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A Voice in the Dark

In AD 2101 war was beginning. What happen? Someone set up us the bomb! We get signal. What? Main screen turn on. It's you. How are you gentlemen!! All your base are belong to us!! You are on the way to destruction. What you say? You have no chance to survive. Make your time. HA HA HA HA.... Take off every 'Zig' You know what you doing! Move 'Zig' For great justice.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Server move

This blog is moving to http://www.darklock.com/blog/. All the posts and comments have been moved over as of this post date. There will be no new posts here, and comments have been disabled.

Join me if you're paying any attention, but if you're not, then... well, don't, I guess. But since you're not paying attention, I'll make a few rude gestures and shout some profanity on my way out. ;)

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Dave Rosenberg has some thoughts on how we don't have enough open source thinkers.

I think the problem is more that we don't have enough thinkers who support open source.

That is a rather significant difference.

I like to think that I'm an open source thinker. I think about open source a lot, and I've come to a basic conclusion: open source only works reliably under a set of circumstances that no longer exist. One of the most important circumstances in that set is the technology-centric nature of open source users.

Open source works when the people who use it also support and develop it. Until recent years, this was naturally the case because the only people on the internet in the first place were at least semi-competent developers. Chances were good that any random person you spoke to on the internet knew a fair amount of the C programming language and was reasonably comfortable with at least one Unix shell. So chances were pretty good that if some random person asked for help with application X, that same random person would at some point make a useful addition to the code of application X. Since we all want useful additions to our applications, it was in our best interest to help that random person.

Today, chances are pretty good that the person asking for help is not a programmer, will never be a programmer, and has absolutely no interest in ever helping anyone else. These people register for support forums, ask their questions, and check back until they get answers. Once they have the answers, they don't even say "thanks" - they just run off. They take what they want and contribute nothing. Even in the most indirect sense, you generally find - when you've done some digging - that this person isn't just contributing nothing to your project, he's contributing nothing to any project, and he's not even doing anything interesting.

It is no longer in our best interest to help this random person. Open source development is very much an economy of attention and expertise; we give our attention and expertise to the questioner, in order to receive his attention now and his expertise in the future. When we will receive neither, and we know this, our attention and expertise are frequently withheld simply because they have a nonzero value to us.

We've chaffed the community. All of our valuable, thoughtful, and useful members are now concealed in a vast cloud of the meaningless and worthless and pointless. That doesn't make the valuable and thoughtful and useful members any less so, but it does dilute how valuable and thoughtful and useful the community is as a whole. And when the community is effectively garbage, so is open source. Without a solid, reliable community, open source just plain doesn't work. Our community has gone rapidly downhill, and shows no signs of slowing or stopping its descent.

What's worse, nobody is the least bit interested in doing anything about this. The general attitude of the community is that things will just work, the same way they always have. But they don't. They haven't been working for a long time. And until we get off our collective arses and fix it, things are only going to deteriorate.

Eventually, Larry Wall or Tim O'Reilly will say "the open source community is failing" - and people will listen. But nobody listens to people like me, and I'm sure I'm not the only person out here seeing this. It isn't that there are no open source thinkers, it is that the open source community doesn't listen to the thinkers. They only listen to the cheerleaders. Whenever I air my thoughts on Slashdot or some similar site, I'm dismissed as another "open source doomsday" prophet. But what I'm saying is not "we are all doomed", it's "we must fix this".

It can be fixed.

We just have to want to fix it.

Morality is a Luxury

We tend to forget that.

People will generally treat one another with respect and consideration when they feel that their needs are being met. As people become less and less satisfied with what they have, they display progressively less regard for others, until they essentially regress to a feral state and take the "every man for himself" route.

Most areas of this country are such that nobody ever gets there. The level of desperation in America is low. Even when we say people are starving in America, they're not starving like they are in Africa - they simply don't get enough quality whole-food calories every day. Their protein intake is too low. They eat stale Twinkies for dinner instead of vegetable soup. They frequently have enough food to fill their bellies, just not enough of the *right* foods to fuel their bodies and brains.

So they're malnourished, and they're certainly hungry, and over the long run they will live a shorter lifespan. But they've *eaten* today. It's not like someone in Africa who has two handfuls of rice to feed his family of four, and decides his children should eat all of it while he goes hungry.
Americans don't tend to be faced with choices like that. When they are, they don't tend to make the same one. A lot of American parents would come home with one handful of rice, having stashed the other one where their "greedy" children won't find it, and eat their "fair" share of that in addition to their hidden stash. A lot of others would be angry if given a few handfuls of rice instead of cash or a McDonald's Super Value Meal, and hurl it away in disgust while loudly insulting whoever provided it.

We have a very cushy and comfortable life in America, and it shocks the hell out of us when things like Katrina's looters remind us why William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" is considered a classic: because that really does happen. Take innocent, friendly, God-fearing people and put them in fear for their lives... they become savages. Willingly. They LIKE it. It's so much easier and more natural than being "civilised".

Human beings are, after all, fundamentally animals. We have the same urges and drives and priorities once you strip away the artificial veneer of civilisation. We've manufactured civilisation, not because it is our nature, but because it is useful to us. Civilisation allows us to have things like large bakeries that turn out bread and a trucking industry to deliver it around the nation and a trade economy where anyone can walk into any store and buy it. This is useful. But when you take that away, most people today have no freaking clue what to do.

What passes for disaster preparedness in this country is pathetic. Duct tape on your windows and electrical outlets is not going to save you from chemical weapons and airborne pathogens. The purpose of those advisories is to keep the sheep busy with stupid crap like taping up their house so they don't panic, which keeps them out of the way while smarter people do things that actually work.

This is not nefarious. The smarter people do feel some responsibility for those sheep, and will exert significant effort to keep them safe, too. Because unlike the sheep, who are completely lost without hot running water and reliable electricity, these people have their needs met - they can eat and drink and find shelter, because they know how to do these things. They have room in their lives for the luxury of morality, even under dire circumstances.

What we all need to ask ourselves is, when do our abilities run out? When are we stretched so thin and forced into such a difficult position that we stop caring about our fellow human beings?

Is that good enough?

For most of us, it's not, and a little basic education in solid wilderness survival techniques will stretch it an enormous amount. The standard work on survival is the Army surplus survival manual FM 21-76, which you should be able to find at any decent surplus store (or, at the very least, the proprietor will probably know where to get it). You can also view it online at http://www.outdoors-magazine.com/s_article.php?id_article=212... but unless you plan to memorise large parts of it, you'll want hardcopy readily available when something happens, and since that something tends to knock out electricity... a bookmark in your browser isn't very useful.

Some people prefer the British SAS manual, but I don't know much about that one. I'm a fan of Bradford Angier's books, which - while they are rather basic - assume little or nothing about access to manufactured materials. Many of them were written in the sixties, so there's a strong back-to-nature feel to them... which, no matter what you may think of it from a sociopolitical standpoint, is a really good thing when you start talking about how to stay alive in the wilderness.

What people always seem to forget is that luxuries are something you need room in your life to indulge. If you can't meet your basic needs of food, water, and shelter... you don't have any room for luxuries. And yet, when you come right down to it, most of us CAN'T meet those needs without the sort of industrialised infrastructure that natural disasters disrupt. Our lives are, in essence, composed entirely of varying levels of luxury.

I wouldn't advise anyone to quit his job and run off to join some survivalist militia in Montana, but I *would* advise a little basic education and risk assessment. Get a basic level of competence in survival, not because society is inevitably going to collapse or something, but just because sometimes bad things happen... and the fewer people we have to babysit, the faster we can fix whatever went wrong in the first place.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The dumbass Linux community

"Hey, I need to install package X. It depends on library Y. Package Z also depends on library Y, but it wants an older version. I know the newer version is compatible, but the filename is different. How should I tell package Z to look at the newer version? Is a symlink sufficient?"

"You can't do that. If you don't have the exact same version, it won't work."

Yes it does, provided the new version is properly backward-compatible. A symlink is indeed sufficient, but RPM will not be fooled and will complain until you force it to install without dependency checking. Package Z, however, will run just fine.

It truly amazes me that we run into this kind of thing so often in the Linux community, and so rarely in the Windows community. The Windows community isn't supposed to outperform the Linux community. Open source is better, right? It has better contributors, better users, better support structures... so why are all our questions apparently getting answered by retarded monkeys?

Honestly, I'd like to know. As a Microsoft partner, we get great support from the Windows community. Why can't we just get competent support from the Linux community?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Why I Blame Clinton

I'm a software developer. I used to work in the defense industry. One of my projects was for the intelligence community. It was running just fine when Bill Clinton first took office. Then, for some reason, the people who actually knew how software development worked started disappearing. One by one, the expert developers were replaced by entry-level developers. The project managers were replaced by managers from elsewhere. And all of them had one major thing in common.

They were scary people.

Project managers for the CIA are just like project managers from everywhere else. They aren't particularly different. But these new people were different. They were the kind of quiet, determined people that could and would get the job done by any means necessary.

They were the kind of people that you would want unofficially handling matters of national security from deep in enemy territory.

Now, I don't know for certain, and if I did I probably couldn't tell you. But here's my theory. Bill Clinton was in the process of closing a number of military bases, because he thought we didn't need them. I think he was shutting down field operations in the intelligence community, too. I think the best of those involved in those operations were being relocated to quiet office jobs where they could be yanked back into the field at a moment's notice when someone finally said "hey, we DO need those operations". So I think they laid off all the people they had to, so they could make room in the budget to replace them with these field personnel. (Face it, you just can't lay off the field ops. They're scary, as I believe I've already mentioned.)

On the macabre side, more than one of them commented that they were only there temporarily "until something blows up". And in retrospect I think that's exactly what they were waiting for; something like 9/11, to pound into the President's head that we really did need those operations. Awfully black humor, but that's pretty common in worst-case communities like intel and spec-ops.

Then, a couple years back, this project got cancelled - flushing over two hundred billion dollars of taxpayer money down the proverbial toilet. I think they yanked the scary people out of the project, replaced them with real project managers and software developers, and found the project could no longer be salvaged.

To cinch the matter, the prime contractor on this particular project was Halliburton. So if you connect the dots, Halliburton is probably getting preferential treatment because they took care of our displaced field personnel when we needed it. We owe them. And while Washington may not always make sense, when you connect enough of the dots, it tends to keep what promises it can. (I've also been told that Halliburton is the only company that COULD bid on the "unfairly-awarded" contract they've got; no other company in the nation has the capacity in the first place. But that's just hearsay.)

So I believe Clinton not only trashed our intelligence position overseas, but also made 9/11 or something like it inevitable. In the process, he cost a lot of people their jobs, because all those project managers and developers had to get laid off to make room for the former field personnel. And by forcing the project to run under the guidance of the wrong people, he cost the American taxpayers about a quarter of a TRILLION dollars.

And I think we ought to string the bastard up for treason. But that's just me.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


A concept for your consideration.

Saddam Hussein ruled through fear. He had many enemies, whom he controlled through the display of military power and the will to use it. It would be to Saddam's benefit, were his military might significantly diminished, to conceal this fact from his enemies.

Thus, if Saddam wanted his enemies to think he had stockpiled WMDs and an active nuclear weapons program, he would want to seed the intelligence community with convincing evidence that he had these things.

He might send people to seek weapons-grade uranium, even though he had no actual intention of acquiring it. He might drive suspicious-looking tanker trucks around the country with a staff of scientists, so it would appear that he had an active chemical weapons program. He might destroy truckloads of materials for the manufacture of chemical weapons, so it would appear that those chemical weapons were in fact produced and stockpiled somewhere. He might even brag that his stockpiles were so well hidden they could never be found.

Since there weren't any such stockpiles, they would in fact never be found. There would be significant and convincing evidence that Saddam was actively producing chemical weapons, and seeking the final ingredient to produce nuclear weapons, but nobody would be able to find the actual stockpiles or any operational nuclear program.

However, by turning away the UN weapons inspectors, Hussein makes an extremely convincing argument that there is something they might find. He did so as a calculated risk, believing that the US would not act without the approval of the UN, and in the end he was wrong.

So it's possible that a more appropriate slogan for the left and right alike would be "HUSSEIN lied, people died". Kim Jong Il has real nuclear capability, but we are not threatened because we know where it is and we can keep an eye on it. Iran has real nuclear capability, but we are not threatened because we know where it is and we can keep an eye on it. Iraq seemed to have real nuclear capability... enough to need the uranium... but we didn't know where it was, so we couldn't keep an eye on it.

This was unacceptable, so we stomped all over the country and removed the offending leader. I think that was the right decision, because the alternative was unacceptable: to leave a plausible nuclear threat of unknown scale operating in an unknown location under the direction of a maniac with a known grudge against us. Sure, that unknown scale happened to be zero, but would you bet a few million American lives on it?

Consider the odds we're looking at here. There was roughly an 80% certainty that Hussein had or was planning a nuclear program, and let's say there's a 1% chance that he would use it. The amount of uranium he sought was sufficient to cause two to three million casualties. (Yes, I am pulling these numbers out of my ass. If you don't like them, plug in your own numbers and do the math.) So there's a 0.8% chance of 2.5 million casualties, or a net expected result of 20,000 casualties. If we attacked Iraq, we could expect to lose a total of roughly 10,000 people, which made attacking Iraq half the risk to American lives that doing nothing would have been.

Yes, it's a little crass to boil human life down to numbers, but how else do you make this decision? If one human life is of infinite value, then any loss of life is unacceptable, and it is no more acceptable for one man to die than for one million men to die. So we replace the worth of a human life with a single variable x in the domain of natural numbers, determine algebraically that x < 2x, and thus conclude that one man can die to save two.

So attacking Iraq was the Right Thing, and anything Bush needed to say or do to convince the largely ignorant American public and their representatives in Congress that it was a Good Idea... well, it was the Right Thing. So even if Bush did lie, he did it to get the Right Thing done, and I will stand by him on that.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Greg Costikyan is brilliant.

The Escapist has printed Death to the Games Industry, Part I by Greg Costikyan.

Just go read it. If you play games, or have any ambitions of writing games, go read the damn thing. Every last word. That pretty much goes for anything Greg writes; he's brilliant, as I've already said. He wrote Paranoia and Toon. Great stuff.

Part II is going to be just as good. I'll link to it when it pops up.

Genetic research

The Australian reports the creation of regenerating mice.

Okay, all you people who complain about genetic research? Shut up. This is amazing. Imagine the possibilities: if you got a bad case of athlete's foot, and you couldn't get rid of it, you could just cut off your feet. The new ones wouldn't have athlete's foot. Lung cancer? Cut out the left one, and once it grows back, cut out the right. Anything with a "spare" can be readily removed simply by taking out one at a time.

How about this: hospitals hire people with very rare tissue types and provide regeneration therapy in return for having these people on call when an emergency transplant needs to be made. (I'm assuming we won't be able to give this sort of treatment to everyone.) No more waiting lists. Just put your tissue type and desired organ into the system, which tells you what hospital has someone with that tissue type and that organ on the payroll. You fly out, get the surgery, and fly back.

The implications are astounding. I'm hoping we have this available to human beings within my lifetime. It would really rock.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Linux World Just Doesn't Get It

Linux Watch has written a parody article of sorts about Five reasons NOT to use Linux.

Three of the four reasons are really the same reason: "Linux is too complicated", "Linux is a pain to set up", and "Linux isn't secure". Let me illustrate.

When I installed Fedora Core 3, it installed a process that opened ports on my computer and sat there waiting for connections. It was some protocol I never use; I don't remember what it was. Might have been RIP or ARP or RPC. In any case, something was listening on my machine's ports, and I didn't ask for it or want it. That's insecure.

In order to even know I had the program, I had to portscan my system - which I do as a matter of course, because it's just what you do with a new system. You check to see whether it's running what you need, no more, no less. That's a pain to set up.

In order to get rid of it, I had to edit my SysV init configuration. This is hardly deep magic, but for a new user, it's incomprehensible. That's too complicated.

IOW, it's too complicated because it's a pain to set up because it's insecure. So just say it's too complicated and be done with it.

The insecurity of Linux comes from a different place than the insecurity of Windows. Windows is insecure because programmers have made mistakes, which happens in any system. Linux is insecure because it doesn't stop you from doing stupid things, and then provides every user with an endless stream of opportunities to do something stupid.

Furthermore, Linux does stupid things all by itself. When I say "don't install package X" but the installer happily ignores me and installs it anyway, it takes me extra time and effort to remove that package, and I don't get to spend that time and effort on something else. Most of the time I spend on this isn't actually removing the package, which only takes a few minutes, but figuring out WTF was going on and eventually realising that when I said "don't do this" the installer thought "I'm smarter than you" and did it anyway without telling me.

Example? Sure. When I think "there is a conflict between package X and package Y, so I don't want package X because I'm installing package Y later"... I actually mean it. When I go to install package Y and get a conflict, my troubleshooting starts with "it can't be a conflict with package X because I didn't install package X", since the installer in its infinite wisdom didn't think I needed to know it was ignoring my request and installing whatever the hell it felt like installing. So I go through everything else that might possibly have gone wrong, and I don't find anything because it's actually the conflict with package X... which can't happen.

Then I go to some public forum, tearing my hair out over this weird problem, and someone says "you have package X installed" and I say "no I don't". Eventually, I discover that I do in fact have package X installed, and it has not only cost me a lot of time and effort trying to fix it... it has made me look like an idiot in public. That's about as expensive as you can get.

And now, I can't trust anything I told the installer. I have to go through each and every thing I said to install, and make sure it really did get installed. Then I have to go searching around to make sure I don't have any of the stuff I *don't* want installed. How many hours do you suppose that will take? For every Linux installation I ever make, from now until I finally have some confidence that Linux doesn't install things behind my back?

That's really expensive. Not in terms of cash, which I actually seem to have in pretty good supply most of the time, but in terms of time and energy and reputation. I don't have enough of ANY of those.

Microsoft, on the other hand wants my money. I understand that. And what do you know, I can spare some of it. So I happily hand Microsoft my money, and dance around the projector at Microsoft's free seminars for Windows users, and over the years Microsoft have started to notice that I actually seem to genuinely like them. Well, not me personally, but just the general type of business owners who attend Microsoft seminars. As a result, we've been given a number of very favorable options to get boatloads of Microsoft software for very little money. It's the new Microsoft Partner Program. You can have the same options; all it takes is filling out a few forms and signing up for the Action Pack Subscription.

So take a break from the politics. Look at what Microsoft is *today*, and ask yourself who's more likely to be a solid and stable foundation for your business. I certainly wouldn't be building mine on Linux; I tried that for a few years, and damn near went bankrupt.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Applebee's, Alcohol, and Africa

I went to Applebee's with my wife and son tonight, and we had THE WORST SERVICE EVER. I tipped him a NICKEL. Why a nickel? Because if I didn't tip at all, he might just think I forgot. So I tip a nickel, just so he knows that I'm not a cheap bastard - I'm simply VERY DISSATISFIED.

Our waiter was very very busy with a table full of Russians. I hope they tipped well, because by my count he visited their table five times while visiting ours twice, and once was because we told the girl sweeping the floor to go and get him.

The girl sweeping the floor, Emily, is going to Kenya for four months. I gushed all over the place about how I had been just outside Nairobi for about a month, and it literally changed my life. She was very appreciative, because everyone she knows has been telling her to just stay home and don't bother and why would she ever want to do such a thing.

Well, once you've walked on African soil and looked out across the plains, you will know exactly why. And until you've done that, you know JACK SHIT. There is magic in Africa, and you can't find that magic anywhere else. There is certainly other magic. I know there is magic in the Mesopotamian region, and in the rain forests of South America, and in the cities of Eastern Europe, because I have been there; I am certain that similar magic is found in Australia and Antarctica, because they are the sorts of places that it could be found. I may go there someday, and until I do, I will not know the special magic of those places. But each of these types of magic is distinct, it is unique, it is individual, and unless you have known such magic it simply cannot be described. Once you *have* known such magic, it doesn't really *need* to be described. So if you need to know why, just shut up. We can't explain it to you. Go there, and you will know.

But in any case, I wanted to complain a little on the alcoholic side of things. When I order a top shelf Long Island iced tea with no ice, one should observe from the "top shelf" portion of the order that I actually give a shit how my drinks taste. A bartender should therefore NEVER EVER EVER assume that in order to fill the glass, he should add MORE SWEET AND SOUR. This completely screws up the ratio and makes the drink taste like CRAP. Leave the drink short. If you don't know how much mixer you use, make it with ice and then strain off the ice.

I took the opportunity today to taste a few "premium" beers coming out of the big breweries. I got some Budweiser Select, Michelob Lager, and Black Hook Porter. (The last is a local Washington brewery, Red Hook, although it's one of the larger ones.)

Budweiser Select tastes like Budweiser, only it's good. I know, that's a bit of a smartass answer, but it's true. It has the same distinct bite and fizz and flavor, but it has a cleaner finish and seems crisper and more mature somehow.

Michelob Lager is very much like Budweiser Select, but has a slightly more robust flavor. It has a kind of grainy and nutty undertone, which is not unpleasant. What really surprised me was the limited edition aluminum bottle, which somehow makes the beer seem better. It hefts better in the hand, feels colder on your lips, it's just an altogether better experience than a glass bottle or aluminum can. I heartily recommend extending that limitation on the aluminum bottle, because it ROCKS.

Black Hook Porter starts out much better than either of the previous beers, but then gets a nasty aftertaste that really sort of kicks you in the shorts. My wife, who hates beer, tried all three. On the first two, she happily remarked "yep, that's beer, tastes like shit". On the Black Hook, she choked and made a face. It's a nasty-tasting beer.

Of course, Guinness is THE beer, so everything else can piss off. But new stuff deserves a try here and there. I also tried Mike's Hard Berry (reasonably good), Zima XXX Black Cherry (alcoholic fruit punch, what a great idea), and Smirnoff Triple Black with Lime (pretty good, slightly more distinctly-lime taste than the prior vaguely-citrus flavor). I *like* babysitter drinks, which are after all so-called because they're good to keep around for when you want to nail the fifteen-year-old babysitter. They're *designed* to be liked. And if you think that makes me less of a man, who cares? There are plenty of women who appreciate a man that can kick back with a few Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers, and their opinions matter a lot more than some hairy sweaty guy.

Although that reminds me: lately, a lot of people have been arguing with me about various homosexual urges and behaviors. They frequently remind me that I am not myself gay, so I cannot possibly understand. But let me toss this one out there.

Jude Law is uncircumcised.

I'm not telling you how I know that, but trust me: I understand.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Left-leaning professors

Jim Lindgren has posted about intellectual diversity at Volokh Conspiracy. I was about to comment on the thread, but decided to blog instead.

I think whenever you have a group of people that is defined primarily by the choices they have made and the priorities they have assigned, you're going to observe a certain homogeneity of ideology, and the group will inevitably be further homogenised by proximity and intellectual cross-pollination.

(Holy crap, what a sentence.)

So no matter whom you hire, they're eventually going to be remarkably similar in political ideology, and if they're the sort of people who have strong opinions... like, say, professors... you end up with a significant bias. When these are people who value knowledge over material wealth, that bias is almost certainly to the left, and vice-versa.

So a left-leaning faculty is pretty much par for the course at any university, much as a right-leaning board is par for the course at any corporation.

In other news, I won the Outside The Beltway caption contest again. This is becoming a habit. It's probably what I'm doing to procrastinate about resurrecting Crap Comix.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

It's About Time!

Paul Sheehan has written In Praise of Female Sexuality.

Damn straight. Now let's get started on the legal and social support structures for the men who want to have sex with them. Like lowering the age of consent and doing away with the various laws against adultery, polygamy, and sodomy. Sexual harassment law also needs some hefty reform, so we can actually tell women we want to have sex with them instead of being forced to conceal it until they happen to approach us.

Penises want to be free.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Bob, we'll miss you.

Bob Moog died today.

No halfway serious musician should be unaffected by this. It's every bit as significant and landscape-altering as the deaths of Hendrix and Lennon.

How far the technician has come.

Blog linkage on right

I don't read a lot of other blogs.

I don't use an RSS reader, either.

Through the links on the right sidebar, I visit the blogs listed there roughly in that order on a roughly daily basis. Usually two or three times a day.

Why? I don't know. It's easier than finding a good RSS reader. There are a lot of them, but I've found that most suck.

So if you're wondering what else I read, that's pretty much it.

Woohoo! I got a comment

Someone named "e" posted a comment, and it was actually a positive comment. I'm so excited. It's like having your first fan. It's literally the only evidence I have that anybody reads this stuff.

There are a lot of ways I could generate more traffic faster on this blog, but I've chosen not to use them. I think the basic idea of the blog community is to just say what you think, and your audience will just gradually arrive as they start to resonate with what you're thinking.

I'm always tempted by Outside the Beltway and their daily Beltway Traffic Jam. It would be really easy to just toss a link up there, and get a little exposure. OTB is a pretty heavily trafficked blog.

What stops me from doing that is the general idea that it's sort of... well, cheating. It's not in any way immoral or unethical, but it just seems like I should let search results and word of mouth do the work. I do have two links out there, according to The Truth Laid Bear, tracked in the last week of July and first week of August respectively. They're probably links tracked from comments I made on other blogs or on Slashdot. TTLB won't show them to me. (When I click on "show all links", I get a blank white screen.)

I like the organic idea. If I just stick with this and ramble about what interests me, other people will eventually migrate over and start paying attention. Will it take longer? Sure. But that's how things grow... slowly, in fits and starts, until they either fall over and die or burst into bloom.

You might say I'm a dreamer.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Well, shit.

Blog Maverick complains that:

"If you are an individual blogger whose blog is hosted on blogspot.com, every day the chances of you being excluded from icerocket.com’s, and other search engines’ indexes increases."

That really sucks. I guess I need to move somewhere. It shouldn't be that hard, since I have no comments and no readers. I'll probably just leave the blog here and start a new one on my own domain.

Hell, even if I write my own blog software, at least it will support native TrackBack pings.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I'd weigh in on the Sheehan debate, but...

I also need to get on with my life.

What would Bush gain from a meeting?

What would Sheehan gain from a meeting?

What exactly is the point?

Nothing, nothing, and there isn't one. It's all just the latest big steaming pile of worthless crap to which the media has flocked like the annoying flies they are.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

How to Succeed

Paul Graham has written a brilliant article about What Business Can Learn from Open Source.

Joel Spolsky has written a brilliant article about Hitting the High Notes, his metaphor for writing great software.

I wish I could write a brilliant article about these things. I've been saying much the same sort of stuff for years, I'm just not as good at saying it.

Joel said one particular thing that resonated with me: "Five Antonio Salieris won't produce Mozart's Requiem. Ever. Not if they work for 100 years." For years, I've referred to this phenomenon as the Infinite Monkeys Fallacy.

It's said that if an infinite number of monkeys sat at an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite number of years, one of them would eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. This is wrong. What actually happens is they eat all your bananas, break all the typewriters, and start flinging poop around the room. Which is pretty much what you get when you try to replace a high-end worker with a collection of low-end workers: they consume your resources, break your equipment, and just make a big mess.

Paul also says something that resonates with me, "The sterility of offices is supposed to suggest efficiency. But suggesting efficiency is a different thing from actually being efficient." That also calls to mind something that I've said for many years: efficiency is bad for you.

Efficiency is all about getting the greatest return for the smallest investment. To an employer, it's about getting more work for less money. To an employee, it's about getting more money for less work. This puts the employer and the employee on opposite ends of a rope, struggling for all they're worth to win the tug-of-war and get what they want. And what's missing from that equation is the concept of BETTER work, which is what we really want in the first place. To (improperly?) extend the tug-of-war metaphor, the rope never gets appreciably longer no matter how hard you pull.

Efficiency can become the enemy in software development. Every so often, a television program will show a classic comedic scene. The protagonist is attempting to cook something, but it takes too long. So to speed things up, the following thought process is followed:

If it takes TWENTY minutes at three HUNDRED degrees,
it only takes TWO minutes at three THOUSAND degrees.

Hilarity ensues, because this simply does not work. We all understand that. Some people may not understand *why*, but they still know it doesn't work. It's just intuitive.

And yet, I often find that when I say "this project will take four days", my clients are confused when I don't spend every second of those four days doing things related to the project. They complain that what I am doing isn't in their interest. I try to explain that the project is "in the oven", so to speak, and will take time to "cook" before it's ready to come out... but they seem to think I should be working on something else for them while it's in the oven.

To an extent, I should. When the roast is in the oven, salad may be tossed and wine may be uncorked to breathe and a vegetable side dish may be prepared on top of the stove. But you can't bake a cake. If you tried, it would absorb a significant amount of flavor from the roast, and you would have meatcake.

Efficiency really comes in two forms. One is where you are doing lots of work, and one is where you are producing desirable results. People really need to start looking for the latter instead of the former.

And on a high note, I won a caption contest at Outside the Beltway.

Friday, August 12, 2005

WTF i didnt click there omg this game blows

This is quite possibly the funniest WW2 joke ever. And without a single reference to the holocaust. I laughed till I cried. My wife laughed till she cried. You'll probably like it, too.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Why Immigration Worries Conservatives

Outside The Beltway wonders Is Anti-Immigration the New Mercantilism?, and notes that...

"Much of the anti-immigration rhetoric strikes me as being very similar. I'll often hear claims about protecting the middle class. The implicit idea here is that the middle class is entitled to a given lifestyle/income level."

This is not precisely the case. The idea here is that most people are middle class, and that most immigrants (legal or illegal) are comparable in ability to our own citizens, and therefore that immigration brings with it a flood of new middle class people that stir up tremendous disturbance among the existing middle class.

The poor don't care about immigration because their lives will still suck. The rich don't care about immigration because... well, because they don't care about *anything*. But the middle class are working very hard to get ahead, not doing a very good job of it, and they're absolutely petrified that something will go just a LITTLE bit wrong and they'll end up homeless.

There are a few flaws in this logic, primarily that most illegal immigrants are unskilled and will compete in the lower classes. Legal immigrants are a more representative sample of the culture, but a disproportionately large number of them are still unskilled. So the competition happens lower on the totem pole, and the middle class is largely unaffected. Therefore, to be accurate, this threat should be targeted at the poor. There are two problems with this, from a political perspective.

First, the poor live in a constant state of uncertainty and fear, it's next to impossible to frighten them. Spin the biggest scare story you can, and they'll just gaze at you dispassionately before heaving a sigh and saying "yup, that's how it always goes, all right". Then they'll turn around and walk off and probably forget every word you just said.

Second, to state the obvious, the poor have no money! It doesn't matter how much you talk about immigration, the poor simply do not have anything to give you. And they're too busy struggling to feed their families to volunteer at your campaign headquarters, too.

Going to the opposite end of the spectrum (the rich), you find that they are also impossible to frighten. Why? Because they don't live in a competitive world. Tell them that they'll face twice the competition, they still have no competition. Twice nothing is nothing.

So in order to get something worthwhile from this scare tactic, you have to go to people that have money, and are easily frightened. And that's the middle class.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


There's a critical time in a company's lifespan where it needs to decide how exactly it is going to grow. For the past several years, it has been a little ship, threatened at every turn by much larger ships. Now, having somewhat better funding and more security, it needs to decide how it will expand and protect itself from these larger ships.

The average company decides the best direction to go is to get a bigger ship. When you run a big ship, you usually have this big gun that strikes terror in the hearts of your competition. Unfortunately, it takes three people to load it, two people to unload it, and a good long time to cool down between firings. And if you go sailing this big ship with its big gun into someone's harbor, you're probably going to cause a panic. Unless, of course, they already have a bigger ship with a bigger gun... in which case they don't care about your big ship anyway.

A better strategy is a small flotilla of ships with light weaponry. You send one into the harbor, and you pose little threat. You have a little parlay, and you bring in more ships when your hosts are comfortable with it. If they start to get nervous, you send some of your ships away, and have a little patience while trust is built. A big ship also has a really hard time sinking lots of little ships, because it's designed to sink big ships. Maybe the little ships can't sink the big ship, but they can change direction a lot faster, and the big ship simply can't keep up.

Consider the defeat of the Spanish Armada at the hands of the English in 1588. When you examine the casualties and setbacks of the Spaniards, you find that very few were the result of English attacks. They were primarily the result of poor planning, mismanagement, and failing morale. Now, I am not a historian, and neither am I an expert in military strategy or tactics; however, having a certain fundamental knowledge of these subjects, I attribute the victory of the English to one decision made by its commander:

Lord Charles Howard of Effingam, having only limited knowledge and experience of naval warfare, gave control of the fleet entirely and unreservedly to his subordinate - Sir Francis Drake.

We may not know the name of Lord Howard as readily, but had he insisted upon commanding the fleet, we would probably know it in connection to a vast and cataclysmic failure... which would have been rather a Pyrrhic victory.

Which leads me full circle to the title of this article. Occasionally, you will be in a contractor or consultant position during this stage of a company's growth, and you will come into the office one day to see the company leadership dutifully packing your project into a handbasket. When you point out that most handbaskets tend to end up in pretty much the same place, they will often respond that you are merely temporary labor, and that if you expect to have some control over the project's direction... you need to get into the handbasket.

Sometimes you really like that project, and you really do think it could be something great. But when your Charles Howard outright refuses to give control over to his Francis Drake, it's usually better to let the project go on its merry way. There's always the chance that the basket will come back full of fame and fortune, but the chances are much higher that it will come back full of hellfire and damnation.

Some people say this is cynical.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


If a blogger with no readers stops blogging for almost two weeks, does anyone care?

In other news, last night I read "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince". It ends in a cliff-hanger. I think that sucks. Now I have to wait until book seven, when I'll have forgotten everything I just read.

It is pretty neat, however, that the jargon and history can fly really thick by this point in the series... and I never felt lost or confused. It's amusing to think that just a few years ago, I would have found some of the paragraphs in the latest HP book to be essentially gibberish, and now I consider the talk of bludgers and Gringott's and Hogsmeade completely natural and normal. I've somehow gained enough familiarity with the Harry Potter universe to feel completely comfortable with references to obscure events and items, which is... well, as I said, pretty neat.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Updated figures...

Today's reports say that the death toll in London will end up at a final figure of between fifty and a hundred, and that there were only four bombs, not seven. So it's only fair to consider these results. The bombs did in fact kill an average of one to two dozen people each. This is a reasonably respectable result, if you can divorce yourself from the question of those people being perfectly innocent of any wrongdoing; from a purely technical standpoint, killing 12 to 25 people with a bomb is an effective use of that bomb. I believe this is roughly equivalent to what the average angry jerk could do, given a bomb to explode somewhere.

I don't want to appear insensitive with that. I don't support the bombing, and I don't mean to excuse or justify it in any way. But I made an awfully big deal of how ineffective the bombings were yesterday, and that is no longer an accurate assessment. The bombings were effective from a purely numeric standpoint of how many people were killed. They were ineffective in many other ways, such as bombing a country that dealt with IRA bombers for decades, or threatening a country that stood up to the Nazis all by themselves on pure principle when nobody else was doing squat. No matter how powerful and imposing you are, Britain is not a country you can expect to be scared of you. Trying to scare them is just plain ignorant.

So the basic point of last night's post remains the same. Islamic fundamentalists are stupid. Notice that above, I say this carefully planned and executed attack by a major terrorist organisation was roughly equivalent to what the average angry jerk could do with a bomb. One would hope that careful planning and execution would make such an attack more effective than some angry jerk who happens to have a bomb. But for all their planning and all their commitment and all their belief in Allah, they haven't managed to surpass the basic results we'd expect from any bomb set by anyone.

And where in their planning did they overlook Britain's history with terrorism? What the hell made them think this would work? They killed thousands here in America, and it didn't work. Did they think maybe they should try a smaller country? Generally, you go looking for a weaker one... but, of course, they're stupid.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

And just to repeat myself...

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is fantastically ineffective.

In London today, seven bombs were detonated in major urban areas. Death toll: thirty-seven. That's less than half a dozen deaths per bomb, and these people frequently trade one or two of their own troops for placing and detonating that bomb. (I'm told that at least one of the bombings was a suicide bomber.) Were any of the people killed in particularly strategic positions? No. They didn't even get a single Microsoft or Starbucks employee. So let's make this perfectly clear:

Islamic terrorists, after much planning and effort, managed to place bombs in highly populated areas in such a completely incompetent fashion that they didn't even manage to kill a full half-dozen people with the average explosion.

This is why Islamic fundamentalists are so angry. They are LOSERS. Unbelievably inept, they once responded to the formation of Israel with an attack from all sides where they outnumbered their opposition something like ten to one. Not only did they not gain any ground, the Israelis seized the land from which the attack was launched... on the very same day. Can you imagine just how stupid and worthless your military has to be if you can attack from an absolute dream position of strategic superiority, and be driven back by a much smaller force that lays claim to your front lines in less than 24 hours? These people are worse than the French.

And now these losers are going around blowing things up. It seems to me that anyone with a reasonably astute mind could kill more people with a two gallon can of gasoline, and would neither blow himself up nor need much planning. So why is it that extensive planning and high-grade military explosives add up to less than half a dozen deaths for Islamic suicide bombers? This is STUPID. The people who do it are STUPID. The people who lead them are STUPID. Which would you prefer: a follower willing to blow himself up for your cause, or six dead bodies that don't have any particular significance other than their nationality? Can you guess which one is going to be worth more to your cause tomorrow?

Islamic fundamentalism is not just a form of insanity, it's a form of profound mental retardation.

Americans? Arrogant? Nahhh.

I've been really busy today. So while I was aware that London was bombed, I didn't know any of the details. I turned on the ten o'clock news to find out, and I learned four major things over the past half hour.

1. An attack in western Washington is not anticipated.
2. Nevertheless, Seattle public transportation is under increased security.
3. No Microsoft employees were affected by the bombing.
4. No Starbucks employees were seriously injured in the bombing.

So I've been waiting half an hour to see what the hell went down in London, and the only thing I'm hearing is what isn't happening to us here in the Seattle area.

Plus I'm really cheesed off that the day I planned to launch the new Crap Comix site, people are blowing more shit up. WTF is it with my comic launch dates? Am I just doomed to have shit blow up whenever I plan a big anniversary or other major event? This sucks.

But while I am aware of how this situation in London affects my tiny little personal plans to draw stupid comics, I have not confused my disenfranchisement with news. I recognise that Microsoft is a big part of local culture, but it is simply shocking and offensive to think I am more interested in how Microsoft was affected than I am in how London itself was affected. This is like reporting on the recent tsunami with expert opinions that Seattle is probably not going to have one. It is not news that I was going to launch a web site today, but now have to hold off while the bombing blows over. That is just me and my petty little self-centered wants and desires. Compared to the people injured or killed in London, they are very petty indeed, and I have certainly not lost all sense of proportion.

Which apparently makes me a much smarter journalist than the idiots our local TV news has been hiring.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Crap Comix: The Next Generation

I've had a few votes from people I trust that say I should run with the new CC:TNG concept, so I'm going to add a little more information here.

CC:TNG is going in a slightly different direction than the original Crap Comix. Originally, every strip was pretty isolated, and said something basic and simple about skating or video games. As the strip went on, however, another style began to emerge: extended storylines involving figures from popular culture. (In retrospect, I talked an awful lot about Samuel L. Jackson's dick.) So I'm going to leverage that more traditional aspect of comicdom in the new strips.

I'm still wrestling with the concept of scheduling. It's certainly valuable to have a defined day when new strips come out, but I'm a naturally sporadic sort of person. Most weeks, I'll do nothing, and then one week I'll sit down and do thirty strips. During the first three days of Crap Comix, I cranked out thirty-five strips, and then I did nothing for three weeks. 269 comics in just short of two years comes out to between two and three a week, on the average, though... so I'm wondering whether I could handle a daily strip through the week.

If I let my mind run away with this, I have this dumb fantasy that people will just love my web comic and everyone will want to visit it. So I have a basic concept of having site registration, and people who register for free get to see the strip a couple days in advance; those who subscribe for some small recurring fee would get to see it a little farther in advance. This is based on some silly idea that maybe I could get 6,000 subscribers at $1 a month, which would be enough for me to work on comics full time.

Well... not really. I'd actually work on comics about the same amount of time, but I'd be able to work on other things a lot more of the time. I have some ideas about how to revolutionise the IT industry, but without both the funding and the time, I haven't been able to move forward with them. Selling my time by the hour as a contractor doesn't give me both pieces of the puzzle, and neither does using my time without compensation as an innovator. What I need is something I can do to support myself at a comfortable enough level to finance innovation, without using too much time out of my day. The comic might be an avenue for that, but probably not. The web is full of free comics, why would anyone pay $1 a month for mine? Just to see it a couple days early?

The question of whether to continue selling one's time is a tough one, and we all have to answer it at some point. It's more productive to sell the fruits of one's labor than the labor itself. But the problematic part of the question is, what fruits will people want to buy?

I'm rambling. I should just go draw a comic.

Prescription drug advertising

Cafe Hayek has a post on advertising prescription drugs.

I don't think the problem is so much the advertising as it is the advertising of a product which cannot be legally provided without the recommendation of a professional. I don't think anyone is proposing that we ban, for example, NyQuil advertisements. If you can buy it over the counter, then it can and should be advertised directly to the consumer. But when you CANNOT buy it over the counter, this is essentially a governmental ruling that the average consumer is not qualified to determine his need for the product.

Commercials for prescription drugs amount to a coach, describing the symptoms you should report (and the symptoms you should NOT report) to demonstrate to your doctor that you should be given this pill. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if you want that cute little purple pill, Nexium, you should listen to Nexium's commercials for a perfect description of the ideal candidate. Parrot this description to your doctor, and he will be perfectly willing to prescribe Nexium as long as you don't have obvious disqualifying symptoms.

This is virtually the same thing as making the drug available over the counter. A reasonably intelligent person who wants the drug can get the drug with little difficulty, regardless of whether it is the right drug. And to make matters worse, the doctor... responding in good faith to the symptoms reported by his patient... is often obligating an insurance company to foot the bill.

The issue here is not whether a company can advertise, it is whether a company can advertise something to people who cannot legitimately buy it, and in the process educate them as to how they can obtain it.

"Sometimes He Eats Them"

A little while ago, my son was upset, so my wife gave him two cookies. About five minutes later, I came across them discarded on the floor. "I don't know why you give him cookies," I said.

"Sometimes he eats them," she replied.

This struck me as terribly amusing, so I thought I'd share it. I guess you had to be there. Not that anybody is reading this or anything.

(I occasionally wonder why I say things like that. Is it because I want people who are reading this to stand up and wave their hands to let me know they're out there? Is it because I want to convince myself it's okay to post personal things in a "public" forum as long as nobody sees it? Or is it just a sort of catch phrase, like Rodney Dangerfield's "I don't get no respect"? The world may never know. But you know, I do like to hear myself talk, and strangely enough that translates into liking to read myself type.)

And in other news, I got an interesting offer to subscribe to a magazine called "Cookie". Cookie is apparently a parenting magazine for rich assholes. In the initial offer, they make a point of saying things like "if it's worth the $750 price tag" and "if you can afford it". One of their example vacation destinations for children is "monkey watching in Belize".

Now, I like to think we're reasonably well off. I own my own business, and it does reasonably well -- even though I haven't been able to expand as much as I'd like. With a few lucky throws of the dice, we could conceivably join that over-$200k tax bracket that people so frequently call "the richest two percent of Americans". So the demographic isn't exactly a complete swing and a miss, but come on... WTF is with someone who takes their children monkey-watching on vacation? Are these people on crack?

Needless to say, we're subscribing. It's like reality television; you simply can't make this shit up.

Gay marriage

We wandered off topic in a free software discussion on Slashdot, and someone posted anonymous criticism of calling homosexuality a lifestyle.

This led me to a very off-topic idea, so I thought I'd bring it here instead of continuing there.

Regardless of whether homosexuality is-a lifestyle, every homosexual has-a lifestyle, and the group as a whole has some pattern of sameness in that lifestyle. Instead of questioning whether homosexuality is anything *more* than a lifestyle, most people are occupied in the question of whether the lifestyle is something we need to accept in America.

Well, in these United States, we have this notion of three fundamental freedoms: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It seems obvious to me that any lifestyle is directed at the pursuit of happiness, and therefore that it is permissible so long as it does not deprive others of these three basic rights.

So why the debate on gay marriage? It's the pursuit of happiness, it deprives no one of life or liberty, it should be a pretty open-and-shut case. However, certain segments of the American people believe the right to pursuit of happiness naturally presumes the right to prevention of unhappiness... and it does, provided it does not deprive others of this fundamental right. But what we have here is mutually exclusive rights, where one group must be made unhappy.

I believe it is critical to come down on the side of liberty, because the order of these three rights implies a precedence. It is acceptable when we restrict liberty to protect life, but not if we restrict it to protect some group's happiness. So depriving homosexuals of liberty to protect the religious right's happiness is clearly wrong, and we should not stand for it. These decisions establish precedents that will later be used to determine YOUR liberties if someone complains about them.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Humor of September 11th

On September 11 of 2000, I started a web site called Crap Comix where I published stupid badly-drawn comic strips about skateboarding. While I was doing the big anniversary blowout on September 11 of 2001, I started a big series of comics about how Johnson Package the private investigator -- acting on information acquired from Bill Gates -- had to travel to Croydon West in Coventry to rescue a gay monkey in a basket from the tower of infinite sorrow.

I'll pause a moment while the sheer horror passes, for those who aren't familiar with my sense of humor.

So anyway, I decided it would be really funny if the tower of infinite sorrow was the World Trade Center, and off I went to find pictures of the WTC. The plan was to have a storyline where Johnson Package had to find the monkey in a crowd of evil stockbrokers who believed gay monkeys could predict the future of commodities markets, and in the process things would go horribly wrong and the World Trade Center would get blown up. I thought this would be funny.

Imagine my surprise to find that someone was at this very moment occupied in blowing up the WTC. At the top of my search results, I found CNN reporting that a plane had crashed into the WTC, and I ran out to turn on the television just in time to see the second plane appear and watch it crash into the other tower.

Well, I thought, this plotline is probably not going to be funny for a good long while. Some people may think four years still isn't long enough, but I think it's at least grimly ironic that when terrorists started crashing planes into the WTC, I was at that very moment planning to blow it up myself. I think in another five or six years, I'll be able to say that at parties, but for the moment I think it's prudent to only say it online where people can't punch me. Well, not without being really serious about it, anyway.

In any case, that pretty much killed Crap Comix. I've been thinking, however, that it's long past time for me to get back on this particular horse and do another web comic. I'm going to call it "Crap Comix: The Next Generation". We'll call today its inception date, so it doesn't have to celebrate September 11th, which is just NEVER going to be politically correct. And here's my basic concept.

Justin Guarini, the singer who lost to Kelly Clarkson on the last episode of American Idol's first season, has finally figured out that he isn't going to be a singing superstar. So as a backup plan, he started supporting himself as a pro skateboarder, and finally saved up enough money to go back to college. Since he's not exactly rich, he needed to get a couple roommates to help cover expenses, and now he's living with Cthulhu and an infinite number of monkeys. In the typical crazy-roommate fashion, Justin must frequently thwart the efforts of Cthulhu to take over the world, and assist the monkeys in cleaning up their latest well-intentioned mess... all while doing his homework and skating professionally and trying to choose a major.

See, the comic should also be educational and inspiring, like "Full House"; after all, the Olsen twins are kind of like monkeys, and Bob Saget is kind of like Justin Guarini, and I think Candace Cameron was really Cthulhu in disguise. Which is what drove Kirk Cameron insane.

I'd invite comments, but nobody reads this blog yet, and we all know how gay and stupid it is to comment on the archives.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

New "Bewitched" movie

I'd planned to go see "War of the Worlds" today, but by the time we got to the theatre we had a choice between going in late or waiting an hour and a half for the next showing. So we looked at what else was playing, and since "Sharkboy and Lavagirl" was also at an inconvenient time, we decided to hit "Bewitched".

I was actually pleasantly surprised by this movie, because I usually find Will Ferrell totally annoying and generally not funny after about five minutes. But in this movie, he wasn't supposed to be funny. He was supposed to be annoying. And guess what? He was! So they chose absolutely the right person for the role. He was, at a later point, expected to be funny... for about five minutes! And, again, he was.

Nicole Kidman's always a great actress, but I'm always confused by her because I can't quite identify when I stopped wanting to have hot monkey sex with her. I used to think she was totally hot, and one of the most beautiful women in the world. Now she's just... eh. I know it happened somewhere before "Eyes Wide Shut", because that was the first one where I thought "hey, wait a minute, didn't she used to give me a major woody?" and started worrying about my plumbing. (There was nothing to worry about. Everything works, it's just a little more fussy about with whom it works.)

So good job casting this one. Great writing and direction from Nora Ephron, which is the name that convinced me this movie actually might not be a total steaming pile. And definitely a movie worth seeing... although they sort of drop a part of the storyline during the film, and Steve Carell's entire role in this movie is a big WTF moment that never quite gets resolved. So two pretty big cans of worms get opened up during the movie, and nobody ever even tries to clean them up. If you're willing to let those minor messes slide, it's a good movie. Great date movie... but maybe not so much if your date is too young to have seen the show, though.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Online Magazine or Blog?

Outside the Beltway recently reported on Blogs Becoming "Online Magazines". I, for one, side with Ed Morrisey on this issue; nobody's going to care whether you call your publication a blog when they go looking for who's entitled to a media exemption under campaign finance laws. They'll have a formal definition codified in law somewhere, and if you meet that definition, you'll be under that umbrella. It's a bit stupid to believe anything else.

Second Amendment Rights

Earlier tonight, I watched an episode of Penn and Teller's Bullshit! which dealt with the second amendment. As I was watching this, an idea occurred to me. Let's look at the second amendment directly for a moment:

"A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged."

What I think a lot of people miss in this amendment is that it implies that the people (and the arms they keep and bear) are what regulate the militia. This is not about "our militia need weapons"; the militia, pretty much by definition, have weapons. It's about the militia being well-regulated. And if the militia are to be regulated by the right of the people to keep and bear arms, that means pretty much what Penn Jillette said it means: the government/militia should be afraid of the people. The people should retain sufficient power to halt and redirect their government in the event it gets out of control.

However, as has been repeatedly observed on both sides of the second amendment debate, people with weapons really don't scare our government anymore. But it occurs to me that what DOES frighten our politicians and lawmakers is... bloggers.

Bloggers are like terrorists. You don't know where they are or what they want or when they're going to post something. They pop up without warning, strike hard, and disappear into the night. Your neighbor might not be a blogger today, but he could change his mind tomorrow. Bloggers don't have to respect normal journalistic integrity, because they're not professional journalists. They can sacrifice themselves driving a car bomb of disclosure into the nightclub of the internet, destroying their own jobs and potentially ruining their own lives, so they can take down a few key figures on the opposing side.

As we are learning more and more, reputation is more valuable than any currency, and in the hands of a convincing speaker with a bone to pick... the internet can be a weapon of mass destruction.

So the second amendment isn't really what regulates our militia. The first amendment is.

Pride in Prejudice

There's an awful lot of talk these days about tolerance and diversity and basic equality.

Anyone who has actually experienced other cultures -- either by being out of the country or by living in multiple areas of concentrated race, ethnicity, or religious belief -- knows that the notion of cultural equality is simply wrong. (I use the word "culture" henceforth to refer to any demographic distinction, whether it be religion or race or philosophy or what have you.) Other cultures are not equal to our own, because they are different. In some ways, perhaps they are better. In some ways, perhaps they are worse. But it is natural and normal in the human psychology to believe that your own culture is somehow superior to other cultures, because it adds to our own feelings of self-worth.

When this is taken to absurd extremes, it becomes dangerous. But all three extremes are dangerous... and note that I say three extremes, not two. It is bad for another culture to say "your culture is irredeemably inferior to mine", and it is bad for your own culture to say "my culture is irredeemably inferior to yours". But it is every bit as bad to say "your culture and my culture are of equal validity", because this is a complete and utter lie.

When you take away the right to compare cultures, you take away the right to compare isolated features of other cultures, too. Norway is one of the few remaining countries to have a monarchy. If we say that some other government is superior to a monarchy, that would imply that countries with such a government are superior to Norway, and by extension that the people of that country are superior to Norwegians. This sort of cultural relativism rapidly snowballs into an inability to make value judgements on any culture, which leaves the door wide open for any number of injustices.

Prejudice goes by another name, and that name is "experience". Once you have seen enough of a culture to have a sense of its primary characteristics, you will naturally come to expect certain behaviors and qualities from people within that culture. This is natural. This is normal. This is smart.

So be prejudiced. And be proud. There's nothing wrong with knowing what you can likely expect from someone, provided you avoid the failure of the bigot: when someone turns out not to be what you expect, recognise this, and adjust your future expectations accordingly. It's okay to pre-judge, as long as you continually examine and refine your judgements.

What we should really be complaining about isn't prejudice, it's refusal to learn. I've been unfortunate enough to meet several Klansmen in my lifetime, and while they can't stand "niggers", they're absolutely fine with every black person they ever meet. It's this hypothetical nonexistent "nigger" that bothers them, and they've never seen one. They only exist on the pages of the Burning Cross newsletter, where they're alternately accused of homosexuality and raping white women, of unemployment and job-stealing, of laziness and clandestine plotting. This bundle of contradictions can't exist, but if it did, I'd hate those people too. The failure isn't their prejudice against "niggers", it's their failure to recognise that there aren't any; that the black people they meet aren't wild exceptions, they're the norm, and the bullshit they've heard over the years is founded entirely on pigheaded ignorance.

Most ignorance is willful. Society should punish it, making the condition unacceptable enough to inspire its widespread elimination.

Girl Games

The BBC News reports on women in gaming as though this is news.

I have been saying for years that most games do not appeal to a certain demographic which likes to play games, has money to spend on games, and frequently walks out of the game store without spending that money because there are no games worth buying. This demographic is not entirely composed of females, and does not include all females, but the majority of female gamers are within it and represent the majority of this demographic... so it is convenient to refer to this demographic as "girl gamers" and to games which appeal to them as "girl games".

Historically, I can't speak at much length about this subject before somebody comes stomping into the discussion to shut the whole thing down because the term "girl games" offends them on some basic level. I'm going to start pointing these people at the description above. (Blogs are useful that way.)

But to get back to my point, the industry is scratching their heads over this problem of the money being out there but they can't reliably get their hands on it. This is largely because the industry has had trouble understanding the types of goals that appeal to gamers like me.

There are essentially three kinds of critical-path goals in games: the chasm, the wall, and the bridge.

The chasm is something you have to jump. If you fail, you lose progress -- not only do you not move forward, the game forces you to move BACKWARD to some prior point. The game must then be replayed from that point up to the chasm, where you can try again.

The wall is something you have to climb. If you fail, you do not gain progress, but you do not lose it either; you simply stay on the same side of the wall, but you may try again immediately.

The bridge is something you need to cross. You cannot fail. You may move slowly, but you will move. You may choose to move backward, but you are not forced to do so. At any time that you elect to move forward, you will make some small amount of progress.

All of these come in multiple varieties. The wall often comes in the shape of a door or other item-required obstacle. And the interface matters; games with save functionality can change chasms into walls, and sometimes walls into bridges. Autosave functions can ensure that a challenge is a wall rather than a chasm. Rigidly positioned save points can force a challenge to be a chasm rather than a wall. Rapid save-anywhere functionality that really does save anywhere can turn most challenges into bridges.

The only people who like chasms and walls are people with lots of time on their hands. This includes primarily children and young adults, and RARELY includes females at all -- because they don't normally have the same personal investment in the "competition" of gamer versus game, which IMO is a childish investment in the first place. (Men are in the grip of a much higher testosterone level than women, and testosterone frequently makes us behave in childish ways, even when we know better. But that's a discussion for another post.)

What gamers like me prefer is the bridge. We don't have all day to play games anymore. We have jobs, we have families, we have responsibilities. When I can't make progress in a game, I stop playing it; I recently stopped trying to find the last lodestone I need to move to the next area in "Primal". It was bad enough that I had to spend three hours jumping through hoops to get there, and when I spent two hours searching for lodestones and still couldn't find the last one I needed -- forget it! I play games to produce fun, which relieves stress, which allows me to continue doing the vast number of things I do. When your game stops producing fun and starts producing stress, it becomes a liability, and I have to stop playing it.

So when I evaluate a game, I'm looking for three things. First, the game should be likely to produce fun; second, the game should be unlikely to produce stress; and third, the game should appear to present more bridges than it does chasms and walls.

I've written a lot here, so I'll close with an observation: the most common variety of chasm is an opponent whose goal is to actively destroy your progress. In the average RTS, building your base and producing your troops would be a bridge if nobody ever attacked it, but by destroying your troops and parts of your base the opponent removes progress you've already made.

Friday, July 01, 2005

ESR Says Something Right

In an interview at ONLamp.com, Eric S. Raymond says we don't need the GPL any more.

I've always agreed with this, because the GPL restricts people's freedom. You can't argue that freedom is good, and then take it away from people. It's hypocrisy. But to examine this more closely, does the GPL actually do what it wants to do?

I like the BSD and MIT licenses. They're really, truly free. And I think the GPL does more harm than good, because I've had this conversation more than once:

Manager: We need to do this.
Developer: I can use this package to do that right now.
Manager: Great! Bolt it into our application.
Developer: It's GPL. We have to release all of our source code if we do that.
Manager: Ooh, that's completely unacceptable. Throw it out and write your own.

In the fantasy-land of open source advocates, the conversation continues:

Developer: I refuse to reinvent the wheel! Information wants to be free! Free Kevin!
Manager: Oh, all right. You're lucky I'm Church of England. Release the source!

A major coup is thereby scored for the open source community, which gains sudden access to an entire major commercial application... in fantasy-land. Reality check: if you ever do try to have that conversation, the Manager tends to respond "I also see that a developer wants to be unemployed."

The end result is that a developer has to reinvent the wheel, an application ends up with the newly-reinvented wheel, and no source gets released. So you've done exactly what the GPL is designed to prevent: contributed to closed source rather than open, shipped a fragile and untested feature instead of a stable and reliable one, and wasted developer time on something that had already been done.

So the GPL is, IMO, broken. Not only is it unnecessary, it was never good at what it was supposed to do anyway.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Why attack Iraq?

Oleg Dulin asks what made Iraq unique enough to be attacked, presuming that it was the regime that made Iraq worthy of attack.

I believe the regime was merely a single factor in a very complicated equation.

We needed to establish a bastion of democracy in the middle east, a friendly area in the heart of terrorist country, where we could rely on known allies to help us reinstate the intelligence presence Clinton gutted when he didn't understand the need for it. (I do not blame Clinton for this. I blame Clinton's advisors for doing such a bad job of explaining it.)

And that meant one of the governments currently in power had to go.

This is not a nice, friendly, happy thing to do. It is a sad fact that to install a government, you must find a country with no government -- which means you either annex land as a new country, or you chop the head off a snake. There are a lot of factors which come into play here, because you have an agenda that must be completed. And without going into too much detail, I'll summarise with this:

Iraq presented us with the best chance of completing the job. It's not an easy job, and the very nature of the job requires that we don't tell the American people what we're really doing. You have to have a certain amount of faith and trust in the nation, that they will do the Right Thing. And I think if you say "choose a mideast government to eliminate", Iraq was the right one to choose.


Lately, it's occurred to me that most of the people I respect have blogs, and I don't. So for some reason, I felt like I was somehow not participating properly in the community. People in my industry have blogs. That's just the way things are. And I got to thinking about it, and I realised that one of the major things I'm lacking in my life right now is community. I don't know a lot of people. I don't go much of anywhere or do much of anything. I pretty much work and spend time with my family. So an online community would be nice.

I don't get on well with most established online communities. After I'm on a forum for a month or two, some jerk always seems to pop up and start an argument. Then the moderators get involved, and they inevitably side with the established user that everyone knows and likes, so I end up getting reprimanded and warned and sometimes even kicked off the forum.

Usually, the issue at hand is intellect. I'm a smart guy. Sometimes people read my posts and feel stupid. Then they think I'm calling them stupid by making this post, and they take offense. So they try to post something to make me feel stupid, too, and they do a bad job. It goes something like this (based on, but not identical to, a recent situation).

CDarklock: Here's some useful code to do something frequently necessary.
Jackass: I posted code to do that months ago!
CDarklock: I looked for code to do that here, and I didn't find any.
Jackass: Use the search! IDIOT
CDarklock: I did. Here's the search I made. Run it yourself, your code doesn't come up.
Jackass: Well, you didn't really write the code you posted, you copied it.
CDarklock: It's four lines of code that have to run in that order. What's your problem?
Moderator: CDarklock, this forum does not permit personal attacks.
CDarklock: That wasn't a personal attack. Accusing me of code theft is a personal attack.
Jackass: You attacked me in another thread once! I don't have to put up with your ad hominem!
CDarklock: I did not, and you clearly don't know what ad hominem means.
Moderator: CDarklock, you have been warned. Thread closed.

The fundamental problem, as I see it, is that the moderators on a public forum don't generally enforce the forum rules against established members. So when someone calls me an idiot and accuses me of misappropriation, these are not attacks because he's part of the group. Once you're a long-term member of the community, your behavior is by definition acceptable.

The flaw is that when a potentially valuable member of the community threatens the perceived status of an existing member of the community, the existing member can skirt the rules and "fight dirty" to get the new member removed.

So the blog community might just be a better fit for me. Nobody can really tell me what I can and can't say here... well, blogger.com can, but I'd just move the blog to my own server.

I'm still debating on whether to leave comments enabled. I've read a pretty cogent argument somewhere that if you want to comment on a blog, you should start your own blog and link to the posts you're commenting on; that way, all of your thoughts and opinions are collected in one place where people who like them can read all of them at once. But it occurs to me that you might not want to blog about something -- maybe you want to be anonymous, for example. So I'll leave comments enabled for now, and make a final decision later.