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The Linux Launderette


(?)More Accents
(?)Slashdot links
(?)Gentoo motivational image
(?)gmail POP3 extension: X-GOOGLE-VERHOEVEN
(?)London explosions
(?)The flash in the pan has fizzled out...
(?)Re: I only read it for the open source
(?)Quote of the day
(?)rms vs. Harry Potter
(?)One for Ben...

(?) More Accents

From Jimmy O'Regan

(!) [Jimmy] Continued from last month

Shawn is an American spelling of Sean (which is not an English name, by the way, it's Irish. It does appear in Scotland, but IIRC, the Gaelic version is Ian).

(!) [Sluggo] Ian means Sean??? I thought Ian meant John. Or does Sean mean John too?

(?) The latter. Sean is an Irish mispronunciation of John :)

(!) [Breen] Bingo.
Also Seamus == Hamish == James.

(?) Give the man a "Do Unspeakable Things To Me, I'm Irish (For a Given Value of 'Irish')" t-shirt!

(!) [Breen] Here in the States, my surname is always considered Irish. I'm well aware that in Ireland they'll tell you that it's English.

(?) Nah. I thought it was Irish.

(!) [Breen] It's Anglo-Norman in origin -- Moleyns (as in Moulin) making it a cognate of Miller.
(!) [Sluggo] Is that like the "My weiner is lucky" T-shirts that appeared right before St Patrick's Day?
A friend in Dublin sent me a great St Patrick's Day card. It showed two businessmen with shamrocks and green and other "lucky" things all over their briefcases and suits, but they had "bah humbug!" expressions in spite of that.
Note: yanks don't send St Patrick's Day cards. At least none that I've ever heard of.

(?) Um... that's the first time I've ever heard of a St. Patrick's Day card. Will those Hallmark fiends stop at nothing?

(?) Slashdot links

From Sluggo

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/Biculturalism.html Review of The Art of Unix Programming by Eric Raymond (review by Joe Spolsky) Entire book online at http://www.faqs.org/docs/artu/index.html

The article talks mostly about the cultural differences between Unix and Windows; it says Raymond gets this wrong because he doesn't understand Windows culture, but still recommends the book for its general insights.

'I have heard economists claim that Silicon Valley could never be recreated in, say, France, because the French culture puts such a high penalty on failure that entrepreneurs are not willing to risk it. Maybe the same thing is true of Linux: it may never be a desktop operating system because the culture values things which prevent it. OS X is the proof: Apple finally created Unix for Aunt Marge, but only because the engineers and managers at Apple were firmly of the end-user culture (which I've been imperialistically calling "the Windows Culture" even though historically it originated at Apple). They rejected the Unix culture's fundamental norm of programmer-centricity. They even renamed core directories -- heretical! -- to use common English words like "applications" and "library" instead of "bin" and "lib."'

(!) [Rick] Yeah, they're not people who senselessly put up with endless churn and mind-numbing complexity at the behest of a monopolist vendor; they're just plain folks working to help Aunt Marge in contrast to those luftmenschen Unix (especially Linux) people who aspire to actually be in charge of their computing. Joel and Co. are so tragically misunderstood I'm getting all misty-eyed, just thinking about it.
Yeah, Aunt Marge will never be able to figure out her TiVo or use Google, right, Joel?
You'll have to wade through a large amount of tedious and irrelevant argumentum ad hominem, probably included as filler because Spolsky has otherwise so little to say -- and, of course, none of even that residuum about (in contrast to Raymond's work) the key issue of where control resides, as Spolsky's crowd gave that up long ago without much thought.
I don't really mind the four minutes I wasted on that review, but in an ideal world I'd really rather have them back.
(!) [Jimmy] Um... where? I see a lot of general arguments against the Unix approach, but not against Raymond personally. The closest to an ad hominem argument I saw was this:
"Whenever he opens his mouth about Windows he tends to show that his knowledge of Windows programming comes mostly from reading newspapers, not from actual Windows programming. That's OK; he's not a Windows programmer; we'll forgive that."
and, uh... that's true from what I remember of the text in question.
(!) [Jimmy] Aha. Looked at the section of the text: http://www.faqs.org/docs/artu/ch03s02.html#nt_contrast
"NT has file attributes in some of its file system types. They are used in a restricted way, to implement access-control lists on some file systems, and don't affect development style very much."
Umm.... that's kinda true, for given values of 'true'.
NT doesn't use attributes in the POSIX sense, it uses separate file streams. Each file on NTFS is more like its own directory, and arbitrary streams can be added to each file without restriction (xattrs on Linux are restricted to 64k, BTW). Heck, they could even add automatic versioning and really show NT's VMS roots if they wanted.
"Most programs cannot be scripted at all. Programs rely on complex, fragile remote procedure call (RPC) methods to communicate with each other, a rich source of bugs."
Again, true for a given value of true.
Most programs can't be scripted in the Unix way - by parsing the output - but can be scripted using OLE Automation. This is where that RPC confusion comes in: it's actually a C++ vtable on the local machine, with an extra part that describes the type information for each function (like Java's reflection API), which removes the need to write a wrapper for each programming language as you have to do in Unix land. Windows comes with a DCE RPC implementation, and will automatically marshal OLE interfaces across RPC for free if you decide to call a remote machine, but otherwise there is no overhead for compiled languages, and a little for interpreted.
If the amount of times Unix has been cloned is a testament to how good an idea it was, bear in mind that COM has been cloned several times (OOo's UNO, Mozilla's XPCOM, GNOME's Bonobo, KDE's (now discarded) original component system, etc.)
(!) [Rick] 1. Otherwise irrelevant swipe about "idiotarianism", a term Raymond had briefly attempted to popularise in the context of his politics blog.
2. Reference to "the frequently controversial Eric S. Raymond".
Note: Passive-aggressives in the technical community have been lately falling back on the term "controversial" to denote someone whom you wish to suggest is somehow unsuitable and doubtful without actually presenting any honest argument as to why. I caught a business-school professor from San Jose State University recently trying to pull that bit of gutter rhetoric on the OSI license-discuss mailing list against outgoing OSI general counsel Lawrence Rosen. It was a disreputable bit of trickery there, and it is here, too.
3. The juvenile, thrown-in inclusion of a hyperlink to Raymond's 1999 "Surprised by Wealth" slightly inarticulate burblings about (temporarily, as it turns out) having paper-only winnings in the stock market from the VA Linux Systems IPO. Even the Slashdot trolls eventually got tired of cruelly waving the "Gee, you thought you were going to get rich, huh?" line at Raymond, but Spolsky hasn't.
All of that gratuitous personal nastiness formed part of what Spolsky lead with in his initial paragraphs. You might not have noticed it, but I did -- and it both distracted from the distinctly limited merits of his review's real content and sufficed to convince me that the man's a raving jerk.
(!) [Kapil] The analogy Japan<-> America = Windows/Mac<-> Unix is flawed.
There are cultural differences between the users for whom the Mac/Windows/Gnome/KDE folks design interfaces and the users for whom the Unix interface is designed.
However, it is possible and indeed imperative(*) for users of the first kind (whom Spolsky calls non-programmers) to make the transition (at their own pace) to the users of the second kind (programmers). (**)
The difference between Gnome/KDE and Windows is that in the latter case the interface puts up barriers to this transition.(***)
(*) But there is no such imperative for people from one part of the world to adapt/adopt food habits from another part of the world.
(**) The logic of the world as it currently works is that those who do not (slowly but) steadily improve their understanding/usage of the tools they use will soon become incapable.
(***) I cannot decide exactly where to put Mac OS X.
(!) [Jimmy] I have to admit here that I didn't bother following the links from that paragraph, and going by the text, I thought it was a favourable review:
"The frequently controversial Eric S. Raymond has just written a long book about Unix programming called The Art of UNIX Programming exploring his own culture in great detail."
[snip cultural differences....]
"on the whole, the book is so full of incredibly interesting insight into so many aspects of programming that I'm willing to hold my nose during the rare smelly ideological rants because there's so much to learn about universal ideals from the rest of the book. Indeed I would recommend this book to developers of any culture in any platform with any goals, because so many of the values which it trumpets are universal."
Aside from your third point, though, I think you're reading a bit too much into it: the guy is writing for an audience who have either not heard of Raymond, or who would most likely have an unfavourable impression that he's referring to -- "Don't be put off the book because of its author".
(!) [Rick] That's a generous interpretation, and it speaks well for you, but not for Spolsky. ;->
All of those three points, however, have been popular standbys of a certain Slashdot-type ad hominem squad that's been showing up -- invariably relying on anonymous postings -- in pretty much any discussion of Raymond, his writings, or his software or the last seven or eight years: Spolsky gives every appearance of having cribbed his "amusing", take-the-subject-down-a-peg-or-two references directly from the gossipers.
Those gossipers had a field day with Raymond for promoting the "idiotarian" concept on his politics blog, and then more so when he made the mistake of listing that in the Jargon File (which entry he later removed, upon reflection). And there's no conceivable reason to cite that in a book review, other than to serve as a personal swipe.
(!) [Jimmy] OK, I'm conviced, especially since I went back to the article and noticed the date.
While we're on the topic, I went by Wikipedia's article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_S._Raymond) after I sent that last mail, my PC crashed, I went back, and... the section titled 'Criticism' had changed to 'Trivia' -- it seems there has been a very slow edit war going on over the past few days.
(!) [John] Attacks of ESR aside, one slightly off-color aspect I noticed in the review was a cited quote from an exec at Red Hat, taken from Nov 2003, which stated that Linux was not yet ready to be considered as being on equal footing with that other OS in the regard of ease of install and use by non-tech savvy types.


So here we are, 20 years after Unix developers started trying to paint a good user interface on their systems, and we're still at the point where the CEO of the biggest Linux vendor is telling people that home users should just use Windows.


I followed his link to the source of the quote, and saw that it was published in Nov 2003, and that the article went on to say:


Szulik gave an example of his 90-year-old father going to a local retailer in order to purchase a computer with Linux: "We know painfully well what happens. He will try to get it installed and either doesn't have a positive experience or puts a lot of pressure on your support systems," he said.
However, Szulik expects Linux to be ready in a couple of years after it has had time to mature.


I don't mean to assert that the more ubiquitous platform doesn't maintain the advantage for wide OEM support, but depending on the apps that the user is going to run, the gap has been narrowing steadily over time, and for an ever increasing number of home users, Linux makes a very adequate replacement for MSW.
The citation of that quote also seems a bit misleading, in that it's quite easy to assume that it was more contemporaneous, rather than nearly two years old, and in the context of technological advances, nearly two years is a long time.
(!) [Jimmy] Erm... that review was published a month after the quote in question. (As I said in my last mail in this thread, I didn't notice the date either :).
(!) [John] Oops, missed it both places - could be time for the semi-annual cleaning of the spectacles. :)

(?) Gentoo motivational image

From Jimmy O'Regan


(?) gmail POP3 extension: X-GOOGLE-VERHOEVEN

From Jason Creighton


I was checking my mail, and noticed something interesting in fetchmail's output. Here's the relevant bit:

fetchmail: POP3< +OK Gpop 72pf4507421rna ready.
fetchmail: POP3> CAPA
fetchmail: POP3< +OK Capability list follows
fetchmail: POP3< USER
fetchmail: POP3< RESP-CODES
fetchmail: POP3< EXPIRE 0
fetchmail: POP3< LOGIN-DELAY 300
fetchmail: POP3< .

I say X-GOOGLE-VERHOEVEN and thought "what the heck is that?". I googled (Admittedly not a very good way to find something if this a huge conspiracy. <grin> ;) for it on the web and on Google groups, but that only turned up mailing list archive posts where people were posting the output of fetchmail -v in an effort to get their mail working.

My next step was to see if the extension introducted any obviously named commands:

[jason@jpc ~]$ socat - OPENSSL:pop.gmail.com:995,verify=false
+OK Gpop 71pf3749931rnc ready.
-ERR bad command
[jason@jpc ~]$

I tried several other permutations: X-GOOGLE, GOOGLE, GOOGLE-VERHOEVEN. Each one returned the same error code.

So I wonder: What is this thing? Is it just some tag saying "Yes, this is Google's mail service"?

(!) [Sluggo] Should've yahoo'd or msn'd it. That'll show them.

(?) Actually, I tried Yahoo, which didn't return any hits. I'd forgotten about MSN. It didn't return anything either. It's indicative of something (Google's massive market share? Forgetfulness? I don't know.) that I couldn't think of any non-Google search engines other than Yahoo.

(!) [Ben] It's that X-GOOGLE-VERHOEVEN extension. It sets a default state for search_engine_lookup() in your brain... you're doomed, doomed I tell you.
(!) [Jimmy] Well, they are the only search engine with a moon mapping facility (http://moon.google.com - today's the anniversary of the first manned moon landing, but you guys knew that, right?)
(!) [Breen] I certainly did. (You have zoomed all the way in on google's moon, right?)
(!) [Jimmy] Nah, I'm on dial-up. I'll be sure to do so tomorrow when I get a chance to go to a 'net cafe, but I think I can guess what I'll see.
While we're on the topics of space and current events, James "Scotty" Doohan died today. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Doohan

(?) London explosions

From Benjamin A. Okopnik

(?) Heather pointed me to your site, including your photos.

(!) [Sluggo] Are you going to bait us all and not give us the URL?

(?) Nah, just you. I emailed the URL to every single other person on the list privately - in fact, everyone else in the world - just to leave you out of the loop and watch you do this jumping up and down act; it's far too amusing to miss. So, everybody except you is in on the joke.

Perhaps we'll all take pity on you if you do it long enough. :)

(!) [Sluggo] Grumble, what do you expect from a guy who lives on a boat so he can make a fast getaway anytime.

(?) "Fast getaway". On a 37' sailboat. Riiiight.


Average speed for non-planing hulls = sqrt(waterline_length)
Top speed -"- : sqrt(waterline_length) * ~1.3
Ulysses' LWL: ~32 feet.

HINT: Sailboats do not have afterburners, ramscoops, or braking jets. Reentry speeds are whatever the crane operator feels is safe - i.e., somewhere around 1 ft./minute (no heat-resistant tiles required.) Andy Green and Thrust SSC have nothing to fear from wind-driven machines, and Chuck Yeager in his X-1 never got to experience being outrun and outmaneuvered by a schooner or a yawl.

We do, however, make trans-oceanic passages - something that 99% of powerboaters will never be able to do aboard their boat - and burn zero to minimal fuel in the process. We also don't have to rely on bad-tempered machinery that could leave us stranded at any second. There's also the fact that wind is free... and with the cost of gas nowadays, that speaks to a lot of people.

(!) [Sluggo] Not a peep from you about hurricanes this time. I take it you were unaffected?

(?) I'll be sure to let you know if one of them kills me.


Eventually. :)

(!) [Sluggo] Or is your computer sending preprogrammed posthumous messages?
(!) [Sluggo] On a similar line, from another James Hogan book Voyage from Yesteryear , chapter 11. A human is talking to a robot.


-- What kind of machine are you? I mean, can you think like a person? Do you know who you are?
-- Suppose I said I could. Would that tell you anything?
-- I guess not. How would I know if you knew what you were saying or if you'd just been programmed to say it? There's no way of telling the difference.
-- Then is there any difference?
Driscoll frowned, thought about it, then dismissed it with a shake of his head.


(?) Mike, if you're trying to tell us a) that you're a robot, and b) that we won't be able to tell the difference, you're way behind the curve. I mean, look at that mechanistic Python language thing you use: obviously robot-only fare. I mean, good *grief!* The thing treats whitespace as if it was significant. What else would you have to know to say "Yep, this guy is a Venusian Zombie Killer Robot - run for your lives!"

(?) What a lovely, perfectly English cottage (including the satellite dish!) - and what a magnificently malevolent-looking cat! I hope you don't mind me keeping a copy of that pic; he represents a certain visually-unambiguous ideal. :)))

(!) [Thomas] Hehehe. Not at all, you're quite welcome. It's a she, as it happens. "Mildred" is her name. She likes to hunt rabbits, mice, birds, and squirrels. I have seen twice now, while I have been here, two de-headed squirrels. :/ Yuck. :) She isn't ferocious. She meaows a lot, and takes a shining to me, as all animals seem to do. She has sharp claws though, so watch out. :)
Continuing on the photo theme, I have more of the coast (a mere mile and a half walk away, across the farmland) that I will try and upload to Heather -- but I am putting together a more coherent website with these images on, providing a running commentary. I'm hoping Mike Orr will appreciate it as well. I've hopefully done him a favour (I do not mean for it to be patronising or condescending in anyway) and taken a picture of a Caravan and a static-caravan for him to compare. (Mike knows what I'm rabbitting on about.) :)
(!) [Sluggo] I've already forgotten what a static-caravan is. A trailer that's not built to be moved very often?
(This was from a word discussion. Apparently a trailer is called a caravan in England. Here a caravan is a mode of travel ("several vehicles travelling together"), not a type of vehicle. The Dodge Caravan notwithstanding. http://www.dodge.com/caravan
(!) [Thomas] This connection I'm on now relies on tin cans, string, and some sort of goat sacrifice...
(!) [Brian] That it requires goat sacrifice is one thing, that it requires "some sort" of goat sacrifice implies more than one type of goat sacrifice possibly necessary for certain 'net connections through BT (one presumes). That you KNOW that there's more than one type of goat sacrifice has me slightly concerned.
.brian (who's also glad to know you weren't in the wrong place that day...)

(?) I find that curried goat makes for quite a good sacrifice - especially if I'm the one being sacrificed to. A touch of scotch bonnet sauce and perhaps a squeeze of "sower orange", and it will ameliorate my wrath and charm my savage breast...

(!) [Thomas] Ah, a man that speaks from experience. :)
(!) [Thomas] The route to the sea also follows the river Brad, which has lots of fish in. I want to go fishing now. :)
(!) [Sluggo] Tell Brad hi when you meet it. Britian has such interesting place names, starting with the river Thames. And in bonnie Scotland: Lost, Wick, Tongue, John o' Groats, Thurso. Oh, and here's an interesting one, Baile an Or. (Is that the Gold Town? Or something named after me? :)
BTW, Vancouver has a skytrain station called Braid.
(!) [Brian] That must have been one wicked track design...
(!) [Jimmy] Heh. You need to get a copy of "The Meaning of Liff" by Douglas Adams and... erm... someone else. They took several place names from around Britain and provided definitions for them :)
(!) [Pete] The someone else is John Lloyd, see http://folk.uio.no/alied/TMoL.html
(!) [Sluggo] Heh, heh.


*SLUGGAN (n.)*
A lurid facial bruise which everyone politely omits to mention because it's obvious that you had a punch-up with your spouse last night - but which was actually caused by walking into a door. It is useless to volunteer the true explanation because nobody will believe it.


(!) [Rick] Which reminds me: My sweetie Deirdre Saoirse Moen and I will be visiting the place "The Meaning of Liff" defines thus...


The feeling of infinite sadness engendered when walking through a place filled with happy people fifteen years younger than yourself.


via a very brief sojourn in the familiar spot alluded to inside here...


AIRD OF SLEAT (n. archaic)
Ancient Scottish curse placed from afar on the stretch of land now occupied by Heathrow Airport.


...to attend this event:
Alas, we will not have time to wander elsewhere in the UK.
(!) [Sluggo] Or as Forsyth's film That Sinking Feeling , which is set in Glasgow, says:


The characters in this film are entirely fictitious. There is no such place as Glasgow.


The film with that memorable line, "There must be something more to life than committing suicide."

(?) The flash in the pan has fizzled out...

From Rick Moen

Quoting Benjamin A. Okopnik (ben@linuxgazette.net):

> It's *possible* that [foo] acted in what he thought was good faith.
(Name elided from the quotation to stress that I'm mounting the soapbox to make a general point that I hope will enligh^Wentertain.)
It costs nothing to postulate good faith about people one is talking about; in my opinion doing so is both good manners and superior tactics. ;->
In the hypothetical edge case of having stone-hard evidence, ready to post and likely to be understood, it is still usually much more damning to cite the evidence without comment, and let listeners reach obvious conclusions on their own. Why? Because of an odd rhetorical effect.
If I tell you "X is an irredeemable jerk, and I'm going to prove it to you", you will tend to unconsciously set your mind to resist the sales pitch and dream up any possible reasons why you might remain unpersuaded. It's human nature; if we're pushed, we lean the other way, out of habit.
By contrast, if I just start talking in a matter-of-fact fashion without apparent axe-grinding about various uncontested facts about X's doings, and you're moved to comment "What a wanker!", you'll tend to hold that conviction pretty firmly because (or so you think) you arrived at it on your own. In fact, you might dig in and start trying to convince me *I'm* being too kind.
So, next time you see me being nice about someone, or even protesting other people's too-hasty condemnation of him, please remember that generosity of spirit might have nothing to do with it: It might be a devilishly clever Machiavellian intrigue in disguise. ;->
See also: http://www.csicop.org/si/2001-07/criticism.html , especially points "2. Clarify your objectives" and "5. Let the facts speak for themselves."

(?) Misc

From Sluggo

Sent in my usability article. I finished it last night but my Internet access went kaput. Both the ISP and Qwest said everything's fine. I'm wondering if it's a bad modem or bad Ethernet card. The light on the Ethernet card and modem blinks like there's no tomorrow, even after I turn the computer off, until I unplug it. Some new kind of hardware hackery? "Do you know what your Ethernet card is doing?"

(!) [Heather] It's 10 pm, do you know where all 10 of your Mb are...

(?) So I'll be semi-offline for a while. If you need to contact me for anything, call [phone number].

Song of the month: "On Any Other Day", The Police


    My wife has burned the scrambled eggs
    The dog just pissed my leg
    My teenage daughter ran away
    My fine young son has turned out gay


(!) [Jimmy] And quote of the day, from Mil Millington's mailing list: "Fiona Walker is the only best-selling romantic novelist who has ever started talking to me in a bar about buying horse sperm off the Internet. (That's not really relevant, but I sensed you'd what (sic) to know it anyway.)"
(!) [Heather] The fortune cookie of the moment was the lyrics from Dark Side of the Moon.
"...as a matter of fact, it's all dark."
Heather "still crunching and munching yes I know we're late" grabs my white-rabbit type hat and races back down the rabbithole again.

(?) I had to go to the library to upload the article. Since I didn't have a floppy drive I was about to buy a USB stick, then I thought, "My camera is a mass storage device. Maybe I can upload an arbitrary file to it." And it worked. :)

(!) [Jimmy] Yeah, I've done that with my camera, and the smart media card from my brother's portastudio. (Which reminds me -- I have to replace that. Turns out these things don't cope well with power failure :(
(!) [Ben] The Geek Resurgens, ne plus ultra! Can't kill 'im with a stick! :)
Well done, Mike. Me, I'd have had to wind a bunch of wire on some iron cores, and hope that the library computer would accept a pair of car battery clamps as serial input.
(!) [Jimmy] And heck, if the librarians have a problem with that, they can also double as a means of persuasion.

(?) Re: I only read it for the open source

From Suramya Tomar

(!) [Jimmy] Continued from last month

I finally got the chance to read this months edition of the LG and saw this interesting discussion about Playboy hosting mirror.

I had noticed it last year when I was trying to download something off cpan. I took a screenshot of it since I didn't expect anyone to believe me without it. If you are curious here's a link to that blog entry:


Just thought I should share that with you all.

(!) [Jimmy] [ Sharp intake of breath ] You mean it set your desktop background for you too? That's what I call service! :)

(?) Yup. If you want a copy of the background let me know. :)

BTW if you trying to get to the above site right now, you won't get through. 'cause some unknown reason my LVS (Linux Virtual Server) decided to reset to its default blank settings. I am trying to get in touch with the Tech Support but so far havn't heard anything yet.

So As a side note, does anyone know any reliable web hosting service? I want PHP, MySQL, Perl on the server with SSH access and a decent transfer limit. If anyone knows a good hosting service let me know.

(?) Quote of the day

From Jimmy O'Regan

From an interview with Dan "You're doing what with DNS?" Kaminsky (http://www.securityfocus.com/columnists/342)


Naive comparison is a real problem, and even things that seem to be "apples to apples" -- say, a comparison between the vendor-announced vulnerability counts of Microsoft Windows XP SP1 vs. Redhat Linux 9 -- fall apart the moment you compare what's in the box for both. XPSP1 ships with no databases, while Redhat ships with at least MySQL and PostgreSQL. Should Redhat be penalized for warning customers of potential problems that might be experienced on their platform, despite the fact that they didn't even write the software to begin with? When Oracle on XP has a vulnerability, Microsoft does not need to put out an advisory, instead Oracle does. Should Microsoft be referred to as a more secure platform because standard disclosure policies do not extend to announcing problems in software acquired entirely from a third party? Would Redhat suddenly become more secure if you had to download MySQL and PostgreSQL from their respective authors, with the requisite advisories coming from those authors and thus not counting from Redhat itself?

Bad metrics encourage bad decisions. Those that compare naively encourage naive security. It's 2005; it's a little late for that.


(?) rms vs. Harry Potter

From Jimmy O'Regan

Amusing, and topical:


Don't Buy Harry Potter Books

Canadians have been ordered not to read books that were sold to them "by mistake" . Read that article, then don't buy any Harry Potter books. Everyone who participated in requesting, issuing, enforcing, or trying to excuse this injunction is the enemy of human rights in Canada, and they all deserve to pay for their part in it. Not buying these books will at least make the publisher pay.

Unlike the publisher, who demands that people not read these books, I simply call on people not to buy them. If you wish to read them, wait, and you will meet someone who did get a copy. Borrow that copy--don't buy one. Even better, read something else--there are plenty of other books just as good, or (dare one suggest) even better.

Making Canada respect human rights will be hard, but a good first step is to identify the officials and legislators who do not support them. The article quotes a lawyer as saying, "There is no human right to read." Any official, judge, or legislator who is not outraged by this position does not deserve to be in office.

[snip spoiler]



(!) [Neil] Sending out spoilers on mailing lists is guaranteed to upset someone. I assume RMS included it to make people who read it less likely to buy. I think it's an unpleasant tactic and it makes me less inclined to support him on this.
If any of the gang want to redistribute this article further, please snip the spoilers.

(?) Whoops. Time of morning: I c 'n' p'd from the wrong tab.

(!) [Brian] Interesting. The paragraph with the spoilers in it isn't on the page referenced in the URL. Did RMS self-censor (unlikely), or ???
(!) [Jay] RMS is a shithead, and now I believe it.
And no, I don't blame Jimmy for this.
(!) [Sluggo] He's right though. When did reading become a "human right" like, oh, the right to practice your religion and not be killed?
Redneck Texan: what in tar-nation are they talkin about, "human right to read"? Next thing y'all know they'll be askin for the right to a mansion on the beach. And that other thing they keep harpin about, that loonie-versal health care whatsit. In my father's day people never asked for a handout, they worked and provided for themselves like God intended.
(!) [Neil] Yep. One quote I agree with. Elevating reading to a human right seems excessive, so unlike RMS, I am not enraged by that particular quote.
I would support the idea of a right to sufficient education to be able to read. I would also support the idea that people have a right to enjoy a book that they have purchased legally and in good faith, but a right to read any book or document you want, regardless of whether it not it's published or confidential is another matter. What would a "right to read" cover and in what circumstances, I would like to know?
If the injunction really orders them not to read the books they have purchased, that strikes me as wrong, but hey, we all know the law is an ass, even in Canada. If I'd bought a book and got an injunction like this, I'd still read it, I just wouldn't tell them ;-)
(!) [Ben] ...and if we extend that line of reasoning just a bit further, it brings us to (what I think is) RMS' original point. How much of a right do we grant to our governments to declare arbitrary actions illegal, no matter how trivial or harmless?
The cynic in me says that governments love having their citizens buy into a belief that they (the citizens) are guilty of something; people with something to hide are likely to keep their heads down and be good little sheep lest they be noticed and shorn. As the saying in Russia went, "nobody ever asks 'why' when the KGB takes them away." The KGB, of course, had a matching expression: "if we have the man, we'll make the case."
If the government is allowed to control trivial aspects of people's lives, then they will do so. Not in all cases, but... oh, the "opportunities" that arise. Perhaps this case is not as black-and-white as it could be, but I surely do see it as a very steep and well-greased slippery slope - with its entry point just under a hidden trap door.
(!) [Sluggo] ... which comes back to my original point, that there is also a slippery slope / trap door on the other side. In order to get a diverse coalition of people (the whole world) to agree to and enforce something, it has to be narrowly focused and not arbitraily "reinterpreted". It has long been recognized internationally that people have a right to not be imprisoned/tortured/killed for their ethnicity, religion, or participating in political protests. That's what's normally considered "human rights", and it's why China is under so much scrutiny. Canada and the EU have more inclusive definitions of basic rights, but those apply only in those countries and cannot be summarily exported to the rest of the world as "human rights". China's censorship of the Internet is deplorable but is not (yet) a "human rights violation".
(!) [Ben] [blink] Since when is getting the entire world to ratify something a rational goal? I don't think it's possible - except by the method employed by US politicians and so aptly described by Dave Barry.


We make presidential candidates go through a lengthy and highly embarrassing process that a person with even the tiniest shred of dignity would never get involved in. It's analogous to the ice-breaking party game "Twister," wherein somebody spins a pointer, and the players have to put their hands and feet on whatever colored circles it points to, thus winding up in humiliating positions. And the people who want to be president have to play. If the spinning pointer of political necessity points to SUCK UP TO UNIONS, they have to put their left hands over on that circle; if the spinner points to SUCK UP TO RELIGIOUS NUTS, they have to put their right feet in that circle; and so on, month after month, with candidates dropping out one by one as the required contortions become too difficult, until finally there's only one candidate left--some sweaty, exhausted, dignity-free yutz in a grotesquely unnatural pose, with his tie askew and his shirt untucked and his butt crack showing.
-- Dave Barry


The effect is that nobody gets what they want, and whatever agreement is reached is so watered down that it's meaningless - and, as a result, is ignored by everyone. E.g., UN's decisions about Iraq, and damn near everything else since then (and about half of everything since UN's inception.)
(!) [Sluggo] Better to try than to throw up your hands and say it's impossible.
(!) [Ben] Better to try something different and effective (assuming there is such an option) than keeping on with something that has long lost its force.
(!) [Sluggo] So creating the UN and its human rights commission and Geneva convention and ICC et al was a waste of time? I disagree.
(!) [Ben] I would too, if somebody had said what you're implying I've said. The UN was very useful at the time of its creation - despite Russia managing to wangle two seats instead of the one they should have had - but these days, it's a debating society with damn near no force or effect. I've known several people - Canadians who had been with their peacekeeping force - and the strong impression that I got from them was that of despondency, of rolling that same useless rock up that same useless mountain, only to have it roll back down again.
At this point, the Big Guys - US and Russia, and to some lesser degree everyone else - has found their own ways to circumvent or bypass (and in case of serious disagreement, simply ignore) the UN. My contention is that it is no longer useful as a vehicle for maintaining peace or a round table for mediation/negotiation - all of that now goes on at high-level conferences, which were rarer and more difficult to arrange in the days when the UN was created.
(!) [Sluggo] And what were the alternatives? At least the UN has prevented World War III so far (with NATO), which was its main purpose.
(!) [Ben] I think you're giving the UN far too much credit. For one thing, the projections for WWIII are pretty horrific - at least the ones that we had when I was in Military Intelligence - and they're not likely to have improved (<black_humor>except in the kill ratios</black_humor>.) Nuclear deterrent would be the number one cause, in my mind - not in the number of people that are likely to die (why would the politicians care? They never did before), but in the fact that the high-level decision makers - despite their bunkers, etc. - are much more likely to, or are far less likely to survive the aftermath.
Nukes make it personal for them. That, to my mind, is the only thing that will stop them from issuing those orders.
(!) [Sluggo] The UN has been ineffective in stopping the genocides in Rwanda/Bosnia/Somalia/Sudan -- but so were its critics.
(!) [Ben] Errr... so, if I say that a radio doesn't work, my inability to repair it makes my observation false? Please reconsider what you're saying here, Mike.
Amy Chua in "World on Fire" describes, in fine detail, how the US exportation of (some screwed-up version of) democracy plus the free-market system leads to civil wars and murder of economically-dominant minorities. It's damn near impossible to disagree with her data, or the conclusions she draws from it - the lady is quite sharp. However, she doesn't say "...and here's how to fix it!" Does that make her observations inaccurate, or her book of no value? I sincerely doubt it.
(!) [Sluggo] Re Iraq, I can't comment further without the missing piece -- what you think the UN did wrong and should have done. You think they should have supported the US intervention? I think not.
(!) [Ben] I think that the UN did what they could. The overriding issue is that they could do nothing effective, except make their statement for the world to hear - something that is done just as effectively by a protest march in DC. That's not saying a lot for the UN.
Just to add a personal viewpoint here: I find it sad that this is the state of the UN, and wish with all my heart that it did have more effect. But when a rabbit mediates a disagreement between two bears, the effect of that mediation is not likely to be much - and the rabbit is likely to get eaten for his trouble.
(!) [Ben] US and China, for example, have many mutually incompatible goals, long-term plans, and cultural imperatives. Expecting China to agree with the US on human rights is a waste of time - particularly since China is strong enough to not worry about the US in military terms. The human rights issue between the two is, therefore, at a standstill - but Walmart still buys 80%+ of what they sell in China.
Remind me again why China should care about anything the US says?
(!) [Sluggo] The slippery slope is that the more things you pack into this definition, the less willing a lot of people will be to accept the whole thing. For instance, the US administration is reinterpreting free trade and property rights to include perpetual copyrights, anti-circumvention provisions, and software patents.
(!) [Ben] Therefore making itself that much less relevant to the world market. [shrug] If the idiots wielding the broom don't watch out, the tide will sweep them out to sea.
(!) [Sluggo] Now, one could make a case that these should be property rights and included, but instead the administration is bypassing the debate and arguing these are self-evidently property rights. Not surprisingly, there is much resistance in other countries, fears about whether free trade is a synonym for US corporate hegemony, and wonderings about why countries should harm their own vitality to benefit foreign patents. Likewise, there is much resistance in the US to the "right" to living quarters, health care, welfare etc -- this is seen as the foot in the door for socialism, 90% taxation, and burnt work ethic. (Didn't you say something about the KGB?) So, do you want to support basic human rights, or do you want to throw other things in and weaken support for the basic rights?
(!) [Ben] If I thought that was a valid question, it would certainly be a dillema. As it is, I don't see them as mutually exclusive.
(!) [Sluggo] Stallman has made a good case over the years that the right to read anything is fundamental. Obviously, not being able to study holy texts would significantly impact people's practice of religion. So would not having access to news or commentary. And fiction books often express a political view or framework, sometimes more valuable than the author realizes. So it's impossible to censor non-essential texts while excepting essential, because inevitably you will misclassify an essential text.
Still, the extremes to which "free speech" and "free reading" can be taken are ridiculous. Exactly how does suppressing Harry Potter for two days harm Canadians' access to an adequate variety of information?
(!) [Ben] That's not the grounds on which I find the court's decision to be less than intelligent. Trying to enforce something that is fundamentally unenforceable - arrogating to themselves the right to decide that you should voluntarily surrender the value of that for which you have paid - those are the things which set off all sorts of alarms for me. With regard to the adequate information issue, I agree with you - I don't think that this has been violated, or was even involved.
(!) [Rick] It does seem quite an overreaction. Judges in (to my knowledge) almost all countries tend to be a bit sweeping in their application of court orders -- being demigods in their sphere -- and a little sloppy. But, as you say, it was just a two-day featherweight decree, anyway.
Unlike Richard, I decline to pass judgement on our esteemed Canadian neighbours' legal doings, and simply state that I've been quick to help Canadian friends circumvent what they regarded as judicial overreaching in the past, e.g., by sending them US and European news coverage of the Karla Homolka trial.
I happened to be in Alberta recently when Homolka was released from a Quebec prison at the end of her ten-year sentence. The tedious excess of news coverage even in good papers like the Globe and Mail was enough to give even the most stalwart free-press advocate misgivings.
(!) [Sluggo] How does viewing porn -- another example of "free speech/reading" -- enable one to make a better decision on election day or to support a cause?
(!) [Ben] Since when are those the ultimate ends, and why is personal pleasure held to be less important those things? You may have to use words of two syllables or less to explain; I lack the Puritanical programming that most Americans have absorbed, and can't make those connections automatically. :)
(!) [Jimmy] Now, maybe it's because I witnessed first hand the sort of social improvements that came from pornography being decriminalised, but I find it absurd that anyone who is as interested as you are in things like civil liberties and social equality can even question the importance of porn.
In my teens (and I'm 2 weeks away from my 26th birthday, BTW -- we're only talking about one decade) Ireland had a very heavy-handed Censor's office, which was heavily under the influence of the Church. Anything vaguely pornographic or 'heretical' was illegal[1].
Part of the downfall of this was technology (satellite TV was becoming cheaper[2] and put TV out of the censor's hands), another part was that they went too far -- they banned a newspaper (one of the British tabloids, "The Daily Sport". In fairness, it did have at least one picture of a topless women on every other page, but it also had the best sports coverage of any of the daily newspapers at the time, as well as covering aspects of the news that none of the other papers did).
To come to your point: pornography isn't just something you watch, words can be judged pornographic too. It can help you make a better decision at election time if you can read an uncensored account of what the issues are.
[1] "Life of Brian" was found to be both, among other films. I can't say for certain whether or not there was a direct link between the two, but (IIRC, which is highly unlikely) after the BBC showed that film uncensored, the Irish government started blocking British TV broadcasts, which most people in Ireland had been able to receive.
[2] Every Friday and Saturday night, two of the German channels had porn -- 'Benny Hill'-type stuff with full frontal nudity, but 'shocking' enough for the priests, enticing enough that the price of satellite TV halved within a year. VCRs were still rare around this time.
(!) [Sluggo] And of course, what does that idiot judge think he's doing forbidding people from reading the books they've purchased? Telling them not to talk about it may be reasonable, perhaps, -- there's no right (in the US) to talk about what you hear on police radio bands -- but telling them they can't read a book that's in front of them is... paranoia. Hopefully other Canadian courts will view this as an aberration. Canada has been good about supporting people's rights in general: crypto importing/exporting, recording CDs, and watching foreign commercial satellite broadcasts. And gay marriage and marijuana.... Hopefully they aren't about to turn this around.
What about bomb-making materials? Is there a right to read/publish about those?
(!) [Ben] Why not? It's the locksmith principle: the people who want that access will have it. The only ones who will lose out on the knowledge are the people who can do something positive with it - e.g., the pharmacy clerk who may recognize that someone is buying materials for bomb-making and act appropriately.


"In respect to lock-making, there can scarcely be such a thing as dishonesty of intention: the inventor produces a lock which he honestly thinks will possess such and such qualities; and he declares his belief to the world. If others differ from him in opinion concerning those qualities, it is open to them to say so; and the discussion, truthfully conducted, must lead to public advantage: the discussion stimulates curiosity, and curiosity stimulates invention. Nothing but a partial and limited view of the question could lead to the opinion that harm can result: if there be harm, it will be much more than counterbalanced by good."
-- Charles Tomlinson's Rudimentary Treatise on the Construction of Locks, published around 1850.


(!) [Sluggo] Let's not forget companies' (self-proclaimed) free-speech "right" to send you spam.
(!) [Jay] But let's be clear here. The right to exploit commercially the effort which was put into that novel belongs to the author and her publisher, and I see no reason why they should be forced to exercise that right in any way other than the way they want.
And leaking the spoiler, assuming that was really in RMS's original (which wouldn't surprise me in the least, given RMS's behavior in the past), was simply childish.
How apt.

(?) One for Ben...

From Jimmy O'Regan

XML Acronym Demystifier, to expand your collection :) http://www.xml-acronym-demystifier.org

(!) [Rick] I am reminded, inescapably, of The Parable of the Languages: http://weblog.burningbird.net/archives/2002/10/08/the-parable-of-the-languages
(!) [Ben] Heh. Thanks, but my list is all about commonly-used Net/email/Usenet acronyms; I don't think the XML bunch will cross with any of that.


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Published in Issue 117 of Linux Gazette, August 2005