On stupidity and drunken behavior

October 29th, 2004

So, night before last I came home and hung out with some friends. We were a bit drunk, my roommate and Sak were fooling around and Sak slipped and fell on my bed. Problem was, my laptop was right underneath him, and so the LCD screen cracked. Bad, bad situation. Turns out repairing it would be more $$$ than the amount I paid for it in the first place, so I’m not really sure what to do on that front.

It’s a shame… I really was getting used to that laptop. I mean, I’ll probably just re-purchase the same one, but I dunno what’s gonna happen exactly.

In other news, I was playing with Glade 3 earlier today and decided that it really needs some work done on it. I would love to hack that project a bit if I had time. I mean, if someone can produce something like Gambas for Linux, then some sort of RAD tool for GTK is possible. I know the two aren’t really comparable (Glade uses libglade to dynamically load the GUI from XML files, Gambas is a “better VB”, i.e. a full environment), and that a lot of developers scoff at RAD tools for GTK, but I don’t think properly designed RAD tools are about “dumbing down UI design.” I think they are really about making UIs easier to design quickly, so that you can spend more time on the code that does stuff.

Also, I was checking out Mainsoft, with their product MainWin for J2EE. Interesting approach. They take Microsoft IL code and compile it to Java Bytecode. This means that for now, while Microsoft doesn’t support platforms other than Windows for .NET, you can actually convert take a .NET project and make it run in the JVM. I wonder if it works…

Linux innovations I recently discovered

October 27th, 2004

I have to say, I wasn’t expecting to like the Linux laptop experience that much, but I was just playing with the synaptics driver written for XFree86/Xorg, and I can’t believe how much careful work has been put into it. The authors have a truly well-designed driver here. Let me give a quick resume:

  • Non-linear acceleration. This means that you can define a minspeed and a max speed for your mouse cursor, and also define an acceleration ratio for how quickly it goes between those two speeds. This allows you to have a slow moving cursor when you want to make fine movements (i.e. in the GIMP or when positioning an insert cursor), and still allows you to get across the screen by moving your finger quickly across the pad.
  • Fully working palm detection, so that when you are typing, you can still rest part of your hand on the trackpad and not move the cursor.
  • Support for all sorts of tapping. This is the one I love most. I can tap the pad for single click, double-tap for double-click, and double-tap and drag for selection and/or drag and drop. Additionally, one can tap with two fingers (middle and index, for example) for middle-click and tap the bottom-right-hand corner for right-click. Alternatively to the two-fingered middle-click, one can tap the top-right corner.
  • Support for vertical scroll on right side of trackpad. A great feature that allows you to slide your finger down the right side of your trackpad to achieve vertical scroll up or down.

Conclusion: you can do all your mousing from the pad, without even using the clicking buttons. It’s extremely intuitive, fast, and accurate. I’m impressed.

The other innovation I discovered was the taglist plugin for vim, which, when combined with exuberant-ctags, makes for quick source file browsing. Very handy for these OS class labs I’m working on, where the source files tend to be pretty big and involve lots of routines you didn’t code.

wifi detector bash script

October 26th, 2004

I didn’t really like any of the wifi-related tools out there for switching networks, so I scratched an itch and coded my own. Read more if you’re interested in obtaining an easy-to-configure bash script that requires iwconfig, ifstate tools, zenity and dhcpcd, and can easily allow you to set an array of prioritized wireless networks which are scanned and joined if found. After you establish your connection, dhcpcd is called to negotiate your IP address. It works quite nicely, and allows me to move from network to network and only have to click a button to enable my wifi access. Check it out (code inside)…

The new Democratic Party, post-2004?

October 24th, 2004

Olivia just tipped me off to watching Stanley Greenberg, author of “The Two Americas,” on C-SPAN2 BookTV. His final point was really powerful: that the democratic party’s new focus on the economy is pointing at a kernel of a much larger problem: the growing inequality between normal workers and the wealth of the owners of the corporations that employ them. He talked about how over the past three decades, income has barely increased for workers and costs have gone up by orders of magnitude. He talked about how people feel that they cannot even make economic progress, despite being hard workers. I’d write more about this, but I have to let it simmer: I think it’s a key to the arguments I’ve been developing over the past few months.

Getting Linux to run on an Averatec 3250 Notebook

October 16th, 2004

It may have taken me a few hours and some lost hair, but I finally got Linux running (and running well) on my Averatec 3225 Notebook last night.

Kernel support is there for everything in 2.6.8.1, but the two major causes of problems are the Wifi chipset (RaLink’s 2500) and the built-in video (VIA’s S3/Unichrome chipset).

To find out how to get this stuff working decently well, read on.

On the economic “benefits” of globalization

October 12th, 2004

I don’t normally watch The West Wing, but I watched a couple of episodes last night with Olivia. One of them had as a subplot the concern that a tech company was moving 17,000 programmer jobs to India, and a union organization wanted answers from the administration. The initial tone of the episode seems to speak to the concern of the workers, but the “ending moral” is that you can’t please everyone, and that globalization is ultimately “bad in the short-term but good in the long-term.”

I’m not sure if that’s the viewpoint of Aaron Sorkin, or if he simply wanted that viewpoint to show up in his show. But by hearing people talk about globalization so casually, I came to a very vivid realization. When people say, “Yes, 17,000 jobs are lost here, but it’s still good for our economy,” we don’t even realize what that person means when he or she says, “our economy.” Everyone has this different concept of the economy, and what exactly it is. For example, if I were to ask a bunch of people, even bunch of economists, what the economy is, would I get the same answer from each of them? Probably not.

Now, if we go down to the individual level, asking one of those programmers whose jobs was offshored what his economy is like, he would probably respond that his economy is quite shitty. And if we went to a community like Silicon Valley, from where the jobs were offshored, most people would say that the people of Silicon Valley are experiencing a rough economy.

But who is actually benefiting from the offshored jobs? Some people say “the corporation benefits,” but that too is an abstraction. The corporation was comprised of those 17,000 jobs (and others), so how could it possibly benefit if those jobs are gone? Definitely it doesn’t seem the corporation benefited from the relocation of 17,000 skilled workers. Do other workers benefit from the relocation of those workers? Probably not, as it creates team fragmentation, lowers morale, etc. So who benefits? Who?

Shareholders.

When people say “the economy gets better in the long-term,” what they mean is that shares of stock for shareholders goes up over time, and the stock market, as a whole, goes up. And shareholders are nothing more then the a privileged class, an elite, of America. So why do we let our economic future (the economic future of the workers) be decided by their wants and needs of the already-privileged shareholders? Why should I accept that 17,000 American jobs lost is worth the 2% increase in share price? And why do we implicitly accept this in our use of language surrounding the “national economy”?

Paradox of Choice

September 23rd, 2004

This article on OSNews elicited a response. Here it is:

Horrible to get these issues confused. A standard says: “there’s one way to do X because without a single way of doing X, the benefits of system Y would be useless or unavailable to most users and/or developers.” A lack of choice says: “There’s only one way to do X… just cause.”

So, yes, HTML, CSS, these are standards. Are they suboptimal? Maybe. But if there were 65 different markup languages/style sheet specifications out there, the web would be useless. So a standard was necessary.

That’s why good standards tend to last a long time. Other ones tend to get phased out. For example, HTML is a standard, but XHTML (some might argue) is a better standard, which may be phasing HTML out (in the long term). ASCII was a standard for a long time. UTF-8/Unicode is now considered a better standard, and is phasing ASCII out.

There’s no paradox in saying, “I want to have the choice to use emacs, vim, or gedit, but I also want there to be only one encoding for text files so that I can send those files to my friends or cut and paste their content into other programs.” Again, if there were no text encoding standard, then computer systems as a whole would more or less break down as there would be no application interoperability.

So please be clear on these definitions! I don’t think UNIX developers want to “have it both ways.” I think they are being completely sane about this. Edit: Think about it: what better way to increase the power of choice than to enforce good standards? We want choice in applications, but standards among them!

Truly absurd: Assault Weapons Ban Lifted

September 19th, 2004

A few days ago, the assault weapons ban was lifted after its 10-year term set by President Clinton in 1994. The ban enjoys 71% support across the country, and is supported by many peace groups and even police chiefs and police organizations. Nonetheless, the congress, being controlled by Republicans, refused to scheduled a vote for renewal.

Now, I know some people say the ban didn’t achieve much because automatic weapons are still available. This site explains that quite clearly. But that doesn’t mean we should just forget about the ban. It means we should write a better one.

It’s true that criminals who want to use assault rifles to do bad things would find a way to get them anyway, but that’s only the organized, rich criminal. The kind of criminal I’m worried about is the kind who gets laid off from his job and realizes life isn’t worth living, so he goes and buys an AK-47, works into his office building and kills 30 people in 10 minutes.

Furthermore, for those among us who tout the second amendment, let’s remember a couple of things. First of all, that amendment was written with the intention that the civilians who owned weapons needed to do so because this placed a check on the government that said that the people might rise up and cause a revolution if the government became corrupt. Now, I may be making a generalization here, but I think most of the people who own assault weapons don’t want to engage in a popular uprising against this or any other American government. I find that most gun-owners tend to be very [faux] “patriotic”.

But my second point was that even if you wanted to rise up against the government, you couldn’t. Our founding fathers didn’t anticipate tanks, Apache helicopters, not to mention crowd control techniques like tear gas. Even if you could organize a small militia with M-16s and the whole nine, you would be squashed by an enormous military might.

I think it is noble to think that you have the right to overthrow your government, but I think the only way to do that nowadays is by shifting the popular sentiment so that even those in the military don’t want to protect government interests. And you can do that without assault weapons.

But the saddest thing is how little press I think this is getting. I hope Kerry makes it a campaign issue. And I hope Bush is stupid enough to let the ban sit there lifted, proving that he is in the pockets of big campaign contributors like the NRA.

Trusted computing

September 17th, 2004

Some scary stuff going on in the discussions at Slashdot today over Microsoft’s “Trusted Computing” initiative.

quote (Two Slashdot posters):

They [Microsoft] have already made the deals w/ Phoenix to make a MSFT certified BIOS that will enable them to not boot �insecure� OSs [read: Linux]. They are in talks to get the RIAA to support a format to make CDs unreadable in machines other than those running Windows (I presume this would include insecure versions of Windows as well). They are working to get the MPAA to agree to allow them to distribute movie materials via WMP which will likely lead to DVDs �protected� with MSFT products…

Sure, you can run all the free software in the world on your OpenBIOS computer. You will not be able to watch media, listen to media, surf the net, etc, because everything will require a “trusted” computer.

Yeah, it’s paranoid, yeah it’s probably [it seems] unlikely, but this is where we are headed whether we like it or not.


The “Tyranny of Time”

September 16th, 2004

I’ve been meaning to update that last post with more analysis of Bush’s speech, but the tyranny of time crept up upon me. So much work, so quickly!

In more fun news, two days ago I spent two hours in Union Square listening to various [somewhat deranged] speakers talk about “the police state” and how “communism is the solution.” It got me angry how little these speakers focused on (what I think are) the most important issues surrounding not just this election, but this country’s future: the continual rise in power of corporations.

Anyway, I eventually was given the megaphone (“Andrew, what has come over you?”) and gave my best impromptu speech on why corporate power is ruling this country, and more broadly, the world, and how distorted neoliberal (or libertarian) economic policy is, in terms of the current brand of pro-corporate globalization being a true “race to the bottom.”

Got quite a few cheers out of the crowd, which felt good. Not really good in the egocentric “I can rile up a crowd” sense. Good in the sense that some people actually care that corporations are, in many senses, running their lives.

Then I watched some Lou Dobbs last night that confirmed a lot of what I spoke about, at least confirmed it in my and Lou Dobbs’ world. But that’s good enough for me.