October 24th, 2006
Last week Paul Biegel died at the age of 81. He was and is my favourite Dutch author. He is mainly known for his children’s books, but luckily he was one of those authors that don’t talk down to their audience. Perhaps his biggest gift was that he could make the mystical exciting.
In “De vloek van Woestewolf” (The Curse of Wildwolfe) a doctor travels into the subconsciousness of a man possessed by greed; in that world, gold has turned the man into a werewolf. But the doctor is down-to-earth, and will not be turned from his path. In “De twaalf rovers” (The Twelve Robbers), eleven robbers are sent one by one from their cave to go to the capital and capture the king’s treasure. When the last and twelfth is sent, he finds out that the other eleven have been caught in a web of conformity; they have become farmers, servants, and one even palace guard, and have forgotten almost all about being a robber.
Don’t ask me how these stories end. The mystical and the real will probably be disentangled, but hopefully not completely. With Biegel, the journey was important too.
Only a few of Biegel’s books have been translated, but some of his greatest among them: The Gardens of Dorr, The Little Captain, and The King of the Copper Mountains.
September 23rd, 2006
If you wish to report a bug to a FOSS project (FOSS = Free and Open Source Software), you may run into a couple of snags.
One is that some of the developers are zitfaced asshats who consider the slightest mention of the possibility of maybe something being wrong with their software as a direct personal attack. Indeed, that is not a very useful attitude when you are, you know, inviting people to tell you what’s wrong with your software.
Typically not all developers share this attitude, but when your first interaction with geeks happens to be when posting your bug report, it is easy to assume all developers are socially challenged.
A simple, traditional and non-technological solution to this problem would be to let only the people with people skills do bug triage. How do you know which developers have people skills? They are the ones who do not scream at other people.
Another snag is that the software you use for reporting bugs can be difficult to use, and a third snag that said software is not very flexible.
A user has to jump through a lot of hoops before reporting a bug: grow a thick skin, read the 1000 page book on How To Use Bugzilla, and formulate your bug report in a way that is least likely to offend, and most likely to fit the mold for the Good Bug Report.
This takes time.
But what if the time bug reporters are willing to invest follows a power curve; a few reporters willing to go all the way, and lots and lots and lots of reporters in the long tail, just wishing to post their message without jumping through all these hoops? In how far do FOSS projects appreciate and accommodate this last group of bug reporters?
September 18th, 2006
It started at Maciej’s. He’s leaving China (and looking for work):
He was not the first Western guy to treat China as his own personal sexual buffet. To put it in the D&D terms that many of the guys who benefit most from the effect will readily understand, living in China gives you +4 attractiveness. The love handles (metaphorically) shrink, the hairline advances, teeth straighten, previously soupy eyes blaze with a new rakish light. […] You’re a computer programmer? You’re quiet and like to read? You live with your parents? You never drink? You are sexually inexperienced?
Most guys are able to take this in stride (so this is what it feels like to be a woman!), but there is always the small minority of men who find themselves up at one in the morning, writing blog posts entitled Undressing Tingting.
He linked to EastSouthNorthWest, who quoted Calving Ching (Cyrus Ching? “I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”) and Qin Hui:
I told him: “Following your standards, neither leftists nor rights have power in China. For you, your leftists are supposed to hold the rulers accountable; your rightists are supposed to limit the powers of the rulers. Both these types of people are being suppressed in China. But the Chinese rulers also prop up the types of leftists and rightists that they need. They need the ‘leftists’ to expand their power, and they need to ‘rightists’ to help them evade their responsibilities. So it can be said that in China, both ‘leftists’ and ‘rightists’ are being favored by the rulers.”
[China’s economic] growth cannot be regarded as “the success of the government” as interpreted by the left-leaning scholars, nor as “the success of the market” as interpreted by the right-leaning scholars, nor does it have anything to do with the so-called “Beijing consensus” about the “combined success of market and government.” Apart from low wages and low benefits, China is able to use its “advantage” in “low human rights” to push down the price of the four major factors (manpower, land, capital and non-renewable resources). The “cost of transaction is reduced” by prohibiting price negotiations as well as limiting or even eliminating certain trade rights. China rejects democracy, it suppresses participation, it pays no attention to ideas, it despises religious beliefs, it scorns justice and it uses materialistic stimulation to promote a single-minded desire to chase after the mirage of wealth. This was how it came to have an astonishing competitiveness seldom seen in open market or welfare states, and all the other liberalizing countries in the world that adopt either “gradual development” or “shock therapy” fall far behind China.
then linked to Joel Martinsen:
Cosmetology students offering free haircuts in a public park in Jiaozuo, Henan Province, were chased off the “Young Volunteers Plaza” by park management who suspected that they were merely using the park as a free practice ground. Which, if you are familiar with beauty training schools, is probably not a bad guess – the school claims that it has provided 13,000 free haircuts to city residents since March.
Each side’s spin:
– Jiaozuo City Oriental Technical Institute president: “There’s a sign set up at the entrance reading ‘Young Volunteers Plaza’, proving that this place is authorized by the government. The students weren’t taking any money for their volunteer hair cutting, so why didn’t they let the students learn from Lei Feng and donate their generosity?”
– Park administrater Lu Ren: “Although the students were voluntarily cutting hair and not taking any money from the citizens, the school had taken money from the students. Under the banner of volunteerism, the school was in fact turning the People’s Park into a training ground, and the park has no obligation to assist them.”
– [Forrestry folks snipped]
I call spruitjeslucht.
September 11th, 2006
With the increasing attention being paid to conspiracy theories surrounding the 9/11 attacks, the Studium Generale at the University of Delft decided to have students research some of the claims made by the makers of the Loose Change documentary, which is the flagship of the conspiracy theorists. This drew the attention of the makers of a Dutch “behind the news” tv show called Zembla (get it? Nova Zembla, behind the news), who decided to report on the findings and to hold their own investigation.
Their findings in short:
- Almost none of the major claims of Loose Change hold up.
- WTC 7 crashed because of a controlled demolition.
- There were almost certainly Americans who knew the exact details of at least the WTC attacks beforehand.
Specifics below the fold.
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September 4th, 2006
A little under a year ago Joost Smiers and Marijke van Schijndel published an article in the International Herald Tribune called Imagine a World Without Copyright. In it they explore what would happen if works were burdened by only a very short copyright (one year, for instance), or no copyright at all.
The reactions to this article have been interesting. Very few people seem to have actually engaged in the exercise; most either outright welcomed or condemned Smier’s and Van Schijndel’s proposal. Of the ones that did try and imagine a world without copyright, again only very few came with realistic counter-arguments, or refrained from attacking straw men.
September 2nd, 2006
While reading up on Richard Stallman, the subject of my previous entry, I came across an article he wrote in 2001 for Nature in which he sums up the reasons why science must “push copyright aside”. I was struck by a pragmatic pre-emptive counter-argument to the argument that scientists need income from licensing to off-set editing costs:
Instead, the cost of editing could be recovered, for example, through page charges to the authors, who can pass these on to the research sponsors. The sponsors should not mind, given that they currently pay for publication in a more cumbersome way through overhead fees for the university libraryâ€™s subscription to the journal. By changing the economic model to charge editing costs to the research sponsors, we can eliminate the apparent need to restrict access. The occasional author who is not affiliated with an institution or company, and who has no research sponsor, could be exempted from page charges, with costs levied on institution-based authors.
A publisher provides value-add. Nobody likes to provide value-add, because it makes one dispensable. And so adders of value try and become middle-men. Middle-men cannot be dispensed so easily because — as their name applies — they are in the way.
I would like to see copyright reforms, and that is why I am arguing about copyright so often on this blog. And often I take the approach that we should not care if the entire industry loses their jobs. It is not our responsibility as citizens to provide authors and their middle-men with a special kind of welfare. If they want money, they should get real jobs. Copyright only exists to foster creation, not to care for the creators.
But in order to convince the parties involved, being clear may be being fair, it doesn’t necessarily help to win them over. Developing models in which authors can free themselves of the shackles of the publishing industry might help. Outlining how the money-flow can be diverted so that it flows from the author to the publisher instead of the other way around is extremely useful. In that sense it would pay to keep an eye on Lulu, a POD publisher, where self-publishing authors can and are encouraged to interact with value adders such as graphic designers, editors, copy writers and so on.
September 2nd, 2006
There are very few people who consistently say smart things about copyright. Actually, I only know one such person, and his name is Richard Stallman.
Stallman’s arguments about copyright center on copyright for software. Basically, he doesn’t want it and would like it to go away. Since that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, he wrote a license for everybody to use that will allow a software commons to bloom in a world of copyright: the GNU General Public License, perhaps better know as the GPL. The GPL covers software such as Linux, the GIMP, and inspired the licenses for Firefox, Apache, and of parts of Mac OS X.
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August 28th, 2006
Once upon a time there was a fairytale that yet had to be told.
August 26th, 2006
A while ago, one of my brothers explained that he had not only made the switch from making pots of coffee using the traditional method of Putting the Kettle On to making cups of coffee using a Philips Senseo coffee maker, but that he actually liked the switch for practical reasons. As it turned out, he started making coffee on a need-to-drink basis, and saved a lot of undrunk coffee in the process.
Though I still think the whole Senseo concept is too much marketing and too little coffee, I have been experimenting with cups vs. pots, and I must say this new method seems to be a winner. Sure, coffee is a drug and Philips the enabler, but I find half the time I drink only one cup, and most of the rest of the time only two cups, as opposed to two or more from my pot making days.
I guess there is a practical reason for that; I need that first cup, and will overcome huge transactional costs just to get my fix. But making the second cup is often too much of a bother, and I will only drink it if it is already available (usually in the form of potted coffee). I guess I save on average ten cups of coffee a week using the new method. Still haven’t bought a Senseo, though.