May 28

I am twitter-enabled, mainly for gaming purposes

Those of you who wish to follow me on Twitter can now do so.

You’ll find much of my Twitter content a bit strange, as I am using it mainly to play an on-line game called EchoBazaar. All the tweets labeled #ebz are game stuff.

EchoBazaar has an interesting business model: you play for free, but can buy Fate Points useful in game. I understand this has been done before, but it’s the first time I’ve encountered it.

(Someone else has twitter ID “esr”, alas.)

Mar 02

Cocoa party! Yeah!

First there was the Tea Party movement. Which I’ve been keeping my distance from because while some of the small-government talk appealed to my libertarian instincts, it seemed to have a whiff of grouchy-old-fart social conservatism about it. While I’ve nearly achieved the calendar age required for grouchy-old-fart status, I don’t want anything to do with that mindset thank you very much.

Then there was the Coffee Party movement, which smelled of astroturf and humbug even before the founder was outed as a Democratic political operative and former New York Times staffer (but I repeat myself).

Now, there’s…the Cocoa Party movement! Yeah. Sign me up!

This satire is especially personally funny to me because in sober fact I am a cocoa-drinker by choice. I don’t like coffee, and while I enjoy tea well enough, I’d rather have a big mug of Godiva Dark Chocolate any day – extra strong, piping hot, no sugar or cream but a few shakes of cinnamon for sure.

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Feb 28

Plug for a worthy project: Softbound

When I do my ESR-the-famous-geek road show, I get two kinds of questions: the public ones from my auduence, and the private ones from people who buttonhole me afterwards because they politely don’t want to burden the audience with their particular concerns. Of these, the single most common one is probably “How do I attract developers to my project?”

Last Wednesday I was giving a talk at University of Pennsylvania, which I do once in most years because it’s near me and one of the professors there, Dr. David Matuszek, is an old friend who likes to have me in once a year as a treat for his students.

One of his colleagues approached me with the familiar question. There isn’t a good general answer to this one, because how you attract developers depends in subtle and complicated ways on which developers you actually want. But this particular pitch interested me because it could be part of a significant change in the open-source tools infrastructure that I see coming down the pike.

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Feb 10

The Great Blizzard of 2010: It’s Baaaack!

So, if you entertained any thought the Great Blizzard of 2010 was Gaia dancing a mocking reel on the heads of the AGW crowd…she’s back to tread out a hornpipe, a polka, and a rigadoon. The mid-Atlantic coast is now experiencing a second record-setting snowstorm just five days after the first one. Once again: we are snowed in, we are OK, the fridge is still well supplied, and the cat is still fuzzy.

Washington D.C. is now long past seeing its seasonal record for snow shattered. City authorities appear to have plain given up. The Federal government is shut down. (Yay!) Philadelphia is pretty much shut down too and nobody thinks it’s going to be any better off tomorrow. As I write we’ve got three feet on the ground in Malvern and more coming down fast; the trench I dug from our door to the driveway this morning has already filled in.

Last time around Malvern was 30-50 miles north of the worst-hit areas. This time, if I can go by what I saw on the weather maps, we had the bull’s-eye painted on us. The wind’s not as stiff as it was in Round One, but I think the snow is actually accumulating faster this time. Between the weekend’s snow and the new stuff I think we might crack the five-foot mark here.

The serious-damage threshold has already been crossed. Some friends of ours about a mile and a half away own a hot tub that sits under a light wooden-and-plexiglass gazebo. Used to sit under it, I should say; the roof collapsed today. Internet service is getting slow and flaky; I’ve had a couple episodes of being unable to reach even Google today. Pandora Radio is, unsurprisingly and with no blame to them, dropping out a lot. I’m thinking some of the core routers in the D.C./Baltimore area have probably crapped out.

I made another ginormous pancakes-and-bacon breakfast for us this morning. Wasn’t as much fun this time. And had to do almost all the shovelling myself, as Cathy slightly pulled something in her right hip over the weekend and I was not about to let her re-injure herself. Not that shovelling’s done a lot of good, anyway; as I noted, the snow has filled already in this morning’s trench to the driveway, Getting all the way to the road isn’t going to be pleasant.

Overall, this is starting to suck. Not seriously, yet, but the trend is not good. Um, about that global warming, could I actually have some, please? The cocoa is holding out, but we’re down to our last slice of pumpkin pie here, man!

Feb 06

The Great Blizzard of 2010

This is a bulletin for those of my regulars who know that I live smack-dab in the middle of the mid-Atlantic-coast region of the U.S. that’s just been hit by epic snowfall. We’re OK. It’s dangerous outside and we’re not planning on stirring out of sight of the house until the blizzard is over, but we’re OK.

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Jan 14

The Devil in Haiti

There’s a great deal of ridicule being aimed at Pat Robertson for describing the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti as God’s retribution on the country for a deal with the Devil supposedly made by the leaders of the 1791 slave revolt in which they threw off French control. And Robertson is a foaming loon, to be sure…but when I dug for the source of the legend I found a curiously plausible account:

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Nov 09

Ego is for little people

When I got really famous and started to hang out with people at the top of the game in computer science and other fields, one of the first things I noticed is that the real A-list types almost never have a major territorial/ego thing going on in their behavior. The B-list people, the bright second-raters, may be all sharp elbows and ego assertion, but there’s a calm space at the top that the absolutely most capable ones get to and tend to stay in.

I’m going to be specific about what I mean by “ego” now, because otherwise much of this essay may seem vague or wrongheaded. I specifically mean psychologial egotism, not (for example) ethical egoism as a philosophical position. The main indicators of egotism as I intend it here are are loud self-display, insecurity, constant approval-seeking, overinflating one’s accomplishments, touchiness about slights, and territorial twitchiness about one’s expertise. My claim is that egotism is a disease of the incapable, and vanishes or nearly vanishes among the super-capable.

It’s not only scientific fields where this is true. For various reasons (none of which, fortunately, have been legal troubles of my own) I’ve had to work with a lot of lawyers. I’m legally literate, so a pattern I quickly noticed is this: the B-list lawyers are the ones who get all huffy about a non-attorney expressing opinions and judgments about the law. The one time I worked with a stratospherically supercompetent A-list firm (I won’t name them, but I will note they have their own skyscraper in New York City) they were so relaxed about recognizing capability in a non-lawyer that some language I wrote went straight into their court filings in a lawsuit with multibillion-dollar stakes.

This sort of thing has been noted before by other people and is almost a commonplace. I’m bringing it up to note why that’s true, speaking from my own experience. It’s not that people at the top of their fields are more virtuous. Well…actually I think people at the top of their fields do tend to be more virtuous, for the same reason they tend to be be more intelligent, less neurotic, longer-lived, better-looking, and physically healthier than the B-listers and below. Human capability does not come in nearly divisible chunks; almost every individual way that humans can excel is tangled up with other ways at a purely physiological level, with immune-system capability lurking behind a surprisingly large chunk of the surface measures. But I don’t think the mean difference in “virtue”, however you think that can actually be defined, explains what I’m pointing at.

No. It’s more that ego games have a diminishing return. The farther you are up the ability and achievement bell curve, the less psychological gain you get from asserting or demonstrating your superiority over the merely average, and the more prone you are to welcome discovering new peers because there are so damn few of them that it gets lonely. There comes a point past which winning more ego contests becomes so pointless that even the most ambitious, suspicious, external-validation-fixated strivers tend to notice that it’s no fun any more and stop.

I’m not speaking abstractly here. I’ve always been more interested in doing the right thing than doing what would make me popular, to the point where I generally figure that if I’m not routinely pissing off a sizable minority of people I should be pushing harder. In the language of psychology, my need for external validation is low; the standards I try hardest to live up to are those I’ve set for myself. But one of the differences I can see between myself at 25 and myself at 52 is that my limited need for external validation has decreased. And it’s not age or maturity or virtue that shrunk it; it’s having nothing left to prove.

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Oct 21

Public Space in Cyberspace

Following my post Condemning Censorship, Even of Werewolves, a great many people took me for task for trying to make a principled distinction between public space and private space, and tangled that up with a lot of confusion about the distinction between “public” and “state-owned” space. Here I’ll attempt to shed some light on the matter. In doing so, I will not actually be retailing a private theory of mine, but touching on principles with a long history in ethics and Anglo-American common law.

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Oct 19

Condemning Censorship, Even of Werewolves

Thomas Paine once wrote: “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” Paine’s truth is not idealistic handwaving, it is brutal pragmatism. Justifications for censorship, even the best-intentioned kind, have a way of expanding until they become instruments of abuse. Therefore, if we truly care about freedom of speech, it is not sufficient to defend that freedom when it is comfortable to do so — when the censors are ugly and the victim is appealing. It is necessary, sometimes, to speak up in defense of ugly victims of censorship.

I have found myself placed under that necessity in the last week. A member in good standing of the open-source community, one Beth Lynn Eicher, had sought and achieved the suppression of public speech by one Mikhail Kvaratskhelia, aka ‘mikeeeUSA’, aka serveral other aliases. When I first approached her privately on the matter, she refused to apologize or retract. In my judgment, she was committing a crime against our community’s future by setting a precedent which might one day reach to all of us.

This put me in a difficult position. I had received an explicit appeal for redress in my capacity as one of our tribal elders, and I felt the appeal was in the right and Ms. Eicher in the wrong. But I knew — for various reasons which will become very clear — that making that case would involve me in a batter and divisive wrangle. I was prepared to do it anyway, because my conscience would not permit otherwise, but I knew it was going to be hell.

Fortunately, after several days of debate among myself and some friends of mine who leapt to Ms. Eicher’s defense, Ms. Eicher proved to be cleverer than either them or me. While Ms. Eicher’s defenders were still flaming me for intransigence on the free-speech issue, she designed a solution which I consider totally appropriate, and which I actually hope will set a precedent.

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Sep 28

Mighty aches from little ACORN’s fall

In all the foofaraw surrounding the ACORN scandals, there is a huge important consequence of them understood – but not spoken – by everyone who follows politics as a blood sport. This story describing conditions in Michigan and tallying up some recent ACORN convictions for electoral fraud is an indicator. And, on top of Obama’s plummet in the polls, the attention now being focused on ACORN has got to have any thinking Democratic strategist deeply worried about the 2010 midterms.

No, I’m not talking about the mere aura of scandal, the prospect that some of the smell coming off of ACORN might cling to the general run of Democratic politicians. That’s not going to happen, not while most of the mainstream media seems ever more intent on operating as an unpaid auxiliary for the Democratic National Committee. No stench will be allowed to adhere, not even if the stalwart partisans of the Fourth Estate have to lick it off with their own tongues. No, the real problem is this: ACORN was the linchpin of the Democratic electoral-fraud machine. Without it, the party’s position going into the next round of elections may be seriously weakened.

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Aug 13

Dr. William Short’s “Viking Weapons and Combat”: A Review

I expected to enjoy Dr. William Short’s Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques (Westholme Publishing, 2009, ISBN 978-1-59416-076-9), and I was not disappointed. I am a historical fencer and martial artist who has spent many hours sparring with weapons very similar to those Dr. Short describes, and I have long had an active interest in the Viking era. I had previously read many of the primary saga sources (such as Njal’s Saga Egil’s Saga, and the Saga of Grettir the Strong) that Dr. Short mines for information on Viking weaponscraft, but I had not realized how informative they can be when the many descriptions of fights in them are set beside each other and correlated with the archeological evidence.

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Jul 28

A Midsummer’s Light Posting

I’ve not been blogging much lately for two reasons. One: vacation. I went to sword camp (formally, “Polaris Summer Weapons Retreat”) again this year, had great time with friends, learned how to fight using a glaive (a form of bladed polearm). Two: heavy technical work. I’ve been designing and implementing a new protocol for GPSD; my next major post may be about some interesting issues that have come up during this process.

It-increases-my-paranoia news: Massive protests continue in Iran, some news about them leaking out through the news blockade, more reaching me through my NedaNet contacts. My Pennsylvania CCW arrived, so I now carry concealed legally – I had had plans to carry concealed illegally and make a Constitutional issue of it, but I’ve decided I don’t need to be in trouble with both the U.S. legal system and potential Iranian assassins at the same time.

I’m looking into upgrading my pistol competence level via IDPA tactical shooting; there’s a match at a gun club not far from here August 22nd and I’ll probably be at it. I did IPSC, which is similar, once back in 1998: you can read about it here. Then I got busy and famous and stuff, dangit.

Light blogging may continue for a while: World Boardgaming Championships is next week, and I’m playing a lot of on-line games in training for that; my goal is to at least make the finals in the Commands & Colors Ancients tournament.

Jun 21

A plea from Iran

I received an email that deeply moved me a few moments ago. I’m going to reproduce it here exactly, except that (as requested) I am omitting the name of the sender. Because I think I’m going to need a term of reference for him, I am substituting the name of a legendary Persian hero.

My name is [Rostam] , an open source fan and your blog regular commenter …

Regarding to security consideration, PLEASE KEEP MY IDENTITY SECRET !!

I wanted to inform you about what’s happening in Iran , but the the wildness circle of Iran’s religious and dictatorship regime is so that I can just invite you to check this two link in youtube :

Eric, I know that I will maybe face the deadly threats by sending this email. But, I do this because I do believe in freedom.

Inasmuch as, you are one of the most influent persons in one of the most talented community (Hackers) in the world, I humbly ask you write about Iran and what’s going on there.

Please tell the world that Persian people are fight for freedom . Our fight is “weapon less” against a full armored enemy . Our weapon is our great civilization , is our will of freedom and is our prior experience over the history.

PLEASE tell the world that there is no doubt at all that we will see freedom as you saw it after destroying Hitler’s nightmare …

Sincerely Yours , [Rostam]

Rostam, I will indeed blog about this. I begin by publishing your plea, which despite its somewhat broken English is probably as eloquent as anything I could write on the matter. You have my promise of secrecy. I will have more to say in coming days.

And, an interesting contrast with my last email from Iran

Jun 12

How to Type with a Foreign Accent

I spend a lot of time on IRC channels and discussion forums where many of the users are not native speakers of English. Recently one of these expressed surprise when I observed: “You type with a foreign accent. What is your birth language?” He knew, of course, about speaking English with an accent, but he hadn’t encountered before the possibility that the same cues could be observable in written English.

Herewith , some instructions on how to type with an accent. All the examples I will give are utterances I have observed in the wild.

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Jun 01

Extreme punctuation pedantry

Most people don’t know that there are two different philosophical camps that differ about how to do correct punctuation in English. This has been on my mind lately because of some questions I have been asked by non-native speakers on the Battle for Wesnoth development list, where I am the resident English pedant.

The rules we’re taught in school are the syntactic ones; in these, punctuation is a part of the grammar of written English and the rules for where you put it are derived from grammatical phrase structure and pretty strict. Lynne Truss of Eats, Shoots & Leaves fame is an exponent of this school. But there is another…

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May 25

Objective Evidence

This weekend, at Balticon (the Baltimore Science Fiction Convention) I got to play a bit with an infrared-sensing webcam. These turn out not to be very difficult to construct, because CCDs are sensitive well into the IR range. The normal filter blocks IR but passes visible light; by replacing it with fully exposed film stock, which is opaque to visible light but transparent to IR, you get infrared imaging.

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May 17

Is Danish Dying?

Some years ago I did a speaking tour in Scandinavia that involved staying in Denmark for a couple of days. Denmark, like the other Scandinavian nations I’ve visited, is a tidy little country full of intelligent, civilized, and agreeable people. As long as you can get along with gray sub-arctic weather and gray, characterless food these are interesting places to be – well, at least for someone with my strong interest in history and archeology. Historical museums, here I come!

But while I was in Denmark I kept tripping over odd facts that pointed to a possibly disturbing conclusion: though the Danes don’t seem to notice it themselves, their native language appears to me to be dying. Here are some of the facts that disturbed me:

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May 11

The Trek Movie: TOS rides again

I saw the new Star Trek movie last night, and it answers a question I wasn’t sure anyone would ever ask (or want to) – namely, could they find a young actor who could effectively clone William Shatner’s performance in TOS (The Original Series) as the alpha asshole of the future galaxy. The answer is yes.

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