Me and Sappho

Most of you haven’t seen my new (fairly dramatic) haircut. In fact, many of you have never seen a photo of me at all. Here’s me and Sappho, the boxer I lived with in Castro Valley. Living in the Mission is great, but no Sappho.

The Vermonster

The Morning News has a great interview behind the scenes on the Dean presidential campaign. In general, I think The Morning News may be giving The Onion a run for its money.

Strategist #1: Yeah… it could be a mixture, a couple of things that are conservative, like vanilla, and a couple of things that are a little more radical, like, I dont know, broccoli. You know, something for everyone.

(apparently it’s true that Howard Dean’s middle name is Brush).

Red Hat is Up

Ordinarily, I’m not much of a capitalist. In fact, Red Hat is the only stock I own, primarily for ideological reasons.

You would think the SCO lawsuit could potentially hurt Red Hat’s stock value. But I’m wondering if it actually had the opposite effect of drawing people’s attention to these issues. Red Hat’s countersuit probably doesn’t hurt either.

apt-get free speech

A poster on Slashdot makes an interesting suggestion about how to conveniently distribute documents when you don’t want anyone to be able to eliminate distribution by taking down a server; and you want to automate distribution of new releases of the document. apt-get. This would be particularly useful for distribution of the internal memos from Diebold Voting Systems that the company is trying to shut down:

Yes, the power of apt-get could be used to form a type of ad-hoc distributed network for the distribution of the Diebold memo, without fear of a single server being shutdown making the document disappear. What we did for the Fed was to create a set of apt.sources files which contained the addresses of a bunch of mirror servers which contained the documents of interest. When a user needed to find a document, they would simply issue an apt-get instyall Document command at their workstation, and apt-get would do the rest.

Omnibook Fixed

Thanks to the fine folks on the Omnibook Mailing List (a list for GNU/Linux users of the HP OmniBook line of laptops), my laptop is back in working order. (Interestingly, the top three results in google on a search for “omnibook” are all Linux-related at the moment, and the entire first page of results of “hp omnibook” are all Linux-related as well). Within a couple of hours of posting my report that my hard drive was making clicking sounds and spontaneously spinning down and crashing the system, I had received numerous helpful suggestions for fixing this common problem.

So I took the whole thing apart, added some Darice “Foamies” (“No Messy Glue”) in between the hard drive controller cable and the case, put it back together (probably not putting the right screws in the right places), and voila, all better.

I’ve chronicled the repair with my digital camera, and will be posting instructions and photos soon for future OmniBook owners who will inevitably travel down this path.

One poster to the list made the following interesting suggestion, which I find quite appealing:

Perhaps we need free hardware, besides free software?
I mean, someone who produces for the sake of having something working for a reasonable amount of time and in a way that most of us can fix it if it breaks.

The ability to fix it yourself (or the freedom to tinker) is a core part of the free software movement. There’s no reason why the principles shouldn’t extend to hardware as well, despite the trend today towards planned obsolence in devices, rather than repairability.

Diebold Wars

In case you haven’t seen it elsewhere, you should check out Targeting Diebold with Electronic Civil Disobedience and the internal memos from Diebold Voting Systems. Swarthmore has been cracking down on students who link to these sites in response to threats from Diebold. Diebold makes electronic voting systems that are widely deployed and terribly flawed, and is attempting to use copyright doctrine to shut down critics.

Please link widely, e.g.:

 Diebold Election Systems 

Which will appear as Diebold Election Systems.

I genuinely hope that Diebold sues someone here—not for that person’s sake, but for the sake of our democracy. You couldn’t ask for a better DMCA test case to balance constitutional principles vs. misguided and misinterpreted copyright statutes.

Digital Mandate

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld the FCC requirement (CNN story) that all tuners receive digital TV signals by July 2007.

I fail to understand why the digital TV transition warrants a government mandate of this sort. While I’m generally not inclined towards knee-jerk anti-regulatory opinions, this seems to be a perfect case to let the market do its work. I invite anyone to make a convincing argument for market failure here. If people aren’t purchasing digital televisions, it’s because (1) they’re too expensive or (2) they’re not interested (1 and 2 are really the same thing). There’s no evidence of a particularly high barrier to entry to the DTV market, so there’s nothing stopping any particular manufacturer from marketing cheaper or more appealing DTV tuners, and there’s no need for the entire industry to be forced to make this transition.

Sure, you might purchase a non-digital tuner today and be screwed in four or five years if this transition really does occur, but that’s a risk you should be able to take, and the price should (and does) reflect that risk. I’m happy to buy somewhat obsolete technology for 80% off, even if I can only use it for a couple years, and then buy something new at that point, when hopefully I’ll have a source of income.

Can someone make a convincing argument why the state needs to force manufacturers to make what people aren’t demanding?

Typical Blog

According to CNN:

There are over 4 million blogs on the net, more than half run by teenagers. Research group Perseus says the typical blog is written by a teenage girl who updates it about twice a month.

These sorts of “statistics” always strike me as suspect. Both the 4 million figure, and the “teenage girl” figure. The article goes on to claim:

But unlike most of them will be little seen, if not abandoned. At least two thirds of the blogs out there today have not been updated in months.

Does this sort of figure even make any sense? There are a lot of “abandoned” web sites out there, dead links, etc.. I’m not sure we can conclude anything from that. If a blog isn’t read and isn’t written, does it really exist?

In my view, if CNN wants to capture the zeitgeist, they should focus on active blogs, both from the reader’s and writer’s points of view. Otherwise, it’s kind of like writing a story about how many newspapers there are out there that are no longer in print, and thus no one reads them. What use is that information?

Kill Bill

Unlike Steve, who hated Kill Bill, (and like Ebert, who gave it his top rating), I loved Kill Bill, Volume 1 (see also Kill Bill at IMDB, which curiously already has a listing for Kill Bill, Volume 2).

I’m perhaps influenced by Tarantino’s introduction to Iron Monkey, a film which Tarantino brought to the United States. Tarantino is clearly a disciple of masters like Woo-ping Yuen, and in Kill Bill, he shows he now has achieved a respectable level of mastery.

One of my favorite quotes from Tarantino’s interview in Iron Monkey describes how the kung-fu film can’t be only a comedy, or an action film, or a drama, or a love story: the audience for the kung-fu film demands all these things in one sitting. Tarantino achieves this sort manic roller coaster ride in Kill Bill (okay, well, maybe it’s not much of a love story, but it has everything else).

I’m reminded a bit of modern jazz artists like Wynton Marsalis, whose every note is a tribute to their heritage. Marsalis may not be as “original” as was Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie, but he’s still a lot of fun to listen to, and his technical mastery exceeds that of his musical mentors.

Tarantino may not be “original” in Kill Bill, but I believe originality is highly overrated—and essentially impossible. In fact, the premium on novelty is a modern invention. In the past, artists sought not to do what had never been done, but rather to perfectly imitate their forerunners.

In the Mission

I’ve moved to the Mission for the remainder of my stay in San Francisco. I’m in between Valencia and Guerrero on 20th, right near Mission Delores Park. Pretty big step up from a cultural perspective from Castro Valley. No more rushing to catch the last BART train home at 12:15am.

And check out the excellent concentration of free wireless caffeine locations within a couple of blocks.