Monday, December 27

Tim Bray makes good sense about Wikileaks.

Bruce Sterling's take: Also well worth a read.

Friday, December 24

Friday, December 17

Richard Stallman is kind of a pain in the ass, and he spends a lot of time being a bit too worked up about whether he and his movement are getting enough recognition. You could talk a lot of shit about Richard Stallman if you felt like it.

The problem with this is that Richard Stallman also spends a lot of time being right:

The internet cannot function if websites are frequently blocked by crowds, just as a city cannot function if its streets are constantly full by protesters. But before you advocate a crackdown on internet protests, consider what they are protesting: on the internet, users have no rights. As the WikiLeaks case has demonstrated, what we do online, we do on sufferance.

In the physical world, we have the right to print and sell books. Anyone trying to stop us would need to go to court. That right is weak in the UK (consider superinjunctions), but at least it exists. However, to set up a website we need the co-operation of a domain name company, an ISP, and often a hosting company, any of which can be pressured to cut us off. In the US, no law explicitly establishes this precarity. Rather, it is embodied in contracts that we have allowed those companies to establish as normal. It is as if we all lived in rented rooms and landlords could evict anyone at a moment's notice.

Reading, too, is done on sufferance. In the physical world, you can buy a book with cash, and you own it. You are free to give, lend or sell it to someone else. You are also free to keep it. However, in the virtual world, e-readers have digital handcuffs to stop you from giving, lending or selling a book, as well as licences forbidding that. Last year, Amazon used a back door in its e-reader to remotely delete thousands of copies of 1984, by George Orwell. The Ministry of Truth has been privatised.

The Anonymous WikiLeaks protests are a mass demo against control, The Guardian

Well worth a read, though as with almost everything else on the internet, you would do just as well to avoid the comments.

Saturday, December 11

and all history unfolds before you

It's 4am, and the country of sleep is a neighboring polity where the authorities have taken a strong dislike to my activities, revoking my visa and uttering vague menace in the press about the physical safety of my person.

There are people who drink who will sometimes say to you "I never get hangovers." These people are known, in the jargon, as "liars".

PHP is a programming language. Its problem domain is, more or less, the construction of web pages. I've spent the better part of three years making things happen in PHP.

I used to hate PHP with an indignant, sputtering passion. But of course, use will always change your relationship to a given tool: These days, I hate PHP with a kind of comfortable, almost friendly familiarity.

Certainly it's an ugly mess of a language, its haphazard thievery from better languages predicated more on whim than discrimination, and most of its gestures towards cleverness, subtlety, or sophistication rooted in small-but-fundamental misunderstandings. Still, it's practical enough, once you've made your peace with the jagged corners and broken ideas. Meanwhile, I am coming around to the age-old view that, above a certain baseline of utility, your real problems are social. Or perhaps one might even say spiritual.

In a certain kind of technological environment, you must first understand that everything is a hack. This alone will give you the courage to build other hacks which are sufficiently egregious — dirty enough in their very heart of hearts — to serve as a foundation for elegance.

Worse is not better. Worse is just your only real option.

It's now 4:37am. At 8:30, it is Inventory Day, and I am due at SparkFun to start counting small things in boxes.

I have never really settled for myself this question of whether, after dozens of people spend a day counting and/or typing, the numbers in the database which (theoretically) map to the quantity of widgets in the building are more or less accurate. I'm inclined to think that, at best, we may have reached an equilibrium of noise in the system. That is, with luck, the inevitable drift in some numbers is perhaps offset by the correction of others.

I imagine people have been wrestling with this basic problem since somewhat before the historical era. Come to that, I suppose there's an argument to be made that mathematics and written language emerged from efforts to solve it.

We are as gods compared to the primal hackers, feverishly scratching their marks in the dirt as the grain piled up. But at the end of the day somebody's still going to be standing around going "wait, are you sure we only have 57 of those? I could have sworn..."

Two important properties of measurement:

First, it's often better than guessing.

Second, it's often the same damn thing.

monday, december 6

it's hard to say where an end begins
but looking back down the months and years
you can't help drawing lines
looking around, you can't help wondering
where you'll draw them later on

when so and so got fired;
when they signed to a major label;
talking shop over coffee;
the first time you walked out the door on her anger;
that time in the car by the side of the road

it'd be easier to stop chewing on the past
if you thought you understood the present
but no matter — it only takes so many bridges
before you start to suspect they're all
made for burning

Sunday, December 5

recent notes

It is Sunday evening. I do laundry and transcribe some things from six months or so of notebooks.

the poetic impulse
the thing at the heart of it
is a tendency to be haunted by the past
(even a past of no consequence or distinction)
to dwell almost pathologically in the present
to be harassed and bedeviled
by this or that idea of the future

This industrial society is shot through with functions of elimination and reconstruction that rival biology for their necessity. Forget to gather the trash for a week and the clutter begins to stifle and oppress. Forget for a month and there's a good chance you've lost your mind. The cult of entropy has supplanted the cult of death.

But this isn't a cult. It's too routinized and casual an activity for even the emptiest and least numinous of creeds. It's just a grand system of habits and obvious choices. You can have any flavor you want, as long as it comes in shrinkwrap.

We can't stop the machinery and most of us wouldn't if we knew how. But the machinery is running hot, running noisy, wasting itself, wasting the world, leaking murder at the joints and transmuting every extractable resource into goods designed for landfills.

Philosophy majors are a goddamned pain in the ass.

Liquidity of value is always to a degree illusory.

One reason Christianity has so much staying power is that it contains a formula for externalizing the source of your acceptable desires and suppressing your innate ones. Or at least feeling bad about them. You're supposed to want what God wants. Whatever that is construed to be.

A bicycle is, from a biological standpoint, not much less probable than a bomb capable of levelling Hiroshima or a digital computer. Once you had pneumatic tires and gear ratios, it wasn't so far to the destroyer of worlds and Tim Berners-Lee.

Saturday, December 4

boid