Hugh Daniel, a very well known hacker and cypherpunk, was found dead in his apartment a few days ago. Hugh was a terrific guy and a friend of all the world, the kind of cheerfully-larger-than-life personality that makes things a little merrier and more interesting wherever it goes. He’s going to leave a big Hugh-shaped hole in a lot of lives, including mine.
But I had a presentiment when I heard the first report of Hugh’s death, which was borne out when the first information came out about probable cause. Friends report that the coroner is fingering stroke or heart disease – but I’ve seen this movie before.
Because I’ve seen this movie before, I make a prediction. If they autopsy Hugh, they will find evidence of undiagnosed type II diabetes, non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver, serious coronary plaque, and probably marginal function in the kidneys and other organs. He will present similarly to a victim of long-term, low-grade poisoning.
About three years ago, another friend of mine, a gamer named Richard Butler, died with these symptoms. The two were about the same age when they died; both physically large men with big booming voices, happily extroverted geeks with a knack for making friends wherever they went, and the kind of zest for life that can make someone seem unkillable.
And both looked prematurely aged in photographs I saw shortly before their deaths. The energy was still there, but in retrospect the body was beginning to fail.
I think I know what actually killed Hugh and Richard. I don’t think it was old age in the normal sense; neither of them was even 60, if I’m any judge. I’m sounding an alarm because I think a significant number of my peers could die the same, preventable death.
Congratulations, Adobe, on your impending move from selling Photoshop and other boring old standalone applications that people only had to pay for once to a ‘Creative Cloud’ subscription service that will charge users by the month and hold their critical data hostage against those bills. This bold move to extract more revenue from customers in exchange for new ‘services’ that they neither want nor need puts you at the forefront of strategic thinking by proprietary software companies in the 21st century!
It’s genius, I say, genius. Well, except for the part where your customers are in open revolt, 5000 of them signing a petition and many others threatening to bail out to open-source competitors such as GIMP.
Blogging will be limited for the next week.
I’ve received several requests for posts on a bunch of meaty topic, including (a) Adobe’s Creative Cloud move, (b) The Defence Distributed takedown notice, (b) the utility of power-projection navies, (d) current state of the terror war, and others. I won’t get to all of these anytime soon, because I’m swamped with work and will be travelling today to an undisclosed city for a meeting I can’t talk about yet.
Sorry to go all international-man-of-nystery on everybody but all will be revealed later this year. It will have been worth the wait.
A few weeks ago I blogged an alternate-history story in which the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was abused and distorted in the same ways the Second Amendment has been in our history. The actual point of the essay, though, was not about either amendment; it was about how strategic deception by one side of a foundational political dispute can radicalize the other and effectively destroy the credibility of moderates as well.
In my experience, moral panics are almost never about what they claim to be about. I am just (barely) old enough to remember the tail end of the period (around 1965) when conservative panic about drugs and rock music was actually rooted in a not very-thinly-veiled fear of the corrupting influence of non-whites on pure American children. In retrospect it’s easy to understand as a reaction against the gradual breakdown of both legally enforced and de-facto racial segregation in the U.S.
But moral panics are by no means a monopoly of cultural conservatives. These days the most virulent and bogus examples are as likely to arrive from the self-described “left” as the “right”. When they do, they’re just as likely to be about something other than the ostensible subject.
My blogging will be light or nonexistent over the next week. I’m on the road in Michigan, at Penguicon; the Friends of Armed and Dangerous party will be here at 9:00 tonight.
It really is the 21st century. Yesterday I merged a bunch of patches, ran acceptance tests, and then polished and shipped a reposurgeon release – while in the passenger seat of a car tooling down I-80. The remarkable thing is that this no longer seems remarkable.
I discovered in the process that while i3 is the best thing since sliced bread on a 2560×1440 display, a tiling window manager is pretty uncomfortable on a laptop-sized 1366×768 display. The problem is that even dividing the laptop screen only in half produces shell and Emacs windows that are narrower than their natural 80-column size rather than wider as on the larger display; one gets the text in email and source code wrapping unpleasantly. I’ve fallen back to XFCE for laptop use.
In two hours, Geeks With Guns. Going to be a full day.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the terrorist who died in a firefight with the Boston police with a kettle bomb strapped to him, had a YouTube page. Examining an image of it, I found an approving link to a movie titled “The Black Flags of Khorasan”.
Because, unlike the politically-correct idiots who infest our nation’s newsrooms, I’ve actually studied the history of Islam in some detail, that title had immediate resonance for me. I thought I knew what it meant, and I googled.
What I found confirmed my hunch. Not just that Black Flags from Khorasan is a jihadist propaganda movie, but that it’s a jihadi movie of a particularly interesting kind – Mahdist, and almost certainly radical Shi’a. Mahdism is present in Sunni but much less central, and in any case the region of Khorasan has been the heart country of Shi’a for nearly a thousand years.
Domestic terrorism, my ass. As usual, the mainstream media was slavering to pin this on some Richard-Jewell-like native-born conservative (bonus points if they get to say “Tea Party”). As usual, it’s a jihadi atrocity in which fundamentalist Islam was causal.
But that film is a more specific clue. If the investigators have even a microgram of brains, they’re looking for an Iranian connection now.
I’ve been thinking about how to build a better IRC client recently.
The proximate cause is that I switched to irssi from chatzilla recently. In most ways it’s better, but it has some annoying UI quirks. Thinking they’d be easy to fix, I dug into the codebase and discovered that it’s a nasty hairball. We’ve seen projects where a great deal of enthusiasm and overengineering resulted in code that is full of locally-clever bits but excessively difficult to modify or maintain as a whole; irssi is one of those. Even its maintainers have mostly abandoned it; there hasn’t neen an actual release since 2010.
This is a shame, because despite its quirks it’s probably the best client going for serious IRC users. I say this because I’ve tried the other major contenders (chatzilla, BitchX, XChat, ircii) in the past. None of them really match irsii’s feature set, which makes it particularly unfortunate that the codebase resembles a rubble pile.
I’m nor capable of stumbling over a situation like this without thinking about how to fix it. And yesterday…I had an insight.
Here’s a thought experiment for you. Imagine yourself in an alternate United States where the First Amendment is not as a matter of settled law considered to bar Federal and State governments from almost all interference in free speech. This is less unlikely than it might sound; the modern, rather absolutist interpretation of free-speech liberties did not take form until the early 20th century.
In this alternate America, there are many and bitter arguments about the extent of free-speech rights. The ground of dispute is to what extent the instruments of political and cultural speech (printing presses, radios, telephones, copying machines, computers) should be regulated by government so that use of these instruments does not promote violence, assist criminal enterprises, and disrupt public order.
The weight of history and culture is largely on the pro-free-speech side – the Constitution does say “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. And until the late 1960s there is little actual attempt to control speech instruments.
Then, in 1968, after a series of horrific crimes and assassinations inspired by inflammatory anti-establishment political propaganda, some politicians, prominent celebrities, and public intellectuals launch a “speech control” movement. They wave away all comparisons to Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, insisting that their goal is not totalitarian control but only the prevention of the most egregious abuses in the public square.
This is a postscript to my saga of the graphics-card disaster.
Thank you. everybody who occasionally drops money in my PayPal account. In the past it has bought test hardware for GPSD. This week I had enough in it to pay for the Radeon card, the one that actually works.
Your donations help me maintain software that serves a billion people every day. Thank you again.
I am composing this blog entry on the right-hand screen of a brand shiny new dual-monitor rig. That took me the best part of a week to get working. I am going to describe what I went through to get here because I think it contains some useful tips and cautions for the unwary.
Last night, in an IRC conversation with one of my regulars, we were discussing a project we’re both users of and I’m thinking about contributing to, and I found myself saying of the project lead “And he’s German. You know what that means?” In fact, my regular understood instantly, and this deflected us into a discussion of how national culture visibly affects hackers’ collaborative styles. We found that our observations matched quite closely.
Presented for your amusement: Three stereotypical hackers from three different countries, described relative to the American baseline.
If you read any amount of history, you will discover that people of various times and places have matter-of-factly believed things that today we find incredible (in the original sense of “not credible”). I have found, however, that one of the most interesting questions one can ask is “What if it really was like that?”
That is, what if our ancestors weren’t entirely lying or fantasizing when they believed in…say…the existence of vampires? If you’re willing to ask this question with an open mind, you might discover that there is a rare genetic defect called “erythropoietic porphyrinuria” that can mimic some of the classical stigmata of vampirism. Victims’ gums may be drawn back on the teeth, making said teeth appear fanglike; they are likely to be photophobic, shunning bright light; and, being anemic, they may develop a craving for blood…
I’ve been experimenting with tiling window managers recently. I tried out awesome and xmonad, and read documentation on several others including dwm and wmii. The prompt cause is that I’ve been doing a lot of surgery on large repositories recently, and when you get up to 50K commits that’s enough to create serious memory pressure on my 4G of core (don’t laugh, I tend to drive my old hardware until the bolts fall out). A smaller, lighter window manager can actually make a difference in performance.
More generally, I think the people advocating these have some good UI arguments – OK, maybe only when addressing hard-core hackers, but hey we’re users too. Ditching the overhead of frobbing window sizes and decorations in favor of getting actual work done is a kind of austerity I can get behind. My normal work layout consisted of just three big windows that nearly filled the screen anyway – terminal, Emacs and browser. Why not cut out the surrounding cruft?
I wasn’t able to settle on a tiling wm that really satisfied, though, until my friend HedgeMage pointed me at i3. After a day or so of using it I suspect I’ll be sticking with it. The differences from other tiling wms are not major but it seems just enough better designed and documented to cross a threshold for me, from interesting novelty to useful tool. Along with this change I’m ditching Chatzilla for irsii; my biggest configuration challenge in the new setup, actually, was teaching irssi how to use libnotify so I get visible IRC activity cues even when irsii itself is hidden.
Today, while doing research to answer some bug mail, I learned that all versions of Android since 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) have used gpsd to read the take from the onboard GPS. Sadly, gpsd is getting blamed in some quarters for excessive battery drain. But it’s not gpsd’s fault! Here is what’s actually going on.
One of my commenters recently speculated in an accusing tone that I might be a natural-rights libertarian. He was wrong, but explaining why is a good excuse for writing an essay I’ve been tooling up to do for a long time. For those of you who aren’t libertarians, this is not a parochial internal dispute – in fact, it cuts straight to the heart of some long-standing controversies about consequentialism versus deontic ethics. And if you don’t know what those terms mean, you’ll have a pretty good idea by the time you’re done reading.
This is how the AGW panic ends: not with a bang, but with a whimper.
The Economist, which (despite a recent decline) remains probably the best news magazine in the English language, now admits that (a) global average temperature has been flat for 15 years even as CO2 levels have been rising rapidly, (b) surface temperatures are at the lowest edge of the range predicted by IPCC climate models, (c) on current trends, they will soon fall clean outside and below the model predictions, (c) estimates of climate sensitivity need revising downwards, and (d) something, probably multiple things, is badly wrong with AGW climate models.
Do I get to say “I told you so!” yet?
In How crowdfunding and the JOBS Act will shape open source companies, Fred Trotter proposes that crowdfunding a la Kickstarter and IndieGoGo is going to displace venture capitalists as the normal engine of funding for open-source tech startups, and that this development will be a tremendous enabler. Trotter paints a rosy picture of idealistic geeks enabled to do fully open-source projects because they’ll no longer feel as pressed to offer a lucrative early exit to VCs on the promise of rent capture from proprietary technology.
Some of the early evidence from crowdfunding successes does seem to point at this kind of outcome, especially near 3D printing and consumer electronics with a lot of geek buy-in. And I’d love to believe all of Trotter’s optimism. But there’s a nagging problem of scale here that makes me think the actual consequences will be more mixed and messy than he suggests.
I shipped reposurgeon 2.29 a few minutes ago. The main improvement in this version is speed – it now reads in and analyzes Subversion repositories at a clip of more than 11,000 commits per minute. This, is, in case you are in any doubt, ridiculously fast – faster than the native Subversion tools do it, and for certain far faster than any of the rival conversion utilities can manage. It’s well over an order of magnitude faster than when I began seriously tuning for speed three weeks ago. I’ve learned some interesting lessons along the way.
It was inevitable, I suppose; reposurgeon now has its own Emacs mode.
The most laborious task in the reposurgeon conversion of a large CVS or Subversion repository is editing the comment history. You want to do this for two reasons: (1) to massage multiline comments into the summary-line + continuation form that plays well with git log and gitk, and (2) lifting Subversion and CVS commit references from, e.g., ’2345′ to [[SVN:2345]] so reposurgeon can recognize them unambiguously and turn them into action stamps.
In the new release 2.22, there’s a small Emacs mode with several functions that help semi-automate this process.
Fear the reposturgeon!