22 Sep

Simplicity Sells

There is a series of discussions that occurs every year where a 1,000 people are invited to discuss ideas in Technology, Entertainment, and Design or TED. The people who are invited to this roundhouse of discussions are simply some of the most intelligent, outspoken, maverick and iconic people that exist. To be invited to even attend the conference alone is an honor that many people would love to have, to speak at one of these events is an even more prestigious honor. TED has never been broadcast to the public, the talks that were given were always reserved for those 1,000 people who attended that year. However this year, approximately 2 or 3 months ago the talks were and still are slowly being released to the public.

This is wonderful, because I feel that all knowledge should be released to the public. (I’ll probably blog more about this on a later date.) The TED talks cover so many different degrees and backgrounds that they are really fascinating to anyone no matter what you are interested in. This is going to be the first in many posts discussing several different TED talks that I will post from time to time.

My first post in this series is going to cover David Pogue‘s TED talk in 2006 discussing the state of software and technology in general from the point of view of the user. David Pogue’s basic theme is simplicity sells, not only does it sell but it sells wonderfully. More and more companies seem to travel away from this idea especially for software companies. Yes, I would honestly say that there are features that are needed and more features is not necessarily right off hand a bad idea inherently. The idea is not so much adding in too many features, rather it is making those features easy to use, and easy to access. There are so many examples of products that feature overkill it would be ridiculous to list all of them. All of you can think of a product that had more features than you knew what to do with, the easiest example is Microsoft’s Office Word. A great product in the sense that it works, it is powerful, it allows you to write many different types of documents and to do so much editing and polish to a document it is ridiculous.

That is the problem, it is ridiculous. Have you ever opened up all of the tool bars in Word and seen just how many there are? Just for reference you eliminate pretty close to 50% of the screen with tool bars. How often have you ever wanted to edit or write Visual Basic in a Word document, probably not all that often, but you can. Or has anyone ever sent an e-mail through Outlook using Word. People that I know who use both programs on a daily basis do not use this tool, why? Simple, it’s easier to use the tool that was designed for e-mails, Outlook. Speaking of Outlook the calendar that is integrated with it is great, but how do I make an exportable calendar that still retains some security features on it? I know you can do it, but I once spent 2 hours trying to find out how to do before I said forget it and instead used a different tool that I was actually able to find out how to export a calendar with security features in the calendar.

Simplicity isn’t a crazy idea that is hard to discover, it is however an idea hard for any hard core geek which is 99% of the people designing and deciding what the next iteration of a program will be to move away from more features. I do not want to say that extra features are wrong and that when a program is released that they should not put in any extra features. But, and this is key, features must be integrated intelligently. Not only should they be easy to use, find, and manipulate but they should also be useful. If a poll was taken how many people even know about the VB tool bar in Word, then how many fewer people actually use it, perhaps even more telling would be how many people used it on anything approaching a monthly basis. I wouldn’t mind seeing the numbers on that.

A tool should be designed to help the user not hinder them. When tools keep piling on top of each other, that is a hindrance. Design simplicity into your products and watch how more people not only will use your product but will also use more features and recommend other people use it as well. For instance YouTube, is simplicity in action. Unlike many other video sharing sites which require the file to be trans-coded into a certain type before they will accept it, YouTube accepts all files and does the trans-coding themselves. This is important because for the majority of people in the world, trans-coding sounds like voodoo. YouTube, just works, because of this it is used and people recommend it to other people. Most people don’t even know what a file name extension is much less how to change a file from one type to another. YouTube hides this important and necessary step from the user and because of this the process of uploading a movie to the Internet becomes painless.

You must always aggregate your program/product to the lowest common denominator whatever and whoever that may be. The less steps involved, the clearer the steps, the more user friendly the program, the better the user experience will be and that ultimately that is what will generate sales and accolades, not the number of features built into the program.

21 Sep

Woman for UN – Secretary-General

Okay, so this week I have been really bad at posting, thus far I have missed 2 out of the 3 days. Unfortunately I couldn’t do much of anything about the project or being sick. Speaking of which I’m feeling slightly better, today I can actually think straight, so here goes another crazy venture into my mind.

 

An idea has been proposed by several Women’s Advocacy, Feminist, Women’s Rights, etc. groups, the idea is to push for the next UN – Secretary-General to be a female. Now, let me unequivocally state that I have no issues with a woman being the Secretary General or being the next President or being really in any position of leadership. Yes, there are people who feel that women can not and should hold certain positions of leadership, I however am not one of those people. I do know people who have stated in very certain terms that if a woman was to run for President of the USA they would not vote for her, simply because she is a woman. A completely sexist and in my personal opinion stupid and ignorant remark. However, I also take issue with these feminist groups pushing for a woman to be elected the next Secretary-General. Well, why one might ask why, if I don’t have a problem with women being in positions of leadership?

 

The reason is simple, I do not feel that it is necessary to support one social group over another. Sex, race, color, creed, and religion should be put aside to elect the best PERSON for the position. Note that I said person, not man, not woman, not African-American, not Anglo-Saxon, not Hispanic, not gay man, or gay woman, the best person. Groups that wish to advocate equality for different social groups should not advocate the promotion of one social group over another simply because they are working for the rights of that social group. For example, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), should not request that a African-American be elected to some position, simply because there has never been an African-American in said position.

 

This changes the dynamics of what it means to have free elections and choosing the best person for the job, rather than choosing the best PERSON for a position, it becomes what social group hasn’t been included that has enough powerful organizations pushing for said social group to be included. The UN, the US, recruiters, all of these people/organizations need to search for the best person for a position, not the best woman, African-American, or Hispanic. This in effect becomes reverse discrimination, a term that crops up in conservative circles, but should be something that liberals need to recognize. Reverse discrimination is the idea where white males, generally though not always, are in effect discriminated because they are white males. Jobs are lost because a company needs to have so many minorities for a diverse company is the easiest example to use. This also affects companies in their sexual harassment policies, where females are allowed to say things to a male that if a male was to say towards a female, they would be fired for. There is a point where trying to level the playing field goes to far and the playing field tilts the other direction.

 

I have nothing against leveling the playing field, I have nothing intrinsically against any females or minorities that I have met. I have nothing against them if/when I do not receive a job offer that I wanted but they receive the job offer instead. As long as the person is qualified for the position, as long as I was evaluated on the same basis that everyone else was evaluated on. I wish there were no stereotypes and discrimination in the world as I wrote about on Monday morning. However stereotypes and discrimination does exist, and it does become necessary to level the playing field, but I feel that the playing field is very quickly being tilted the other way.

 

While yes, it is true that white males do still currently tend to (though not always) earn more money than minorities, be promoted faster, receive more job offers, there are numerous cases that I have personally experienced and my white male friends have experienced where a less qualified person was put into a position, received a scholarship, promoted or elected to a position even though it was universally acknowledged that the said person was less qualified or even unqualified for what they received. Personal Example: there was a friend that my brother had, who spent one entire semester of college teaching an African-American female the basics of grammar (subject, verb and noun) and she still did not understand them by the end of the semester. This lady did not qualify for even attending the college, her SAT scores were below the schools standards, yet she received immediate acceptance to several colleges and the one that she chose, gave her a full ride to the school. All because she was #1 – Female, #2 – African-American, #3 – The first to attend college in her family.

 

Now I am not saying that this lady did not deserve a chance to attend college, and I am not saying kudos to the college for paying for her education when her family could not afford it. However she was not qualified to attend college academically, why then was she accepted and even more so, given a full ride? The question is raised that if someone else was in that exact same position would they receive the same thing that this lady received? I would willingly state no, especially if that person was a white male. My first thought for colleges and job hunters is to not ask the race or sex of someone on a job application, possibly also hiding the person’s name (owing to the fact that names can and do give away sex and ethnicity many times). Do not even consider it in your initial round eliminations. The first elimination round is completely neutral, decisions to stop considering someone are based entirely on their individual qualifications. Obviously at some point or another you will have to see the actual person and at that point discrimination can come into play, but at least give people a chance rather than basing decisions on their sex or ethnicity.

 

Please do not take this post as I hate women and minorities, I do not. I wish for ALL social groups to be treated fairly and equally. Towards this end I can not support the advocacy of someone into any position on any basis other than their qualifications. I do support many feminist and minority advocacy groups because I feel their cause is a noble and good cause. But I do not and can not support such groups supporting one social groups status to be raised over another, this is not fair and equal treatment.

19 Sep

Stereotypes: Will they ever go away?

An idea that has been discussed on and off again in my history class (History of Women in America) is what would happen if some how every living person on the face of the earth did not have any stereotypes about any other person. No racial, no religious, no gender and sexual, no stereotypes of any kind. Would the stereotypes reappear, would a different set of stereotypes come into play, or would stereotypes no longer exist. It is an interesting question and the focus of tonight’s post.

I personally feel that no matter what is taught by the government in schools or by parents in the household, that stereotypes will ever disappear. Here is why, stereotypes are created not just by what you explicitly learn, but also through what you implicitly learn. So, by the same measure that you learn that everyone is and should treated equally, you also see people all the time who are treated differently than how you treat people who are in your same social class, for example, in life. This is just one simple example that shows how even a liberal educated person has stereotypes in their person and will possibly never get rid of them.

However, we are discussing a situation (which is far from the realm of possible, though not that it isn’t desirable) where all stereotypes have been eliminated from society’s and humankind’s collective mind. First off let us recognize stereotypes for what they are. Stereotypes are not normally based on present conditions although there do exist stereotypes that are relatively new. Most stereotypes are from society’s past, they are result of one social group suppressing another social group. For this simple fact, I think that stereotypes stand a chance of being eliminated. The crux of the problem resides in the first generation of children to grow up in our fictional world. In a world without stereotypes, the question is, would the children create their own new stereotypes based on present conditions and actions? If they do not, you will quite possibly have a large portion of people transferring jobs and positions in society that are more traditionally (in our society) associated with another social group. For instance will more women become leaders in industry, will more whites preform lower income positions and will more minorities go off to college and become managers?

There are a lot of assumptions in this theory, this is the major flaw with it. Which is why I don’t know for certain which would happen. It could easily be argued that because the society is going to look the same as our society, the stereotypes will come back into play, because every facet of society is divided up into already pre-existing social groups. These social groups could and in all likely hood will cause stereotypes to come back into play into society. Here is why, the people you are most comfortable with are people who you work with, live with, and socialize with. When those people stay the same, but the stereotypes of other social groups is non-existent, why wouldn’t the stereotypes come right back into play. Everyday, you see an older white male is in charge of most companies, majority of day-laborers are Hispanic at the very least and sometimes though not always illegal immigrants, receptionists are generally female, a vast majority of people in prison are there based on drugs and are also African-American, many scientists and researchers you would hear about are Chinese or Asian, the call-center that you call for customer service consistently constitutes of Indians. It isn’t just that these statements and observations are stereotypes, but that they are true in our modern liberal democratic society. The question now becomes rather than will the social structure change, to can it change? Since there are still mechanisms in place that cause social groups to not be able to change their position in society, such as sheer economics of gaining a college degree to be able work at a different job other than manual labor or fast food.

I have been debating this question internally for a week or so and can not come to an effective conclusion on the question of could stereotypes disappear from society. Personally, when I started writing this post, I was of the opinion that they could disappear. I sat on the post for another week or so and changed my mind almost every day. After a week or so of thinking and debating, I feel that stereotypes will in all likely hood not disappear. They will be replaced by a different set of stereotypes that instead of being based upon historical context, will be found in the current culture and society of our imaginary world. Also the stereotypes will suffer just as hard of a time disappearing in this new society as in our present society because there are other reasons beyond just stereotypes that limit a social groups ability as a whole to change the status of their current conditions. Stereotypes do play a large role in the suppression of social groups and I do feel that with stereotypes gone, social groups will have a much better opportunity to be able to change their position in society. Stereotypes are something that I wish personally did not exist but I feel will always exist in society, no matter how much society wishes to get rid of them.

15 Sep

Responsibility Within Relationship

Tonight I attended a lecture by Stephen Darwall, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan. He gave a lecture this evening covering responsibility within relationships, specifically as to how we interact and respond to each other and what our moral basis for our actions toward the other person are inside of this relationship. First off, under modern philosophical thought it is not enough to if confronted with the choice to save a stranger and your significant other it is not enough to simply think, well that is my significant other and for that reason I will save them. This is the idea of there being “One idea too many.” The idea here is that the concern should be to a particular person rather than having to put your concern within the context of a relationship, the relationship is a mutal relationship and therefore there is no reason to add that you will save the person because of your relationship with that person. So the end goal of what Professor Darwall is trying to get is a moral basis under which responsibility inside and within relationships is explained along with the understand of how it relates to people with whom you have no relationship, ie. the stranger.

 

First, let us define what context under which we are discussing a relationship. A relationship as Darwall puts forward is one where there is an implicit understanding that you two are together, you both accept the relationship, and you both are free to voluntary leave the relationship. An example of this, is going for a walk with a person, if you are walking with someone, you expect to walk with that person, where they go, you go as well. Also when that person if at some point chooses to veer off and away from you, they acknowledge that they will do so and you accept them leaving. If you are not walking with a person you do not have any reason to tell the other person that you are veering off in a different direction. There is a basic understanding of mutual communication about the aspects of what the two of you are doing in the relationship or in the course of your walk. Now, these relationships can be romantic, or they can be strictly platonic, the importance is in the acknowledgment of what happens when one person leaves or steps away from the other person.

 

So we have a basic understanding of what a relationship is, next, we will define what occurs on the moral level within the relationship. The basic human moral instinct towards any single person is to care for that person. Care is defined in this context as wanting what benefits that person for the best. You do not particularly care about their actual wishes, their wishes are irrelevant because you do not have a relationship upon which to decide or know what their wishes may be. Rather you have a general concern for their well-being and wish for them to have what is best for them. I am not going to get into a full blown out argument as to why this is a basic moral idea of all humans, but I will make an easy example. Smoking is something that people do, and the majority of people acknowledge is dangerous and for this reason we wish for people to not smoke. Another example is when people are injured in a terrorist attack or natural disaster even though we in all likely hood do not know anyone even remotely effected by these events we are moved with feelings of concern and a genuine desire to help our fellow person. This is care for the basic human, whether we are in a relationship with that person or not.

 

When we come into a relationship with a person, we add a second level of concern to the relationship, while still keeping the first. It is at this point that we acknowledge and wish to promote the other person’s desires and wishes, this is respect. Respect is made up of what the other person desires. Now as to what this actually is, Prof. Darwall makes no claims to being able to fully define the other person’s desires simply because they can be widely varied from person to person. Respect creates a moral accountability where we accept the other person’s view of ourselves and wish to be kept in their good graces. This is due to the fact that the relationship is entered into mutually thus the obligation is mutual. The moral obligation is based on care but more importantly on respect. This respect reverberates among the two people, because one person cares for the other, the other cares for that person, and mutually they want not only what is best for each of them but they also desire for the other person what the other person desires.

 

Going back to our idea of a basic relationship with the walk, when you engage in a relationship you acknowledge that the other person is to be informed of your actions and desires. This also flows that each person is held accountable to each other. Here we come to the idea that Prof. Darwall is promoting, that there exists a Second-person authority and this authority should be the guide for our moral and also our immoral actions in a relationship. The idea of Second-person authority is that it is necessary to have within a relationship or else there is no relationship. No respect for the other person, no relationship and thus no Second-person authority. But what is meant by a Second-person authority, this authority is the idea that each person is held accountable to the other and there exists an implicit understanding that respect exists and is to be upheld inside of the relationship. In other words Second-person authority is the moral authority upon which a relationship is formed. It does not have to be expressly stated, and in most cases should neither have to be or need to be stated. Rather it is understood implicitly the same way that you understand that you and someone else are walking together, generally you don’t ask to take a walk together it just happens.

 

With this Second-person authority comes the understanding that all actions are if they are to promote the relationship should be with that person. For example, contempt for someone else is a Third-person action, an action that is not interacting with each other but rather with someone else or possibly no one else. When you roll your eyes at someone, rather than telling the person that their idea is stupid you are stating to everyone else around you that their idea is stupid. However when you glare at someone the understanding there is that the person did something wrong and they should correct their actions. There exists a basic understanding that the person should not only correct their actions but that they are accountable to you. If you have no relationship with the person, then you really don’t care what they do, because their actions have no real effect on you.

 

The main point of his argument with Second-person authority is that the biggest cause of relationships, intimate or not is a lack of respect for the other person. When you express contempt with someone rather than confronting the person about the problem, you show a lack of respect towards that person. You are not acknowledging the mutual understanding you two have to hold each other accountable to the the other within the context of the relationship. Because of the vulnerability inherent in relationships we have to accept that we are held to a level of mutual respect for each other. Second-person authority says that within a relationship we have a special responsibility to the other person unique to that person and thus we will make actions within the context of that responsibility.

 

So rather than saying oh that is my significant other, so for that reason I will save them, we instead don’t think about our actions because the moral decision has already been decided before hand, because that person would presumably wish to be save so we in turn do as they would wish and save them.

 

Note: I may be misinterpreting several of his arguments but I do not believe so and I defiantly didn’t put it as well as he did, if you are interested in this, Prof. Darwall is releasing a book entitled The Second Person Standpoint that more fully will explain this idea. Also, if you have any questions about this idea do not hesitate to leave a comment and I will answer your questions as best as I possibly can, however I do acknowledge that I do not study philosophy except as a hobby and defiantly this is not my own personal philosophy that I thought up of, so some questions I may not be able to answer. Also sorry about the long post, but try fitting a an hour and half long lecture on modern philosophy into something manageable, it just isn’t going to happen.

 

Edit:  Minor grammar mistake corrected, on Sept. 15, 2006 at 12:28 am.

 

14 Sep

Technology: Wasn’t it supposed to make our lives easier?

Anybody remember the time when technology was supposed to make our lives easier and stress free. Washing machines, dishwashers, RSS feeds, podcasts, and so many other technologies were added to make our lives easier, to simplify and aggregate information so we could quickly absorb it. We would have more free time, more time to relax more time to just enjoy what goes on in our lives rather than adding more things in our day to do. More and more I realize how much of a joke this is. I rather propose that instead it makes us desire and feel like it is much easier to try and add more things into our daily routine. I currently feel like I am always rushed in the amount of stuff that I have to do each and every day. I have to attend classes, I have to do homework, I have to read the news, sleep, eat, hang out with friends (far to little of this happens), read the news, read my tech news, clean out my email inbox, clean out my RSS Feeds, more and more stuff just seems to be added each day rather than it being easier it seems to get harder and harder.

 

I currently start out my day by waking up at 6:30 am, taking a shower, getting dressed, reading my news that comes via email (CNN, New York Times, and BBC), then going through some of the morning feeds, seeing what if anything interesting happened and heading out to class. Classes till about 3 interspersed with time off that consists of doing homework or working on something, then doing homework till 5 or so. Then I eat dinner come back to my room, go through the feeds again, takes another hour, up to around 6:30 give or take, then do more homework, till about 11 pm. At this point I write a blog entry, which takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and half, then work on more homework and go to sleep around 2 to 2:30 am. And you know what, I still feel like I want to do more, I want to be more productive. How much is the human supposed to comprehend in a day. This is the third week of classes and I missed two classes this morning due to falling asleep from sheer exhaustion, I spent the last two nights staying up the whole night. I need to find a method and fast to do all that I need to do and still have fun at some point, the weekends are bad, because you go out to a party, stay out till 4 in the morning or so, wake up at 8 to 10 am and then I have work at 2 pm. 4 hours or so out of the entire day in which to do homework and try to do something crazy like play a game or something.

 

I think I might start up a new rule of trying to eliminate more of the feeds or maybe only reading some of the feeds on the weekend, such as the science and philosophy ones, that while interesting are exactly something that I have to read every day and don’t pile up into astronomical numbers. The Digg feed is starting to get out of hand a hundred plus on Tuesday, it took me 15 minutes just to eliminate all the ones I didn’t want to read. I talk a lot about how I want science to develop a pill where I can stop sleeping, but instead what I really want is a way for myself to stop trying to read about everything and instead eliminate what I don’t really need to learn about all the time. Do I really need to know the latest and greatest in the field of quantum physics, probably not, but I am interested in it, so I read about it. The RSS feeds rather than making my news easier to gather, makes it harder to feel like I have time to actually read about anything, simply because there is now so much information that it is hard to eliminate what I do and don’t want to read about. Rather than reading just a couple of sites, instead I am reading from 20 or 30 sites a day and trying to process all this information in a matter of seconds and move on to the next topic and read it even faster to go onto the next and then the next….

 

It turns into a never ending spiral, a spiral that just adds to itself every time you read a new blog, you hit that RSS button and bamm another thing to check every day. Is it really worth your time? Part of the reason I ask this is because I do want to start dating again, yet I feel like I don’t have the time to make that kind of commitment that a girlfriend would require, so I want to put it off. Yet at the same time, I value having a relationship of that level with someone else, and there are defiantly girls that I am attracted to and would like to pursue a relationship with. What should I do, stop trying to date again, or instead cut more out and feel like I am not getting all that I can out of the wonder that is the Internet. Personally tonight and for the past several weeks that school has been in session I am leaning more and more to trying to woo myself off of so many sites and go back to what is truly important, my education and my relationships with the people that exist in this world.

12 Sep

Freedom From Software

Today on the This Week in Tech podcast (TWiT), one of their big topics that they discussed was DRM or Digital Rights Management as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) refer to it or the Digital Restrictions Management as the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF). Based on those two terms you guess that this is a controversial topic and indeed it is for geeks and nerds all around. One of the pivotal points that all geeks contend to liking is something for free, we enjoy developing free software, we enjoy the use of software that we can tweak to our own use and the same goes with all other products that we buy. Can anyone out there honestly say that they haven’t tweaked their computer or some other electronic gadget at one point or another, or know someone who has. Many geeks use Open Office (a Microsoft Office clone that does basically the same thing only it is free), Gimp (a Photoshop clone) and dozens of other open source software. For me personally the only software that I use on a daily basis that is proprietary is Microsoft Visual Studio 6.0 and iTunes and of course Windows XP (Note: working on the Linux however my college basically requires the use of a windows computer, so I would need a second computer to put Linux on.). Both of the former I use for only one reason, not that I have to use them, simply that I have found nothing that works as well as if not better than those two pieces of software.

However I do not like the idea of my work whether it is just code, or my music being trapped and tied into one piece of software that if anything happens to either of those companies or the software becomes no longer supported that I have lost all of my data. Imagine what would happen if Apple all of sudden started going under, it happened before when they were at the top of their field (and yes I do know that the circumstances are completely different, but still it could happen, work with me here). All of sudden iTunes is no longer supported by Apple, you buy a new computer but you can’t find iTunes to download and be able to play all that music that you accumulated through the iTunes Music Store. So what happens, you have to sit there and burn disks of your Gigabytes of music and import it into whatever your current music player is at that time. This is same thing that happened when Cd’s came out, all of sudden those tapes you had of your music became harder and harder to find a place to play them. Most modern cars today do not even come with a tape player. So you had to go out and re-buy all of your music on Cd. Imagine what would happen if DVD’s become obsolete in the next 5 or so years? Would you really want to re-spend the several hundred dollars that you spent getting your DVD collection together on the new format of disks (HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, no idea which yet). To geeks this seems like a stupid thing for companies to force users and consumers (read you and I) to upgrade our media that we already bought every time a new technology came out. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could buy an album once and a movie once and have it for the rest of your life.

This is where DRM gets in the way. DRM is designed to prevent pirates from posting music on file-sharing sites where anybody who knows about it can get to them. However, and this is a big point, no DRM has ever not been cracked, all DRM has been cracked and with the internet the hack is posted on forums and such where geeks get to it and crack the DRM on their protected content. The reson for this is simple, most of the time geeks do feel that musicians should be paid for their music and they do legally buy their music, they would just like to be sure that they won’t lose the media if something were to happen. The average person does not, know about file-sharing sites, they only hear about them when they get sued thus increasing the percentage of people who know about them and use them. (Prime Example: The Pirate Bay, which when sued saw it’s numbers skyrocket, the average geek already knew about it, this was the mainstream person who had heard about it through the news and decided to check it out.) Limiting the exposure on file-sharing sites is the best thing to be done, geeks already know how to or do crack DRM and the average person has no idea it even exists and doesn’t care one way or the other.

The point of this post is that there are freedoms from being locked into a software or hardware choice and instead freeing your system and your lifestyle from choices based on what you own, and instead making the choice as to what works best for you. I use iTunes because I can find no equal however all of my music is in MP3 format so I can put it on my SD Memory card and play it in my palm, if I get an iPod or any other music player I will still be able to play my music, along with being able to use any other of the multiple free and open source media players that allow you play multiple audio and video files. I do not post my music on file sharing sites, simply because whatever I have to offer is already available, honestly most of time music becomes available on file sharing sites within a week or less of the music or movie being in stores. DRM doesn’t protect against file-sharing because it is circumvented all the time and it only hurts the average consumer who has to re-purchase their media files every time the technology changes.

(Note about vocabulary: I intend for the word “geek” or “dork” to mean those people who are experienced in computers and in their inner workings and use them on an almost constant basis. These terms are not meant to be an insult, I am one, so don’t complain that I am insulting anyone. It is simply the easiest way to classify a wide and diverse range of people.)

11 Sep

Freedom isn’t Free but Fear is

Okay, so I am a temperamental mood tonight, so you get a post that is going to be a rant tonight, so be warned. Why is Freedom not free, but instead I say that fear is very free. Freedom is a hard idea to hold onto, it can be taken away very easily, many things can affect your outlook on how much freedom to hold onto, and what exactly constitutes freedom, it is an ever changing idea. Fear on the other hand, fear of your life being taken away or ended, is a quantity that is very easy to change, have someone hold up a gun to you, place a sword at your neck, or in the modern terminology, evoke September 11th. You see all of sudden fear is a very easy thing to add into your life and very hard to take away, weeks afterwards you will remember the gun being pressed into your body, how your entire body seemed to be dissociating itself from your conscious self, and your every thought was “Oh god, let me live 30 more minutes.” However does this mean that we should give up our Freedom for this temporary and I do mean temporary relief from the fear of our life.

 

First thing to notice is how I capitalize the word Freedom and not fear, why, you might ask. This is for a very simple reason, fear is an irrational reaction to outside stimuli. It is decided and acted upon in milliseconds with the only thought being the ability to make it to the next minute or the next hour, etc. Freedom however is a philosophical idea, it is thought out through years, the ideas of what constitutes freedom for many people in their country was a decision that took years sometimes, and is continentally being decided upon every day, by their different branches of government. Fear can be removed from your life and added back into it within seconds. Going back to our idea of someone placing a gun to your body, now imagine the gun is removed – relief floods your system, wait the gun is back pointing at you even closer and more menacingly than before, the fear returns within seconds and once again your life is in danger after you just thought you were safe a second ago. Fear appears and disappears in our life everyday, sometimes more often than that. The fear of what will do for the rest of our life, the fear of whether or not we will pass a class, the fear of losing someone important in our life, the fear of change, all of these are fears and they are all different and they are all irrational. Most can be debunked by examining the situation critically, some can be realized in hindsight how stupid the fear was, some are situations that we have no control over and fear will only make the situation worse and paralyze our minds and actions with indecision.

 

Many people who know me, know that I don’t fear terrorists or their actions. Why, you might ask. A very simple and easy answer is this, because I don’t fear for my life ending. My life will end when it will, nothing I choose to do will change it. The second part is because I don’t believe the facts put me at much risk of dying from a terroristic event. The average person has a higher chance dying from drowning in their toilet (Warning: PDF Document) than dying in a terroristic event. Does that mean that the average person is more afraid of his/her toilet than they are of being unwittingly dragged into being part of a suicide run on the White House. The majority of people would say they are more afraid of the latter, with good reason. A toilet doesn’t seem to evoke to much fear, in fact it evokes on a daily basis none to the average person. A toilet is comfortable in the sense that it is used daily and on an almost regular basis. A toilet is fairly easy to understand the mechanics behind which it works, or at the very least it doesn’t look like voodoo magic. Whereas an airplane, the science behind which it works are not understand by the majority of people who ride them and also an airplane is not used with the same frequency as the toilet is used.

 

So, on this anniversary of September 11th, what will I do, will I fear the terrorists or will I go about my life not caring. In all honesty I will do the same thing I did 5 years ago, not care. I wasn’t afraid then, and I won’t be afraid today. I did watch the news that day almost non-stop, I did hope and wish that people would be rescued and saved. I was pleased when the nation stood together and decided to go after those responsible. I did not spend that day thinking my life would end, or even worry about it. My thoughts did not go out to any of my family members, because statistically speaking the chances of any of them being one of the 2,973 people who died on that day is almost impossible. Does this make me an irrational person who has lost all grip on reality and needs to be checked into a mental hospital, or does it make me someone who at the ripe old age of 15, examined the evidence, shrugged my shoulders and said “My chances of dying are minimal, so who cares.” If someone at 15 can choose to do that, why is that people 2, 3, and 4 times my age are afraid?

 

What I have observed is that these people give into their irrational fear and rather than continuing to live life, choose to stilt their life by making choices based on their fear. These choices are the choices that the terrorists wish us to make, to change our life, to terrorize us (which is the ultimate goal of a terrorist), so that we fear the terrorists and their actions. For that reason I do not and will not give into fear, and accept the suspension, removal or outright ignorance of my civil and personal Freedoms. My freedom is something that I do not want taken away. Fear is irrational and can be overcome multiple times, freedom taken away once is much harder to replace ever. Remember, fear is freely handed out, but Freedom comes at a price. If we are too afraid to enjoy our Freedoms what is the point of our Freedom?

08 Sep

Firefox Code Base Analysis

Mozilla Firefox is an open-source web browser, that has gathered just over 11% of the internet browser market, an impressive movement for a browser that has to be physically downloaded onto a person’s computer and is not known outside of tech/geek circles. Few people install it themselves outside of these circles unless they know someone who has set up their computer and installed Firefox for them. (Side Note – I use Opera, another excellent open-source browser priopertary but free to use browser that has plenty of built in security features, one of the main reasons to switch to Firefox.)

An open-source program is a software program that is developed not by a commercial company such as Microsoft or Adobe or Apple, but rather is one that is developed, coded, and maintained by a community of users. All of these users develop the code, report on errors and work to fix the errors and constantly improve the program. Mozilla is a non-profit corporation, so it makes no profit from Firefox being used, and the majority of the developers are people outside of the company. This does several things generally to open-source programs, one is that it makes them quicker to respond to changes in the market, as the people who write the code are already at the forefront of any technology waves, they quickly make sure that the browser is compatible for all new technologies. Also it generally provides a more secure and resilient program, which seems like backwards logic – Wouldn’t a program whose source code is viewable actually be more open to attack.

In fact, in theory and in practice that the opposite is actually true. This based on a fundamental idea behind many Web 2.0 apps and the open-source movement and to some extent democracy – the wisdom of the crowds. This theory says that when you get a ton of people all looking at the same thing and all examining it the bad stuff, whatever it may be from a bad code to a bad news article in the case of Digg, is removed. Think about it, how many times have you just needed one other person to check over your work to be see what you are doing, writers do it, engineers do it, accountants do it, everybody does it. Now imagine that you have at least a dozen (on the smallest open-source projects) to several hundred (on the largest open-source projects) examining what you put into the program. All of sudden, all those careless mistakes that you make are eliminated, because not is it you and maybe one or two other people checking your work but instead tons of people are checking your work for you as you check their work. This is the inherent power of the open source movement.

However as we have found far too often no system is perfect, and Firefox is also prone to errors in it’s source code. G2zero.com examined the source code of the Firefox browser and found that there were 655 defects and 71 potential security vulnerabilities in the source code. Now that may seem like a lot to those of you who do not code programs, but for a program of this scale and magnitude that is a great number. No program will ever get rid of errors or security issues, think about even Mac OSX which routinely touts the operating system’s inherent security. Apple releases patches and security bulletins for OSX too, the same as Microsoft issues patches for Windows every 2nd Tuesday of the month, what is known as Security Tuesday.

The question here is whether or not automatic software tools that examine code and look for errors are worth deploying. There are a great many who say, yes, because it helps you to find the errors and a computer won’t skip over things that a human would ignore. Whereas another great many say, no because a computer sees things that just don’t matter a human knows the code and knows whether or not an error actually matters in the code or can just be ignored. I have to take the middle road on this, you should test and error proof the code yourself, a computer program can give you a place to start but it does not understand the whole code the same way a human does. The best thing is to do unit tests on your code and determine that the code works even when given invalid data. A security hole will always exist, an error can always be found, but does the program work reliably and efficiently is possibly the better question to ask. The general public doesn’t care how many security holes a program has, they just want it to work. This is not to say they programmers should leave their code open to attack, rather the emphasis should be on producing quality code that in the words of Apple “just works”. When quality code is produced that “just works” the security comes hand in hand.

Edit – Sept. 16, 2006 10:22 pm, Fixed a mistake in my posting regarding the nature of the Opera web browser.

07 Sep

Facebook Re-Design – Good or Bad?

Okay today the blogosphere is buzzing with incriminations against the new Facebook design. Just in case anybody out there doesn’t use Facebook, Facebook is one of several social-networking sites. However it has one key feature that I was hoping to discuss at some point in greater and detail and hopefully still will, that you have to use a college or one of several dozen companies internal e-mail address. This is a basic insurance policy to keep the age limit of Facebook within a reasonable bounds. The nice thing is that even if you leave the school and lose access to that school e-mail account you can have your contact e-mail be your personal e-mail that you use day to day. I have always liked Facebook’s user interface and their basic design especially considering the general alternative, MySpace. Every time I use MySpace, I cringe and want to get out as fast as possible from their servers. However MySpace does have several things going for it, sheer size and multiple tools and levels of profiles. Facebook is trying to cut the advantages that MySpace has as college starts up for a new year and as students make more and new friends through school. Facebook on Tuesday rolled out two important changes that have generated accolades and controversy from everybody and anybody, well know you get to hear my two cents.

First of all, what did Facebook roll out by way of changes? Facebook decided to generate two things News Feeds and Mini-Feed. These two things track the changes that occur to your personal profile and those of your friends. The News Feeds track all of your friends changes in their profiles, when they write on a wall, when their relationship status changes, when they add friends, delete friends, join a group, or leave a group. It aggregates all the information from your friends in one easy spot, allowing you to glance and see what is going on quickly and easily. The Mini-Feeds are almost the same thing except it aggregates the information from one person’s profile and is displayed on their profile page. The other changes were cosmetic as Facebook rearranged the Profile and Home pages to better accommodate these changes.

The users of Facebook have spoken and it seems quite clearly that they don’t like the changes occurring. A great many people fear that this smacks of people being able to stalk you easily and quickly, other people don’t like the design change (though far fewer in number, only geeks tend to complain about a websites design unless it is absolutely atrocious and can’t be used). I normally would tend to agree with anybody saying “It takes away our privacy”, I am a firm believer in the idea that our lives should be ours and no one should be able to sit at a computer and discover where are at all hours of the day or find out everything about us through a profile page. However in this the complainers have missed a very big idea – All information posted is information you choose to make available online. Did you get that, it is such a simple idea it amazes me how people forget it, there will always be a way of organizing information and making it easier to sort through so you don’t have to physically do the searching yourself, but honestly if you are going to be stalking someone, you would just go to their profile page and reload it every so often and read the information the old fashioned way. If you know someone is stalking you, Facebook has a privacy level that you can completely not allow that person to view you ever, what groups you are part of, your profile won’t even register in a global search of Facebook, or you can also allow that person access to only a limited portion of your profile. This is something that is very easy to do and takes a minimal amount of effort.

If you choose to not display your status updates (as a great many people already do) no one will know where you are. I find already more and more how easily I could be tracked as to where I am and what I am doing. I once read a funny article of reasons to date a geek – one of them was because you will always know where s/he is at all times. Geeks have a natural affinity to use all those social networking tools to their fullest extent. We post and tag photos on Flickr, telling people “Hey I was at this event and these are some of the people that I know”, we are either at a live IM connection or we have an away message displaying where we can be found, we have a cell phone (some even have a Blackberry), we post on a blog many times telling readers where we are for that particular week or what happened at work or what our vacation plans are, and on and on. In short, if someone wanted to stalk me, it wouldn’t be a problem finding out where I was, or what I did normally on a weekday or weekend, I choose to put this information online, I understand how much of my life is online and what it does represent and what can be discovered about me from a simple Google search or more. I therefore choose to accept the risks of my personal data being displayed so openly.

Facebook still has security in place, this doesn’t take away any information that couldn’t easily have been gathered by looking at someone’s profile, and as a measure of last resort if you don’t want something showing up on the two Feeds, hit the “X” button beside the action you wish to remove and poof it vanishes from the News feeds and from your Mini-Feeds, however the action still occurred and can still be seen by everybody who has full access to your profile (and your friend’s profile if it involves someone else).

Geek Note – There were already tools that existed that would have allowed someone to compile a feed of changes occurring in your profile, these were not endorsed by Facebook but did exist. Also there are companies that exist to provide RSS feeds to sites that don’t have them yet, again the tools for this data manipulation already existed, Facebook merely provides it built into their API. Of course, Greasemonkey provides the ability to manipulate data quickly and easily into just about any form that you wish to shove it into. (Side Note – Greasemonkey is ridiculously awesome at manipulating the data of a web page and even changing the output and design of a web page that you don’t like.) I have been wishing for a tool like this be created especially after Facebook released their API, that one of the designs would be to actually be able to gather this data and form an automatic notification process either by RSS or e-mail, although RSS makes much more sense. However as far as I could tell from the general message boards and forums no one was heading in this direction, and I felt I did not have the necessary coding skills to pull this off and did not know enough people really interested in this to make it happen.

Civil Liberties Note – For those genuinely concerned about how much information is displayed on the web, here is a search engine that doesn’t log your searches, and here is an article to find out how to remove yourself from the people searches that populate the Internet.

Note To Self – Lack of initiative dooms a project before it even starts.

06 Sep

Yes!!!!!! – Enemy Combants Now POW’s

Quick post, for something really good that happened today. President Bush today sent those people who had been held in previously classified undisclosed locations operated by the CIA into the military’s hands and will receive the full protection of the Geneva Convention. This is wonderful news as the CIA has not been required to meet the same guidelines as the military integrators are required to meet and there have been reports that the detainees had been subject to what is best described as borderline torture. In other words torture depending on who is talking about it and what your definition of it is, specifically waterboarding or simulating that someone is drowning. However President Bush also wishes to have legislation approved that would place the new POW’s back into the hands of the CIA and allow for secret trials where the rules of evidence are far more lax as to what can and can’t be introduced than would be acceptable anywhere else in the modern world expect for places such as China and some of the old Soviet Bloc countries that have not updated their judicial codes. A full post will be posted in several hours, though not covering this topic.