Archive for the ‘nördig’ Category

A simple thought on the management of software

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

I just wrote a column for Charles Arthur about how I had celebrated Firefox day by switching back to Opera and this thought didn’t quite make it in.

The organisational division between the users and producers of software should follow its patterns of use. Open source software is predicated on the idea that users ought to become producers too. Most of the time this is simply false, and when it is, commercial or at least closed source software will work better. The clear organisational distinction between producers and consumers corresponds to the reality of function. That is why Opera is better than Firefox. With the great open source success stories — LAMP, essentially — there has been a more permeable barrier between users and producers precisely because the user/customers are themselves producers of software to start with. Even then, the successful projects are run as despotisms.

The half-failures like OpenOffice have failed to understand which side of the barrier they are on, and to organise themselves accordingly. Actually I am inclined to think that OOo ought to be open source. There’s certainly no commercial justification for another disk-based office suite. But in that case the distinction between Sun as the inner oligarchy of producers, and everyone else as more or less favoured consumers simply won’t hold. The balance, difficult and unpleasant though it clearly is for Sun to understand, is not between professional engineers and happy, laughing amateurs with their intoxicating natural rhythms, but between the Sun-salaried workforce and their competitors from the real world, at IBM and the various Linux companies. The end-users are wholly irrelevant.

Windows 3.1 lies athwart my future

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

I have two CD roms on my desk right now which retailed for about £500 each in the early Nineties. Each one holds a year’s run of the Independent; so far as I know they are my only way of getting at very early cuttings, since the Essex Libraries database only goes back to 1996. Each disk contains a dos batch file to install the reader software (FT Profile, by Personal Library Software) onto a hard disk, whence it would interrogate the CR-rom drive (£250). The batch file won’t run under anything later than MS Dos 5.

Can anyone suggest how I might get this running under some kind of emulator? It might be possible to fake the action of the installation file and then run the search software, I suppose, if I had set up the environment variables it is looking for. hmmm. I actually need this because I have to write a speech about the future of the Anglican Communion, a subject on which I know nothing. So I thought I would go back and look at its past, and what we thought the future would turn out to be.

Nerdly weekend note

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Opera 9.5 is out and I am back too using it instead of Thunderbird/Firefox. This is mostly because it is very much faster, especially at mail. But it comes with most of the essential Firefox add-ins built in—Ad-blocking, Javascript blocking, synchronised note-taking (though I have not experimented with the synchronisations bit) and it is very much faster to load. So far, the only incompatibility I have discovered is with the TinyMCE editor built in to WordPress, which for some reasons adds successive paragraphs before the preceding ones. But this will be fixed in the new release. In the meantime, Opera is still badly integrated with delicious, but its email is the closest thing to gmail offline, even if—a pet, lasting peeve—it won’t do Mapi.

In the long run, even the dead don’t stay grateful

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

via John Naughton, I see that Paul Krugman has resuscitated the argument that the Dead were pioneers of the new economy by allowing taping of their concerts and making their money as much from merchandising and touring as from record/CD sales.

This has been around since the mid-Nineties, and it’s a bit depressing to see that no one has revisited the evidence since then. It’s perfectly true that the Dead were pioneers of digital distribution and allowed lots of stuff to be circulated for free. However, this is no longer the case. None of the band’s soundboards may be freely circulated on the Internet Archive. Of the surviving members, Phil Lesh puts out occasional —and occasionally wonderful—soundboards; but Bob Weir only sells his music; you can buy the live concert tapes through MunckMix. The Garcia estate no longer even sells digital downloads, though it did for a while, and the flow of MP3 downloads for sale from the Dead’s own vaults seems to have dried up. It is of course possible there is another explanation for that: even deadheads hardcore to the point of derangement (memorably defined by Mrs T as “anyone who has more versions of The Eleven than I do”) might feel that 36 multi-CD Dick’s Picks collections were enough.

code and prose

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

I’d be interested to know from any of the developers who read this whether my piece in yesterday’s Guardian made sense.

Metafictional diary note

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

I was drinking last night with the Archbishop of Canterbury and he didn’t have any interesting gadgets in his cassock but later that evening I bumped into Sean who showed me the first worthwhile use of an iPhone: fishporn. He had videos of trout in green translucent rivers that looked almost as lovely as the real thing. I didn’t want to see them caught, and I hate the bit where they are lifted from the water to be photographed—kill them or release them, but don’t film their mouths and gills working in the air—but the fish themselves were lovely and bought a sense of wildness and tranquillity to a pub back garden in Southwark. I’m not completely heartless. I did tell Rowan that there was probably still one stuga free in Lapland for the second half of July but we couldn’t agree on a price.

More Weizenbaum

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

The prescience of Joe Weizenbaum continues. After long detours, I have returned to the end of his book, where he is asking whether the world has any understanding of what computers will do. He saw very clearly how a “system” would grow which had its own logic, and in front of which everyone seemed to stand powerless. What set off this riff was the production of an early seismology database, which made it possible to visualise 8000 known earthquakes, and so see the world’s tectonic plates but simultaneously wiped from the map everything that had happened before 1960, because the earlier data was too difficult to scan in.

The computer has thus begun to be an instrument for the destruction of history. For when society legitimates only those “data” that are “in one standard format” and that “can easily be told to the machine,” then history, memory itself, is annihilated. The New York Times has already begun to build a “data bank” of current events. Of course, only those data that are easily derivable as by-products of typesetting machines are admissable to the system. As the number of subscribers to this system grows, and as they learn more and more to rely on “all the news that [was once] fit to print,” as the Times proudly identifies its editorial policy, how long will it be before what counts as fact is determined by the system, before all other knowledge, all memory, is simply declared illegitimate? Soon a supersystem will be built, based on the New York Times’ data bank (or one very like it), from which “historians” will make inferences about what “really” happened, about who is connected to whom, and about the “real” logic of events. There are many people now who see nothing wrong in this.

This was written in 1975 or a little earlier.

Your data is safer than you think

Friday, May 9th, 2008

In a story at once grotesque and astonishing, it turns out that one of the hard drives on the Columbia shuttle which blew up with the loss of the whole crew in 2003 has been treated by a data recovery firm who got 90% of the data off it—after it had been blown up and then dropped two miles. Don’t miss the picture. (via)

more feedback needed

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

I think I have changed the feed links over. If you get this in an rss reader, then your transfer to the new blogging system has worked. Please drop something in the comments to say so: obviously I can’t ask people for whom it hasn’t worked to complain.

A farewell to MT

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

This is the first post written into the new live wordpress version of the blog. I started getting mysterious errors on the MT installation and it was all just too much. I think I have mostly reproduced the old layout, which I liked, on this one. Below the fold, some detailed nerdy notes on all that went wrong. I know there isn’t a flickr sidebar yet. I’m working on that. Comments welcome; first thing we note is that there doesn’t seem to be a below the fold.
(more…)