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User Journal

Journal Journal: Election

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User Journal

Journal Journal: Fuck your opinion on healthcare. 6

Okay, not everyone's opinion. Just the ones that are poisoning every fucking slashdot article with their political drivel, particularly about the recent healthcare law. I'm used to people around here inserting a certain amount of their political bias when they have nothing more useful to say, and I even do some of it myself, but holy self-conrtol, batman, try to show a little fucking restraint, will you? Sometimes the article is technical and political, so crossover is expected. But it's gotten so far out of hand that you can't open an article around here without having a couple hundred healthcare-related posts staring you in the face. Seriously. As an example, that particular article gets hijacked offtopic immediately after the first post. I had to scroll down past more or less a hundred useless posts to get to any relevant ones.

Maybe you're for the healthcare bill. Maybe you're against it. Maybe you're against it, and mad as hell that it passed. Maybe you're for it and mad as hell that other people are mad as hell about it passing. It doesn't matter. Shut the fuck up unless you have something useful to add to the particular technical article you are perusing. Better yet, go somewhere else more appropriate to either a) flame your opponents, b) shout down people that hold unpopular views, c) celebrate/commiserate with like-minded individuals in an effort to bolster your inadequate ego, or self-esteem, or whatever. Slashdot even gave you a place to go to get it all out of your system. And it seemed to work at first, because there's over 2300 replies so far. That makes it roughly an order of magnitude more popular than the regular articles around here. But some people still can't or won't leave well enough alone. Well, I've got a message for them: It's over folks! Done! Fait accompli! For better or worse, the healthcare bill passed, so isn't it time to stop beating this particular dead horse?

So please don't fuck up the rest of the articles. I'm begging you. You're ruining this place. I have nothing against others' views, or their right to bellow them as loudly and ignorantly as they want. But please, just don't do it here. Or do less of it, at least. Hey ... I've got an idea ... maybe you could write a journal article about your thoughts! That'd be a great fucking idea.


Journal Journal: The brain treats fact and belief the same 2

Author and researcher Sam Harris and some of his colleagues have published a study that explores how the brain handles matters of belief vs matters of fact. His findings indicate not only that the brain stores and processes them the same way, but also reveals other interesting details about how our minds handle what we consider to be truth.

This Newsweek article does a decent job of summing up the paper, and highlights a reaction that loyal Slashdot readers will probably find familiar:

... the "blasphemy reaction": that when atheists disagreed with a Christian belief, or when Christians affirmed one, their pleasure centers lit up - proof that the combatants in the faith-versus-reason wars really do enjoy the fight, equally.

As a bonus, all religious discussions, assertion of opinion as fact, and other common Slashdot misbehavior is hereby on-topic for this discussion.

Social Networks

Journal Journal: Small minds 3

The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind.
- E. B. White

Okay, so I'm feeling bitter today. And I think I know why. It's you.

It's not you the reader, personally, exactly. (Perhaps it is, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.) It's slashdot in general, of which you are part. I'm irritated by the vast majority of the people on here, who are generally an angry swarm of backbiting, close-minded, disrespectful, vacuous individuals who come here to meld with the hive-mind, or grind some socio-poitical ax rather than challenge themselves to think differently (no Apple reference intended). I don't mind the meme-posters, or the purveyors of tired jokes or esoteric humor, even if they drift off-topic. I'm glad they're here. I need the smiles.

I'm sick of every discussion spiraling off into a political knife fight. Right vs. left. EU vs. US. Everyone vs. US. Atheists vs. religion. Certainly some of the topics here are related to geopolitics, but damn near every topic descends into a political rant that has nothing to do with the real question at hand. You know what? Go shuffle off into the blogosphere and haunt or whatever sharp-toothed dim-witted political attack dog site agrees with your preconceived notions.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
- Aristotle

Even when the discussion stays briefly centered around the topic, this place is filled with allegedly intelligent people who refuse to consider another point of view, who rarely apologize for a mistake or misunderstanding. Is your sense of self-worth really driven by how angry you can make a stranger, or how savagely you can defend whatever dogmatic beliefs you cling to?

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.
- William James

Hey, I've got nothing against spirited debate. I have several friends here whom I completely disagree with on most things, but a lot of what they write makes me think a little. The problem is that it appears that too many here has way more half-baked opinions and regurgitated biases than actual knowledge or new perspective.

We have met the enemy, and he is us.
- Walt Kelly

But I suppose I could handle all that with a shrug, but for one annoying fact: I have begun to think and post like you. Yes, the worst part of all this is realizing that I allow myself to get caught up in these sniping contests that pass for technical discussion. I usually try to keep to the high road, but sometimes it is way too tempting to score some vitriolic points against a poster who is out there just lobbing word-grenades all over the place. It feels good at first, but really, what did I get out of it? Am I any more informed than before? Is anyone else?

So, I tell you what; let's make a deal. I'll try to do the following, and hopefully a few others will too:
a) - I'll try to keep above the bickering, and post sanely.
b) - I'll try to stay on topic, or at least not drift off topic by more than a couple of degrees of separation.
c) - I'll try to include some bit of relevant fact or logic rather than simply opinion, unless opinion is what is needed, and I feel mine is particularly apropos.

Of course, maybe I've got it all wrong, and the real problem here is just me. Not you, not you and me, just me. Maybe I've been taking all this too seriously. Maybe my ass is wound so tight it has become a metaphorical coal-to-diamond conversion mechanism. Maybe I'm having the world's nerdiest midlife crisis. Maybe I need to shrug all this shit off and laugh a little. Like I said in the beginning, I could use all the smiles I can get.

User Journal

Journal Journal: The Iranian leadership has jumped the shark.

Iran's mullahs had a pretty good thing going for a few decades. They rode to power on a revolution against a tyrant, and they've been riding a tide of religious fervor and nationalist sentiment ever since. Every year, they trot out a parade of Iranians to chant "Death to America", they burn some flags every now and then, and they fight a proxy war through Hezbollah against Israel and by extension, against us. It's the kind of thing that sells well at home, and serves to keep most Iranians united through fear and hatred of a common enemy.

Until now.

Iran's theocratic leadership is so accustomed to beating the drum of nationalism to rally support and unite the country against the Great White Satan, that they must not have realized that such tactics only work well when the enemy is external. They have found that in order to control their own people force, propaganda, and censorship are required. Force is something Iran's leaders know well, and are not afraid to use in thuggish abundance. Propaganda and censorship are skills they have used to greater or lesser degree since the 1979 revolution, but seldom if ever against a foe that is large, vocal, and internal. Low-tech (beating people on the streets and taking their cell phones and cameras) and high-tech methods (filtering internet access, tracking down digital dissidents, posting demonstrators' photographs for public aid in identification, etc) methods of censorship have been on display, and I have to begrudgingly give them credit for being more savvy in this area than I initially gave them credit for. What can I say. I'm naive sometimes.

Although they seem to have leveraged technology to their advantage for censorship, their propaganda skills are a little rusty. They are still insisting that the enemy is us; that western powers are fomenting the unrest that has spilled out onto the streets of Tehran. The mildest of criticism ("we deplore the violence") from outsiders has been met with shrill rhetoric from Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has been all too eager to stretch and morph mild and civil remarks from world leaders into vitriolic propaganda to support his - and the Mullahs' - insistence that the protests are due to outside interference.

Lies only work when those being lied to don't know the truth, or are willing to deny it. In other words, the lies have to be plausible. The fact that the grandiose distortions the Iranian leadership is accustomed to projecting (the Holocaust didn't happen, we don't have the problem of gays in Iran) don't sound plausible to most reasonable folks has been largely irrelevant while the foe has been external. But the religious leaders of Iran (dictatorship by committee, if you will) didn't even bother to cheat the vote in a believable fashion, and that has made all the difference in the aftermath. The Iranian people didn't buy it when the election results came in. They aren't buying the outside agitation myth. The emperors new clothes are being seen for what they are.

The people in the streets know the truth, and don't seem willing to let it go easily. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei also know the truth. Now it seems there will be a staring contest, and despite the protesters having the more vulnerable position, neither side appears willing to blink yet.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Nintendo Announces DSi and Wii storage solution

Earlier this morning, Nintendo made several major announcements in a press conference in Japan. Ranging from a new Nintendo DS to a Wii storage solution. Nintendo's first announcement was a brand-new handheld in the Nintendo DS line of consoles. This revision of the DS brand will be a significant break from the previous DS Lite console. It will be named "Nintendo DSi". (Nintendo DS-Eye, get it?) Nintendo also announced a solution to the Wii storage problem. Unfortunately, it sounds like players will be able to download to their SD Card, but not actually play games directly from the card.

Firehose Link: http://slashdot.org/firehose.pl?op=view&id=1225579

(Still trying to figure out if the firehose does anything.)

User Journal

Journal Journal: WiiCade Open Sources Flash API

Slashdot doesn't seem to get much news about Wii Homebrewing, so I thought I'd throw out an article on the latest updates to the popular Wii Web Gaming site WiiCade.

According to GoNintendo, they have released a new version of their Wii Remote API under a combination of the GPL and LGPL licenses. To sweeten the pot, this new version offers cool new features like IR-Based Motion Sensing, 4 player support, control over zooming, and partial Nunchuk support.

To celebrate, WiiCade released 5 new games that use these features. These games are Icy's Droplet Gathering Adventure, Space Shooting Mania, Asteroid Falldown, Bumper Car Madness, and Catch a Falling Star. It looks like someone has already released another game called WiiCade Snake. And for you Bush lovers/haters out there, they also have a Make Your Own Bush Speech "game". If you're into that sort of amusement, that is.

I personally recommend Bumper Car Madness. It's a rather crazy and fun arcade game that has you competing to see who can get the most tokens. It offers three control schemes, two which allow you to steer by twisting the remote, one which follows the cursor. It's tons of fun, especially with friends.

It looks like they also got a new look to go with the upgrade. Decide for yourselves if it's better or not. I like it, though. :-)

User Journal

Journal Journal: Interesting Misconception 4

Today's lesson on taking things out of context. Here's a post I made today:

How is Science any different from groupthink? Scientists are no where near as impartial as they claim to be. The only checks and balances in place are reviews by scientific peers!

Think about it.

Shocked yet? Frightened at how I could possibly say such a thing? Clamoring for the mods to continue my fall to oblivion? I even got this response from an AC:

You're usually more level headed than this. I think you're just being silly.

Interesting thing, though. No one read the context. Here's the post I was replying to:

How are they different from groupthink? or the political bias at times that persists in Wikipedia?

Their top level admins are no where near as impartial as they claim to be. Obvious subjects to avoid on Wikipedia are those which are based on religious, political, or environmental, concerns. People have taken "maintaining" those types of entries to ridiculous levels that whole pages of discussion exist behind the page where the various factions bitch at each other. The best way to see the bias is to watch what they require to have accredited links and what they do not, let alone what sites they consider credible sources for disputed information.

While it has much useful information there are just certain subjects to avoid

Now let's re-read my text in context:

How are they different from groupthink? or the political bias at times that persists in Wikipedia?

Their top level admins are no where near as impartial as they claim to be.

How is Science any different from groupthink? Scientists are no where near as impartial as they claim to be. The only checks and balances in place are reviews by scientific peers!

See it? Still want my head on a platter?

An interesting experience.


Journal Journal: iPhone: Why So Negative? 4

I just got back from reading the Chicago Tribune's various stories on the iPhone. The reviews were very positive, if not a bit reserved. Sales may have topped 500,000 units. And sales have been so good that the AT&T activation servers have been overloaded. All in all, a very good launch for the iPhone. Not perfect mind you, but nothing ever is.

So imagine my surprise when I checked Slashdot this morning to find that the only story on the launch is Activation Problems in iPhone Paradise. No mention of the 500,000 unit estimate. Nor is there mention of the strongly positive reaction by the market. The only thing discussed is the activation problems, which are blown incredibly out of proportion. From the "long-wait-short-celebration" department tag, to a link to an engadget poll that won't let you see the results unless you vote (There's no "I don't have an iPhone option?" WTH?), all the way to using a random blog of one guy's experience as the basis for what all ~500,000 users (estimated) are experiencing.

Maybe it's just me, but this has gone way too far.

Slashdot is a place where intelligent people tend to hang out to converse. Because these people know a lot, they easily become jaded. I know that I personally have struggled a great deal with becoming unintentionally negative. And it's not necessarily the problem of dealing with people who know less. That's a reasonable excuse for tech support reps, but it doesn't hold up for professionals. In fact, I often find that I can become so indoctrinated in a certain way of thinking (because I know quite a bit about it) that anything that seems to violate that doctrine must be wrong.

Of course, this is a very dangerous trap. There are always clever ways around problems without violating the laws of physics. In fact, the solution presented often solves the problem in a very unique way that requires a dramatic shift in thinking.

For example, hydrogen cars are often criticized for requiring grid power to generate the hydrogen. Thus many discount the option because it "doesn't provide an alternative fuel source". Which is true, but it misses the point. Hydrogen provides a shift in the way that our infrastructure works. Rather than having millions of inefficient, dirty, smog-inducing, portable combustion engines on the road, we could generate all the power from relatively clean and efficient sources like Nuclear power plants then distribute that power to a "vehicle grid" using hydrogen as the storage and transmission device. From that perspective, hydrogen suddenly becomes a lot more appealing. (Without diving into the logistics issues of converting fueling stations, of course.)

Thus I can't help but wonder, is Slashdot getting too negative for its own good? I've been noticing a sharp increase in stories that are either overblown or outright inaccurate. From PopCap Distressed Over 'CopyCat' Games (the original interview states that PopCap is distinctly unaffected by clones), to W3C Bars Public From Public Conference (the newsie apparently couldn't understand English), to Judge Orders TorrentSpy to Turn Over RAM (Judge ordered web logging to be turned on), I'm beginning to wonder if the general status of the Slashdot users and editors isn't taking a turn for the worse. I'm seeing fewer and fewer stories with a positive slant. Those that do have a positive slant are either overblown claims (which results in a negative reaction) or misreported claims (which results in the same negative reaction, except that all of Slashdot is barking up the wrong tree).

While I understand that much of the confusion and negativity is pouring out of the press, it's important to keep a cool head on our shoulders and think critically about every piece of information we see. While I don't directly blame the Slashdot editors or the readers, I do think that all of us can make a contribution toward positive reenforcement on Slashdot. We readers can do two things:

1. Try to make sure that the stories we submit are correctly stated and reflect the true issue at hand.

2. Keep our replies civil. It's so easy for all of us (myself included) to get mad at the other guy thinking he doesn't know what he's talking about. Yet sometimes he actually does. So please be gentle when correcting each other. You'd be amazed at the smart people you'll develop a rapport with!

For the editors, I can offer one major suggestion: Apply critical thinking before smacking that "Approve" button. I know you guys see an absolutely incredible number of submissions day in and day out. The catch is finding the submissions that are worth posting to the front page of Slashdot. As of late it seems like submissions are being chosen more for their yellow (read: inaccurate) headline rather than their substantiveness as news. So please be considerate when choosing submissions.

Thank you all for listening! :-)

User Journal

Journal Journal: Did you open your eyes? 34

In a recent post on the topic of altruism being hardwired into the human brain, I challenged others to think about the theological implications of this. As the article suggested, many people jump to the conclusion that science is disproving the existence of a higher being. I used the exact opposite extreme to point out how silly that is.

Here it is again, but this time with the bolding reversed:

I figured it would be fun to respond with a similarly goofy argument:

It seems to me that if man is hardwired with an sense of altruism and a desire to believe in a super-being, there can be no other answer to this question than the existence of a Creator.

The question is, how many of you got the message? How many of you jumped to disprove a statement that did not need to be disproven in the first place?

Slashdot is composed of some of the smartest people in the world. Yet sometimes the smartest people can close their minds. The truth is that science does not prove or disprove religion. It cannot do that as it only concerns itself with the universe at hand.

Faith-based religion is not science. Let's not treat it as such. But science is not faith-based religion. Let's not make the mistake of mistreating it, either.

User Journal

Journal Journal: How I Slashdotted Google 15

It's not every day that you get someone from Google showing up to check on the spreadsheet you shared out using the Google Documents site. But that's exactly what happened after I posted such a spreadsheet in a Slashdot comment and accidentally created an impromptu chat room.

Someone over on Google must have been curious about all those server spikes, because a viewer with the address of google@google.com showed up shortly after the user traffic peaked. In fact, I had never expected that the discussion feature of the spreadsheet would attract so much attention. I figured that people would simply look at the sheet and discuss it on Slashdot. Perhaps even make a copy, modify it, and share it out.

So what could I do when the Google lurker was noticed? Quickly yank the spreadsheet from the public eye? Close my account and hope Google never traces it back to me? No, I went for hollering out an apology for the Slashdotting over the aforementioned discussion feature. This must have satisfied the lurker, because he then exited the sheet without saying so much as a word.

Then again last night, the sheet received a chat from a person with the gmail name of "google". The message was simply, "A chat room through the spreadsheet discussion? Who would have thought?"

While there's no concrete proof that these users were indeed from Google, it does seems likely given how Google tends to control its name inside its own system. Thus I have to wonder, will there be any repercussions from this? Will Slashdoters regularly create impromptu chat rooms with spreadsheets? Will Google use this as an example of how well their collaboration features work? Or will the whole thing simply blow over?

Who knows? But I can say that this little spreadsheet gone haywire was a fun experiment. And if we want to keep Google on its toes, we can always do it again!


Journal Journal: A Day Without Mono is like a Day Without a Bullet in my Head 7

I have to admit, I think I owe Miguel de Icaza an apology. When we last butt heads, I believe I accused him of choosing .NET over the existing Java projects out of a case of "Not Invented Here" syndrome. And after the Silverlight announcement (which he wants to name fad-da daw'), I was even starting to buy into the idea that he might be a blind Microsoft follower.

But after spending a few days with Mono, I have changed my mind. It is quite obvious to anyone using the platform that the Mono team is not in bed with Microsoft. In fact, it would seem that the Mono team is explicitly trying to warn you away from .NET technology. Otherwise, why would they make it SO GODDAMN HARD TO DEVELOP FOR?

Excuse my outburst, but I'm just about at my wits end. Allow me to explain.

The whole thing started when I was working on a side project that required ASP.NET. As much as I might want to get around this requirement, it was non-negotiable. So, I looked into Mono and found that they had a special development server capable of running ASP.NET pages. I thought, "Great! Now I can develop on my Mac on the go!"

So I downloaded the Mono for OS X package and installed it. It compiled the requisite "Hello World" program with no issues. (Though it spat out Hello.exe for a binary. WTF?) The XSP server also ran a simple ASP.NET page without any problems. Great! Now all I needed was some documentation.

Before I get to that part, however, let me take a moment and address Microsoft documentation. I've heard plenty of programmers beam about how wonderful Microsoft documentation is, and how they absolutely love Microsoft documentation. If they had it their way, every program would have Microsoft documentation. Personally, I've always wondered what these people are smoking.

My experience has been that Microsoft documentation is poorly organized, lacking in detail, designed to run you around in circles, and packaged in a proprietary format that makes it non-portable and generally quite useless. The only positives to Microsoft documentation is that their docs are very pretty to look at and there is a LOT of it. (Which is what happens when you try to document every possible use rather than how to use the technology.)

Back to my story. Here I am thinking that I will simply download an HTML class reference and be about my business. After all, I'm an experienced programmer. Just tell me the library calls and I'll be good to go.

A quick check of the official Mono site produced the necessary HTML documentation. But only online. Nowhere could I find a download that I could take with me. The more I looked, the more I realized that the Mono folks want you to use a GTK# MonoDoc Browser. Oooook....

MonoDoc browser is (unsurprisingly) not shipped with the Mac OS X Mono package. So I went and downloaded the only package available: The sources. Of course, the MonoDoc browser requires GTK#, so I download those sources as well. It's all cross-platform code, so it should be easy to compile, right? *sigh*

When I untarred the source archives, what do I find? Something incredibly simple and reliable like ANT? Nope. The same old configure/make scripts that have been giving me nightmares for the last decade or so. No problem. I can do this. It's CLR code, so it MUST be a simple compile, right?

First thing that happens is that the configure script can't find Mono. Wait, what? How can it not find mono? It's in the path! After some checking around, I find that the build script is using pkg-config and pkg-config doesn't know about mono. Ok, so I create a mono.pc file in the /usr/lib/pkgconfig directory. Still can't find it. I move the mono.pc to /usr/local/lib/pkgconfig. Still can't find it. I set the PKG_CONFIG_PATH to the folder containing mono.pc. STILL CAN'T FIND IT!

As you can imagine, my blood pressure is getting dangerously high at this point.

I go back to the configure scripts to see if I can simply route around the check. No, it's pretty integral. But I do manage to find that the pkg-config it's pulling is an older version in /sw/bin. Mono apparently installed its own copy in /usr/bin. Ok, I can see that. So I switch the path around (making certain it's exported to the environment) so that /usr/bin will get checked first. It still finds the older copy. I struggle with it a bit more. It still finds the old copy. Finally, I rename the older pkg-config to pkg-config.old.

Eureka! It finds mono! Just to fail on GTK+!

Wait... what?

According to the configure script I don't have GTK+ or Pango. Yet I know they're both installed because of a few other OSS apps I compiled a while back. Finally, I give up. This is a dead end that's already sapped too many hours of my time. The craptacular Linux build process bests me again.

Let's try another tack, shall we? The mono package contained a pre-compiled (thank God) tool called monodocs2html.exe. All I need to do is feed the documentation sources into the tool, and voila! Instant HTML docs! Or so I hoped.

Unfortunately, I couldn't make heads or tails of the process. The documentation on generating documentation seems nice and all, but is a bit difficult to understand without some experience with the platform. And since I can't get any documentation on how to use the platform, I'm kind of stuck with a catch-22 there.

In theory, I just point the tool at the "assembled" documentation and it works. In practice, it keeps telling me that I need index.xml. Yet there's no index.xml anywhere in the lib/monodoc/sources directory. Not even inside the Mono.zip file. Rats, foiled again!

At this point I've resigned myself to wearing the ball and chain of an ethernet cable. After all, why would anyone possibly want to take HTML documentation on the go? Not that I've been too impressed in the online docs themselves. In Java, you tend to document API methods as you go. But with Mono, they separate out the docs from the sources, ensuring that no one ever documents anything! Documentation is handled entirely by online volunteers in a Wiki-like fashion, leading to a great deal of the library being documented with "Documentation for this section has not yet been entered."

So here I am now. My laptop useless in the face of such incredible resistance to using Mono. My blood pressure at all time highs. My patience long ago exhausted. For an instant, Google gives me hope that someone else has shared their generated docs! Yet it's nothing more than an apparition of a carrot dangling in the air as if to mock me.

I really do owe Miguel an apology. His team has been making wonderful strides in ensuring that the platform is completely inaccessible to new users. Thanks, man! We always knew you were secretly anti-Microsoft.

User Journal

Journal Journal: The Commodore 64, now on OSNews! 2

It looks like my most recent article has made it to the front page of OSNews. As usual, the comments got off to a rocky start with the requisite grouch making half-baked arguments. Other than the political sub-thread he started, the comments have otherwise been very positive.

All in all, I think the coverage is kind of cool. Wouldn't you agree? :)

Edit: Almost forgot! One poster was kind enough to provide a link to this little hack. (And I do mean *little*!) Smitty, I think that one is for you? ;)

User Journal

Journal Journal: Are You Keeping Up with the Commodore? 8

In an accidental followup to David Brin's article Why Johnny Can't Code, I share my own experiences with introducing my son to a Commodore 64. The experience convinced me that older machines are just plain better at teaching than modern software and computers. Which would be sad, except that the Commodore 64 is perfectly positioned to make a comeback as an educational toy!

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A computer without COBOL and Fortran is like a piece of chocolate cake without ketchup and mustard.