Jeff Wolfe's Weblog

Saturday, March 30, 2002

ERIC RAYMOND - Here's an interview with Eric Raymond about Open Source software and Linux. He's mostly positive about the prospects of Open Source, as you would expect, but he's not afraid to frankly point out problems:

It has been argued that in some critical aspects of desktop software, like maintaining a consistent user interface where different applications work seamlessly together, just work better when there's a big controlling company in charge. What do you make of that argument?

I don't think that's a real issue, but there's a closely related issue that is real. I don't think it's necessary to have a single player dominating user interfaces if you have a development community that is alive to the necessity of having a uniform interface, and prepared to make that a priority.

In fact, the Linux desktops have already successfully done this. You may note that drag and drop works correctly between GNOME and KDE applications. That's not an accident, it happened because the GNOME and KDE people reached out to each other, said, "We've got to have a common drag-and-drop protocol," wrote a standard, and now the applications on both sides conform to it. That happened in spite of the fact that there was no single player that controlled both GNOME and KDE that was able to compel that interface uniformity. I think we've demonstrated in open source that it is possible to bridge those gaps and create a uniform interface.

There's a closely related issue, however that I don't know how to solve yet without a big player with a lot of money, which is doing systematic user interface end user testing. We're not very good at that yet, we need to find a way to be good at it.

It's the actual mechanics of setting up large-scale focus group testing with end users. The problem is they're not getting feedback from large-scale end user testing, and that's allowing a certain spikiness in the interfaces to persist that could be smoothed out otherwise.

It's no coincidence that my biggest complaint about Linux is what Raymond describes as "a certain spikiness in the interfaces."

Friday, March 29, 2002

WHODATHUNKIT - Forbes Magazine is saying that Baseball made money last year, contrary to the claims of management. Next, they'll claim it rains in Seattle.

One interesting thing that I must have missed in the first go-round. Even using Major League Baseball's own numbers, the team formerly owned by the current Commissioner (and now run by his daughter) made more money than any other team. Yes, even more than the Yankees. "Best interest of baseball," indeed.

REVISIONISM - Jonah Goldberg writes about the attempts to rescue Clinton's presidency after the fact. It all strikes me as a desperate attempt by the Clinton apologists to justify their own hypocricy. Clinton is now a laughingstock, and rightly so. They're just going to have to live with it.

Friday, March 22, 2002

PRIORITIES - The Drug War promotes terrorism, according to Dave Kopel. The article is fairly long. InstaPundit has a good summary. If we want to make the war on terror a priority, we need to end the war on drugs. It's that simple.

Thursday, March 21, 2002

GOVERNMENT ENRON - NASA has been having problems with cost overruns for the International Space Station for years. Recent testimony before Congress reveals that their financial accounting system is at least partly to blame. Until last year, their books were audited by Arthur Andersen, who gave them "a clean bill of health."

On the plus side, recently confirmed NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe was brought in specifically for his ability to clean up this sort of thing.

COLORFUL - Glenn Reynolds at InstaPundit has been going on the last few days about what he calls lifestyle conservatism, and why it's bad for the Republicans. His posts on the subject are well written and on the money, but pretty much standard fare. What caught my eye was a phrase in his latest post, "...Democrats' concerns about 'privacy in the bedroom' evaporate when the question is whether you can have a gun in your bedroom instead of a dildo or a moose...."

THE BAD GUYS WON - Commentary here.

Monday, March 18, 2002

MEDICAL MARIJUANA, FOR GREEN THUMBS ONLY - Here is an article on the difficulties they're having in California adjusting to the medical marijuana law.

One man was arrested with 150 plants. He claims he had so many because he wasn't very good at growing them and they tended to die on him. A police sergeant involved in the case agreed they were in "very poor condition." The case against him rests on the fact that he had more plants than he needed for personal use. So he may go to jail for being a poor gardener.

SHAREWARE - Here's an article on shareware that I found on Slashdot. As a former shareware author, I can say that the author gets several things wrong.

First, he claims that the shareware industry "can't function without Internet distribution" (emphasis his). That's demonstrably false--the shareware industry got its start before the commercialization of the Internet, on local computer bulletin board systems (BBSs) and on paying services such as CompuServe.

Then, he says "shareware authors can only guess" if consumers are paying for their software. It's actually very easy to tell if consumers are paying--they send you money. What's harder to tell is how many aren't paying. The thing is, most of them wouldn't pay in any event. If given the choice between paying up and removing the software from their system, most would chose the latter. Unfortunately, most reports of software piracy (whether shareware or not) equate piracy with lost sales. This unrealistic view undermines the argument against software piracy.

Lastly, the article repeats the notion that software piracy is theft. Software piracy isn't theft, though. If you make a copy of a piece of software, you haven't taken anything from anybody. It is somewhat analogous, but the analogy is tenuous enough that it's easy for the software pirate to justify his or her actions by dismissing the analogy. It would be much better if everyone would discard the argument, "Software piracy is theft. Therefore, software piracy is wrong" and replace it with "Software piracy is wrong."

FREE PRESS COVERAGE - As a public service, I'm presenting a couple of ways to score free press coverage. Of course, you need to have some level of public recognition to begin with before this will work.

Exhibit 1: Grow a beard. Al Gore got press coverage when he grew his beard, and he got more coverage when he shaved it off. This is not an isolated incident. The same thing happened a couple of years ago with the then-mayor of Columbus.

Exhibit 2: Celebrity Boxing. The reason these goofy programs on Fox get such high ratings is that the "news" media cover them to death. This works with any outlandish programming, but you have to keep coming up with newer and more bizarre ideas.

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

LETTERMAN STAYS AT CBS, NEWS AT 11:35 - David Letterman will be staying at CBS, and Nightline will remain in the 11:35pm timeslot on ABC.

Normally, I wouldn't link to a story like that. But I was amused that in the same press release in which the Nightline producers proclaimed the value of their journalistic contributions to the world, they misused the word "its" (spelling it "it's").

Monday, March 11, 2002

MORE ON MONEY - I went to the post office to mail a letter and buy stamps. The line was a mile long, so I used the vending machine. All I had was a $20, so I ended up with 13 dollar coins in change.

With the coins I normally carry, I had 15 dollar coins and a bunch of other change in my pocket. And while it was noticable, it wasn't particularly uncomfortable. Granted, I was wearing jeans and I wouldn't want to do the same thing with dress slacks, but still. Even though I like dollar coins and use them often, this kind of surprised me. The rap on the golden dollar is always, "who wants to carry around a bunch of coins." Turns out it's not that bad.

As I said, I do like the golden dollar, but I may be the only person in the country who likes it that the coin and the bill are circulating simultaneously. If the tab is only a buck or two, I'll pull out dollar coins. If it's more than that and I have to reach into my wallet anyway, I'll use dollar bills.

I used to almost never pay with change, now I frequently do (and not just dollars, either). Based on the lack of response I get from vendors, I think it's here to stay this time. I don't remember the last time somebody said something like, "wow, a dollar coin."

And people are also able to readily recognize the golden dollar, unlike its predecessor. Strange that after botching the first attempt, it took us 21 years to try again. In terms of adoption, inflation may have helped some, but mostly it's about getting the design right. No mistake, I suppose, that it's the same size and about the same color as the Canadian one dollar coin, the loonie.

So, now that we've successfully copied the loonie, can the toonie be far behind?

UGH - This article by Bob Lewis at InfoWorld is just so much nonsense. He claims that corporations are immoral, and the evidence he gives is ridiculous.

To believe Lewis, you'd have to believe that corporations never threw Christmas parties, sole proprietors never fired anyone because of economic conditions, and individuals never committed a crime.

Corporations get their moral compass from their stakeholders and their management. "Maximizing shareholder value" can be a moral statement as well as an economic one. Worthington Industries has operated since 1955 under a philosophy based on the Golden Rule. And it's worked for them.

Of course when you work for a company, you're obligated to maximize shareholder value; that's part of your contract with the company (implicit if not explicit). But you're not obligated to continue working for the company if it violates your moral compass. Just as you're not obligated to associate with natural persons in similar circumstances.

He's right about one thing, though. If you want morality, you'll have to bring it yourself. It's just that that's true for everything, not just corporations.

This is why capitalism has such a bad name. Anti-capitalists can get away with tearing down paper tigers and ignoring the realities of capitalist societies.

SIX MONTHS - It has been six months since the September 11 attacks. Virginia Postrel has a good reflective piece.

Even six months later, it's hard to wrap my mind around the scope of what occurred. It's not hyperbole to say that the world changed. Thousands dead, millions of lives directly affected. They're still cleaning up the rubble. And that's just the direct effects. It's just hard to fathom, and even still, a little hard to believe. Maybe six months is just not long enough a time for something like this to "sink in." I wonder how long it will take. Or if it ever will.

At the Olympics, they had a flag that had flown at the World Trade Center on 9/11. It took me a while to figure out why that was such a big deal. It's right there in the National Anthem: "...the flag was still there." There's something about disaster-torn flags burned into the national psyche. Somehow, seeing the flag reassures us that we will survive and we will prevail.

My views on military action have always been my least Libertarian. I have been relieved to learn that not all Libertarians are as isolationist as I had feared. What's my point? I knew as soon as I heard about the attacks that war was inevitable, and believed that it was necessary. I still do. The primary function of our federal government is national security. We can argue over the details, and as time goes on, that will become more important, but we must deal with those responsible. Not only as a punitive measure, but also as a message to the world that such actions will not be tolerated. Standing down our military might is not going to bring peace any more than removing guns from civilian hands would eliminate crime.

OK, enough of that. This is not a warblog, and with good reason.

We will never forget 9/11--of that I'm certain. But for a day, half way to the first anniversary, we can spend a little time bringing it back to the front of our minds. Reflect on those who passed. Resolve not to let it destroy us.

Saturday, March 09, 2002

WHY I LIKE THE PALM COMPUTER - My Palm Computer died a few days ago after I changed the batteries. I'm not sure what its problem was; I verified immediately after I put the batteries in that it was working, but the next time I picked it up, it was dead. After some fiddling and a (soft) reset, I was able to get it turned back on, but the data and applications had been completely wiped out. This is not why I like the Palm computer.

But today I decided to recover the data. It wasn't very well documented, but all I had to do to get everything back--data, applications, and (most) settings--was change a few settings on the desktop and do a HotSync. After an extra long HotSync, everything was back, even the crap on there I've never gotten around to erasing. The only thing I noticed missing was a few settings on a third-party application. The next version of that application was just released, so hopefully they've fixed even that problem. The HotSync concept and implementation is about as close as you can possibly get to, "Push a button and It Just Works." Even when recovering from a disasterous situation. So HotSync is part one of why I like my Palm computer.

Part two of why I like my Palm computer is the company's developer-friendliness. It's not because I'm a software developer--I don't develop for PalmOS. But I did download some of their developer tools, and they appear to be very friendly (at least they were when I looked at them). Why do I care about that, even though I have never developed software for PalmOS and have no plans to start? It should be obvious, but most technology companies miss it. If you make things easier for software developers, they'll develop more software for your product. As a result, people aren't locked in to the built-in applications. Palm was the first PDA company to do this well. And they succeeded because of it.

I personally do most of my work on my Palm computer with two third-party applications: DateBk4 and Natara Bonsai. DataBk4 is especially nice because it piggybacks on the built-in applications, meaning I can still use the Palm Desktop application (or even Outlook, if I want) on the desktop.

By the way, the thing I like least about the Palm computer is the name. You have to say "Palm computer" or it sounds like you're talking dirty.

Friday, March 08, 2002

PROOF THEY'RE WEASELS - It turns out that while Major League Baseball was investigating Pete Rose for gambling, they were also investigating umpires for the same thing. Two umpires were disciplined, with two years probation. Rose, of course, was banned for life. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has refused to even consider Rose's application for reinstatement, which Rose submitted in September, 1997.

According to the article, former Commissioner Fay Vincent said the difference between the umpires' cases and Rose's is that there was no proof that the umpires bet on baseball. However, one of Rose's primary conditions for accepting a ban was that there be no finding he bet on baseball. Major League Baseball didn't have to sign that agreement, but it did. Yet since the day the agreement was announced, Baseball leaders have maintained that he bet on baseball, and that justifies his ban.

Ironically, John Dowd, who investigated both the umpires and Rose, is quoted as saying of the umpires, "they were honest about it. They were men about it." Too bad the same can't be said for the Baseball leadership.

Thursday, March 07, 2002

FREE, AS IN BEER - Denied a permit to sell beer, a Hooters restaurant in Texas gave away beer at its grand opening. (Note for the uninitiated: the headline is a reference to the free software community).

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS - Here are articles by Ken Layne, Rand Simberg, and Hugh Hewitt about the California elections.

UPDATE: Layne mentions that Gore outpolled Bush in California by 1 million votes. I looked it up on Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, and it's actually almost 1.3 million. Add New York's 1.7 million plus vote margin, and you have Gore winning those two states by about 3 million votes, and Bush winning the other 49 states by 2.5 million votes. (DC, which Gore won by a 9 to 1 margin, is considered a state for presidential election purposes, which is why Gore+Bush=51 states). That's why we have the electoral college: so winning two states by huge margins doesn't take the entire election.

Meanwhile, the guy I supported (the Libertarian candidate) got fewer votes in Ohio than I did, and I only ran in one county.

Whether the results of the California gubernatorial election will affect Bush's prospects in 2004 is subject to debate. Bush's 2004 opponent will probably have more to do with that than how Californians vote in 2002. Of course, Bush proved he can win with without California, notwithstanding the results in Florida. A few thousand more votes in Florida is probably easier than millions more in California.

Monday, March 04, 2002

ANOTHER DYNAMIST - This Libertarian Party member explains why he believes there's No 'One True Way' to successful activism.

LEGISLATION - The real story behind discussions about legislation.

Sunday, March 03, 2002

LIES, DAMN LIES, AND HARPER'S INDEX - This guy has set up a site debunking of several "facts" from the March 2002 Harper's Index. It's fairly new, so hard telling if this will be an ongoing thing or not, but I thought the following was too good to pass up:

Percentage change since January 2001 in the share price of the largest private prison-management company: +440

You have to look in the well-hidden references section for the Index to note that Harper’s is referring to Corrections Corporation of America (CXW). And, son of a gun, in the first days of January 2001 the stock was trading around $4. Now it’s trading around $17 – a 440% increase in the share price. However, if some young fact-checker had done his/her work instead of lounging around Starbucks reading “Utne Reader”, he/she might have noted a 10-1 reverse split in May 2001. Reverse splits are when a company converts or buys back stock (usually) in a desperate attempt to keep from getting de-listed, such as when the stock price drops below $1. Less shares = more value per share and with only 10% of the shares available since January 2001, the actual rough value of the stock would be $1.70 – a 57% decrease in real share price.

I have one small quibble with the posting: when you figure the effect of a stock split, you adjust the cost. It's more proper to say that each of those $17 shares was worth $40 in January, 2001. It still works out to a 57% decrease instead of a 440% increase, though.

Saturday, March 02, 2002

OHIO QUARTERS - The U.S. Mint has started making Ohio's quarters, and four of them are on the space shuttle that just went into orbit. Two of the crew are Ohioans.

It's appropriate that these particular coins go into space, since they feature a space suit, the Wright flyer, and the words "Birthplace of Aviation Pioneers." The Wright brothers (first to fly), John Glenn (first American to orbit Earth), and Neil Armstrong (first to stand on the moon) were all from Ohio. The current Ohio slogan is "Birthplace of Aviation," but they changed it for the quarters because North Carolina has a competing claim: the Wright brother's first flight was at Kitty Hawk, NC.

Like the Euro, my interest in the State Quarters program is independent of my assessment of its wisdom. If you're going to have fiat money, it might as well be cool.

EURO MONEY - The transition to the Euro is complete. I have no opinion on the wisdom of a unified European currency, but I think it's interesting from a logistical and historical perspective.