is giving these programs their own workspace as a workaround. That seems quite greedy of them, and indeed it is. What’s more, however, is that it’s unusable. Even when I switch to my Glade workspace, I see 4 windows in my taskbar, each with the same icon and with the following names: “Glade: h2h”, “Properties: image95”, “Widget Tree”, “h2h”. The first three are actually part of the Glade window class, and if I enable Metacity’s taskbar grouping, I see them as part of the same group. The last one, however, is just my actual window, and so is separate.

This is good–but I only get some form of usability when I actually enable window grouping. The thing is, in Metacity you can’t enable window grouping on a per-application basis. It’s all, sometimes, or nothing. Sometimes means metacity only groups windows when I’m running out of space. Otherwise it’s either on or off.

The thing is, grouping isn’t just about space saving. It’s about being able to perform window manager operations on a group of windows, i.e minimize all and maximize all.

This doesn’t even solve all problems: alt+tab still shows me all 4 glade windows, which can be quite confusing since only one comes into focus at a time. But that’s a separate issue, separate debate.

Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of Metacity just “figuring out” when to group my windows together, it let me just press a hotkey “Group all X windows on this workspace”, where X is the application I’m currently in?

I’ve decided this feature is so valuable, I may just hack metacity to add it. It will at least provide a path for solving the MDI nonsense.

Update: check out these screenies of a “different” approach to MDI written in GTK. It’s called GTK ADI.

Refreshing: A World Where Labor Rights Trump Property Rights

Check out this excerpt from Majorie Kelley’s “Divine Right of Capital” (was a recommended read in my last outsourcing talk):

When stockholders might try to improve their negotiating position by organizing into mutual funds, corporations would threaten to cut off payments altogether. The companies would threaten to replace stockholder money with funds from overseas, willing to accept lower returns.

Of course overseas stockholders would have less power. For while free trade agreements would provide intricate protections for labor and environmental rights, they would offer capital no protections. “What does capital have to do with trade?” pundits might ask. “Trade is about goods and services and the people who create them, it’s not about capital.”

If stockholders staged protests at the World Labor Organization to suggest changes in this economic order, they would be accused of “tampering with the free market.”

That’s what we’re told today. But we don’t have to buy it. For we can begin to see how the sleight-of-hand of the “free market” serves as an apology for institutional arrangements. The truth is, free market ideology contains two separate assertions, worth unpacking.

First is the assertion that natural processes are self-regulating. Which is valid. We see it in nature, where the renewal of life in spring comes on its own. Where we mate for our own pleasure-and thus help in the rebirth of the world. In like manner, we serve the economic polity best by serving ourselves. The drive to make money gets us out of bed in the morning, and brings us to do our part in holding the world together. Our economic drives are part of the natural order and are trustworthy. We can take comfort in this assertion.

But free market ideology carries a second assertion: that corporate and trade governance structures embody the natural order. And this does not follow logically from the first. For it glosses over institutions of power. To call the stockholder-centered corporate structure “natural” is reminiscent of the ancient claim that the monarchy was the only “natural” way to structure government.

A truly natural free market would free all groups to compete equally, to pursue their own self-interest. Real free markets are not about enshrining the self-interest of one group alone in law. Privilege like that has no place in a market economy. Even an imaginary one.

Gas prices and fuel efficient cars

Why are cars in the United States still so damn fuel inefficient? On /. right now, an argument is going on over whether this might be because gas is so damn cheap in the USA. We see the gas prices fly up to over $2.50, and we get scared. But in Europe, gas prices have been over $6 US/gallon for awhile.

However, in Europe cars are much more fuel efficient (out of necessity). They are also more beautiful and more fun to drive, but that’s beside the point. The main thing is that they are much, much more fuel efficient.

So how can we get that here? Well, one way is to use the European model, because we know it works, and start taxing gasoline more. But I think that’s actually a bit unfair, because it punishes even those who make better purchasing decisions, such as Prius drivers.

I think that we should institute a graduated tax on cars based on their fuel efficiency ratings. Oh, you get below 15 mpg? That’s too bad–now you have to pay for a lot of gas, and your car will cost 20% more. Oh, but you really like your GMC Yukon 4WD? Well, be prepared to cough up an extra few thousand dollars for it, then. We’ll take the money and use it to research alternative fuel sources.

Meanwhile, those cars that are really fuel efficient should get some major price breaks. This already happens sometimes with the Prius. But I think the discounts should be much greater and that America should really open up the market for fuel efficient cars.

We’ve been living in this dream world where the environmental externalities and consequences of our guzzling of cheap oil has absolutely no impact on our lives. It does have an impact, and Americans just don’t see it. They need to be encouraged to buy fuel efficient cars by making the inefficient ones expensive and the efficient ones cheap. That’s really so obvious and easy, I don’t see why it hasn’t happened yet.

(Well, I do see why, but I just wish we weren’t so damn beholden to oil companies.)

Met Runar, Discussed Software

I met with Runar (he’ll have a blog soon, I swear) today, and we discussed open source, Python, and all related goodness over coffee and vegetarian lunch free-riding on the ‘sNice wireless network.

We spent about 3 hours there, just talking about Runar’s project, “sqlstring”, my ideas about inferred typing and static source code analysis in Python, Python’s niceness in general, user interface toolkits, AJAX being a big, nasty hack, and web application frameworks in Java and Python. Our discussion really degrenerated into praise of vim once we discovered that we were both happy users. Text editors really bring people together.

Runar kind of convinced me that trying to infer all the types of objects is very “unpythonic,” which I guess is true since it discourages the crazy stuff you can do with Python. Maybe the best thing to do is judiciously eval code, as was my original impulse for getting nice completion out of Python? Not sure.

Or maybe I should just give up the idea and accept the fact that vim plus ipython is just about as good as it gets. That seems like a cop-out, though.

Regardless, Runar seemed somewhat willing (only half-willing) perhaps to give a small talk for Free Coders on Python, I’ll see if I can convince him that it’ll be fun. I suppose I could give the talk myself, but I already do all the talkin’.

Fog of War: A Truly Thoughtful Movie

I only just tonight got to watch Fog of War, a documentary which interviews Robert S. McNamara and draws from his past experiences lessons about the nature of foreign policy and wars.

One of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking movies I’ve seen about a person who advised presidents who had the power to wipe out entire countries with a single military order, and who years later realized that nuclear warfare and human fallibility can only mean something horrible for this society of ours.

You must see this movie; after you do, you’ll also see why I’m not so quick to buy the line about the necessity of Hiroshima/Nagasaki.

User interfaces with GTK+ and Glade

I’ve been hacking up a user interface for my motion capture/computer vision project called “Hand2Hand,” found here.

At first I was gonna do the user interface in Python and have the image processing done in C, but then I decided that the user interface was simple enough that I should just give GTK+ in “pure C” form a try. Of course, I used Glade, which drastically reduces the amount of annoying code for things like Vboxes and Hboxes and Containers you have to write. In fact, using Glade, interface design becomes somewhat straightforward in C. Which is weird, because C seems like it was never built for user interface design, but the g_signal system makes it easy to catch events that occur in your program, and GTK+ is high enough abstracted that you can do pretty well. I don’t know how well GTK+ scales for large programs (i.e. many dialogs, many lists, etc.)–in that case, I think I’d definitely pick a higher level language.

Looking forward to how this application may turn out. OpenCV looks like a pretty awesome library.

Annotated and Hyperlinked Notes on Professor Dewar’s talk on Software Copyrights, Patents and Free Software

Below are a few notes I took at Professor Dewar’s talk the day before yesterday. I also annotated them a bit with relevant hyperlinks.

When I find a copy of Dewar’s slides posted online, I’ll link to those as well.

  • Libertarian thought: property rights are central. If you regard ideas as property, Ayn Rand’s position isn’t surprising.
  • Jefferson: private letter to Isaac McPherson 1813. “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”
  • Jefferson faction won on this issue, Intellectual Property Clause.
  • Copyright extension case, now life + 90 years.
  • England: history of copyright, fundamental moral right?
  • Software: special case of copyright infringement and trade secret violation simultaneously!
  • Computer Associates vs. Altai (source vs. object code copyrights, interesting read here).
  • Borland copying a macro language (interesting, if old, article by an MIT student), Supreme Court.
  • Derived works: fair use provisions. But fair use goes to juries, and it’s very vague.
  • Software will never fall into public domain, due to perpetual derived works.
  • Patent an invention, but not an idea, but in practice you can patent either. Europe turned down this law.
  • “Obvious” patents. Juries can’t really judge how obvious they are.
  • You can copyright a non-obvious combination of obvious ideas. Intermittent wind shield wipers.
  • Does a program express inventions and ideas? Is software is distinct from physical stuff?
  • Big risk for free software–patents can ask for damages. And patent is secret until it’s granted (this may not be true, I can’t really tell for sure: “To protect your privacy, we suggest that you delete such information from any documentation you send the office. Alternatively, you may request that the submissions be kept out of the public file, if appropriate. (See MPEP Sections 724. 02 to 724.06.) Please remember that all patent application files are published and made available to the public 18 months from the filing date, unless a non-publication request is made in the application. Additionally, all patented application files will become available to the public upon the grant of the patent.”).
  • Open Source business model can work–selling support and services, while keeping code GPLed.

George Carlin goes morbid

George Carlin’s last comedy routine was a little disappointing. He has become horribly bitter and depressed. He had a couple of good lines in it:

On feminism, “hey ladies, men are about 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women are. So, if you want that whole equality thing, you better start killing yourselves in large numbers.”

On necrophelia, “the great thing about necrophelia is that you don’t have to bring her the flowers. They’re usually already there.”

But he also had a 20-minute-long tirade about a 24-hour “suicide” network that was really difficult to watch due to its being more depressing than funny. And he used the phrase, “this depraved, twisted culture of ours” a bit too much. It is depraved and twisted, but after awhile you get the point.

I like his old stuff so much that I have to just let this “slide.” Like when he opened the show I saw in Burlington with:

“You ever notice that women who are against abortion are women you’d never want to fuck in the first place?”

and later on,

“Ah, women. Y’know, I never had a ’10’. But I once had five ‘2”s.”

He is a comic genius. But it’s hard to last as long as he has.