Older blog entries for Ilan (starting at number 151)

2 Feb 2004 (updated 2 Feb 2004 at 11:09 UTC) »

One score and several hours ago, a hammer was thrown on a Superbowl evening to signal the coming freedom of all end-users.

Twenty years later, on a Superbowl even, so do I now throw my hammer for a similar purpose.

I'm through talking and ready to start fighting. Whatever else happens, whether complete success or dismal failure, I stand proudly, only regretting I did not make this stand five years ago.

Random Entry For No Good Reason

I finally got the gumption to start a new Linux Users Group at NC State, which I call NOSUL (North Carolina Organization of Students Using Linux). Unlike other LUG's, NOSUL will be unique in that it is a desktop oriented LUG focused specifically on end-user issues.

I put up fliers announcing the formation of the NOSUL around 7 or 8 buildings on campus. The fliers have the usual "this is who we are, e-mail us if you're interested." There are also posted the first seven rules of NOSUL, to give the reader some initial idea of the 'flavor' of the group.

first rule of nosul: nosul is not a unix group.

second rule of nosul: nosul is not a unix group.

third rule: no terminals or command lines at meetings. we do things graphically and desktopically.

fourth rule: vi, emacs, and shell scripts do not exist.

fifth rule: it is okay to be a beginner. rtfm (read the fine manual) is to be considered a four letter word. there are no stupid end users (just stupid programmers).

sixth rule: it is okay to run operating systems other than linux at meetings, both in the capacity of audience member and presenter.

seventh rule: it is okay, and in fact encouraged, to criticize unusable and badly designed open source software and any projects or companies that produce it.

I actually find working on this group to by quite theraputic. When I get angry about the way that FOSS folks have been treating Those Who Are Not Unix Geeks, I put up a few fliers around NCSU and start feeling better. I think I feel much better because unlike before, where I just sat and stewed and was too scared to do anything, I now feel that I am actually doing something to fight against the traditional FOSS people and what they stand for.

As a wise man once said, it's only when you've lost everything that you're free to do anything.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything"--Alexander Hamilton.

Today, at NCSU, I stood.

Woz Day

Yesterday, the Woz event at NCSU happened. I finally got to meet Woz!!! He was really cool, and for someone who started the whole personal computer revolution, he was surprisingly keen on interacting with people, and also on the difficulties that most normal people have using their computers, too.

His speech was really good. I'll just leave it at that.

Later, at the party after his speech, he gave out to each person two two-dollar bills ripped from this tablet of two-dollar bills he had with him. The two two-dollar bills that everyone got were still stuck together along a perforated line. I had no idea how the hell he managed to get a hold of that stuff, but apparently it was real. He told some interesting stories about things he did with those bills, like folding two to look like one and then paying with it. And the trouble he got into as a result (like being interrogated by casino owners). Woz, while being a technical genius, is also a great storyteller.

I even got to show him one of the programs I'm writing. I figured that if the computer science department can show off their stuff, why the hell can't I show off mine? For the last several weeks I've been working on this piece of software that makes it easier for NCSU students to look over the course options for registering for courses. I already had the downloading and searching options written (in keeping with my "design the UI before you ever write the code" philosophy, I had done a lot of sketches of the UI beforehand). But the code for the UI hadn't yet been written. So on friday after I say "f*ck this, I'm never going to get this crap done with WxWindows" and fell back to gtk/glade. I spent from 6PM friday until 11AM saturday writing the UI and attaching it to the search code, with absolutely no sleep and way too much caffeine in my system. Sometimes I thought I should just give up and go to sleep. But I kept at it.

Anyhow, fast forward to 9PM at the after-speech party, I finally show my program to Woz just as he's about to leave. I had tested it a few times at the party, and it worked perfectly. I finally bring Woz (and the 6-8 other onlookers who followed him) to see my app in action. And it doesn't work! I was horrified. Here's the guy who invented the freaking personal computer, I show him my program, and the damn thing doesn't work! He was like "I know the feeling" and all cool about it, so I didn't feel that bad. But at the last minute, after twiddling with the search parameters, something kicked in and the window came up! Success. He thought the program was cool and shook my hand. That made my weekend. Incidentally, someone had told me that there was already a program called x-tracs that sort of did the same thing (which made me feel sheepish), but mine looked more refined (which made me feel less sheepish).

At 10PM saturday night, I finally get home, after not sleeping for around 32 hours.

Just making yet another token entry that, of course, no one will read because because the diary entry rating system more or less censors this post from anyone who doesn't have the patience or technical know-how to go to the address bar of their browser and change the threshold.

So I can look back on this moment in ten years (assuming Advogato will still be around), I think I'll make a post.

There's a time to try to convince someone they are wrong in the stupid and harmful things they are doing.

There's a time to complain (which is what I've done for so long in my rants and posts various places) in the hopes that your criticism might lead them to some introspection that changes their behavior for the better. In the end, that's what a flame really is. A flame is a desperate, last ditch effort to appeal to someone's better sense of judgement. Well, at least for me.

And then there's a time you've got to say that the other side will never, ever change. They will keep on doing the stupid and harmful activity, and they will keep on doing it for as long as they are allowed to do so, because that's their nature and they can't do otherwise. And the longer they are allowed to do it, the more people they will hurt. And it's at that point you either have to stand up and take the bastards on, or you have capitulate and admit that sometimes bad things perpetrated by bad people just happen in the world and it's pointless to try and do anything about it.

If you take the bastards on, both sides will get hurt and one will most likely get decimated. If you're lucky and you've got a few aces up your sleeve, it will be the other side. If you do nothing, you still hurt from lack of self-respect and from the knowledge you did nothing to stop something terrible from happening.

I need to look for the courage to do one or the other.

In other useless and trivial facts about my life at this point that I can look back on a decade from now:

  • Woz is coming to NC State. Yes, I'm psyched.
  • I'm writing a program that will make course registration at NCSU far easier.
  • I'm seriously considering starting a LUG at NCSU to meet needs that the current one doesn't (namely, the needs anyone who isn't a flaming geek who uses linux in a non-server capacity). I've thought up a few interesting initiation rituals, but sad to say none of them involve goats or ointment.
  • I'm still writing the content management system I'm using for my blog (the one that isn't censored), and still regretting my stupid idea of using the CMS for to manage my weblog while I'm still writing the damn thing.
  • I'm working on an xml format for weblogs. I am debating whether this should be opened up for discussion so I can get input on what needs to go into the format. I do not believe that Dave Winer's "live and let live", "optional everything" philosophy has benefitted RSS, which is now abused in extremely perverse ways and comes in nine different flavors. Providing the end user a consistent and usable user experience is the most important thing for such a format, and I don't want it screwed up by the people who stole the web and created the horror we called XML Schemas.

My first Advogato post of the new year. For posterity's sake, as any other reason is mostly pointless with my current threshold.

My new year's resolution: get my blogging software approaching something useful before school starts. I'm still not completely automated, as I'm still manually generating the web page from xslt (as opposed to having the script do it and upload it). Once I'm done, I should have something quite capable for expressing myself with.

Having your diary entries censored from the world sucks. Of course, if it motives you to create something that better suits your needs, there's probably some good in it.

And for posterity's sake, I'll say that the when the Kernigheze thought they were shutting me up, they were actually making me stronger and more determined.

I have come to the conclusion that a clear and methodical mind performs a lot better and accomplishes more of its goals than an angry and clouded one. It only took me ten years to figure this out. But I suppose it takes some people a lifetime to figure it out, if they ever do. So I'm not as late as I thought I was.

Taking three semesters of spanish back to back wasn't totally useless. ¡Ahora yo puedo comprender spam de Sudamérica!

When designing street signs, you do not want to take an extremely pervasive population stereotype and use it for a situation that is totally different or the exact opposite of the original situation the population stereotype applies to. For example, on a traffic light, green means "go". You would never, ever want to paint a stop sign green as opposed to red. Incidently, a neon green does have better night visibility than red, but doing something totally opposite of the population stereotype and making a stop sign green would cause more problems with night driving (particularly with older drivers who might have slower reaction times) than it would solve.

Another population stereotype, in the context of computers, is the word "Scroll". If you interviewed several hundred people and asked them what they commonly associate the word "Scroll" with when they use computers, at least 99% (and most likely 100%) would refer to a navigational act performed in a window, not an ancient piece of media whose primary users today are rabbis and D & D players.

What happens if, say, some piece of GNOME software named, say, ScrollKeeper breaks and gives some kind of warning message. The very first thing an end user will think will be "holy sh*t, there's something wrong with the way my windows will work", not "holy sh*t, my documentation system is screwed up". The user's attention will be misdirected into trying to solve some problem that doesn't exist with one area of his or her computer while totally ignoring the other area that is having the problem.

If you really want to start making GNOME have some element of usability, John, rename ScrollKeeper to something like "Gnome Documentation System" or something else that makes sense. Don't confuse the end-user; don't pull a Red Hat on them.

I never stop being amazed by the computer industry's capacity to destroy itself.

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