I have a confession to make. I buy “organic” food, and I feel rather guilty about it.
My wife and I were in the local Wegman’s the other day (Wegman’s is worth a rant by itself; I’ll get back to Wegman’s) poking around in the “Nature’s Market” section where they keep the organic food. “Aha!” says my wife, “here’s something you’d like,” and held up a small bag labeled “Gone Nuts: Cilantro Lime Mojo” with, underneath it in smaller type, “Pistachios and Pepitas”.
I seized the bag and looked on the back. “Pure food ingredients” it trumpeted.
“No weird stuff added. INGREDIENTS: Raw Pistachios, Sprouted Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Organic Lime Juice, Organic Fresh Cilantro, Organic Spices, Organic Jalapeno, Organic Cold Pressed Olive Oil, Himalayan Crystal Salt and Lime Oil.” My mouth watered. “Oh Goddess,” I muttered in her direction, “it’s packaged crack for me…”
Ah, but then came the deadly disclaimers. “VEGAN GLUTEN-FREE NO GMOs NO TRANS FAT.” and “We support local and fair-trade sources growing certified organic, transitional, and pesticide-free products.” Aaaarrrgggh! Suddenly my lovely potential snack was covered with an evil-smelling miasma of diet-faddery, sanctimony, political correctness, and just plain nonsense. This, I find, is a chronic problem with buying “organic”.
I saw The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone’s I-want-to-be-a-blockbuster action flick, just after it opened. I found it a curiously listless affair, considering all the star power and special-effects money lavished on it, but it’s taken me a week to realize why. Stallone, who wrote and directed and stars in the film, misses his target by a mile. Or, more likely, he couldn’t decide where to aim.
Being admired by lots of open-source geeks can be useful in unexpected ways. Probably the most extreme example I can recall is the Linux user group that once asked me to speak at a conference in Kansas City and rewarded me by paying for the ammunition at a local gun range where I got to fire fully-automatic weapons for the first and so far only time in my life. Though, come to think of it, the Korean LUG that gave me a tour of the DMZ complete with a trip down a captured North Korean infiltration tunnel was up there, too.
I was thinking about some of the more unusual experiences I’ve had of the road earlier today and it occurred to me that there’s one that almost happened, at Linucon 1, but didn’t because some insurance or municipal-health bureaucrat forced the conference to cancel the event. I’ve regretted it ever since.
So here it is. I don’t do a lot of road trips any more, but if your LUG or university is thinking about how to get me to give a talk, I have an unfulfilled wish…
Someday, I want to help judge a chili cook-off.
Hey, I like chili. I have some foodie tendencies and a good nose; I’d probably do the judging thing as competently as anybody who isn’t a professional cook. There it is; maybe some geek in a chiliaceous part of the U.S. will see this and go “Yeah. We could do that…” And a good time would be had by all.
A barbecue cook-off would also be quite acceptable :-)
Oracle has just sued Google over implementation methods used in the Dalvik virtual machine at the heart of the Android operating system. The complaint alleges knowing and willful infringement of seven patents originally issued to Sun Microsystems.
Oracle has retained Boies, Schiller & Flexner. One wonders if they’ll be any more competent than they were on the SCO lawsuit…
Results of a quick skim of the patents follow.
One of my commenters speculated as follows:
Perhaps I overestimate him, but I suspect that without Eric our choice would be Richard Stallman or Bill Gates without much in between. That isnâ€™t a pretty picture. Maybe Linus Torvalds would have help fill the vacuum, or perhaps someone else would have stepped up.
Because I think at least part of the time like a historian/anthropologist, I’ve actually spent a fair amount of effort contemplating what the world might look like if I hadn’t affected it. The more general and interesting question this touches (and what makes this particular instance actually worth thinking about) is a familiar one in historiography: to what extent the times make the man versus the man making the times.
I hold in my hand an extract of a draft manuscript paper-mailed to me by Donald Knuth.
It is titled “TPK in INTERCAL” and it has a handwritten note from Don offering a bug bounty of 0x$1.00.
In it, I am quoted three times.
If my grin were any wider, it would hurt.
I believe the proper item of contemporary slang for me to utter would be “Squee!”
In what threatens to become a semi-regular series, I give you a plea for help that landed in my mailbox this morning, anonymized, and my response. Querent’s situation is not unique; what’s unusual is his ability to self-diagnose and his willingness to ask for help.
I have diagnosed myself with what you described (here) as ‘the curse of the gifted’. I am currently seeking advice as to how to correct this and would greatly appreciate it if you could help me.
When I was a boy, pretty much everybody would call me ‘genius’. I got top grades in school and yadda-yadda. I am now but a shadow of what people would think of me: I have really hit the point where my brains alone can’t take me any further. I have to work hard, but I don’t know how.
Problem is, I’m so far down this rabbit hole that I’m actually afraid of failure. I know I should be taking risks and doing my best, but I simply can’t. I didn’t leave my country to look for a better future in a bigger one because I was afraid to leave the safety of my parent’s house. I stick to my day job because here there are so many ways to hide from real work and real challenges. I don’t contribute to open source or even start my own pet projects because I know that at the first obstacle I’m gonna drop them.
I often find myself wishing that I still were the “genius” that I was before (which I think to be a clear symptom of the condition), thinking that If something doesn’t come smoothly to me than I shouldn’t even bother.
How to cure this? How to learn discipline? How to learn how to work hard?
CNET reported a few days ago (while I was busy at the World Boardgaming Championships, or I’d have blogged on this sooner) that Android hits top spot in U.S. smartphone market.
There’s a boatload of bad news in the numbers for Apple fans, but no surprises for anyone who has been following my strategic analyses for the last seven months. In the first quarter Android new sales passed Apple’s but ran second behind Blackberry sales; in the second quarter, Android has passed Blackberry and opened up an 11% gap in front of iPhone sales.
I just saw Inception. It was brilliant, and I’m astonished that it got made in Hollywood. It’s not a movie you can watch with your brain turned off – and that’s its glory.
This began as a reply to a comment on my previous post. It’s an explanation of why no “ethnic identity” is very central to who I think I am.
I’ve written before, on several occasions, about solving the problem of racism by strict individualism – a studied refusal to allow what we know about genetic population differences and differing means in measures like IQ to distort our judgment of individuals. The bell curve is not the point; the mass is not the individual. Ancestry is not destiny. Sanity demands that we recognize the difference.
But ancestry may matter after all. I’m going to tell you a personal story now about one of the most powerful moments in my life. I’m not sure what it meant, or if it meant anything at all. But it was certainly interesting to live through.
If you’re any kind of consultant or contract programmer, and you’re an open-source person, one of the persistent minor (and sometimes not-so-minor) irritations of doing business is NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements). Your client will often want you to sign one. About 1% of the time they’re protecting actual business-critical information; the other 99% they’re suffering from an unfounded delusion that they’re protecting business-critical information – but the rigamarole is 100% annoying 100% of the time. Besides, even if (like me) you consider it a point of personal honor not to blab things you’ve been told in confidence, you probably have a philosophical objection to being gagged.
I haven’t signed an NDA in least the last 12 years of active consulting, and over my entire 27 years of such I’ve maybe signed a grand total of two NDAs, and I’ll never sign one again. Herewith, a short course in how to evade them.
Yesterday I discovered that Donald Knuth at least occasionally reads my blog. I only half-jokingly reported a vague feeling that I ought to be falling to my knees and crying “I’m not worthy!” In response, a “v. m. smith” popped up in my comments to say this:
Dude, you have written at least two books (that I have read) and possibly more. I have never read any of Knuthâ€™s books, so I am forced to consider this hypothesis:
You might be worthy.
Of course, itâ€™s only a hypothesis.
At this I laughed so hard that my eyes watered. That last line! I’m going to be giggling about it for weeks. But, you know, once I calmed down, I realized that “v. m. smith” had an actual point. Which led me to some interesting thoughts about fame, double vision and personal identity – how we choose to become what we are.
Received in email from Donald Knuth’s secretary:
I know from your blog that you’re doing lots of real important stuff these days. So I’m sure you want a break; you clearly must be ready to hack INTERCAL just once more.
Huh…Donald Knuth reads my blog?
Um…Donald Knuth reads my blog?
Wha…Donald Knuth reads my blog?
Eric clutches the nearest piece of furniture as the universe spins dizzily around him.
Eric successfully resists a vague feeling that he ought to fall to his knees and cry out “I’m not worthy!”
Er. Well then. I guess I’ll have to ship another release of INTERCAL, won’t I?
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.)
For any of you who happen to be in Southeast Michigan or its environs, Cathy and I will be attending Penguicon from April 30th to May 2nd.
A&D regular Ken Burnside will be there as well, sharing a room with us and hawking his excellent 3D space games – Attack Vector: Tactical, Squadron Strike and others. He’ll be teaching those games too, possibly with me at the table.
A&D regular Jay Maynard will be attending as well. Probably in full Tron Guy drag, at least part of the time.
Join us for a weekend of “You got your Linux geekery in my science fiction convention! Yeah, well, you got your science fiction stuff in mu Linux convention!” Two great tastes that taste great together.
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.
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.
I received this a few seconds ago in my mailbox. It’s not especially unusual for me to get wow-you-changed-my-life email, I see two or three in a typical month, but this one is…well, I’ll say a bit more intense than usual. Also, 34 is an unusual age; they tend to be teenagers. Sender’s name masked and one bit turned into a live link. Otherwise unedited, typos and all.
I just finished reading your [Hacker HOWTO] for the second time in as many
days. All of my life I have wanted to be a programmer. I have never
done it. I dealt with the failure of that by downloading cracked
software and telling myself that I was a “hacker.”
When I clicked on the link to your guide, my intention was to get
started on the road towards what I envisioned a hacker to be.
By the end of your guide, I was wallowing in humiliation. I felt…
well basically I felt like a jack ass. I never even knew what a
hacker was. I wasn’t even a cracker, just some poser with no
Your guide showed me that any of my few contributions to the cracker
community were meaningless, juvenile ploys for attention with no
progressive merit. They won’t matter in 6 months because I haven’t
After reading your guide, I began to research and really appreciate
the open source community. I saw that the degree of separation
between us wasn’t to huge of a gap and I realized that I could,
through dedication and hard(but fun) work, be part of something that
is growing and giving. A place where individual contributions aren’t
lost in the grand scheme of things, but help shape that scheme.
I am 34 years old and I have no problem admitting to you that your
guide made me feel like a complete ass. It also directed me to an
ideal I will be proud to contribute to.
For that, I thank you Sir.
I replied by quoting “I saw that the degree of separation between us wasn’t to huge of a gap” and said “I’m glad you got that far. Good luck on your journey.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you know your life has made a difference.
In some areas of computer science, “oracle” is used as a term for a magic box that delivers solutions to undecidable problems. Or, sometimes more generally for any machine that generates answers by a process you don’t understand. One of the roles I play with respect to the Battle For Wesnoth fantasy game is as an oracle that generates plausible fantasy names on demand.
Here’s a (very lightly edited) transaction of this kind that I took part in a short while ago. There’s something going on behind it that is odder than will be immediately apparent.