Older blog entries for bjf (starting at number 227)

I got back from Melbourne a few days ago, having visited an old friend, caught up with family and did tons of sightseeing. Holidays happy-snaps are here. The scans, unfortunately, are up to snuff, partly due to careless handling of camera and negatives, and partly due to the useless chump in the campus photo lab; I spent a better half of an afternoon explaining why I didn't want pictures scanned reversed or with a bright magenta cast :-)

I use a Nikon FM3A body and a 50mm prime lens. Despite being a brand new and very current piece of equipment, the user interface is perfect and highly evolved to do just one thing, and do it well. Rather than being laden with a complex array of controls, options, onboard computers and labour-saving gadgets, it has about half a dozen controls at the most, each doing exactly one thing and one thing only. The result is a robust and eminently usable user interface. The closest comparison I could make off the top of my head, in the Open Source world would be Sound-Juicer versus Grip, although in fairness, you couldn't compare a Nikon F5 with, say, Grip's user interface, not in a million years (the analogy breaks quite badly :-)).

Note to self: the GNOME HIG would make interesting reading.

At work, I've been asked to evaluate Java web application development frameworks. There's certainly no shortage of them. I've been meaning to play with a couple of them in my own time, but I never find the time or energy.

On a change of tack, a discussion arose recently on the HUMBUG forums about the promise of blogging for bypassing conventional media and giving the unwashed masses a hope of getting news unfiltered by an elite agenda. My answer to that, of course, is that it won't happen.

It is the job of the professional journalist to gather news, interpret it and present it. They operate in a highly-evolved (but nonetheless imperfect) environment of standards of fairness, even-handedness and integrity. A blog, even if it's written in a combat zone, is merely a soapbox for ordinary people to sound off, much like a beefed up and totally unfiltered version of the Letters to the Editor. You don't realistically expect to get your news from op-eds and letters to the editor, do you?

It does not appear to me that bloggers feel the need to do as much fact-checking or be as honest or fair as conventional media, nor would they expect to be, since blogs tend to be, by their very nature, highly subjective. To attempt to assimilate and understand the news in an objective way, a reader would have to read a vast amount of material and then draw his own conclusions. This is unlikely, because most of us have lives and jobs, we tend to read material that we agree with, and bloggers tend to move in packs (the war-bloggers being a decent example).

Of course, a typical example would be Tim Blair, a washed up journalist reject who was once hired by the Australian ABC, laughably, as a 'right-wing Phillip Adams'. It turned out that Tim Blair didn't make the cut and had his contract not renewed. The poor sod now runs a very popular blog (where he gets to bash Aunty and sneer at Arabs and little-L liberals), which of course suits everybody right down to the ground, because he is no longer restricted by journalistic rules of fair play, fact-checking, intellectual honesty and the like, and most normal people can safely ignore him. One look at his blog and the two-dozen linked blogs delivers epiphany: the blog world will never, ever hold a light to conventional media in terms of quality or usefulness. Real journalists writing for real media have to abide by minimum standards of integrity and intellectual honesty, Chomsky's media filter model notwithstanding.

Me? I read blogs, but I read them for entertainment, mostly. Although seeing the perspectives of others can be enlightening especially if they thoughtfully and fairly challenge one's own held beliefs, I don't expect quality. Any dickhead with an agenda can set up a blog, and they often do.

This probably explains the very large right-wing pundit and blogger community: it's an extension of Alan Jones or John Laws (Rush Limbaugh for the Americans). The Internet now gives any old joe too lazy to think for himself or consider the perspectives, feelings or rights of others the opportunity to sound off (and gullible people to believe their self-serving rhetoric) without being criticised by the hated shiny-arsed 'elite' academic types for being stupid, insensitive, wilfully ignorant and lazy. Stop reading blogs, buy the newspaper and help support real journalism with real standards.

Like it or hate it, the conventional media, despite it's flaws is probably here to stay, and like pet rocks and hula-hoops, the blog will die a quiet and lonely (if not slightly overdue) death, at least in it's vain, hyped, hypertropied-ego form.

While I'm here sledging conservatives, did anybody see that Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen wants $AU335 million dollars compensation for 'hurt and suffering' and 'lost income' caused by an government enquiry into the corrupt activities of various members and hangers-on during his long reign? Gotta admire his chutzpah.

(warning, there's talk of politics ahead, and I need to vent)

The PM and poltical savvy

You have to hand it to Howard: he's a sly, cunning bastard.

Australians here, amongst others might be aware that our beloved PM has recently gotten some flak over intelligence he and his conservative cronies used to gatecrash the war in Iraq. Yet again, the slippery bugger has displayed his amazing talent for deflecting allegations of dirty political tricks and deceit, shifting the blame for this latest episode onto the hapless lads and ladies in the Australian intelligence establishment. You can bet with the guy that at the end of the day, the mud will never stick.

Even his inner circle of Uglies (hard-core social conservatives) aren't safe: after Bill Heffernan did his hatchet job under Parliamentary privilege on Justice Kirby (using forged comcar receipts as evidence to back claims that the openly queer High Court judge used comcars to pick up rough trade), the whole affair was exposed as a dirty trick, and Heffernan was forced to apologise.

While I admit a decent measure of contempt for his politics, I'm in dumbstruck awe of his ability to survive and prosper despite having run out of any sort of moral or economic credibility years ago. The man is at the same time, a cretin and a genius. The conservative establishment couldn't ask for a better agent in this country than John Howard.

"Whatever you do, don't mention the War!"

Most rational people would admit (without resorting to shrill emotional arguments of course), that the case for war was flawed: much of the evidence was shown to be circumstantial or was misrepresented (not that there was much of it), the arguments put forward were poorly formed and emotional. The rabid Right, seeing the flaws in the case for war, fell back on emotionalism, utilitarian rhetoric and mindless repetition of their arguments. The media, particularly the Murdoch press happily complied. Despite the objections and protests of tends of thousands of people in the streets, the PM proceeded regardless. Howard, as the elected leader of a nation of 20 million people surely must've been smart enough to know that the casus belli was flawed, but clearly, his slavish devotion to his "friends" and ideological masters in Washington took precedence.

Boat people, redux

Quite a while ago, I commented on the MV Tampa incident, noting that I thought that it was a country's perogative to see to enforcement of border controls.

I was subsequently surprised to get rather strongly-worded replies off several people, some of whom I would consider Right-leaning. Some castigated me for my insensitivity, others for not properly thinking the issues through properly before committing pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, as it were). Others again pulled me up on my lack of consistency; having declared myself a man of the left, yet not having compassion for asylum seekers.

At this point, I think that two issues of border control, and decent treatment of asylum seekers, while related are actually quite distinct. Ensuring the integrity of a nation's borders is a policy that tends to vary little from country to country, liberal, conservative, whatever. Treatment of people who violate border controls for whatever reason (knowingly or unwittingly), fleeing violence or finding a better life for their kids, however, is a vastly different matter, subject to government policies that tend to vary widely.

I personally think the immigration/asylum seeker processing regime in this country is incredibly unfair (well, fairness is such a hippie liberal concept these days). And you can be sure that if the arch-conservatives running this country smell a wedge issue they could possibly gain from politically, they'll be all over it.

My previous, and perhaps uninformed attitude about the processing of asylum seekers from failed states and totalitarian regimes was that beggars should not be choosers, which is clearly a rather conservative point of view that ignores the fact that we live in an unjust world where two people working equally hard may have incomes that vary by a thousandfold by virtue of being separated by an arbritary national border or piece of coastline. It ignores that all-important fact that people want the best life for their kids and themselves (and can't really be blamed for it), and that the long term good of everybody isn't served by denying peoples' aspirations to have a decent life. It ignores the hypocricy of a nation built on free immigration telling newer migrants where to jump off because they arrived later than themselves. It begs questions about the ugly issue of where you draw the line between the 'deserving' and 'undeserving'.

Please, noone get me started about the Kyoto Protocol...

DeepNorth: have you looked into CSS2 media types? CSS is sufficiently powerful that it can handle paged media and exotic non-visual output devices.

Style

I've learnt a few tricks through my work and off my supervisors as a web app programmer and web monkey in my job.

Ideally, one would want to make your web pages as clean as possible and offload as much layout and style to the stylesheet as possible for non-graphical/non-visual browsers. You would then use the fancier features of CSS2 together with layout tweaks for different media (e.g. printed output, slides).

As for testing, I generally make sure that my pages don't look like arse in just three browsers: a recent IE, Mozilla and Lynx. I try to aim for good looking output in IE and Mozilla, and readability in Lynx. Make sure you're also using the print CSS media type and checking the browser's Print Preview feature to ensure that people printing your pages won't hate you. Having your web application render separate 'print versions' of data is not strictly necessary these days, since the majority of people on the web using graphical browsers are using CSS2-aware browsers. CSS2 support is not 100% consistent or correct across all common browsers, so it can't hurt to test...

FWIW, Opera is very web-developer friendly. If you're willing to use nonfree software, cough up for a license or put up with the lame banner ads, it allowes you to switch and disable stylesheets and handles CSS media types properly (try the projection media type with fullscreen mode ;-))

Web standards

Somebody at work mentioned the other day that the general design principle of the Web at it's inception was that publishers should be strict in what they produce and browsers should be lax in what they accept. By and large, this seems to have worked well, with browsers parsing even shit like "<b><i>foo</b></i>".

Mosaic essentially invented the web browser; most of the user-interface elements present in Mosaic are present in browsers today. However, if they had only included document validation within the web browser from the outset, they probably would have saved us all a lot of trouble WRT shoddy support of standards by tool vendors and publishers, etc.

Having a web browser parse the document and insert an icon and string into the browser status bar like "[TICK] HTML 4.0 Transitional" or a suitable error message sounds reasonable. If done early enough, such a feature, if common to all browsers, could've effectively embarassed thousands of individuals and vendors into building a cleaner and more interoperable Web. Hindsight is 20/20.

Short attention spans

I think I've got it all sussed out. My problem regarding lack of productivity isn't a lack of motivation, or a lack of sleep or time management skills per se, rather, a shortened attention span. After thinking about it for a while, I think the Web's to blame, since the issues I've been having coincide with the time I've had unfettered high-speed access to the Net.

I spend a lot of my leisure time browsing the Web, reading news sites and the like. My guess is that every time I do so, reading page after page or whatever has conditioned me to shorten my attention span through instant rewards.

I've also considered that each individual has a certain amount of time they can spend each day using their mind productively, and that time is consumed whether spent coding, or wasting time reading about Marcel Marceau or whippets.

Maybe a similar process happens when people develop IRC and MUD addictions? I've seen some people in the Furry crowd (no, I'm NOT a Furry) spend virtually their entire lives on MUDs pretending to be big-breasted skunks and weasels.

Well... I'd better stop wasting cycles writing this blog entry and get back to work :-)

1 Jul 2003 (updated 1 Jul 2003 at 14:39 UTC) »

This is a personal diary entry; one of these days, I'll set up a proper blog.

Vale the Fez

Today was a bad day for my family in general, and Errol the Feral in particular. Fez was much less an adorable drooling retard of a two year old male tabby cat, than a member of the family, albeit a handicapped one :-). Mum fondly referred to him as her 'special needs cat', alluding to her own job as a teacher specialising in special education.

Errol had to be put down after a brief but nasty illness which painfully constricted his airways and defied all treatment. The little fleabag will be sorely missed :-/

Karate

I passed a grading after another 15 months. I'll have my work cut out even if I redouble my efforts to make my next grade. I'm got a nice rainbow going on my tie rack now.

Hacking

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work...

mbp: regarding Python generators. Python shortly won't be alone in being the only major language providing yield/iterators: C# is getting them along with a bunch of other goodies like real generics and anonymous methods (MSDN article). Microsoft haven't delivered yet, but the Mono people beat them to the punch by adding iterators to a recent release.

As for me, as usual, the closest thing to hacking I've been doing is working on a paper my colleagues at work wrote.

Hacking

I learnt of the httpmail protocol, a bastard undocumented WebDAV variant that basically does the same thing as IMAP. Apparently, Outlook Express uses it for it's "HTTP" mail method that allows it to pull mail off Hotmail.

I downloaded the Fetchmail sources and have spent a bit of time investigating whether it's possible to integrate httpmail support into the client so I can grab all my mail in one hit. It should sure beat the hell out of using some lame-ass screen scraping script to recover my Hotmail.

If I do get this thing built, I might simply maintain a separate patch from the Fetchmail sources (a quick browse of fetchmail-friends turned up a bunch of posts infested with techie/OSS arrogance). Once I wrap my head around it, I'll hack some code and report some more on it.

I have little sympathy for people who complain about paying taxes. Not only is it completely fucking cliche, they are probably people with the least appreciation of the civilising influence of government. Governments are an annoyance to the rich and powerful fucking everyone else around them, but are literally a lifeline to the poor, at-risk and vunerable. People who believe it's their right to get rich and not give back to the society that facilitated their wealth are, in my humble opinion, the moral equivalent of fresh dogshit.

"I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization."

-- former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

20 May 2003 (updated 20 May 2003 at 16:25 UTC) »
Hacking

My time management skills suck, but I'm trying to find practical ways to make more efficient use of my time and arrange more time to do some hacking.

One experiment I would like to try is to start coming into work an hour early and allow myself a little time to hack on something that I find personally interesting and which might be useful for work. I'm hoping this would be a good strategy to get myself in the right mindset each morning and hopefully improve my productivity overall. I'll start once I can manage a full night of sleep :)

Lately, I've been having some interesting issues with some interesting and difficult people. One guy seems to have this 'Cable Guy' complex where after speaking with me for fifteen minutes, believes he's my best friend. I don't know about you guys, but I find this a little disconcerting.

Speaking of difficult people, I could tell you all all sorts of lurid recent stories about Furries, freeloaders, people who won't shower, guys who like rough trade, etc etc. But I won't. This is a family show, right?

Stuff

I turn 25 on the 3rd, so I'm starting to feel a little older. At any rate, it's a pretty good excuse for a party :)

I'm pondering doing a photo-essay of my local area (West End) for my own amusement, but I think I'll need to plan my run in detail beforehand and arrange to have the means to get the images scanned.

lkcl

Not unlike fifty million other people, I believe that you're totally missing the point of playing with Open Source software. Remember that most OSS people hack because it's fun, because they're good at it, or a combination of both. Also remember that in capitalism, an object's worth is governed by how much people are willing to pay for it. Why should the world pay you for your work if it's not useful to them? Why does the world owe you a living? Notice how very few other people are whining about how unfair the world is for not giving them a living because they're so special and talented and genuises with multi-hyper-complexity and all that guff? I didn't think so.

mglazer

Just when we thought Mr Glazer was about to pull his head in and actually refrain from stirring the shit with his hateful rhetoric, he's at it again.

Dude, you're an idiot. There are plenty of other sites on the net for that sort of thing, and unlike Advogato, they're full of like-minded uneducated twits like you, where you'll actually fit in. Do you think that if you post enough crap, we'll start masturbating over Israel and hating Arabs as much as you? Seen your diary rating lately? File your crap in the appropriate forum, not here.

HUMBUG Talks

We've got a whopper of a talk lined up at HUMBUG this weekend: we got a guy in from Red Hat to come in and talk about internationalisation issues. Everybody seems to be as pleased as punch with it, but unfortunately, I'm going to be out of town so I get to miss all the fun :-/ Family has to come first, I suppose.

Advocacy

After attending my most recent Labor branch meeting, I has an interesting discussion with a guy who helps run a migrant support and advocacy centre here in inner Brisbane, catering especially for people of African origin. I mentioned in passing that I also was involved with HUMBUG and the discussion moved towards how I could possibly help out considering my background as an IT person and dabbler (dilettante?) in Open Source.

I think that increasing awareness of Open Source software here could do a hell of a lot of good, but I presently have no idea who exactly my target audience is and what exactly OSS can do to help these people considering my background. I have some starting points at least, so all is not lost.

Politics

I found it slightly amusing that the first Labor branch meeting I attended was on April Fools Day. I wonder if that is some sort of bad omen.

I quickly understood the old adage about politics being the ultimate challenge: I was struck by the energy, ability, knowledge and committment of the people I met. As it stands, for somebody like me without a background in student politics or a political science degree, I've just committed myself to a hell of a lot of learning and hard work.

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