Regardless of your opinion on homosexuality, gender-based stereotyping is entirely cultural and limits our self-expression

One teachers approach to preventing gender bullying in a classroom

"Gender is not a subject that I would have broached in primary grades a few years ago. In fact, I remember scoffing with colleagues when we heard about a young kindergarten teacher who taught gender-related curriculum. We thought her lessons were a waste of instructional time and laughed at her “girl and boy” lessons."


Wikileaks is not necessarily the apotheosis of the Cypherpunk movement

The Bucky-Gandhi Design Institution › I went to the same school as Julian Assange, but we learned different lessons:
"Not being able to go to The State for help, if the situation I’d been in escalated to Men With Guns, left me with a clear understanding: I needed the State’s protection to be a full human being. Now, let me say that again: I needed the State’s protection to be a full human being. This is the start of my divergence from the classical cyperpunk’s anti-State crypto-anarchist market capitalist stance."


Anthropomorphising [parts of] the Internet is intellectually crippling and denies us agency

The New Inquiry - What We Talk About When We Talk About the Internet:
"When I hit a nail with a hammer, I think: witness the power of my will! But when I google “How do I build a birdhouse?” it appears that I have asked Google a question and that it has answered. As though Google were a conscious entity, not the world’s most complex hammer."


Using a service without paying? If you're not the customer, you're the product...

Don't Be A Free User:
"Were you a big Gowalla fan? Did you like Dodgeball? Did you think Trunk.ly (gasp!) was better than Pinboard? Did you make a lot of contributions to Nextstop? Do you miss Aardvark and EtherPad? Did "I Want Sandy" change your life?

These projects are all very different, but the dynamic is the same. Someone builds a cool, free product, it gets popular, and that popularity attracts a buyer. The new owner shuts the product down and the founders issue a glowing press release about how excited they are about synergies going forward. They are never heard from again."

The art of not drowning: a critique of airline safety cards through the ages :-)

Paris Review – The Unlikely Event, Avi Steinberg
"The artist behind a current AeroMexico safety card is not convinced. In an echo of The Son of Man, the 1964 painting by Belgian Surrealist RenĂ© Magritte, the AeroMexico man is rendered in realistic detail—from rolled up sleeves to tousled hair—all of which is, however, a set up for the darkly comic punch line: the man has no face. This bit of surrealistic surgery, more than the yellow life preserver, is what we remember. It is plain to us that this creepily inanimate son of man is, in struggling to preserve his life, in some sense already dead."


The last Steve Jobs link I'll ever share.

Be a Jerk: The Worst Business Lesson from the Steve Jobs Biography - Tom McNichol - Business - The Atlantic
"Steve Jobs was a visionary, a brilliant innovator who reshaped entire industries by the force of his will, a genius at giving consumers not only what they wanted, but what they didn't yet know they wanted.

He was also a world-class asshole."


Charlie Brooker | The most dangerous drug isn't meow meow. It isn't even alcohol ... | Comment is free | The Guardian

Charlie Brooker | The most dangerous drug isn't meow meow. It isn't even alcohol ...

"It's perhaps the biggest threat to the nation's mental wellbeing, yet it's freely available on every street – for pennies. The dealers claim it expands the mind and bolsters the intellect: users experience an initial rush of emotion (often euphoria or rage), followed by what they believe is a state of enhanced awareness. Tragically this "awareness" is a delusion. As they grow increasingly detached from reality, heavy users often exhibit impaired decision-making abilities, becoming paranoid, agitated and quick to anger. In extreme cases they've even been known to form mobs and attack people. Technically it's called "a newspaper", although it's better known by one of its many "street names", such as "The Currant Bun" or "The Mail" or "The Grauniad" (see me – Ed).

In its purest form, a newspaper consists of a collection of facts which, in controlled circumstances, can actively improve knowledge. Unfortunately, facts are expensive, so to save costs and drive up sales, unscrupulous dealers often "cut" the basic contents with cheaper material, such as wild opinion, bullshit, empty hysteria, reheated press releases, advertorial padding and photographs of Lady Gaga with her bum hanging out. The hapless user has little or no concept of the toxicity of the end product: they digest the contents in good faith, only to pay the price later when they find themselves raging incoherently in pubs, or – increasingly – on internet messageboards."


New Left Review - Dylan Riley: Tony Judt: A Cooler Look

"Few Anglophone intellectuals have received such posthumous acclaim as the Director of the Remarque Institute, leading contributor to the New York Review of Books, and late champion of social-democracy. Regularly compared to George Orwell, if not Isaiah Berlin, does any careful examination of his oeuvre sustain such panegyrics?"

A tale of two concurrency models: comparing Go and Erlang

A very interesting article:
"Out of all the languages that I never get to program in, Erlang is probably my favorite. I used it while I was working on my Ph.D., and a few times in private projects since then, but there's very little consulting work going for Erlang programmers, so it's rare for me to get to use it.

That said, when I started learning Go, Erlang was the first thing that came to mind. It's also the language mentioned in most common criticisms of Go that I encounter when I talk about my new Go Phrasebook. A common complaint is that Erlang's concurrency model is much cleaner than Go's. In this article, I'll look at both and show that it's possible to express either in terms of the other-neither language is inherently superior, but both expose different models to the programmer.

One thing that may confuse people with a theoretical computer science background is that Erlang takes some syntax from Hoare's Communicating Sequential Processes (CSP) model, but with different semantics, whereas Go takes the semantics but not the syntax. More confusingly, Erlang's semantics are fairly close to early versions of CSP, but not to later ones."


Maciej Ceglowski on the social graph

The Social Graph is Neither:

"I first came across the phrase social graph in 2007, in an essay by Brad Fitzpatrick, though I'd be curious to know if it goes back further.

The idea of representing relationships between people as networks is old, but this was the first time I had thought about treating the connections between all living people as one big object that you could manipulate with a computer.

At the time he wrote, Fitzpatrick had two points to make. The first was that it made no sense for every social website to try and recreate the same web of relationships, over and over, by making people send each other follow requests. The second was that this relationship data should not be proprietary, but a common resource that rival services could build on as a foundation.

Fitzpatrick subsequently went to work for Google, and his Utopian vision of open standards and open data became subsumed in a rivalry between Google and Facebook. Both companies now offer their version of a social graph API, and Google (which is trying to catch up) has taken up the banner of open standards and data portability.

This rivalry has brought the phrase 'social graph' into wider use. Last week Forbes even went to the extent of calling the social graph an exploitable resource comprarable to crude oil, with riches to those who figure out how to mine it and refine it.

I think this is a fascinating metaphor. If the social graph is crude oil, doesn't that make our friends and colleagues the little animals that get crushed and buried underground?"

The ECB and radical inaction

The ECB’s Battle against Central Banking - J. Bradford DeLong - Project Syndicate

"The ECB continues to believe that financial stability is not part of its core business. As its outgoing president, Jean-Claude Trichet, put it, the ECB has “only one needle on [its] compass, and that is inflation.” The ECB’s refusal to be a lender of last resort forced the creation of a surrogate institution, the European Financial Stability Facility. But everyone in the financial markets knows that the EFSF has insufficient firepower to undertake that task – and that it has an unworkable governance structure to boot.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the ECB’s monochromatic price-stability mission and utter disregard for financial stability – much less for the welfare of the workers and businesses that make up the economy – is its radical departure from the central-banking tradition. Modern central banking got its start in the collapse of the British canal boom of the early 1820’s. During the financial crisis and recession of 1825-1826, a central bank – the Bank of England – intervened in the interest of financial stability as the irrational exuberance of the boom turned into the remorseful pessimism of the bust."


A good series of posts on bipartisanship, and whether or not it can work:

Lawrence Lessig: One More Try: The Rules Versus the Game:

This is the final (as far as I'm aware) installment in a series of articles debating about whether or not the OWS people should be forming common cause with the Tea Party with the shared goal of changing how Washington works. Follow the links at the top to read in chronological order...
Imagine you're a player with the Chicago Bears. You're on the field, about to begin a game with the Green Bay Packers. Just before kick-off, someone races onto the field screaming: "Guys, please, can't we all just get along? Enough of this fighting. Let's just shake hands and go get a beer."

A good speech on new ideas and leadership

The American Scholar: Solitude and Leadership - William Deresiewicz

"I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else's; it's always what I've already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It's only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn't turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing."


Revolutions on the Internet (Aaron Swartz's Raw Thought)

Revolutions on the Internet (Aaron Swartz's Raw Thought)

Aaron Swartz makes a good point about approaching the "does the Internet help?" debate from a social science perspective.
"Jon Elster has a four-phase theory of revolutions:
  1. A hard-core of committed activists get together to do something completely crazy.

  2. The regime cracks down, attracting people who are sympathetic to the cause to rally to the support of the crazy ones...."

Evercube: DIY NAS, looks better than one you can buy in a shop...

"When I came across the Backblaze storage pod, I was immediately intrigued by its clever, no-frills design. But who really needs 67 terabytes (or even 135) at home?

I decided to scale their excellent design down for home use, and after a long period of experimentation, the Evercube was born.

The design is open hardware, available under a Creative Commons Attribution license. But for your convenience, I am also offering all components needed to build the Evercube as an easy to assemble Do-It-Yourself kit."

NewsBlur: A Social Feed Reader

The NewsBlur Blog / A Social Feed Reader: A little guy (who's been coding this up in his spare time on the train every day) gets a boost from Google Readers mistakes:
"Recently, my main competitor, Google Reader, announced plans to decommission the social features of the site and integrate them into Google+. While Google is busy refocusing on what’s important to them, many users feel left behind. My goal with NewsBlur is to make a better, complete experience for reading sites. This includes social features that make reading a social experience.
Social is a major planned feature. It’s highly prioritized right after I build two other big ticket items: mobile and search. The mobile iPhone app is wrapping up and is already at version 1.1 on the App Store, although I have not publicly launched it because it still needs a few more features (specifically, training and the river of news) to be considered feature-complete.
Once that’s out the door, I have to build search to be able to support social. Search won’t be impossible, since the UI design decisions are fairly straight-foward, and the backend is a no-brainer in terms of design. But it’ll take some time to get right, make fast, and get integrated into the massive database that is quickly accumulating."


St Paul's Cathedral dean resigns over Occupy London protest row - The Guardian

St Paul's Cathedral dean resigns over Occupy London protest row | UK news | The Guardian

"While Fraser stepped down over a specific objection to force being used to evict protesters from the 200 or so tents that have been set up close to the cathedral, Knowles resigned amid a general sense that the St Paul's hierarchy had dithered. This was particularly the case over the week-long closure of the cathedral, the first since the second world war, because of apparent health and safety issues which were never fully explained.

"The past fortnight has been a testing time for the chapter and for me personally," Knowles said in a statement.

"It has become increasingly clear to me that, as criticism of the cathedral has mounted in the press, media and in public opinion, my position as dean of St Paul's was becoming untenable. In order to give the opportunity for a fresh approach to the complex and vital questions facing St Paul's, I have thought it best to stand down as dean, to allow new leadership to be exercised."

Knowles's decision prompted a first intervention in the crisis by the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who appeared to tacitly acknowledge that closing the cathedral was a mistake. He said: "The events of the last couple of weeks have shown very clearly how decisions made in good faith by good people under unusual pressure can have utterly unforeseen and unwelcome consequences."


Announcing Scriptus, my latest side-project!

I've been working on this small project in my very limited* spare time since Christmas 2010. I published as open source it a couple of weeks ago, and I've been quietly gathering feedback since then.

Scriptus is a way of programming interactions between people. What's new is that these interactions can be complex and span days, weeks, months or years: elections, chess tournaments and games are all easy to create. The project web-page is here and the blog is here.

Scriptus programs are written in JavaScript, the world's most easily accessible and widely available programming language. Programs communicate via Twitter, since Twitter and their API is open to all and easy to use. Programs can run for months, years or longer, due to the magic of Rhino's serialisable continuations. In addition to that there is a simple UNIX-like process model.

For more information, check out the user guide, API documentation, or the Scriptus project home page.

My motivation is that I am simply driven to create and write programs. It's part of who I am. Fred Brooks said it better than I ever could and I encourage you to read the whole of this, but in short, "Programming then is fun because it gratifies creative longings built deep within us and delights sensibilities we have in common with all..."

Scriptus is meant to let you create programs that interact directly with people without bothering with much of the folderol and yak-shaving that you normally have to do when programming. It's designed to give a new approach to the idea of programming; one that thinks long-term and is focused on people.

I'm interested in your comments and feedback on the project. Many thanks so far to Torrey, Sander, Jean-Michel, Jenya and Nathanael for feedback and advice, and of course to Bethan for her loving support and encouragement :-) Onwards and upwards!

(Footnote *: To illustrate just how limited my time is: I have a full-time job and a baby daughter, and since January, I've spent my 20 minute commutes on the tram programming, when I find a seat. Also, when baby is asleep in my lap, I can balance a netbook on my knees. The rocking motion of my arms when I'm typing seems to to be soothing to her :-)


Primitive automated spell-checking of markdown using sed and ispell

(Why yes, this is a niche post!) Right now this is just a shell script, but it could easily be added to the build process so that a typo (or a new word missing from the project words list) would break the build - no more bad documentation!

#the below regexps remove
# - basic HTML tabs
# - heading hashes
# - code samples
# - inline code
# - URLs
#from markdown-formatted code, as a prelude to spellchecking
cat docs/*.md |
sed -e 's/<[/]*[a-z]*>/ /g' \
-e 's/^[#]*//' \
-e '/```/,/```/ s/.*//' \
-e 's/`.*`//' \
-e 's/\[\([^]]*\)\]([^)]*)/\1/g' \
| ispell -p misc/words.list -l | less


Eben Moglen's talk at FOSDEM '11

Eben Moglen of the Software Freedom Law Center and at the Free Software Foundation gave the first keynote of Fosdem 2011

The talk centered around freedom in the literal sense, as opposed to the 'freedom 0' sense of the GPL. To paraphrase, what coal & steel was to 20th century politics, electricity and software is to the 21st century.

Using WikiLeaks, Tunisia & Egypt as examples, he made the point that centralisation of social utilities such as Facebook & Twitter are not a good thing for civic society, firstly because they introduce a single point of failure, and secondly because the interest of those companies - profit - is not aligned with the interests of the protesters, i.e. the promotion of liberty and disruption of the (often profitable) status quo. Eben made the point that 'we' as the free software community are behind the curve in meeting the need of citizens engaged in this kind of activism.

He then made a short diversion into Eisenhower's warning against the U.S. military industrial complex, which he said had evolved into a 'surveillance military industrial complex'. He referenced the contempt shown to the rule of law during the Bush years, and the expansion of Bush policies on rendition etc. under Obama.

At roughly this point he announced what he called the "Freedom box" initiative (/foundation) whose goal was to produce a 'plug' form-factor PC that could act as a node in a wireless mesh network and provide routing / connectivity, maybe function as a base station and potentially offer other services too. Enough of these, made cheaply and distributed relatively densely in modern cities, could act as a relatively robust WAN in times of peace, and as an information back-bone free from kill switches when such a thing becomes necessary.

During the talk I had the good luck to be sat next to Juliusz Chroboczek, an adjunct professor working at a Paris university on, among other things, mesh networking, as you can see from his research page. Eben's promotion of meshes also reminded me very strongly of the now-vanished WikiWikWAN project, the sole trace of which seems to be it's CodeCon 2002 listing. The lightning talk on open source telecoms by Donatus Onwunumah seems to be highly relevant too.

I had to leave right after the talk, so I didn't get to engage in the many follow-up conversations that no doubt ensued, but I'm interested to see him throwing his weight in a new direction - and I look forward to seeing how this develops.

The market can eat itself, and us.

"Security can be viewed as a tax on the honest, and [the theft of iron manhole covers, lead roofing and aluminium guard rails] demonstrate that our taxes are going up. And unlike many taxes, we don't benefit from their collection. The cost to society of retrofitting manhole covers with locks, or replacing them with less re­salable alternatives, is high; but there is no benefit other than reducing theft.

"These crimes are a harbinger of the future: evolutionary pressure on our society, if you will. Criminals are often referred to as social parasites, but they are an early warning system of societal changes. Unfettered by laws or moral restrictions, they can be the first to respond to changes that the rest of society will be slower to pick up on."

The financial crisis of 2008 should have illustrated, to all but the most die-hard, ignorant or Sinclairized, that 'the market' is by no means a panacea for our ills. It is not some modernist god worth worshiping for its wealth creation abilities. Nor should the forces it creates in society be exempt from judgment by virtue of their origin.

The above quote illustrates this neatly: Schneier discusses a situation where market forces incentivise the cannibalising of the very infrastructure on which society and functioning markets depend.

Cross-reference this with 'The collapse of complex societies', by Joseph Tainter, which investigates why societies fail. To illustrate what is meant by 'collapse', here he quotes an eyewitness account of the collapse of the Turkish government:
"...the Allied troops... found a city that was dead. The Turkish government had just ceased to function. The electrical supply had failed and was intermittent. Tramways did not work and abandoned trams littered the roads. There was no railway service, no street cleaning and a police force which had largely become bandit, living on blackmail from citizens in lieu of pay. Corpses lay at street corners and in side lanes, dead horses lay everywhere, with no organization to remove them. Drains did not work and water was unsafe. All this was the result of only about three weeks' abandonment by the civil authorities of their duties."
And from his summary, a succinct explanation of the core thrust of the book:
"Four concepts lead to understanding collapse, the first three of which are the underpinnings of the fourth. These are:
  1. human societies are problem-solving organizations;
  2. sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance;
  3. increased complexity carries with it increased costs per capita; and
  4. investment in sociopolitical complexity as a problem-solving response often reaches a point of declining marginal returns.
"This process has been illustrated [in previous chapters of the book] for recent history in such areas as agriculture and resource production; information processing, sociopolitical control and specialization, and overall economic productivity."
We started with an example of an expensive investment to guard against a generally improbable crime, itself only occasionally worth committing during commodity shocks, and costing far more to society than it makes in profit to the criminal.

In the reference frame of point 4 of the above quote, this kind of investment is very far past the point of declining marginal returns, almost absurdly so - the marginal return is most definitely negative.

If society collapses around us, the market will make things worse, not better. 'Market forces' will strip buildings of pipes and copper wires, homes of their roofing and the vast majority of citizens, defenseless, of their possessions and dignity. This too is the market - Moloch as Ginsberg imagined it. Nothing worth venerating there, nothing at all.


Bleary-eyed first impressions off the Android development kit (ADK)

  • I wouldn't even be doing this if the iPhone SDK wasn't Mac-only.
  • Installing the ADK necessitated a good deal of yak shaving to get the latest version of Linux, due to library conflicts.
  • All those people complaining about the slow emulator - they're right. But try launching it on an eeePC 901 and weep... it is glacial :-)
  • The Eclipse tools were really nice and easy to set up.
  • Once everything is up and running, it looks real easy to develop with.
  • My next step is to try testing C2DM.
  • Every question I've had so far has been answered by Googling and finding a Stack Overflow page.