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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
I just sent mail to the Battle for Wesnoth developer list titled “Why I want to confiscate every dev’s * key”. The points in it probably deserve a wider audience.
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/
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).
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.
I have submitted an essay to the Stanford Law Review for publication. I didn’t tick the box for “exclusive”, so I think I can blog it as well. It’s a reply to Andrew Tutt’s essay on Software Speech.
Here’s the most interesting adventure in linguistics I’ve run across in a while. Two professors in Norway assert that English is a Scandinavian language, a North Germanic rather than a West Germanic one. More specifically, they claim that Anglo-Saxon (“Old English”) is not the direct ancestor of modern English; rather, our language is more closely related to the dialect of Old Norse spoken in the Danelaw (the Viking-occupied part of England) after about 865.
The bolster their claim by pointing at major grammatical traits which English shares with Old Norse rather than West Germanic languages – notably, consistent SVO (subject-verb-object) word order rather than the SOV (subject-object-verb) or V2 (verb-second) orders that dominate in languages like German, Dutch and Anglo-Saxon. The practical consequence they point out (correctly – I’ve experienced this myself) is that English and Norwegian or Swedish are quite a bit closer in mutual intelligibility than any of this group is with German or Dutch or Anglo-Saxon. I had actually noticed this before and been puzzled by it.
The professors think the reason for this is that rather than evolving into Modern English, Anglo-Saxon actually died out during the two centuries between the invasion of the Great Army in 865 and the defeat of Harold Godwinsson in 1066. They propose that Anglo-Saxon influenced, but was largely replaced by, the Norse dialect of the Anglo-Danish Empire. Which, SVO North Germanic grammar and all, then collided with Norman French and evolved into English as we know it.
This isn’t crazy. It may be wrong, but it isn’t crazy. Two centuries is plenty of time for an invading language to reduce a native one to a low-status argot and even banish it entirely; we’ve seen it happen much faster than that when the invaders are as culturally and politically dominant as the Anglo-Danes were in England at the time of Cnut (1016-1035).
Even in the conventional account of the evolution of English, modern English is supposed to have derived from the Anglo-Saxon spoken in the East Midlands – which, as the professors point out, was the most densely settled part of the Danelaw!
All of this gave me an idea that may go beyond the professors’ hypothesis and explain a few other things…
One of my regulars, contemplating the increasingly pathetic series of clusterfucks that have passed for exciting new products at Microsoft, wonders why a company with all its advantages – more money than $DEITY to hire the best developers, lots of experience, dominant position in a major technology market – can’t seem to release a decent product any more.
The answer is simple and deep. It’s because evil is inefficient.
Last night I utterly trounced three opponents at the slick new Fantasy Flight reissue of a classic interstellar trade and exploration game, Merchants of Venus. My end score was nearly three times that of the runner-up, and I had acquired so many fame points (which each become 10 victory points at game end) that we ran out of fame tokens.
One of the other players half-humorously protested that I had gotten incredibly lucky. “Nonsense”, I said, “it was planning”. He sputtered that I had frequently had the victory conditions for lucrative missions apparently drop in my lap. Which was true, and he was right to view those individual occurrences as luck. But it was also true that I planned my way to victory.
I made chance work for me. Pay attention, because I am about to reveal why there is a large class of games (notably pick-up-and-carry games like Empire Builder, network-building games like Power Grid, and more generally games with a large variety of paths to the win condition) at which I am extremely difficult to beat. The technique is replicable.
Earlier today one of my commenters caused me to realize that it would be entertaining to try to define a unit for the intensity of “aha!” experiences – moments of sudden insight.
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.
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.
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.
Dave Taht is crashing in my basement again. While he’s here Dave is planning to cut another release of CeroWRT (the third one to issue from this basement, actually), and he has decided it needs a name.
And, well, “the release from ESR’s basement” just lacks a certain…zing.