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Journal Journal: Unwise - Before I Go On...

I know that some time ago I promised to continue in writing 'Rebel Without A Clue'. The truth is, I've had too much going on in my life lately to focus on it, and too much material to work with. Maybe I'll turn it into a short book one of these days, but for now, this is all you get. I'll likely post my observations and points of view in 'The Vultures of Mountain View' at a later time, however, since I feel it's something that needs to be said, even if Google is hitting one stumbling block after another.

This entry isn't about the naivety of the bulk of the Open Source community, however. It's about the lack of control the Open Source community has over their own tech, and a proposed solution. I never said that the Open Source movement wasn't a noble and quite commendable effort worth supporting, and while I disapprove of the behavior and the viewpoints of most of its supporters, I stand firmly behind the ideal. However, the Open Source community, disjointed and disorganized as it already is, has all but completely ignored one particularly major facet of its continuing development - the hardware upon which their software runs.

When faced with difficult questions about things like embedded digital rights management, the Trusted Platform Module, and built in proprietary lock-out features stuck into hardware these days, the average user either doesn't care or simply opts to continue using old hardware in favor of openness over power. That's a sound judgement for the short term, since most computer hardware today is capable of running strong long into the future, at least by several years. However, as newer and hopefully better software applications designed for vastly more powerful systems come to be in the near future, I think that many among us will begin reconsidering our stance on the continuing use of old hardware. After all, I have a computer from 1989 stored away somewhere - an old Packard Bell, to be exact - that will still run just fine, but that doesn't mean that it can do much more than make basic text documents and play old DOS games. A few years from now, a top of the line Dell gaming box from today will look pretty poor stacked up against the multi-cored, multi-gigabyte RAM equipped monsters of tomorrow, and some people - and some programs - just aren't satisfied with old, depreciated technology.

Using old computers to dodge DRM, the TPM, the RIAA, and good old fashioned BS is, like I said, a good short term option. The industry doesn't make technology for Open Source software, though. They make hardware where there's money involved. Sure, companies like IBM might toss in a few dollars here and there to keep the movement alive, but that's only because Open Source software is a selling point for their products. If we're going to rely upon ourselves for our software, we must in turn also rely upon ourselves for our hardware. That's all there is to it. The industry leaders have made it very clear that we can't trust them. We, as consumers, as programmers, as innovators, as inventors, as thinkers simply can't trust the industry. We can't trust the corporations, their executives, their products, or even their press. Every time the Open Source community is given a handout, it's so they can help some industry pig sell his wares, and subsequently turn around and stab the community in the back. This has to change, and there's only one way that it can - we have to get chipping.

It's amazing, really, how simple yet so incredibly sophisticated microchip technology is. The technology to produce chips is the same way, simple yet mind-blowingly complex. The complexity, however, comes in the procedure, not the process itself. After all, what's so complex about using light to strip away photoreactive compounds covering wafers of sand, and then etching them with hot gases? Trick question, it's really a lot simpler than it looks, and it's a tried and proven technology. It's no secret, it's no mystery, it's just the same handful of steps repeated time and again over the same wafer of sand to make what is in the end an incredibly complex chip. If you get down to it, there's really no such thing as complexity, there's only such a thing as the degree of density and number of relationships between parts of a whole. Everything is simple when it's broken down into those simple parts of a whole, and it really makes me wonder why we're not making chips and circuitboards in our homes or businesses today. Why does it take a factory to make a two dollar wafer of sand?

That was another trick question. It takes a factory to mass produce two dollar wafers of sand, but not even a whole garage to develop and produce them in the first place. Most people refer to these places as laboratories, but I like to call them, 'any place that has a lot of tools and shit in it'. Is it possible to condense all of the chipmaking tools you'd need to design and produce a microchip or a circuitboard into one box, though? Of course it is, which leads me to ask why we're not doing it. Micro and nano-sized tools aren't a big deal anymore these days. Designing a miniature lathe for micro-sized mechanical and electronic parts, capable of both adding to and subtracting from metallic or plastic blanks might be a challenge, but once you have that lathe, what's to stop you from using it to make more and better lathes? Once you have a good lathe made, what's to stop you from using it to build more things besides lathes? That's just it, the only reason we're not making chips on our own is because we lack a cheap, readily available tool to do it with. Such a tool would be the final key in setting the Open Source community free.

My biggest concern would have to be how to get this kind of a tool to market. Nobody's asking for a nanolathe - due credit to Chris Taylor for the name - and they probably won't be asking for one for a while, if ever. I don't know how to answer that question, either, since I'm not an economist and I've little to no experience in predicting the progress of the technology industry. I do know that for the hobbyist, the inventor, and the entrepreneur alike, having such a tool - a small, self-contained workplace for the design and construction of micro-sized devices - would be an amazing boon. No longer would the only option for fabricating and testing these devices be to slave over a soldering iron for hours on end. A device into which instructions from the developer's own computer could be loaded could turn out completed projects in a matter of minutes and with impeccable precision. Let's not forget that for the industry big-wigs, this could also drop R&D and production costs as well.

Why am I blathering on about this tool that doesn't exist, then? Like I said, the only reason the Open Source community isn't known secondarily as the Open Schematic community is because it doesn't have this tool, because it doesn't exist. A lot of cynics out there in Slashdotland would probably say that it'd be too expensive for the average hobbyist anyway, but who's to say it would or wouln't? A lot of cynics out there would also say that nobody would take advantage of this opportunity to at last produce their own hardware from scratch, but something tells me that notion is also very, very wrong. "Hey guys! I just made my very own SPARC computer from scratch, right here in my own garage, with this machine here and my other PC!" Tell me that isn't cool. What's the point, though? Simple. It's the ultimate form of control of the progress of technology you rely upon, in that you can design it specifically to fit your own needs, include only what you want it to, exclude what you want it to, and improve and expand upon the technology in any way you wish. Communities of developers and engineers alike could collaborate to develop new and truly innovative custom tech, share their designs and diagrams, and themselves become chipmakers. That's what the Open Source community needs to avoid the perils of the industry in the long run - to be able to replace their old or bad technology by themselves, and develop new technology independently.

Only when the Open Source community takes control of its hardware will it ever control its software. We're still bound by the instruction sets, the circuits, the devices of our computers, and by proxy we are bound by the people who created these machines and the parts inside them. There's no shortage of open standards, design specifications, and freely liscenced technologies unbound by patents or regulation freely available to all of us. Now all we need are the tools of the trade in our own homes and workplaces. Then the fun can really begin, and real progress can be made. Until we accomplish this end, we'll always be stuck wedged under the boot of an increasingly hostile and closed industry. All we need is that goddamned lathe.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Rebel Without A Clue: Musings, Volume One - (01/12/06)


                Before I continue I would like to say that this entry, if read, should not be considered or misconstrued as any form of professional, intelligent, witty, or even remotely well written publication, and is not to be regarded as a statement of truth, or even a good lie. It is, for all intents and purposes, an argument on behalf of the author, and is as such an opinion and nothing more. Therefore, any failure to comply with and understand the above statements will likely result in a fit or fits of anger, rage, or an otherwise uncharacteristic urge to flame on behalf of the reader. By reading beyond this statement, you, the reader, agree that the author may not be held liable for any physical, mental, or emotional distress on behalf of the reader caused by the reading of this journal entry. You also waive your right to flame the author childishly or attempt to otherwise harass the author in retaliation. Doing so will directly result in you looking very, very silly.

That said, I will now continue with my entry as planned. Enjoy.



                I personally think that the concept of Open Source is a great idea. It was always a great idea, even before it was called Open Source. The concept dates as far back as the time when our forefathers in computing were geeky university kids playing around with Altairs in their little 'Homebrew Computing' clubs, trying to discover how to get them to perform basic addition problems such as two-plus-two or make music via radio interference. It is, in the truest sense, the real and true nature of computing, and embodies an important underlying concept, which would be the advancement of technology and our collective knowledge through sharing and collaboration. It therefore comes as a surprise to me that the members of the movement behind the Open Source ideal time and again demonstrate such laughable stupidity. I'm not talking about the heads of the movement, the Commanders and Generals of the Open Source army. I'm talking about the foot soldiers, the little people that make up the foundation of the movement. They, like so many other folks, tend to generally get on my nerves.

        During my final year of high school wherein I attended two year-long courses provided by Cisco Systems - a general Information Technology course and a Networking course - I was met with the displeasure of having to attend class with two such footmen of the proud and dumpy masses behind the Open Source cause. These two characters were in themselves real pieces of work, and I can't help but think sometimes that their desire to contribute to the greater good of Open Source may have originated from the deeper desire to simply belong to something greater than they themselves were or considered themselves to be. Their names were Tim and John, who quickly and rightfully earned themselves the nicknames 'Swampdonkey' and 'Linuxboy', respectively. Tim was a portly young man with curly, greasy black hair and perpetual acne, and John was a tall, scrawny blone with glasses who bore a remarkable resemblance to an older version of Ralph from 'A Christmas Story'. While they weren't bad people, per se, together they were the very incarnations of overblown nerdiness, neatly packed into two little overzealous and nervewracking packages. I knew upon meeting them that the coming semesters in those classes would surely be hell.

        While remarkably similar in their motives, points of view, and behaviors, these two differed fundamentally, and by the end of the year had grown in two separate directions, both deeply influenced by their extended and extensive exposure to computers and the world of computer technology and software. Tim, surprisingly enough, matured a great deal and perhaps even began bathing on a regular basis. (At the beginning of the year, he could easily clear the lab room with his overwhelming odor, hence his nickname.) John, however, slid deeper into the trenches of his nerdy zeal, and failed to adopt a deeper understanding of the concepts behind technological advancement. (In fact, his absolute obsession with Linux only got worse and more glaringly obvious than before, which I thought was impossible.) They became perfect examples of the two distinct classes of soldier that appear among the ranks of the Open Source army.

        We have the zealous infantryman - portrayed by John - to whom anything branded with the words 'Open Source' or 'Linux' was instantaneously superior, and all corporate influence in the world of computing that didn't support the Open Source movement was evil. Then we have the calmer, much more collected and understanding sharpshooter - John - who knows how to pick his battles and his targets, and has a deeper understanding of the computing world. To reiterate, the infantryman charges into battle swinging wildly, chanting his army's battlecry over the voice of his fellow zealots as he proceeds toward what is likely certain doom. The sharpshooter, however, is calculating, efficient, precise, and knows his enemy so that his shots may always count. He keeps behind the battle lines, avoiding direct conflict while remaining in active combat.

        In the computing world, especially in the realm of the Internet, the battles fought by this army are often fought on the battlefields of forums and chatrooms. They are debates and flamewars, wrought against the opposing armies of the proprietary horde, which is headed by Microsoft. While it would seem I'm departing far from the topic of my former classmates, these observations in fact have everything to do with them. This is what I have learned from them and hundreds of other people like them, and these are the lives they lived, at least online and in the classroom. I also was able to achieve eerie insights into their personal lives and their psyche, telling me perhaps more than I ever desired to know about these two. This is the nature of these two soldiers and the army to which they belong: that supposedly quiet, underground movement that is anything but. They embody typical archetypes, you see, and if I could refer to them as such, I would consider them living specimens - samples - of the Open Source culture.

        While I could arguably continue on about my experiences with these two for days on end, I will do my best to condense my experiences with them for now. When I met both of them, they were lacking in their overall knowledge of computers, as was I. They both had the blood of rebels running in their veins - I could see it right away, and almost sense this radiant aura of disdain for the establishment - and a deep thirst for knowledge. They were steadfast in their beliefs, and yet they had little to no knowledge of just what they stood for, not unlike the modern sheep of the punk trend present in our society today. (Unfortunately, thank you very much MTV.)

        We on several occasions clashed about our views of technological progression and modern computing. While I agree with the Open Source concept and ideal, as I said before, I didn't agree with their attitudes on the topic, and I do believe, unlike they do, that the Open Source movement today is very incomplete, and is being widely and unfairly exploited. (Of course, that's a whole other kettle of fish for another time, perhaps later in this entry.) Tim, like John, believed in the greater good of Open Source. However, he soon realized that while there were cracks forming in Microsoft's Win-Tel dam, indicating that it soon may no longer be able to restrict the flow of knowledge, technology, and innovation through the world as it has in the past, the Open Source movement has yet to complete it's own reservoirs for tapping into the entropy of the computing world and using it to trap and keep it's own fill of the ichor of knowledge that it collectively desires. Meanwhile, as we have all seen and suspect, other dams are being built to stem the coming flood, and use it to their own advantage solely. John, on the other hand, obviously and naively felt that the Open Source logjam is more than enough to contain this flood alone. It was perfect, in his eyes, and always was and will always be - perfect and complete in every way. That boy just didn't learn.


        So what was the problem? It's okay for people to have ideals, dreams, and ambitions. Tim and John had ambitions, and that was fine. The differences between the two of them manifested themselves most visibly in their final attitudes about Open Source at the time I finally left the class at the end of the year. Tim had grown out of that immature 'Linux will take over the world!' phase, while John was still shrieking the very same mantra ad nauseum. This is where the error of the majority of the supporters of the Open Source movement - or at least the most visible majority - becomes clear, just as John's error became that much more glaringly obvious as Tim rectified his.

        The Open Source movement at large, in my eyes, suffers from a profound lack of common sense. This combined with all the passion and drive of a hippie commune has resulted in what I see as a startling lack of organization and professionalism in the Open Source world. That's not to say that Open Source communities can't turn out good programs or do it themselves, but it seems almost as though the vast majority of truly good programs turned out by the Open Source community were created with some kind of outside aid or with the help of corporate dollars. Only when Open Source communities behave like businesses do they ever get anything truly good done quickly, which may or may not be a good thing. It leads me to wonder what kind of a future the Open Source movement has, and whether or not it's healthy for the movement itself to proceed as it has in the past. I also can't help but question the motives of some of Open Sources biggest corporate allies, namely Google and IBM. (But once again, whole other kettle of fish.)

        The biggest problem I see is that the vast majority of people who rant and rave about how much they adore the Open Source ideal haven't a single clue what they're talking about. They're protoypical zealots, just as Tim and John were when I first met them. Often young, childish, but enthusiastic, they make good poster children for the cause, but contribute little else. Then you have more seasoned zealots, who have lost their charm and replaced it with yet more steadfast devotion, like jubilant young choir boys growing up to be silent old monks in a monestary. It wouldn't kill them to actually begin to independently learn how to do things such as code or at least modify applications, but for one reason or another, they don't. Parasitic of their communities, they place the burden of coding on the backs of the much more skilled minority of developers therein.

        Meanwhile, it would appear that these same developers have trouble pooling their resources and creating schedules and timetables, which is also a bit disappointing. I realize that these are communities, yes, but were they run more like volunteer software studios with part-time positions, they could become much more productive and much more disciplined. These programs simply advance on the classic Duke Nukem 4-Ever schedule - 'When it's done.' - and lack an extensively organized web of developers, but are beta-tester heavy by far. (To return to the subject of my classmates briefly, Tim seemed to escape his 'parasitic stage' and seems to have a great interest in learning to program. John can barely install an OS.)

        Aside from their lack of organization and discipline, most of these communities give themselves a very bad image. (Fortunately, this image has been cleaned up a bit recently.) Frankly, I'm not interested in helping what would appear to be an online bastion of radical leftism develop software, much less receive technical support from them or discuss anything of importance with them. These zealots - the people like John - are like some kind of plague. I almost can't stand listening to them or reading what they write, because it's all so overly idealistic. Once again, ideals aren't bad, but when they're so unrealistic and downright stupid that you can't help but laugh and cringe at the same time, and they're made so vocal and repeated so often, they become more than an annoyance. They become repulsive. (This could be equated to deriving humor from seeing someone being kicked in the gonads repeatedly. It's funny at first, but then you really begin to feel the poor man's pain and just walk away...)

        I'm sorry, but ambition is no replacement for discipline, and the Open Source community - this amorphous blob of mindshare and potential that almost refuses to coalesce upon itself into a working, unified structure - has suffered as a direct result. Now the grinning, corpulent vultures of the coporate world loom above, waiting to pick away at yet more of this mass, which is something I find truly despicable. If Open Source isn't strangled to death by the sinister will of the proprietary horde, which has in fact - all sensationalism aside - shown a very strong interest in recent times in destroying the Open Source movement with new laws and technologies, it will find itself caught under a snare and at the mercy of their Big Brothers in business, whom will be the only source of support the movement will have available.

        I don't believe in armchair activism. Most grassroots movements leave a really foul taste in my mouth. I see a lot of the Open Source crowd as being an army of armchair activists, preaching about change but doing nothing to bring it about. All talk, no walk - this summarizes the average Open Source zealot nicely. They, like myself, are often much more skilled at writing elaborate pep-talks and conveying their dreamlike visions of a future where Open Source software runs on every device there is to be had, but when it comes to really taking action, be it through coding or attempting to actively spread the word in their own townships, they fail miserably. This is why armchair activism and grassroots movements usually don't seem to get a lot done. All talk, no walk.

        It just looks to me like the problem here is that the Open Source movement is treating it's little logjam like the Hoover Dam, when it needs a Hoover Dam and has just a logjam. This logjam could easily become everything the Open Source movement needs, if these communities began running themselves more like businesses - sans the profit part - and less like Woodstock. The Open Source movement has incredible potential, but is lacking so much and at such a crucial time. The Win-Tel dam is about to burst. The big conglomerates are starting to sweat. We don't just need thinkers, we need people who can either stand up and rally support for the cause or sit down and turn out some kickass code, preferrably both. We need those people right now before the dam really does break and the Open Source logjam winds up being swept away by the flood.


(Coming soon. This entry will be updated to reflect additions and edits made to it, and in order to add coming 'chapters'.)
User Journal

Journal Journal: On the Xbox 360 Fiasco...

This made me laugh a bit.

"This actually surprises people? Hell, a friend of mine has gone through two Xboxes. Both of them made a horrible grinding noise, came up with an error, and scratched the living hell out of whatever disc was in 'em. Both then became unusable. Meanwhile, while the damn things did work, they locked up from time to time or displayed error messages of some sort while games were being played.

Now that the Suckbox 360 has been released, I expected a product that wasn't a 20 pound pile of garbage. It looks like they've yet to fix that 'garbage' part, that's for freakin' sure. You know, I almost hope this trend of crashing continues. It'll go to show the ineptitude of Microsoft's programmers and engineers, and hopefully teach them a hard lesson about rushing a product to market.

This is a Microsoft product. It WILL crash. End of story. I'll be waiting for the Nintendo Revolution, thanks."

Apparently, recounting personal experiences with a clearly inferior product and then implying that its successors will also suck, especially considering their producer's track record, is trolling. Maybe if I would've been standing outside Wal-Mart at 3:00 AM waiting to buy one of these pieces of shit, I'd have a bit more clout to voice my opinion about another one of Microsoft's failures.

I'm sorry, folks. There's a problem when presumably well over a hundred or more people are or could possibly be experiencing problems with a product, even if several thousand have already been sold. That's called a recurring defect, and is a problem that not only should but must be dealt with. Even if this is just a problem with heat management - it seems that may not even be the whole story, since it also occasionally crashes on startup or when you're fiddling with Shitbox Live - it is a problem, and one that should have been addressed before the product was even assembled in the factory. This is a classic case of, "Oops, we rushed it to market without testing it enough! Here, have some bugs!" Microsoft's M.O. in console form.

It's pretty stupid of a lot of folks out there to assume that just because this is a complex machine, it therefore has to be error prone. That's the kind of brainless bullshit dumbass reasoning that I'd expect from someone with pretty low standards as a consumer. Just because a machine is complex and mass-produced doesn't mean it therefore should be expected to be error-prone. If anything, that's a reason for the manufacturer and designers of a product like this to be even more careful, instead of rushing it to market like a bunch of morons. I mean, look at your automobile, if you own one. Compared to your computer, your car is a monstrously complex machine - and has computers inside of it! And yet if a certain line of cars had as high a rate of outstanding, operation impairing defects as the Shitbox 360, and they actually made it off the lot and then encountered as many problems as these consoles are having on day one of ownership, you can bet you'd have a lot of pissed off drivers - and a lot of pissed off car dealers. Just a few extra days of honest field testing could've yielded the same results that a good lot of folks seem to be reproducibly getting from this piece of trash on the same day they bought it. There's just no excuse for that.

As a consumer, I feel that it is not only my right but my duty to have high standards of the products that I purchase. If a product I buy doesn't work, I'll make sure someone hears about it. If the problem I encounter turns out to be common, that means there's something wrong with the product itself, not just one or two units. (Especially if by some polls that product appears to be %13 defective or otherwise fault-prone.) If I had actually bought this system and was blissfully unaware that its predecessor EATS DISCS AND CATCHES FIRE, I would have high expectations of it. If I then began to encounter reproducible errors, or better yet, consistant random errors, I would be rightfully upset. Folks, this isn't business as usual, even if it is just a temperature control problem. (It is unlikely that covers the scope of this issue.) This is upfuckery of a grand magnitude, some kind of obvious design flaw or flaws that I'm sure will be pinpointed before too long.

That said, I'm so, so sorry for trolling on the precious Shitbox 360. Maybe it was my choice of words, or maybe I just didn't use my funny voice. Apologies aside, here's a word of advice to anyone who reads this: If you're about to buy a 360, I suggest you do a 180 and just go right back home. Save your $400+ for something useful, or at least for a game console that works like it fucking should. And as for Microsoft, they can take the Xbox 360, rotate it 90 degrees, and forcefully insert it anally at a 180 degree angle, paralell to the original Xbox which my friends and I have come to know and loathe- er, I mean, love.

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