Thursday, December 29, 2005

Woohoo! Paul Graham comes out in favour of procrastination.

Let's spend some time reading it instead of getting on writing this Java exercise I'm meant to be preparing.
Very scary debate going on at John Robb's.

Would Israel / US attack Iran to stop a potential nuclear program?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | Bolivian leader to cut own salary
BBC NEWS | Business | Huge new oil discovery in Brazil
A burst of new pages and axons on ThoughtStorms (for a change). Mainly on mashups and higher-level parasitic services growing in the web-as-a-platform ecosystem.
Kaunda keeps writing beautifully.

I really like this weblog (and not just because he's a Tribe-friend).

He's found a wonderful voice : a mix of wisdom dressed up as naivity, veering from personal to political and back, within the same post. And always hovering around the theme of Africa and development.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Ivan Krstic not optimistic about Python web-frameworks.
I don't follow this stuff, but here's a fascinating slice of the culture wars in the US.

Aparently there are right-wing men's advocacy groups who's main aim is to attack the network of support for women who are victims of domestic violence, and try to get funding withdrawn from women's refuges.


The main strategy is to claim that women are equally abusive and violent to men, and that government support for women's refuges is unfair on equally needy men.

Some people are so fucking twisted, it's amazing.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Radio 4 has a reasonable Analysis program on the consumer society. It's not a great debate. Half the time I'm jumping up and down shouting "But ... but ... but ..." at the things people are saying which can't be justified.

Particularly egregious ... John Kay quoting Greenspan's claim that the the weight of the output of the economy hasn't increased in 100 years. It's good rhetoric but even Kay is hedging himself by admitting he doesn't know if and how this could be measured. And certainly, the "weightless" services Kay argues we're moving towards consuming, require input in terms of energy.

Matt Riddley's breathtaking slide between "consumerism", "sexual signalling", and "a society where males become succesful through deal-making rather than fighting" presumably explains why sexy, sixteen year old girls are the last people to be found in shopping centres.

Nevertheless, thought-provoking.
Momus doesn't do pop-videos, but invites fans to make their own Flash animations.

The results can be impressive.
Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | The challenge in the south

The BBC thinks that Morales's heart is with Chavez, but the real world will constrain him to follow Lula's cautious centrism. A friend of mine here who knows Bolivia says the opposite is true. Morales himself is cautious, but that a strong sentiment among the people will push him in a more radical direction.
BBC NEWS | Business | Microsoft may face daily EU fine

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dave Winer wants to create an unconference about Wikipedia. I hope people would go.

But, really, how is Dave, sitting outside the wikipedia community, sniping at it from the sidelines, but refusing to actually get involved by reading, editing and correcting any entries; actually different from mainstream journalists who sit outside the blogosphere complaining about blogs? After all people can (and do) write all sorts of lies on blogs. And no one is stopping them!!

If you can handle that, and see why the blogosphere is a beautiful thing despite this problem, why can't you see the same is true of something like wikipedia?

Update: Dave corrects me and says he does read wikipedia.
Carr nails Google's increasing evility.
I'm having more Wikipedia arguments over here
Read the Judge Jones conclusion to the Dover School Board case.
David Mercer's Programming Language Philosophy

Lately Haskell has been my strictly typed language of choice (ah, total purity!!! I became a convert last month :-), javascript has been my dynamically typed language of choice, and apparently both java and C are my assemblers!

I think that any programmer who wants to master their art should always have at least one language in each category of the three that they are fluent in for their chosen platform. All three paradigms are at times required to most efficiently solve a problem, singly or in combination.
BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Trade can 'export' CO2 emissions
Bolivia awaits final poll result, meanwhile Venezuela is putting the squeeze on Exxon.

Will Morales team up with Chavez? Seems plausible. Morales can renegotiate deals with foreign gas companies in Bolivia, if they baulk, then Venezuela can step in with investments to the Bolivian gas production.

Bolivia is the poorest country in south America. But with a huge wealth in natural gas, most of who's profits go straight out of the country. Chavez does have a record of taking profits from Venezuelan oil and putting it into development projects for the poor. Bolivia could do worse than follow the example.
I like these BBC photostories.

Here's one showing how a toy gets designed in Margate, built in China and ends up in the shops.

BBC NEWS | In pictures | Toy story
This is the right response to wikipedia. A user-contributed but expert-moderated alternative.

When I say "right", I don't mean that I think it will work. (It may, but I give it less than 30% chance of supplanting Wikipedia, and that's only if all the academics who are suspicious of wikipedia embrace it.)

But I do think it's the right experiment to try. A direct competition between wikipedia and an expert-moderated rival.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

BBC NEWS | Business | Will there be another trade round?

it is unlikely that there is the political will in the North to expand free trade any further.

At the end of the day, once free trade actually starts to be less beneficial to the developed countries than to the developing ones, watch how fast they backpedal.

What more evidence do you need that free-trade is not all good, than that the powerful avoid it out of self-interest?
Bolivians may vote for the guy who'll legalize coca growing.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The academy vs. open source
Is it my eyesight or are capchas getting more difficult?

I think there's a real issue that capchas are going to reduce accessability for people with poor eyesight (let alone the blind using audio-browsers). This isn't the way to go for preventing bot spam on the web.
BBC NEWS | Technology | Wikipedia survives research test
John Robb :
Of course, I hope he is right that America, armed with this new sys-Admin force will sweep the world of failed states and accelerate the end of history (where everyone lives in a US-aligned capitalist democracy). However, I know he is wrong and this will only result in buckets of grief, blood, and red ink.

John Robb's Weblog: Barnett's Neo-Conservative Redux

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wow! Britain's last feudal state is about to end : BBC NEWS | Magazine | Shedding tears for Sark
BBC NEWS | Politics | Kennedy 'not worried by Cameron'

Here's something that I've noticed recently. BBC Radio 4 has started adopting the American term "liberal" to mean "left-wing". I don't use it, but life on the internet means my vocabulary has picked up a number of Americanisms. Maybe the two dialects are going to merge.

But, given that the "Liberal Democrats" are functionally to the left of Labour now in the UK. And if a generation is growing up familiar with the word "liberal" to mean left. It seems plausible that leftish youngsters are going to get the idea that the lib-dems are the liberal (in the American sense) party. And may join it accordingly.

Could the lib-dems really become the "liberal" party in the UK? They kind of own the namespace. And, if so, what would that mean?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Interesting. BBC NEWS | Americas | US state signs Cuban trade deal
Great! Having driven Iraq into civil war, the neocons now want to do the same with Lebanon.

What the fuck do they think is going to happen if they keep putting pressure on Syria? That there'll be a peaceful revolution that will put pro-US government in Damascus?

Have they sat down and thought about it at all? Have they, for example, considered whether there are rival sects or ethnic groups in Syria?

Here's a clue from the CIA world factbook :

Religions : Sunni Muslim 74%, Alawite, Druze, and other Muslim sects 16%, Christian (various sects) 10%, Jewish (tiny communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli, and Aleppo)

Languages: Definition Field Listing Arabic (official); Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian widely understood; French, English somewhat understood

OK, maybe it's time for a fun, wacky conspiracy theory. The US knows it's in for a dangerous time withdrawing from Iraq. So what it wants to do is make a dash west to the safety of Israel. But if it can spin that as an invasion of Damascus (to protect poor little Lebanon) ... :-)
Bad move!

BBC NEWS | Americas | Venezuela jails opposition leader
BBC NEWS | Technology | Wikipedia joker eats humble pie
Kaunda launches a new diablog : Freedom-Kampala Dialog
Good lord! Did you think Microsoft had given up on dirty tricks?
However, jocular remarks reportedly made by a senior Afghan official to a visiting Dutch delegation about the number of 'body bags' they might need for the Uruzgan deployment didn't help, several western diplomats have told the BBC.

BBC NEWS | World | South Asia | Nato in a spin over Afghan expansion

Turns out, NATO not so keen to be involved in Afghanistan. Maybe they'll try to avoid so many casualties by sending fewer troops!!!???

Still, could be good if they decide NATO's role isn't really to fight a war on opium production.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I do know the difference between "its" and "it's". I try to pay attention when I write.

But often, rereading some of my posts, I'm shocked to find painful uses of "it's" for the possessive, sticking out like a proverbial sore thumb.

But not as shocked as I am in finding the rare mixups of "their" and "they're". I never make this mistake normally. It's something that happens only when I write way too fast. Like when I'm writing on the internet.

It just looks totally stupid.

But recently I've noticed I'm not alone. The incidents of "they're" / "their" (and to lesser extent "there") confusion on the web seem to be growing. "it's" / "its" confusion is out of control.

Of course, "it's" / "its" is a stupid convention anyway. When the apostrophe is generally used as a way of communicating the possessive, (as in "John's book"), the absense for the case of "it" looks like a historical mistake that got locked-in by pedantic grammaticians. It's time to be finished with it. We can easiliy disambiguate the meaning of "it's" from the context.

You could start some kind of campaign to persuade people of that. But I realize that campaigns are hardly the point. People have always made these mistakes in their personal writings. And generations of editors and proof-readers have diligently hunted them down and fixed them.

But now the editors and other gatekeepers are gone.

One side-effect of the freedom of online web-writing is that these constraints on spelling and grammatical correctness are gone. Their's now a werld ware people can write what they think is write. Becos ov how it sownds. And no won's gonna stopem.

R. unifide, universly held, speling convenshuns gonna go away?
Gramatical wuns too?

Not entirely. Search engines are a powerful incentive to keep to some kind of standards. If you want your page to be found, you need to make sure the important words at least, are spelled in the way other people expect them to be.

And there's obviously the need to be intelligable to the reader. But beyond this, might spelling and grammatical conventions return to the state of variation and flux they were in before printing, and the invention of the dictionary, imposed standardization?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A fairly disasterous thing has happened politically in Brazil this week.

A parliamentary enquiry into the land reform movement has issued its report and recommendation to the government. The committee - hijacked by right-wing land-owners' representatives - has disregarded most of the original research and suggestions, and substituted a blanket condemnation of all squatter's movements and recommended that invasion be legally declared a form of "terrorism".

The committee's original intention was to study the mounting violence in MST (and other) invasions of land, and to search for a way forward. The MST are one of the largest political, social movements in Brazil. They opperate by organizing large groups of landless, poor rural workers (and their families) to invade unproductive land and start to cultivate it. The groups can gain "squatters rights" currently recognised by the government : in that "homesteading" land left idle by it's owners is legitimate.

The legality of invasions is a response to the very unequal distribution of land in Brazil, which is largely in the hands of families who got it as gifts from the Portuguese royal family, centuries ago.

However, as the movement has grown, violence has spiralled. Violence has been instigated by both sides. But the typical pattern is a covert invasion of unoccupied and uncultivated land by the MST, followed by the owner raising an armed militia to attack the encampment. The MST are, themselves, armed and defend their encampment. The police are called to restore order, but often arrive days later, and have been accused of violently supporting the land-owners' militias. Gangs who work for the land-owners can be associated with organized crime, and several prosecutions have been made.

Nevertheless, the final report which was bitterly argued about within the committee, has no mention or condemnation of criminal activity by land-owners or their hirelings, but places all responsibility on the MST and blames the government for tolerating the situation.

Furthermore it recommends that

a) government suspends all the grants it makes to the MST as a social movement;

b) that invasion is raised to the status of a "heinous crime". Not sure if the UK has a similar category, but this crime is regarded as something between a crime against humanity and treason. It's a wholly politicised category in that it's mainly applied for armed insurections against the state ie. "terrorism", and drug-dealing.

c) that connections between the MST and Farc be investigated

d) that the political leaders of the MST also have criminal charges made against them.

This is not a compromise document. In fact, although it comes from a multi-party committee, it's been entirely steam-rollered through by a right majority. Leftish members of the committee have allegedly stormed out in tears, and torn the report up on the steps of the Congress.

How will the report be received?

Hard to tell. My friends are all leftists who, if they criticise the MST, it's for not being radical enough. On the other hand, at our local swimming class, all our lower middle-class neighbours were laughing and sneering about the last demonstration of the MST in Brasilia. Their populist conception was that the MST were lazy wastrals, living luxuriously off government grants without having or wanting to work. There'll be little sympathy there.

The PT in government, have a historic connection with the MST. But have failed to deliver very much practical support to the movement, tending to try to play a neutral, placating role, and not to upset wealthy and powerful interest groups.

But the PT are now (almost fatally?) wounded by this year's corruption scandals. They've been abandoned by supporters on the left, because of their moderate, centrists, capital friendly policies. Most erstwhile PT supports I know are revelling in the embarrassments of new corruption scandals. Senior party members and officials have been thrown out of parliament and banned from holding public office for ten years. And yet nothing has been legally proven, and precious little actual concrete evidence has come forward about the main "mensal?o" scandal. Most evidence seems to be hearsay : one politician saying that they heard that other politicians were offerered bribes.

Lula has personal popularity but falling credibility. If the public mood is against the MST, it's unlikely the PT will make a stand to defend them. Although presumably it's also unlikely that they'll rush to embrace policies based on the recommendations.

Nevertheless, it's a disturbing sign that one of the strongest, in some ways most-dynamic radical movements in South America is finding itself under concerted attack. Were the recommendations to become policies it's disturbing to think what would happen. There are over a million members of the MST and at least tens of thousands of encampments around the country. If the recommendation is that all encampments are illegal then it will be open season on these families, with government removing what protection if provides them from the militias of the land-owners.

The MST response to the report in English is here :

Bipartisan Congressional Committee of Inquiry on Land Issues (CPMI) ? A declaration of rejection | Brazil's Landless Workers' Movement

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A discussion shaping up about location based services and why we log-in
Stylus Magazine on Tati Quebra Barraco

Tati was one gig we went to this year. And, for good measure, our car was stolen while we were in the venue. Whether this reflects on her or her audience I can't tell. My revenge is I have her whole album on my web site for your pleasure ;-)

I've been winning people over to Baile Funk since before she was in the novela. My friend Ricardo is turning up every couple of months with new CDs he's blagged from his pupils. (In fact, now it's getting all middle-class and, if not respectable, at least something for bourgoise teens, I think I might have to ditch the whole genre.)

Update : Just found that "popozuda rock'n'roll" track on slsk. It's the BigBeatification of Bailefunk :-(

Still, the Edu K mashup of Baile and Reggaeton sounds interesting. I'll be checking it when it comes out. But remember I've already been playing with mixing Bailefunk with Reggaeton (and Bhangra, Crunk, Candombe and a bunch of other stuff). If you didn't download it yet, don't wait for the world catch up next year. Get it now. :-)
Wow! What's this?

Hey! I got quoted here :

? Tipping point: The Web is easier to use than your hard drive | Between the Lines |

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | US 'shifts' position on torture
Brighton Podcast - Dance Music and Chat
BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Delay expected in ozone recovery
BBC NEWS | Americas | New York gets Venezuela cheap oil
Did you know Brazil exports aircraft?
Don Park has some good discussions.

He suggested MS drop IE 7, which I didn't get.

But here's his further explanation (from the comments), which makes a lot of sense :

HTML is just another content type while the browser can be far more than just an HTML viewer. At the platform-level, built-in support for sessions, local storage/database, fine-grained caching, identities, directories, user-level zoning, graphics engine, and others could make new breed of web applications possible. Security-wise, what about running 'virtual machines' as a 'page' that can be accessed with a simple hyperlink? What if virtual machines can be 'stacked' together like slabs of concretes, each temperproof, to be used as 'platform' for rich web applications?

Must I go on listing all the things Microsoft and Mozilla could do?

And in a later post he points out how alien the desktop has become to users.

I can help noticing how little use they have for the desktop. They look bewildered when I open the Windows Explorer.

To them, file open or file save dialog *is* where the files go. My Documents? It's just an icon they never touch. The web is the little blue icon on the desktop that looks like a letter e. Email is another icon next to it. IM is the little person icon on the bottom right. Word is a W icon on the desktop. They don't even ask why only one click is needed for icons on the bottom right and double-click is needed for icons on the desktop. It just is.

Which has stimulated a re-iteration of my anti-desktop rant in his comments :

Turns out the browser model of pages and hyperlinks is way better. Here's the amazing thing : there are about 8 billion pages accessable through the browser. And not one of them is that difficult to get to. (Assuming you find links going there.)

How many OSs and desktop applications have 8 billion options and functions? Yet, access to these is through a bewildering variety of different methods : menus and submenus, button-bars, wizards, right-click on the icon to change configuration options, hidden XML configuration files, command line arguments.

Windows is so arbitrary when it comes to trying to figure out how to set an environment variable or share a folder (eg. why aren't these done via the Control Panel?)

We need to figure out how to hide the whole computer through a "pages and hyperlinks" interface (that mixes actions with documentation, tutorial help, search) All applications, even local desktop ones, should be on "pages" within the local computer, accessed via a (suitably human readable local URL).
Dowbrigade : As horrible as it sounds, we are waiting for another Tet.

Dowbrigade News: Dowbrigade News
Paul Craig Roberts blasted the Labour Party's aristo. pretensions

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Playing around with Fruityloops today, I knocked up a quick tune which is rather melodic and laid-back (unlike most of the more difficult noise I produce). Might as well share. Enjoy. :-)

Sketch 010.mp3

I'm putting it out as public domain. Do what you like with it.
Wow! Watch The French Democracy on your machine, right now!

Impressive piece of political machinima film-making.
"'Secretary Rice made extra-legal rendition sound like just another form of extradition,' said Tom Malinowski, a Human Rights Watch official in Washington.

'In fact, it's a form of kidnapping and 'disappearing' someone entirely outside the law.'

BBC NEWS | Europe | Rice and Merkel discuss CIA row

Monday, December 05, 2005

I disagree with Dave here.

If people want Wikipedia with a reputation gatekeeper, they should fork the existing content and start building a separate encyclopedia with all the checks and controls they like. Then we can actually compare the two approaches. Does the expertise outweigh the ease of updating?

Of course, maybe this is a way to disrupt the centralized Wikipedia. If you care about a page and want to become its editor, why not keep a local copy under your control, which you keep synced with the good changes that are made to the original.

Maybe something could be done with SisterSites so that people looking at an uncontrolled page could automatically get a link to moderated versions kept by off-site gatekeepers.
Remember what I said about Smalltalk being flexible because it's implemented in itself?

Here's Avi, the author of Seaside :

Ironically, in that moment [realizing he could use continuations in the server] I was at first convinced that I would have to move my code back to Ruby, because Smalltalk doesn?t have primitive support for capturing continuations as Ruby does. The subsequent experience of realizing that they could be implemented in Smalltalk at the library level, simply by some trivial manipulations of the stack frame objects, was one of those that really cemented my choice of environment.

A bit of history on Seaside.
More arguments for the resurgence of Smalltalk! :-)
Growing pains for Wikipedia - page 2 | CNET

Following up. I wonder if there's much evidence that people do take Wikipedia too "authoritatively".

Seems like Adam Curry editing out a reference to Kevin Marks, because he hadn't heard about Marks's demo, is actually the opposite : Curry didn't take the authority of wikipedia seriously enough. If he had, he's have believed what it said.
Excellent essay : TomDispatch - Tomgram: Dreyfuss on Bush's Deadly Dance with Islamic Theocrats

If this doesn't satisfy your insurgent appetites then you could borrow a recent trick from a drug gang in Rio de Janeiro.
Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

Sunday, December 04, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | Venezuelans vote for new congress

Hmm. Bad sign if Chavez wants to change law to be able to stay in power longer.
At the end of the day, this is why Wikipedia is OK. Not because it's authoritative, but because nothing is authoritative.

We can handle one more non-authoritative source of information, especially when it helps remind us that there are no authoritative sources of information. :-)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Danny Ayers posts on Tim Bray talking about "Beyond Java".

Some good points and links by Tim. Especially an excellent short description on how continuations help you writing web applications. (Recommended)

I'm still highly gratified by the whole "Beyond Java" thing, of course ;-)

Also interesting how much traction Seaside is getting. Wouldn't it be totally amazing if the "next big thing" turns out to be Smalltalk :-)

Well, good programming languages don't rust. Especially not something as flexible as Smalltalk where most of the language is implemented in itself. My Smalltalk writing skills though, have rusted a bit. :-(
Hello World: Tag-cloud my OPML


I want tags in OPML too.

Friday, December 02, 2005

God! What a piece of inuendo and character assassination!
This is amazing. Aparently there's a move for a South America wide silver currency.

Latin American Congressmen Consider The Silver Coin

If you want to know what this means. And what the arguments are about fixed, commodity backed currencies, there's plenty on the tribe.

Executive summary : fixed, commodity backed money avoids some of the problems of fractional reserve banking. (We're not in a crazy dash for growth because of hypercompetition to pay back the money that was borrowed into existence)

But I'm starting to suspect that it's the ideal money for feudal aristocrats. (And wannabe aristocrats)
Everyone goes on about Memeorandum, but frankly when I go and look at it I see a lot of mainstream sites reporting the news straight out of the press release. Am I missing something?
Interesting discussion about the problems the US military has using the Iraqi legal system to prosecute insurgents. The US wants to give more control to the Iraqi legal process but also wants to keep suspects interned for longer. But the courts are demanding higher standards of evidence than the US can produce.

US dilemma : delegate and risk helping the insurgency vs. acting in a more heavy-handed process, and retard the move towards Iraqi autonomy and civil process?

New Rules In Iraq May Make It Tougher To Keep Insurgents Behind Bars by Elaine M. Grossman
"Fabius Maximus" (right wing pundit) on Iraq :

Perhaps the biggest losers: Iraq?s women. Iraq was the major secular state in the Middle East. A tyranny, but after Saddham?s death it might have evolved to become more like western States. As a result of our ill-thought-out meddling, a fundamentalist Islamic revolution has already begun in the Arab regions of Iraq.

Forecasts - November 2005 by F. Max.: