Tag Archives: rant

IPv4 Depletion

Oh look, the allocation to IPNIC today set off the IPv4 endgame provisions! Now to watch another problem unfold because we (as a culture) spent the last several decades focusing on short term profits instead of investing in infrastructure. We may have lagging communications infrastructure, a desperately eroded manufacturing base, and a whole heap of other stupid (not to mention our ludicrously inefficient healthcare stemming from the same “Why pay now when I can pay more later” attitude) , but at least we aren’t socialists, right?…Goddamnitsomuch.
Next up: Peak Oil (unless it already happened.. oh right, it probably did).

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Douche of the year?

TIME magizine chose Mark Zuckerberg as person of the year, despite a reader poll that put Zukerberg in 10th place, and Julian Assange in first, by a large margin. More importantly, Assange has done something in 2010, while Zukerberg is just riding out the natural life-cycle of a not particularly novel technological fad. In a few years, the social networking totem pole will iterate again, and we’ll be making friendster jokes about myspace, myspace jokes about facebook, and facebook jokes about the next social network service to gain precedence, even though they all provide roughly the same functionality as a web page and XMPP. I can only hope the next iteration will be open, decentralized, user controlled, and generally managed in a less repulsive manner, so I don’t find it too objectionable to participate in again.

In contrast, Assange has overseen (and taken the heat for) the release of documentation exposing large scale governmental misbehavior and deceit regarding the wars the US initiated in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now a large swatch of our International Diplomacy. The information itself isn’t even the important factor; the game changer is the way in which it propagated. The business of secrecy is going to be permanently changed by the large scale demonstration of the reality that a single point source of information can now be amplified and propagated indefinitely, outside the control of any entity. This means it no longer requires a conspiracy to reveal secrets;one individual with access to a secret making the decision to release it is adequate. This is a paradigm shift for secrecy, with ramifications years down the line as large organizations with secrets they wish to defend are forced to make a move toward least privlige systems (in a broader sense, also note from the article “In practice, true least privilege is neither definable nor possible to enforce.”), and work with the knowledge that any single individual with access to a secret can make it public, a threat which can not reasonably be secured against.

Also note that this position doesn’t make a value judgement on WikiLeaks’ actions; it isn’t necessary for their significance. This also leaves aside arguments about Assange and Zukerberg as individuals – they both seem to be rather horrible people personally, and being a decent person is in no way necessary to change the world.

I understand that it would be politically charged to select Assange, particularly with polls indicating that most Americans have chosen a “Head in the sand” approach to hearing about the shitty behavior of our government, but there were eight more interesting choices on the top 10 reader voted, and about 6.8 billion others.

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Iraq War Logs

I was planning to get some work done tonight, but ran into a link about the release of the Iraq War Logs by Wikileaks, and got absorbed by the initial summaries and info-graphics from the news organisations with early access.
In short, the situation in Iraq is pretty fucking reprehensible, particularly because no one, except for a probable source, is likely to be punished for what has happened.

I’m also deeply unimpressed with the DOD Response, which I will paraphrase as “We don’t understand how the Internet (that we helped spawn) works. Also, we’re unrepentant about the various shitty behavior we’ve been caught covering up.”

One thing I am impressed with is the presentation by some of the media outlets, especially the interactive infographic from Der Spiegel (Link to English version), and the Google Map from the Guardian.

The important findings can be summarized in a single passage from any of the basic analysis (The Guardian’s is nice and succinct):

Although US generals have claimed their army does not carry out body counts and British ministers still say no official statistics exist, the war logs show these claims are untrue. The field reports purport to identify all civilian and insurgent casualties, as well as numbers of coalition forces wounded and killed in action. They give a total of more than 109,000 violent deaths from all causes between 2004 and the end of 2009.

This includes 66,081 civilians, 23,984 people classed as “enemy” and 15,196 members of the Iraqi security forces. Another 3,771 dead US and allied soldiers complete the body count. [src]

Which hits the three key facts: 1. “Coalition Leaders” have been blatantly lying to the public, 2. 109,000 violent deaths, 3. More dead civilians (as defined by people with a vested interest in not reporting killing civilians) than combatants by almost a factor of two.

The last round on Afghanistan actually did change my attitude toward continued American involvement over there, despite the constant talking point that they wouldn’t:
Before I saw the leaks, I was willing to accept the argument that, like a child, we (collective for United States) made a mess and have to stay until we were done cleaning it up. After seeing the leaked material, it’s clear that a more apt analogy is a child that got into paint, and the only thing we can do to help now is get the fuck out and focus on cleaning ourselves up before we make the mess even worse.

As much as the Wikileaks folks are probably not saints, anyone shining lights into dark places and exposing the vile things that live there is doing the world a service.

Can we start gutting the DoD for cash to use on things that aren’t shameful now? Maybe redirect large fractions of the military budget over the next few years to things that will actually reduce net suffering?

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Windicator Fail.

I’ve been following the recent noise about Mark Shuttleworth’s suggestion for future UI improvements in Ubuntu, and they seem to be steadily headed from “bad idea” to “worst idea.” I found the notification behavior in recent Ubuntu releases (especially that horrible, noisy, hard to interpret unified presence icon) pretty awful, but easily disabled without completely replacing the UI (I run XFCE where all is equal, but XFCE users are definitely second class citizens on Ubuntu). Then there was bitching because of the unpopular, unilateral decision to move window buttons to the left, which is pretty much ass backwards as far as most users are concerned. Hopefully, that will remain easy to replace by swapping the theme.
The crowning glory of bad ideas, however, is the latest. He is calling for the addition of “Windicators” to all windows, and proposing that it be implemented in the worst possible way. Let’s count reasons this is a really bad idea:
* Client-side rendering makes every application need a rewrite to use the feature – They just finished getting almost all tray rendering over to the server like it should be, don’t recreate the problem.
* No standard interface – If there were some kind of “I want a notifier” interface added to the standards, that would be one thing, but adding noncompliant behavior, downstream, to one environment is just silly.
* Break existing standard interfaces – DBus, NetWM and friends specify window interactions, that work right with any supporting environment. These don’t fit.
* Break existing assumptions – Except for title bar text (ie. the (n) next to gmail titles to indicate unread messages), the title bar is a title bar. The buttons up there manipulate the WINDOW via the WINDOW MANAGER.
* Replicate existing functionality – We’ve got a global notification area. We’ve got per-window notification. Tell me again why this is better?
* Clutter, Clutter, Clutter – Why the hell would I want more little doodads vying for attention on my screen?

This excellent refutation, and the discussion at OSNews are a more thorough description of the problem. Hopefully, the upstream devs will squash this by refusing to cooperate. Otherwise, this might be nice as it will drive users to other window managers/distros, and help keep the Ubuntu and Linux communities vibrant and diverse that way.

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Kevin Rudd is an Ignorant Yokel

From a thread at the excellent phdcomics phorum where I frequently lurk and occasionally post, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said something awe-inspiringly ignorant about reproduction and higher ed.
It’s simultaneously comforting and distressing to know that the US isn’t alone in having ignorant yokels running things.

From the article, narrator is female:

At that point one of my friends introduced me, dropping in that I am completing a PhD. At this, [Australian Prime Minister Kevin] Rudd rolled his eyes and in a terse voice lacking any sense of irony remarked that is the “excuse” that “all” young women are using nowadays to avoid starting families.

Why is this an incredibly ignorant thing to say? Let us count the ways…
1. There are well established positive correlations between parent’s education level and almost every indicator of success for children. (and a corresponding inverse correlation between education level an fertility…the “only stupid people are breeding” argument.)
2. I don’t know the numbers from Australia, but in the US 5.587% of the population over 15 has a Master’s degree, and 1.066% has a PhD, around 60% and 40% female respectively. (src, pdf) — “all” the young women? really?
3. There are too damn many of us anyway.
4. What the hell would posses someone to say that? Really? Is it the 1930s?

In a totally unrelated matter, one of the three people sharing the Nobel Prize in Medicine last year was a female Aussie PhD…

This is not to say the US is doing any better on looking bad right now. We have this shit, where a bunch of assholes are trying to pull an Intelligent Design (nomenclature swap to hide the fact they don’t have a leg to stand on) to shove their religious bullshit into the social sciences curriculum.

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Blackboard for the Lose

I never used Blackboard as an undergrad, and from my experiences this semester using it as a student in my PSY562 class, and a TA for EE281, I am very, very glad. Every time I log into Blackboard, I get the feeling it was designed by people who have heard of the Internet, but never actually used it.

The UI is totally incohesive, painfully slow(I tried several different browsers, including Chromium, faster javascript engines don’t help much), and woefully difficult to interpret, on top of being simply ugly.

My biggest complaint however is the grade input interface (which is hard to show without running afoul of FERPA); I want a TABLE. It could be a fancy javascript spreadsheet like google docs. It could be a HTML table full of HTML textboxes with a submit button (as long as the tabbing order is column-major). It could demand some format of file upload, so long as it was capable of incremental updates. Instead, there is a nigh-unusable single-shot file upload widget, with no incrementing support, and a clumsy javascript table-thing which posts per-cell, making it miserably slow to enter to. For now, I’m just keeping grades in a spreadsheet on my machine, and taking some time each week to synch it up with blackboard, because directly using the interface is too infuriating.

I’m also noting that I’m not the only one who has issues with making Blackboard work. There is delicious irony in that more often than not there are emails or before-class discussions about failures in interacting with blackboard (usually including the instructor) in my class on Human Technology interaction.

These criticisms are aside from the issues I have with Blackboard, LLC Being dicks with (since invalidated) patents they shouldn’t have been granted in the first place

Sadly, playing with the public demo of Moodle, which seems to be the most successful open-source Course Management System, I find it really isn’t much better on most fronts, but does seem substantially more responsive, and has a slightly more cohesive UI. More importantly, it isn’t any worse, is not large tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars (ref, may have to push “Guest Login” to view) per year in licensing fees, and, as an open project, is more likely to improve with time.

Seriously, why is anyone using this thing? Is it convenient for the admins? (I doubt it with how often it seems to be down) Was it just a buzzword for a while, so everywhere that wanted to look like they were keeping up with educational technology bought a license, then couldn’t get rid of it? Does blackboard LLC have really good kickbacks for the IT people who make purchasing decisions? It doesn’t even have the obvious link with finance trolls like the other terrible, expensive software UK has adopted to explain it.

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Really Trijicon?

This is pretty much a re-blog, which I don’t usually like doing, but the story is so mind-bendingly stupid it bears hating on in as many venues as possible.

Story Here. Reblogging from boingboing.

The short version is, Trijicon, who make (apparently very nice) gun optics, took it upon themselves to emboss references to bible verses into the ends of the serial numbers of the ones they are selling to the US military (as part of very large contracts). That are going into combat in the middle east. In that conflict where the most important thing we can do is win the PR war with a skeptical populace. A linchpin of doing so is demonstrating that there is no religious motivation, to avoid invoking centuries of violence and hatred, and legitimizing the arguments of the other side that we are invading crusaders (although even dumber presidents have trouble keeping that straight).

The most obnoxious part is that, rather than playing it down and claiming the sequences are just part of the identifier (optics nomenclature is easily confusing enough to make something convincing up), Trijicon went ahead and confirmed that they had intentionally added bible verses, apparently completely oblivious to the fact that it might be a Bad Thing. At least they were clever enough to to choose verses having to do with light.

Any attempt to play down the degree to which this is stupid should be met with consideration of the media/public shitstorm that would occur if someone were found attacking Americans with a weapon engraved with quranic references. I’ve always read that humans were supposed to develop a theory of mind that supports this kind of reasoning around 4 years of age, but sometimes I wonder.

With stupid behavior like the above, supplanted by things like groups thinking it is a good idea to send audio bibles as aid to Haiti, it’s no wonder there is such suspicion of (Christian) religious motivation in US foreign policy. When reading the audio bibles article, I couldn’t help but picture those propaganda-spewing eyebots from Fallout 3, but the pictures on the organization’s website just show a cheap self-powered boombox with a flash card. At least they have useful parts in them, solar panels and hand-crank generators to keep personal communication devices powered are pretty high on the list of things I would want in a large scale disaster, and since Haiti has been in one sort of disaster or another pretty much continuously since the late 1400s when the first Europeans showed up, I imagine there are plenty of folks around who know how to improvise.

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The Most Successful Failed Terrorist Attack

There was another half-baked terrorist plot over the holidays.
To summarize, some moron went for a kooky religion, got on a US-bound plane in Amsterdam with a not-even-in-theory level nonfunctional bomb, tried to set it off shortly before landing, and failed miserably when it just caught fire and he was disabled by the passengers and crew. This in turn managed to cause panic and increase the expense and indignity in air travel in and out of the US for the foreseeable future. That is pretty damn successful, and the suicide bomber didn’t even have to die to get the job done.

Ordinarily I would say using the same foiled plot (put a suspicious guy on a plane, with a bomb that isn’t likely to work, and have him get caught) over and over is a bad plan… but because of the absolutely retarded responses, it continues to be incredibly effective. Over and over, the bomb gets on the plane, because existing measures that should catch it aren’t applied effectively, and over and over, it makes life harder for everyone else… because the new security measures that get put in place after each one don’t make any gods damn sense.

It was apparently a PETN bomb, again. PETN is one of those explosives that is fairly hard to make correctly, and just burns if not properly detonated… and a proper detonator would most likely be caught by “pre-9/11” security measures.

And on that thought, one of my least favorite things right now is the perception that 9/11 is the start of modern terrorism in the minds of the public. It wasn’t. It was when terrorism started working. There were plenty of previous plots just like the current bunch, some even by the same people. But those plots weren’t terribly effective, because the aggrieved party dusted off, gave the terrorists the finger, and quietly implemented some reasonable measures to keep it from happening again, instead of knee-jerking so hard they’re going to need a ladder and crowbar to get Gale Rossides’ patella out of the ceiling.

This round of measures is rumored to include “Passengers not allowed out of seats for last 45|60|?? Minutes of flight”(the “damp, smelly, screaming chidren” rule), “Nothing in passengers laps during last hour of flight” (Can you imagine flying without a book/handheld game/etc.), and additional restrictions on electronics (people already ignore the “turn off your mp3 player during takeoff and landing routine to avoid hearing the goings on in the plane. This will go well.). It also sounds like there will be some additional ineffective, time consuming indignities during check-in and boarding, to make sure the airline industry is completely eviscerated.

Another front I know is about to come up when people object is that the TSA “Can’t talk about their successes for security reasons” (in various wordings). The options here are bad and worse: Either they are lying, and have been totally useless outside of a few high profile incidents, or they are doing something completely outside the carefully transparent judicial system with the people they catch, which implies they’ve totally given up on the US constitution. I prefer to imagine they’re just inept and trying to hide it, because the idea of these morons shipping people to secret prisons is terrifying. For additional fun, it looks like they’re using this argument for the rules themselves too, in a nice literal catch-22 situation.

Bruce Schnier, my usual favorite security guy, has his reaction here replete with a several-year-old quote describing this attack as likely, and my favorite quote on aircraft security “Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.”

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Gnome 2.28: even more annoying

Despite its many irritations, I’ve been actively tolerating Gnome on my extra machine (running Ubuntu 9.04), with only a few adjustments for the really infuriating things (The “presence” features in OS X/iChat are irritating enough, a half working clone is maddening), and, with those adaptations made, it is a pretty tolerable environment.
…and the GNOME folks went and did something to re-stoke my hate. I use GDM (and a number of other Gnome-dependent pieces, many of which have no compelling reason for the dependencies) on my usual Arch/XFCE4 machine as a matter of convenience and/or preference. In the 2.26->2.28 upgrade (Arch tracks current) the Gnome developers decided to change the way GDM is configured. This change included breaking all existing GDM themes (admittedly, to be more consistent with GTK, which is a good thing, just not graceful), and making it impossible to configure GDM without gconf and/or horrible dbus stunts, which, of course, don’t work on my system. They also seem to have depreciated the “new session in nested window” feature of gdmflexiserver that made GDM preferable to the alternatives… I think I’ll just install SLiM, write a script with Xephyr to replace the nested window feature, and stop whining.

This is an arm of the argument about conventional releases versus Rolling Releases , but brokenness and compatibility issues from holding on to obsolete versions and the issue of occasionally breaking everything with a dist-upgrade/ OS X style point release upgrade still doesn’t seem preferable. This kind of behavior in Gnome is also a big part of why the non-Gnome *buntu distributions (Kubuntu/Xubuntu/etc.) feel like second class citizens; if components inside the Gnome obnoxious-integration umbrella are acting as part of the OS, the other environments are all going to have issues. Apparently Ubuntu 9.10 is built around Gnome 2.28, it will be interesting to see how it all works where everything is done the Gnome way.

This is not to complain about things the GNOME Project does, I do use, and like, a number of their products, especially Evince (which has apparently recently gained annotation features and a Windows port, the two things I most wanted for it). Likewise, the current round of development cycles are cutting a lot of the slow, crufty dependencies out of a number of programs… but I still find their ideas about useless (and forced) integration (see above) and non-configurable interfaces (sane default AND configuration options; it’s not one or the other guys…) incredibly frustrating.

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Apple’s Flatland Asthetic

I’ve found something very offputting about Apple’s much touted UI design since around 2001 (the advent of OS X), and have never quite been able to put my finger on what the issue is, until I came across this series of articles by Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini, the founder of Apple’s Human Interface Group and one of the Distinguished Older Persons of the HCI world. He calls the problem the “Flatland Asthetic”, which he patly describes as “The new Apple seems to subscribe to the the belief that visual simplicity equals actual simplicity.” To put this more aggressively, Apple designs interfaces that are elegant until you use them in non-trivial ways. The biggest way in which this is offensive is where they have actively re-introduced problems long solved by hierarchy in computing, usually by taking away directories (folders. Whatever nomenclature you prefer) in places a consistent interface would allow them. I would also say the problem extends further back that Tog is giving credit for; even the much maligned one button mouse can be explained as an instance of the same ethos.

For some real-world examples, a few days ago I was watching my father use his G5 Tower (OS 10.4), trying to shuffle through a pile of icons which automagically piled themselves one on top of the other in the upper right hand corner of the (shockingly full) desktop, a behavior broken in exactly the same way as Windows 95. He then went to find an application in the dock… which had “elegantly” scaled down to near-illegibility because he had a non-trivial number of applications open or pinned (side-gripe: I still don’t like the confusing commingling of running applications and shortcuts, but with it being in Windows 7 as well now, it looks like I’m in the minority). Generally, any place where the UNIX-derived presumption “Everything is a File, and all files can be manipulated in the same way” is violated, I get unhappy (which explains my contempt for iTunes/iPhoto style “manager” programs as well).

I concede that some of the problems have been remedied, at least a little bit, in the most recent versions of OS X, with features like the the drawers (to use the CDE phrase, I have no idea what Apple calls them) in the dock. I would say these are band-aid solutions over a festering problem with mentality.
I’ve had my (obviously not entirely solitary) rant, now I’ll go back to my customized, bewildering to all others XFCE environment…

* a phrase I’m found of, borrowed from Brian Aldiss and Roger Penrose’s White Mars, the first half (or so) of which is excellent.

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