Oct 28

Storm warning

By now you’ve doubtless heard about Hurricane Sandy; the record-breaking superstorm hype has been pretty hard to miss. Well, I just got a look at the latest NOAA track projection, and it looks like the storm center is going to pass directly over my house sometime Tuesday night. The center track on that map couldn’t hit me more accurately if it had been aimed.

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Sep 27

An emergency replacement for the CIA service is coming.

A few hours ago I learned that, due to a virtual-server mishap, the cia.vc notification service is dead. And not coming back.

This was not entirely unexpected. The CIA codebase was a shambles, the service has been flaky and subject to outages, and the server-site operator who inherited it has for some time been muttering darkly that the end was probably nigh.

I’ve been sitting on a lightweight replacement for CIA since late August, holding off shipping until it was clear whether or not a salvage effort on the codebase was going to succeed. That option is off the table now, so I’m going into emergency overdrive to get a release out.

The main thing that still needs to be done is for me to finish and test a hook script for git repos, so that when I ship the admins at places like SourceForge and GitHub will be able to drop in both a server instance and the correct hook code. This script will also be a model for hooks serving other VCSes such as Mercurial, Subversion, and (ugh) CVS.

I’m working on that now and expect to ship within 48 hours. Watch this space.

Sep 24

Practical prophecy

Inspired by Dave Logan’s keynote on tribal leadership at AgileCultureCon, I did a breakout session and then an open-space followup on “Practical Prophecy 101″.

Recall that in Logan’s terms a “prophet” is a person who moves the behavior of his tribe towards greater cooperation and creativity by (his words) “preaching the inevitability of values-based change”.

Venessa Miemis took notes on my talk. Here’s a lightly edited and expanded version of those notes. In each item I have replayed a quote of mine that she recorded; where appropriate I have expanded a little on the thinking behind it.

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Sep 06

A shout to the world’s technical journals

So, after my post on ground-truth documents, one of my commenters argued eloquently that I ought to clean it up and submit it to a journal read by people who manage programming projects. He suggested Software Practice and Experience.

This seemed like a pretty good idea, until I read SP&E’s submission procedures and was reminded that (like most journals) they want me to assign the copyright of my submission to the publisher.

My instant reaction was this: Fuck. That. Noise. I’m certainly willing to cede publication rights when I want to be published, but copyright assignment ain’t going to happen. Ever. Nobody gets to own my work but me. (Yes, I insist on this with my book publishers too.)

I have a message to all you technical journal publishers out there…

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Sep 03

This is a tease.

Yesterday I applied for allocation of a new public port number from IANA. It’s 6659. When the allocation is confirmed, I’ll publish the source code for a reference implementation of the server. It’s a bit over 300 lines of Python.

Let the speculation begin. :-)

Jul 19

Saga Iceland and “thar”

In the comments on my previous post, someone linked to Steven Dutch’s essay The World’s Most Toxic Value System, in which he discusses the many evils that flow from a complex of values that he labels with the Arabic word “thar” (blood vengeance).

Dutch’s essay is in many ways insightful, and a welcome corrective to the mush-minded notion that all cultures have equally valid ethical claims. But it suffers a bit from the author’s lack of anthropological breadth – while he is commendably clear-eyed about what he has seen, there is much he has not seen that bears on and could be used to improve his thesis.

I think it is particularly instructive to apply Dutch’s criteria to the culture of saga Iceland, which we may take as a literate representative of the pre-Christian Norse and more generally of old tribal Germanic culture. This tradition should be especially interesting to English-speakers, as the Anglo-Saxon version of it was foundational to Anglo-American common law and notions of liberty.

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Jun 25

Abusing Alan Turing

The centennial of Alan Turing’s birth brings us the news that Alan Turing probably did not commit suicide by eating a poisoned apple, was not depressed at the time of his death, and that the hormone treatments intended to suppress his homosexual urges had been discontinued a year before he died. I am not in the least surprised by any of this; in fact I have been half-expecting such inversions ever since I began noticing, twenty years or so ago, the increasing mythologization of Turing’s life.

This centennial seems a good time to consider how we re-invent – and sometimes abuse – the great figures of our past to suit the needs of the present. When biography turns into a packaged morality play, it is always wise to suspect that the actual facts and complexities of the subject’s life are being lost. When that morality play satisfies obvious propaganda needs for political or cultural factions in the present, we should be even more suspicious. And when certain recurring mythological themes – such as holy martyrdom – develop increasing prominence in interpretation of the subject’s life over time, it’s a red flag signalling that contact with the facts and the subject is probably being lost.

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Apr 24

Penguicon party 2012!

Reminder: The Armed & Dangerous party at Penguicon 2012 is now barely more than 72 hours away. Begins 9:00PM Friday night, room number to be announced on this blog and probably tweeted too.

All readers of this blog will be welcome. See the real faces behind the Gravatar icons! Pursue discussion threads in person! Refrain from actual physical violence! Wheeee….

Mar 30

Penguicon 2012 Geeks With Guns

The party for Armed & Dangerous readers is still on for Friday night at Penguicon, and we have a new event – actually, the return of an old favorite: Geeks with Guns.

This year’s GWG is scheduled for 2:00PM on Friday the 27th; it will take place at the Firing Line range. We will be teaching basic firearms safety, handling, and pistol marksmanship; first-time shooters are welcome. Experienced shooters are also welcome and may be drafted as range officers and assistant instructors. Yes, I’ve done this before, and no, we’ve never had an injury – pistol shooting is statistically safer than golf.

Important: please mail guns@penguicon.org with your intention to attend. We need to give the range advance notice of roughly how many people will be showing. Two dozen is pretty typical.

Thanks to regular John D. Bell for organizing. John will be passing around the hat for a few bucks each to cover the range fees. Bring your own weapon if you have one, otherwise you can rent at the range or possibly borrow a friend’s. Newbs seeking instruction will be expected to buy their own ammunition.

Mar 29

Where your contributions go

This is a thank-you to my tip-jar contributors.

Today I spent $88.76 directly out of the tip jar on engineering samples of GPS dongles specially modified to carry the 1PPS signal out to USB. I will test them, and if the modification succeeds it is quite likely that the company I am cooperating with will begin shipping this mod in a volume product shortly. This will, for the first time, make time sources with 1ms accuracy available for less than $100 each. The application I have in mind is fixing the Internet; there are many others.

This is the sort of thing that happens when you donate money to support my open-source projects. Thank you; you are helping me make the world a better place.

Mar 11

John Carter: the movie

I was pretty dubious about John Carter. It was one of those movies which, as a serious SF fan and historian, I have to see even given a quite high likelihood that it was going to offend me with aggressively stupid handling of its source material. Therefore I am surprised and pleased to report that it is actually quite good!

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Feb 13

Generative science

I’m thinking about writing another book. I won’t disclose the title or topic yet, but there’s a bit of research for it I think can be usefully crowdsourced, and may also give a clue about the book for those of you interested.

I’ve written before about the difference between descriptive and generative theories. To recap and simplify, a descriptive theory accounts for what is; a generative theory finds causal regularities beneath a descriptive account and predicts consequences not yet observed.

Now I want to zero in on a parallel difference among entire sciences. Some scientific fields – like, say, evolutionary biology – are tremendously productive of models and insights that can be applied elsewhere. On the other hand, some other sciences – like, say, astronomy – seldom export ideas or models.

Note that while it is appropriate to think of sciences that export lots of ideas as ‘generative’, the class of sciences that don’t are not merely descriptive. Astronomy, for example, has lots of generative theory inside it; astrophysics, for example makes predictions about stellar spectra and elemental abundances. But astronomy as a whole is not generative because none of its theory really informs anything outside astronomy.

So I’m going to start with a (non-exhaustive) list of scientific fields, indicating roughly how generative I think they are and what if anything they export. I invite additions and corrections from my readers.

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