My Best Teaching Is One-on-One


Of course, I team teach and do special lessons, etc.


But my best work in the classroom is after the lesson is over --
going one-on-one,
helping individual students with their assignments.


It's kind of like with computer programs, walking the client through hands-on.
The job isn't really done until the customer is using the program.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Getting Fedora 17 running on my netbook.

Okay, okay. I do need Fedora to study for the LPIC 2.

(Looking really carefully at Mint, for when I'm done and the root partition fills up.)

So, getting Fedora updated to v. 17 --

Start with the netinstall image. Use Fedora 16 live USB utility to load it onto a USB thumb drive.

yum install liveusb-creator

if you need it. (You can get the utility for MSWindows, too. And see the Fedora wiki on it for more details and options. It looks like there's a tool for Debian, too, I need to check that.)

I had to run liveusb-creator from the command line with the option to write the MBR (as suggested when it wrote the image the first time). The first try without the fix failed, but the second try with the MBR fixed worked. The command line with the option looks like this:

liveusb-creator -m
liveusb-creator --reset-mbr

The MBR may have been the reason my attempts at dd-ing the image didn't work.

So much, so good. Boot the USB image, either by using the BIOS settings to give USB devices priority in the boot order, or, if your BIOS supports it, by watching the first few seconds of bootup and hitting the key that it says allows you to choose the boot media.

I installed the minimal because I really wanted to keep control of the process. Was very careful to select custom layout. (Do not select any thing else or you will lose your data, if you are trying to do a "fresh" install like I was doing.)

Only set it up to grab the old swap partition and /tmp partition and the old root partition. Was very, very careful not to touch the old /home partition. (Did I say that enough times?)

Should have copied out the /etc first. Should have gotten a list of installed packages from yum before I shot myself in the foot trying to upgrade from F16 to F17 the easy way that doesn't work.

Gave it a root password, but no other users. Didn't want to have clutter in /home, since that is where the old home partition will mount.

Next, I asked around, to see if splitting /usr off after a successful install might work, and, no, the boot process needs stuff they've gone and moved to /usr. (See my diatribe linked above about root filling up.) So I'm stuck with a small monolithic root partition.

So, (if /dev/sda10 is my /home partition) log in as root and (back up /dev/sda10 first and)
blkid /dev/sda10 > home_uuid.text
vi /etc/fstab home_uuid.text
and use the :next and :prev vi commands to ytl (yank) the uuid and paste it in appropriately for the new line for the /home partition (saved in /dev/sda10).

Write fstab out (":wq") and quit vi and

mount -a

to bring the /home partition in and check your fstab. (Make sure you ls -la /home to be sure you didn't mistake the old /var partition for the old /home partition.)

Now, "useradd" with the "-u" option for the old user-ids and "--home" option appropriately for assigning the old home directories that are now in place.

yum install gpm

for using the mouse in a virtual console. Very handy, especially the right-click trick, to save you from typos.

yum groupinstall "X Window System"
yum groupinstall "Xfce"
[Update 30 Dec.: Had to take a break and go shopping at this point last night.]

and, lo, and behold,

systemctl start

starts your XFCE desktop.

ls -l /etc/systemd/system/ 
ls -l /lib/systemd/system/

to make sure you see what you are doing.

rm /etc/systemd/system/

(Use sudo if you are being smart and are logged in as a non-root member of the wheel group.) Link the one in /lib in where you just removed the old link to multi-user. (Why was that the obsolete run-level-3 on mine?) Don't get the order wrong, or you'll cause yourself a world of hurt. (I wonder if there is a gui tool for this to protect you from when you fall asleep at the keyboard.)

ln -s /lib/systemd/system/ \ /etc/systemd/system/ 
(One line is fine, in which case you don't need the "\". And notice the difference between /lib and /etc and which one the symbolic link you are replacing is under.)

And, now that I have done that, I have to go wading through all the cool tools I had installed and bring them back in, one by one, starting with Firefox and fbreader and gcc and hexedit and lazarus and ....

(No, wait, lazarus is down the road a bit.)

[Update 31 Dec.:]
Oh. I want to leave a note to myself, from a post on the fedora user list archives.

When moving stuff, like moving the /var directory from the new OS to the /var partition from the old OS, mounted temporarily on /mnt, rsync seems to be your friend:

rsync -avxHSAX /var/* /mnt
diff -r /var /mnt 

  • -a => archive
  • -v => verbose
  • -x => don't cross file system boundaries
  • -H => preserve hard links
  • -S => do sparse files efficiently
  • -A => preserve ACLs
  • -X => preserve extended attributes

and that seems (as shown by the recursive diff) to handle the file links better than
cp -a

  • -a => archive or same as -dR --preserve=all

Theoretically, this is what I want to do when cloning or backing up a drive.

More stuff to play with study in my spare time that I never have.

(Mustn't forget to umount the partition before mkfs and, oh, best to boot from a live USB or CD so the OS isn't playing around and writing in the drive one is trying to copy as one tries to copy it. And such things.)

And one more thing. fixfiles -fF relabel is best not to do directly.
touch .autorelabel
and reboot, instead.

Friday, December 28, 2012

/usr merge and the tail wagging the dog

Fedora 16 17 is will probably be the end of the line for me.

Really wanted to keep my hand in, there, since I still need to take the LPIC level 2. But there are a few guys in there who are all gung ho over ripping out the flooring and restructuring the entire Linux file system layout to match their vision of layout of some other so-called operating system.

Microsoft envy. And hubris. Hubris without utility.

Here's what I'm fighting:

  • /sda1: some boot-up partition for MSWindows. 7.
  • /sda2: the usual "C:" partition with "System" and "Program Files", etc. 
  • /sda3: the usual "D:" partition, except it contained a bunch of stuff for the bundled utilities, install packages and the like. If it weren't for the program to update my wireless router, I'd junk the whole of the MSWindows system.
  • /sda4: the "restore" partition. Doesn't work, for what it's worth. Just breaks anything you installed since the last time you tagged it.
I suppose the C: partition had to be a MiSeryDOS basic partition. Would have been nice if they could have put it in a "logical" (i. e., nested in the extended) partition. But, noooo, Microsoft doesn't have any motivation for making it easy to install any other OS on the box for dual-booting, especially not a "competitor's" OS.

D: and the restore partition --No, there is no valid technical reason not to put those in a logical partition. Not that they (Lenovo) have any motivation to make it easy to install an alternate OS on the box, either, especially with the kickback from Microsoft. ("Volume" discounts only available to "A" rated integrators and OEMs, where "A" includes deliberately getting in the way of Microsoft's competition with games like these.)

Not that it would have helped. The restore function is hard-wired, against all technical reason, to the vendor installed partition layout. So the end result would be the same.

I described the above and how I originally installed Fedora 16 on the box elsewhere.

The way I did that, /sda4 ended up at 14.5 gigabytes. I little on the large side for a bot partition, but it has to be the boot partition because the boot partition has to be a basic partition, and there are only four of those, and /sda3 has to be a basic partition so it can be the enclosing extended partition for the other partitions I cut for the install: /usr, /home, /var, /tmp .

Now it's Fedora 16's end-of-life. Time to update to Fedora 17.


Some hot-heads (apparently spearheaded by a group at got a bee in their bonnets about how "Everything ought to be in /usr. There is no technical reason to separate them now."

Makes me want to swear. Yes there are plenty of technical reasons, security, stability, and simply having a bit of division of purpose.

And Microsoft envy is not a good reason for changing that.

Sure, we no longer have the sort of situation they had in the early days when drives were small and you wanted to have all the stuff you needed to boot up in one set of directories and all the rest in another. Right?

lvm in /usr instead of /bin is a pain, yeah.

Plymouth in /usr is liveable, but it would be nice not to have to tell newbs why their cool start-up screens don't get loaded at startup. Yeah. I understand. But it's not a technical reason.

And ACLs (including the curious perversion of the concept that someone calls securelinux or something like that) mitigate the need to separate classes of binaries and libraries. Sure. I understand that you think such things.

You're wrong, but I understand that you think such things.

No, vendors never do stupid things like I described above, right?



No. You're not. I'm just a nameless slob, roadkill on your way to inventing reason for code churn and the accompanying job security.

I've lost about a month, total, to your need to prove how smart you are. A month of my time that I could have been writing bug reports on outstanding bugs. But it means nothing to you guys, because I'm a nameless slob out here in never-never-land.

When I hit the 15G limit on the root partition because /usr is packed and I can't put it on another partition because of your hubris, I'm gone.

Debian's engineers are smarter for the time being, but, if they roll over, shoot, configuring openbsd from scratch is going to take less time than figuring out work-arounds to your vanities.

Monday, December 24, 2012


The old conundrum, "Can delicious be good for you?" invokes a common paradox. Like all paradoxes, it is easily resolved by looking closely and context and semantic overload.

There are two kinds of delicious. (Just like there are two kinds of beautiful. Well, more than two in both cases, but I'm going to cast a really broad cloth today.)

One kind is easy-to-eat and easy-to-turn-into-energy, sugar being the most notorious representative.

The other kind is harder to pin down, because it varies from person to person and from time to time. If your taste recognition circuitry has not been totally burned out by an overload of sweets and meats, food that is truly good for you is usually perceived by you as delicious.

And if you think about it, you know the difference. One excites, inducing -- not coincidentally -- an excited, somewhat uncomfortable feeling in your stomach. The other tends to make you feel comfortable, when you smell it, when you eat it, and when you think about it.

Are there foods that are both kinds of delicious? Well, yes, of course. Most foods are a bit of both. Bill Cosby's chocolate cake routine speaks to that somewhat poignantly.

Work is a bit like food, too.

So, what am I trying to say here? Next time you wonder whether you should go on a weight-control diet, think about how you've defined delicious in your conscious mind.

Think about the foods that are supposed to be good for you. Among those, you'll recognize foods that you enjoy eating, or foods that you kind of really would like to eat now, even though they aren't the most popular foods. Those foods will provide clues to what your body is really needing. Give your body the food it really needs, and you won't find yourself nearly as subject to the uncontrollable cravings that make your diet go haywire.

If you get into the habit of figuring out what your body really needs and eating that first, you'll general find that you don't really need to think that much about weight control. Your body will naturally gravitate to the healthy weight range.

Exercise also helps, of course. And the same principle operates here, too. There are kinds of exercise that seem exciting, others that seem easy, and those that you actually enjoy. Do the exercises that you can enjoy at some level, and you will find that your health improves naturally. Not without effort, but naturally.

I mentioned that work is similar, so is study.

yummy job -- oishii shigoto

There's an expression in Japanese business vernacular, 「おいしい仕事」 ("oishii shigoto").

It transliterates to "yummy job", except that "yummy" sounds childish.

So it transliterates to "delicious job/work" except that delicious is too literal, and sounds like working in a pizza shop or bakery or confectionery.

Compare it to the epithet, "This job is cake." Or to the complaint, "He skims the cream for himself, leaves all the strippings for the rest of us." as applied to a businessman who grabs all the easiest and most profitable contracts he can and and leaves the harder and less profitable assignments to his co-workers.

Okay, not everyone uses "oishii shigoto" as an epithet. Some people understand that hard work is like vegetables and that work that produces too much money is like refined sugar.

Some people understand that sweet is not the only delicious flavor.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

social freedoms and the semantics of machines

A boy I know and his parents have arguments over how much time he spends playing video games. The funny thing (one odd thing) is that the parents claim to support social freedoms.

The son, for his part, is in a high-pressure high school over his head. Not so much over his head, but the school is a science/math focus school and his interests are in the people sciences, history, maybe biology, definitely sociology, etc. The games are not just his way of letting off steam. They help him loosen his conscious grip on his understanding enough to let the principles soak in.

He gets the principles, just not fast enough to keep up with the pace of his homework, or the tests. He's always a step or two behind.

So his grades are in the sink.

But when he understands, he understands, as opposed to the average above-average student who mechanically copies the rotework and never really grasps what is going on.

Playing video games at three or four in the morning is a little extreme. Japanese high schools, the ones everyone fights to get into, are not conducive to education.

If the parents recognize that people in generally must be free, why can't they let their own child choose how he attempts to implement his goals?

Actually, more than one family I know is in this vicious cycle.

No time to write this out in small steps:

If there is a reason for people to be different from each other, they have to be free.

If people have to be free, children have to be free to find their own way, even to extremes like playing video games at three and four in the morning.

If they don't have freedom, how do they find the meaning in the things they do?

If they don't find meaning in what they do, what makes them any different from the machines we build?

(This argument appears to contain some logical leaps and some incomplete implications, but tightening up the logic runs into axioms that some people like to quibble excessively over. And I'm out of time.)

Of course, the warning voice of the parents is one of the context elements that helps children find meaning, but parents really need to be conscious of what meanings they help their children find.

Friday, December 21, 2012

patent blues

Give the software patent industry a big, fat raspberry.

Back around 1987, I told a friend who asked me what kind of computer to buy that I didn't like Microsoft for the way they were muscling and hustling the industry.

He asked me if he should then avoid Microsoft, and I admitted that the offerings from Atari and Commodore and the rest of the alternatives, while I liked many of the companies, had the detriment that they were under-represented in the kind of software he needed.

He asked about Apple, and I said, if I didn't like Microsoft, the only reason I didn't hate Apple was that they weren't in the predominant position that Microsoft was.

I told him, I would not like to live in a world where Apple had a defacto monopoly.

Prescience, or what?

So, what did I advise him to do?

Buy the computer for the software he needed, and if he needed more than one, buy more than one.

(If only people had been willing to do that back then, buy the Apple for the kids, for the computer-aided art, etc., buy the IBM compatible for Lotus and WordPerfect, buy Sun for the servers, and learn enough about how to use their computers that they would know to hold their noses when the smelled the stench of anything Microsoft produced.)

It's still good advice, except that I'm going to add Apple to the hold-your-nose category. Buy Apple or Microsoft if you absolutely have to, but don't breathe too deeply, and go to a bit of extra effort to avoid having to.

So, what do I recommend now?

Learn Linux and BSD and the applications that work on those machines. Replace your Apple and Microsoft products as you find reasonable alternatives. Go to a little extra effort to avoid the data-traps Apple and Microsoft lay for you.

Can we trust Google and RedHat? Yes, sort-of, now. More than Apple and Microsoft.

But, and this is the key idea to understand here, systems are dangerous things when they are advocated. (There are historical, psychological, and mathematical reasons for those dangers, and the history goes back well before the beginnings of what we know call the computer industry. Way, way back before that.)

Purveyors of systems, when they get overly anxious to be the one-and-only system, should all be avoided. Google may seem great for now, but once they establish an effective monopoly, give them no more than ten years and they'll be doing the same things that rot out all the good companies, the same things that undid all the good Microsoft and Apple ever did. (Notwithstanding that they do have a better track record than either Microsoft or Apple at this point. Much better track record.)

Any single company that gets that large is going to have this kind of problem.

It would be nice if the Free/Libre software movement could stabilize and provide the technological underpinnings to an industry where there would be lots of small players and lots of consortia, but if Linux-based OSses take over the world, and if the EFF (great players that they are) become the only advocate, we ultimately head for the same problems.

One system to rule them all. That always leads to an evil result.

(Having a triumvirate of Google, Apple, and Microsoft is not a good long-term plan, either, although it's good for now and the next couple of years or so.)

Why must this be so? Why are human systems always going to go south?

Turn the question around: How do you expect humans, even if we can lengthen our life-span to a thousand years, to build anything close to a perfect system?

That kind of perfection literally takes an eternity to achieve. And it should not surprise us that this is so.

Systems are okay to make. In fact, they are good to make, as long as our hubris doesn't prevent us from letting them go when it's time to move on, and as long as our hubris doesn't prevent our systems from getting along with our neighbors' systems, too.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

First programmer?

My wife asked me and my son to change some carpet that had two desks and a chest of drawers on it. I was not enthusiastic, my son even less so. Took two hours or so, moving the furniture around in a Japanese apartment with limited space.

My son was making quite a bit of fuss about the imposition on his time, so I mentioned that computer programming often has a similar sort of problem to solve -- updating or changing software underneath live data in a limited space without damaging things, with minimum interruption to access.

My wife heard that and asked a very interesting question.

Who was the first programmer? Do we know?

One standard answer to that is Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage's correspondent. From what I have read, I would include Babbage as well, and lean towards calling their work an early example of what we now call "pair programming".

Babbage's differential and analytic engines are said to be the first known devices in which direct corollaries to the elements of modern computers are found. However, they are not the first mechanical computers. As I have tried to demonstrate elsewhere, computing devices have been in use for all of recorded history, and some probable examples pre-date our extant records.

The engineers and artisans who have created these devices built programs into their structure. The diameter of a cog, with the number of teeth and their position, the lengths and orientations of rods and levers, the structure and design of these devices constitute their programs. Thus, Da Vinci was a programmer. Those who constructed astrolabes were programmers, and I would include the designers of Stonehenge.

Re-programmability is not the only yardstick of computing devices, nor is it required for a programmer to do his or her job.

Babbage is said to have conceived his differential engines in response to perusing a table of logarithms with known errors. That table was prepared with the assistance of a computer system, but the computers in the system were humans, computer being, in essence, a task or job title. A mathematician with advanced understanding formulated a series of simple steps which less skilled mathematicians followed to construct the tables.

Defining the steps and coordinating the system were essentially programming tasks. (And humans are definitely re-programmable in this sense, for what it's worth.)

With this concept in mind, we can safely say that any specification of a first programmer, short of God, Himself, is arbitrary.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Software patent limitations

Let's set aside, for the moment, the arguments about software being maths (because too many people are confused by the mathematicians' argument that the whole world is nothing but mathematics).

[Update: I've started a separate blog for this kind of stuff.]

Patents in the physical realm have something that software patents, in their current state, do not have.



Included devices.

Yeah, limitations.

If we allowed physical patents like the current version of software patents, we'd have patents claiming "materials that have property P" or "materials that perform function F"; claiming "structures that look like S", "structures that perform function F", or "structures that have property P"; claiming "the inclusion of device D", or "devices that look like S", or "devices that perform function F", or "devices that have property P". Etc.

Those who love freedom make a lot of noise about patents on ideas. We'll set those arguments aside for a moment, too.

Surely we can see the problems here. If this kind of patent were allowed, the first patent on any device that reproduced sound would have covered every device that reproduced sound.

Can't you see that?

First, "This patent claims a device that records a physical representation of sound by capturing audio vibrations via a large membrane moving a needle to cut a groove in some plastic medium." paired with, "This patent claims a device that reproduces sound by transferring vibrations recorded in some plastic medium to a physical membrane."

(Don't forget that "plastic" means something besides poly-urethane here.)

These claims would already have been over-broad. (Compare them with history -- think about cylinders vs. discs.)

But the following claims would also have been allowed, most likely in the same patent.

"This patent claims a device that records any representation of sound in any media." paired with, "This patent claims a device that reproduces sound recorded in any media."

Had these claims been allowed, who would have owned the recording industry?

Lock, stock, and barrel. No, broader than that, even.

The courts are trying to restrict these kinds of patents, but they have no guides.

(Perhaps because too many lawyers who conflate maths with human laws have gotten stuck on the software-is-maths argument, drawing the wrong conclusion. The universe is mathematical, but no human has ever yet been able to define the grand unifying theory. The best general theories we have at present are so convoluted they would be subject to patent under the current patent regime -- if we allow software patents in their current form.)

Patents must, absolutely must have some reasonable limitations to be useful. In physical realm patents, materials, structures, included devices, etc., provide the basis for limits. They prevent the patenting of ideas.

(Okay, I snuck that back in. After I showed one of the many problems with patenting ideas, even complicated ideas. So sue me. Wait, someone is likely to do exactly that, so I should set pejorative aside, as well.)

What would be the parallel in software patents? If we absolutely have to have them. (And I think we probably do, at least until we can get our society freed of the atrocity that is the Berne Convention.)

What would provide the basis for limitation?

Source code.

Programming language provides a parallel to materials.

Modules, both physical and program, provide a parallel to included devices. Thus, the libraries linked in, the run-time environment assumed in the compiler, the compiler itself, the operating system, and the physical CPU and peripherals, all those implementation details presently only waved at by the phrase, "implemented in a computer device" provide essential parts of the missing basis for limitation.

("Implemented in which computer device?", for the sake of all that stands before the court.)

And the source code itself is the equivalent of blue-prints, diagrams, methods of assembly, etc. The source code itself is an essential limiting element, and so often missing, except for some symbolic pseudo-code or programming scrap freed from any actual implementation.

Pseudo-code must be unacceptable as a limiting element in patents. You can say anything you want in pseudo-code, because a human gets to figure out the implementation details later. Pseudo-code provides no basis for limitation.

A software patent absolutely must provide compilable source code, and it must be limited by the source code provided, bugs and all. And limited by the compiling environment and the target execution environment, OS specifics and hardware specifics, etc.

All the details of workable implementation, without which, even a very competent computer scientist is hard pressed to reproduce the subject of the patent. Including compilable source code.

These are the missing limitations in the current versions of software patents, and, until we deal with them properly, software patents cannot fail to provide us with an unworkable legal mess.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tobacco addiction cheap for society?

Some really strange things get said on /. sometimes.

As I was originally starting to type this, there was an article (which I failed to record a link to and now can't be sure which it was) on Bitcoin being used in the black market for illicit drugs. Lots of people in that part of the conversation seem to want to make drugs generally legal in the US, and they cite the supposed failure of Prohibition.

(I thought I had blogged about the supposed failure of prohibition. Apparently not.

It did not fail, but we failed to do it wisely.

We should have specifically authorized the states and communities to prohibit and/or regulate intrastate commerce in alcohol and other substances with strong habit-forming properties and/or negative health consequences, and restricted the states from attempting to prohibit personal and private production and use of the same, except in cases where the production and/or use at private level presented legal issues in other areas. (Production facilities blowing up and/or threatening neighbor's property, health, etc. Also, allowing states and communities to attempt to deal with individuals who, when consuming or using such substances, would lose control and present a clear danger to others.)

And we should have authorized laws to be made regulating and/or prohibiting interstate commerce and transportation of such substances, particularly into states where such was regulated and/or prohibited.

This would have been in keeping with the spirit and letter of the Constitution.

Having failed to do that, we undid the prohibition amendment in a way that left us open to the FDA. That was a bigger failure than the way we originally did prohibition.)

Well, somebody brought up a concept that is apparently making the rounds in parts of Europe -- that tobacco is actually cheaper than euthanasia. Talk about false dilemma and strawman and, well, the whole basic gamut of false logic.

Dealing with the "problem" of an aging society by killing the old folks off with either explicit euthanasia or the implicit use of vice is just plain wrong on all levels.

Old people are valuable. For their experience, if nothing else. But for all sorts of other things, too.

If our economy does not allow us to recognize their value appropriately, then the economy is wrong. Fix the economy, don't fix the non-problem of a rising average age.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Go Fish -- ゴー・フィッシュ

This is the standard game, as I understand it. Some variations noted below.


Object: To collect pairs of cards by asking other players for cards that match those in your hand.

目的: 自分の手札にあるカードに相当するカードを相手に頼んだりして、2枚ペア組んで集めていく。

Number of players: Two to six.

プレーヤの人数: 2人~6人

Use: A standard deck of playing cards.

遊具: 普通のカードデッキ(トランプ)

Setup -- 用意 :

The dealer shuffles the deck and deals seven cards, face-down so that others can't see them, to each player. The remaining cards are placed in a draw pile where all the players can reach them. (You can call the draw pile the lake or the sea.)


Each player looks for any pairs in his hand and places them face up in front of him.


Basic play -- 基本的な遊び方 :

The player to the left of the dealer starts.


On a players turn, he chooses a card in his hand and chooses another player to ask for its match.


If the other player has the match, he gives it to him. If not, he says, "Go fish." and the player whose turn it is draws a card from the draw pile.


If the player gets a match, whether by asking or by drawing, he places the pair in front of him. Further, if the match was the card asked for, whether by asking or by drawing, he may play again. 


If the player did not get a match, or got a match but not the card asked for, turn proceeds to the left.


The game ends when any one player has no cards left in his hand, to play.


The player who has collected the most pairs wins.


(Four o'clock in the morning, variations will have to be done later.)

[Update: Example game play dialog here. JMR20150408]

not plugged in

(On the train home, last night:)

Of fifteen people near me, on the same seat or the one across from me, three people are not plugged in in any way. (I am plugged in, but not to the network, so maybe that's four.)  By plugged in, I mean, earplugs inserted or cellphone or some other electronics out, and actively using the device.

One of the three is reading smartphone ads from docomo.

I am reminded of some science fiction scene in which everyone is plugged in to the indoctrination station.

Maybe Fahrenheit 451, but portable.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Misinterpreting 1984, implications to security

(From a post of mine to a conversation in progress on /. .)

Learn anything from 1984?

No, we didn't.

My high school English teacher had it pegged:

1984 was neither predictive nor prescriptive. It was descriptive.

An allegory for society as we know it, through a lens double-tinted ever-so-slightly to two extremes, to bring a known secret out in sharp relief.

1984 is the world as we know it, viewed through the glasses of someone who thinks he is smarter than the rest of us trying to see it from the eyes of the rest of us.

Which is why it gave me a headache to read.

Very instructive book. Too bad most people don't think far enough to see the real message.
I think it was my junior year high school English teacher who pointed this out to me (and the rest of her class).

Now, whether Orwell was "right" or "wrong" is the wrong question. Whether our society is becoming "more" or "less" Orwellian is a red herring.

There is a part of our world which functions like this. It has always been this way, since Adam and Eve in the Garden, since Cain, since the Pharaohs, all the way down to the present. (Consider the nomer, "the father of lies".)

Now the lesson which we need to learn is that the Orwellian world mimics the real part of our world.

But we need to be careful how we understand this lesson, or we end up thinking the universe is out to get us.

Or we end up thinking that it's all right to lie, or that there is an establishment that preaches that it is all right to lie for some "greater good". (There are many such establishments, but that is also a red herring.)

The surrealism of youth is not evil. But we do leave it behind.

(There is no choice, even if we try to hang on to the glories of the past, time drags us with it.)

The conclusion of the novel does condemn those who use the instability of "facts" as an excuse to use factoids and factisms to their own gain. (To clarify, it is not the facts that change, it is our understanding of them.

Skipping a lot of literary analysis, pretty much, we will each one of us find ourselves having to face our own worst fears sometime in life. At least once, maybe more than once. (See Abraham, for instance.)

There is a reason that the world is surreal when we are young. Our lack of experience gives an edge to all our senses. But that edge is false.

No, it is not really false. It is just not perfectly true.

When we are young, the best understanding we can have is always going to more or less miss the true mark of reality. We do not have the experience to interpret our experiences properly.

This is a reverse vicious cycle, because we cannot understand without experience, and the only way to gain understanding is to get some experience, and, with the experience of things that are new to us, there must be some incompleteness in our understanding. Therefore, we shall make mistakes.

Which requires more experience, and more incomplete understanding, if we really want to understand things properly, a serious conundrum, but not evil. Incomplete understanding can lead us to complete understanding, if we will let it.

The mistakes leave us open to being judged by the society around us, both the outer societies and the hidden societies.

Because of the judgments of the hidden societies, we will be put on trial. We will be tested, whether we will be true to ourselves or not. And we will find that the real test is not in the events of the trial, but in what we do afterwards.

Winston and Julia find that their affair was an illusion. Of course it was. They also, in the immediate aftermath, find themselves thinking that they have betrayed each other. This is not unusual. When we betray ourselves, we necessarily betray those around us.

Self-betrayal is a common tool of terror politics and tyranny. Reinforcing the impression of self-betrayal by making the betrayal of others explicit is another tool of totalitarian society, as is pretense of rescue.

I would have preferred a preferred a stronger affirmation of the value of reality over surreality in the plot, but it would have been out of character for both Winston and Julia, also for Orwell, himself. It would also have made the novel less accessible, as literature.

But we see in the end that both Winston and Julia have grown up a little. They both understand that life is inherently insecure. And the novel leaves them contemplating whether to give in to the illusion of security provided by the self-deluded Big Brother organization, or to take the next step to real freedom.

They could consider continuing in clandestine activities precisely because they know that everything will be taken away, sooner or later.

Freedom is just another word for being able to behave as if one has nothing (left) to lose.

Real security is in having nothing to lose.

(From here, I'll have to sometime bridge from one linguistic context to another and pick up information systems security, but that will be in a different blog.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Superiority complex

I'm writing from first hand experience, here.

When you have had it beat into your head that you're not as good as other people, you tend to develop an inferiority complex.

You know better, you know that other people aren't really better than you. Better at some specific thing, but not better in the sense of class. You know you are good at some things. You know that there are some things you are better than many other people at.

But you've had it pounded painfully into your head that you are inherently no good. Inferior. And pain hurts. So you pretend that you are inferior.

But it doesn't settle well. So, you tend to start finding ways to assert your superiority, to counter balance.

This is where the superiority complex kicks in.

Superiority complex can be expressed in two general ways. (Often, both ways in the same person.)

One way is to start simply asserting oneself. This much is actually not inherently bad. But if it goes too far, it becomes overweening pride, which is obnoxious. but still not too bad. One might call this supremacy complex.

The other way is to start trying harder than before. This isn't bad, it's good. But then it may progress to insisting on trying harder than other people. Again, this much is not all that bad, even though some find it obnoxious. (That others confuse it with humility is also worth noting.) It is often called superman complex.

If supremacy complex goes too far, it tends to seek identity with similar people and asserting group supremacy. (Racism, nationalism, sexism, politicized religionism, etc.)

Some of my Mormon friends got dragged into this kind of thing. I managed to stay out of it, partly because I could recognize a spirit that conflicted with the tenets of service that we call core.

If a superman complex goes too far, on the other hand, it seems to avoid group identification. There is a sense of "I can go it alone." Or, at least, a sense that one should be able to go it alone. On the one hand, you're trying to help others, but on the other hand, you aren't letting others help you.

I did not avoid this one, but I am discovering that the superhuman complex also conflicts with gospel principles. Well, I've been fighting with myself over this for thirty years, actually, so I'm thinking it might have been something I brought with me from the spirit world, from before birth.

I've noticed that a lot of the conflicts we have in this world, courtroom battles, market battles, family/spousal feuds, gang/fan violence, outright wars, seem to have roots in superiority complex.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Apple vs. Samsung: claiming IP territory

The verdict today before Koh in Apple vs. Samsung inspired me to blog, so I logged in.

And I noticed my last post about Japan and Korea having a disagreement about territory claimed in the sea between them -- a small island that, until we discovered there might be resources in the sea around it, was not worth the trouble to either of them to formally claim.

Claiming territory. That's what this is all about.

Until Apple made it cool, a pocketable computer serving as a portable phone just seemed like a geek toy. That was the best Microsoft could do with it, and it was the best anyone else seemed to be able to do with the idea. (It didn't help that Microsoft was trying to hold the market for ransom and force everyone to use their MSWindows CE/MSWindows Mobile. Microsoft simply has no cachet, except with a certain kind of business or tech geek.)

Undeveloped territory that suddenly gets attention, and everyone trying to crowd into it. Of course, with the free market, one company is not supposed to be able to control an entire sub-market, but, unfortunately, it seems like most companies seem to have the stupid idea that controlling the market is good for profits.

I guess one thing we need to fix before we fix the patent laws is the general lack of understanding of economics among the current crop of managers and board members.

Well, Apple isn't any different. So, when they entered the portable phone market, they wanted patents to club other companies with. Or maybe just to defend themselves. But they couldn't get real patents on core technology like the radio stuff, because they didn't have any real research going on there. I guess that's why they resorted to the biggest flim-flam since the original pyramid scheme, design patents.

Software patents are bad. You aren't supposed to be able to patent ideas. Well, what idiots thought design (art) patents would not be patents on ideas? I guess, because "every" other country (that doesn't understand freedom) has them, the US must have them, too.

Uhm, yeah. Anyway. The rectangle with rounded corners and a screen mostly filling one face had not been tried in the last couple of years of Microsoft's fumbling efforts.

Not that it wasn't obvious. It had shown up since the earliest attempts at envisioning a portable computing/communication device. Plenty of prior art. But Apple took out the design patents, since they are available in the US. Never mind that they were only incrementally, non-uniquely different from other designs. Shame on Apple, but they've been trying this since the first look-and-feel suits.

Shouldn't look-and-feel be trade dress?

And since when is trade dress anything like patent? It's supposed to prevent fraudulent marketing, not enable it. And why a cluttered screen with bog-stock icons in a bog-stock grid should be considered anything close to trade dress, much less subject to design patent, is beyond me.

Except, there it is: land grabs. Find any piece of ground that has not been claimed, and stick your flag in it, so you have more room to set up your armies on.

Free market competition is not supposed to be a substitute battlefield. Destroying people economically is socially destructive, whether you push them off their farmlands or push them out of their market. Competition is good, but not constant all-out wars.

So Apple used its cachet to make the obvious obvious in the market for portable communication devices, and the market took off. Was there anything special about what they did? Was it just Apple's cachet?

Well, especially compared to Microsoft's offerings, yeah, there was something special.

So what was it? And shouldn't Apple have the right to claim IP on it?

Well, first, let me ask you: Where did Apple's cachet come from?

No, cachet is not just magic that no one can understand. Until you understand cachet, you have no business claiming to be a free person.

Let's dig way back to the Apple II. What was it?

Everyone else was business as usual. The two Steves said, look at the power in this thing. Desktop calculators? With these CPUs, we can put power in the hands of the people.

Jobs had something a little more than that in mind, but he understood from the outset how benevolent tyrants establish charisma and then use that to establish power. He had some understanding of the necessity of the appearance of freedom in supporting any sort of political movement, and he understood that economics is politics.

Power to the people.

What, you thought the hippie movement was over? Just because empowering people the wrong way always works for a little while and then doesn't any more?

If you're confusing power to the people with the hippie movement, you're missing the point. Empowering people, especially people who have been dis-empowered by whatever systems and institutions have been established before, is exactly how the charisma is set up.

Empowering people tends to buy their loyalty. Establishes charisma. Builds cachet. (If this idea offends you, maybe you need to re-think your reasons for hanging around the water-cooler or reading blogs and such.)

So, power to the people. For a little while. Then the people with the charisma tend to get to thinking they know more than everyone else. The reality distortion field gets to the source of the field. Then they start abusing their cachet for power. (What happened to the power to the people thing?)

Prices go up. Tech doesn't move forward enough to justify prices. Products aren't competitive any more. And that's not really all that evil, but the fear of losing the cachet inspires attempts to shore it up with external forces. Like court action. Or back-room deals. Or fake standards constructed too early. Or outright sending thugs around when people don't do what you want them to.

Look at Gates and Co. Did the same thing. Power to the people, except in their case it was power to some of the ignored people with moderate amounts of money -- lower level managers. Sure, mice and UI windows were fun to play with, but it was the market for a machine that could do lots of calculations cheaply that was going begging.

And, of course, Gates and Co. followed the same curve once they got their hooks into the cheap OS market. They knew more about the market than their customers, and they knew they must have the right to charge for it.

Usually, this would be a recipe for disaster. But trying to catch up with the Mac slowed their control ambitions down, long enough that they could establish a near monopoly among lower-level management before they bared their fangs to the general public.

And, when they bared their fangs, surprise! Customers ran away.

No, Bill, Nathan, Steve B., et. al. When you know more than your customers, they have no obligation to agree with you. Not in a free world. Freedom to innovate is not just for you.

That's why everyone was biding their time, waiting for the next mini-Napoleon to arrive on the scene. That's why you had to resort to even back-room deals, fake standards, market dumping, and so many other anti-competitive tactics to stem the bleeding. At the time, patents were still not usable for this kind of strong-arming, so you weren't really focused on those. (Missed a move on this chess board, did you Bill?)

Then we had the return of Steve. (Jobs, that is.) (Didn't I see this somewhere in an apocalypse?)

He had learned some lessons out in the wilderness. He had become much better at listening to the customer.

And he had Power to the People, by means of Free Software.

Why Free Software?

Not because you (the customer) don't have to pay money.

Because you (the customer) are free to do what you want, if you're smart enough or have friends who are smart enough who will show you how. That's empowerment.

So, what he gave us was FreeBSD plus some stuff they learned while messing around with Linux and Mach, to make the almost open Darwin OS, and add some stuff they knew from the Mac to make the semi-open Aqua instead of X-11, and they had a new winner:

Mac OS X, brought to you by Darwin OS and Apple. (And the Apple Public License, which was almost free. Lots of freedom, to attract the customers. But Apple was busy behind the scenes, putting patents anywhere they thought a patent might fly. Claiming territory. Making sure the freedom to the people could be called back when strategically necessary.)

A little power to the people, and (relative to Microsoft's mess) much better security. And it could make much better use of the power of cutting-edge semiconductor than their old classic Mac OS.

Almost open. Almost free.

Shoot. MSDOS was almost open. So was MSWindows. Such systems are almost always almost open when the new Napoleon on the block is getting his start. It's a necessary part of the pattern.

One lesson Jobs learned was not to rest on his laurels. (It's not the right lesson, but he learned it.) So, before Mac OS X went stale, he started working on iOS.

And iOS was almost open, too. $99 a year for the developers' kit and almost anyone could add the application they wanted to it. And if you behaved yourself well, you could make apps for others, and Apple would let you in their walled-garden of an app(lication) store.

Yeah, not nearly as open as Mac OS X, but there actually is a point to it. Sort-of. We don't, as a culture, understand security well enough for real security to sell on the market, but there is a demand for it now. So policing the market for iPhone apps seemed to be the alternative expedient.

Nothing new here. History is repeating itself. Over and over and over and over and ...

But when the one-and-only walled garden is the only alternative, almost-open is no longer open. And the expedient is only excusable until it becomes a system. (Which is one of the security lessons we aren't learning.)

You don't continue building up the walls of the walled garden, and you don't try to shut off the outside world. That's the kind of knowing better than your customers that has always been destroying big companies a little at a time. (And Microsoft wasn't the first, of course.)

You enable the outside world, and you build bridges between that world and your walled garden, if you have to have a walled garden. That's what keeps your market healthy, active, vibrant. That's what keeps the money moving.

That is why Android is so big.

Not because anyone copied anyone. Round corners on a rectangle, common icons, and a cluttered (Ick! she called that design?) home screen do not constitute any meaningful technical contribution to the state of the art. Best common practices. Lowest common denominator, is what that is.

Android is so big because it's free. Just like we are supposed to be.

Apple, somehow you induced the Honorable Judge Koh to force the trial through on a torrid pace, so that you would just have time to strut your stuff, but Samsung would not have time to pick apart all your thinly-veiled conceits, presentations borrowed from the boardroom, which you so convincingly presented to shore up your improbable claims to "innovation", whatever that has to do with anything.

Samsung did have enough time to show the illogic in your arguments about the iPad being so wonderfully innovative. That's why the decision went their way on that one and not on the phones, where they didn't have time. (I think I would have focused on tablets, too, in their place, by the way.)

So you won one suit.

But you cannot patent cachet. You cannot use cachet to prevent the next guy from his turn for long. The moment you try controlling people's opinions instead of giving them reason to have favorable opinion, that's the moment you start destroying your cachet. It's like using your thermonuclear bombs in your own backyard.

If there had been more time for everyone, Apple's arguments would have all run out of steam, and Samsung's would not, because Samsung's arguments had substance. And pretty much everything would have gone against Apple in this trial, had Samsung been allowed to make all the arguments they were ready to make.

There once was a normal world in the US of the previous century, a "half hour of silence", if you will, in which this kind of self-defeating behavior on the part of a corporation was relatively quickly rewarded with the natural consequences. In such a world, Steve Jobs's alleged mission to Tim Cook might have been Steve making sure the behemoth he constructed undid itself when he was gone.

But that world was altered significantly when thoughts became patentable.

I don't know whether Apple will buy out Microsoft or vice-versa, but it will be because none of them can figure out a way to keep people buying their latest junk. Because they rely on "intellectual property" instead of on service.

I'm not sure whether Google and the Android sub-section of the communications industry will stay around to keep the facade of competition in place, or whether some Congress-person will find some convenient conceit to de-fang the anti-monopoly laws to allow the mergers.

Maybe the mergers into one company to replace Bell's monopoly will happen some other way, but they will happen. And I'm concerned that this time, the communications monopoly/bureaucracy will not be nearly as benign as in the days of Bell.

This whole case has turned Apple's history into yet another exercise in how to destroy freedoms, and how to destroy a market and one's own place in it.

I would like to hope that the honorable Judge Koh could re-consider the outcome, comparing the results relative to tablets and phones, and declare a mis-trial, ordering a new trial with plenty of time to let Samsung show the whole evidence letting Apple's brass display their corrupt point of view for exactly what it is. I would like to hope that a higher court would see through the mess clearly and declare a mis-trial, instructing the lower court to give the legal teams all the time they need to shoot themselves in the foot or not, as the case may be.

But the US, itself, is busy doing the same wrong things Apple has been doing. So it's not a big hope.

Real freedom is scary, because we can't give up the desire for something tangible to depend on.

We know this whole big rock we live on is in free-fall, orbiting around our Sun, but cannot see how our own economic existence is the same. We are all in economic free-fall most of the time.

Just imagine if someone who could do such a thing decided the Earth had to suddenly quit its free-fall.

Which is worse, free-fall, or the inevitable alternative -- the sudden smack when ballistic objects collide?

We don't need that kind of control, we don't really want it, if we can only believe in reality, and put the lust for power over other people behind us.

And that's what Free Software is really suppose to be all about.

Friday, August 17, 2012

claiming territory

The South Pole.

There is an international agreement not to attempt land grabs there for several reasons.

One, the scientific community led the way. (No one else was foolhardy or hardy enough. Really.) And they like their international cooperation. (And for good reason.)

Two, really. No one else. That is, no one single enterprise or any single country is going to be able to justify the resources for staking a claim there.

Thoughts -- If the global climate change turns the ice pack up there into climate water and deepens the oceans, should we forestall the landgrab by deciding ahead of time to move the displaced island nations to the land that would be exposed there?

(The idea should give us all pause about how willing we are to have to face such a question, and it would hardly seem fair to force millions of people who are acclimated to warm weather to adjust to the cold there.)

The Moon. (And, by extension, Mars.)

Again, there is an international agreement not to attempt land grabs.

Again, no single country really has the resources to permanently establish anything but scientific relics up there. Thinking carefully, unless we get some sudden advances in technology that far outstrip all the modern advances we've made in tech in the last 300 years, I'm not inclined to think we, as a race, have the tech to put any permanent settlements on the moon, period. This gravity well is really deep, and the problem of junk floating in the satellite regions of the earth is intractable.

The Liancourt Rocks.

No explicit international agreements, but those are seriously forbidding rocks. Neither of the two countries that have reasonable claim on them have been able to put a self-sustaining community on them over the last 1500 or so years.

My wife and kids were reading the newspaper yesterday, worrying about the possibility that those islands could spark a war. Also, there is the worry that there would be some who would question whether Japan could defend their claim under the current Japanese Constitution.

And there was the inevitable, "What could the Koreans be thinking?" from everyone but me, so I did some reading on the internet last night, to see if I could catch up.

Well, here is the history, as I understand it.

First, Ulleungdo. Used to be Usan-guk, a different country. Kim Isabu conquered it for Jijeung (of Silla, one of Korea's predecessors in interest) in about 500 AD. Goryeo assumed control of the island when he (they?) took over during the 900s.

Then the Korean government, because of some need to shore up its power during wars with Mongols and with Chinese factions, called all its people to the mainland. A hundred years or so passed.

Somewhere around the 1400s, Japanese fishermen started using it as a base of activities. After several decades, the Koreans returned while the Japanese fishermen were back home, and started settling back in. Diplomatic back and forth, and Toyotomi (am I getting this right?) in a move that was intended to be taken back after he conquered Korean on the road to conquering China, ceded the island to Korea. After getting spanked by the Korean navy, there was no room for further quibbling with Korea about Ulleungdo, and Korea was not silly enough to leave it uninhabited after.

Ulleungdo has a small neighboring island, now called Jukdo. Small, but the land is arable land, and you can build houses and other buildings on it without difficulty. It has been part of the community for a long time, people living on it, more-or-less self-sustaining. Maintaining a permanent settlement there is not a serious problem. Jukdo is just over a kilometer off the northern tip of Ulleungdo, to the east.

The Liancourt Rocks are known in modern Korea as Dokdo. Nearly a hundred kilometers to the south and east of Ulleungdo, I understand that they are visible from Ulleungdo when the weather is (very) clear. If I got the link right, you should be able to see that they are also about 180 km from the Oki Islands of Japan. In modern Japan, they are called Takeshima.

There are two islets. Together, they do not appear to have even half the surface area of Jukdo. It is mostly mountainous terrain, very steep. The land is sort of arable, has natural foliage and wildlife. But it is not the kind of place you could farm.

Korea sent a couple to live there in the 1940s. It is not sustainable, so they set up a support staff of 30 or more that cycles on and off the island, including policemen. Looking at the islands, I could well imagine that it would not have been possible to keep that couple living on those islands for very long prior to the invention of helicopters.

If you read a report in some part of Korean history about 20 families living on an island in this general area, not so very far to the north and east of Ulleungdo, you would not suspect it was these two islets. Unless, I suppose, there have been significant geological/ecological changes.

More police there than residents. Heh. The police and military are there for a reason, of course. Japan has continuously protested the Korean presence, and Korea does not trust Japan. (There was this war, you see.)

Japan, of course, wants to claim the islands in order to establish some bargaining power over the natural resources in the Japan Sea/East Sea.

But on what do they base their claims?

Well, you see, these islands have not been known by the same names throughout history. In fact, up until the late 1800s, there was a phantom island a bit north and east of Ulleungdo on many maps. (Apparently, British cartographers had at one point messed up the location of Ulleungdo.) This phantom island was shown about the same size as Ulleungdo, so, unless there have been some serious geographical changes, it could not have been a reference to Takeshima/Dokdo.

There are some historical references to the islands. Maybe. But it's hard to say for sure, because the Japanese have referred to Ulleungdo as Takeshima on occasion. And, it appears, have referred to the Liancourt Rocks as Matsushima.

Could the Koreans have been so sloppy? Well, yes. Some of the claims the material the Koreasn use to demonstrate their claim on Dokdo actually use the name Ulleungdo. Some others use the name, Usan or Usando, which has also been used for both Ulleungdo and Jukdo in the past. You can't depend on the name in the document.

If you read the historical reports available, interpreting by description more than by name, it appears that both Japanese and Korean fishers have used the islands as a base. Quite probably, I'm thinking, the "Japanese" pirates who plagued the costs of Korea and China for several hundred years from around the 1200s used the islands as bases, as well.

(Those pirates were initially primarily Japanese farmers and fishers having trouble making a living with all the feudalism going on at home, but after a few years, were mostly Chinese merchants trying to get around the draconian limits on commerce the Chinese government had put in place. Which latter fact did not deter China and Korea from using them as an excuse to attempt to invade Japan twice. Really large armies, Japan getting ready for the worst, and the typhoons hit. "Winds of the gods, again."

If you are wondering why the Japanese were so militant, you have to realize that they were on the receiving side, as well. Mongols and Koreans, then Chinese and Koreans. Sometimes you wonder how anyone in the far east ever had time to grow food.)

One Korean fisher who got blown off-course and went to ground on the Liancourt Rocks during the 1800s (if I recall correctly), then ended up somehow effectively captured by some Japanese, asserted that the Liancourt Rocks were Korean since a long time ago, and obtained unofficial recognition of his claim from some Japanese officials who weren't really sure what was being claimed. (It sounds like he got punished for it back home, too, but the suspended sentence was apparently meant to be a reward of sorts. Strange politics in Korea in the late 1800s.)

The one thing that is sure is that they were effectively uninhabited, and had been for a long time, when Japan was fighting the Russians in the late 1800s. Japan used the islets in some of their military activities in that war. After the war, when Japan was claiming Korea as a subject state, Japan decided it would be wise to annex the islands, and made claims to that effect.

Either the Koreans did not dispute the claims, or they did not feel they could at the time. (The emperor in exile apparently did, however, dispute the claims. And the de-facto government also disputed the claims eventually.)

By the way, many people in the far east view the Japanese involvement in World War II as simply an extension of the Japanese (supposed?) expansionism that the war with Russia was part of. That might help explain the distrust that remains in the air.

(All these wars. If you help someone attack someone else, why are you surprised when they attack back?)

So, when the boundaries were restored to pre-war boundaries by the treaties that ended WWII, Korea was hoping that pre-war meant a bit earlier in history than most westerners would consider.

Dokdo was restored to Korea in the first several drafts of the treaty ending the war in the far east, but not in the treaty which the combatants ultimately signed. (Korea was not a signing country.)

I think Judge Cookson's suggestion should be openly considered. (She was the judge that dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Korean against a Japanese elementary school in New Jersey for using a textbook that taught that Takeshima is Japanese territory.)

One island each.

But then what? The islands are not really inhabitable without support costs that well exceed the real return value, if this thing ever were to get settled.

I don't think it's a good solution, but it should be floated because the whole flap is not about islands.

(Just like with the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. -- Had the devil of a time getting that link in Google maps. One island is blacked out in the satellite view. US Military? -- Oh, Sakhalin, too.)

It's all about the resources in the ocean. Which really should be shared by all the neighboring countries. Otherwise, there will be more wars.

(No links because you should look the facts up yourself. And don't just stop at wikipedia, because it has been thrashed back and forth by editors on both sides. It is presently a little too Korean-biased, in my thinking. Who knows about tomorrow? Anyway, if you don't read it for yourself, you won't understand how things could be open to so many different interpretations.)

Monday, August 13, 2012


Reading Groklaw when I should have been working, saw another criticism of Myhrvold's VP of Global Good thingy mentioned.

(Has the guy never watched any of those mad scientist B movies where the evil genius dies ranting about how he was only trying to save the world from itself? Oh! the irony.)

I have a cold. My head is stuffed with sinus fluids and old songs. Couldn't resist a riff:

Take a step back out and look in,

It's all about control.

Everybody wants to rule the world.

(I guess if I'm going to the trouble of repeating the riff here, I ought to expand it a bit, but I have work to finish by noon if I can. But, the irony. The irony! Don't these guys ever look in the mirror and ask themselves what on earth they were thinking of?)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

cram the cram

My daughter is studying her English homework from the juku. She should be going to visit her grandmother, but she has all this homework from the juku.


I did not want her to go to juku. This is her mother's idea. My wife says it's my daughter's idea, but I don't think so.


Well, okay, it's possible she got the idea at school from her friends.



Here's why I did not want her to go to juku:
rote, rote, rote, rote, rote, rote, tore, reto, oret, roet, otre, oter, roet
400 English vocabulary words that she is supposed to cram into her head over summer.


That's why they call it cram school, right?

そういう訳で塾は「クラムスクール」 とよばれる。な。

No time to think, just write, write, write until it becomes automatic(ally wrong). And then get after the poor kid for the mistakes.


Don't argue with me. I've seen perfectly good students destroy their interest in studying with this kind of attack. I've had to pick up the pieces so many times.


Well, picking up the pieces is part of a teacher's job, so that's not a big deal. Except there are the outlier students that then spend the rest of their junior high school experience fighting the teachers. Maybe, in the third year, before entrance exams for high-school, they come around. But then it's more rebellion in high school, usually.


The explosions, shattering, depression, self-injury, etc., will happen plenty enough, even without the useless rote. This is, after all, junior high school.


Fortunately, I haven't had to witness a suicide attempt (yet). I've got a good school where I teach, the teachers are trained at picking up the pieces and at softening the damage.


My own kids are not so fortunate. And it's somehow harder to pick up the pieces at home, in your own family. But this is part of a parent's job, too. (The final follow-up has always been the parents' job.)


Now, I have seen teachers tell the kids how to do the rote work right. Say, for example, take about twenty words at a time, take a week or more. First time, write the Japanese meaning once, then write the English word or phrase two to four times in the practice notebook on the first day. Do the first time in class, in fact.



For homework, take five minutes a day to run through the list, once each. Not ten times, not five times, once each per day. Then practice other stuff from that week's lesson, stuff from the text that uses the vocabulary.


A little repetition, mixed with working on the meaning, and you work from there on the stuff that doesn't stick.


Of course, some kids will try to do it all at once, so they can get it over with and go play. That's okay. There are, in fact, a few outliers in a different direction, for whom twenty times each all at once works sort of okay. Maybe, for that student, better than the slow, but sure pace. That time around.


But the cram school leaves no time for modifying the approach for individual students' needs.


No time stop for meaning.


No time to think about other ways to use the words.


No time to tie the words in with what they already know.


No time to correct mistakes.


No time to get it right.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

To iPad or not to iPad. (I do not iPad.)

There was a time when I wanted an iPad. I think I'd have been willing to put up with the quirks (and get a bluetooth keyboard) if I had had the money.


I do not want an iPad today.

今日は iPad が欲しくありません。

I did not want an Intel Mac. I'd have bought an AMD Mac, if Apple had made one. (I know you can build an AMD box with certain hardware and, with some effort, get Mac OS X running on it, but I'd have bought one built by Apple.)

インテル系のマックは欲しくなかった。 AMD の CPU が入っていたマックを、アップル社が発売してくれたら、買ったと思います。(ハード関連を工夫して AMD CPU の自作パソコン上 Mac OS X が稼働可能だと、知っていますが、買うならアップル製の機械を買ったでしょう。)

One reason I was interested in the iPhone and iPad was that the processor was not Intel. (I've written about the reasons elsewhere.) Oh, it's not just not Intel -- I find the ARM processors interesting in a lot of ways.

iPhone と iPad の関心を引っ張る所の一つは、 CPU はインテル製ではなかったことです。(どこかでその理由を説いたことがあります。)まあ、インテルのことだけではない。 ARM の CPU は結構おもしろい。

But no more.


When Steve was alive and healthy, he knew how and when to put limits on the reality distortion field that is marketing. He understood social engineering, its uses, and its place, and its limits. He knew when to stop.




I disagreed with him and Apple on their decision to completely drop the PowerPC processor, even though I'm not a huge fan of those CPUs. Darwin, the OS, was mostly CPU-agnostic, and, except for the biases of a few very vocal wannabee geeks with connections to a lot of marketing departments, there was every reason Apple should have kept PowerPC products in its line. It's called broadening the technology base. Careful packaging and marketing could avoid the potential confusion between x86 and PPC products, and the nay-sayers who don't understand compilers and CPUs would have finally shut up when they saw the reality behind Intel's claims of superiority. (It's still a wash in real applications, some faster, some slower, and that's just fine.)

ジョブズ氏とアップル社の PowerPC を完全に止めた決定については(パワーアーキテクチャーの大ファンでもないのに)全然納得が付きません。操作体系の Darwin OS には CPU 主義なんてなかったはず。各社の営業部に何らかの関係を持ったオタク擬の何人かの在中をおいて、 PowerPC 商品を作りつづける理由が多かったのです。つまり、技術基盤を広げて力を固まることです。パッケージングや営業に力を入れたら、市場の x86 商品と PPC 商品の間の混乱を防げることは可能ですし、コンパイラーと CPU の関係を良く理解していない、嫌々言う連中は、インテルの優位の主張についての実際の結果を見たら、やっと大人しくなったでしょう。(今でも、実際応用に行くと、ものによっては速い、ものによっては遅い、確実の優位状況がないのです。そんな問題じゃありません。)

And the competition between CPU vendors, even though IBM and Freescale would not be putting near the effort in as Intel, would have been good for the general state of the tech.

IBM も Freescale もインテルほど熱意になって競争に入らなくても、 CPU 売り手の競争は、業界に良い影響を持つでしょう。

Now that he is gone, it seems Apple has no self-restraint in their social engineering efforts. (Which was the sin of Microsoft. Oh. And the sin of Intel, and the reason I really don't like being forced to buy Intel processors.)

ジョブズ氏はもういない現在は、アップル社の社交工学規格に自制の気配がない。それは毎苦労ソフトの罪であり、インテルの罪でもある。また、インテルの CPU を買わされたくない理由でもある。

You can't patent cachet.


And, when credibility goes out the door, cachet tends to leave with it.


Anyway. No. iPad no more.

さて。断る。iPad を。

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Too late to complain: The performance of Intel's Atom


[update 2015.07.22: I think I'll finish translating this. もう、訳しちゃおうか。]

Well, one meaningless post deserves another.


Somewhere, I've written about bc and the joys of calculating pi to lots of digits on your own computer.

どこかでbc と、自分のコンピュータで π を、沢山の桁数まで算出する喜びについて書いたことがある。

(What is bc you say? You don't say. Well, bc is this handy-dandy command-line basic calculator utility that comes free with most Unix, Gnu/Linux, BSD, and related OSses. Android and iOS are unfortunate exceptions, although it shouldn't be that hard to add.)

(ええっっ、 bc ってなんだ?って聞かれるのですか?言わんか。まあ、 bc というものは便利に便利な命令型、基礎的な計算機道具です。およそのユニックス、 GNU/Linux 及び BSD 系のOSに、タダで添え付けてくれるのです。アンドロイドや iOS は残念ながらの例外です。取り付けるのはそれほど難しくあるはずないのに。)

(Gag. How did this go live? I don't have time to finish the Japanese, and I didn't want to post without a mention of Intel's plans to own the pipes. Erk. Cough. Splatter. I'm getting too old to keep up. And stupid Google can't decide what "edit" means.)

[update 2015.07.22:

So, here is the command line that starts a timed session of bc with the commands to calculate 1/4 pi to 4000 places:

[update 2015.07.22:
では、πの四分の一を4千桁まで計算する命令を持って、bc との対話を開始し、その経過時間を測る命令は次の通りです。]

time echo "scale=4000;a(1)" | bc -l
Here are the resulting times for three of the computers I own:

[update 2015.07.22:

1.25 GHz PowerPC G4 (1.2) Bus speed 167 MHz
real 0m55.246s
user 0m53.573s
sys  0m0.180s

CPU0: Intel(R) Atom(TM) CPU N455   @ 1.66GHz stepping 0a
real    0m55.324s
user    0m55.210s
sys    0m0.003s
CPU0: AMD Sempron(tm)   2600+ stepping 01
Detected 1832.806 MHz processor.
real    0m34.198s
user    0m34.022s
sys    0m0.004s

Yeah, the Sempron uses a bit more power than the Atom, more than double, I think. But it's about five years older. The G4 is how many years older than the Sempron? Uses about the same power curve as the Atom, judging from the netbook's battery life. Smaller battery than the iBook's, half the running time between charges.

[update 2015.07.22:
そうです。センプロンのCPUの消費電力はアトムのCPUより大きいです。倍以上大きい。ただ、このアトムよりは五年古い。この G4のCPUはセンプロンよりは何年古いでしょう?アトムと大体同じ消費電力の仕様に思われるのは電池がiBookの電池より小さく、充電寿命がその半分です。]

Steve Jobs, over there where you are now, tell me: Just what did you mean about Intel's road map? Why did you sell your soul to the other half of Leviathan? Is this what you bought?

[update 2015.07.22:

What to do about UEFI?

Woke up in a minor panic this morning.

If I don't tell the world about the inherent vulnerabilities in UEFI, the world will fall apart!

Yeah, I have these attacks, sometimes -- the "clarity" of the dreaming mind. I suppose I should post a rant about that clarity sometime. But I have three posts in suspended animation, and I really have two other, paying, jobs that I should be putting first, especially if I'm going to be working on Sunday.

(I'll pretend this is service instead of work. ;-) (erk. No, that's not really a valid defense, either. If I'm wrong here, I'm wrong.)

After the morning chores, I still feel inclined to post this, so I'll post the short version here, and (probably after I finish a translation job I've been letting slide too long) unpack it later on my defining computers blog.

So, some primary inherent vulnerabilities in UEFI, at least, as Microsoft is pushing it for MSW8:

  • Microsoft owns the keys to your computer (including MSWindows "smart phones").
Think about that. Would you be comfortable with GM owning the keys to your car? I'm going to leave a lot of questions begging on that one, because that question should be enough to get you thinking.

  • You cannot re-tool the keys to your computer without breaking the "license" Microsoft issues for your computer running their OS, starting from MSWindows 8.
So, if you decide you don't want Microsoft to own your computer, and install your own keys in precedence over Microsoft keys, you cannot legally run MSWindows 8 OS stuff. On ARM processors, you aren't even supposed to be physically able to re-tool the keys at all. Maybe you think you don't mind now, but if you ever change your mind, you can't to anything about it without "breaking the law". (See DMCA for how bad that is in the US.)

  •  Microsoft's master key works on everyone's computer, as I understand it.
So, let's use the automotive analogy again: GM would have the master key to your car. And it would be the same key for every car made by GM. (Not a perfect analogy, but when you get into the details, it's close enough.) Are you comfortable with the idea that anyone who can duplicate or reverse-engineer that master key could now drive away with your car?

More to the point, are you comfortable with the fact that someone could duplicate or reverse-engineer the Microsoft key and, without any notice to you, put a trojan horse, password logger, and all sorts of other evil stuff on your computer. Your bank information, your job information, your private letters, whatever -- all easy pickings.

  • The manufacturers all have master keys, and, as far as I know, those keys are the same for all the computers they manufacture.
So, not just Microsoft, but (for example) DELL also has a master key for your DELL manufactured PC or computer device. It's not the same as the one Microsoft has, but it is a master key, and, as far as I know, there is only one key for all the computers DELL makes. At any rate, it's not one key per computer. Likewise, Lenovo, etc.

  • You are out of the loop. No master key for you. Microsoft and your manufacturer have their own master keys and those take precedence over any master key you can set -- at least any you can set without breaking Microsoft's contracts. And, in the case of ARM-based portable MSWindows devices, any you can set without reverse engineering, which would also put you in breach of the DMCA law in the US.
Fundamentally flawed. Fatally so. What else do you expect from Microsoft and Intel?

Note, that, while Microsoft's and Intel's power games kill your security and create other problems, they also make it much more difficult to run community-developed OSses like Ubuntu or RedHat Enterprise. And they may may make it impossible to legally run them on the same machine you run MSWindows junk on.

Of course, you really have no reason to run MSW8, because all the stuff that keeps you in the MSWindows universe runs on MSW2k, but not on MSW8. Which leads to the proper solution:

  1. Keep your old machines that you have to run the legacy stuff on.
  2. Keep them off the network, or in isolated segments.
  3. Don't let anyone use those old machines as workstations.
  4. In fact, don't let anyone touch them, except to use the legacy programs.
  5. Move all your day-to-day-use workstations to RedHat, Cent, Ubuntu, Mint, FreeBSD, openBSD, etc., now.
  6. Don't buy MSW8. 
  7. Don't buy any software or hardware that is dependent on MSWindows 8.
That solves the Microsoft problem, although it doesn't solve the Intel problem.

Nor does it solve the problem of write-protecting your BIOS in a meaningful way.

But it lets you keep operating for now.

There is much more to be said on this, hopefully I'll get a chance to do so before summer ends.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

selective peeve

Mormons aren't supposed to have pet peeves.


God's truth is huge, broad, covers a lot of territory. (Everything is quite a lot.) Getting hung up on a few little things is a good way to quit moving forward. More important, peeves are about people's foibles, and looking at someone else's sins, especially the little ones, tend to make us blind to our own.


So, this may be indulging in a minor sin, but I get hung up on the word "selective."
"Selective" courses at school.
"Selective" medical examinations.
I know there is a bit of ambiguity in the dictionaries, and the speaker always trumps the dictionary anyway. But it also makes sense to understand what other people who use the word intend.



For a native speaker, well, for this native speaker, "selective" tends to be a synonym for the adjectival use of "select". But, more than that, it tends to describe processes of discrimination, as in the non-pejorative sense of "discriminating taste". Or it tends to refer to the exercise of discriminating taste. A person who is selective, for instance, might tolerate Perrier from a bottle, but would prefer something a bit less commercial.

母語とする人にとっては、まあ、とりあえず、英語を母国語として喋っているこの人にとっては、「selective」とは「選択する」の「select」の形容詞用法の同義語に使っている傾向が多いと思います。よりも、識別の作用について説明する言葉です。「Discriminate」といえば、「差別」ではなく、「discriminating taste」の「見分ける味覚」のような意味を呼び起こすのです。つまり、自分の意志を持って、ものをよく「選ぶ」ような習慣を描写する言葉です。たとえば、「selective」な人なら、ボトルから流れて出るペリエーを我慢できるが、むしろ、商用的なミネラルウォーターでないものの方を好むのでしょう。

Generally, the word intended is "elective".


Hmm. Look at the amount of time and web-paper I wasted on that, when I could have just said,
If you're thinking of using the word, "selective", try "elective" first and see how that fits.
 まあ。以上は時間とウェブ紙の無駄遣いかな? たとえ、