March 2007

The Divine Right of Capital

Friday, March 30th, 2007

A playful paragraph from the book by Majorie Kelly, which I’ve lately been re-reading:

We might note that while employees in the community are left to the protection of the invisible hand, wealth is protected by the visible hand of government and corporations. But this is something, it is hoped, that will be overlooked.

To help us begin to see it, we might, for a moment, imagine a different arrangement of institutional power. Picture a free market in which labor rights are enthroned in law, and property rights are left to the invisible hand. This would be a world in which we believe employees are the corporation. They are, after all, the ones running the place. Hence only employees could vote for the board of directors, and the purpose of the corporation would be to maximize income for employees. In theory, stockholders would receive income they negotiated through contracts. In practice the corporation would dictate those contracts with little real negotiation and stockholders could accept the terms or go elsewhere, only to find other corporations offering nearly identical and dismal terms.

In this world, stock would be sold in a manner controlled entirely by the corporation, much as wages are set today. Stockholders would appear alone at the company where they would be taken into a room and made an offer. There would be no reliable way to compare current stock price to pass price, the return one person receives to what others receive, or to compare returns from one corporation to another. Wage and benefit data, on the other hand, would be published daily in “The Main Street Journal”, and the movement of the Dow Jones wage index would of course be tracked nightly on the news. But returns to shareholders would be considered proprietary information and would not be given out.

If stockholders tried to improve their negotiating position by organizing into mutual funds, corporations would threaten to cut off payments altogether. The companies would talk about replacing stockholder money with funds from people overseas were willing to accept lower returns.

And, of course, overseas, stockholders would have seen even less power. Although free trade agreements would provide intricate protections for labor and environmental rights, they would offer capital no protections. “What does capital have to do with trade?” pundits might ask. “Trade is about goods and services and the people who create them, it’s not about capital.”

Comment on Amazon for Michelle Malkin’s book

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

I think Michelle Malkin is one of the craziest commentators to come from the right. But her persistence seems like an eternal spring. Here’s a comment I found on Amazon about her book (“Unhinged”) which talks about how the Left supposedly “abuses” the right with verbal attacks and satirical plays.

It is a fact of spiritual nature that humans have an innate dark side also known as mankind’s intrinsic “depraved nature.” Since mankind’s depraved nature is a spiritual problem, it can only be combated by spiritual means by submitting oneself to the God of the Bible and allowing His supernatural love to cleanse and subdue it. Nothing else will work. Overwhelmingly, liberals reject God and therefore, his power for combating their depraved natures. As such, their dark side reigns unchecked, manifesting itself more often and to a more egregious extent than those who have accepted God’s supernatural love – such as most conservatives.

Such is the case as chronicled by Michelle Malkin in “Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild.” In this short work, Malkin exposes this innate depravity as it is manifested by liberal leaders and their rank-and-file alike. Malkin sets the tone of her book in the introduction when she states, “The traits that distinguish today’s unhinged Left are the pervasiveness of its pathologies, the intensity of its hatred, and the sanctimony of its self-delusion.”

She then proceeds to document myriad examples of each of these culled from newspapers, television, books and her own personal e-mails. She demonstrates how the speech of the unhinged manifests itself through extreme profanity, paranoia, racial bigotry, fraud, hypocrisy, intolerance, anti-Americanism, and contempt for the military.

Particularly disturbing are the examples of the Left’s desire to assassinate President Bush. Malkin describes several tasteless products, a book, a play and a musical with the theme of presidential assassination produced out of the Left’s seething hatred for Bush. She then opines, “For all the left’s fear and loathing of the `religious right,’ religion and patriotism are powerful conservative incentives to decency – perhaps the absence of liberal decency is explained by their lack of both.” Precisely.

Oh, okay, now I get why Malkin is popular. Because her readers think that the left means “godless” and that godless means “depraved.”

Don’t some other people think the same way? Like, the people we’re supposedly fighting?

Dilbertization of IT

Monday, March 19th, 2007

There is an article on eWeek I encountered via del.icio.us called “The Dilbertization of IT.” Though it says a lot of stuff most IT workers already know (that in many places, the “creative” work is being de-emphasized while “firefighting” or “maintainence” is emphasized), the more important thing to point out is the cause of this Dilbertization. I found an insightful comment which points to some of them.

Dilbert’s pointy-headed managers are everywhere. In my current Fortune 100 company, virtually none of the managers with any authority have ANY IT development background. They manage entirely by cost and project plan – ignoring any and all input from those developers who actually have a successful track record.

I can’t say this is true in my team, at my company, but I have certainly heard it from a lot of my IT friends. Also, I have an acquaintence who is an IT Project Manager who thinks that development is “easy work” and that most software developers are just “lazy”, which is why projects end up behind schedule. I think many innumerate IT managers share this opinion, and this can lead to problems, low morale, and resentment.

Nat’s Pendulum

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

Metacity (the window manager for GNOME) has this annoying and ugly minimize animation that looks like a bunch of cascading rectangles flying at your taskbar. I’ve always hated it, but dealt with it for awhile.

Today, I did some digging on the Metacity bugzilla to see if it was fixed, and found this bug.

Over the course of 3.5 years, this bug has sat on the bugzilla, and still isn’t satisfactorily resolved. There is now a reduced_resources flag in gconf, but this flag only disables the minimize animation at the expense of forcing you to use an ugly wireframe window dragging animation. (Complete, utter insanity.)

Read the rest of this entry »

HOWTO: Get microphone, headphone, automute and sound properly working on an HP DV2000 laptop in Linux

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

Note: This entry is now wildly out of date.  Try these instructions at your own risk.  If I get a few moments, I will revise these instructions in the future. 

I’ve been in contact with an ALSA hacker, Tobin Davis, over a series of patches that provide support for the sound chipset (intel-hda) that is part of the HP DV2000 laptop.

His patches over ALSA 1.0.14rc3 enable the following new features:

  • The headphone port now works, and the speakers automute when the headphones are plugged in.
  • The microphone port now works, with great sound quality.
  • The built-in mic on the monitor now works, though obviously with worse sound quality due to ambient noise.

The new patches aren’t perfect. I’m noticing some sound quality issues at high volumes, and in order to get it to work Tobin had to essentially enable two PCM channels (PCM and PCM-2), which have a very strange behavior. The first one controls the volume directly from the sound system. The second one controls the volume only between the sound system and the speakers (and thus, will have no effect on the sound when the headphones are plugged in). The master volume control effectively modulates both of these. Tobin has told me that the chipset produced by Conexant is particularly weird, which is why he had to this. I find that it’s not so bad, as long as I keep a launcher to gnome-volume-control set up so that I can control it, knowing these rules.

That said, it’s a huge improvement over out of the box sound support for Ubuntu (which is ALSA 1.0.11). Inside this post you’ll find further instructions, which are adapted from a text document Tobin sent his tester group via e-mail. These are step by step instructions to set up 1.0.14rc3 ALSA drivers plus Tobin’s latest patch.

Read the rest of this entry »

“This isn’t elitist, this is egalitarian.”

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

A surprisingly articulate post on OSNews about Free Software:

Asking me to get off my a$$ and code drivers for this baby is what I consider elitist and a very unreasonable demand on the end user. It’s one thing that gives GNU/Linux zealots a very bad name in the real world.

I have sneaking suspicion that you get this response from the Linux community because we feel you’re placing unreasonable demands on us. Your points are valid, but your energy is misdirected. Unfortunately for those who don’t like to code, that’s how software is created and improved. We invite you to participate in our projects in a variety of capacities including but not limited to programming, but of course participation is not required.

I think that Linux “zealots” get a bad name because much of the “real world” believes in a culture of entitlement. Look at everybody living life with a chip on their shoulder, blaming everyone else for their problems and scoffing at the notion that they take responsibility for their own situation. Somewhere along the line we stopped believing in opportunity as a means of realizing our dreams and began to foster the idea that we’re entitled to our expectations. In “Linux land,” we believe that the opportunity to participate in our information society is fundamental to our inherent desire as human beings to better our situation and control our own destiny.

Of course, money can make just about any dream come true. Mark Shuttleworth, for [example], invested $10 million to help make the Ubuntu project a reality. But years ago my great-grandmother told me the story of how my family came to America with nothing but the promise that here they would find a land of opportunity. This is the same promise we make with free software. This isn’t elitist, this is egalitarian.

I have to say, this is part of what makes me love Free Software.  It’s this idea of widespread opportunity.  Sure, F/OSS has power structures and means of coercion/control built into certain parts of it, but for the most part, it’s based upon a very simple, powerful, and egalitarian idea.  “Anyone can improve this, anyone can make it better.”  It’s that kernel of an idea that makes any process — whether software production, book editing, encyclopedia editing, or even beer brewing, more enjoyable to those involved, and, as a side effect, better for the general public.

Hilarious posts on Linux vs. Windows: satire or real thing?

Friday, March 16th, 2007

Take a look at these two posts from a ZDNet debate:

A poster under the name “jerryleecooper” says,

Vista is far more powerful than windows XP, and runs twice as fast. It is also much harder to pirate, and this point more than anything else has the Linux crowd in a panic.

and, in a follow-up post,

Are you saying that this linux can run on a computer without windows underneath it, at all? As in, without a boot disk, without any drivers, and without any services?  That sounds preposterous to me.

Is this serious, or satire?  If it’s serious, it’s absurd.  If it’s satire, it’s genius.

More on Internet Radio: NPR Takes Action

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

From TFA:

This is a stunning, damaging decision for public radio and its commitment to music discovery and education, which has been part of our tradition for more than half a century. Public radio’s agreements on royalties with all such organizations, including the RIAA, have always taken into account our public service mission and non-profit status. These new rates, at least 20 times more than what stations have paid in the past, treat us as if we were commercial radio – although by its nature, public radio cannot increase revenue from more listeners or more content, the factors that set this new rate. Also, we are being required to pay an internet royalty fee that is vastly more expensive than what we pay for over-the-air use of music, although for a fraction of the over-the-air audience.

Save Internet Radio

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

Internet Radio is in danger.  (Thanks for the heads up, Jeff Evans.)  This means sites like Pandora may have to be shut down.  Do something about it.  I wrote the following letter to my NY representatives:

The Copyright Royalty Fees for Internet Radio broadcasters (like the hugely innovative Pandora.com) have been increased to the point where many of these stations will have to close down.

The music industry has certainly made a big fuss about threats coming from the Internet, but I don’t spend any of my nights crying for the music industry.  They make millions upon millions of dollars, and keep America locked in a relative monoculture where new and independent artists are left out of the musical discourse while mindless and mind-numbing music is played everyday on radio stations across the ClearChannel nation.

Yet, despite my relative dislike for this exploitive industry, I have to say that every technological innovation that we’ve seen — from LPs to tape cassettes to CDs, and now to MP3s — has seen an increasingly growing recording industry, usually due to, rather than in spite of, these technologies.

Interent Radio actually has more of a potential to benefit the music industry than any other one of these technologies.  If you don’t know, Pandora.com is an amazing site based upon “The Music Genome Project.”  The concept is simple: you enter a song or artist on the site, and it creates a playlist of songs that “sound like” that artist or song.  I can mix these intangibles (“The Doors” and “Michael Jackson” gives me classic rock tones with pop melodies) and discover new artists I had never even heard about, simply by exploring my “taste matrix.”  This amazing functionality comes in particular handy after I get my paycheck, since I go to Pandora.com, see which artists/songs I’ve listened to lately, and with a click I can purchase these songs from the music industry.

I hadn’t bought a CD in years, until discovering Pandora and, through it, independent music I liked.

Who, exactly, loses in this situation?  I discover songs I’ve never heard of, I buy CDs that probably don’t sell very well, I get to benefit from high-quality radio from work on my work PC, and Pandora makes a tiny slice of money on advertising.

I’m sure the music industry wishes they had thought of Pandora, so that the little money that it does make from advertising would be theirs.  But tough!  This is supposed to be a competitive economic system, and if you snooze, you lose.  (Given actions like these by government, I’m not sure that it is really a competitive economic system, unfortunately!)

This is only the beginning of the places these technologies can go.  Don’t allow their efforts to be quelled by big corporate interests!  Please strike down these ridiculous copyright fees!

Think Corporate Power is showing any signs of weakness?  Nope.  The big wheels keep on turning…

Catching up on the reading list

Friday, March 9th, 2007

Lately, I’ve been very diligent about catching up on my reading.

I have been perpetually delaying a review of Capitalism 3.0 and Dreaming in Code, both of whom deserve it. But I promise one soon. I use Hofstadter’s Rule of Thumb lately for estimating time: however long you think it’s gonna take, double it and add a unit of time. So if you think it’ll take two hours, it’ll really take four days. If you think it’ll take five days, it’ll really take 10 weeks. And so on.

In the meanwhile, I’ve been busy at work — actually working on some cool stuff from a technology standpoint, mainly in the realm of hacking with pieces of the Eclipse Modeling Framework, and its related projects like GMF, RCP, Eclipse Core, etc.

On my commute, I’ve been enjoying reading Making Globalization Work by Stiglitz. Although one of my friends mentioned to me that this book would be quite boring, and for the most part he was right. Not the lofty stuff of Barnes in Capitalism 3.0; but perhaps Stiglitz’s recommendations are much more practical for ways to improve the current system.

The other book I started recently is a long, written interview with John Kenneth Galbraith (much in the style of Socrates) which is entitled, Almost Everyone’s Guide to Economics. What’s amazing is to see Galbraith, this towering (literally) Keynesian economic thinker, speaking in the 70s of the growth of corporate power, the undermining of labor, and the insidious nature of market fundamentalism. And yet, here we are, 30 years later, heeding none of his warnings, and entering into the new “global age” of “The World is Flat”.

Oh yes indeed, I do need to write some reviews very soon.