2004-02-25 13:32

The remote control

As mentioned before, here's a picture of the remote control in a hotel room I stayed this weekend. Notice the problem? Click on it for a larger version.

I am not sure what the lesson is here. It can't be that a user interface must be good. This guy equiped a full hotel with these.

2004-02-25 13:00

Worst & Best in scifi

I just finished reading "Into Deepest Space" by Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle. It is the worst science fiction book I have ever read. And I have read hundreds.

Mind you, perhaps the translation is to blame for the flat tone and the dreadful dialogue. However, the stupid storyline and the undescribed location and characters surely come from the original.

In this book, there are three aliens, who come from Betelgeuse (although they are genetically almost-humans), and their names are Betelgeuse, Rigel and Alcyone. I have no idea how they got to be named as starts, but anyway, it took me 50 pages to figure out Alcyone was female, and 120 to see a mention of her being romantically linked to the human (called, I kid you not, Dick Warboys).

But enough of that. After I finished this garbage (which is at least short), I started thinking, what was my favourite scifi book, since this one is surely the opposite.

I have to say "The disposessed" by Ursula K. LeGuin.

As I have discussed with Uwe a few times (although we are both fans uf UKLG, so it's no argument :-), the reason her books are so good is that they are about people.

She is one of the biggest humanists writers I know. While some authors write about people who are more than human in some sense, like Heinlein, whose alter ego is usually trivial to recognize, and is super-competent and really, pretty super-human, LeGuin's characters are more human than us.

They are good, or evil, or something in between, but they are what they are for human reasons, with human motivation, for human goals, with human purposes.

You can understand the guys. You can hate them or like them, but you can understand them.

For example, Shevek, the main character in The Dispossessed, is, for human eyes, supremely uninterested in power, wealth, material posessions, which would seem to make him superhuman or inhuman.

After all, we all consider ambition and desire of posession, material or personal as natural, because we experience them, we embrace them!.

But he is not described as a character who simply is like that. He became like that through extensive and deep education, almost brainwashing, although brainwashing with a seemingly positive goal in the described circunstances.

Now, is it good? He seems to be happy. His society, formed of likeminded folks is described as happy, and good, and he even describes the wealthy earth-like capitalist world he visits as "hell".

Would we be better off if we were brainwashed into being good? Aren't we, only inefficiently?

Is there moral value on Shevek's being ethical after he has been educated to be unable to be unethical?

Does it matter?

Those are questions a Heinlein book will not make you ask, and they are worthy questions, and they have no easy anwswers. And they are all deeply human problems.

And although the competent men of scifi are fun to read, and cause me to think of problems of different nature, which are worthwile in themselves, I think Ursula K. LeGuin's books actually make me learn and think about more important things. I learn about people from them.

They are good for you. And they are well written. And they are a fun read. And what more can one ask?

2004-02-23 18:56

Now THAT is a stupid argument

I am reading comments about ars technica's KDE 3.2 review in /., osnews, etc.

Here's the stupid argument I mentioned in the title: "GNOME is better than KDE because GNOME does X and KDE does Y" [1]

That argument is absolutely stupid unless you can show incontroversible proof that X is better than Y. And for 99% of the instances of the argument, you can't. And even in that case, you are isolating one feature or decision in a very complex system.

Is "yes/No" button ordering better? Maybe. Maybe not. I know "No/Yes" dialogs piss me off, but that doesn't mean one is absolutely better.

And besides, suppose KDE decided to do all things like GNOME. Minimalistic UI, GConf-editor for anything more advanced than changing the date.

Then what's the point? Why would another bland, boring UI be useful at all? [2]

There's a saying: "Taste is in variety".

[1] The opposite is of course just as stupid.
[2] Yes, that is KDE-centric position, I am a KDE user, and I prefer KDE, live with it :-)

In an older version of this, I said footnotes were broken. They aren't, as you can see :-)

2004-02-23 18:39

More on free software on Argentina's government

On this morning's newspaper. So I am ahead of the curve by about 48 hours. That's not much :-)

Interesting: it seems Windows was mandatory in official usage. Weird, since I have seen hundreds of Linux servers on official usage :-)

2004-02-23 18:32

Ugly hack at noon

I just spent the afternoon at a client's hacking qmail+courier to work storing mail on a NT server.

Why? Well, migration issues, from NT to Linux.

And what had to be hacked? Lots.

  • You can't chmod over SMB
  • You can't link() over SMB (you can unlink(), though), so in order to have atomic message moves from Maildir/tmp to Maildir/new and whatever, rename()
  • Good thing this was a single-UID qmail system: you can't chown either ;-)
  • Courier's metadata is created on Maildir/tmp and moved: same problem as above
  • Cranky permission checks fixed via uid,gid,fmask mount options.
  • It had to work with a canned webmail thing, which expects all mail to be in one folder on disk, so Maildir/cur and Maildir/new have to be symlinks to a single folder.
  • Since you can't have symlinks on SMB, Maildir is local, but subdirs of it are symlinks to the SMB-mounted thing
  • Then courier's pop doesn't work because you can't rename from Maildir/tmp (over SMB) to maildir/courierpopwhatever (local), so hack courier to use mkstemp or whatever
  • Then courier got each mail twice. Looks like it sees two UIDLs for the same file, depending on whether it's read or not (my guess: because we are mixing Maildir/cur and Maildir/new on one folder). Make courier use alternative UIDL format and it works.

And so on. About two hours, and I am pretty sure noone has ever done something like this before. On the other hand, when noone has done something like this before, they usually had a very good reason!

2004-02-22 18:11

And of course....

.... there is a search form in the blog already. It even works!

2004-02-22 18:05

PyDs 0.7.1

I updated it... the archives work well, and remove the need for the previous hack... haven't found how to add a search form to the blog yet, though.

I am assuming it is being indexed, but how do I use it?

2004-02-22 15:14

Strange weekend

I am powerless. I mean, I have no power. I mean I have no electricity!

It seems I forgot to pay a bill (although I do have the latest one, and it says I owe nothing), and the power guys came friday and shut it off.

No big deal, I can pay it on monday, but what happens in the weekend... well, I am not going to let a USD 12 bill get me annoyed, so I decided to move to a hotel for the weekend.

Mind you, a cheap hotel, but it's clean, has cable tv and breakfast is included. And someone else changes the sheets for clean ones.

So, I did. What do you know, the hotel is full of interesting people one meets over breakfast. And I have the right way to get a conversation rolling:

Me: Where are you from?

Tourist: Colombia/Mexico/Brazil/Netherlands/Whatever. How about you?

Me: I live 5 blocks from here, but I think they cut my electricity by mistake, and am staying here for the weekend.

You can, I suppose, imagine where that goes.

Coming tomorrow or next day, a picture of the hotel's wall-embedded TV remote. You won't believe it.

2004-02-20 16:12

I got a new set of keys

I got myself a keyboard from BenQ today. I had bought one for a client yesterday, and it's just too cute to pass. It's roughly a notebook keyboard, only USB, and thin as a crêpe :-)

It has very nice touch, and it's... well, small and cute:


You can read an interview with the big boss at BenQ here , which is weird in that eastern-guys-are-very-different way.

2004-02-20 08:12


Thanks to http://jmhodges.pycs.net/weblog/ for the link :-)

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