Older blog entries for chalst (starting at number 207)

20 Oct 2008 (updated 22 Oct 2008 at 02:13 UTC) »
Recentlog and Advogato Diary Brokenness
ncm, writing about what's off-topic for advogato, observes that kgb's diary entries have strayed far from Advogato's purpose. Fair enough, and I don't suppose he deserves a very high rating, but it bothers me that the diary of someone who's done important work with linux gets rated below 3. Three thoughts: (i) I don't usually read at thresh=3, far too noisy; so why don't other folk rate noisy diaries of worthwhile people at 3 or 4, and read recentlog at thresh=4.1 or higher? (ii) Advogato would benefit from having some filtering technology for syndicated diaries; and (iii) Failing that, one can syndicate to advogato from some third-party filtering service like yahoo pipes.

I noticed more advogato html reformatting brokenness: doing all of: (i) line- breaking text when re-editing entries, even in the middle of tags (ii) escaping the <s and >s from tags broken across lines into their amperstand-id-semicolon html character identifier, and (iii) adding missing closing tags at the end of diary entries; together and in that sequence these amount to a lot of nuisance editing diary entries with all but the very simplest html markup in them. Just saying.

Postscript slef rated kgb's diary at 1, and Zaitcev rated it at 2. 'nuff said, really.

20 Oct 2008 (updated 22 Oct 2008 at 08:03 UTC) »
Quality of Life in the Inner City: A New Hobby
Link: QoL at engehoefe.

I'm spending some time resisting a nearby planned development. The resistance's website uses joomla, together with the rather obscure "two shoes m-factory" forum software, which I'm just about getting used to; I prefer drupal at this stage.

20 Oct 2008 (updated 20 Oct 2008 at 20:31 UTC) »
Proof Exchange Systems: The Policy Aware Project
I was unaware, until I stumbled on a google hyperlink, that the W3C has done serious work on proof exchange systems, as part of its Policy Aware Project. Three links:
  1. Creating a Policy-Aware Web, by Wietzner, Hendler, Berners-Lee & Connolly. This paper, part of the Policy Aware Project, describes how a particular semantic web description language can be formalised in Coq. The paper repeatedly references the project's intention to build a proof exchange system for this description language;
  2. Googling for "site:w3.org proof coq" turns up an advertisement for a Post-doc position: Transformation proofs on the semantic web, which attempts to relate both proof carrying code and the semantic web, but in a way that I find hard to make sense of. The position was to be in the Exmo team headed by Jérôme Euzenat;
  3. Toward proof exchange in the Semantic Web by Dan Connolly, which I imagine talks about how to fulfil the project's intention of exchanging proof representations. Unfortunately this links to some horrid javascript nastiness that one suspects was intended to give some sort of slideshow, and which I gave up trying to read. Maybe I'll try again some other time, but then again, maybe I won't bother.
I post these links not because I am excited about them, but because I think that getting more people to be aware that proof exchange systems are a worthwhile thing to properly do, is itself worthy. And as a reminder that I never sent raph the analysis of his proof exchange format; cf. eg. On the design of proof exchange systems, where I tried to air some ideas about desiderata for such a format.
20 Oct 2008 (updated 20 Oct 2008 at 20:40 UTC) »
  • slef, in writing “your country continues to turn into Big Brother”, talks about Labour's apparently hostility to civil liberties. I commented there this topics reminded me of Chris Lightfoot (born 1978, died 2007); I have to say thinking of Chris now makes me feel quite sad. I've never had such a connection to someone I haven't met face-to-face: I had an email exchange with him —following some issues I found in the construction his excellent Political Compass— on the whole idea of using the internet to conduct lightweight opinion polls, and on what kind of statistical methodology they required. Chris was a very substantial person, both very politically engaged and deeply committed to getting to the truth. The world is a poorer place for his death.
  • wingo, in dynamic dispatch: a followup, writes that
    The salient point is that in latent-typed languages, all of the static type analysis techniques that we know are insufficient. Only runtime analysis and runtime recompilation can capture the necessary information for efficient compilation.
    I'd like to return to this claim in a future post; suffice it for now to say that, for a sufficiently knowledgeable group contained in "we", I doubt that this is true.
  • kgb wrote a diary entry, which was a perfectly decent diary entry. It wasn't on my recentlog because, for some reason, his account appears to mine with rating 2.1. I'll add his diary separately to my RSS feeder; I'd like to find why he's rated so low, since this seems to be a concrete case where Advogato's diary rating machinery has failed.
This edition of Recentlog introduces a new format for linking to old advogato diary entries. Hope you like it.
20 Oct 2008 (updated 20 Oct 2008 at 09:54 UTC) »
Drooling Idiocy with Message-Ids
I recently sent a message from my iBook, using the Mail application as per Mac os 10.4. The message was told to BCC my web.de account, which Mail sees through its mirror of the IMAP inbox folder on the web.de server. One might expect to see two messages appear in various Mail folders, one in the mnirrored IMAP folder, and one in Mail's local Sent folder. But four messages appear: Exhibit #1, appearing slightly more recently in Mail's mirror of web.de's IMAP inbox. In each message, I only show those SMTP header lines below the Reply-To field, with the web.de account name redacted with #s in either the Sender and X-Sender fields, or the BCC field:

Received: from [] (helo=[]) by smtp07.web.de 
with asmtp (TLSv1:AES128-SHA:128) (WEB.DE 4.109 #226) id 1Krq2n-
0006o2-00; Mon, 20 Oct 2008 10:23:18 +0200
Mime-Version: 1.0 (Apple Message framework v753.1)
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII; delsp=yes; format=flowed
Message-Id: <6D6E156B-AEB0-4C40-A759-EE05ECA4B619@web.de>
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
X-Mailer: Apple Mail (2.753.1)
Sender: ########@web.de
X-Sender: ########@web.de
Exhibit #2, appearing slightly more recently in Mail's mirror of web.de's IMAP inbox. This differs in the session id in the Received field, and in the Message-Id field:

Received: from [] (helo=[]) by smtp07.web.de 
with asmtp (TLSv1:AES128-SHA:128) (WEB.DE 4.109 #226) id 1Krq2d-
0006o2-00; Mon, 20 Oct 2008 10:23:07 +0200
Mime-Version: 1.0 (Apple Message framework v753.1)
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII; delsp=yes; format=flowed
Message-Id: <C9E68EDC-57CD-42F8-BD1B-9F89818074D3@web.de>
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
X-Mailer: Apple Mail (2.753.1)
Sender: ########@web.de
X-Sender: ########@web.de
Exhibit #3 appears more recently in Mail's Sent folder, with the same Message-Id as for exhibit #1.

Mime-Version: 1.0 (Apple Message framework v753.1)
Bcc:   ########@web.de
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII; delsp=yes; format=flowed
Message-Id: <6D6E156B-AEB0-4C40-A759-EE05ECA4B619@web.de>
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
Exhibit #4, like #3, but appearing earlier, and with the same Message-Id as exhibit #2:

Mime-Version: 1.0 (Apple Message framework v753.1)
Bcc:   ########@web.de
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII; delsp=yes; format=flowed
Message-Id: <C9E68EDC-57CD-42F8-BD1B-9F89818074D3@web.de>
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
What truly drooling idiocy it is for the same Send action to generated two pairs of messages in different SMTP sessions with different Message- Ids! It is conceivably the fault of web.de, but I rather think the drooling idiocy belongs to Apple's Mail application. I shall investigate further when I have stopped being flabbergasted.
14 Oct 2008 (updated 14 Oct 2008 at 09:24 UTC) »
Android on the desktop
Some days ago, reflecting on Google's Open Source Patches to Wine, John Gruber speculated:
This idea deserves a full essay, but for now, consider: In the same way that Apple took Mac OS X and Cocoa and shrunk them to serve as a handheld device OS, I think Google could take Android and grow it to serve as a PC OS. Wine would be to Android what Classic was to Mac OS X.

The big win is saying “screw you” to KDE and Gnome and all those crap Linux interfaces and APIs. Start over with something new, cohesive, better, and, most of all, which is not, conceptually, a watered down clone of Windows. (link)

While I don't think it is fair to sweepingly dismiss "all those crap Linux APIs" (libart? khtml?) I never thought that either the gnome or kde desktop experiences were worth the candle, and prefer the minimalist sawfish-on- twm experience. Android as linux desktop seems a plausible google project, and interesting too.
2 Oct 2008 (updated 2 Oct 2008 at 16:03 UTC) »
Random Observation about Advogato
Googling for site:advogato.org inurl:thresh shows evidence of only one person publicly linking to advogato in a way that makes the use of the fact that thresholds need not be integers. The five thresholds now with most google juice are 3, 4, 6, 2, and 7.5.
1 Oct 2008 (updated 28 Nov 2008 at 12:00 UTC) »
Reviewing Steve Pavlina's Personal Development for Smart People
This is the preface to my critical series on Personal Development for Smart People.

I signed up in August for Steve Pavlina's advance review copies of his personal effectiveness book (announced How Bloggers Can Get My Book for Free), and a couple of weeks ago, an email arrived in my inbox with the book's PDF attached. This was not what I expected: the offer was for a printed copy; furthermore, due to a printer's hiccup, the PDF is not much of an advance copy (cf. Personal Development for Smart People Book Is Here from 22nd September). These snafus are far from disastrous, but they do not inspire confidence in the professionalism of Hay House, the publisher.

So who is Steve Pavlina, and why did I offer to give my time to a publisher's marketing effort?

Steve Pavlina is a self-help blogger, who is widely admired in the for-profit weblog community for his professionalism and the effectiveness of his joint- venture advertising (cf. his DailyBlogTips interview).

I ran into his writings first in 2005, when researching David Allen's GTD phenomena, in The Essential Missing Half of Getting Things Done, an essay that identifies a failure in the GTD system to keep one's workflow in touch with the purpose that should be driving one's activities. I've been subscribed to his RSS feed on and off for the intervening three-and-a-half years; more on the "off" later.

There have been several points of interest in his writings —beyond his essentially sound comments on David Allen's GTD system— that deserve highlighting:

  1. His discussion of mental focus —eg. in How to Set Goals You Will Actually Achieve— might count as an alternative "missing half" (or one of the two missing thirds) from the GTD system. His thoughts on this seem to me to be in congruence with John Kotter's deeply influential ideas on leading change and urgency; ideas normally thought of in application to organisational, rather than personal, development and change;
  2. His documentation of his personal experiments on polyphasic sleep and raw food veganism have been interesting; I would be interested to read the efforts of a decent journalist to cover such experiences;
  3. His how-tos on habit change: I've linked to his post on achieving goals, also interesting are 30 days to success, and Triple your personal productivity.
  4. And last —with real hesitation— his ideas about life purpose. His How to discover your life purpose in about 20 minutes is certainly an exercise worth trying, but don't be disappointed if it, or its successor method, doesn't work for you. Pavlina subscribes to an eccentric view that we have a life purpose, one that is true for us for our whole lives, and that we can easily find if we really want to. This is because he believes in a brand of spiritualist reincarnation, where our immortal souls choose to incarnate and wear our mortal bodies like clothes, so that they can achieve a particular purpose. Finding your life purpose means finding the purpose that your immortal soul had when it incarnated you. Ho hum.
So to my major reservation about Pavlina: his spiritualism, which by itself I could tune out as harmless eccentricity, comes hand-in-hand with a polite, open but lively hostility to science. I ran into this first in his Are Humans Carnivores or Herbivores?, where he argues from inconclusive typological evidence that humans are naturally vegetarian. Several commenters posted arguments showing holes in this argument; I pointed to evidence that chimpanzees, our typologically closest simian neighbours, fare better on a diet with a substantial meat component. He engaged commenters, but tended to meet commenters indirectly, and once suggested that people posting evidence look inside themselves. I first unsubscribed shortly after that.

I've since decided that the positives in terms of useful ideas about productivity much outweigh the negatives of wrestling with problematic metaphysics and an imbalanced approach to evidence. My reason for offering the review is that I had hoped to beat the crowd to reading the book, and valued the offer of having my review linked to. I expect to find Pavlina's streamlined approach to GTD that is both simpler than David Allen's and better connected to questions of purpose and focus. I also expect to find interesting thought experiments. But I also expect to find that Pavlina's seductive but bizarre cosmology and his slightly Humpty-Dumptyish approach to terminology will have the power to mislead the unwary. I intend to advertise what is good in the book and cast light on what is problematic.

Review to follow...

Yesterday, slef wrote on Demutualised Building Society Survival Hits Rock Bottom, where "rock bottom" equals extinction. Then, the BBC's John Preston wrote (B&B: end of an era, via John Gapper):
The nationalisation will be seen as proof that the demutualisation of building societies - which began when Abbey National became a bank in 1989 - has been a colossal failure for both the former building societies and the British economy.

These specialist mortgage lenders were under such pressure to grow their profits, as public companies, that they became reckless adventurers in wholesale funding markets.

The failure of demutualisation I think should be seen as much of a failure of modern business ecology as of banking misregulation or global financial crisis. John Eatwell and Avinash Persaud have written repeatedly on the importance of maintaining institutional diversity, something that the ideology of recent capitalism, in the guises of both the effective neo-classical economic consensus and the culture of fund management, have not respected. We saw this at work right at the beginning of demutualisation, with how the democratic rules of building societies were interpreted to be indifferent to carpet-bagging.

30 Sep 2008 (updated 30 Sep 2008 at 09:00 UTC) »
Vattenfall's climate change petition
Vattefall, the European power generation company, has put together a petition calling for political efforts to achive three points:
  1. We need a global price on CO2 emissions;
  2. We need more support for climate friendly technologies;
  3. We need to implement climate requirements for products.
Vattenfall has positioned itself as an environment-friendly energy company —and I believe that there are no larger energy companies with a better record— so it stands to benefit from such a resolution; it is nonetheless commendable that it is undertaking this exercise, and I urge others to sign the petition, which is at http://climate signature.vattenfall.com/signmanifesto.php.

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