BT et C

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Don't know why I bother asking for my readership's opinion, since I haven't had a comment in weeks. Oh well.

Lamp5 is getting a revamp (hopefully it'll be done before getting renamed "Lamp6") and it's as good a time as any to get familiar with one or more content management systems. The short list is

Mambo - DPUG uses this, and I don't particularly love it, but it's in wide use and gets good reviews. Must be something I don't know about it.
Drupal - used by Downhill Battle -- one of my favorite music/advocacy sites, and a company I'd like to work for.

Much as I like MySQL, I'm fully 100% all about dB abstraction layers from now on. Black mark #1 for Mambo is that it's apparently MySQL-specific.

Okay, e.g. here's something that could someday go in Xaypole: you hook up a site skeleton, with the production dB ... and you have the option of simultaneously hooking up your Development/Beta/Staging Area a SQLite dB containing the same data, or a subset (for speed). So you can work on your new features/pages/etc. on a fast-responding dB and change Precisely Nothing when you put up the next release.

Slick. But that's for later. For now I just need to get the stupid XREF interface working.

Watch this space for reviews of Mambo and Drupal. Or contribute your own (ha!)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


What do you do with a 433 MHz Celeron, boasting 4.3 GB of storage, which you bought in '99 immediately after getting married and becoming impoverished?

Load a Damn Small distribution of Linux onto it. (This assumes you don't want to tinker with TinyOS.)

This machine (with fluxbox managing windows) is now more-or-less as responsive as the laptop running XP with 1600 MHz and 512MB of RAM. That's not based on any benchmarks or anything (someone link me an easy-to-run benchmark for basic throughput); just the usual open-firefox-and-surf-around-a-bit and see how it feels.

Also, at <60MB it can be fully loaded into even a modest RAM chip, at which point you can expect it to smoke the XP box and the Gentoo as well. I've gotta try that. I think the last system in which I pulled that off was a Mac SE 'round 1988. I remember that it rocked.


Mine are at 119, and "normal" for men is <100. So I'm already researching the whole thing. Guess my new cookbook will have to go back on the shelf for a bit :(

Let's see ... apples I can do ... beans, good ... garlic I think I'm already on top of. I even like sprouts, this shouldn't be hard. Half a raw onion every day might be asking a bit much...

Well, off to the grocery store, then.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Neat analogy in /. comment on the fact that Vista will hurt OpenGL's performance. Well, I don't want to talk about OpenGL, 'cause I know so little about it. But Procyon says:

"MS is the volkswagon of software. It's cheap, it gets the minimal job done and it doesn't take much training to know how to drive it."

Hm. Of course, no analogy tells the whole story ... in fact, analogies exist for the purpose of not having to tell the whole story. But this assessment -- i.e. of Windows as the "ordinary" OS for normal folks who don't particularly want to learn to hack -- is so common, and so inaccurate in my opinion, that I'm going to spring off from here.

Like everyone else, I have my own favorite operating-systems-as-cars extended metaphor, but I feel that all of these concede too much already, in treating an operating system like a physical object. Your computer is a car. Its operating system is -- not even the engine -- more like, the laws of internal combustion.

It is fortunate that chemical equations exist, because I can now suggest that the chemical equations describing internal combustion, Maxwell's field equations, etc. are the "software" component of your car, and this will make sense since low-level operating system code consists of equations, too.

But those equations are widely known, and with sufficient skill in chemistry and metallurgy you could apply them and hack together your own engine. So I have really only described an "open source" car.

A car sold with a pre-installed, closed-source operating system would be very different. It would not (necessarily) use internal combustion, electricity, or a combination thereof. It might very well use solar power or nuclear fission. Or geothermal energy. You wouldn't know because the rules by which the engine does what it does to the camshaft/axels are not disclosed.

You might reverse engineer your car to discover some of this stuff; the technique known as "packet sniffing" is analogous to measuring/analyzing the substances that go into the tank and come out the exhaust pipe. But you are Very Unlikely to become qualified to do any repair or maintenance on your car through these means.

All you guys thinking analogically will (and should) now say "Exactly. And most people don't care about learning that stuff. They're fine with paying a mechanic for those services."

But maybe the guys thinking philosophically (w00t) will realize something: your choice of mechanic, in this analogy, is limited by the vendor. Is this a good situation? There are billions of people on this planet, and a great many of them are willing and able to apply the laws of mechanics to a car engine so that it works, or works better. They are appropriately called mechanics.

But if you drive a closed-source car, 99.9% of those mechanics are useless to you -- they don't know and can't discover how your car works. As a further oddity, all of the mechanics who can fix your car have a vested, personal interest in you continuing to buy closed-source cars. Weird.

Y'know how annoying it is that your warranty expires if you don't go to the dealer for your oil changes etc? This is like that, but 1,000 times worse. Because the dealer (analogy being stretched tight here, I like that) does not actually sell any cars. She just does the service. Boy, I hope you can trust her. 'Cause she's the only one who can service your car. The only one. And if she breaks stuff on purpose, so that you keep coming back and paying her, then too bad for you. Weird.

Y'know what really reminds me of a volkswagon? GNU/Linux. Think about it:
-It's compact, resource efficient
-The engine is in back (no particular advantage, it's just unfamiliar at first)
-It's got this cool sorta counter-cultural vibe thing
-There are at least a billion people who can do basic maintenance (oil change) on it, and there are millions who can do more advanced repair work, and there are probably a hundred thousand who basically grok it.

Some more fun points:
Fedora Core reminds me of a Corvette (maybe just the sound?)
SELinux reminds me of an armored car
Knoppix reminds me of those bicycles they have lying around all over Austin, where you can just take one, get where you're going, then go back to your normal mode of transportation. Or keep using the bicycle. Except instead of bicycles it's Corvettes.
Gentoo reminds me of Kit, from Knight Rider

Windows reminds me ...
... of ...
I dunno, a city bus? It goes to predefined spots. It tries to cater to everyone's needs, so it makes all sorts of extra stops that have nothing to do with you. It's usually ugly. It's inefficient (Cf. buses that can hold 80 people and usually have 5 on them). If it's broken, then well you just don't get to use it today, and you hope that whoever's in charge will fix it soon. And you always feel stuck, sitting with a bunch of people who seem unhappy about being on the bus.

Oh, one other thing: the cars are all free, including the armored cars and Lamborghinis. The bus costs $400 for the Home Edition and $1,000 or something for "Pro".

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


I'm cool. Congratulate me. Also, pay me more money.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Introduced 6/8/05 which I think means June 8, not August 6, so I'm a little behind the times.

But not as far behind as Congress, which has seen fit to draft some Patent Reform legislation that ... fasten your seatbelts ... says Precisely Nothing about software patents -- the most controversial, the most critical problem with the current patent system.

So what was so urgently in need of reform? Well, there's good stuff in there. Damages for infringement are limtied, injunctions are harder to obtain, and the best: a "Post-grant Opposition Procedure". (Don't read the bill. Read this.)

mmm... opposition...

I think I'm resolving, from now on, to do more opposition. Dennis Crouch (no relation) parrots the same ol' stance, the Martin Fink stance: viz. "software patents suck, but such is the world, so make sure you get some".

Fink! Crouch! Question in the back from the little guy with the PokerStars hat:
"What if I don't have $200,000+ to assemble a software patent portfolio?"

(sound of crickets chirping)

The actual answer, "Then you can't get in the software business", is something Fink et el. do not want to say. Because they would meet with quite a bit of opposition, I think.

Interlude: Fink's company, HP, is primarily a hardware company, so there is a good chance they're not Too Terribly Evil. I hope that most of the 1500+ patents they acquire each year are for actual machines/devices/hardware, and not for emoticons.

Still, I resolve to stay on top of this. I might even hack up a system to make "opposition" easier. That'd be fun. It'd be like Groklaw II.

Friday, August 05, 2005



*"Days Using Internet Explorer Before Getting A Virus"

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Joel nails it again. Seems like the quality of this guy's pieces started out Very Good and has steadily climbed ever since.

Links in there led me eventually to a pretty authoritative declaration that "incentives" are, as a general rule , counterproductive. Someone needs to tell the econodwarf.

I'm with Joel; the iPod is Amazing Design. Looking at the image, something occurred to me:

It looks like a freaking screenshot of a media player on your desktop. Seamless, the beveled/shadowed sides, the simple and spacious control wheel. I actually have a hard time believing that this is a photograph of a physical object.

What does that do for the user? I think it subconsciously makes himher feel like part of some futuristic world, one that I've fantasized about, with interactive display screens floating in physical space. You use your finger instead of a mouse. Real Minority Report type stuff. More of this, please.

Monday, August 01, 2005


*sigh ... looks like my readership has declined by about 100%... well, I have some stuff to say anyway.

Recent news that Apple is hitching their newest wagon to the DRM star foments the usual dumb arguments about how proper and acceptable it is for developers of software/content to try to recoup their investment. So, at the risk of repeating things that have been said before, let's dig in with a fun analogical leap:

He's already licking his ass!

The problem with DRM is not that it's inherently immoral to pursue profits. The problem with DRM is that it's 0% effective at dealing with piracy. The pirate is deliberately copying, maybe reselling, large and sometimes vast amounts of copyrighted material. Heshe is already breaking the law -- the one against breaking copyright.

For fun, I will grant the defenders of DRM something that is ludicrous as hell: that digital goods are as valuable as diamonds. It is illegal to steal diamonds. But people do it anyway! There are several possible responses to this situation:
-Make the punishment for stealing diamonds harsher, until it is no longer worth the risk
-Lock up your diamonds tighter, thereby diminishing their value-in-use, which is to be shown off, perhaps on a necklace, etc.

The first approach maximizes the downside risk of stealing, the second one maximizes the effort required. But both act on the thief-to-be's motivational equation:
Profit (P) - Effort (E) > Risk (R)
When this evaluates to "true", a lawbreaker-type person might steal diamonds.

DRM represents an out-of-the-box (and stupid) third way:
1. Attach an apparatus to every diamond, so that it can be located at all times.
2. Make it illegal to remove this apparatus.

You've solved (salved?) the problem by geolocating every good, honest person who wears or likes diamonds. And by giving thieves a second, and fairly trivial, law to break.

The problem with DRM is that it abridges people's freedom to control their computers, and provides precisely nothing in exchange.

That equation thing was fun ... here's code for the DRM world:
if ($lawbreaker) {
  $upside = $profit - $effort;
  if ($upside > $risk) {
    /*here's the addition that DRM proposes, and that proponents claim is worth the sacrifice of above-mentioned freedom*/
    if (!$lawbreaker) {
      return "curses! ".foiled_by(DRM);