Older blog entries for eskimoses (starting at number 7)

Grr. The wonderful US Postal Service is somehow screwing up our mail. We moved here almost three months ago, and have experienced as recently as a week ago important mail being returned to the sender. We confirmed with the senders that they had the right address. And we talked to the delivery guy, too -- he's wonderfully friendly and helpful, and I'm sure it's not his fault. Meanwhile, bills and student loan information and freshNew credit cards with my wife's new name have all been sent back to the sender. And this is just the stuff we know about. What's weirder is that most of our mail does seem to arrive just fine. We've called 'em twice, and I'm waiting for the local PO to call me back. This is not fun.

Wow. I'm floored by the attitudes expressed in many people's diary entries. I'm beginning to think there's enough disillusionment that a movement could be started! :-) (cf. dhd's diary).

What are we all in this occupation for, anyway? All of the work I do goes towards making my company more profitable, and to provide its customers a better product (thereby making them more profitable). What is the end result of this? A better business economy. But I'm perfectly happy as I am now... I don't need a better car, better residence, etc. What if I built a cabin and hunted and fished and gardened and maybe dabbled in other small jobs? I'd have just as much fun as when coding (though I might still pine for it; but I pine for the outdoor life now). This applies to OSS, too. What, really, are we accomplishing through what we develop?

I'm definitely not Luddite; I have no problem with technology. In fact, I really love it. My question is more rhetorical in nature; I'm hoping to encourage discussion more than I am trying to make a statement: what does our relentless pursuit of technology gain me or anyone else? The answer seems to be nothing that we do not have already. I think what I'm realizing is that maybe technology should be no more than a pastime, at least for me. Technology is a means more than an end. And right now, for me, I think it's in definite danger of becoming an end.

Technology is good, but not intrinsically. Health- and safety-improving technology is good. And the ability to travel, etc., etc. But the overwhelming majority of us simply pursue nebulous things like interoperability and efficiency. Alas, all that pursuit still hasn't brought us much closer to technology as a means: ubiquitous computers disappearing under the covers of everything and making our lives nice and simple (a typical goal). What do we really gain from little things like one-click shopping and real-time package tracking? (I'm speaking as a non-shareholder here.)

Undoubtedly I'll be made to eat these words, despite my painstaking editing. Understand this: these are currently still-nebulous thoughts bouncing in my mind for which I'd like to hear others' opinions. This is not some sort of grand sociological or political statement.

squiggy: while I'm not at the point you are, I wholly agree with you. I've come to realize, especially lately, that I must continually examine my priorities to make sure that pursuit of in-the-end worthless things doesn't grab a hold of me. (I suffer from a pervasive "project" mentality which makes me feel like I must always be doing something. But you know, 99.9999% of the world doesn't give a da** what I do or think, and never will! Sometimes that's frustrating, but sometimes it's a wonderful relief.)

raph, I like your idea . I was just thinking yesterday that I haven't been camping since I graduated and got married. My wife and I started planning to build up a modest collection of outdoor stuff and start up hiking and backpacking again this fall. Church volunteer work is going to get a high priority too.

--

In other news, someone discharged a firearm in the parking lot outside our apartment last night. Fortunately, they were arrested, and the renters who were hosting them were given the boot. Certainly the strangest and most exciting incident since we moved here.

deekayen: I sympathize with your plight (lack of cooperation between developers / projects; a general aimlessness in development). Most of what I've worked on has (generally) been a solo operation; when it hasn't, I've usually held the reins so I've been comfortable with its direction. But I can identify with where you're coming from.

Something that I think the average OSS "me too" hacker overlooks is a good design process. The attitude of most budding developers is, hey, I've got a cool idea, why don't I go bang it out on the keyboard and hack it into something workable? The hacker approach doesn't always cut it, though, and I think the more mature elements of the OSS community need to do more to emphasize this. The larger OSS projects, such as KDE, GNOME, and Mozilla, [seem to -- correct me if I'm wrong] embrace this approach. I think that more should be seen of it at the freshmeat level, however.

Eager as one may be to code, it is usually far more fruitful to step back a tad and contemplate the design of a project. Carefully think through those ER / SO models for your database! If you're doing it in some OO language, read up on object-oriented design and carefully work out your object model. If not, you should still carefully ponder program flow, etc. The rewards will be significant. I've also found that often it is more fun designing than coding (personal opinion).

This, I think, is where cooperation between developers can shine: people can discuss and debate elements of the design. (Prototypes can be whipped up, but the urge to code something "real" must be suppressed! I'm a member of the open-qubit development list, and have seen a bit of confusion result from a rush to code before design had been carefully considered.) After the design has been okayed by most of the serious participants, development can proceed. Since the design will be finalized, parallel development will be easier (one hopes). Only when divergent [acceptable] designs come to light should development efforts fork.

None of my college classes emphasized this approach (alas!). My real world experience, however, which has varied from ad hoc hacking to detailed process, taught me this: a careful approach to requirements, design, implementation, and testing will usually pay off in the end.

I've been spending some time thinking lately about online discussion groups like Slashdot and Kuro5hin. Having just run across Advogato, I'm very impressed with some of the ideas implemented here, though a little disappointed that there's still a single point-of-view imposed on all participants. Much of what I was thinking of (except for individualized points-of-view) are already in Advogato. Kudos, raph!

It just occurred to me that perhaps we might step back and question the very idea of discussion forums, instead of merely pondering their implementation. As a couple of people here have pointed out, it seems inherently impossible for a discussion forum to grow bigger than a certain size -- even if all content is top-notch -- and function properly. What if 50 people post brilliantly written reviews of the latest version of fillInTheBlank(TM)?

Advogato's notion of diaries intrigues me. People like their ideas and ruminations to be heard (at least I do), and like to hear the better thoughts of others (read: high s-n ratio in a discussion forum). Perhaps what we need is a better vehicle for people to air their ideas. What I'm imagining is a site (assuming it would be delivered through HTTP) that is fairly similar at first glance to Advogato's diaries. People post entries and ideas. But each person's diary is partitioned from everyone else's. You can browse others' diaries and comment on entries just like a regular discussion group. Your comments become linked into both your diary and theirs.

Different levels of "trust" expressed towards different participants make their entries more visible to you; perhaps their diary entries appear on your home page. You might also be able to rate individual comments, as well. By expressing high trust opinions of other participants or their comments, those who trust you highly are in turn more likely to see those same diary entries. Certain comments may be so insightful that they make it to the home page of just about every user.

The core difference is that there is no front-end to this discussion forum; you view only those diary entries ("articles"?) of those people you choose to. Yet there is nothing keeping you from exploring the user base to discover others whose comments interest you. Moreover, the commenting and cross-linking aspect allows discussions to spontaneously form. Moreover, threads can continue to generate discussion, perhaps even weeks after the original posting, when someone new and fresh runs across a comment in the thread.

The one snag I can think of is that, without controls on cross-linking comments into others' diaries, one could pollute others' diaries very easily. I'm sure that it wouldn't be too hard to overcome such problems.

I'd love to help out with such an idea, though at this point I think I probably don't have enough time to do more than design. Often that's the coolest part, though.

Given my luck with ideas of late, I'd be willing to bet this is already being done.

Discovered Duff's device the other day. Wow. I didn't even know you could do this in C. Took me a good 10 minutes to even figure out what he's doing, but the coolness and weirdness of this is even now still dawning on me. I wonder how many compilers can handle this properly...

The whole Lysator web site is an exercise in extreme coolness. Sometime when I'm not so roped in by work I really need to lose myself in it for a few hours.

A friend of mine is researching grad schools for next year, and last week some friends and I visited UNC - Chapel Hill and NC State with her. I had a near-epiphany experience at the NC State library. I randomly went to explore the book stacks -- nine floors' worth! I never got off the second floor, though; I was astounded to find row after row after row of government documents. Transcripts of subcommittee meetings from the 1980's on defense appropriations; transcripts of subcommittee meetings on military honor traditions at military schools; federal budgets from the 1950's; the official reports of the investigations into Kennedy and MLKJ assassinations (each taking up several feet of shelf space!); shelves full of NASA technical documents and memoranda; reports on Russian activities; etc.

I've never been in such a big library before. I'm sure that many others rank even more impressive, but I was literally in a state of shock after seeing all this. I had no idea that so much information even existed: what I saw was merely [a small subset of] information on the US government. If books could think, that library would have been the intellectual superior of any human being who has ever lived. It was a very humbling experience; I felt for a moment able to grasp the immensity of all the things I will never know.

I was both apalled and intrigued by the amount of governmental information -- down to detailed, word-for-word transcripts on subcommittee meetings -- that is recorded. Appalled at the fact that it takes so much effort to run this country (not to mention all that goes on in the various offices and beauraucratic agencies of the executive branch, or all of the judicial decisions handed out each day). Intrigued by the immensity of the US government. It is truly so huge that no one person could ever manage to hold it in their mind at once and consider it as one entity. As a result, it is incredibly resilient and self-sustaining; no one person can have much of an effect. (Aside: this is what discourages me about political corruption; there is not much that it seems can be done about it, since the system is designed to keep the system running as-is.) I think this immensity is the root of my fascination with politics -- I want to understand it and hold it in my mind all at once, yet I never can. But the challenge of reaching for that gives me pleasure.

Somehow this experience will change my life or outlook on life; I'm still trying to ponder that out.

Like many other Advogatians, I work for a business. Like most (I presume), if I could have my druthers, I'd rather spend my work-time reading lots of good books and magazines; thinking about weighty philosophical issues; advocating open-source; writing open-source software; and toying with my own handful of Perl- and PHP-scripted websites that implement whatever nifty little idea or service I'm currently crazy about.

So I bide my time, waiting for that dream job to come along where I can spend all my time doing that, and meanwhile squeeze a little bit of interesting computer-science-ish stuff into my free time, while trying to focus mostly on my family life.

Lately, however, I've been distracted -- and frankly, a little depressed -- by my growing perception of what this world is becoming, especially as relates to technology and the internet, and especially concerning intellectual property and freedom of speech.

For me, the glass is usually more full than empty, but I've had a hard time remaining optimistic lately about the future of our society in light of recent events and problems such as the DMCA, the DeCSS ruling, the Napster et al hullaballo, recent tendencies in US patent policy, possible future tendencies in foreign patent policy, rampant political corruption (note that this is coming from a citizen of the US; I certainly do not attempt to speak for all US citizens, let a lone those from other countries; others' outlook on the political scene may vastly differ), and the list goes on.

It seems as though the individual has no voice and no choice but to be swept along by increasingly concentrated and powerful corporate and political forces. Comments to the effect of business completely throttling the Internet are no longer able to be laughed off.

Wherever there is money (the Internet), big business and law will not be far behind. Internet regulation is inevitable in my opinion. Yes, technology has so far been able to stay a few steps ahead of business and law, but I don't think that business and the legal profession will quietly sit on their hands and let this happen to them. Inevitably the Internet will be regulated by law and controlled by big business. (Aside: I am not of the opinion that business is wrong, merely corporatism; in addition, law is not inherently bad, simply its misuse. For example, if you create a web business in the US, you will likely fill out the normal small-business forms -- that's not a terrible thing. It is when law stifles creativity and innovation, as is happening all around us, that I take issue.)

All is not gloom and doom; we're not about to go Orwellian or anything terrible like that. Yet, I have become disillusioned with the direction things are moving; the general trend I see when I look around is a downward one. I'd much rather deal with it now than deal with the ramifications later. I have reached the point where I feel helpless to do anything (except complain) about what is going on. Granted, I could probably write to my political representatives as a start, but I hardly know where to start, and especially how to avoid sounding like a crackpot.

What I wonder, is this: what constructive things can we do to combat this downward spiral?

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