Being a fanboy is no excuse

Reading through some news recently and I found this article by TUAW proclaiming that “OSX and iOS are not jails”. Now, this is indeed on The Unofficial Apple Weblog we’re talking about here so a bit of fanboyism is certainly to be expected -and I’m a fan too after all-, but this one really got under my skin. The author not only completely misunderstands the concept, but goes well out of his way to use logical fallacy to attempt to justify himself.

I understand the whole “I was in the navy, the closest thing to Jail that you can get” concept. Yes, you were in a situation with highly restricted freedom, and couldn’t leave. You volunteered for that though, knowing what it meant. I’m afraid I just don’t see any good parallels. Pure sensationalism.
The car analogy though, that one has some meat on it! I don’t buy the argument that the fact that the Toyota is better because you don’t know how to do anything to it, and the Impala was worse because you could tinker. Sure, you may like the Toyota, but how are you going to feel when there’s only one mechanic in town who has the special tools required to work on it, and he charges 10 times more per hour than anyone else? That’s the inevitable conclusion of the world you’re claiming you’d prefer to live in. Did you think it through that far?

This is also where the entire argument of “I just want it to work” falls flat on it’s face. Looking at this and saying “clearly the act of making cars more difficult to work on improves them” is an ignorant oversimplification of the issue, yet that’s exactly what people are willing to do in the software world. It’s easy to imagine that complexity equals simplicity, but rarely is that truly the case. The UNIX philosophy shows us that a bunch of small components that do one thing well working together can create incredibly powerful systems. It may be true that it takes a genius to understand the simplicity of UNIX, but I find that more likely caused by the fact that the focus was never placed on increasing understanding for average users. That’s another rant however.
Is it really that hard to imagine a situation where your car was made out of simple components that were easily manufactured and user-replaceable? No doubt designing such systems is far more complex, but it’s certainly not impossible. Computer systems or cars, “I just want it to work” is not the opposite of “I want to be able to tweak it on my own”, they aren’t separate points on a spectrum, please stop pretending that they’re mutually exclusive.

There is one idea put forth that I do sort of? agree with though: Living in a modern society means trading some of your freedoms in for the conveniences and protections of the society. Yes, you pay your taxes in exchange for a police force that presumably keeps your neighborhood from becoming a war zone. So it goes with the “jail”. You’re paying your tax to Apple in order to get protection from things that inconvenience you, like malware, viruses, and poor battery life. And to some users this is going to be worth it. My grandmother (Sorry Oma!) is the perfect user for an iPad, and she certainly is greatly benefited by the protections offered. While it’s true that she will never personally miss the freedoms sacrificed, she also won’t benefit from any potential gains made by the larger community.

I fundamentally don’t believe that these protections are exclusive to the walled garden, for the same reason that I don’t believe that a Orwellian government is the only way to prevent crime. In fact, the idea that a computer system can be “curated” and yet still fully open isn’t even difficult to imagine, it already exists! Look at the Debian/Ubuntu model. The operating system and core packages are curated and confirmed to be good. You’re certainly welcome to go off the beaten path and do whatever you like from there, but you can easily and happily stick to what’s recommend if you’re not the adventurous sort. This is exactly opposite of Apple’s approach. “Thou shalt not, unless we tell you to” is the jail you’re living in, and for no particularly good reason other than that they want you to.

I don’t mind saying “If you don’t like it, just leave”. That’s fair. Let’s try to be intellectually honest about what the bigger picture is though. I would draw a parallel to saying “If you want to be safe then you’ll have to get naked at the airport”. It’s simply not true when you consider the full picture, and while you the user are certainly free to take the train/bus rather than the plane, is that really the world you want to be living in?

Ending the latest tryst

My dalliance with the latest social networking fad, Google+, has come to and end even faster than normal and ended with me deleting my account on what currently seems to be another useless service.

I just haven’t found out what these services are good for yet, and google’s offering further confuses things by being a number if different offerings that are apparently related? I ended up deleting google+ because I was trying to delete buzz, which appears to be completely unrelated, right up until you try and delete it? Google reader, buzz, google+, and “+1” all appear to be completely unrelated services doing things that don’t really have value unless they work together. +1 should note an item in reader, which should let me choose which circles I want to share it with.

Another minor point about google+ was the fact that I would have the app open in firefox, I’d even have it as the front window, and something new would happen. The browser would update, I would get a push notification, I got an email, and I got the little “new unread items” badge in the open tabs for both gmail and google reader. That’s a lot of notifications. And do you think that marking any one of them as read would mark all of them as read? That would be nice wouldn’t it. I think I’ll stick with my IMAP email, at least I only have to deal with notifications once.

And for the love of almighty Zeus would you please bring back the brilliant “reply in-line to a subset of users” feature from Wave? Circles doesn’t even really help because if I post it to all my circles when someone from one of my circles replies I don’t necessarily want everyone from all my circles being introduced to each other, it sort of defeats the point?

So, aside from complete lack of integration and being unable to understand which bits do what, why did I leave? Because it doesn’t help me talk to you. Utterly useless at it. The noise level is just far too high. Everyone is talking but nobody is listening.? (Believe me, I’m aware of the irony of posting this on my “blog”. Heh. That’s another story though.)
So for now, I’m back to being found here on my website and via email. (You can also see what I find interesting on Google Reader)

Been living simply…

This morning I was given an hour to pack up all my stuff and move out of the hotel room I’ve been in for 4 months.

I got it done in 20 minutes. That feels great. My entire life in a duffle bag and a backpack. I want to live like this all the time. Right now I feel like I could go anywhere, just pick up my bag and hike off in a direction. This feeling could get addictive.

Could it really be like this? What would it take to live with no more? possessions? than what you could carry with you. Would that be doable? It might be fun to try!

The parable of the boat builder…

Once upon a time there was a man who loved to build boats. Building boats takes a lot of space, and his apartment just wasn’t big enough. He went to a local warehouse and asked if he could rent some space to build a boat. They worked out an agreement. He would build boats and sell them to the burgeoning local sailing industry, and in exchange for 30% of the profit from the sales the warehouse would let him use the space for free during construction.

“One small caveat” said the warehouse owner, “we have final say on the distribution of your boats. We may suggest certain changes we think will help their marketability.”

The man agreed. Surely allowing some oversight would be no problem whatsover. He knew the local market, and he knew his boats would sell! He began drawing the designs that very day.

The man worked 12 hours a day for two weeks! Over 150 hours of work later he had the plans for the first boat. He went to the warehouse and began to lay the forms for the keel. As he was laying the forms one of the warehouse managers came by and looked at his plans.

“Looks great!” said the manager, “However I thought we were getting a sailboat, and this appears to be a small yacht! Our company has recently decided that we want to be ecologically sound, so we can’t really support powered boats. Redesign it as a sailboat and then you can start building it.”

The boat builder agreed, but he began to think that perhaps this oversight agreement may not be as simple as he thought. Throwing away his last two weeks of effort he began again, this time designing an eco-friendly sailboat.

Two weeks later, plans for the sailboat in hand, the boat builder once again began construction. He worked uninterrupted for 2 months, day in and day out, until after over 700 hours of hard labor he finally had his boat completed. It was a beautiful solid wood boat in natural hardwood color, with natural white cloth sails. After admiring his handiwork he went to tell the warehouse managers to have them begin looking for a buyer.

The warehouse managers looked at his boat and seemed suitably impressed. After a few moments though one of them spoke up. “It’s quite a beautiful boat, no doubt about it. In the last month however, we’ve decided to try to sell carbon-fiber racing boats, and we want people to think of these boats when they think of sailing! So before we try selling this boat you need to paint it bright red and change the sail for blue nylon. That should make it acceptable to the current market!”

The boat builder was astounded! A classic wooden boat with natural cloth sails and they wanted to make it look like plastic! He would have none of it, and he told this to the owners in no uncertain terms! The warehouse owners were firm though. Carbon-fiber racing boats were what people should be using, they said, and if he didn’t comply then they were not going to be able to sell his boat. The boat builder said that he was fine with that, and he would just take his boat and leave.

“Not so fast”, one of the owners responded, “you’ve been using our space without paying rent, and we’re due a portion of the value with the boat. If you don’t change it the way we want and sell it, then you can’t take it anywhere. There is no third option, this is our warehouse, and partly our boat.”

The boat builder agreed, there was nothing he could do. The owners went away and the boat builder sat and looked at his boat for a time. Then he went to his boat, puled out his lighter, lit the corner of sail, and walked from the building and never returned.

Where do you draw the line? ? Where should you? And what about the boating consumers and their ability to choose when the market is this controlled?

If you haven’t guessed, I’m not really for walled gardens, no matter how well decorated they are.

On data ownership…

Something I’ve been working on in my programming projects recently is ways to allow users to use their data from outside my service, and to take the data they have in services I create elsewhere.
In the new era portability is king. If you don’t allow users to use their data how they want, your service is utterly useless and doomed to failure.

Whoa there, you say, them’s some big bold words! If it sounds like I’m including the large portion of current generation products people are familiar with as the target of my wrath, you’re right on the money. Let’s take a look at a recent real life example, MobileMe.

MobileMe offers some excellent syncing tools for those of us with Macs and iPhones. Over-the-air (push!) syncing of contacts and calendars is a great tool, especially for those of us with a desktop, a laptop, an iPhone, and an iPod Touch all trying to stay perfectly in sync. However that’s exactly where the scope of the tool ends. Want to share contacts/calendars with someone else as “joint ownership”? Screwed! Can’t do it. So MobileMe loses one user/evangelist to Google, where I can choose to allow another user to collaboratively edit my calendar. MobileMe ends up in the trash heap because the data I give it can only be used in the ways that MobileMe wants me to use it, and I have different ideas.
Google also frustrates me though because I would very much like to set up a group of shared contacts between Bev and my accounts so we could maintain contact synchronization, but that’s not supported through them either. I have a huge store of data, and I can’t even grant another user ACCESS to it. This is full of fail.

Obviously one of the core problem with this is common language. There has to be a standard protocol that is used for each type of data in order for sharing to really work. For inter-service data (like sharing contacts with another user of the same system) there really is no excuse however.

There is another form of data usage to consider beyond just sharing. A good example of the type of thing I’m thinking of is WebHooks, but I’m not completely convinced on their implementation.
A current example of the concept would be posting? to an online forum that lets you “follow” the thread. When you post you can check the box for “email me when someone replies”. Now whenever someone posts something you get a notification. WebHooks is like that, except instead of providing a simple email notification it allows you to provide a URL and a notification is posted to that URL. The notification contains whetever data the application designer wants it to. This may seem like a power-user feature, but once the concept is widely accepted it allows you to let websites (and the datasets they contain) to interact with each other in fabulous new ways.

This starts with us, the application designers. And this is why I’m so hot and bothered about the idea. If I don’t design my own applications to allow the sort of data interactions that I want from other websites I use. Once again though, the problem is standards. How do you output the data? Do you create your own refspec for the specific website/application? Where do you draw the lines?

Once again, the problem is standards. There’s no reason why any user should have both MobileMe contacts and google contacts. Ideally either service should allow the user to use, not just “import”, contacts from the other.

We’re not there yet, and I understand how people scoff at this idea, but I’ll say it again. Data portability and access is king. If you don’t let your users get to the data they’ve entrusted to you and use it in the ways that they want to use it, they’re going to abandon you.

Conservatives and the Golden Rule(s). What’s the deal?!

It seems to me that there are two golden rules that are in direct conflict with each other, and I’m not sure how conservatives reconcile it.

Rule 1) “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”
Rule 2) “He who has the gold makes the rules”

The real question is, why do “conservative” and “Christian” show up next to each other? They should be mutually exclusive! Conservative philosophy teaches that you should take care of yourself and that money is the only force capable of incentivizing people to act other than in their own best interests, and amassing piles of it is the proper approach to life. Christian philosophy teaches that “the love of money is the root of all evil”, and that you should be nice to people because it’s the right thing to do.

How do these people resolve these two things?! I would very much like someone to explain to me how these two philosophies are anything other than mutually exclusive. They are matter and anti-matter, they should not be able to exist together. I can’t figure it out.

A thought on Morality and Justice

Watching an interesting documentary about the european sex slave “industry”. Apparently in Turkey if a girl escapes from her pimp and gets to the police she’s got a pretty decent chance of having the police return her to her pimp. The life these girls are subjected to is horrible, and the apparently a blind eye is turned in large portions of the world.

In very many cases the pimps who are perpetrating these are very clear cut, very easily identified, and there is no possible question of their intentional commission of unquestionably evil acts. Kidnapping, slavery, abuse, sexual exploitation, are these gray areas in any possible way? When someone who has kidnapped hundreds of people is not even pursued by the police, and another is given 5-years probation, is there any question that something must be done?

Hypothetical situation: A large security firm, or even nation, decides to take care of the issue and sends in teams to black-bag these unquestionably guilty people. (Leave them dead on the floor, or “extradite” them to a prison somewhere for the rest of their lives, take your pick.)

Clearly this violates the right of the host nation, which could be an act of war, which which is bad. Ignore that part. Maybe the nation never finds out.

Is it moral?

If a dog was running loose through a neighborhood biting people it would be put to sleep. Why should not we extend the same courtesy to humans who follow the same pattern of behavior? Could removal of such clear and present threats actually be a sign of a truly civilized society, interested in the well-being of all?

I would like to think on this further. If you have any suggested reading material or resources please leave a comment. There must be some wise philosophers who have muddled around this issue at some point.

Warehouse 13. Welcome to the stupid zone…

We just watched the first episode of a new (?) “SyFy” show called Warehouse 13. Let me tell you what it is: Men in Black meets Eureka meets X-Files. With everything interesting from any of them taken out, a horrible special effects team (Look, when I *SAW* the green on the green screen you need to get a new job buddy), and writers who, based on their apparent belief that they’ve invented something new that nobody has ever done before,? may have just graduated 8th grade.

Beef #1: I don’t even NEED to watch the rest. I’ve seen it. After seeing this one episode I predict the following things will happen within the first few episodes: (I’m not including all the incredibly obvious “something bad happened in his past? HIS DAD DIED YOU MORONS” moments in the pilot.)

  • One of the team gets kidnapped. This causes team bonding all around and further cement the team’s new assignments.
  • Security issues. Someone sneaking around inside the warehouse, probably stealing stuff. It will likely be revealed later that they are exporting these artifacts as weapons, possibly to a competing government agency with some sort of cryptic (yet clearly nefarious) acronym for a name.
  • We will encounter an artifact causing people to behave scandalously. Sex sells, and we’ve gotta get it in soon! This being a scifi (oops! “SyFy”) show “scandalously” of course will mean perhaps a bit of heavy breathing, possibly someone in a shortish skirt. C’Mon, when the alien artifacts make your brain lean toward the pleasure center you get naked and have an orgy in town square until nobody can move a muscle. Nobody ever takes these artifacts seriously enough I say.
  • MOST likely, someone on the team will get into trouble somehow, once again causing lots of nice team bonding as everyone goes around trying to prove that their new best friend isn’t actually involved with nefarious-acronym agency stealing stuff. This is actually a re-hash of the kidnapping episode cleverly disguised. Sadly for the writing staff it’s an adaptation of the same script so they didn’t actually get paid for this one.

Beef #2: Is it really THAT hard to try and be a little original with your science/tech? My pal Big Frankie C commented on a recent post:

My beef is that writers always complain about how hard their job is, and it is a hard job, but they are very very lazy. Real science is every bit as entertaining as junk science, and is just a easy to film. The only place it is harder, is in the writing. If you’re writing a script, all you have to do is find a scientist (the internet works pretty good here) and you can get all the free advice you need.

I can’t even add to that. I KNOW your show is about paranormal, but can we perhaps just once try just one tiny little bit to have something plausible and/or possibly related to paranormal things in ways that we agree are not understood? Don’t use phrases like “pandora’s box” if you don’t want to look stupid okay? ONE well timed placement of the phrase “quantum entanglement” and I might be happy. Toss in a cat joke or two and heypresto, satisfaction. Pots that produce ferrets when you wish for something “impossible” bother me. If it grants wishes how can it be “impossible”? Hmmm? Schrodinger’s ferret? W.T.F?

In short: everyone involved with this show please quit your job and come become a homeless person here in portland for a year or so. Get some life experience, maybe a little perspective on the world. Stop pushing useless poorly created tripe on a public that very desperately needs a little bit of intelligence and original thought.

Look for my review of the movie “Moon” coming soon. I’ll give you a hint: it’ll be exactly the polar opposite attitude.

The next question, or: Robinson and Sturgeon! How could you go wrong?

The latest episode of Spider Robinson’s podcast (Spider on the Web) is a reading of Theodore Sturgeon’s story “Slow Sculpture”.

I really don’t know what to say about it, so I shall ramble. If I were ever to be half so wise as either of these men I would be happy.
It’s possible that I like it because I can easily identify with the main character . It’s also possible that I like it because it’s a very good story, told by a very good narrator. (And author of his own right.) It won the Hugo and the Nebula both, so that’s saying something!

Go listen. I’ll wait!

While you were listening we watched a show about the life and times of various medieval castes. It’s interesting how much people in those times argued and discussed issues, thought about big things. Minstrels as political rabble-rousers keeping people informed of the news is kind of fun. Interesting how involved the average person was though. This is somewhat relevant actually, so let’s get back to the story!

One of the things I love about this era of SciFi is the way they take the things that are happening (or will happen) and present them in a way that makes you question the world. Good stories should make you think about something and relate what you’ve just learned to your real world. You should be able to identify with the characters, understand the issues facing them, and bring something back to your real world.
How often do you get that on CSI eh?

Earlier today I was listening to some podcasts. The latest episode of Skeptoid and there were some ideas about why TV/Movie entertainment contains so much bad science. I agree with Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning. People just want to be entertained, and the people making the decisions about the entertaining are the ones who choose to allow thoughtless bad-science-filled tripe to become the order of the day. Don’t you think stories like Slow Sculpture are entertaining and interesting? Couldn’t we have stories like that as entertainment? I’m thinking of movies like Watchmen here, movies that actually may have some opportunity to make you think critically and analyze what you’re seeing.

Maybe I’m bitter and cynical, but it seems to me that people have no interest in what Sturgeon termed “Asking the next question”. Spider speaks on this issue often, including his indictment of humanities desire to return to space that you heard in this episode. (I highly recommend some of his other works on the topic. Look back through his podcast feed to the early episodes.) Why is it that people aren’t interested in things like returning to the moon? I would posit that it’s tied to the “just wanting to be entertained” issue. I shall try to write more eloquently on the subject someday.

Do you know that there was a monk (Eilmer of Malmesbury) who built himself wings, 900 years before the next manned flight? He flew 200 yards, and broke both his legs. But he said “It needs a tail!” and wanted to try again. Apparently his abbot forbade it. But he had it right! I find that amazing!

Ask the Next Question!

On the failure of tweets, RE: “TXTing”

One of the core failures of Twitter is that it’s based around a flawed idea. Text Messages. 140 characters. Shorten everything and use slang. Sure it’s become cute to try and manage your communications in 140 character bursts, but WHY? Holy flaming fig trees, it’s just not needed! I mean,? you may as well base your internet service around telegrams sent via morse code. The text message is an outdated idea, well past it’s prime. It may serve some historical purpose, much like Morse Code still does, but it is irrelevant to the future. Would twitter be as fun if you had to use all upper case, couldn’t use punctuation or non-alphanumeric characters, and had to say “STOP” at the end of each thought?
“TODAY WORK SUCKED STOP SOMEONE ATE MY LUNCH STOP HASHTAG FML STOP” is lacking in so many ways… Locking your service to the rules of an outdated and useless medium just doesn’t seem smart!

What you say? “It’s used my billions of people across the world! How can it be outdated and useless?”
They use it because they can. Simple as that. The cell phone companies provide it, including it’s outdated limitations, because it’s what you’re used to and what they can charge for. Never mind that it would be trivial to replace every SMS client in new phones with a Jabber (XMPP) app and install Jabber->SMS gateways to support legacy systems. (Okay, maybe not “trivial”, but you certainly see my point..) XMPP is a FAR better protocol by any standard. The vast majority of phones released on the market today would easily support this sort of change, “smart” phones especially. (You could even transfer seamlessly from your mobile device, to your computer, and back to your mobile device, without ever missing a message!!!)

Quick history lesson, if you need it. SMS, the “Short Message Service” operates on the control channel of your cell phone. This is a special data channel your phone uses to keep in contact with the towers and is always operational. This allows your SMS messages to get through even in the most dire of coverage areas, and even when your phone is in use, but is also what “limits” it to the 140 (actually 160) characters. Yes, I will concede that these are useful things about SMS that do make it stand out somewhat. I still thing we can design our way around it’s limitations though. However, there is no incentive to do so because even new “web 2.0” companies (like Twitter) are observing the limits of SMS and working within them! There’s nobody out there saying “hey, could there maybe be a better way?”

But my hatred of corporate greed and tyranny isn’t my only reason here! My love of language and clear communication weighs in rather heavily!

I am extraordinarily tired of slang and shortened “can I buy a vowel please Pat” words being used where they’re utterly unnecessary. And SMS is almost completely to blame for this change.
Now I know I sound like your college English teacher, railing against the evils of today’s youth… However, I think we can all get behind the idea that anyone who shortens “email” to “eml” in a non-space-constrained forum (in this case, facebook post) is a raving git. It’s completely and utterly unnecessary and the gross misuse of these sorts of shortenings obfuscates countless messages every day! (And by perpetuating mythical 140 character limit, Twitter perpetuates the cycle of social decay..)

Perhaps I just can’t help myself. I like to understand what people are talking about, and I very much like it when they understand what I am talking about. English has enough screwed up about it as-is, no need to intentionally make it worse.

Also, stick it to the man. That cell phone company is overcharging you out the ASS for those 140 characters, for no reason other than they really really like taking your money. Don’t fight the future. Evolve or die.