In San Francisco

August 2nd, 2007

I’m in San Francisco, will be back this Monday. Have lots to say. This trip has been… well, a trip.

Stay tuned.

Double-header for Friedman

July 24th, 2007

To be honest, I’ve completely ignored the “Thomas Friedman phenomenon” going on in this country. If I had a nickel for every time I saw someone reading The World is Flat on the train…

For some reason, people are in love with globalization and outsourcing as “the great leveler.” I have a different take on this. And precisely because The World is Flat was the most popular book about globalization, I never bothered to read it.

But the other day, someone came over and saw the book in my bookshelf. This person was definitely no fan of globalization. Mind you, I’m no Friedman fan — I only own the book to try to understand what the fuss is about. I haven’t turned a page yet. Yet, this person sat there and stared at this book. And I knew what she was thinking. “Another one of these schmucks? Another cheerleader?”

Well, it’ll take more research and time for me to declare my overall opinion of Friedman.

But today, by pure chance, I encountered two hilarious pieces on Friedman:

One, a cartoon by Tom Tomorrow: M is for Moustache.

Two, a review of The World is Flat by Matt Taibbi of New York Press.

A select excerpt from the review:

On an ideological level, Friedman’s new book is the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit. If its literary peculiarities could somehow be removed from the equation, The World Is Flat would appear as no more than an unusually long pamphlet replete with the kind of plug-filled, free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought in this country. It is a tale of a man who walks 10 feet in front of his house armed with a late-model Blackberry and comes back home five minutes later to gush to his wife that hospitals now use the internet to outsource the reading of CAT scans. Man flies on planes, observes the wonders of capitalism, says we’re not in Kansas anymore. (He actually says we’re not in Kansas anymore.) That’s the whole plot right there. If the underlying message is all that interests you, read no further, because that’s all there is.

Oh my…

An Empty Calendar, a Dusty Blog

July 8th, 2007

I took a look at my WordPress calendar, and realized I haven’t written a post in over a month. A sad state of affairs — I guess my blog waxes/wanes in and out of popularity for me.

One thing I have wanted to do is to create a “schism” in my blog between the political and technological sections. I realize there is no sense forcing my audience to wade through technology posts to get to the political stuff they may be interested in, and vice versa.

The main thing stopping me from doing so is the fact that even as I have a single blog for these two topics, I hardly find the time to post to either of them. That isn’t to say I don’t have much to say. I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about Lisp (for the first time in my life), and have interesting ideas surrounding my use of Eclipse technologies and modeling tools at work. I have been following a lot on the political side of things, from Libby’s commuted sentence to debates over globalization, to WSJ’s potential new owner. And I’ve finished a slew of books, from John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society to Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel.

But I just lack the time to write. I’m busy at work (at least 10-12 hours a day, when you include commute time), and the last thing I want to do when I get home is use computers some more. Which is sad, but an inevitable result of my situation.

I truly do not want this blog to die. How might I save it?

I Choose the State

May 28th, 2007

On Robert Reich’s blog, aly k wrote:

“And without a normative justification for the State, whether it be in the form of democratic government or a horrific tyrant, taxes can’t be justified (philosophically).”

I responded with the below message:

The most moving argument from the state can be stated in economists’ terms. It is sometimes called “the public goods” justification. Goes something like this (paraphrased from Wikipedia):

A market may allow individuals to create and allocate many goods optimally. But there are some goods — “public goods” — that are not produced adequately in a market system. These collective goods are ones that all individuals want (hypothetically — this is often a normative judgment, but comes from very basic things we consider to be “human rights”) but for whose production it is often not individually rational for people to secure a collectively rational outcome. The state can step in and force us all to contribute toward the production of these goods, and we can all thereby be made better off.

For example, it is true that if we had only private schools, people with a lot of money could ensure the best education for their children without having to pay for both the private school and the taxes necessary to fund the public school. But poor parents will have no choice but to send their children to less well-maintained and more poorly-staffed schools.

Supposedly, for society to progress we would prefer if all members of society had access to good schooling, regardless of the social class into which they were born. (That is, whether my parent is a millionaire investor or a plumber, I should have access to a good education.) Therefore, it makes some sense for us to pay a tax to the state, and for the state to provide good (and equal) schooling for everyone. What’s more, because the state needn’t turn a profit on schools, their overall cost through taxation can be lower than private schools would be.

Schools are one of those things you would prefer not be left to the market, because supposedly it’s good for everyone that everyone else is educated above a certain level. These people, after all, will become your neighbors, employers, employees, clients, etc. They also will be voting in elections.

In other words, if you value a high level of education as a universal right which should be secured for all citizens regardless of the socioeconomic class they are born into, then you are essentially already arguing for the state, because the market, per se, will not secure a high quality education for every individual.

Similar arguments can be made about health care, large pieces of infrastructure (like highways, roads, traffic lights), and certain components of institutional security (like firefighters, police officers, etc.). The state shouldn’t do everything — it should only make the level of quality equal across a market for certain goods, due to moral concerns we have. People shouldn’t have access to worse roads, or worse health care, or less firefighter or police protection, just because they live in a town of poor people.

We are okay with poorer people having less access to shiny new BMWs, bottled water, and Starbucks coffee, because these are frivolous private expenditures anyway. The poor person who drinks less Starbucks coffee than me won’t grow up to be an ignorant, sick, armed and desperate person ready to murder me on the street for the $40 in my pocket. But the uneducated person, without access to healthcare and who lives in a violent neighborhood with no police officers will certainly slay me for the $40 in my pocket.

To bring out the goodness in Man, I choose the state.

(That said, some states are better than others!)

Falwell Never Apologized

May 15th, 2007

Jerry Falwell died today. He was a great preacher, a wonderful father, a … oh, who the fuck am I kidding? The guy was an evil, intolerant man, who called the Civil Rights Movement the “Civil Wrongs Movement,” hated blacks and supported segregation, and then went on to hate gays, lesbians, the ACLU, and women who choose to abort their fetuses. For a supposedly Christian man, he led a life of complete hatred, and contributed to the growing divide in this country between people who believe in rational thought and science, and those who prefer to live under the protection of “God’s” blanket.

I’m going to toast to his death tonight. Hope Michelle Malkin finds my blog and lists it on her left-wing vitriol page.

Salon rightly ran an article called “The Stone is Cast“, exonerating left-wing bloggers for verbally pissing on his dead skull.  It begins with Falwell’s most famous quote:

Falwell will always be remembered for his “700 Club” comment in the wake of Sept. 11: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'” Even though Falwell later apologized, the damage had been done: A sacred moment had been used for profane purpose.

I pointed out that Falwell never really apologized, so even Salon is being too polite here. Click here to read my letter. Wasn’t gonna let him get away with that just cuz he’s dead.

The Divine Right of Capital

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

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

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

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.)

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

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.

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