Recent blog entries for ajt

21 Apr 2003 (updated 21 Apr 2003 at 02:01 UTC) »
High quality neo-journalism from slashdot

First, there's today's story, Debian GNU/Linux to Declare GNU GFDL non-Free? It's great the way news sites leap towards potential controversy, and aim to publish unrehearsed and poorly thought out comments, as though off the cuff responses are more likely to reflect some "inner truth", than properly thought out and reviewed statements.

Second, there's the story from 2001 about the Canadian farmer growing a Canola crop, who was sued for patent violation. The defendent claims he's a small time farmer, and sets the scene as another case of the multinational screwing the little guy. The judge hears evidence, and rules that the plaintiffs have every right to compensation for misappropriation of their patented technology. It's reported on slashdot with the usual anti-patent bias, that's blithely copied by a credulous submitter from a credulous broadcaster: "Percy Schmeiser claims that the seeds blew onto his farm from passing seed trucks and from neighboring farms. The court held that regardless of whether [...] he merely found them growing on his farm, it was his responsibility to destroy the seeds and seedlings or pay royalties." This version of events is repeated, indirectly, when slashdot later links to the winners of the WIPout contest for essays against intellectual property, via the Register. One of the winners is Percy Schmeiser himself, retelling his defense in a forum where there's no chance of a judge ruling against him.

The only problem with this is that Mr Schmeiser's claims were conclusively disproven at trial: his crop was not mildly contaminated, 95-98% of it was. Likewise, the proffered explanation was nonsense -- the contamination was not limited to the roadsides, and licensees of the genetically-modified seed were too distant to have caused significant wind-borne contamination. Further, in spite of the hand-wringing summaries, the judge did not require monitoring and burning of any seed that might appear, merely that seeds acquired accidently not be knowingly planted, thus making deliberate use of the patented genes. Read about it in an article on reason.com, or check the facts in the court's decision.

New key is ziyi_key_2003.asc. The debian-devel-announce list is apparently broken causing that not to be announced properly.

Linux.conf.au again rocked, although came a little too close to drunken swaying at some points. Conferences really are much more fun when you can actually go to the talks.

I linked to the wrong key in my last diary entry. Silly me. The correct one is ziyi_key_2002.asc.

ObHack: linux.conf.au.

bjf says:

Our Government is being unusually heavy-handed and decisive in dealing with the media and the detainees, but it's pleasing to see that the situation, as unique as it is, hasn't compromised freedom of speech and press, and everything else we stand for as a nation and society.

Personally, I'd have thought arresting protestors and journalists and avoiding any public or governmental oversight of the way they're handling things (by, say, allowing the media to actually talk to asylum seekers who might wish to be spoken to instead of forcing kids to throw notes at reporters) would've raised some hackles. But hey, freedom of assembly doesn't matter much, and freedom of speech probably doesn't apply to people who don't speak english anyway.

It's nice to see that "detainees" and "illegal immigrants" are still the unprejudicial and politically correct terms for "asylum seekers", in general too. I guess we should be glad that they're not "potential terrorists" anymore.

Who was going to decide who we let into the country, again? Australians, or John and Pauline?

Of course, none of you care in the slightest about this. Oh well. Advogato's gone to hell anyway.

ObHack: Ever wondered if your Debian mirror was trojaning the .debs it feeds you, with plans to create a country-wide network of Debian machines that would, when the time is right, assume control and take over the world? I know I have. And now I can tell for sure! Everytime I do an "apt-get update", I just run apt-check-sigs and validate my downloaded Packages files against the dists/woody/Release and Release.gpg files, and I at least no it's not my mirror that's giving me trojans. If you want to do likewise, you probably also want the key used to sign the aforementioned Release file.

Of course, if its not my Debian mirror giving me trojans, who can it be? Surely it's not that cute girl down the street.

(Ha! Boring local political commentary, and whining about girls! How much more Advogato can you get? How much more Advogato could want??)

Random venting.

Apple iBooks are sweet. Nice, small, solid, smooth, fast, little things with excellent battery life. Very happy with that purchase.

Not so happy with my ADSL. Telstra's BigPond sucks. They're incompetent at doing the install (three months before I even get an appointment, which is then cancelled because hey, they didn't mean to make the appointment in the first place, sorry about that, do you remember the name of the guy who called you by any chance? and another month before the actual appointment, then another week or two before the installation), they're incompetent at keeping the underlying routing sensible (trying to ping other local ADSL users gets me one response, then nothing until I leave it for ten minutes, at which point I can get another response, then, again, nothing; and large packets sent to me simply get dropped somewhere upstream from me (and no it is not my MTU or MRU), they still haven't managed to work out how to offer static IP addresses), they're incompetent at support (responding to reports a couple of days late, which happens to be after the problem's been fixed, escalating reports to email addresses that don't exist, managing to let reports just sit around for weeks without any updates, and insisting that I not only use a Windows box, but that I cold boot, and reinstall it before they're willing to even bother checking if the problem might be on their end), and they're even incompetent at billing (their printed invoices list an account code without a leading 0, that their pay by phone services insists must be present). Sprinkle all the above liberally with curses, swear words, and insinuations about animal ancestry and illegitimate parentage, and you have a vague idea how irritating this is. Or get broadband yourself. Bah.

Is it just me, or does anyone else fail to see the relevance of this .NET and mono nonsense? Linux's answer to .NET? Pfft. It may be rude to answer with a question, but a better response would've been "Who cares?". .NET's features are purely market related and non-technical. Sure, there's a bunch of new implementations of old ideas. You can upgrade software off the internet easily! You can write a program and then run it on different computers! You can have your software run remotely rather than locally! There's nothing new here: I do all this every day, right now. What's new is --- well, to be honest, what's new is you can do it on Windows. It's nice to see some, what, twenty year old features might finally make it to the world's premier software platform in the next couple of years. But hey. What's really new is the way all these things are tied straight back into the good ol' Microsoft monopoly. And quite frankly, who cares about that? Personally, I'm not even vaguely interested in what Microsoft wants to do to maintain it's monopoly. If there were some interesting technical features here, sure, it might be worth looking at, or thinking about, but there aren't. Mono is nothing more than Samba, something that might be useful for interoperability, but provides almost no real benefits of its own. Technically, it's a pointless distraction, that doesn't even deserve diary rants like this one.

Jef Raskin's book, The Humane Interface is nifty. A zooming file or window manager (one where you get to move north/south/east/west and zoom in and zoom out, but don't get to "open" things) would be very interesting to play with.

Question of the day: when was the last time you found a problem in some free software, tracked down exactly what caused it, and sent the author a detailed report on why it was a bug and how to reproduce it? When was the last time you complained about some bug, but didn't do the above?

Thought of the day: if we don't charge anything to let people use or modify our software for their own use, is it too much to ask people to go a long way out of their way, just to submit a bug report or a feature request?

How cool! I discovered yesterday that the answer to my previous wishlist already exists in the form of libglade. It's not *quite* the same: the mini-language isn't a simple "%d %s %-5d", it's XML, and as such you don't do it inline, you do it as a separate file, but it means you can write a nice little /etc/passwd displayer in a dozen lines of code (well, along with some GUI clickery). Brilliant :)

One thing I hate about GUI programming is how it immediately takes over everything else you want to do. You have to go into funny other programs to design it, and you have to create all these boring structures and whatnot to handle it, and do loops and do a whole lot of boring cruft for no good reason. Your GUI code takes up pages and pages of complicated, boring, repetitive junk and the actual point of your program gets lost.

Take, for example, a form to display a table of numbers on screen. You either have to let glade take over your project, or you have to work out which widgets you want where, and create them, and place them, and make some hboxes and some vboxes and get them all properly organised, and then eventually get on to your actual code.

Compare that to:
for (i=0;i<n;i++) printf("%5d %5d %s\n", x[i], y[i], name[i]);

Why should I have to write more code than that to make it a GUI? If I just want a simple program that lets me display some numbers, and click a button to say whether that's okay or not, and return 0 or 1 depending, why should I have to write more code to make that pretty and GUIfieid than I'd have to to make it work in a terminal?

It's not fundamentally more complicated: sure, there's a lot of stuff going on in the background: drawing the button, and loading the font, and anti-aliasing it, and whatever else; but there's a lot going on in the background with printf() too: going from the program through the xterminal through X through the videocard, and whatever. So why is my code to handle it so much more complicated?

I wonder if something similar to printf for GUI stuff might be possible; so that in the same way you don't have to create little loops to print just the right number of spaces anymore, you don't have to worry about creating the right hboxes and putting them in the right order. So that rather than having to go to paint a picture of how you're GUI will look, or have to tell it exactly how you want it laid out in words of one syllable or less, you can just wave your hands about a bit and have it actually work.

It's come to my attention that there are people with net connections who aren't fans of Les Horribles Cernettes. You should be.

Ha, yay woo! We got a ranking!

A possible addition to lilo's `Master Collaborationists' criteria:

  • Masters are modest of their achievements and are always ready to believe and acknowledge any number of other people are more competent and accomplished in their areas of endeavour.
It's a good sort of attitude for a collaborationist to have, it puts other people at their ease because they know they you're at least going to give them a hearing, and good will on the part of everyone involved is a primary ingredient for a collaborative project. Maybe it doesn't help so much when it comes to working out who're the best collaborationists, though.

In other news, phase one is complete and working apart from the documentation.

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