March 2006

Depressed

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

I just wrote a ~1000 word e-mail in a web-based mail client. When I clicked “send” it told me my session had timed out.

And then the e-mail was gone.

This is why I _hate_ web applications. I am so depressed.

Danish cartoon display at NYU campus

Tuesday, March 28th, 2006

I received a “call to action” e-mail in my NYU mailbox to protest an intellectual discussion sponsored by the Objectivist Club at NYU on the Danish cartoons and the free speech issues surrounding it. I couldn’t believe people would go so off the Politically Correct deep-end as to want to protest that. So I wrote the head of the Islamic society an e-mail.

Dear Maheen,

I don’t really like the Objectivist Club, as (in my opinion, and they may consider _this_ hate speech) it is a bunch of Ayn Rand sycophants who think that the whole world would be better if governments just gave in to business interests in the name of “Free Markets” and economic neoliberalism. So don’t think I’m defending this meeting from their point of view.

And I agree with you that the Danish cartoons are racist, and in bad taste.

But guess what, no one is posting these cartoons on your front door. It is clear to me the Objectivist club is displaying them in order to discuss them and to discuss the free speech issues surrounding them, not in order to engage in racism. Your protest of this display is a form of censorship. In fact, here is a description of the event from their website:

“Why the eruption of violence and the issuance of death threats make completely irrelevant the question of whether the cartoons are in bad taste. Why the idea that freedom of the press must be ‘coupled with press responsibility’ means that free speech is not a right, but a fleeting permission. Why every Western newspaper and media outlet should have immediately re-published or shown the cartoons in solidarity with the cartoonists. Why the cowardly and appeasing response of many Western governments–including our own–will only invite further aggression. Other panelists will present their own views.”

If I held a philosopher club meeting about Mein Kampf, I would hope that people could understand that one could read that book without being a Nazi, or supporting Hitler’s racism, etc. The same rule applies here. This was a form of speech made by some cartoonist. It’s speech you don’t like — and if the cartoonist published it in your face, you would call it hate speech, and that’s fine, and you could be angry with him. But if a group of students and professors want to discuss the cartoons in a private room in Kimmel Center, not in a meeting forced upon the public, but in a meeting OPEN to the public, then that is fine.

Your protesting this display is also your right, but when it comes to justifications, you are ultimately protesting what? An intellectual analysis of images you abhor. You are not protesting racism, no matter how much you convince yourself that you are.

Free speech is _not_ absolute. I agree with that. The Supreme Court has shown that time and time again there is an interest in regulating some forms of speech (i.e. do a Google search on “Supreme Court” and “fighing words”). But in this case, free speech does trump your own hatred of these images, for sure. No public interest is served by not allowing this meeting to take place. In fact, censoring it is so irrational (as it _is_ a contribution to the marketplace of ideas envisioned by the US Constitution), that _it_, the protest, should be abhored.

I suggest you seriously consider not protesting this meeting, and withdrawing your “call to action”. It could ultimately damage your credibility, and be seen as a purely “politically correct” move, so common in colleges these days.

Sincerely,
A left-wing armchair activist,
Andrew Montalenti

Bad Eye Candy

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

I recently installed X.Org 7 with Exa, Composite and the famed xcompmgr on my Linux desktop. This didn’t enable any fancy special effects for my lowly built-in via video chipset. However, it did finally do away with “rip and tear” on my desktop. That is, when I drag a window over another one, it just smoothly glides across. When I switch workspace, it’s instant — I don’t see as much “widget redrawing.”

More and more advances are going to inevitably lead to Linux “eye candy.” Here’s a great post on Slashdot regarding good versus bad eye candy.

Here’s a great example: pull-down menus in Mac OS X vs the same in Windows XP. On the Mac, pulldowns appear instantly, and fade away once something is selected; this is correct behaviour, as you asked for a menu – there should be no delay. Fading away is fine because the selection has been made, and you have moved on. In XP, the menus fade up, and vanish instantly – totally backwards. That is bad eye candy.

You know, I never thought about that, but I always turned off menu fading on Windows XP because I could “feel” the delay, even on my Nvidia card on my desktop. I never realized how much more sense it would make to display the menu instantly, and fade it away upon selection.

I hope this conservative approach is taken by Linux devs as they implement eye candy. Functional and beautiful, please.

Apple and Google: Can We Just Get Over Ourselves?

Sunday, March 19th, 2006

So, this is a personal gripe of mine.

In the last, oh, two years or so, it has become increasingly cool to be hip to technology, and, more importantly perhaps, to engage in rampant punditry on the cultural effects of two companies in particular: Google and Apple.

In my school newspaper, Washington Square News, you will find the Opinions editor writing nearly-weekly columns on technology topics. But, what you’ll find, is that Google and Apple get more mentions then basically any other technology company out there. iPods, apparently, changed our culture in shattering ways, because now, instead of people talking to each other on the subway, they listen to their music collection. And web search and web e-mail (which existed before Google, and will exist in various new forms from now onward) is apparently so darn cool when the logo is rainbow colored, but not when its name rhymes with a parting phrase in Spanish.

Don’t get me wrong: if I consider myself a technology afficionado, then Google and Apple technologies are pretty highly rated, in my book. But can we just get over this obsession? I am speaking mainly to that strange cloud known as “the technology press,” but even to all these new technocratic snobs who spend all day talking about their Flikr albums, podcasts and “Web 2.0″ calendaring.

Listen, I’ve been around a long time, and others have been along longer. Can we recognize computer products for what they have become? Commodotized fads, just like basically all other products. Technology makes a statement. Some people use GMail and iPods. These people are cool. Other people, like me, prefer no MP3 player, because I think what’s said in New York City is much more valuable than listening to my music.

And guess what? I still have my e-mail collection on a real, rich client, because I think the one I use is more powerful than Gmail will ever be.

Frankly, if you’re going to comment on culture, take a step outside of the Google/Apple obsession. Talk about things that matter. You’re obsessing over the moves of multi-billion dollar publicly traded companies. Companies that have to make a profit, and come up with a bottom line. Your obsession with them only exists because they want it to exist, because their marketers are smart cookies, and you are their pawns.

Just realize that there are lots of important things to talk about, and web-based e-mail and MP3 players just doesn’t make any reasonable list.

Can I also do what a lot of these technology pundits do, and snag up my own law? Here it is, Andrew’s Law: if you aren’t a coder or engineer, you can’t waste all your time commenting on software or technology products. There, that law being in effect, 90% of the web’s blogs should crawl to a dead halt.

UNIX Zen

Monday, March 6th, 2006

You know you’re in UNIX zen when you are looking at pictures for an apartment you are interested in, and you think to yourself, “Man, I’d really just like to download all 8 photos of this apartment at once.” So you realize they end in numbers 1-8, and you open up a terminal and write:

for i in `seq 1 8`; do 
  wget http://www.livinginbaires.com/imgs/departamentos/46-$i.jpg; 
done

And that’s it, you hit enter and *vroooooom!* You see progress bars fly across your terminal as wget snappily fetches your photos, and suddenly, all eight photos are downloaded, and you get back to work. That’s empowering.

I don’t often quote Bill Gates, but…

Saturday, March 4th, 2006

Early in the history of Microsoft, our view was, if you were very smart then you could learn how to manage people, how to do business, how to do marketing.

It turns out that talent isn’t that fungible. Somebody who is great at doing software in many ways is often not the right person to manage people. I think the thing to recognize is these different kinds of ability, and to think through, as you build a team, “How do you get the right mix?”

Although I probably wouldn’t have used the word “fungible” myself, I agree with Bill’s sentiment. Programmers are not developers. And developers are not managers. But, I would add something else to this:

A manager who doesn’t know what it’s like to be a programmer or a developer cannot be a manager of programmers or developers! Management is a special combination of leadership ability and empathy. Your manager needs to be able to stick his neck out for you, because he knows you. And he needs to be able to provide wisdom — not because he’s smarter, or because he’s more mature, but because that’s now his role. Managers are the guys who protect you from everyone not on your team, who make sure you have everything you need to innovate, and who provide wisdom because their job description includes, “must be able to dispense timely wisdom at all the critical moments.”

Management also includes vision. Some software developers become managers and their vision alone leads their team. Where that kind of energy isn’t possible, lots of empathy, planning, and wisdom are necessary.