Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dear programmers

So you have a problem.  You decide to solve your problem using regular expressions.  Now you have two problems.  Rubular is the solution to one of them.

The Rubular of date-time formatting used to be running `cheat strftime`.  That was before foragoodstrftime.

If you've got any more solutions, let me know.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Go... away

Dear GoDaddy,

The only element of your entire web interface that I find remotely usable is the Danica Patrick photos.  While I appreciate your effort in that sphere, I'd appreciate it even more if every page didn't have 498746513546841 links and text tidbits on it.

Yours truly,
$sysadmin who only uses your service because his employers/clients do

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Amazon vs AWS vs me

Dear Amazon,

I think your wal-mart-in-the-sky emporium is awesome.  I think your datacenter-in-the-sky cloud service is awesome.

I understand that the IT setup you built for the first led naturally to the competencies that allow you to kick ass at the second.

I'm happy to use both, just not at once.  Pretty please, could you recognize that the account I use to purchase ec2 hours for my company and the account that I use to purchase goods for myself are not the same, even if the computer on which they originate is the same?  I'd appreciate it.  I don't want to pay for my company's servers and I don't think my company wants to pay for the tshirts that I'll later use to abuse the company dress code.

That is all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Somalia's not an argument

Dear the Internet,

Please consider the following thought experiment:

Sophistication as the opposite of Interesting

This feels like a bit of a false dichotomy but I think it's a good starting point for thought.  A lot of polite social conversation amounts to agreeing at one another.  That feels good, but the actual transfer of information can be very low.  For info-philes, that an be a negative.

Friday, December 17, 2010

On the implementation of '==' for deities

So the dude who did the documentary where he ate McDonald's every day for 30 days and ruined his body, well he got a reality TV deal for a show called 30 days.

I watched the first few episodes.  In one of them, a Christian dude spent 30 days living with a Muslim family in Detroit.  Upon visiting a mosque, he expressed the concern that the Muslims were praying to a different God than his, and he didn't want to engage in that.

How, exactly, might one evaluate that question?  If we grant:
  • Muslims pray to Allah
  • Christians pray to God
How do we know that Allah == God (or not)?

If we allowed the possibility of multi-theism, this would be simple enough.  If Apollo is the sun god and Aphrodite isn't, then we're probably talking about different deities.  There's a distinction in roles and genders.

But Allah and God pretty much have the same role: creator of heaven and earth, alpha and omega, &c.  They even have the same gender, which is either "male" or "undefined" depending on how much modernist revisionism you subscribe to.

Now, some of the things that Allah and God have said or done might contradict one another.  Like, if Allah said that there was no heaven and God said that there was, then maybe we'd be dealing with different deities.

Except: the Christian God said the thing about "eye for an eye" and then the other thing about "turning the other cheek."  Those are kinda hard to reconcile.  No easier anyway than it would be to reconcile the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and "Angels in the Outfield" also being the dude who spake to Muhammad that one time about that other thing.

Maybe this is one of those P vs NP things?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Clay Shirky has written the most sensible thing I've read yet about Wikileaks.

Even so, I think his writing fails to get all the way to the matter at hand.  His thoughts on the matter operate under the assumption that the United States should operate in a legalistic, democratic manner.

Which brings us back to our old model vs reality situation.

The model of the United States as a democratic, soveriegn Westphalian nation state, bound by a Constitution and the laws of the land doesn't tell the whole truth.

Human organizations obey social truths, not legal truths.  Social truths deal in trust, enmity, loyalty and hierarchy; legal truths deal in egalitarian rights and prohibitions.  Social truths are situational; legal truths are universal.

Consider any human organization of which you are a member.  Perhaps there is a person who on paper ought to be your manager, but whom you actually manage.  Is the nominal leader of your department, company, homeowner's association, Warcraft guild or softball team actually the leader?

Constitutions and laws are legal truths.  They guide but don't restrict.  A speed limit doesn't keep you from speeding.  It's merely one element in a long list of things that influence your driving decisions.

The United States is at or around the height of its imperial power.  There might be laws or treaties that say, on paper, that we shouldn't invade other nations, kidnap folks from Pakistan, torture prisoners of war, knowingly kill civilians or extra-judiciously harass the founder of Wikileaks.  Those are more guidelines than actual rules.

The gentleman and scholar Ron White once recounted a story of walking his dogs in front of a building.  There was a sign in the grass in front of the building that read: "no dogs."  The sign, Ron claimed, was wrong.  It should have said "two dogs."

If the rules on extradition or jurisdiction contradict what the US of A is up to, then the rules are obviously wrong.  The rules that matter are the social rules of hierarchy, power relationships and loyalty.

Will the international community allow us to go after this man?  Most likely.  Will domestic corporations respect the government's wishes and freeze assets, domains and donations?  Almost certainly.  Do whiners in the blogosphere like you me or Clay Shirky have the votes, dollars or guns to have a voice in the matter?  No they don't.

It's not that might makes right.  It's that "might" and "right" are independent matters.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Close the Washington Monument

Hey all, long time no post.  Bruce Schneier is as good a reason to de-lurk as any, so here you go.

The TSA and the thinking that created and maintains it represent a real incarnation of what the philosophers call a "reductio ad absurdam."  Rock-bottom is a different place for everyone.  Taking the shoes off might do it for some, pat-downs might do it for others.

The TSA isn't the enemy of the terrorist.  It's the complement.  The terrorist sets 'em up, exposing a new potential threat.  The TSA knock's 'em down, removing freedoms in a quixotic attempt to enumerate badness.  It's a symbiotic relationship.

If a terrorist does something bad and no one runs around acting terrified, was he really a terrorist?