Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Temporary

But is this technology of which we are so proud real? I mean, I am not saying it is all illusion... Actually I am saying it is all illusion, but not in the way you probably imagine.

No, television, heavy industry, computers, aircraft, are all made of the same matter and energy as the rest of the universe. (Well, most of it. I'm not. I'm made of thoughts and desires. The rest of you are matter and energy, though.)

The products of modern technology are real, and solid, and quite capable of killing if they fall on you from a great height. Their illusory nature lies in our confidence that they will always be there - that our level of industrialization is sustainable.

But unfortunately we live in a world of infinite possibilities, and finite resources with which to pursue those possibilities. We are attracted to the idea that technology will save itself; That when, in five years or five hundred years, oil passes its peak and global shortages begin to strangle us there will be developed a new and revolutionary source of cheap, portable energy, or that current alternatives will be refined to the level of adequacy. But what of steel? What of silver? Coal? Copper? etcetera. (Actually, etcetera supplies seem to approach the infinite, but that's a story for another time).

And if technology does somehow save itself and overcome its ultimate dependence on finite resources and one day - in the far future - the Earth is a writhing mass of humanity, flesh right through to the core. What then will we consume?

"But," they cry - they being the usual kind of unspecified morons us brilliant writer guys drag out of our spectacular imaginations whenever we need to attribute some kind of asinine statement that will allow us to attack our favourite straw man, like some kind of man made of straw.... "But," they cry, "In these dim dark future times of which you speak man will have mastered space travel, and humanity will move ever outward to the stars, in an endless diaspora of going-outwardly-ness!"

To which the response, generally speaking, is "Bollocks!"

... Well, I suppose I could elaborate, although it seems "Bollocks" covers it quite nicely... Look, even assuming the mastery of faster-than-light travel, you'd have to be some kind of cretin to not see the glaringly obvious flaw in this plan - that humanity can easily create two-legged virii at a vastly greater rate than we could manufacture starships sufficient to carry our excess population to the stars.

And, anyway, hands up who really believes technology will, given the stuff I went on about earlier, be able to save itself? I mean, I know we want to so believe. "Go, Technology, Go!" We cheer with much ado and much enthusiasm, and much secretly hoping it can just hang in there for another decade or two or three or however long it takes - just so long as we are dead and buried before the REALLY BAD STUFF happens. And then we get the guilt, you know, because of our children and what they're likely to be facing.

It's not that there is nothing can be done. There are solutions - or there were - and there are steps that could have been taken, given sufficient time, and intelligence, and willpower.

Heinlein said, "Never underestimate the power of human stupidity." But the truth is it is not stupidity drives us. It is greed. Ambition. The desire for MORE. Humanity rules this planet not through intelligence, creativity, or righteousness, but through the raw thumping engine of ruthless competitiveness that rumbles beneath the surface.

But these forces that bring us to this pinnacle of technological mastery, of civilization, are also the same forces that guarantee we will not - cannot - stop. It is not in our nature.

Oh, there are individuals able to rise above these instincts. Small groups perhaps, dominated by a strong few belatedly-advanced individuals. However, in the end, nations, and the great mass of humanity as a whole, has never and will never be able to cast aside millions of years of evolution and choose to halt the reckless dash to saturation, and the inevitable collapse.

History knows this pattern well. Rise, explosive success, resource exhaustion, wars, collapse, darkness, followed by a long, slow recovery. But this time around the top of the wheel has been something to behold in terms of its sheer scale and breadth. Let us hope the downside is not equally spectacular.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Do Not Cover

The Laptop hard drives I've seen all have a tiny hole in the housing, with a sign saying "Do Not Cover".

I covered. Nothing happened. Imagine my disappointment.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Dell and the Penguins

So, Dell will be offering Linux pre-installed on some of their PCs. Again.

I've been waiting to comment on this. Have been reading a lot of interesting posts. There's quite a bit of positive, even triumphant stuff being written. And certainly the developers, packagers, and distributors deserve all of the success it is believed this move will bring them.

The optimist in me cheers. The optimist in me believes, its tiny voice raised to the heavens, like a mouse on LSD. Sorry, but it is a very very small optimist.

The cynic, meanwhile, takes a look at claims this move by Dell shows Microsoft are losing their dominance of the industry, and laughs, a bold, deep, throaty laugh that leaves absolutely no doubt as to who is really in control around here.

This move to bring Linux to the desktop will fail. It is designed to fail. Designed by Microsoft.

Think about it; which scenario is more plausible.

Scenario 1
SB: MickeyD, what's this I hear about you offering Linux.
MickeyD: Yes, we are going to be offering Linux.
SB: Stop it. Now.
MickeyD: Sod off Steve.

Scenario 2
SB: What we need right now is a massive and very public Linux failure in the marketplace.
MickeyD: What do you have in mind, Steve?
SB: How does a few more billions in advertising kickbacks sound?
MickeyD: Tasty.
SB: Rad.

I mean, seriously, do you really think Microsoft would allow this to proceed otherwise? Why the hell do you think the offer will only be available in the US?

I'll tell you, shall I? It's because there's too great a risk it might actually succeed in Europe, or Asia, or, well, anyplace else. For chrissake people, wake up and smell the really clever confidence trick designed to mv Linux /dev/null

At least, that's what the cynic says. Especially the bit about /dev/null. The cynic in me is all l337 and stuff. l338 even. A superhero even.

I prefer the optimist. He's nicer. Not such a prick.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Open Sauce

One of the world's leading advocates of the open sauce bottle movement, Brian Bahlendorf gave a talk at the Digital Freedom Expo at the University of the Western Cape on Thursday, entitled "Ten things you may not know about open sauce".

Unfortunately he was extensively misquoted by James Archibald in this article.

Here, then is the real gist of the thing.

    1. Open Sauce predates Closed Sauce: Well, they had to get it in the bottle somehow, right? Also, as a corollary, Open Sauce predates Chips and Sauce, Steak and Sauce, and Ice Cream and Sauce, because you can't get it out of the bottle otherwise. You get that, right?
    2. Apache kept the tabletop flat and free of obvious stains: You see, once upon a time, in the early days of dining technology, Brian Bahlendorf and his crack team of level seven magic users cloth-working-persons had a problem. And the problem was this. Recent advances in spare rib technology necessitated some form of table covering be invented, and fast. So, in a stroke of creative genius, Brian had his team sew together as many tea-towels as they could lay their hands on, thereby creating a robust protective patchwork. Initially this invention was known as the "Apache server" - "apache" because it is phonetically identical to "A patchy", and "server" because it allowed the restaurant to increase their throughput significantly, thus serving many more diners. In recent times it has become known simply as a "tablecloth".
    3. Open SSL kept cryptography available to everyone: "Open Slippery Sauce Layer" is an impressive new lubricant specifically designed for longevity and high performance in testing situations - crypt doors, for example, which are expected to last a very long time, are rarely opened, yet must operate flawlessly when required. Open SSL does all of this and more; a fitting tribute indeed to the humble tomato.
    4. Open Sauce helped free the human genome: Before the mapping of the human genome had been completed, a commercial consortium, Celera, was sequencing the genome with the intention of patenting it. This fabulous idea of patenting a discovery rather than an invention began to get many geneticists concerned. In about 2002 a doctoral student, Clark Kent, was working late in the lab when he accidentally spilled a bottle of rich red tomato sauce on his keyboard, which somehow caused the entire computer to become spontaneously self aware. The machine solved the genome problem out of gratitude, but not before many amusing and wacky adventures, and stuff.
    5. Microsoft loves Open Sauce: But then doesn't everybody? Ah the delicious tomatoey goodness.
    6. That delicious Tomatoey flavour is not the only reason people Open Sauce: No, it sure isn't. Some do it for exercise. Others just enjoy the challenge of the diabolical never-open lids. But mostly it is the flavour.
    7. Online communities can actually get things done: But that really has nothing to do with the whole sauce issue, so we will move on to the next point.
    8. The most important freedom - the right to fork: Also, the right to knife, the right to chow down on a massive sauce encrusted steak, and the right to pass out on the sofa afterwards, deeply satisfied. The right to spoon will not be discussed at this time.
    9. Open Sauce can still change the world: But it probably won't. This is because Open Sauce is a scrumptious food-thing, and not a superhero. Sorry.
    10. Open Sauce needs your help: I mean, no... I mean, I need your help to open this sauce. Please. Damn those never-open lids!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

KDE4 gets HOTTER Hot Nude Stuff

Since KDE 3.3 was released in 2004, KDE applications have used the KnuDELibs library KNewPorn to implement a simple interface for downloading and installing nudie pictures from a centralized server. Its successor, KNudeStuff 2 (KNS 2), is gearing up to give KDE 4 users new options for uninstalling content, content synchronization, the ability to rate content directly from the application interface, a dramatically faster interface, and more. KudeStuff 2 will be compliant with the FreePorn.org GetHotNudeStuff specification (GHNS), developed as a cross-desktop standard based on the original KNudeStuff design.

Like its predecessor, KNS 2 will act as a sort of way to bypass the whole web-browser, search engine, bittorrent, amule gamut users are faced with when attempting to locate quality porn. Furthermore KNS 2 adds support for Video downloads, live feeds, and an innovative new "Boss Key" API (BKA) designed to allow almost instant hiding of incriminating content at the press of a button, or a gesture of the mouse, or even - assuming the user has a webcam - a simple wave of the hand. well, there's nothing worse than having to keep one hand on the mouse/keyboard just in case somebody wanders by...

KNS 2 will introduce Desktop Xxxchange Service (DXS) support. DXS is a brilliant new method of sharing your favourite content without all that mucking about in file sharing applications. KNS 1 allowed you to notify your friends of "Really Neat Pron" (RNP) using a web based content rating system. By using RNP/DXS (RNP "over" DXS), content providers will be able to integrate this rating system directly into applications by using a CGI-like script (CGI = Common Gawking Interface). If application developers support DXS, users will be able to upload content ratings and even leave text comments without having to open a web browser, or identify themselves (Finally, phew). Additionally, DXS integration will add support for content searching by body part (size, shape, flexibility, firmness, weight) and allow users to "subscribe" to content and be notified of updates. Never again will you miss out on part 25 of that 25 part series you have been studiously downloading every three days.

KNudeStuff2 will be included in KnuDELibs for KDE 4. Lead developer Josef <Does not want his name associated with this article > (DNWHNAWTA) is already well into the coding of KNS 2. He quips, "There is already more fantastic porn available than its predecessor had, although more might not always be better. On the other hand, you can never have too many photos of titties." He is currently working to integrate KNudeStuff with the SVN development version of KnuDELibs 4, marking the implementation of basic downloading and uploading (and downloading and uploading, and downloading and uploading and...) functionality. DNWHNAWTA plans to release a highly anticipated nude developer tutorial soon.

(With apologies to LWN)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Delphi for PHP

Delphi for PHP

Yes, folks, Delphi for PHP. What will those boffins at Borland (sorry, Codegear) think of next? I am really hanging out for "Delphi for QBasic". "Delphi for Command.com".

But don't get me wrong - I am a Borland fan from way back, being quite intimately familiar with Delphi versions from two to five, and CBuilder versions from five all the way up to five. I say "intimately", but that's just an expression, you realize? I mean, I was nowhere near there, and the so called "eye witnesses" don't know what they're talking about, and anyway where does it say those alleged acts are illegal, when applied to software? Unlikely, yes. Insane? Possibly. But... and here's where I quickly change the subject...

Why, this very day I developed in both CBuilder and Delphi, and did a damn fine job of it too, if I do say so myself. And I do so say. Often.

But, and here at last is the thing, it's just not exciting anymore. The spark is gone. Borland (Codegear. Whatever) doesn't turn me on like it used to, and I'm not even sure why. Perhaps it is the outrageous pricing of most of their products, or the fact that their $3000+ Delphi 5 Enterprise was delivered in a paper sleeve - for that price I expect a jewel case, dammit - or the tragic disappointment that was Kylix, or it could even be simply that I've moved on from the Windows experience to greener pastures of VMS and Linux. Or, in this specific case, it just might be that I don't really see the point. Developing PHP? Vim does quite nicely, than you.

Also, the last Delphi app I developed wouldn't compile on account of all these ":w" bits in the middle of the code. Damn buggy IDE.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ant Farms

I repaired a friend's computer recently. Not my friend, but you know, somebody's. Ok, she is my wife's friend, if you really must insist on getting every little detail, but frankly I think just saying "Not my friend, but you know, somebody's" sounded much cooler and now you've gone and ruined the whole thing and maybe I should just forget it and run away to some place quiet and calm far far far from this ant farm we call "society"...

There were several problems, including faulty RAM, spyware, adware, and the odd virus. Well, ok, it wasn't that odd. It was quite an ordinary virus, however "the ordinary virus" doesn't have much of a ring to it.

But that's quite beside the point, as it turns out, for the point - apart from providing lots of great opportunities to use the phrase "ant farm" - the point is actually around here somewhere...

The thing is that, given the insane ant farm in which we spend our days, it can be satisfying to occasionally help out just because you can, and in whichever way you can. You don't need to be wealthy to create a windfall moment for another resident of the ant farm.

Ok, so it was just about saying "ant farm". Ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm ant farm.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Ctrl-D to Quit

As a programmer most of my time is currently spent working in C and DCL (on VMS), bash scripts, and PHP/Javascript/HTML, with a little CBuilder and Delphi thrown in.

Occasionally I use Python, but not for software development. I use Python as a calculator.

Here's a typical session:
# python
Python 2.4.4 (#2, Jan 13 2007, 17:50:26)
[GCC 4.1.2 20061115 (prerelease) (Debian 4.1.1-21)] on linux2
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> 3897 + 705
4602
>>> 4600 * 0.75
3450.0
>>> quit
'Use Ctrl-D (i.e. EOF) to exit.'
>>>

Python is really clever. Python knows that when I type "quit" I wish to exit from the interpreter. Python, however, refuses to accept this request, but instead suggests that I type Ctrl-D to exit. If Python knows what I mean by "quit", well, then, why not just, you know, do it. This cracks me up every time, which shows how easily amused I am.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Warning to Windows Users

If you use Microsoft Windows on a public network your computer may already be under the control of somebody else - and for once I'm not talking about Microsoft here. I am referring to nefarious malware authors, spammers, script kiddies, etc. If you download and install software from the internet your computer most likely is so compromised.

The odds are much higher than you probably imagine.

And, if your system has been compromised, you are probably part of a botnet. From the linked article: "It has been estimated that up to one quarter of all personal computers connected to the internet are part of a botnet."

If your computer is part of a botnet, it can be used to attack servers on the internet, including commercial and military targets.

Now, here is where it gets interesting. "If the United States found itself under a major cyberattack aimed at undermining the nation’s critical information infrastructure, the Department of Defense is prepared, based on the authority of the president, to launch a cyber counterattack or an actual bombing of an attack source."

Yes sir - use Microsoft Windows, and the US DOD will drop a bomb on your house. You have been warned.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Millions of Penguins

The Debian project has thousands of contributors - package maintainers, documentation writers, programmers, and possibly even an infinite number of monkeys. Who can say for sure. I mean, I could, if those damn monkeys would stand still for a moment and let me count them.

Likewise, the Linux kernel has thousands of contributors. Ditto Firefox. Software projects have proven themselves extremely well suited to a distributed model.

Enter A Million Penguins, an effort to create a novel via a collaborative wiki. Anybody can contribute. Anybody can edit.

This seems like a really really bad idea. Awful. Novel writing is a task ideally suited to a single person - two if you count the editor. Seriously, throwing unlimited personnel at a one-person task is a recipe for insanity.

". . . more than six people cannot agree on anything, three is better, and one is perfect for a job that one can do. This is why parliamentary bodies all through history, when they accomplished anything, owed it to a few strong men who dominated the rest."
-- Robert Heinlein

Sunday, January 28, 2007

University Guy Steals Microsoft's Invention, In Advance

Oh, the shame. The Ignominy. The several other words I just picked at random from the dictionary.

On one side we have Microsoft, poor, innocent, predatory monopoly Microsoft inventing a brilliant new way of doing programming stuff. Poor poor Microsoft scrapes together just enough cash to file a patent application in the hope of someday profiting from its genius engineers.

On the other side, an evil, power-mad, commie university guy Steals Microsoft's Idea, travels back in time, puts it in his own no-doubt-inferior product, then complains on his evil power-mad commie weblog that Microsoft has stolen his idea.

It makes me ashamed to be a weblog writing guy.

Monday, January 22, 2007

10 Reasons not to get the 10 reasons not to get Vista article

"Cogs Can Think" has published a rebuttal to APCMag's "Ten reasons not to get Vista", but it seems as though the author has never truly looked up "rebuttal" in the dictionary. Of course, neither have I, but there you go.

As pointed out almost unanimously in the comments the Cogs rebuttal failed to rebut. Therefore it falls to I, as Windows advocate #1, and in the hope of getting one of those free laptops, to put paid to the shameful lies and half-truths of the APCMag article. Ok, maybe not half truths, exactly - let's say 95%. .. Therefore it falls to me to put paid to the shameful lies and 95% truths of the APCMag article.

  1. "You don't actually need it": Oh, I need it alright, man. I have the shakes. My brain hurts. I need it sooooooo bad I am just going to burst all over the place like a ripe pimple if I don't get me some Vista soon. Now, as to the whole "Vista doesn't do anything you can't already do with XP" bit; well, you can't just go quantifying needs like that. Needs are much more complex, much more spiritual, much more... you know.... dammit, it's so hard to think right now. If you throw me just a bit of Vista, I'm sure I can get it together enough to finish this... Arrrrrrh, that is good shit, man. So, listen - Microsoft needs us to buy Vista for the sake of their profits. What's good for Microsoft is good for the consumer. Therefore, we do indeed need Vista.
  2. "Cost $$... You already have XP, and alternatives like Linux are free.": Time is money. Money is money. Time is relative to one's movement in space. Space is infinite. Therefore Money is infinite, so what are you worried about? (Economic theories courtesy of the US Federal Reserve)
  3. "It's outrageously overpriced": When something is this good, it doesn't matter the cost. For further details see item #1. Also, see #2 for a discussion of the ultimate abundance of money. I mean, how can it be overpriced, if money is infinite?
  4. "Upgrading Hardware": Now this is just lunacy. Upgrading hardware is fun. Buying new things is fun. I mean People really really like buying new kit. Therefore this #4 is an argument for Vista, not against.
  5. "Driver Support": What does Vista have to do with golf anyway?
  6. "Applications that don't work": This is merely an opportunity to buy more stuff, and people love buying stuff (See #4).
  7. "It's a big fat target": Now this is exactly the kind of insensitive, prejudiced rubbish I'd expect from APCMag. I believe the correct term is "big horizontally challenged target." Anyway, Vista is easily within the acceptable weight range for its height. Besides, if Linux were as popular as Windows, and made it impossible to get anything done without being administrator, and integrated Internet Explorer with the operating system kernel, and included gigabytes of legacy code and nasty hacks just to make sure stuff written for Win95 would still run, then Linux would be a pretty damn easy target too.
  8. "UAC": Look, all UAC means is that the user has to click "OK" a few more times than usual. What's the big deal - users are used to clicking "OK" anyway, what with Windows having wizards for every damn thing, and pretty soon users don't even think about it, or read the dialog or anything, so it's really not much of an inconvenience, once the user is properly trained. And the extra security of having that enormous "OK" button to click on is very much worth it.
  9. "DRM ... nothing more than a liability to you, the user": Now, hang on a minute. I may not know what big words like "liability" and "to" mean, but I'm pretty sure you're saying something bad about DRM, and I for one won't stand for it. DRM is a philanthropic effort on the part of movie studios and record companies to ensure that the consumer gets the best possible product for their money - none of this nasty pirate stuff. They are just looking out for our best interest. Also, remember, what's good for Hollywood is good for the consumer.
  10. "The Draconian License": Hey, it's not easy to eke out a meagre living as a predatory software monopoly, on the bones of your arse, scratching in the dirt for some meagre crumbs, and along comes the callous, uncaring user who suddenly wants to buy/build a new computer without buying a new copy of Windows. Shame on you. Shame. Bill Gates desperately needs that revenue. Remember, What's good for Microsoft is good for the consumer.
And that, Mr Cogs, is how you write a rebuttal. I hope you learned something from this such as, I don't know, how great I am and how like a lowly worm you are, but in case you didn't I will just point out here that I am a great computer guru guy who knows lots and lots about Vista despite not having a copy yet because my free laptop from Microsoft seems to have been delayed in the post but it's sure to arrive any day now and then I will be a happy little Vista user forever and ever or until Vista+1 comes out sometime around 2020.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Super Grub Disk

KDE has this thing where you can select which operating system you wish to reboot into. When logging out there is a drop-down labeled "Restart Computer". Click and hold this and you'll see a list of options for rebooting, depending on your Grub/Lilo configuration. This option itself is configured via the KDE Control Center (System Administration/Login Manager).

The other day I thought it might be nice to boot into Windows to play a bit of Titan Quest, which is a kind of a Diablo clone with nicer graphics, and I thought I might try the aforementioned KDE feature.

Hilarity ensued.

Well, it was funny to the degree that Grub failed to boot windows, indicating instead that it could not read the disk. Bugger. Just like that I said "Bugger", except possibly with an exclamation point or two.

At this point I figured that the ancient 80GB drive on which Windows was located had failed, and rebooted into Linux. Well, attempted to. Same error. Bugger. Again. Probably not a hardware failure then.

I briefly cursed KDE for somehow hosing my Grub installation, then set about fixing it. In the past I have repaired this kind of thing by booting a live cd and running grub-install from a chroot. This works just fine, but is not entirely trivial unless you're some kind of brilliant computer guru such as I. Well, I don't like to brag, but.... Actually, I do like to brag, so cancel that last bit...

Anyway, it just so happened I had a copy of the Super Grub Disk lying around. Oh, no reason; just because I thought it looked interesting and definitely not on account of my having recently needing it to fix a Windows installation I had accidentally destroyed. No, no, nothing like that at all. Did I mention I am a brilliant computer guru guy and totally unlikely to do anything stupid like that?

So, in goes the SGD, ctrl-alt-del to reboot, up comes the Super Grub Disk menu, select the option to boot my Linux installation, wait, log in, type "grub-install /dev/sda" and it's all fixed. Dead easy.

In fact it can be even easier, on account of the SGD includes an option to automatically restore Grub on the MBR, for those less capable than myself. Did I mention I am a brilliant computer guru guy? Well, I may be a brilliant computer guru guy (and I am) but those blokes who dreamed up the SGD are, like, rad man. Check out the features here if you don't believe me. At 1.7MB for the download, and fifty cents for a CD, can you afford to be without it? (The answer is no, in case you were wondering, because I know many of you are a bit thick.)

BTW Notice how I have bravely resisted any mention of superheros (Super Grub Disk - get it!). This is because I am all mature and stuff, like a fine wine, or a turd.