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User Journal

Journal Journal: A Spiritual Crisis

To believe or not to believe...

A thought exercise. I admit (attest??, proclaim??) I haven't fully bought into this, but here goes...

Atheists: "Faith has no basis in fact."

Religious types: "Duh, if it had fact, it wouldn't be faith."

I understand this point. I've been a Christian all my life and know the words when Jesus spoke to Thomas "Blessed are they who do not see, and yet believe" We're taught there this is merit in faith without seeing.

Here's the thing:

Somewhere in the wilds of some jungle in the South Pacific, there is some guy named Ubu who believes very confidently that the world was created on the back of a great multi-headed war duck. His father and the witch doctor in his tribe taught him this. He went through an induction ceremony involving sharp sticks and scars when he was 11. He believes that if he keeps less than 3 wives and does not kill at least 2 enemy tribesmen, he will not go on to receive the great infinite prize. Ubu has never seen the multi headed war duck. Ubu will live with that faith, struggle with it from time to time, think other people are unworthy or unchosen because they don't believe it, and die clinging to it.

19 young men from another place had a different looking war duck, a god named allah, who with the involvement of Mohammad even wrote a big long book for them to refer to and pray over, and told them to kill people who didn't believe as they did. They hijacked airplanes and killed 3000 of my tribesmen.

My god also has a book, which says some pretty good things, a lot of very scary things, and a lot of weird things. I have to seriously ask myself - what really is the difference between my clinging to my faith and Ubu clinging to his? The faiths are different. Some parts seem better than others. Some parts seem more beautiful than others. The idea of forgiveness certainly is more appealing than your eternal destiny being determined by how many wives you have. But is there a real way beliefs can be compared? Parts of Ubu's faith are more beautiful than mine. If we go a couple of thousand miles to the northwest, we'll find probably the world's most complete, well thought out, and reasonable faith - Hinduism. But they still have a brutal caste system and some very strange elements in their beliefs. Can I really say, in terms other than simply that it is my faith, there there is something of intrinsically greater value about my faith as compared to that of others? I know the right answer to that from my training, but really, seriously, can I say that? Can I really believe that Ubu and I are qualitatively different on an order that carries eternal consequences?

If it were that important, wouldn't it make more sense? In my faith, all goodness, nobility, courage, etc. comes from a single source. Such things are the purpose of the faith. Christianity is all about being made clean from sin and perfection in the person of Christ. Which is more noble and courageous of me in considering the person of Ubu? That he is tragically uninformed and ignorant, doomed to an eternity of hellfire because of where he was born, and who is father and witch doctor were, or that we might be more similar than I would like to admit?

What if Ubu, Mohammed Atta, etc. and I are really doing the same thing? What if we all are meeting the same human need? Why believe? Because I want to walk the streets of gold and bask in the light of god's glory? An infinite reward is an easy choice. All of my other life's experiences to this point suggest that easy choices are unfulfilling and pointless. I can feel myself flee back to my faith, and insist upon believing that those streets of gold really are there and that the war duck isn't, but it feels like I am running away from something. I feel like a baby eagle who has put off learning to fly for one more day. There is comfort, but is that the same thing as significance? It doesn't feel right. If that is the path to enlightenment, why doesn't it feel like it?

If I think that Ubu and I might be the same, it's compassion. I am looking at a strange human living a strange life, and finding common ground between us. If I think about Ubu as being ignorant and damned, that's exclusion and condescension. If my faith is the source of compassion, then how can it be the opposite point of view from compassion?

Then I consider the implications. If Ubu and I are the same, then Jesus is no more real than Ubu's war duck. I am a pitiful speck in an immense and eternal universe, and when I die, I will cease to exist for all time. That's terrifying. I am alone. There are no streets of gold. There will be no reward.

That is scary. Can something not be true just because it is scary?

But if Ubu and I are the same, then I am not alone. I have Ubu. I can learn things from him. He can learn things from me. We can find out a little more about what is meaningful or valuable in the cosmos and pass that knowledge on to those we interact with and to those who follow us. If the goal of my existence is greater compassion in the world, which is a more meaningful afterlife - for my eternally preserved self to experience a forever of personal comfort in a heavenly paradise, or for people to actually be more compassionate to each other after I am gone? Which choice is more noble? Which is more meaningful? It seems that if we can commit ourselves to real compassion, nobility, goodness, etc, then the most important parts of us really do live forever. If, that is, we truly think those parts are important. As I consider that, I find myself confronting real courage, real compassion, real hope, and the world really does become a better place.

An interesting problem, wouldn't you say?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Movie review - The Descent 1

In short, it sucked.

It was scary. The backdrop element of claustrophobic caving combined with the core terror element was effective at generating fear. that about wraps up the good news.

The story was awful. Whole constructs of the story, given 20 minutes or more of screen time to develop and nurture, were utterly abandoned in the end. The movie could have literally been edited to 1 hour and made better sense as a story. The characters were completely non existent. There was not a shred of acting ability evident among any of the cast, leaving the audience not simply in a state of not having become emotionally invested in anyone, but not even knowing who the hell everyone was. I watched this film not 2 hours ago, and I cannot name any character. Not the protagonist, not the designated victim, not one.

A horror film is not simply blood and gore and loud noises. There must be a story. The shower scene in Psycho was memorable not because of the violence and gore, but for two facts:
  • It was very well acted
  • It had a story. This was a guy who talked to his mother's corpse. We knew he was a monster and we knew why.

What story can be said to exist in "The Descent" consists of one character's action, and one character's reaction. Pretty simple stuff. But even that one event was poorly explained, badly executed, and mystifyingly stupid. You can't string a series of cleverly storyboarded scenes together and call it a movie. There are two critical elements any movie must have. It must be well written, and it must be well acted. "The Descent" has neither.

User Journal

Journal Journal: The Effects of DRM - From Ignorance to Activism

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a very serious advocate of free software and that I adamantly oppose things like DRM. It may surprise very few to know that my wife, until very recently, was not. I would try to explain the importance of things like fair use, the broadcast flag, etc. - but ultimately, nothing I said every really translated into something she could care about in her daily life. It was all too abstract and took too much effort to take the time to understand.

Then she bought an MP3 player.

The last experience she had with MP3s was in the days of Napster. She pretty much thought she could bring home an MP3 player, fill it up with free music from *somewhere*, and go.

"Honey, you can't get free MP3s anymore."

"What? I don't believe you." A few minutes' Googling ensues.

"Crap, you're right. Well, okay, I'll get songs from Wal Mart - they're only 88 cents."

"Those don't work like you remember. They have DRM now."

"What are you talking about? DRM? Just put the damn songs on there!"

I fire up the Windows box, connect her to Wal-Mart's site. We buy several songs, put them on the player, and they don't work.

"Why doesn't this work?! The songs are on there!"

"It's DRM, I'm telling you. That's what DRM does. It makes music you paid for not work on equipment you paid for."

"How can they do that? I PAID for this. I played fair. Is it legal for them to break my MP3 player like this?"

"This is what I have been telling you for years. This is what it has come to."

3 hours of tech support hell ensues while we try to figure out how to license the songs correctly on the mp3 player.

Now she is PISSED. "Who supported the laws that allow this bullshit to happen?"

"Our own senators and our representative in the house. They've actually sponsored new copyright laws in the past few years."

My wife becomes an IP activist and starts telling her friends about the evils of DRM. 2 days later, the battery in her MP3 player goes dead.

"Why do the batteries in this thing go dead so fast?"

"Because DRM requires decryption on the player. It uses more electricity to play DRM music. You are required to provide the energy for their DRM to work."

And with that, my wife goes from activist to pissed off activist. Good job, RIAA. You did more in 3 hours to convince my wife that you need to be destroyed than I could do in 13 years.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Got scanned by the **AA 1

I was absently checking out my April web site stats, and found some interesting data. Mac is up to 7%, Firefox beat out IE by 10% - woah! 2.5 gigs! What the hell?!

I did some digging, and found out that one address - - had pulled a gigabyte of data down from my site. reports that this address is part of a netblock owned by "Hollywood Interactive". Hmm... I wonder what this could be about.

I checked the web logs, and this host worked through every single link on every single page on my website, downloading every single stitch of data contained therein. It hit login prompts for php apps, worked through every single entry in Gallery at every single possible resolution - EVERYTHING.

I did some poking around, and found that the netblock in question has been implicated in p2p network poisoning, so I have concluded that this was a content scan by the **AA to see if I have any copyrighted stuff on my web site. Yeah, just keep scanning dipshits. Nothing to see here but my son's Cub Scout photos.

Needless to say I made some adjustments to my firewall. No one from that netblock is touching any of my gear again. Bastards.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Running list of suspected Microsoft Astroturfers

What is astroturfing?

Astroturfing is the new advertising. These days, information and opinions are bartered in public fora, such as Slashdot. Large companies such as Microsoft recognize the power these fora have, and go to great lengths to manipulate them for their own gain. This usually takes the form of apparently random posters to a forum who just happen to say positive things about the company in question, or negative things about that company's competitors. While astroturfing is in no way restricted to the IT world or to Microsoft itself, Microsoft astroturfing on Slashdot is going to be my primary concern here.

How do you know if someone is an astroturfer?

That's the whole beauty of astroturfing. You don't. You never really can. My general criterion is if a poster has a pattern of posting comments that appear to be astroturfing, I will consider that person to be a suspect astroturfer.

How do you know that I/they aren't just a legitimate Microsoft adherent?

I've been in the IT business professionally since 1995. Outside of those who have a direct financial interest in Microsoft, I have yet to meet a real IT professional who is a Microsoft adherent on purely technological grounds. I've spent 11 years trying to find one, and haven't met one yet. Every single IT professional I have come into contact with disregards Microsoft, if not absolutely despises them. It will be difficult to convince me that the population of the online world, where anonymity and deceit are infinitely more possible, differs materially from the world where I can look someone in the eye and see where they really stand on things.

Why don't you use your foes list for this?

The foes list is used by almost everyone else as a means to ignore those whom they don't like. Quite the contrary, I want to be in a position to hear what these people have to say. I also want a way to document WHY I believe someone to be an astroturfer; something a little yellow dot would not be able to accomplish.

On to the list!

    Obtuse shot at Novell switching to Linux desktop. Used the non-sequitor "emerge -u world" Gentoo update process in reference to Suse.
    Media Center plug
User Journal

Journal Journal: If plumbing were implemented the way we do IT

I got to thinking about how most organizations implement information technology, and to comparing it with the way they implement other technology, such as plumbing.

Normally, when you need plumbing done, you hire a plumber and let him do his job. At the end, you have piping and other bits installed appropriately to perform the desired function. This is a stark contrast to the way IT is done, at least in most of the Western world. Here is how plumbing would work if it we did it like IT:

Company X decides it needs plumbing. X has been growing for some time, and the styrofoam waste troughs and bamboo aqueduct system delivering water from the roof drainage system (designed and implemented by the owner's nephew 2 years ago) don't seem to be working like they used to. There have been several catastrophic containment failures, spewing human waste into the hallways, and several customer complaints have resulted.

In order to tackle this problem, X does what any American company does when action is called for - they call a manager's meeting. The meeting is 6 hours long. The group universally fails to understand the depth of the problem and each member believes he has an unquestionable grasp of the problem and is uniquely qualified to provide a solution. The comptroller argues that the existing system has worked fine for 2 years and that there is no need for change just because of a few minor bugs, even if the bugs are literal.

The directory of marketing points out that 90 percent of other companies are using a technology from a company called PlumbSoft. PlumbSoft manufactures a piping and waste delivery system that includes several interesting features. All the pipes consist of loose bundles of poorly bent copper pipe with holes drilled in random locations. None of the joints ever fit together quite right, but this is touted as a feature by PlumbSoft because it allows for greater modularity and scalability. The end result is that the pipes must be disconnected and refitted regularly, sometimes several times a day to ensure stable operation.

Stable operation is itself open to some interpretation. Because of the inherent instability of the system, and because it does not securely convey the waste, there have been numerous disastrous pandemics of cholera and other diseases that came about as a direct result of using PlumbSoft products. Rather than impacting upon PlumbSoft's acceptance, this has created a thriving industry of emergency waste cleanup and dead body removal, collectively known of as the "antivirus industry". Contracting yearly subscriptions with such services is accepted as a normal part of daily life and business.

Just as the group begins to agree to go with PlumbSoft, a new operations intern mentions something about this plumbing technology which seems to be popular among professional plumbers. These professionals are collectively known of as geeks and while useful in a disaster, their opinions as to design are rarely considered useful. The technology involves 1/4 inch thick pipe made from something called "PVC" and water lines held together by actually using metals to literally weld the pipe together with lead and other soft metals.

This suggestion derives a condescending chuckle from the rest of the group. The PlumbSoft marketing fan holds up his styrofoam cup and points out: "I can fill this cup up 1000 times and it will never leak. It is ridiculous to suggest we need something as elaborate as PVC for our plumbing needs. And soldered connections? We can't use technology that requires such specialized skill as that. PlumbSoft's fittings are good enough for everyone else. They are good enough for us, too."

The end result is that by the time a plumber is called in to do the job, X has already decided to use PlumbSoft and have established a $100 budget for the job. X's stock later goes down by 3 points after clients are killed by exploding sewage. Their operations are outsourced to India. Customers flee the company in droves and it lives on only as a corporate parasite making its living off IP litigation.
User Journal

Journal Journal: An unbiased Analysis of Gun Crime vs. Gun Control 2

Check this thread. Behold this tortured mass of comments, boiling with vitriol and outright moderation warfare.

What's going on here? I think this topic, and another a few days ago about Microsoft being cheaper or some such shit, scoring 3000 comments, were trolling on the part of Slashdot editors to test the new server cluster.

I have to say, the results are certainly interesting.

User Journal

Journal Journal: My sig database

Encouraged by my recent ranking among the worst sigs on slashdot, I've decided to become more prolific with my writing of sigs. Here is where I will keep them, as I think of them much more frequently than I update my sig. Here's the one that started it all; my personal crowning glory.

  • If you broke the corner off of a piece of toast, and tried to stab food with it, it would not become a spoast.

I liked this sig. It kicked off many a discussion, my most favorite of which started with "You are absolutely correct. It would be a toark." Sadly, this sig is not original on my part. It's part of a long rant about the great spork conspiracy to delude us into believing that defective spoons were actually a utensil. I thought it was intensely funny, and crammed as much of the core points into my sig as possible.

  • There are only so many witty sayings in the universe. This one is taken.

Of course, I encourage everyone to use this sig. There is never enough self referencing irony in Slashdot sigs these days, and all of us could certainly stand to see more.

  • ... to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.

Certainly not original, but you can never go wrong with a Conan quote. Especially with one as unrepentantly male as this one. I suddenly have the urge to go into the woods and beat on drums.

  • sparse(adj)-

In the spirit of the joke, I'll refrain from explaining it.

User Journal

Journal Journal: K5 - is it really all that?

Most /. readers have at least some complaints about the /. moderation system. Hell, if you've been around for any length of time (not that I'm an old-timer), I'd be suspicious if you didn't. Very often in these conversations, K5 comes up as the example of how to solve the moderation problems effectively and fairly. I've spent a lot of time on K5, and have seen how their system works - and doesn't. I'd like to try to deconstruct the myth of perfection which seems to be associated with the K5 moderation system, and point out some aspects of the rather dirty underside of that system.

For those of you who are unaware, the K5 moderation system is completely democratic. Everyone can moderate each other's posts. You can give any comment a score of 1 to 5. The story posting is also completely democratic. Anyone can post a story, which then goes through a series of queues where it is moderated - again by everyone - and then posted, if it gets enough votes.

That's basically it. Sounds good, doesn't it? Any of us who've dealt with some of the moderation and editorial inanity which occaisonally goes on here would love to be able to have a voice in posting and moderation. Unfortunately, the K5 system has some problems. The first and most obvious is the question of just how well the comments are actually moderated. Because any single user can give a comment a score of 5 with a single vote, K5's moderation system does not serve as an effective signal/noise ratio filter. Browsing by score on K5 does not yield higher quality reading. While K5 has erred on the side of fairness in its moderation system, /. has erred on the side of quality. Each sacrifices one aspect to gain more of the other. But is K5's system really more fair? Because the K5 system is open to anyone, vocal emphasis is granted to those who spend the most time moderating comments and stories. This serves as a sort of demographic filter in its moderation system. Those most concerned with how comments are moderated (activists) are the ones who dominate which comments and stories get voted up. Again, this sounds good, but consider the implications. Thousands of people pull up /. every day. Most only read stories. There is a whole spectrum of people, varying in agenda and goals, who participate in the /. community. The /. moderation system recognizes that those most concerned about karma and moderation are probably not representative of the interests of the community as a whole. That's why the /. faq tends to suggest that the obsessive wackos probably won't moderate much (/. surfing habits play a part in moderation chances). On K5, the wackos are running the show.

But probably the most revealing fact about the fairness of the K5 moderation system boils down to a single question: Does the moderation system = censorship? That is to say, do the results of moderation actually cause material to be invisible to other readers? In the /. system, the answer to the question is no. What about the K5 system? When I made "trusted user" status on K5, I gained the ability to rate a comment at "0". This is the rating which is supposed to be reserved for spamming. As part of the new privileges, I got a new button on my navbar - "review hidden comments". This is where you can browse comments scored at 0 to determine if they should be promoted. It seems that when a comment is rated at 0, it becomes invisible to common readers. Worse yet, if a poster makes a certain number of score 0 posts, they become "untrusted". At this point, everything they post is invisible to common readers. The idea is that this group of K5 members must prove themselves to the "trusted" users in order to earn their voice back. In practice, this area is a permanent "troll jail" - the trusted users bloc vote nearly every comment by untrusted users at 0, preventing them from ever re-entering K5 society. In summary, K5 not only censors comments, it censors people.

What's the answer? The /. system is probably the best when it comes to actual content quality, but its abuses are legendary. I suggest the following changes:

  • /. editorial control over which stories are posted should remain. K5's stories suck.
  • Comment moderation should be fully democratic. Each person can add or subtract one point to or from a comment's score, and comment scores should have no upper limit. This will help to control the activists who mod every single comment, but who are relatively few in number.
  • All comment moderation should be public knowledge. Everyone should know how everyone else moderates.
  • There should be no karma or mojo. The fact that K5 has both mojo and democratic moderation results in very bizarre alliances and infighting. Neither a group of editors nor an inner circle of trusted users has demonstrated that they can fairly police abuses, so this should be left to the general population. It means we'll have to look at a lot more crap, but I believe it's worth it.


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