May 31

Configuration files and switches considered harmful

Someone on the gpsd-users list asked:

I was just wondering why gpsd doesn’t have a configuration file in /etc/gpsd.conf, like most other Unix/Linux software?

Because configuration files are evil, and not to be countenanced unless they become an absolutely necessary evil. Which in gpsd’s case is not yet, and I sincerely hope not ever.

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May 27

The Smartphone Wars: HTC rejoins the good guys

Market pressure works. In response to an outcry from customers, HTC has just annnounced that it will return to its policy of shipping handsets with unlocked bootloaders.

This makes me personally happy because I’ve been a fan of HTC handsets since the G-1; I would have had to stop buying and recommending them if they’d stuck to the lockdown. But the larger reason this story is interesting is because of what it signals about ongoing shifts of power in the Android smartphone market – and throughout consumer electronics, as well.

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May 23

The Moral Landscape: a critical review

Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape continues a pattern I’ve noted in the last two books of his I’ve read, Letter To A Christian Nation and The End Of Faith (my review here). Harris is a very capable thinker and a fearless, lucid, forceful writer; at his best, he’s the most accessible of the group he calls the New Atheists (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christoper Hitchens and himself). I generally find myself in strong agreement with the general thrust of his arguments – and yet, I find he sometimes fails to ground them properly or follow them through completely.

So it is again in this book; the flaws are minor, comparatively speaking, but more than the partisans of rationality can afford in putting forward a case both so important and so certain to be met with stubborn denial.

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May 18

Maybe science is my religion, after all

In a recent comment thread, I wrote that I am revolted by the corruption and politicization of science. After I wrote that, I experienced a moment of introspective surprise during which I realized that my feelings about people who commit scientific fraud for personal or political ends are in tone and intensity very much like a deeply religious person’s feelings about people who commit sacrilege.

This realization made me quite uncomfortable. I’m a hard-shell rationalist; what I have in my life that corresponds to religion I carefully chose to not involve me in faith-holding or the other kinds of emotional attachments that religious people form as a matter of course. I regard religion, in the sense the term is normally used, as a dangerous form of collective insanity – and I want above all to be sane.

Because I felt uncomfortable, I decided that I needed to perform the exercise I have elsewhere described as killing the Buddha – in this case, killing the premise that I am not like a religious person by examining and embracing all the ways that my relationship to science makes me like one.

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May 11

The Smartphone Wars: Still It Rises

I’ve been meaning to put together a running plot of U.S. smartphone marketshare for some time. The monthly press release from the market research firm comScore contain enough information to do it, but you have to stitch a number of them together as they only report the covered month and the third previous month. Stitching all the data together is actually rather revealing.

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May 09

The Uses of Cliche

I’ve done a lot of writing for the game Battle For Wesnoth. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned, and now teach others, is this: genre cliches are your friend. Too much originality can badly disrupt the gameplay experience. This is so at variance with our expectations about ‘good’ art that I think it deserves some explanation and exploration.

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May 03

The Smartphone Wars: With Enemies Like These, Who Needs Friends?

Android just got a boost it didn’t need. RIM, already staggering after a 5% market-share drop over the last quarter and the Playbook debacle, has just…well, “shot itself through the foot” fails to convey quite the right sort of intensity. In fact it has executed a hitherto-unprecedented form of marketing suicide which can only be characterized as a “double-tap Osborne through the head”.

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