Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Neither Here Nor There

  • I haven't had much to say lately. I guess you could call it a mini-vacation from the blogosphere

  • With all due respect to Tim Challies, I sort of prefer the old Monergism site design.

  • Linux users trying to get a Brother scanner going will find this page at the "Brother Solutions Centre" extremely useful

  • Just recently, I began working on learning the harmonica again. I'm using a Lee Oskar Diatonice C Major. Its a pretty nice little 10 hole harmonica. The brand "Lee Oskar" is named after the harmonica by the same name who is know for playing along-side Eric Burdon in the 1970's. It is easy to make meaningful sound with a Harmonica. It is very difficult to master it or even proceed to an Intermediate level. I still remain at the very low dregs of sub-Beginner. For now I will work on perfecting a few simple songs.

  • I'm continually amazed by how many people are now using facebook. The growth is astromonical

  • I'm beginning to discover that managing my ipod with GTKPod and GnuPodder is better than using iTunes. There are one or two loose ends, but no deal breakers. I like it!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Quiz: Which Theologian Am I?

You scored as Anselm. Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period.
He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him,
so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read
'Cur Deus Homo?'

Anselm

100%

Karl Barth

93%

Martin Luther

67%

John Calvin

67%

Jonathan Edwards

67%

Friedrich Schleiermacher

67%

J├╝rgen Moltmann

40%

Augustine

33%

Charles Finney

27%

Paul Tillich

20%

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com


(Thanks Ian for pointing this one out)

Neither Here Nor There

Religion
  • There has been a ton of controversy in Iowa over Guillermo Gonzalez. He's a astronomer and former professor in Iowa State University. He wrote a book on intelligent design and consequently was denied tenure.
Books
  • I made a New Year's "refusal" to buy any books in 2007 until my "books read" count as as large as my "books owned" count. I'm happy to say that suprisingly been able to stick with this, and as of now (May 22) have not purchased any books in 2007. Not even any used books. I've read 345 books and own 349. So, I'm close to being able to buy books :)
  • Librivox has released a recording of "How To Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day" by Arnold Bennett. I look forward to the day when someone writes the same book for a Twent-Eight hour day, for those of us who find 24 hours days to be rather short.
Tech
  • The first known Open Office virus has emerged. It seems to be only a risk if you open OpenOffice Draw documents

Various
  • Public.resource.org has taken on an initiative to make some Smithonian Institute images more readibly available. There are some 6,288 images.

Friday, May 18, 2007

I've Had It! - No More Microsoft Products

My house is now a Microsoft-free zone.

For a long time, Linux has been my primary operating system of choice. However, for most of the time, I had one machine running Windows 2000 to fall back on for those few things that didn't seem to work just right in Linux.

However, due to Microsoft's recent actions in making threats against the Linux / open source community, I've decided to act on principle, and go all the way and delete Microsoft Windows off my spare computer. Finally! I've eliminated the last tenticles of The Raptor of Redmond.

The "Raptor of Redmond", you say? I'm not sure who coined the phrase, but I was introduced to it by Peter Salus. It reflects on Microsoft's predatory tactics and also their office in Redmond, Washington. I feel it is a fitting title.

Microsoft is having a tough time competing against the free software and open source communities. You can sense the desperation when Microsoft makes the patently (no pun intended) ridiculous claim that free / open source software violates over 200 patents! I have no doubt that the community will fight and win against Microsoft in this.

Interestingly enough, Microsoft is not disclosing what these "patent violations" are. It seems like Microsoft is counting on people NOT KNOWING what they have up their sleeve for a long time. As Larry Augustin has observed, Microsoft doesn't want the public to see what they are, because they KNOW they will be refuted/repudiated thoroughly just as happened with the SCO suits. They are going to try to run with this "paper tiger" as long as they can, carrying out deception in an attempt to scare people away from Linux and other software or at least find ways to extort money out of those users. They don't need to win a single lawsuit, but they can use this to their advantage still.

This threat of action of Microsoft is very much like the suits that SCO brought forward: Threatening yet frivilous. Their primary value is as a deceptive scare tactic. They invoke lawyers as a sort of obstruction. They try to wear down their opponent.

With all due respect, I find some of Microsoft's tactics sleazy.

It looks like lawsuits will be coming if Microsoft walks their talk. You heard it right: Microsoft is threatening to sue their legitimate competitors, not because of patent violations, but because it seems to be their only way to stay afloat. But, what is even more embarassing is that Microsoft is not even threatening a company in particular!!! They are suing a movement! A community! A worldwide group of developers and users! This is true reactionary non-sense. It is truly pathetic. I hope the counter-reaction to Microsoft's threats will be the deadly blow that slays the brute and unsightly Raptor of Redmond, or at least causes it to change its ways and embrace a movement that is good and necessary (the open source movement). And if the Raptor of Redmond should rest in peace, we can hope that it does not pull a phoenix on us.

For those who wish to know more about what is going on, check out assesments by : cnn, Linux Today, CNET News, ZDNet, etc.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Ideals of Open Source

Increasingly, the "Open Source Software" movement is proving to house some of the best software projects. Increasingly, open source software is proving to be superior to proprietary alternatives. This new philosophy regarding software licensing is proving not only to be appeal, but also wildly successful.

As open source software becomes more common, the general public's conception of what it is remains murky. Many people think that "showing the source" is the essence of what open source is. That is not true. Microsoft has been "showing the source" for a long time, if you sign draconian contracts that prevent you from doing anything useful with it, that is. The key concept of open source software is not the availability of the source, per-say, but rather the TERMS on which the source is made available. It is really built on the "hacker ethic" (not "hacker" in the bad sense) mixed with FSF's idea of "copyleft" (a novel idea in which copyright protects the user not just the vendor).

While various projects reach the ideals of the open source model with varying degrees of consistency, the basic practical, logistical, and philosophical ideas involved are these:

- The internals (source code) of programs should be available to everyone. And not only available, but "tinkerable" in the event that a user wants to modify it. The "tinkerable" part of this is critical because seeing source code without being able to use it, while perhaps being slightly educational, is counterproductive.
- Software should be "free" (perhaps as in "free beer", but most certainly as in "free speech").
- Copyrights should not be one-sided. They should protect both the vendor and the user. The vendor to user relationship ought not be us-verses-them. The activities of vendors can be very useful to users. And the activities of users can be very useful to vendors. There ought to be cooperation. Instead of initiating an antagonist relationship of mistrust, there is a middle ground where one can glide successfully. The vendor should be able to find ways to make money without seeking to subvert their users. Success in software should not be defined as crippling and locking in the user, but rather in empowering them.
- Competition, derivation, and distribution ultimately work for the good of the whole. To spend a good part of ones existence trying to stamp out these things is frustrating and will ultimately be futile. Rather, we seek ways to piggy-back others innovations while giving back to the community to further push forward innovation.
- A sort of "tempered anarchy" can be a very successful model in growing complex software products.

The forces that are fighting against the open source movement have their reasons. They are trying to protect their bottom line, their cash cow. However, they must see that their days are numbered. If your only way to make money is by threats, limiting what others can do, etc., you are on the slippery rope to obscurity. The open source movement may seem anarchic and revolutionary. To some degree, it is. Sort of like desegregation, the end of slavery, the Protestant Reformation, or the American Revolution. I guess that puts it in good company of social upheavals.

The basic foundation of open source is something that has been part of our society as long as history has been recorded. It is something we has humans intuitively know, but "unlearn" because we think that is the only way we can make money. However, there is much money to be made in an open source landscape. It is not communism, but rather the "free market" at its best. It is the best way to foster innovation and work towards a non-monopolized win-win situation.

If I would concur with the nay-sayers that the success of open source solutions will shrink the amount of money out there in software development and cause things to go haywire (of which I am totally not convinced), I as a programmer can rejoice. Why? Because I want a *good* profession, not just a successful one. If there is no money in programming for the good of others (with no crippling licenses), then perhaps its better if the art of software development rest in the halls of irrelevance. If software is limited either a commodity bartered in the hands of a few elite companies or not a workable proposition at all, I'd rather it go away, permanently. However, I'm inclined to believe that the open source and/or free software ideals put forward by bright minds such as Bruce Perens, Eric Raymond, Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, etc. are actually workable--both in principle and in practice (over the last 10 or 15 years).

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Pandora Shuns Canadians

I just got an e-mail from Pandora, the Internet radio site, indicating that I can no longer use their site. Why? Because I'm Canadian.

Apparently, this has something to do with "international licensing constraints".

They say: "In the U.S. there is a federal statute that provides this license for all the music streamed on Pandora. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent license outside the U.S. and there is no global licensing organization to enable any webcaster to legitimately offer its service around the world. The volume of listening on Pandora makes it a very expensive service to run. Streaming costs are very high, and since our inception, we have been making publishing and performance royalty payments for every song we play."

Then they continue to say that: "Until last week, we have not been able to tell where a listener is based, relying only on zip code information provided upon registration. We are now able to recognize a listener's country of origin based on the IP address from which they are accessing the service. Consequently, on May 16th, we will begin blocking access to Pandora to listeners from Canada. We are very sad to have to do this, but there is no other alternative."

Within the e-mail, they mentioned that they've detected that my ip address (not my home ip) has been determined to be Canadian, and therefore is banned. Sounds like we are entering a Canadian Bacon-esque cold war. Well, apparently their detection functionality isn't so great, because I just logged on to Pandora from home and it works fine. And my home ISP is decidedly Canadian. So, perhaps now the FCC (or whoever else is the Big Brother of the day) should be investigating the way Pandora is aiding and abetting the flow of Yani tracks into Canada. Is that what we get in exchange for Neil Young and Garth Hundson? Yikes! Bad Deal!

In the final analysis, this isn't such a big loss. Last.fm is much better, in my opinion, anyways. There are only one or two areas in which Pandora is better than Last.fm. So, there are a couple things about Pandora that I will miss. However, those advantages pale in comparison annoyances of Pandora (such as limited skipping). I've already, generally speaking, been using Last.fm instead of Pandora for some time now. I don't suppose Pandora is enticing enough to make me spoof my IP :)

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Neither Here Nor There

Here is today's installment:
  • Librivox has just recently posted an audio book recording of Anthem by Ayn Rand. It is a science fiction novel by a libertarian author.
  • If I haven't already emphasized it, LibraryThing is great. I've been using it since April 2006, and I love it. They have just recently posted a "quick start" introduction.
  • LifeHack has an article on how to UnTech Yourself. Of course, the ironic part of that is that seriously "unteching" would involve avoiding articles like that!
  • One day I'd like to check out Arturo Azurdia's exposition on Revelations. I'm unfamiliar with the speaker. It is amillennial in its perspective, and appears to be rather thorough.

Monday, May 07, 2007

This is Absolutely Creepy

I'm all for conservation of the environment and thinking/acting intelligently about the real problems that face this sphere we call "the world".

I also realize that human crowding is a problem. Perhaps not so much in Montana, Texas, or Australia..but nevertheless, there is no shortage of places in the world that have an unhealthy amount of population density.

However, it just drives me nuts to think what sort of whacked-out solutions people come up with to these problems. People who are probably very descent, productive, innovative, and intelligent, when faced with the question of population related problems suddenly start slinging solutions which sound more like something Pol-Pot, Hitler, or Stalin would devise. I'm not saying that they have the same intentions, just that what they say seems only a few steps away from mass-extermination.

Take Paul Watson, I don't know to much about him, but besides the fact that he is perhaps controversial and radical, I don't imagine him to be a brutal guy. I don't suppose he is a necessarily unreasonable individual. However, with what he says in The Beginning of the End for Life as We Know it on Planet Earth?, I begin to wonder. Here is an exerpt: "We need to radically and intelligently reduce human populations to fewer than one billion. We need to eliminate nationalism and tribalism and become Earthlings...We need to stop flying, stop driving cars, and jetting around on marine recreational vehicles. The Mennonites survive without cars and so can the rest of us....Who should have children? Those who are responsible and completely dedicated to the responsibility which is actually a very small percentage of humans."

I don't want to say that everything Paul says in that article is non-sense, because not all of it is. But there are clearly some very creepy things in the article. Especially when we consider that not everyone will pursue these Orwellian ideals with a grain of cautionary balance. Oh to think how these "environmental protection measures" could be exploited by a power hungry totalitarian!

There are some very serious environmental issues which must be addressed. Totalitarianism is not the answer, and quite frankly I find some of the solutions that Mr. Watson proposes scary. First, I find they way Watson proposes them to be a bit creepy. Second, I find the ways they could be further ABUSED even more creepy.
I say this not because I don't care about the environment or am a selfish "human chauvinist", but rather because I love liberty and I feel that human well-being must also coexist with the global ecological well-being. When humans are enslaved to tyranny, the environment doesn't do too well either.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

On Samson

I'm reading through Judges, and have most recently come to the story of Samson's life. I don't think I'm the only one who finds it to be rather fascinating. There is something compelling about the story. Samson was one of the judges of Israel covered in the book of Judges. Besides being a Herculean figure, he is known for being a "bad boy" and a riddle-maker. At least a few of his expressions are set in a very poetic form. It is likely that Samson was NOT a big muscular guy. His strength was supernatural, and we can also conjecture that if he was big and muscular, Delilah would be less inclined to look for the "secret" of his strength.

Essentially, Samson was raised as a crucial individual in the Israelites war with the Philistines. Along the way, the Bible records many noteworthy incidents, exploits, and sins of Samson. One really great thing about the Bible is that it doesn't give a plastic/fake/sanitized version of the characters it speaks of, it shows them with all their flaws!

While the events in this story (single-handed military exploits, killing of beasts, etc.) and the characteristics of Samson (a weakness for women, jealousy anger, etc.) are found in other stories and other characters, in its totality the story of Samson is rather unique. We may not be inclined to see many parallels between Samson and Christ, but an interesting one is this: For both of them, the focus is on events pertaining to their birth, and then there is a major fast-forward to the events of their adult life.


Understanding The Story Better

To better understand the story, I recommend you read a bit on The Philistines. You should also read up a bit on the Nazirite vow. Also, it wouldn't hurt to look at some archeological info as well.

For an outline of this story, you may wish to check out An Argument of the Book of Judges by David Malick or this outline of Judges.

Samson's Name

Besides Judges 13-16 and Hebrews 11 (where Samson is mentioned in passing with other heroes of faith), we find Samson's name absent from the rest of the Bible. The name apparently means "of the sun".

Delilah's name means "weak". This is ironic since she was able to so dominate such a strong man.

Samson In Art and Music and Literature

As one could imagine, Samson was a pretty popular subject for various artists, authors, and musicians.
  • Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck portrays Samson beside Delilah while he is wrestled by several men.

  • The French painter Gustave Moreau made a watercolour of Samson relaxing in the arms of Delilah.

  • Rembrant portrayed The Blinding of Samson

  • A 15th century Icelandic manuscript portrays a dreadlocked Samson fighting a lion

  • Flavius Josephus told the story in " Antiquities of the Jews"

  • English Poet Geoffrey Chaucer rewrote the tale in the 14th century

  • Gary Davis sang a song named Samson and Delilah. This song originated before Davis used it, at which time it was known by titles such as "Samson Tore The Building Down", etc.. The first known recording of it was by Blind Willie Johnson. For more info on its history, check out this. This song was popularized when The Grateful Dead began singing it in the 1970s. While the song does speak quite a bit about the Biblical story, it does have some inaccuracies. For example, it says Samson killed 10,000 with a jawbone, but the correct number was really 1,000.

  • Samson has also been mentioned to in songs by Donovan, Bob Marley, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Elvis Cotello

  • Handel made an oratio called Samson

  • John Milton made Samson the hero of his tragedy "Samson Agonistes"

  • Camille Saint-Saens wrote an opera titled Samson et Delila

  • A number of movies about Samson or knock-offs have been made. In fact, films with the title "Samson and Delilah" were released in 1922, 1949, 1984, and 1996.


BBC Article on Samson

In February 2001, the BBC published an article reporting on Dr Eric Altschuler of UC San Diego, who claims that Samson was "mentally ill" and the earliest case of "anti-social personality disorder".

Some Lessons To Learn From Samson

Here are some things we can learn. I know some of these are sort of moralistic, but they are still meaningful:
  • God has an overarching plan. All of Biblical history has meaning, and is a flow in God's plan of redemption. Here we have a wonderful example of how God uses a barren couple to bring forth a great deliverer, a theme which finds later correspondence in the case of John the Baptist. God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.

  • God is serious about what He prescribes, and it is to be followed exactly. Also, God does not want us to play "fast and loose" with His commandments and other serious matters in the way that Samson appears to have.

  • God doesn't always use "good" people to accomplish His purposes. In fact, many rogue characters exhibited faith and did great things for God. In fact, some of the most key people in the history of the plan of redemption, were people who had at least one or two "strikes" against them. God uses even Samson's rebellion for good purposes.

  • In matters that greatly impact our life, we should not act rashly

  • A powerful lesson about the power a woman can have over a man. Samson was a strong man. But his strength was nothing when a woman could seduce him. Samson's enemies knew this and used it. God, who created men and women to be attracted to each other, didn't make any mistakes in creating things that way. However, we need to be careful that we conduct ourself in a way that is honoring to Him. God created human sexuality, but he wants humans to use it in ways that is for their own good and ultimately glorifies Him. Bad relationships are the downfall of many a fine man.

  • All sin has consequences, many times in the here and now. And not learning from our mistakes is dangerous.

  • While in most ways, Samson's life is not a good pattern for us, there are some ways where he may be seen as a type (as in typology) of Chris). For example: He conquers to roaring lion. He touches the unclean. He has an often unfaithful bride. etc. Christ is in the entirety of the Bible, even perhaps in some places where we do not expect.

  • In at least one way, Samson is worth emulating. He is a real man. In that we can, to some degree, strive to emulate him. Unlike the tribe of Judah, he is not enticed by false peace with the Philistines. He is not a spineless coward. He's unafraid to raise a ruckus if he needs to.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Tocqueville on Government, Ecetera

In analyzing the French Revolution, Tocqueville said: "The most perilous moment for a bad government is one when it seeks to mends its ways".

Sometimes the only thing worse than being a miserable failure is being a miserable failure and trying hard to not be one. It becomes a vicious cycle. This not only applies to government, but also to software projects, self-improvement, New Years resolutions, public relations disasters, etc. When we start from a failing base and work towards improvement, we mostly either go nowhere or slide further downhill.

This stems from the fact that something that is wounded or worse yet--dead is unable, or at least unlikely to be able to analyze the situation properly or be able to mend it. And when it does muster some sort of an effort, it is likely to be a frantic over-reaction or misguided reaction like the way twisting and turning in the wrong direction only ensures that the barbs of a hook sink deeper.

We find this echoed also in Biblical thought. Perhaps the most conceptually powerful teaching about the folly of expecting positive from a negative base is in Mat 7:18. Good trees don't bring forth bad fruit, neither do bad trees bring forth good fruit. Unless there is a change to the basic nature of tree, don't expect it to bring forth something completely different. The idea is also further developed in the theological teachings of the Bible in the way it speaks of the fall, sin, and the hope for reform and regeneration. Something flawed can only bring forth something unflawed with external intervention. And while there are interesting theological aspects of this, for now I'm speaking of it semi-generically and also moreso related to things like politics or the conducting of projects.

Now, the concept we've come to in thinking about what Tocqueville said becomes sort of hard to apply practically. Take a system of government. It is such a complex thing. So many factors interacting. Many different people playing into it, too. It isn't easy to change, so it seems the small mending is all that is feasible anyways. Where does one begin when one finds themselves in the middle of a crumbling system? Is the answer always revolution and completely upheaval? How can small and gradual changes for the better ever be successful given what Tocqueville (and common sense) tells us about failing enterprises mending their own ways? Can the system ever change without a thorough ride down shakedown street? Or how about a software project? Should we at the disconcerting sign of failure completely overhaul things ignoring the possiblity of fixing the solution by smalll tweaks? Or even, what about self-improvement? Should we always be looking for some sort of revolutionary approach or huge change of foundation when some "mending" may do? And how can we ever change anything if we are just "inside the system". Then we are always a part of the flawed system and only a true "outsider" could change it.

I think those are questions that naturally flow from the good point that Tocqueville made. The questioned raised should lead us to not take his quote too far. I think it comes down to the fact that we should use what he's said to be suspicious of that sort of mending, but not discount it entirely. And thats the way he intended it, a sort of ironic statement tied to his observations about the French Revolution.

Here are some very general guidelines to avoiding falling into the trap of the bad sort of mending:

1. Think before you mend and proceed slowly. Do be overly reactionary. Don't let patching a sinking (or already sunk) ship distract you from other possibilities, perhaps a life boat hovering close by.

2. Ideas have consequences. The foundational ideas and principles are better to fix than the side effects. Mending and minor changes made under a flawed framework will be more likely to fail, be time consuming, and cause lots of problems. Rather work on mending the foundational things and let that trickle down to the minor things.

3. Motives for mending are important. If you are doing it to save face, its probably better to face the issue individually (or collectively if it is a collective in question) in the immediate and leave the saving face for later. Mends merely done for the public eye tend to be shady and not last very long.

4. Keep the pace and nature of the changes iterative and regularly, not irregular and erratic. Think the strokes of a good swimmer--not the flailing arms of a drowning person. To be manageable, there must be healthy rhythm to change and "fixes" to allow for a proper process of integration and revision.

5. Be open minded about new directions. Give thought to the possibly that the things needed to be mended are a sign that perhaps things need to radically change or the whole thing in question needs to be dropped. Many of us have a (mostly well-intentioned) eagerness to fix things. But what if we are just chasing our tail needlesly?

All these thoughts came out of nothing but a short quote. This is good evidence that reading quotes can be thought-stimulating. Feel free to add anything else.

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Top 15 Web-Based Services

Here are, in my humble opinion, the top 15 web services out there. There are a lot of factors that went into how I determined what to put on this list and how to rank it. Here are a few: How revolutionary is this service? How handy? How versatile? How reliable? How are they run? etc.

1. Gmail (Hosted Web Mail)
2. LibraryThing (Social Book Indexing)
3. Blogger (Blogging)
4. Craigslist (Community Classifieds)
5. Fotki (Photo Hosting)
6. Google Analytics (Web Stats)
7. You Tube (You Tube)
8. Google Book Search (Book Text Search)
9. Delicious (Social Bookmarking)
10. Google Maps (Mapping)
11. Google Reader (Feed Reader)
12. Facebook (Social Network)
13. Listal (Social Listing)
14. Google Calender (Calendar)
15. Title Trader (Book, etc. Trading)

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Amazing New Product..

This is excellent. Who said computer keyboards aren't tasty?

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