Feb 09

Storm Nika crisis is over

I’m back home with the power on. Normal hacking and blogging will resume.

There’s four days I don’t want to have to do over again. Cold, stress, constant fatigue, consequent inability to concentrate…being a disaster-displaced person, it turns out, is psychologically difficult even if you have money and a good support network and a hotel in a First World country to fall back on.

The difference between voluntarily breaking your routine and having it forcibly ruptured for you really matters. I’m a pretty adventurous sort, normally utterly unfazed by travel and novelty and cheerfully willing to go on extended away missions, but this time I got barely a lick of work done on my laptop – I found myself aching for my desk and my computer and my routine.

Not just me, either. Cathy was working hard on not complaining but she was looking rather pinched and drawn by day two. I think of the three of us our cat coped best; by the time we relocated her from the frigid shell of Chez Raymond to my mother’s house on Day Three her attitude was clearly “as long as beloved humans are nearby, I’m OK”.

Sugar is so amiable that it’s easy not to notice that she’s as tough as old boot leather. She turned 21 during the storm. And no, you wouldn’t have been able to tell she’s the feline equivalent of a centenarian; she investigated my mother’s place as bright-eyed and curiously as a kitten. Did us both good to see it.

Upcoming: More on the Dark Enlightenment, a progress report on the Emacs repository conversion, and maybe a review of the Julia language. But I have to dig myself out from under some backlog first.

Feb 05

From an undisclosed location…

The title was a joke. The rest of this is not.

Cathy Raymond and I evacuated from our home this morning. We’ve never had to do that before.

Storm Nika has totally messed over the five-county area around Philadelphia. I’ve seen more downed power lines today than in my entire life until yesterday. Many roads are blocked by fallen trees. Over 600,000 people are without power; PECO has declared an all-hands emergency but says even so service may not be fully restored until the weekend.

This is much, much worse than Hurricane Sandy was. Regional rail is shut down. Most businesses are closed. So many homes are becoming uninhabitable that the county is setting up emergency shelters in schools.

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Jan 31

FOAD 2014 Party Pre-Announcemrnt

This is a pre-announcement of the second third Friends of Armed & Dangerous party.

FOAD 2014 will be held at Penguicon 2014, in Southfield, MI, almost certainly on the evening of Saturday May 3rd (but we don’t have a confirmed party-floor booking yet).

I believe John Bell is planning to run a Geeks with Guns the Friday before, so come equipped. Yes, personal weapons are considered an article of proper attire for the FOAD party – especially firearms or swords.

More details as they become available.

Jan 16

Dragging Emacs forward

This is a brief heads-up that the reason I’ve been blog silent lately is that I’m concentrating hard on a sprint with what I consider a large payoff: getting the Emacs project fully converted to git. In retrospect, choosing Bazaar as DVCS was a mistake that has presented unnecessary friction costs to a lot of contributors. RMS gets this and we’re moving.

I’m also talking with RMS about the possibility that it’s time to shoot Texinfo through the head and go with a more modern, Web-friendly master format. Oh, and time to abolish info entirely in favor of HTML. He’s not entirely convinced yet of this, but he’s listening.

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Oct 30

Dell UltraSharp 2713 monitor – bait and switch warning

I bought a Dell-branded product this afternoon. That was a mistake I will not repeat.

Summary: the 2713UM only reaches its rated 2560×1440 resolution when connected via DVI-D. On HDMI it is limited to 1920×1080; on VGA to 2048×1152. This $700 and supposedly professional-grade monitor is thus functionally inferior to the $300 Auria I still have connected to the other head of the same video card, which does 2560×1440 over any of these cables.

Two things make this extra infuriating:

I spent more than four hours on the phone with three different Dell technical-support people to find out that not only don’t they know how to fix this, nobody can give any reason for it. It’s a completely arbitrary, senseless limit. The monitor’s EDID hardware apparently tells lies to the host system that low-ball its capabilities. This couldn’t happen by accident; somebody designed in this nonsense.

And then neglected to tell potential customers about it. Nothing anywhere in the promotional material for this monitor even hints at these limits, and Dell’s own technical support people haven’t been clued in either. Bait and switch taken to a whole new level.

(Why did I buy a Dell product? Because it was the only thing I could get my hands on same-day that matched the specs of my other Auria, which went flickery-crazy early this afternoon.)

When I unloaded about this on Tech Support Guy #3, he passed me to a marketing representative. I explained, relatively politely under the circumstances, that I has over 15K social-media followers and was planning to give Dell a public black eye over their repeated bungling unless somebody gave me a really good reason not to.

She declined to send me $400 so I wouldn’t have been taken worse than by buying another Auria, then passed me to somebody she described as a manager. But I could tell by the accent he was just another drone in a call center in East Fuckistan who had neither the ability nor the intention to improve my day. After two more iterations of this I had had enough and hung up.

Dell. You pay more, but you’ll get less. Pass it on.

(Yes, I typoed the model number originally.)

Sep 24

Can micropatronage save the net?

How can we fund common Internet infrastructure without risking that it will be captured by corporations or governments? He who pays the piper tends to call the tune, which is a bad thing when you don’t actually want the content of your network to be controlled.

This is a problem I’ve been worrying about a lot for the last couple of years. I’ve been working on one organized attack on it that I’m not ready to talk about in public yet (but will be soon; some of this blog’s regulars are already briefed in). I’ve just found something else that might help which I can talk about: micropatronage.

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Jun 25

Indestructible cat is indestructible

Those of you not in our cat’s fan base can ignore this.

Sugar, at twenty years and five months of age, had her annual checkup today and was pronounced almost indecently healthy. The usual chorus of “Wow, she doesn’t look old!” occurred.

Yes, we do have to hydrate her about once a week. And we can tell she needs it when the night yowling starts – but, in general, indestructible cat continues to be indestructible. Nobody expected her to live this long, much less as an active cat who looks about half her actual age.

Cathy and I are pleased and proud. Of course this is is probably mostly good genes, but we like to think all the affection Sugar has collected from us and our geeky ailurophilic friends has contributed to her longevity.

Looks like she’ll be entertaining visiting hackers in our basement for some time to come.

Jun 06

Hugh Daniel is dead – in frighteningly familiar circumstances

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.

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May 11

Adobe in cloud-cuckoo land

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.

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May 11

On the road, blogging limited

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.

Apr 26

Penguicon party 2013!

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.

Apr 14

Thanks again to those of you who hit the tip jar

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.

Mar 28

What does crowdfunding replace or displace?

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.

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Feb 24

Norovirus alert – how to avoid spreading it

For about 24 hours beginning last Wednesday evening I had what I thought at the time was a bout of food poisoning. It wasn’t, because my wife Cathy and then our houseguest Dave Täht got it. It was a form of extremely infectious gastroenteritis, almost certainly a new strain of norovirus that is running through the U.S. like wildfire right now. Here’s what you need to know to avoid getting it and giving it to others:

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Feb 14

Penguicon Party Preannouncement

No details yet, but this is a heads-up: I will be at Penguicon 2013, 26-28 April in Pontiac Michigan…and there will be a second annual paty for friends of Armed & Dangerous (or FOAD – now where have I seen that before?)

Convention info at http://2013.penguicon.org/

Feb 03

Sugar turns twenty

This is a bulletin for Sugar’s distributed fan club, the hackers and sword geeks and other assorted riff-raff who have guested in our commodious basement. The rest of you can go about your business.

According to the vet’s paperwork, our cat Sugar turned 20 yesterday. (Actually, the vet thinks she may be 19, but that would have required her to be only 6 months old when we got her which we strongly doubt – she would have had to have been exceptionally large and physically mature for a kitten that age, which seems especially unlikely because her growth didn’t top out until a couple of years later.)

Even 19 would be an achievement for any cat – average lifespan for a neutered female is about 15, and five years longer is like a human hitting the century mark. It’s especially remarkable since this cat was supposed to be dead of acute nephritis sixteen months ago. Instead, she’s so healthy that we’ve been letting the interval between subcutaneous hydrations slip a little without seeing any recurrence of the symptoms we learned to associate with her kidney troubles (night yowling, disorientation, poor appetite).

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Jan 28

Coding Freedom: a review

My usual audience is well aware why I am qualified to review Gabriella Coleman’s book, Coding Freedom, but since I suspect this post might reach a bit beyond my usual audience I will restate the obvious. I have been operating as the hacker culture’s resident ethnographer since around 1990, consciously applying the techniques of anthropological fieldwork (at least as I understood them) to analyze the operation of that culture and explain it to others. Those explanations have been tested in the real world with large consequences, including helping the hacker culture break out of its ghetto and infect everything that software touches with subversive ideas about open processes, transparency, peer review, and the power of networked collaboration.

Ever since I began doing my own ethnographic work on the hacker culture from the inside as a participant, I have keenly felt the lack of any comparable observation being done by outsiders formally trained in the techniques of anthropological fieldwork. I’m an amateur, self-trained by reading classic anthropological studies and a few semesters of college courses; I know relatively little theory, and have had to construct my own interpretative frameworks in the absence of much knowledge about how a professional would do it.

Sadly, the main thing I learned from reading Gabriella Coleman’s new book, Coding Freedom, is that my ignorance may actually have been a good thing for the quality of my results. The insight in this book is nearly smothered beneath a crushing weight of jargon and theoretical elaboration, almost all of which appears to be completely useless except as a sort of point-scoring academic ritual that does less than nothing to illuminate its ostensible subject.

This is doubly unfortunate because Coleman very obviously means well and feels a lot of respect and sympathy for the people and the culture she was studying – on the few occasions that she stops overplaying the game of academic erudition she has interesting things to say about them. It is clear that she is natively a shrewd observer whose instincts have been only numbed – not entirely destroyed – by the load of baggage she is carrying around.

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