Paradox of Choice

This article on OSNews elicited a response. Here it is:

Horrible to get these issues confused. A standard says: “there’s one way to do X because without a single way of doing X, the benefits of system Y would be useless or unavailable to most users and/or developers.” A lack of choice says: “There’s only one way to do X… just cause.”

So, yes, HTML, CSS, these are standards. Are they suboptimal? Maybe. But if there were 65 different markup languages/style sheet specifications out there, the web would be useless. So a standard was necessary.

That’s why good standards tend to last a long time. Other ones tend to get phased out. For example, HTML is a standard, but XHTML (some might argue) is a better standard, which may be phasing HTML out (in the long term). ASCII was a standard for a long time. UTF-8/Unicode is now considered a better standard, and is phasing ASCII out.

There’s no paradox in saying, “I want to have the choice to use emacs, vim, or gedit, but I also want there to be only one encoding for text files so that I can send those files to my friends or cut and paste their content into other programs.” Again, if there were no text encoding standard, then computer systems as a whole would more or less break down as there would be no application interoperability.

So please be clear on these definitions! I don’t think UNIX developers want to “have it both ways.” I think they are being completely sane about this. Edit: Think about it: what better way to increase the power of choice than to enforce good standards? We want choice in applications, but standards among them!

Truly absurd: Assault Weapons Ban Lifted

A few days ago, the assault weapons ban was lifted after its 10-year term set by President Clinton in 1994. The ban enjoys 71% support across the country, and is supported by many peace groups and even police chiefs and police organizations. Nonetheless, the congress, being controlled by Republicans, refused to scheduled a vote for renewal.

Now, I know some people say the ban didn’t achieve much because automatic weapons are still available. This site explains that quite clearly. But that doesn’t mean we should just forget about the ban. It means we should write a better one.

It’s true that criminals who want to use assault rifles to do bad things would find a way to get them anyway, but that’s only the organized, rich criminal. The kind of criminal I’m worried about is the kind who gets laid off from his job and realizes life isn’t worth living, so he goes and buys an AK-47, works into his office building and kills 30 people in 10 minutes.

Furthermore, for those among us who tout the second amendment, let’s remember a couple of things. First of all, that amendment was written with the intention that the civilians who owned weapons needed to do so because this placed a check on the government that said that the people might rise up and cause a revolution if the government became corrupt. Now, I may be making a generalization here, but I think most of the people who own assault weapons don’t want to engage in a popular uprising against this or any other American government. I find that most gun-owners tend to be very [faux] “patriotic”.

But my second point was that even if you wanted to rise up against the government, you couldn’t. Our founding fathers didn’t anticipate tanks, Apache helicopters, not to mention crowd control techniques like tear gas. Even if you could organize a small militia with M-16s and the whole nine, you would be squashed by an enormous military might.

I think it is noble to think that you have the right to overthrow your government, but I think the only way to do that nowadays is by shifting the popular sentiment so that even those in the military don’t want to protect government interests. And you can do that without assault weapons.

But the saddest thing is how little press I think this is getting. I hope Kerry makes it a campaign issue. And I hope Bush is stupid enough to let the ban sit there lifted, proving that he is in the pockets of big campaign contributors like the NRA.

Trusted computing

Some scary stuff going on in the discussions at Slashdot today over Microsoft’s “Trusted Computing” initiative.

quote (Two Slashdot posters):

They [Microsoft] have already made the deals w/ Phoenix to make a MSFT certified BIOS that will enable them to not boot �insecure� OSs [read: Linux]. They are in talks to get the RIAA to support a format to make CDs unreadable in machines other than those running Windows (I presume this would include insecure versions of Windows as well). They are working to get the MPAA to agree to allow them to distribute movie materials via WMP which will likely lead to DVDs �protected� with MSFT products…

Sure, you can run all the free software in the world on your OpenBIOS computer. You will not be able to watch media, listen to media, surf the net, etc, because everything will require a “trusted” computer.

Yeah, it’s paranoid, yeah it’s probably [it seems] unlikely, but this is where we are headed whether we like it or not.


The “Tyranny of Time”

I’ve been meaning to update that last post with more analysis of Bush’s speech, but the tyranny of time crept up upon me. So much work, so quickly!

In more fun news, two days ago I spent two hours in Union Square listening to various [somewhat deranged] speakers talk about “the police state” and how “communism is the solution.” It got me angry how little these speakers focused on (what I think are) the most important issues surrounding not just this election, but this country’s future: the continual rise in power of corporations.

Anyway, I eventually was given the megaphone (“Andrew, what has come over you?”) and gave my best impromptu speech on why corporate power is ruling this country, and more broadly, the world, and how distorted neoliberal (or libertarian) economic policy is, in terms of the current brand of pro-corporate globalization being a true “race to the bottom.”

Got quite a few cheers out of the crowd, which felt good. Not really good in the egocentric “I can rile up a crowd” sense. Good in the sense that some people actually care that corporations are, in many senses, running their lives.

Then I watched some Lou Dobbs last night that confirmed a lot of what I spoke about, at least confirmed it in my and Lou Dobbs’ world. But that’s good enough for me.

Doing the journalist’s job for him

Well, I just watched the Bush speech. Definitely full of spin, but then again, which politician’s speech isn’t? But my problem isn’t really with the spin; I’m equipped to cut through it. What I’m worried about is the content of the speech. This is something journalists rarely talk about. Post-speech commentary from MSNBC was the same asslicking you’d expect from a delegate on the RNC floor. The “journalists” rated the speech’s performance, not its content.

If I wanted to read performance reviews, I’d go to the A&E section of my newspaper for the latest blockbusters. I don’t care whether George W. Bush was “stiff” when he delivered his speech, or whether he fumbled his lines. I don’t care whether it was eloquent, or whether it was impressive for someone who “let’s face it, is no Winston Churchill.” Yes, there are moments when oration matters. I do love the poetic nature of Shakespeare’s Saint Crispen’s Day speech in Henry V, and I do get a tingle down my spine when I read the line “…We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”, but we are talking about a platform and set of policies for our country, not some morale-lifting speech to troops before they enter what seems to be a hopeless battle.

For more analysis of the speech, read on….

Mbox de-duper patched

I wrote a quick patch for the mbox-dedup.pl script I found online awhile ago. Basically, the author wrote a script that takes an mbox and creates a new mbox with all duplicate messages removed. I have to deal with duplicate e-mails constantly due to some weird incompatibility between Evolution and my Argosoft Mail Server (Windows), which I’ll have to figure out some day soon.

This script is just a temporary solution. I modified it so it now creates three files: $f.bak, a backup of your old mbox; $f, your new, dupe-free mailbox; and $f.dup, which is a mailbox which ONLY contains messages detected as duplicate. You can probably get rid of f.bak and keep f.dup around in case there were any mistakes in duplicate detection (which is what I’m doing). How annoying through. Anyway, if this bothers you, download the script, but use at your own risk.

Good article on programmer productivity

Read it here. It encourages programmers taking breaks to think about the bigger issues and reduce code bloat.

I understand now why programmers end up so conflicted. They have to work to meet deadlines, but often problems could be solved much more elegantly if there were extra time.

If I ever did run a software development company, one of the rules would be that everyone runs Workrave, a great free tool that forces you to take breaks from your computer every once in awhile. Not only does this reduce your chance of RSI/Carpal Tunnel, but it also provides a way for you to sit back and think about a problem in the abstract, rather than code your way through it.

I know deadlines are a reality. But in a perfect world, programming projects would be done “when they’re done.”

It actually crashed

Man, Linux actually crashed. My little Workrave window was about to come up telling me to take a break, and before it could be drawn by GTK, the whole computer hard-locked. That teaches me to run a development kernel (2.6.6-rc2) when there is a newer, stable release out.

Luckily I didn’t lose anything since I constantly save my work. But hard-locks are exactly why I switched away from Windows, so this was disheartening.

Once August rolls around I’ll upgrade my kernel to something more stable. crying

Unfahrenheit 9/11?

So, Christopher Hitchens has written this response to Fahrenheit 9/11. I just finished reading it.

(Silly side note: I bookmarked this link before I saw the movie, so I that I could read it afterwards. I really didn’t understand the title at all, until Olivia informed me that it’s meant to be pronounced “Unfair – enheit 9/11.” I felt silly, but I guess it comes from the fact that I pronounce it FAR-EN-HEIT, rather than FAIR-E-HEIT. Apparently, I’m not so insane, since my pronounciation is Dictionary.com’s recomendation, as well. They recomend pronouncing the “a” like “father” or “pat.” Not that this means anything in particular, I just think an editor could have come up with a better title!)

So, for the most part, Hitchens’ article does present some of the problems with Mike’s film. We all know (all of us who have seen it) that it was a bit dramatized, a bit over the top, and a bit of propaganda. It was meant to be an emotional rollercoaster: to get us angry and sad, riled up for election time. In this sense, the film was effective. But I can see why you might find it unfair. Mike shows us every clip he can find of how the Iraq war is horrible, of how Bush is a horrible president, etc. without ever throwing in clips that speak to the opposite conclusion. I guess the problem with Mike’s film is that it is not “balanced.” It is simply not the way I would have set out to direct a similar documentary. But, in all honesty, Hitchens’ article is similarly flawed…