I Lose: Is My Blog Typical?

September 22nd, 2005

This article on blogging at BestPageInTheUniverse is one of the funniest things I’ve read in awhile. Also, make sure to check this one out on GTA3.

Just For Fun: The Story of Linus Torvalds

September 22nd, 2005

For the last couple of weeks, my bedside reading has been this half-biography, half-autobiography on Linus Torvalds. I have to say, however, that the book is like two books mixed into one. Chapters alternate between Linus talking about his life and about big moments in Linux’s history to David Diamond describing modern-day Linus with a kind of forced wonder. Truthfully, Diamond comes off as a sycophant who could care less about Linus’s flaws and positive characteristics, and cares more about molding some kind of “image” of Linus as containing a humility and genius simultaneously. Near the end, I started only skimming the chapters not written by Linus. Diamond’s really not a good writer, either. (Sorry Dave.)

Truthfully, the book kind of pops the lid off Linux and makes you understand it as much less glamorous than say Wired Magazine described it to the public. Linus really just talks about not having a social life, sitting in his room with curtains covering his window, coding all day. Not exactly the ideal role model, I think. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Linux kernel (as much as one can love imperfect software), and Linus made a great contribution toward keeping the UNIX world and UNIX principles alive, but it’s just that I like to think of open source developers as something other than the stereotypical, introverted geek. In fact, much of Linus’s chapters is devoted to his apprehension about giving a public talk about Linux. When I think about the fact that I’ve given three or four of them to date, and enjoy it more every time, I see how different I am from this kind of stereotypical geek.

It also kind of made me dislike Linus. When I saw Revolution OS (a DVD on the rise of open source), the movie kind of endeared me to Linus’s practical nature as opposed to Richard Stallman’s religious idealism. I like idealism, but Stallman is really religious about it. And he’s bitter. Linus, on the other hand, has that great Northern European, “I’m just gonna go with the flow” attitude.

But this book made me realize that Linus is religious is his own sort of way. Included in the book is Linus’s flame war with Andy Tanenbaum on monolithic versus microkernel designs. Truthfully, I’ve studied operating systems and I’m not even sure which design is best, and Linus makes a decent argument of why microkernels end up being just as complex, or more complex than monolithic ones. But what I didn’t like is that in the flamefest, Tanenbaum said that deficiencies in MINIX were due to it being a hobby, and that he had duties as a professor. Linus responded, “Re 2: your job is being a professor and researcher: That’s one hell of a good excuse for some of the brain-damages of minix. I can only hope (and assume) that Amoeba [Tanenbaum’s future OS project] doesn’t suck like minix does.”

This just shows me that Linus really is an asshole sometimes. He states this outright in his book. So now, truthfully, I may like the open source movement, but I think I “at least dislike” two of its most major players (Torvalds and Stallman).

Finally, I think a clip from Tanenbaum’s website points out a nice principal in OS design:

Also, Linus and I are not “enemies” or anything like that. I met him once and he seemed like a nice friendly, smart guy. My only regret is that he didn’t develop Linux based on the microkernel technology of MINIX. With all the security problems Windows has now, it is increasingly obvious to everyone that tiny microkernels, like that of MINIX, are a better base for operating systems than huge monolithic systems. Linux has been the victim of fewer attacks than Windows because (1) it actually is more secure, but also (2) most attackers think hitting Windows offers a bigger bang for the buck so Windows simply gets attacked more. As I did 20 years ago, I still fervently believe that the only way to make software secure, reliable, and fast is to make it small. Fight Features.

I agree. But does a microkernel design actually reduce the overall size of the operating system, or does it just reduce the size of whatever you consider to be the “microkernel”? That is, just because a file system is implemented as a file system daemon talking to a driver subsystem through message passing doesn’t necessarily mean the file system, or driver subsystem, are secure. Insecurity could exist even at the boundaries, no? Not to mention instability.

I think Linus and Tanenbaum have to agree that this debate isn’t an open and shut case. The best kernel is probably one that mixes modularity, a strong kernel/userspace boundary, and some of the fancier features of a microkernel approach, while not sacrificing elegance of design or performance.

The Cost of This War

September 22nd, 2005

I was at Cost of War today, a great site if you want to get depressed.

Even just zooming in on Nassau County, New York, $2 billion of our local community’s money has gone to this fruitless war. What’s amazing is when they tell you that same amount could have been spent to send 95,000 kids from Nassau County to college. That’s good. Instead of an educated workforce, a less ignorant society, and a more empowered populous, we got a toppled statue, a middle east that hates us, more terrorists with their crosshairs on us, and higher gas prices.

Did I mention I hate this President almost as much as I hated him in 2000, when I yelled, “I’ll be saying, ‘I told ya so!'”

Free Coders at NYU

September 21st, 2005

I’m organizing a group of people interested in hacking open source software in a team environment. Right now I’m calling it Free Coders at NYU, and have already set up a wiki and mailing list. This could end up being very cool. Next meeting is hopefully this coming Tuesday.

I set up a mailing list with GNU Mailman (link above), which was decently painless under Debian Sarge. The only annoying thing was utilizing my virtual e-mail address mappings which are stored in MySQL, but I figured out a trick for that.

I’ve already spoken, via e-mail, with an open source developer who works on gstreamer among other projects, Ronald S. Bultje. He has already tentatively agreed to do a talk for us sometime this year.

Shame on Us

September 20th, 2005

In the second-to-last Real Time with Bill Maher, the talking head from the American Enterprise Institute pointed out how disappointed he was that the Economist ran a cover which implied that the United States should be ashamed of itself for the Katrina disaster. He said the left wing loves to “Blame Us First”, but he doesn’t buy into that; he’s still proud to be an American.

You’re not ashamed? I think I might understand why he thinks that way. For example, if you’re walking by a cliff, and see some poor guy slip and almost fall of the cliff, and now he’s there hanging off the edge, you would be compelled to go help that person. So you run over to him, put your hand out, and he grabs your hand, and you try with all your might to pull him up. But you just can’t do it, and so eventually you lose your grip and he falls anyway.

One might ask the question, should you be ashamed of the way you acted?

You might feel regretful, you might feel sorry, but you definitely shouldn’t be ashamed of yourself. You did what you could to save him, but he couldn’t be saved. You still did the right thing, it just wasn’t good enough.

Except now imagine that instead of rushing out to grab this guy, you just pulled up a chair, sat down, scratched your chin, and said, “You know, you probably shouldn’t have been walking so close to the edge.”

And as that guy is screaming there for help, you just sit there, emotionless, and debate the should-have’s and could-have’s, instead of getting up saving him.

And he falls to his death.

That’s what the US Government did, and, more particularly, that’s what the right wing that supports it did. And it’s shameful. It’s very, very shameful.

It’s not that people died. It’s that people died and we sat back and told them, “You had it coming to you. Tough shit.”

Land of the Free. Home of the Brave.

Recall the President

September 14th, 2005

Liberal Doomsayer pointed out Maher’s last concluding remarks as particularly “poetic”. I’ll have to watch them when I get home, but for now I appeased myself by reading the transcript, which follows:

And finally, New Rule: America must recall the president. That’s what this country needs. A good, old-fashioned, California-style recall election! Complete with Gary Coleman, porno actresses and action film stars. And just like Schwarzenegger’s predecessor here in California, George Bush is now so unpopular, he must defend his jog against…Russell Crowe. Because at this point, I want a leader who will throw a phone at somebody. In fact, let’s have only phone throwers. Naomi Campbell can be the vice-president!

Now, I kid, but seriously, Mr. President, this job can’t be fun for you anymore. There’s no more money to spend. You used up all of that. You can’t start another war because you also used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people.

Yeah, listen to your mom. The cupboard’s bare, the credit card’s maxed out, and no one is speaking to you: mission accomplished! Now it’s time to do what you’ve always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service. And the oil company. And the baseball team. It’s time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy or spaceman?!

Now, I know what you’re saying. You’re saying that there’s so many other things that you, as president, could involve yourself in…Please don’t. I know, I know, there’s a lot left to do. There’s a war with Venezuela, and eliminating the sales tax on yachts. Turning the space program over to the church. And Social Security to Fannie Mae. Giving embryos the vote. But, sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives. You’ve performed so poorly I’m surprised you haven’t given yourself a medal. You’re a catastrophe that walks like a man.

Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire metropolis to rising water and snakes.

On your watch, we’ve lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two Trade Centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans…Maybe you’re just not lucky!

I’m not saying you don’t love this country. I’m just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side. So, yes, God does speak to you, and what he’s saying is, “Take a hint.”

I particularly like “eliminating the sales tax on yachts.” Oh Bill, sometimes you’re just so damn spot on.

Incompetent Government

September 13th, 2005

Great short letter to the editor in the NYTimes today caught my attention:

To the Editor:

David Brooks says liberals “need to explain how a comprehensive governmental failure is going to restore America’s faith in big government.”

Of course it won’t. But it should provoke America’s intolerance of incompetent government.

Such failure is not inevitable; government built the levies, and parts of government were trying to improve them. And bereaucracy is not limited to government; I have seen many documents in private industry that were just as absurd as New Orlean’s emergency preparedness plan.

Rather than attack the idea of government–even while grudgingly admitting its necessity–we must understand which parts of the New Orleans plan worked and which ones didn’t, and why some government agencies were effective while others were useless.

–Bruce Burger, Seattle, Sept. 11, 2005

Very well said.

I Just Didn’t Know: Republicans invented the reality then, and are doing it now

September 13th, 2005

I just didn’t even know this happened.

I knew about the Swift Boat ads, and I knew about a bunch of POWs trashing Kerry’s war record only because he spoke out against the war when he returned back to the states. But I simply did not know the extent of this. Take a look at this great student-written article about it. Apparently a broadcasting company named Sinclair pushed to have a documentary named “Stolen Honor” broadcast on TV just days before the 2004 election. To see what the documentary is about, check out NewsMax’s “news report” on it. I put that in quotes because it begins sounding like an AP article but ends just accepting the thesis of the documentarian hook, line and sinker, and making the creators of this documentary seem heroic.

The basic premise of the film isn’t that Kerry did bad things during war. The basic premise is that he was a traitor because he chose to be against the war while the fighting was still going on. The film includes all sorts of references to POWs who say that their torturers used to refer to Kerry, that Kerry is lionized in modern Vietnam as a hero for the enemy, and that the museums in Vietnam worship Kerry as helping fight the good fight for the Vietnamese.

Of course, this is all bullshit, and even if it were true, it doesn’t mean Kerry’s a traitor. It is true that Kerry was against the Vietnam war, but guess what–historical revisionism is with him on that one. The Vietnamese can idolize whomever they want, the important thing was that Kerry had the courage to come home and admit that this war was wrong. Did he benefit politically from it? Maybe. But that’s a better way to advance your political career than George W. Bush, who was just handed his career by his daddy.

Almost all historians who have studied Vietnam and written anything about see it as nothing more than a war in error, whose nature caused soldiers to act in a completely amoral way simply due to their yearning to survive. No one blames the soldiers for being amoral–the circumstances bred that. There was no fucking law in Vietnam, it was kill or be killed. But it is the task of a government and its generals to prevent those situations–to plan strikes on concentrated enemy forces. We just dropped soldiers into a foreign jungle and expected them to only kill the bad guys. Some plan we had.

Anyone who thinks that Vietnam was a just war, and that someone is a traitor to be against it, is seriously living in a dream world. It was a god-damn mess, and we raped and killed people, gave them cancer with Agent Orange, pillaged villages and lost many soldiers, and all for a war that was very much political from the start (part of the grand national obsession with communism, which has only been replaced by terrorism as of late).

But more than that, this documentary was solely based on a quote of Kerry’s taken out of context, as usual for these Republican scumbags. Take a look at FactCheck’s analysis.

I know Kerry is long off the radar and the 2004 was a long time ago at this point, but this still baffles me. Just look at how the documentarians refer to it as the documentary “that made history.” It even quotes a NYTimes article which says “”Stolen Honor”…should be shown in its entirety on all the networks, cable stations and on public television,” yet another quote taken out of context. The NYTimes review was actually very negative on the film in general, and said its only value was to show how those being tortured in POW camps felt betrayed when people came out against the war. But the review goes on at length about how various things are blown out of proportion in order to try to make the film a political propaganda piece against Kerry. When the author of the review wrote it should be shown on all news stations, he was being a bit ironic. He said that because he would then say, “This histrionic, often specious and deeply sad film does not do much more damage to Senator John Kerry’s reputation than have the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s negative ads, which have flooded television markets in almost every swing state.” In other words, the political damage has been done, so at this point may as not worry about it.

Why am I worrying about it? Because this points in general to the state of our media. Conservatives don’t like objective analysis. so they have a real easy answer: we’ll just invent the reality. I still remember one of the scariest, and craziest quotes I had ever come across:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”

Conservatives don’t like global warming, so they pretend it isn’t happening. They don’t like evolution, so they pretend that isn’t happening. They don’t like Kerry, so they pretend he was a traitor to his country. They don’t like opposition to the war in Iraq, so they pretend it is doing lots of good. They don’t like blame for Katrina, so they pretend that “no one is to blame”, or that the poor people Left Behind in that state are to blame for settling down there, or that Democratic politicians are to blame for not doing something about it.

In short, they are creating the reality. NewsMax, Fox, Weekly Standard, Think Tanks, etc. When a conservative says to me the media is liberal, I’m no longer going to respond with the laugh I usually do, saying something like “I wish that the media were liberal. That would make us all a lot better off.” Instead, I am just going to talk about this, and ask them: tell me, what liberal media won John Kerry the 2004 election? Oh, that’s right. The one that pushed out propaganda on public airwaves calling Kerry a traitor. That liberal media.

Arghh, this stuff gets me so angry sometimes!

(p.s. I never really supported Kerry anyway, but for completely different reasons. I didn’t support him because he wasn’t at all radical, he was as close to the center as democrats go. He would have held off the Bush onslaught of 2004-2008, but he wouldn’t have brought our country back to a place I’d like to be–a place where social justice and fairness enter at all into the role of government. But with a President as bad as Bush, Kerry looks like Mahatma Ghandi.)

Interference in the “free market” is always bad?

September 12th, 2005

A great little exchange on the second-to-last Bill Maher show about global warming:

MAHER: Doc, let me ask – let me ask you this. This administration loves to pretend that there is a debate going on about scientific issues, because, really they’re a bunch of Jesus Freaks, quite frankly. So they pretend that people are debating, or scientists are debating, about evolution, when I don’t think they are. They certainly pretend that there’s a debate about global warming. Now, you’re a scientist. You hang out with scientists. Even when you guys are drunk, when there’s no cameras around, have you ever heard another scientist say he doesn’t think global warming is happening?

SCHNEIDER: I’ve heard a few, but the vast, vast majority believe not only that global warming is occurring and that we’re about a degree Fahrenheit in the planet warmer than we were a century ago, but the vast majority of those who know something about it believe that at least half of that in the last 30-40 years is due to our using the atmosphere as an un-priced sewer to dump our tailpipe and our smokestack wastes. And every time we try to talk about getting a tax on those emissions, they tell us it’s an interference in the free market, as if, somehow, we should get our garbage collected for free.

How true. Interference in the free market, beh. Well, guess what, economists? The free market doesn’t realize that the environment isn’t an infinite resource, and our generation and the few afterward will pay for that oversight.

She says she’s 18, but you’re a sexual predator and pedophile

September 11th, 2005

In this article you see quite an amazing statement by one of the guys who busts “sexual criminals”…

“These girls are only 13, 14 or 15 saying they are 18. Some of the things they are writing are leaving them open to sexual predators and pedophiles,” said Drass.

Excuse me, but if I have sex with a girl who tells me she’s 18, I may have committed a crime, but I did so unknowingly. Having sex with someone who tells you she is of the age of consent but isn’t doesn’t make you a sexual predator or a pedophile. Sexual predators and pedophiles seek out underage people because they are easy victims.

But it’s strange–these cops are so singly-focused in making big busts that they can hardly tell the difference between a pedophile and someone who has sex with someone underage but never knew the girl’s real age.

Shouldn’t the parents have to take any responsibility if their children are pretending to be older than they are and thus having illegal sex with people? You can only go so far “shielding” your kids from harms before you just have to sit down with them and tell them the reality of life. But most parents are so thick-headed they don’t even want to talk to their children about sex (hell, most parents have never even let their kids see them naked). Is anyone thinking that perhaps the taboo we have on sexuality in this country is what leads kids to have such strange misconceptions, so that eventually there are 14 year olds who think it’s cool to list on their profile, “I like rough sex and I like it 10 times a day.” Why don’t parents just talk to their kids, it’s the only god-damn reason you’re a parent in the first place.

Why do parents think leaving kids on the Internet unattended is any different from letting your kids walk into the public square unattended, or make random telephone calls unattended? The Internet is a way to contact people, and communicate with them; often, people you do not know. An “innocent child” who cannot make judgements for him/herself should simply not be on there without a full armament of knowledge about the reality of the situation.

Meanwhile, the real victim here isn’t the 14 year old who thought it would be cool to have sex and so lied about her age to lose her virginity, but the guy who sincerely thought she was 18 and ends up going to jail for it.