• Being the Alpha Geek is a responsibility and a tradition that I've always hoped to pass on. For years it's looked like Melissa would be the one to take over. Especially after she switched from Little Scientist to Little Cracker by breaking into Tatiana's account on my computer. (For weeks they were both trying to social-engineer the root account password, too.)

    But it looks like Tatiana may be The One. (She has long shared my mathematical ability; I don't know why I didn't see it sooner.) Last night I taught her how to use the command line. She wanted to copy some of our music to her MP3 player, and asked how. I opened up a few file manager windows for her, then realized that I was missing an opportunity.

    So I explained that everything you do on the computer, even the mouse clicking, is just a stand-in for typing a command. I described it as "telling the computer what to do", and showed how it was faster than dragging a mouse around. I demonstrated tab completion. I showed her how the whole computer starts on / and expands from there. Before I knew it, I had gone past the basic commands she needed and demonstrated wildcards, case-sensitivity, environment variables, Unix single-click copy-and-paste and three different flavors of quoting.

    She took to it like a fish to water. She spent fifteen minutes playing around (nearly deleting some of my music, too) before I sent her to bed.

    I believe we have an Heir Apparent.


  • So, what good is a government that refuses even to state a position on international standards? That's right; they didn't want to decide what's best for the country, what's best for their constituents, or even what those who elected them want to hear. Instead, they just sat back and let industry buy a decision.

    In particular, we're talking about something that a lot of Americans use every day: computerized office documents. If you want to read a document made by someone else, it has to be in a format your computer understands. Some computer documents you might like to read include advice from a friend, a presentation, or a law that might apply to you.

    I think we can agree that these could be important. So how will we ensure that we can read them? We'll all have to use the same software, of course.

    But wait! That's not feasible. After all, some of these documents come from other countries, where our software doesn't support their language (allowing other programs to read the same document is called "interoperability"). Some come from friends with older software, who can't afford to upgrade (reading older documents is called "compatibility"). And besides, do we really want only one program making all the documents? What would happen when we discover it has some fatal flaw? And wouldn't the company that provides the program have unprecedented power?

    There's a better solution: make the document format a standard. Then anyone can write a program that reads or creates a document. You get both interoperability *and* compatibility!

    I'm glad that's settled. Now, what should the standard look like?

    Well, since it's more than just America involved here, that's an international question, and one that will be handled by the government. That's why we elect our representatives, after all: to speak for all of us and make the decisions we don't have time to make ourselves. I'm sure they'll consider the characteristics of the best possible solution and pick the document format that matches most closely.

    Just kidding! They're too busy raising money for the election, more than a year and a half away. Instead, they'll let the company who writes the most popular program make the decision! Of course, that company has a blatant interest in becoming the sole provider of a program used to make documents all over the world; that would give it the unprecedented power I was talking about earlier.

    This is a company with loads of power and money already; a company that has already been prosecuted once for monopolistic practices, but ignores that and acts with impunity; a company that can lie long and loudly, then buy its way out of trouble after the damage is done. If you haven't heard about what Microsoft has done, you're deliberately deluding yourself.

    Of course, their current document formats are proprietary. No other country will agree to accept them as a standard. So Microsoft has created a poison apple: a document format that looks perfect on the surface, but is actually so full of vagaries, exceptions and encumbrances that it kills any competition (by preventing interoperability): OOXML.

    Any idiot can see that outsourcing this decision to one company, Microsoft or anyone else, is a chump's idea. So, to avoid looking like chumps, they made a committee of companies! That's right; to voice an opinion on a topic that affects you directly, you must be a US company, attend two meetings, and pay $800.

    Congratulations; we just made the government tax.

    So, if you were a big, rich company intent on controlling all the documents written in the world, what would you do? Did I hear you say "stack the committee"? Why, aren't you clever, that's exactly what happened! Luckily, accepting OOXML as a standard required a 2/3 vote; the decision was avoided by exactly one vote. They'll be voting again later. (Exercise for the student: if you were a big, rich company...)

    I think it's obvious this decision should be open for public comment. It affects a lot of people, not just companies with $800 and some free time. I'm writing my representatives to tell them so.

  • Odometer

    I've done it again! That's three times in a row; I don't think this can be considered a fluke. 54.16 MPG in my Civic Hatchback.

    I'm going to run one more tank before I start making modifications. A tune-up, an air filter with better flow, and synthetic oil are definitely on the table. A fella I respect has been experimenting with his Corvette (!) and swears he got a 10% boost from a product called "SweetShooter". Originally intended to coat gun barrels to keep them from getting fouled by black powder, it has been used in oil and gas to coat the cylinders.

    Heck, if he can risk his Corvette, I can I can offer my HB. it's a dirt-simple mod, and I can even have it ready before the next tank. 60 MPG, here I come!

  • In "I've Got Nothing to Hide" and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy, Daniel Solove discusses the issues involved with privacy violations. He does a rather thorough job, although it may be a little too objective for some people. There's just not a lot of drama there.

    He discusses that, too.

    Here are the 5 main points I took away:

    1. "Privacy" is a vague term. It's not easy to define, and years of discussion haven't made it any clearer. So instead of trying to nail down a definition, let's come up with a description instead. That way we can address the actual problems, instead of ignoring them or clumping them together while we fight over the definition.

      With that in mind, here's a list of problems that could be considered "privacy" problems:

      • Information Collection
        • Surveillance
        • Interrogation
      • Information Processing
        • Aggregation
        • Identification
        • Insecurity
        • Secondary Use
        • Exclusion
      • Information Dissemination
        • Breach of Confidentiality
        • Disclosure
        • Exposure
        • Increased Accessibility
        • Blackmail
        • Appropriation
        • Distortion
      • Invasion
        • Intrusion
        • Decisional Interference
      We can at least agree that these are all problems, even if we think some of them should be filed under a different heading. Personally, I think "Privacy Problems" is pretty good.
    2. Privacy isn't necessarily about benefit to an individual. Privacy for individuals is a benefit to society. When you allow society to intrude on the privacy of individuals, you're hurting the society.

    3. Privacy problems aren't generally dramatic. They involve power shifts, or preventing behaviors (even legal ones), which can be very difficult to quantify. It's still important; perhaps more so, since it actually damages society.

    4. When someone says, "I have nothing to hide," they're only thinking of "surveillance" as a privacy problem. Warrantless wiretapping (like the NSA actions) actually causes several of the problems in the list above. Whether you have something to hide or not, those actions are damaging society and should be dealt with.

    5. "Dealing with" it isn't necessarily stopping it. A limitation would be just fine; for instance, requiring the wiretappers to justify their surveillance to an impartial third party, such as a judge.

    All of this makes perfect sense to me. Comments?

  • Even the RAM is red
    Looks good!

    I've been offline for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was my wife's recent birthday. Her present was a new computer. We spent, all told, about $400, including Windows XP Home (her choice, not mine). What we got was worth about $800 if you try to buy it in the store.

    It's an Athlon Core2 Duo 4600+, with built-in nVidia graphics, 2GB of DDR RAM, and a 320GB SATA drive. I used the old computer's DVD recorder and replaced it with an old CD-RW. The case is red, with blue glow everywhere. The motherboard is red. Even the RAM is red (although that was unplanned). It's perfect for her stated intended use: home video editing.

    The biggest challenge was migrating all the old data; partly because it was an OEM WinME install, and partly because the old computer really didn't want to go. In fact, it bit me...

    Continue reading "Another Computer in the House"