October 2005

Software copyrights and patents talk

Monday, October 31st, 2005

I’m helping to organize a software copyrights, patents, and free software discussion led by ex-Professor Robert Dewar here at NYU. Check out the flyer I made, and please attend!

False alarm

Sunday, October 30th, 2005

I thought my server was hacked this weekend, but I think in reality someone on Peer1′s network took my IP address by accident, caused an IP conflict, and because I detected ssh running on a non-standard port, I assumed I had been rooted. In fact, when I returned to my machine today, I found no such rooting, and chkrootkit reported nothing. What really freaked me out was that I found vsftpd running on port 21, but wouldn’t accept any of my usernames/passwords, so I really assumed I had been rooted. But here I am, and nothing has been changed.

Whew, I guess?

Talk on Outsourcing

Wednesday, October 26th, 2005

I recently gave a talk on outsourcing for Computer Advocacy @ NYU, entitled:

“Offshore Outsourcing: Roots in Corporate Power.”

It was meant to be an introduction to the subject, to precede the film screening we had of Greg Spotts’ “American Jobs.” I’ve posted the talk’s slides to my web server in SXI (27K) and PDF (212K) formats.

In the talk, I tried to show how outsourcing can be seen as stemming from the gradual ascendancy of corporate power in the world, beginning with the first laws enabling corporate personhood to today, when corporations pit governments against one another for who can provide the least humane economic regulatory system (which are then spun as “pro-business”–think, for example, of China’s inexistent environmental legislation, and how many high-pollution businesses have moved their shops there).

When corporations first gained rights as legal persons, they began to win cases in which they secured their right not to be regulated, and then began to win ideologues with a vision of the corporation which freely moves around the world, hiring all the labor it can find. Key to this vision, however, is that governments are helpless and defenseless–that they should not have the power to regulate corporations, since any such regulation creates an unfair situation in the global neoliberal “free market.” I try to make it clear that the end goal of this experiment is a global corporate state, in which labor laws and life/work balance simply doesn’t exist, as we all strive to be “more competetive” for corporations whose urge to lower cost will never disappear.

p.s. check out the book mentioned in my talk, Gangs of America by Ted Nace.

I believe in corporations

Sunday, October 23rd, 2005

“I believe in corporations. They are indispensable instruments of our modern civilization; but I believe that they should be so supervised and so regulated that they shall act for the interest of the community as a whole.”
-Theodore Roosevelt

Sorry, yet another great quote from the “big lion.”

Magnetism in Macro Photography

Saturday, October 22nd, 2005

I was just reading National Geographic and saw an amazing photograph taken by someone at MIT which shows a drop of liquid with magnetic particles inside suspended on a glass slide on top of a yellow post-it note, with magnets underneath and a green birthday card reflecting green light.

The result is this stunning image.

Essential articles for midterm intellectual relief

Monday, October 17th, 2005

Blood, Sweat and Tears: Asia’s Poor Build US Bases in Iraq

Still Separate, Still Unequal: America’s Educational Apartheid

Also, got the flyers made up for the screening of American Jobs I’ll be showing at NYU next Tuesday. Hopefully we’ll have a nice debate about outsourcing afterwards. (God knows we need one.)

Can’t wait to finish work so I can go home and watch the latest Bill Maher, which SageTV has graciously recorded for me.

Got bored with Descartes and Spinoza, wrote a patch to powernowd

Saturday, October 15th, 2005

While I was studying, I noticed that I wasn’t exactly happy with the cooling/cpu frequency scaling on my laptop. I use a nice program called powernowd which scales my CPU speed up and down depending on various factors related to system load. But I didn’t like how my setup was kind of “all or nothing.” When I am plugged into AC, I switch to “performance” mode which just runs me at 100% CPU frequency all the time (making my laptop hot, my fan noisy, but my machine fast), whereas when I’m unplugged I switch to “userspace” mode, which lets powernowd kick in, and he jumps about from 400mhz to the full 1.6Ghz based on load, keeping the machine cool but also making it feel a bit sluggish since if I’m overloading my CPU at 400mhz it’s already “too late” to pump it up, it will have already felt slow for at least an instant.

So I have this conflict: hot and responsive, or cool and sluggish. I thought, well, I must be able to come to a compromise.

I decided to take a look at powernowd’s code, and it turns out it’s written quite straightforwardly. Within 30 minutes of tinkering, I had a patch that did what I wanted. With another 30 minutes, I polished it and made it quite commitable.

Basically, I added a new mode called “COOLING” to powernowd, which runs your CPU a few notches below your full frequency (which I call your “cool_spot”), based on the following approach:

  • if you have two frequencies available, you normally run with the lowest.
  • if you have three frequencies available, you normally run with the second from highest.
  • if you have four frequencies available, you normally run with the third from highest.
  • if you have five or more frequencies available, you normally run with the fourth from highest.
  • if your load goes above your specified trigger (“highwater” in the code), you jump to highest frequency. When it lowers (“lowwater”), you go down to your cool_spot, but not below it.

On my machine, I have 5 frequencies (1.6Ghz, 1.5Ghz, 1.4Ghz, 1.2Ghz, and 400Mhz), and so I normally am running at 1.2Ghz. This new COOLING mode runs while I’m plugged in, and keeps my machine nice and cool but still lets it immediately respond when I want to do something, like a workspace switch.

I then hacked the init.d script to have a BATTERY and AC mode, and switch between AGGRESSIVE and COOLING modes accordingly. Now, when I’m unplugged, I get the best battery life and pretty good performance, and when I’m plugged in I get a cool notebook with good performance.

I’ll probably post the patch after my midterms…

Police officers are disgusting

Saturday, October 15th, 2005

still cap from beating videoFor some of the most disturbing footage you’ve seen in awhile, you can download this clip of New Orleans police officers brutally attacking a 64-year-old black man (the race is important) in New Orleans.

Here is a little piece of a Miami Herald article that describes the clip.

For those who missed it, here’s the scene: It is Saturday night in the fabled French Quarter. Police are arresting one Robert Davis, a 64-year-old former schoolteacher.

As an Associated Press camera records the episode, an officer on horseback moves into the frame, apparently to block the camera’s view. But the camera operator, shooting over the horse’s flank, captures officers pinning the old man to a brick wall and one apparently delivering vicious blows to the head. Davis is then wrestled to the ground, several officers on top of him. Another tape, this one shot by CNN, shows him writhing handcuffed in a pool of blood. When he tries to roll over, an officer’s foot shoves him back.

Police say he was arrested for public drunkenness, battery and public intimidation. Davis later told reporters he had simply asked an officer on horseback about the curfew time when another officer barged into the conversation. Davis called that officer unprofessional and walked away, at which point, he says, the cop hit him from behind.

I, for one, believe Davis. Watch that clip one more time. See how brutally they attack him in the face, even though he is already subdued? See how they kick him while he is down? This was not self-defense.

Development under Windows: why so painful?

Friday, October 14th, 2005

It’s really weird. Lately, I’ve been doing so much development in a *nix environment, that doing the development in Windows is really painful for me. I don’t have any of my good old UNIX tools, I don’t have hotkey-optimized user interfaces, I don’t have speed and control. But more than anything else, I don’t feel like I know what’s going on under the hood.

Today, to take a break from reading Philosophy, I decided to work a bit on this little Java Servlet project I’ve been hacking on. (Will be “released” later.) At some point this past summer, I decided to remove Linux from my main desktop machine and just consolidate all my Linux data onto one machine–this made my life easier so I didn’t have three total (one Windows, two Linuxes) places where my shit could be. But the sacrifice is that my laptop screen is small, so sometimes I want to develop with a big screen and thus want to use my desktop.

Web development, especially, makes sense for me under Windows, since I’m comfortable with the major graphic and web design tools (Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Illustrator) and don’t think the Linux “equivalents” (GIMP, Bluefish, Inkscape) are good enough.

But I decided–may as well have the code open on Windows too, since it’s not C hacking I’m doing, but Java. So I installed Eclipse, and the J2EE, and got cracking.

But under Windows, there are all sorts of gotchas. When my UNIX tool craving gets really bad, I need to drop into cygwin, which isn’t so bad. But without good workspace switching (I have VirtuaWin, but it kinda sucks), and without a customizable window manager, I am really much slower. But here’s the other weird thing I ran into. After awhile of coding, I realized that Eclipse wasn’t reading my JavaDoc information for the JDK (no cool descriptions in my autocomplete tooltips). So I go snooping around the preferences file and can’t find anything, I enable a billion options but no luck. But then, eventually, I realize that it’s very possible Eclipse is using a different JDK. In fact, I look in the dialog, and Eclipse is using some J2SE environment that some other application installed, not the J2EE I installed right before Eclipse. And that J2SE is missing the Java API source code and JavaDoc comments.

The reason this seemed so non-obvious to me is because I’m not used to systems which are completely fucking disorganized. Say what you will about Linux not being user friendly, but, by God, you won’t find it likely to find two different JDKs installed on my machine, and even if you do, only one will be getting used (thanks to Debian’s “alternatives” system). Every application on Windows statically compiles, includes its own libraries, and spews its shit all over the file system and registry. No database tracks it, so your system is a fucking nightmare.

I couldn’t even do a reasonable search to find the JDK I needed, either. It turns out it was in C:\Program Files\Sun\j2sdk1.4_02, which may not sound so bad, but considering on Linux I just think, “Where are libraries stored? /usr/lib” and then in there I think, “What is what I’m looking for called? j2sdk” I quickly find any Java environments in /usr/lib/j2sdk1.x-sun.

On my Linux system, which has not that much installed, I just ran a du -hs /usr/lib/ and got 1.7GB. That means on my relatively lightly-loaded Linux system, 1.7GB of raw 0s and 1s are sitting there waiting to be used as SHARED libraries. Meanwhile, on Windows, there could be any amount of duplication of the equivalent libraries, floating around in various Program Files directories.

I can’t believe there are acutally some Linux critics that believe we should be going in this direction, eliminating things like emerge, apt, and rpm and instead just have statically-compiled binaries that come with their own binary libraries and have users duplicating this stuff across their system. Not only is it insane from the point of view of giving control to the user, but it’s also just plain wasteful.

Quotations through Corporate History

Thursday, October 13th, 2005

I had this posted on my Facebook profile for awhile, but figured it deserved to show up here.

This is an interesting collection of quotations I collected from various websites by searching for specific terms related to corporations.

I think through these quotations, you get a sense that our problem today had planted its seeds about two centuries ago, and has only grown into a bigger problem over an evolutionary path. That doesn’t mean we should fight it with any less vigor, however.

“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
-Thomas Jefferson, 1814

“We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. . . . but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
-Abraham Lincoln, 1864

“Great corporations exist only because they are created and safeguarded by our institutions; and it is our right and our duty to see that they work in harmony with these institutions. . . . The first requisite is knowledge, full and complete; knowledge which may be made public to the world.”
-Theodore Roosevelt, 1901

“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933

“The institution that most changes our lives we least understand or, more correctly, seek most elaborately to misunderstand. That is the modern corporation. Week by week, month by month, year by year, it exercises a greater influence on our livelihood and the way we live than unions, universities, politicians, the government.”
-John Kenneth Galbraith, 1977

“I’m not going to apologize for all this — that’s the free-market system.”
-Al ‘Chainsaw’ Dunlap, after firing 11,200 Scott Paper workers, 1996

Indeed it is, Al. Quite a “free market.”