Jul 30

doclifter 2.9 is released

I’ve released doclifter 2.9, and as part of that process I’ve been testing it on the entire collection of manual pages on my system again. Because doclifter does mechanical translation of troff-based markups to DocBook-XML, one of the side effects of testing it is that I find lots of broken markup. I’ll ship over 700 fix patches back to maintainers this time, though maybe not until after I get back from World Boardgaming Chapionships next week.

Release here, report on markup bugs found is here. Yes, over 700 patches, but that’s actually a drop from previous passes.

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Jul 26

The strategy behind the Nexus 7

The Nexus 7 I ordered for my wife last week arrived two days ago. That’s been enough time for Cathy and me to look it over closely and get a good feel for its capabilities. It’s a very interesting device not just for what it does but what it doesn’t do. There’s a strategy here, and as usual I think Google is playing a longer game than people looking at this product in isolation understand.

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Jul 22

Gun-free fantasy zones

After the Aurora theater shooting, it was of course inevitable that the jackals at the Brady Campaign and the Violence Policy vendor would be trying to make a political meal from the victims’ corpses before they had even had time to cool to room temperature. The usual round of inane honking about “common-sense gun control” ensued just as if this psycho (like most others) hadn’t cheerfully violated several laws well before he pulled the trigger.

But enough about the usual idiots; let’s talk about “Gun-free zones”. We’re told the movie theater had a sign up announcing its “gun-free” policy. Yeah, and how well did that work out for ya?

Try as I might, I am unable to comprehend the thinking of people who put “gun-free zone” signs in theaters, or on homes, or anywhere. How do they not get that criminals and madmen will read this as “Get your tasty defenseless victims, right here?”

At least “gun-free” signs on homes generally only jeopardize people stupid enough to put them up. “Gun-free” signs and policies in public spaces are another matter; whatever gibbering moron at Cinemark mandated this one painted bull’s-eyes on a theater-full of innocents.

Two fantasies caused that massacre. The obvious one was James Holmes’s delusional identification with the Joker. The less obvious one was the pious belief that wishing firearms out of sight will keep bad people from doing bad things. Holmes is an obvious psychotic who’s still trapped in the first fantasy; to prevent needless deaths, the rest of us must get free of the second.

For myself, from now on I plan to willfully violate every “gun-free zone” policy I run across. If enough sane people do likewise, perhaps the next massacre can be prevented.

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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Jul 19

Napier’s Lesson

In the 1840s, Hindu priests complained to Charles James Napier (then Commander-in-Chief of British forces in India) about the prohibition of suttee by British authorities. Suttee was the custom of burning widows alive on the funeral pyre of their husbands. According to Napier’s brother William, this is how he replied:

“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

This incident, perhaps the finest single moment in the history of Britain’s relatively benign imperialism, teaches two lessons still profoundly relevant today.

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Jul 05

Cisco provides a lesson

In my last blog post, I made a public stink about language in a so-called Declaration of Internet Freedom, which turned out to be some libertarians attempting to expand and develop the ideas in this Declaration of Internet Freedom. Mostly they did pretty well, except for one sentence they got completely wrong: “Open systems and networks aren’t always better for consumers. ”

That’s wrong. Open systems are better, always. Cisco has just provided us with a perfect lesson in why that sentence is completely backwards, and why we can never trust closed-source software vendors not to do evil under the cover of their code secrecy.

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Jul 03

Why I won’t be signing the “Declaration of Internet Freedom” as it is

There’s been some buzz in the last few days about the Declaration of Internet Freedom penned by some prominent libertarians.

I wish I could sign on to this document. Actually, considering who appears on the list of signatories, I consider the fact that the composers didn’t involve me in drafting it to be a surprising mistake that I can only ascribe to a collective fit of absent-mindedness.

But, because neither I nor anyone else from the hacker tribe was involved, it has one very serious flaw.

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