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A Bash Script To Demonstrate The Collatz Conjecture

Date/Time Permalink: 06/11/12 12:16:09 pm
Category: General

I suppose every hacker who reads Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid has the same problem: You can't read five pages without finding some new math or logic conjecture which you immediately have to stop and play with. Hey, it's kind of the whole point of the book! Being able to diddle out a quick Bash script to play with some sequence just makes it that much more interesting.

So, on page 400-402 of said work, the Collatz conjecture is introduced, also called "hailstone numbers". It's explained fully at that Wiki, but briefly you pick a number and apply the following rules indefinitely until you reach 1: If it's even, divide it by two, if it's odd, multiply it times 3 and add 1.

The conjecture is that every whole positive integer eventually reaches 1, albeit with considerable meandering along the path. The script:

#!/bin/bash

# Demonstrates the Collatz conjecture -
#     That any number will eventually boil down to 1
#     by following the formula of dividing it by 2 if
#     it is even and multiplying it by 3 and adding 1
#     if it is odd.

# http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collatz_conjecture

if [ "$1" ]; then
  N=$1
else
  N=$RANDOM
fi

ORIG=$N

echo "Starting number: "$N
echo
echo $N

STEP=0

while [ "$N" -ne "1" ]
do
  if [ "$(($N % 2))" -eq "0" ]; then
    N=$(($N / 2))
  else
    N=$((($N * 3) + 1))
  fi
  echo $N
  STEP=$(($STEP + 1))
done

echo "The number $ORIG took $STEP steps."

exit 0

If you give it a numeric argument, it'll start with that; otherwise it will just use a Bash built-in $RANDOM number. You will note that there's no bounds-checking or error termination here, indicating that I have great faith in either the conjecture or the user's ability to press Ctrl-C. You can also type in a number so high that Bash can't handle it and causes a stack overflow, plunging it into negative numbers which never terminate (even if they make it low, they may loop -20, -10, -5, -14, -7, -20...). Bash can handle 64-bit integers, so logically you'd check for anything higher than 9,223,372,036,854,775,807. But there's a problem with that...

The problem is that 9,223,372,036,854,775,807 is odd, so of course it's going to multiply times 3 and add 1. And so is 9,223,372,036,854,775,805, so that's too high. And indeed, we know from the whole nature of hailstone sequences that they sometimes get much higher than their starting number before they terminate, so the script would have to check the bounds on whatever the highest number is that can't get higher in the sequence than the 64-bit limit... And proving that all numbers below N never get higher than X is a problem such that if we solved it, we might as well solve the conjecture - a feat for which Paul Erdos posted a $500 prize in his lifetime. Unclaimed.

So, yeah, I'm open for some critique on this one.

In fact, if any math geniuses drop by here, my uneducated guess regarding proving the Collatz conjecture: Has anybody thought of using a Sieve of Eratosthenes type method on this? For instance, we know that 2 terminates; since 2 terminates, all powers of 2 must also terminate. We know that 4 terminates, so all powers of 4 must also terminate. 3 terminates; does that mean that all powers of 3 must also terminate? That's not so obvious.

Yeah, I'm in over my head here.

Sorry, no solution to the Mu puzzle, keep looking...

Update Just found out that the always-intriguing Cliff Pickover has also posted about hailstone numbers.

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In Which I Explain A Thumbnail History Of Home Computing In A Response To An Email

Date/Time Permalink: 04/06/12 02:33:50 pm
Category: General

Foreward

Just about exactly one year ago, I received an email from a reader asking some questions about computing culture, and where Microsoft, Apple, and Linux fit into the scheme of things. He mentioned that he was fine with me posting the text of the conversation in my blog. And I meant to do that, but it got buried under the pile on my virtual desk until now.

Be advised that I love hearing from all of you, but I'm lucky if I get a chance to reply at all! And when I do, it isn't usually a four page epic epistle with footnotes and citations like this. But this one time, somebody asked just the right questions and gave me just the right impression that I had a wonderful opportunity to teach a fertile mind. Wherever he is today, I hope he went far in pursuing his dreams!


The original letter

Disclaimer: if you wish, you can answer publicly in a blog post, if you want, and quote the email in full. I have no problem with it :)

Dear Penguin Pete.

I would like to ask you something, which you might think is pro-Microsoft or pro-Apple or something, and it might be, but i'm really just interested in hearing what you think.

My question is this: Without the efforts of Microsoft and Apple, would computers be as easy to use as they are now? What if the development of computer operating systems and the way that computers behaved, were done by teams of volunteers, that wouldn't have had any money to conduct Human Computer Interaction tests, and refine the operating system as well as the GUI and CLI to the needs of the average man. Would we be lacking in the terms of desktop computer usage, with only the powerful geek elite using them, or would we have progressed even more, making computers easy to use, even for the average consumer?

I don't want to sound like i'm pro Big corporation, because they're inherently bad for the common folk. That said, i believe that Mircosoft's efforts in building Windows helped democratize computer usage to the level, where an average man could pick one up and start doing things with it. Same thing with Apple's original Macintosh: despite the price, it was made with the non-technical user in mind.

I've seen some anti-normal user sentiment in the Linux circles (although it's not that big, mind) but when i hear Richard Stallman speaking free software and such, i sometimes get the mental image, that he's horrified about the fact that NORMAL people WITHOUT a Ph.D are using computers to build things, consume things and just talk to other people.

What's your opinion on this?

Best Wishes
(name withheld)
Finland, The Canada of Europe.


My reply

Dear (name withheld),

Get ready for a long letter! :) I assure you, I won't rip into you here, I'll just set out the stuff you seem not to have discovered on your own yet. You sound like a bright person; I'm doing this because it's worth it to inspire a questing mind like yours by pointing you at the things you haven't been told yet.

Your question reflects the state of affairs which I rail against constantly. Specifically, there are facts that are buried by the corporate media which, had they been more openly aired, you would not have needed to ask. But there's a lot of nuanced, interconnected ideas that you have... you're not entirely wrong, and you're certainly not to blame for the parts that you have wrong - as I say, it's the fault of the media not providing you with better information! I'll break this down into parts.

(1) So basically, your first part is summed up as: "Would there be advanced computing systems without Microsoft and Apple?"

In the first place, Microsoft did not pioneer the desktop GUI. Windows didn't take over the market until 1993, when version 3.1 came out. Apple had a desktop GUI before them with the MacIntosh, going clear back to 1984, and in fact when Microsoft copied Apple to launch Windows, Apple sued in a famous litigation case for the "look and feel" of Microsoft's interface.

As you can see from that Wikipedia article, Apple also didn't pioneer the GUI interface... Xerox had it first! And likewise, Xerox sued Apple for copying them!

Now, as a side note, Apple computers contain a Unix-based core. Mac OS X "is a series of Unix-based operating systems and graphical user interfaces developed, marketed, and sold by Apple Inc."

Apple's Mac OS also makes use of the BSD code base, and there's your open source involvement already.

(1){a} So now your question is reduced to "Would there be advanced GUI systems without proprietary, corporate-controlled development, period?"

Now to trace it back to Xerox, the Xerox Alto and the Star were pioneers of GUI workstations starting in 1973.

But I'll skip a bit to avoid boring your leg off - the man you need to meet is Douglas Engelbart.

Douglas Engelbart

Never heard of him? All you hear about is Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, right? Douglas Engelbart!

Douglas Engelbart developed the first GUI at the Stanford Research Institute, and Xerox's systems were based on it. Douglas Engelbart is actually the pioneer of the mouse, graphics on the screen, hypertext, icons and buttons you could click on... way back in the 1960s! We're a long way from Steve Jobs and Bill Gates now, aren't we? :) Anyway, Douglas Engelbart was not in any way a corporate hack with a profit motive, but just a university researcher running off government money (from ARPA).

(2) Now, your query seems to imply that GUIs "brought the computer to the masses" and that before the Great Mouse Revolution, computers were the exclusive domain of the elite eggheads who could mutter incantations in binary or something. So, let me paraphrase this as "Would the public have been able to use computers before the desktop GUI?"

Well, what you're forgetting is that the consumer home computer revolution launched way back in the 1970s. Hobbyists already formed the Homebrew Computer Club back in 1975.

And that article tells the story better than I can:

"The Homebrew Computer Club was an informal group of electronic enthusiasts and technically-minded hobbyists who gathered to trade parts, circuits, and information pertaining to DIY construction of computing devices. It was started by Gordon French and Fred Moore who met at the Community Computer Center in Menlo Park. They both were interested in maintaining a regular, open forum for people to get together to work on making computers more accessible to everyone."

So right there, we have home-based hobbyists, "open forum", "making computers more accessible to everyone", and so on. The gist of my argument is that it's the "home hackers" who did all the research and groundwork - even the founders of Apple were members of this club and back then, their interest was in computer advocacy, not profit. The very kernel of computers-for-the-common-folk was born on the backs of the earliest form of open-source geeks, before the term "open source" was even coined. Corporations merely came along after the fact and monetized and commercialized what was freely traded before.

Furthermore, there's the earliest home computer market. The Radio Shack Tandy TRS-80 was in every mall in America, a floor display at the front of the store, launching in 1977 at a price of $600 - well within reach of the middle-class family. And there's the Commodore series, starting with the VIC-20 in 1980, at around $300 - this was my first computer, I was about 13 years old. Our family was dirt-poor, and we could still afford it. Furthermore, it was taught in school! There was also the Apple Lisa, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and the IBM PCjr, all launched in the mid-1980s.

All this stuff was affordable for - and marketed to - the home user. Here's computer ads from the 1980s.

And that's nothing compared to the TV commercials, with William Shatner, Bill Cosby, and a Charlie-Chaplin impersonator right there next to the breakfast cereal ads during the Saturday morning cartoons. What I'm saying here is: people bought them, used them, loved them, and geeked out on them.

And now for the shocker: NONE of the computers available for the home in the early 1980s had a mouse. And NONE of them had a graphical desktop. NONE of them had anything but a command line where you typed commands, and ALL of them ran Basic, the original programming language for non-technical home people. And where did Basic come from? Can you guess?

All the way back in the Homebrew Computer Club, of which both Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak were members - and there was already an open-source version of this Basic programming language being passed around. Here's a great personal memoir from a former member.

Kids played text-based adventure games, where you controlled your adventurer with commands. You can see an early example of this at the beginning of the Tom Hanks movie Big (1988). And then there's Creative Computing magazine, published 1974 to 1985...

"The magazine regularly included BASIC source code for utility programs and games, which users could manually enter into their home computers."

Wait, this is a mind-blower... do I mean that "open source code" was being freely published and shared by home consumers way back in the 1970s/1980s? In a magazine that was sold in every store? Why yes, indeed, I do!

Now going back to the late-1960s/early-1970s, there was really no middle-class home computing. Because at that point, the concept of a desktop was still a fuzzy dream - you had to get time-share on a mainframe system and the only way to do that was be a university student. Computers cost thousands of dollars and even the best ones came as an assembly kit. You had to be an electrician just to put them together. But even there, it was hobbyists, not entrepreneurs, who were pushing the computer out to the people. Back then, the idea that software could be patented, copyrighted, sold, and monetized was silly.

Whew! Pant, pant. My fingers tire. Time for the next point:

(3) OK, Richard Stallman, "geek elitism", "user friendly", and so on.

Hooooo boy. Here's the deal. Could you do me a favor and forget this headful of pre-conceived notions for a minute? Clear your mind. Take a deep breath. Now imagine the following universe:

  1. Everything I've told you here is taught to every child in every school in every nation in the world, starting about grade 3.
  2. All schools have "programming" as a mandatory subject, as well as being integrated with both math and science.
  3. People grow up thinking that programming is something that NORMAL PEOPLE DO. It isn't any harder than basic math, after all. I'd say writing your first "Hello World" program is no more difficult than solving your first long division problem.
  4. Words like "geek", "hacker", "nerd" don't exist any more. Nobody calls you a nerd for knowing how to cook an omelet or change a flat tire on a car, do they? Everybody eats and everybody drives, so cooking and car repair isn't anything out of the ordinary to do, is it? Well, everybody computes in the 21st century - why is programming seen as something that only this stereotypical egghead autistic punk-rock anti-social "nerd" or "hacker" person can do? Because as you can see from this history, this attitude wasn't the case.
  5. "user friendly" is no longer a common idea. Instead, users are made "computer friendly"! We have to do it this way because we humans can change and adapt while computers are stuck being electric current running through logic gates, no matter how much gloss we try to paint over them.

That point there in (4) is the whole impetus for why I've been preaching on my little soap-box for five years on my blog. It's not "programming and computers for elite geeks and everybody else- hands off!" Instead, it's "everybody should learn computing and programming so that NO ONE is elite, and there will be no more geeks, just regular, ordinary people who have adopted to a world with computers in it."

But money wants it different. There's money to be made from keeping people ignorant and exploiting them for that ignorance, and that money funds a lot of misinformation, and so we have the age of corporate robber-barons who control the data and information and do the equivalent of patenting the alphabet and charging everybody ten dollars to read or write. And all you hear in the corporate-funded media is "Oh, hackers, they're evil! Don't be a hacker! People who know how to program are pathetic, anti-social geeks! Don't be one of them! (unless you pay $gazillion dollars to get a degree through our school and come work for us - then you can be one of the elite.)"

Does it all make sense now? :)

Addendum: How did it come to this? Well, it's really quite simple (even I forget this sometimes and need to be reminded). The integrated circuit was only invented in 1959. The human race simply hasn't had enough time to get used to the idea of computers yet. If you look back over history, there were similar adjustment periods for the advent of the airplane, the automobile, the steam engine, the telephone, the printing press, electricity, the sea-going cargo craft, and even back to aquaducts and paved roads. You can see that monopolies have grown up alongside each advance in society, going right back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle who criticized the olive-press industry at the time for being a monopoly. Similar monopolies were attached to the production and export of major traded goods like salt, oil, steel, and diamonds. Each time, they eventually get overthrown.

Thank you for listening, and good luck in your continued learning,
"Penguin" Pete Trbovich

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The Problems With Online Activism - A Followup

Date/Time Permalink: 03/05/12 11:31:08 am
Category: General

The Problems With Online Activism - A Followup

A while back, I posted Why Don't We Just Protest Internet Activism Instead? , which, judging by the reactions around the web, struck my usual sour note with the online hivemind whenever I put on my grown-up pants and think for myself, saying something original that no-one else dared to think.

Oh, let me pound this point home. Internet activism: Call it "hacktivism", "Anonymous", "Occupy Wall Street", SOPA-ACTA-PIPA protests, petitions, rallies, demonstrations, fund-raisers, displaying a ribbon on your Facebook page - ALL of it, a bad thing, and evil thing, a contemptible delusion of the masses that deserves to be stamped out. A poison to the intellect and spirit of society, that does a ton of harm for every bit it accidentally does good.

Online activism amounts to a witch-hunt

One other blogger had the courage to post my thoughts:

"I just don’t like bullies. Especially hypocritical bullies. If you actually believe in free speech, and not simply the free distribution of other people’s intellectual property, you should let journalists, law firms and investors exercise their rights to it alongside your own. And yes, working on a bill in an open, democratic process is a valid expression of speech.

Instead, we are threatening anyone who disagrees with us. Like all ideologues, we have convinced ourselves that the other side is a wealthy special interest as if we are not very wealthy, very special and very interested. We imagine that we are trying to protect the Internet only for noble purposes, but it’s also true that we stand to make billions of dollars from the Internet staying just the way it is."

...and then he got screamed down by the mob and back-peddled. I won't: I think once you try to win your cause by bullying, you automatically both lose your cause and make yourself worse than what you were trying to fight.

Do I really mean it when I say "witch hunt"? Have you seen the McCarthyist "list of SOPA supporters"? Here's one version. There are many versions around the web, but Reddit, that capitol of online Nazism, started it. How do you get on this list? Somebody accuses you. Does the list contains citations, references, any sort of evidence? No, it does not. Anybody can add or remove any name they want to at any time from the list and pass it around.

Yes, I mean it: WITCH HUNT. As barbaric as anything that ever happened in the Middle Ages, this business of passing around a list of names of entities to be boycotted by members of a disorganized online mob, each of whom feels themselves bullied into complying and subsequently bullying others. As illogical as the most ridiculous religious superstition, and as horrifyingly telling of the thin line that separates us from the brute beasts we pretend to be different from.

And who points it out? Just me. Everybody else was OK with it, nobody else questioned "the LIST" (scare chord) for fear of ending up on... "the LIST" (scare chord)!

Online activists are easily fooled

One person caught up in the false accusations was Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan. Ryan never signed SOPA, came out against it, and yet nevertheless somebody slapped his name onto one of the dreaded lists, and in came the hate mail. Ryan had to post a correction, which the SOPA witch-hunters took to mean "Aha! He caved under the pressure! We won!" There are likewise grown adults walking around right now thinking that they got Microsoft, Apple, and Google to stop SOPA, when it was really the big tech corporations' idea all along.

Morons. Moronic morons leading morons, is all online activism will ever amount to.

There is a reason why we have amendments to our constitution to protect our rights in court, folks. There is a reason we have due process of law, and judges, and juries, and officially-declared rights. Because we already tried the riding-around-in-white-hoods-lynching-people thing and it just doesn't work. Mobs are stupid. When you join a mob, it makes you stupid.

Online activists have no sense of scale; they direct equal rage at the merest petty misdemeanor

Case in point: Rebecca Black. Yes, the song "Friday" was wretched (although that wasn't even her doing; she went through an agency which did a lousy job). Yes, she got famous for having a video online that went viral for being wretched.

What is posting a song online that some people don't like worth in retribution? Oh some funny jokes, some catty remarks, and a good round of teasing, right? That's all most reasonable people would deem appropriate.

How about death threats?

Is that going a little bit overboard? Well, that's what the hivemind's reaction is to everything. Everything is a death threat, a DDoS attack, a protest in Ku Klux Klan hoods "V for Vendetta" masks, a witch hunt, a riot, and if anybody doesn't bond with them 110% in complete thoughtless deference, they're The Enemy too.

I'm sure none of you will be shocked to learn that Your Humble Servant has also received death threats from random Internet spooks - for years! Not only over my continued protest of the continued hustling and scamming of the Linux community by scam artists shaking users down for money, but even over stupid, trivial, dumb things like a cartoon or something I said about a video game. God forbid I stick my nose into politics once in a while. I have nuts stalking me you haven't even met yet over that one.

Let me just say: The more crap I catch over what I do, the more I will do it. It is morally wrong to cave to a bully. I believe this. I believe this even if it costs me a life. If I shut up out of fear for my own safety, I make the bullies stronger and the next victim will receive even more crap than I did. Maybe it doesn't make me so much fun to hang out with sometimes - I still manage to have a sense of humor about it, even to mocking my own angst - but standards have to be stood.

Regardless if it's all empty threats delivered by little boys who are only brave when hiding behind the Internet. Which is usually the case, but every now and then...

Online activism creates people like Jared Lee Loughner

Beyond the death threats are the loonies looney enough to carry them out. Jared Lee Loughner, perpetrator of the 2011 Tucson, Arizona massacre, was as good as a golem composed of all the online activist's hobby horses. Atheist, 9/11 conspiracies, pot, Ron Paul, and the film Zeitgeist. And then it mixed with the crazy in his head and he went out and shot 20 people, killing six and profoundly crippling U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who had to step down out of office recently.

Jared Lee Loughner was to Anonymous as Charles Manson was to Flower Power.

Whoa! What am I saying here? Am I saying that online activism is to blame for Jared Lee Loughner? When he was obviously a crazy, disturbed person who would have eventually snapped no matter if he had never heard of the Internet? How could I lay the Tucson Massacre at the feet of the Internet hivemind any more than, say, I could lay the 1980 assassination of John Lennon at the feet of The Catcher In The Rye (read obsessively by assassin Mark David Chapman)?

Like this: Jared Lee Loughner was, remember, engaged in social media. He didn't come up with his delusions on his own; he was a member of conspiracy theory message boards where diseased minds share their disease and make everybody sicker.

Social media, unlike any other form of media, gives back to you. Get a crazy idea to go out on a shooting spree as a result of reading a book, seeing a movie, or playing a video game, and that's all coming from you. Get the same crazy idea and post it online, and if you're chosen the right Internet forum, you will get validation! You will get people co-conspiring with you, encouraging you, egging you on! You know those gruesome stories about teens hanging themselves after posting about it someplace like 4chan and the responses are all "Do it"? That never happens with a heavy metal album, no matter how menacing Ozzy sounds.

What I am NOT saying

I am not saying that the Internet should be censored in any way, shape, or form. Not even for the prevention of another psycho serial killer. That can't be helped. I don't bring him up to put blood on anyone else's hands. I bring him up as an example that the Internet is irresponsible and therefore should not be trusted with weighty matters.

Summary of what I AM saying.

The Internet needs to police itself - or some other entity will do it for them, and the online community won't like it. The policing needs to take the form of responsibility for our own actions, recognition that we are all easily lied to and easily lead over the Internet, realization that at least half of what we see online is not real, and most of all, establishment of the fact that online activism is the "cure" that is worse than every disease we will ever find.

Peace, love, and Linux be with you!


Update Just a few days later, Geekosystem has a post expressing a similar idea, concerning the recent buzz around Kony. Here again, armchair activists with a bleeding heart and a non-questioning mind can be bled for a few extra dollars by an outfit that produced a "documentary" film that is highly-questionable on its facts.

If I'm famous for anything, it's sticking my neck out, so I'll call into doubt that a single penny contributed to the charity "Invisible Children" actually finds its way into the hands of somebody who helps Ugandan children. I doubt it. And the burden of proof rests with its supporters. I quote the Wikipedia section on criticisms of "Invisible Children":

"Criticism of distribution of the organizations funds have also emerged. Specifically due to information reported by charity watch group, Charity Navigator. Invisible children received from Charity Navigator "four of four stars financially and two stars for the category of accountability and transparency."

Every time a charity organization does not make EVERY SINGLE PENNY completely transparent and trackable, from the time it enters their hands until the time it leaves them, you should be suspicious. How hard is it to post open books, with intake and expenditures? Why should a charity organization not do this? At least just post photos of receipts or something.

But more than that, there's concern over how the donation effort could really affect the situation. When dabbling in third-world politics on the other side of the planet, how do you know for sure who the bad guys are? Maybe there's more than one. That's a difficult concept to grasp, when one is used to good and evil being defined in Star Wars terms. No, it isn't just as simple as shooting the guy with the black helmet. There were similar concerns over last year's incredible Internet snow campaign with Kiva.org, which is a new blog post entirely. (There are three Kiva microloan partners in Uganda right now - did you know that? How do you know that the money you donated to Kiva last year didn't find its way into Kony's hands this year?)

What better target than a North American mouse potato who will click anything the Internet tells them to? What better cover for embezzlement and scamming than to claim that the money is going to benefit third-world orphans in some country most of you couldn't find on an unlabeled map, have never visited, and couldn't possibly make heads or tails of the true problems there? And finally, is there anything the Internet public gets more outraged about than when somebody like me comes along and points these things out?

UPDATE 3/31/12: In a miracle akin to Nyan cat creating the universe, CNET has something intelligent to say about this matter. Specifically, "old-guard" hacking groups are more worried about Anonymous / Occupy tyranny of the web than anything a government or corporation does.

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Rick Santorum Condemns Education, Period

Date/Time Permalink: 01/26/12 02:37:20 pm
Category: General

I never thought I'd be blogging about The Frothy One in my august pages, but holy smoking clover! Santorum just came out and said what the entire Christian wing of the Republican party has always been thinking: They're anti-education - period!

Here's the reportage of his speech to Florida. With a video clip, because you will need to hear the words coming right out of his orifice to believe that this isn't a smear job.

"The indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America. And it is indoctrination."

Wait, what about teaching people how to be, you know, engineers and doctors and lawyers and whatnot?

"62 percent of children who enter college with a faith conviction leave without it."

Could that be the effect of people who believed in young-Earth creationism being confronted with contrary evidence from things like the fossil record?

All this was him firing back after President Obama's State of the Union address, in which Obama simply called for more college education - calling it an economic imperative. What's that we hear every day? We need to create more jobs? Doesn't college help you get one, last I heard?

Well, Iowa, my home state, what do you have to say for yourselves? Iowa, the state with one of the best reputations for educational standards. Iowa, the state where Rick Santorum won the 2012 Republican caucus. Are you proud of yourselves?

Reverse evolution

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BASIC Is Dead. Bury It.

Date/Time Permalink: 01/03/12 04:08:23 pm
Category: General

Quite the troll post on Slashdot over the Holiday weekend, sniveling about wanting BASIC on the mobile phone platform.

BASIC advocates seem to come back annually on Slashdot like a herpes outbreak. Last year it was somebody advocating BASIC as a teaching language again. Touting BASIC as a way to teach "the joy of programming" is like recommending a night in a whorehouse as a way to teach young men "the joy of marriage".

In the first place, we already have "teaching languages".

  • Python is a "teaching language". python.org: "Python is an easy to learn, powerful programming language."
  • Javascript is a "teaching language". w3schools.com: "JavaScript is easy to learn."
  • Scheme is a "teaching language". cs.hut.fi: "Scheme is also a very small language and is therefore easy to learn."
  • What about Ruby? Is it a "teaching language" too? Yep, net.tutsplus.com: "Ruby is a fun, beautiful, and easy-to-learn language."

Are you seeing a pattern here? Even the wetbrains over at Daniweb assert Assembly Language CAN be easy to learn! Oh, goody, assembly is a teaching language too!

With all the miles and miles of cowflop under which all discourse about programming is buried, such that we need a snorkel just to find a programming language, who on Earth can possibly use this fantasy notion that "programming language $X is easy to learn" and believe that what they have said means anything? It's like consumer packaging of "health food". What, as opposed to the nasty unhealthy food that's going to kill you? Funny, where is the "unhealth food" section at the grocery store? I can never seem to find that one.

And don't take me for some panic-stricken moral old-schooler who's bigoted against BASIC. Don't forget, I, too, played with BASIC in my school days, and even posted a tutorial on how to run QBasic code on DOSBox a while back. If DOSBox can run on a mobile phone, there you go! BASIC on a phone, knock yourself out; enjoy typing miles of syntactic-sugar code with your thumbs.

The difference is: I let BASIC go. BASIC is old-hat, old-school, gone, just like Pascal and COBOL, only used for legacy systems and backwards compatibility. Nobody should be learning BASIC now, except just for the curiosity value or to port over legacy applications.

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A Reminder: There Is No Such Thing As A Secret. Ever.

Date/Time Permalink: 12/13/11 02:32:03 pm
Category: General

It's quite funny watching aghast at the news that the FBI was using Carrier IQ to spy on citizens.

It's like watching Alzheimer's patients. "The govenment's spying on you." "What, it is? How shocking!" One month later: "The govenment's spying on you." "What, it is? How shocking!"

Look folks, it would not surprise me in the least to find out that communications were intercepted all the way back in the days of the Pony Express and the telegraph. Magic Lantern, Carnivore, Echelon, CIPAV, Oasis, and that's just the US Federal government tools that we know about.

Furthermore, may I quote the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994?

"CALEA's purpose is to enhance the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to conduct electronic surveillance by requiring that telecommunications carriers and manufacturers of telecommunications equipment modify and design their equipment, facilities, and services to ensure that they have built-in surveillance capabilities, allowing federal agencies to monitor all telephone, broadband internet, and VoIP traffic in real-time."

...how soon we forget! So, yeah, the phone industry literally has to include backdoors for spooks to spy on you by law.

And I always point out, Penguin Pete's Law of Surveillance, which goes "When you're watching everybody, you're watching nobody." There just aren't enough eyeballs to read the data, so this doesn't amount to everybody being spied on. This amounts to everybody being able to be spied on, but the government being the government, actually spied-upon citizens probably amount to about 10% of the "suspicious" ones, with maybe one in ten of them actually being rightly suspected. Most of the people paranoid about this have no reason to be paranoid for themselves. On the other hand, either get used to living like a bug under a magnifying glass 24/7 or do something about it at the ballot box, people!

I should just rerun all my posts from years ago and see if anybody even notices.

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Paul Miller Has Never Seen A Computer Before

Date/Time Permalink: 12/11/11 10:04:28 am
Category: General

Because he's just now noticed that GUIs are condescending.

Yet he got to the front page of Slashdot, where at least rumor of something called "GNU/Linux" has reached a few ears, but only as far as the Gnome3 / Unity debate, endlessly rehashed already.

Miller, with the guileless naivete of a housefly, posts images of the icon set from the days of Macintosh system-7 or so (the old cube boxes back in the '80s). Apparently, that, to him, is a UI done right. In despair, he sloughs off to Windows7 because he can make it emulate Windows 95, which, again, he likes better. So in the first place, he seems to not so much be irked at "condescension", but all that gaudy eye candy.

He has 436 comments, all of whom join him in his Andy-Rooney-like grousing while not even visiting the vicinity of a clue.

Mr. Miller, and everybody else, let me show you the world's ONLY non-condescending user interface:

command line screen shots

That's it. A command line.

Everything else is wet-nursing and hand-holding.

Is that not what you mean? Then you should not use that word.

This has been your condescending blog host, and I hope I didn't use too many big words...

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Hey, Where Are All The Clueless Newbs Who Can't Use A Phone?

Date/Time Permalink: 06/23/11 09:51:07 am
Category: General

Aaaaaaaaallllll you ever hear about computers from absolutely everybody any more is "I can't do it! It's too hard! We have to dumb down the interface!" But only on computers. The griping about computer user interfaces never ceases to gripe. And we're finally seeing somebody besides me fight back against the griping. This recent blog post over at LinuxTweaking bemoaning the further dumbing-down of Gnome is a good example. Here's a quote after my own heart:

"If anyone can't focus on getting their work done due to the presence of the window list showing what applications are minimized or are distracted by docks and applets, please do not operate any machinery.

A beeping noise or flashing light may break your focus or distract your attention. You know what, I am no longer going to drive with my SatNav."

And right there, a lightbulb went off and now I have yet another way to hate and despise the tech blogosphere: He's right, desktops really are held to impossible standards of "user-friendly" that that SatNav system is allowed to flaunt! And while we're at it...

Why is a "command line" on a microwave OK, but not on a computer?

Why are dashboard indicators OK on a car, but not on a computer?

Why is it OK to have three remotes with a total of 200 buttons just to watch TV, but if a computer interface has more than two steps to do anything, that's unacceptable?

Why is it OK to have stacks of cookbooks you have to read to learn to cook food, but if you tell somebody to read a computing manual, you have just declared World War 3?

And then the part that made the light bulb go off: I wondered how many people have that much of a problem using their phone.

You know, since I've adopted computers, I've seen phones come up in my time from a rotary dial with the spirally cord all the way to these sophisticated smartphones that do almost everything a standard computer does, plus it can make phone calls and take photos and offer GPS services and even use motion sensors to tell which way it's being held, and a bunch of other things the standard computer doesn't do. Think of all the added complexity, menus, icons, learning curve. Surely, the phones would have lost one or two users along the way by now, no?

And yet I never see somebody standing on a street corner with their smartphone screaming "CAN ANYBODY HELP ME I CANT IMPORT MY ADDRESS BOOK!" I don't see people accidentally forwarding messages to everybody on their contact list and then excusing themselves with "Oops LOL I don't know phones I can't phone LOL!" I never see anybody angrily banging on the tech support desk that their phone doesn't work because they forgot to turn it on. There's no IRC chats filled with newbs screaming "Can somebody show me how to change the calendar?!?!?!?" I never see people try to cram a POTS phone wire into a USB socket on their smartphone base and then act thunderstruck when it doesn't work.

When it comes to computers, I can show somebody for the hundredth time "It's an address bar, you just type h-t-t-p-colon-slash-slash... you don't have to google it every time." and they'll still wave their flippers like helpless Thalidomide babies going "Computers are soooooo haaaaaard!" and then a call comes in on their phone and

*- ZIP! -*

- they're thumbing all over the phone, their thumbs are blurring at the speed of light, icons, menus, download, upload, typing text with that hideous little onscreen keyboard. Every incompetent, computer-illiterate luser become Jason Bourne when they get on the phone, able to change their ringtone one-handed with the phone behind their head, able to record a video and upload it to YouTube with the phone under one leg and standing on tiptoe, able to dial home using only their nose while blindfolded, and hacking into Lockheed Martin typing with only their toes while balancing a chair on their chin and reciting Voltaire passages in French, and then they turn back to the computer and -

*- POOF! -*

Forest Gump - pointing and drolling "Now whut's this big square lit-up thang called ugain?"

You know why it is?

It's because they're called "phones".

Everybody's too embarrassed to admit that they don't know how to use a phone, so they MAKE SURE THEY KNOW HOW TO USE A PHONE. Being computer illiterate, however, is trendy and fashionable. It's considered cute in our society to giggle tee-hee-hee, "I'm a computer-dummy!" But to be a phone dummy? Now you're ostracized from society, handicapped, crippled, can't even get a job or a date!

It doesn't matter how complicated the interface on the phone is.

It doesn't matter how simple the interface on the computer is.

If we'd thought to name desktop computers something ending in "phone", they'd be teaching Assembly language in kindergarten by now. They'd make up a song to learn the logic gates right along with the alphabet.

I swear, that's all it is. That's all there has been to all of this flaming about interfaces since day one.

Which, really, I don't have a problem with the users. I have a problem with the developers who listen to the idiots and then change the computers so that they end up forcing the idiocy onto me, when I was perfectly happy to let a computer be a computer.

Let them go, developers! Let Joe Sixpack go! He's going away to the smartphone, and gooooooood riddance! Stop destroying our computers - we're the geeks, we're just like you, we're the real computer users, and you had us at hexadecimal.

The time of trying to make computers be toys is gone. Let computers compute once again.

UPDATE Same day, here's one more example of what I'm talking about with the latest flame-fest about how hard Linux is on the desktop. Do we see these complaints about Google Android (Linux) on the phone? Well, then...

glory glory hallelujah, we'll all be geeks again

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Does The Recent Rash of Cyber Attacks on High-Profile Institutions Tell Anybody ANYTHING???

Date/Time Permalink: 06/12/11 12:33:18 pm
Category: General

Let's take some inventory. The latest attack is against the IMF, the International Monetary Fund which acts as kind of an overseer of the industrial world's economic activity. They just got hit.

As the article goes on to list, that's only the latest breech. There's Sony Playstation accounts (which I just mocked here), aerospace defense contractor Lockheed Martin's network, North American Citibank, an email database (Epsilon, an email marketing firm) related to BestBuy and Target, and an attack perpetrated through Gmail.

In most cases, it seems that the cyber-attacks which are successful at penetration do so using the same dumb old trick we've been seeing since the 1990s: sending an email to a clueless user with a malware attachment and getting the dumb user to open it, infecting themselves and compromising the network they're running on. Or sending a phishing email to a clueless user who clicks on the link and gleefully types their account numbers into the dupe webpage.

What have I been preaching for years?

COMPUTING EDUCATION!

DON'T DUMB COMPUTERS DOWN, SMARTEN USERS UP!

OPERATING SYSTEM SECURITY MATTERS!

WE DON'T NEED USER-FRIENDLY COMPUTERS; WE NEED COMPUTER-FRIENDLY USERS!

OPEN SOURCE SYSTEMS PROMOTE COMPUTING EDUCATION!

Instead, those of us who advocate computing education and computing liberty get ignored year after year, and now we get to stand here watching the world burn while we still point to the fire hose that could have put it all out.

Wheee! Isn't this fun? Who brought the marshmallows?

Batman reads manuals. That's why he's Batman!

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