Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Multi-Mooned Menace

I've been thinking about moons. Maybe it has something to do with Cassini.

Anyway, I was looking up at our ridiculously huge moon and thinking about how, in fantasy and SF, every single freakin' planet has about six moons, purple and green and red, crowded together to make a nice picturesque backdrop and, by the way, make it absolutely clear that we are not on Earth. Ok, fine, you need some way to get that across. "This was not Earth. This was Kwaxaqikutuz. The huge triple moons spun balefully overhead, pouring reddish purple light over the landscape, which was not on Earth, no! It was Kwaxaqikutuz! Kwaxaqikutuz! The planet which hereinafter is referred to as Planet K!" You get the picture, I suppose, though probably you do not buy the book.

So, geek that I am, I think about moons and I wonder about how multiple moons have become visual shorthand for alien, especially given that a system with more than two objects of comparable mass is not stable. If I am not totally mistaken the tendency is for at least one of the objects to get thrown out of the group at some point. Only when there is a significantly larger central mass, and the satellites are far enough apart to keep from perturbing each other's orbits too much, do you get a stable system. But tiny moons like Phobos and Deimos are no fun at all.

On the other hand, maybe I'm imagining things. I couldn't find a good example of this kind of picture, and I googled for almost five whole minutes.

Time to Cut Down

Man, am I long winded or what?

Monday, July 26, 2004


Posted on Slashdot: Open Source Myths

I agree, in the main, with what he says in there. Indeed, points 1 and 2, concerning whether users of open source need to be willing to fix problems before they complain about them, are spot on.

However, point 3, where he talks about the costs of developing software, and how open source tends to undercut the ability to make money from software, makes me want to comment.
Here's the thing: Nothing is ever really, totally "free". There is always a price to be paid, even if that price is simply the breakdown of the marketplace and the ability to make money from your own software, that you developed with your own time and effort. If the culture doesn't support the idea of paying for software (and music, and movies, etc) in some way, then we are basically just denying artists and programmers the right to make money from what they do.
My comment is this: just because something is difficult, because you invest your blood, sweat and tears into it, still doesn't give you the right to make money from it. Maybe it should, in a perfect world, but it does not. The only thing that gives you a right to make money in a free market is producing something that other people are willing to pay for, and people are not always willing to pay for something simply because it was difficult to make.

I, personally, rail against this idea almost every day in my internal struggle to find the energy to get up in the morning and go to work. Still, I continue to conclude that there is no way around this basic feature of the market (not without some utopian communist system, which at the moment does not seem workable).

The problem is that people aren't willing to pay if there is a cheaper but good enough alternative. Open source can often be just that: cheap (as in free), and good enough. So what's a programmer to do? How can you make a living? The author offers an escape route in the next point, though he seems to have missed the significance:
I think it's true to say that while many Open Source projects are superior to their close-source counterparts (Apache being a prime example), it's also true to say that a closed-source approach to a problem can have some benefits. Some of these benefits include having a more focused direction for the team, given the fact that there is (usually) just one manager and team leader, firmer schedules and deadlines, tighter management, profit incentives, salaries and bonus motivations. While this can also be true for open source projects, the "design by committee" that goes on with community projects often results in a more bloated and less focused product that tries to be all things to all people. Also, sometimes a simple lack of funds on the part of the developer can hamper the development.
Closed source can be better. I happen to agree that this is possible. Closed source can produce a better, more user-focused product (I tend to see Apple as an example of this, rather than Microsoft...). I'll add another thing, closer to my own experience: closed source is good for integrated systems, as opposed to general applications, platforms, libraries and tools. The difference is focus.

(I'm not entirely convinced of this, but it seems a reasonably likely hypothesis to me at this point.)

So how does a programmer make money? You do it by making a better product. If you cannot compete against a gaggle of volunteers, then perhaps you need to reconsider where you are focusing your efforts. (Not much help if you are just a sub-human programmer, I know, but that's a different problem.)

The other thing that comes up is how free software will imitate any really good application. But is this really a new thing? Without free software it would be your competitors who imitated you, and they would charge less too, because they could just ape your program and avoid all that expensive R&D. You still end up with software becoming a commodity eventually. If you are looking for profit you have to constantly be searching for new markets (i.e. new applications and new users). This, incidentally, is why commercial software tends to suck, from a technical standpoint: perfectionism does not pay. By the time you get to the point of ironing out all the last few problems in your product, there is no money to be made in selling it. (Yes, that's a wild generalization. So is the rest of this screed.)

So, really, it's not a question of whether all software should be free, but more whether all software will be free or can be free. My feeling is that it will not and can not. Profit is a strong motivator, and companies will continue to be successful in making closed software in those places where open software is not good enough.

At least I hope so. I don't think I'd make a good burger flipper.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Human Culture

Elsewhere on the net, in the midst of political discussions which sometimes turn to anti-americanism (claims of, denials of, justifications of), someone posted this link, an example, perhaps, of anti-europeanism. I have to be honest. I didn't read the whole thing. There are some interesting points, but... it trudges. It plods. It is, in a word, dull.

There is a kernel of a good idea in there: pretty much everyone is provincial. Almost every day in Japan I hear on the news about dozens of people killed in some international transportation tragedy, only to have the report end abruptly with some variation of "no Japanese citizens were aboard." Oh, well, it's ok then. Later, I talk to someone in Canada and get to hear about the same thing, except there were a couple of Canadians involved, which makes all the difference.

So, right, it's natural, and not all that bad really, to try to find links with other people, and one of those links is shared nationality. But at some point, like when you take interest in Canadians buried in a landslide, but not Frenchmen, or Scots, or Tuvaluvalics, it begins to get silly.

But I'm getting away from my topic. Bruce Bawer's piece fails, for me, because, after noting that Europeans are just as prone to nationalistic blinkering as Americans are so often accused of being, it immidiately retreats to chest thumping about how great America really is. Yes. America good. Super country. Wonderful people. Great cultural values. Independent thinking. Liberty. All that.

But. But, "the arsenal of democracy, and the center of humanity’s common culture"?

The U.S. may have been the first and most enthusiastic of modern democracies, but it is not the only one. The behavior of the U.S. in defense and support of democracy internationally is not, as far as I can see, substantially different from that of other western nations. Self interest, a bit of idealism here and there, sometimes misinformed or misdirected, sometimes hesitant, sometimes over-eager. The main difference is not that the U.S. has some monopoly on the moral high ground, but that they are the biggest and baddest and the best of the western imperialist running dog devil freedom fighters for liberty and justice for all.

About that "common culture," I think Mr. Bawer made a mistake there, though I can understand why. This "common culture" he is talking about is a vague, nebulous thing. The U.S. is not the center of humanity's common culture. It is the center of American culture. American culture, in the form of TV, literature and music, gets exported around the world, but that doesn't change the fact that it is American culture. (That doesn't make it good or bad, just American.) A culture doesn't broadcast from a center, it has to be shared. And in the sharing it changes. Russians and Japanese and Americans and no doubt Tuvaluvalivians, play 'rock' music, and there are commonalities, but it's not all the same, and it is certainly not all American.

I'm not sure there is really much of a common culture. If there is, it is the one that mixes across boundaries. It is not something we can locate, or box up and sell. It comes from the places between places, no place, and all places at once.

Including America.

Exciting! New! Improved!

Not really, but I did fill in my profile.

Then I surfed the profiles of other bloggers using a feature that searches for people with the same music, movies, and books in their profiles. I found out that I am just like everyone else on blogspot, more or less, except not so interesting, and I like a couple of books and bands that nobody else does.

Have none of you freaks heard of the The Sugar Cubes!? Did I spell it wrong? Philistines.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Hi Mom

I think I may link this blog from my homepage, so, actually, the bit about my mother stumbling across it is reasonably likely. This means that I won't talk about the slimy underbelly of this pit of sin and averice into which I have fallen. The crack house, the transvestite bondage group, the golfers, all of that is staying safely in the closet. Instead I will maintain my sweet facade and talk about whatever random thing interests me, as soon as I get around to it, which isn't yet, in case you hadn't guessed.

P.S. I don't actually golf.

Thursday, July 15, 2004



This is a test

This is a test of the emergency blogcast system. If this had been an actual blog, some boring and far too intimate detail of my life would be left here for my mother to stumble across and worry about.

How many blogs have started like that? Lots I bet. I could google™ it! ... Maybe not.

Is there a point? There is no point. Not yet.