September 2004

Paradox of Choice

Thursday, September 23rd, 2004

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

Sunday, September 19th, 2004

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

Friday, September 17th, 2004

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”

Thursday, September 16th, 2004

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

Friday, September 3rd, 2004

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….