2010-07-13 01:35

Newfangled horseless carriage: good news for bad riders?

Today Argentina's largest newspaper, Clarín, printed a story about e-books titled "The e-book grows: good news for bad writers?" and it's worthy of comment.

First, the obvious: yes, of course it's good news for bad writers, just like the arrival of the internal combustion engine was good news for bad riders, but it's not only good news for bad writers, it's good news for almost everyone.

Let's consider some choice quotes from this article:

In the last few months those authors previously damned to self-publishing, either by the low quality of their texts of the shortsightedness of the editors, have found [companies] willing to provide them, in electronic format, the publishing denied to them on paper.

Well, yeah, since publishing e-books is almost free, yet the prices are substantial, it will increase demand of things to publish, because the margin is bigger. You can "print" hundreds of different books for the cost of a single paper book!

So far, obvious but still more or less aligned with reality. It didn't last, though:

This progress has its victims. First the traditional editors, who see weakening their power over the selection, production and distribution of books.

Whoa, how terrible for them. I can only imagine they feel awful because their jobs are becaoming more or less obsolete. Then again, so did the copyist monks jobs when editors and publishers started their gig. It lasted them 500 years, that's a lot.

The idea that the free access to social networks turns everyone into musicians, journalists or writers makes headway. At the same time, the role of those who, not long ago seemed called, thanks to their education to channel the development of entertainment, information or culture shrinks.

I am completely against the very idea of impartial journalism. There isn't one impartial journalist, there never has been one, and there never will be one, so why go on with the charade that yes, you are not impartial, but you pretend to be, and we pretend to believe it, and then try to correct your bias when reading... it's tiresome.

So I, a perfectly biased guy will tell you: OF COURSE, YOU SELF-SERVING NIMROD. Everyone is a writer nowadays. An average teenager writes many times more today than when I was a teenager. The main method of communication with peers has switched from oral to written! Yes, we old creeps hate how they write, but what the heck, that's because we are dinosaurs.

You are writing about the plight of buggy-whip manufacturer's middle-management instead of writing about cars.

Just grow a pair of nuts, say that this scares the shit out of you because you expect journalism to not be a way you can make a living in 20 years ad be done with it.

In the meantime, we will all have fun having a wealth of writing (good and bad) without peers in the history of civilization.

2010-07-06 14:07

The tea ceremony in Buenos Aires

cafecito

I sit on a window table at La Farola de San Isidro and the waiter will bring me a cortado en jarrito with three facturas surtidas without being asked. Then I will read the newspaper (always back to front), pay and go back home to start working.

I would start every day that way if I could. It makes my day start great. I get to work relaxed. It puts a definite boundary between me being dad taking my son to school and me being at work, even if I am doing it at home.

Ritualization is comforting. Rituals are good for most people. On the other hand, rituals suck, are a waste of resources, and hurt you.

Sure, my coffee+newspaper is nice, but it would cost me $15 a day, which means over $5700 a year, which is more than half of what my son's school costs. So I ony do it once a week, and the rest of the time I just buy the same damn facturas and take the coffee at home, while reading the newspaper on my netbook (BTW: there's just no way to read newspapers back-to-front on the web).

What I did was realize I had fallen into a ritual, decide if it served a useful purpose, estimate the costs, and decide against it. That means I acted rationally, and the choice I made seems correct to me. The best part of doing that is not even saving money, but knowing that I am paying attention.

I was reading yesterday a newspaper I shouldn't read [1] and ran into a fluff piece about teaching tea protocol to kids about girls, ages 6 to 13, at a party in the Alvear hotel.

It's meaningless nonsense, but it's the kind of nonsense that can piss me off. Here are some choice quotes, translated:

"A girl asked for sugar, even though the right thing is not to sweeten the tea."

"When it's time to put jam on your scone or toast, you should never cover it. 'Smear jam only on the piece you are eating, and never from the jar, always put some in the plate, then from the plate to the toast"

"... the belly of the fork should be at the bottom if you finished eating cake, or at the top if you ate a piece of meat."

"Even if it may seem a novelty, protocol for children has 500 years of history. A precursor was the dutch humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam who in 1530 published a treaty on civility aimed to all children, specially those of the court, where he presented a common code of behaviour..."

Where can I start... how about this is all made up nonsense? The belly of the fork aiming down or up? Put the jam in the plate first? Bitter tea for 6 year olds? Erasmus of freaking Rotterdam in 1530?

Here's what this is, it's ritual. It's meaningless ritual. We don't live in the dutch court in 1530, why should we feel it's "right" to act like they did? Why should we not act like 20th century moroccans and eat with our right hand instead?

At least moroccan food tastes good, unlike scones!

Of course I am not against things like using a napkin instead of sucking on your fingers (but hey, I am not going to call you names if you do it, and I will bloody do it if there's no napkins), but all these random rules without any explanation are the exact kind of things kids should not be exposed to.

Yes, sometimes you have to put your feet down and say "it's done this way and I can't explain it to you yet", but that's the exception not the rule.

Why should you use a napkin? Because if you don't your fingers are sticky and leave marks. Why your fork should stay on the plate after you use it? Because I don't want to wash the tablecloth today if I can help it. Why you should put the jam from the jar into the toast? Because I don't want leftover jam in the plate, thank you.

If you teach your kids that there are arbitrary rules without reasons, even in silly things like tea, you are forming the wrong thing in their brains, you are teaching them that authority is right, that habit is truth, that tradition is law.

And if you do it, allah forbid, then maybe they will do it too, and rituals ossify, and you get a country full of morons that have echo chambers instead of opinions.

The ritualization of everyday things is a sign of decadence in society. The more ritualistic the simple things get, the more those people are not thinking complex thought, the more they waste their mind in the trivial.

So make my day, leave the fork belly up after eating cake today. Even better: don't look and don't care.

[1] I have high blood pressure. This newspaper drives me mad, so it's bad for me.

2010-07-04 21:14

Some people have no sense of scale

I am writing a book about python (in spanish), and it says this:

Language

The arguments about how to write a technical book in spanish are eternal. That in Spain everything is translated. That in Argentina it isn't. That saying "cadena de caracteres" instead of string is bad for the environment.

Fortunately in this book we follow a better method that I hope other books adopt: it's writte like I write. Not even a little bit different. I don't think it even qualifies as spanish, maybe it's written in argentinian. If the readers of our former motherland are bothered by the style... they can translate it.

So today I got this message (sender anonymized because I don't do that):

I was reading your tutorial until I got to the paragraph where you complain or seem to be bothered that in Spain we translate everything and in Argentina nothing. Well, as a reader from the former motherland tell you [sic] that we like writing in our language and that not only am I not going to bother translating from argentinian to spanish, but that I am not even going to read your horrible argentinglish. One favor, learn english well and stop mistreating the old spanish language. You know: an argentinian is an italian that speaks spanish (or so they say) and thinks he is english!. Find yourself a psychoterapist of those you seem to have so much and see if you can overcome your inferiority complex and stop hating so much.

I answered in adequately insulting tone, just wanted to share the fact that there are people actively bothered by people not writing a book the way they like to the point of insulting a whole country. Fun!

2010-07-02 14:58

The good lies

Many years ago, I loved Homicide: Life on the streets. If you don't know about it, it was a series about Baltimore police detectives. It had some awesome writing, and one particular scene stuck in my mind until this day.

There was a thin detective called Munch (who looked like an Edvard Munch painting anyway), and he was interrogating someone for whatever reason. And then he gets angry, very, very angry, and this is what he says:

"You're saving your really good lies for some smarter cop, is that it? [...] I've been in murder police for ten years. If you're going to lie to me, you lie to me with respect."

I have never forgotten that line because it speaks to me of one of the biggest annoyances in life, when people tell me transparent, obviously wrong or false things just because they expect me to go along, because calling them out on it is too much work, or impolite, or a waste of time, or make me look bad, or whatever.

And you know what? A big part of the time they get away with it, and that's fine. They get away with it because I also read xkcd, and there is this side of the story, too:

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/duty_calls.png

Alternatively, there are those who don't know what they are saying is crap. I am wrong in being pissed at them for treating me like a moron that won't notice the crap, when they themselves have not noticed it themselves and deserve guidance.

My last post was about such arguments when applied to the specific debate on gay marriage, but I could do the same thing with almost anything that's worth debating, and I bothered to write down a bunch of oppositions to gay marriage with explanations on why those are useless, and while I did that in part as stating my position for gay marriage, it is also because I want reasoned debate. I want good ideas from the other side. If they don't come hitting hard, what's the point? Where's the thrill in a duel of brains against unarmed adversaries?

I share Munch's indignation! So little do you care about truth that you push lies that don't even look like truth? Such feeble fakery that it flies away with a breeze? So little do you care about yourself, that you show the indignities of your mind in public? Respect me when you lie! Use the good lies!

If the other side can't push forward a cogent postion, why is there a debate? Are we fighting against nothing, against inertia, against custom, against no rational thought? Are we fighting against nothing? That's just sad, because there is people on the other side, and it means they are fighting for nothing. Are you goddamn pushers of void? Advocates of hot air?

Yes, these people piss me off. Yes, I should take things easier. Yes, I look silly a lot. No, I don't give a damn.

2010-06-24 01:58

Gay Marriage debate: these don't work

This post is going to be in spanish. It's about the current public debate in Argentina about gay marriage. Yes, there are similar debates in other countries, but this is about the one in Argentina.


Bueno, hay un proyecto de ley acerca del matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo [1] y la adopción por parejas homosexuales.

Dado que el nivel del debate por parte de los que se oponen es bastante patético, se me ocurrió escribir un poco acerca de cuáles cosas no deben plantear. ¿Porqué no hay que plantearlas? Porque pasás vergüenza, quedás como un nabo, y no te conviene. Te lo digo de onda.

  1. No debés plantear argumentos que dicen cosas como "la palabra matrimonio viene de ...".

    Porqué no te conviene:

    Porque es una pelotudez. Si las leyes dependieran de la etimología de los términos te pagarían a fin de mes con sal [2], las mujeres no deberían tener derecho a la propiedad [3] ni ser testigos en juicios [4] y siguen las firmas.

    Qué parecés cuando lo decís:

    Un adolescente al que le encargaron defender una posición que no entiende y arranca buscando la palabra en el diccionario.

  2. No debés plantar argumentos como "que los homosexuales tengan su propio matrimonio que se llame distinto"

    Porqué no te conviene:

    Porque estás admitiendo que lo que querés es discriminar. Si la idea es que los homosexuales no son dignos de unirse en matrimonio con la persona que aman, pero los heterosexuales sí, estás planteando que no son dignos por su condición de homosexuales. Eso es discriminación.

    Ojo, lejos de mí decir que no estás en tu derecho de ser un pajuerano que discrimina a otros porque te dan cosita, pero no es un motivo apto para el estado y la ley. Por lo tanto, no es pertinente al debate.

    Ahora bien, si querés que el estado discrimine, no te escondas atrás de esta pavada, y decílo de frente. Poné tus "convicciones" sobre la mesa, y bancáte que te digan que sos un dinosaurio.

    Qué parecés cuando lo decís:

    Una vieja retrógrada de provincia que tiene miedo de adónde iremos a parar si cualquiera puede hacer lo que se le antoje, al ver a su nieta irse a vivir con el novio sin casarse.

  3. No debés plantear que no a la adopción porque "nadie me garantiza que los homosexuales sean buenos padres"

    Porqué no te conviene:

    De vuelta, porque estás admitiendo que querés discriminar. ¿A los heterosexuales no les pedís que te garanticen nada, y a los homosexuales sí? Listo, estás discriminando. De nuevo, poné pelotas y/o ovarios y decílo de frente.

    Qué parecés cuando lo decís:

    La esposa del reverendo Alegría en los Simpson: "¿Alguien pensará en los niños?!?". También parecés un falso que descubre la posibilidad del abuso familiar cuando te conviene para defender una postura que ya tenías de antes.

  4. No debés plantear que no al matrimonio porque "dios dice tal cosa"

    Porqué no te conviene:

    Bueno, para empezar dios no existe, y si existiera, resulta que no vivimos en una teocracia [5] así que nada, no importa, así viniera dios y lo dijera en persona en la plaza de mayo, no importaría porque él ni corta ni pincha en este tema.

    Qué parecés cuando lo decís:

    Un tipo que no puede aceptar que su religión no es la ley, que no nos regimos por la biblia, y que si vamos a eso, cree que dios hizo que dos osas se morfaran a 42 nenes que le dijeron pelado a un profeta.

    O sea, como poder judicial o legislativo, tu dios es flojito flojito, así que guardátelo.

  5. No debés plantear que haría homosexuales a los chicos

    Porqué no te conviene:

    Porque estás partiendo de que la inclinación sexual se hereda de los padres. Si es así, la homosexualidad sería rarísima, no? Ok, supongamos que tenés razón. Igual no importa, porque estás partiendo del supuesto de que un chico homosexual es algo malo y/o vergonzoso.

    Todo lo que hacés es mover tu discriminación al pobre pibe, y pensás, "claro, va a ser gay y gente como yo le va a joder la vida". Maestro, lo que tenés que hacer es lo contrario, es dejar de joderle la vida a los demás, y esto no es un problema.

    Qué parecés cuando lo decís:

    Un metido que no puede dejar de preguntarse que hace con su pito y/o su culo cada uno. A ver si entra: cada uno es libre de hacer de su pito un culo y viceversa. Artículo 19 de la constitución y a llorar al ziggurath.

  6. No debés decir que el matrimonio tiene un fin reproductivo

    Porqué no te conviene:

    Porque es muy pavote. ¿O acaso estás a favor de prohibir el matrimonio de hombres infértiles o mujeres postmenopáusicas?

    Qué parecés cuando lo decís:

    Alguien que no se da cuenta de lo que dice.

  7. No debés decir algo como "y que van a hacer cuando en el colegio hablen del día de la madre"

    Porqué no te conviene:

    Porque es evidente que estás metiendo el brazo hasta el codo en el frasco de orejones y esto es lo último que hay. ¡Es patético! ¿O sea, que pasa si es huérfano de madre? ¿Y si la madre lo abandonó?

    ¿En qué caso podría esto ser traumático para el pibe? ¡Obvio! en el caso de que haya paparulos como vos que lo bardeen porque tiene dos papás / dos mamás.

    Qué parecés cuando lo decís:

    Un falso que avisa a los demás que le van a pasar cosas feas... porque gente como él se va a encargar de que así sea.

  8. No debés decir cosas como "el matrimonio homosexual degrada el matrimonio tradicional"

    Porqué no te conviene:

    Porque es una pavada importante. ¿En qué te afecta? Yo recuerdo estar haciendo cola para pedir turno para el civil y había 10 parejas. Yo y mi mujer de la manito, dandonos cariño. Los otros 18 como si estuvieran pagando el inmobiliario, alguno discutiendo, todos con -20 de emoción.

    Esa gente degrada el matrimonio, aquellos para los que el matrimonio es un trámite, y no la unión con la persona que quieren.

    Qué parecés cuando lo decís:

    Un snob que no quiere que los cabecitas entren a su country.

  9. No debés decir cosas como "si se permite esto, porqué no matrimonios con menores, caballos, o de a 4 personas!"

    Porqué no te conviene:

    Porque tener sexo con menores es un delito, los caballos no son ciudadanos y no pueden firmar contratos, y de a 4 es un quilombo porque no hay manera de organizarse para las fiestas de fin de año.

    Bah, sabés qué? De a 4 también debería ser legal. No se me ocurre porqué no. Si se quieren los 4, y nadie los obliga, que sean felices.

    Qué parecés cuando lo decís:

    Alguien que opina que es lo mismo un menor que un caballo que un gay. O sea: un pelotudo.

No se me ocurre ningún otro argumento de esta calaña por ahora, pero si quieren, hay comentarios al pié.

[1] No, no es matrimonio homosexual. Los homosexuales se han casado toda la vida... con gente del otro género.
[2] Salario viene de "salarium" que sí, viene de sal.
[3] Patrimonio viene del latín y significa "los bienes que el hijo hereda de su padre y abuelos". No, la hija no heredaba.
[4] Testimonio tiene la misma raíz que testículo y testamento.
[5] A pesar de que la constitución sigue conteniendo ese vergonzoso pasaje acerca de que la Argentina es una nación cristiana.

2010-06-18 15:42

Free software is good for me.

I make a living working with free software (BTW, if you need sysadmins that know what they do, contact us: http://www.netmanagers.com.ar)

But that's not that big a deal, I could make a living doing something else. I am sure I would be competent at something else, even if I have no idea what that would be right now.

It does, however give me freedom to play, which is much more important. Therefore, this post is sort of a status update on things I play with. Not games, those are not really my thing, but things that I do for fun.

Yes, some of these may mean I am a very strange person.

I'll limit myself to the last couple of weeks or so.

There's been sort of a bump in interest in Marave, my distraction free editor and it's because it has been reviewed in Linux Journal!

I have read the article (sadly I can't link to it) and it was a super positive review, here are some choice quotes:

"marave makes the dull world of text editing romantic and immersive with beautiful minimalism"

"... it doesn't just have minimalism and simplicity, it has minimalism and simplicity combined with beauty and a palpable design ethic. marave has soul, and I love that."

So thanks for the kind words to the author, and something I noticed: you ran into a big bug in marave and didn't notice :-)

The "cricket bat" icon (it's a screwdriver ;-) should show you the config dialog. However, it seems in Ubuntu (and maybe in other distros, I don't know) the config is not visible,and all you see is the text move around a bit. This is what he should have seen:

marave15

I have never been able to reproduce it, but I am going to install a Ubuntu VM just for this, so maybe soon.

On related news, marave was also reviewed in a german magazine a couple of months ago, and I have not been able to get a copy of the article. (BTW, isn't it reasonable to send a copy of these to the author of the program you are reviewing? Neither magazine even mentioned it to me!)

In any case, if anyone has this magazine and can tell me what the article about distraction-free editors say, you will make my day:

Here's the article teaser

And this seems to be the magazine issue:

https://shop.linuxnewmedia.de/store/eh01/EH10165/de/product_image/variant/bounding_product

On new projects (yes, I always have new projects), I ran into this awesome blog post by Roger Alsing about approaching Mona Lisa with just 50 polygons <http://rogeralsing.com/2008/12/07/genetic-programming-evolution-of-mona-lisa/ > and being a nerd and having awesome programming tools at my command... I wrote a framework to test that kind of algorithms.

I called it evoluto and it's at http://evoluto.googlecode.com.

I only did a very simple algorithm, based on transluscent triangles, but it did work... for some definition of work!

You can even see the local minimum that doesn't let her right eye form right :-)

Evoluto has a library of algorithms (currently empty) and you can edit and reapply on-the-fly the one you want, and see the generations change on-screen.

It would take some work to make it a polished program, but it does work.

I folled around a bit with creating a nice PDF presentation player but it's still very early:

109301062

In what's perhaps my most established project, rst2pdf. I have fixed a bunch of bugs, and a release is a bit overdue:

Issue 186: Text not wrapping around images when specified
I fixed this by adding a new CLI option, so behaviour was not changed, but now you can have images with text flowing beside it. It will not look great but it works.
Issue 307: Replace directive doesn't replace text in header/footer in some cases
This was an interesting problem! It was very entertaining.
Made it work with Sphinx 1.*
There is a piece broken still, but what I fixed was not terribly hard.
Unbroken bookrest
I need to work much more with this, but at least what worked before works again. If you don't know what bookrest is, it's a rst2pdf graphical frontend / word processor, here's a taste:

I also made several releases for my AUR packages

Plus I worked, and some other stuff. All in all, not a bad stretch.

2010-06-03 13:21

Random photos from my phone

A few days ago I finally got my 89 cents bluetooth dongle (now $1.85, but still with free shipping from china!) and got a bunch of pictures I had in my phone.

The quality is crap because my phone is crap, but trust me, there must be one thing here you have never seen before.

Here they are: weird stuff that made me take out my phone and grab a picture, with explanations.

Titanic

This, from Mar del Plata, is the most badass popup book I ever saw.

Closed:

Imagen033

And open:

Imagen032

I'm Mark Shuttleworth!

Imagen024 Imagen025

In a free software event in Buenos Aires, Canonical's boss and former space cargo was supposed to deliver the keynote. He canceled at the last minute. So Maddog Hall offered to replace him... in character.

Someone found a really, really awesome (and/or crappy!) astronaut costume, and Maddog gave a keynote shouting "I'm Mark Shuttleworth! I'm an astronaut!" and claiming to have come from the future to examine some slides recently found, written by some unknown dude named Maddog. Really funny stuff.

Python vs. Ruby

Same event, take a look:

Imagen023 Imagen022

Yes, I swear they are taken with less than 10 seconds of one another.

Butter

Imagen018 Imagen026

I was buying groceries in San Isidro's Disco supermarket. Yes, usually buying a large package of butter is cheaper per kilo than a small one. But here, a 200g package costed almost the same as a 100g! That's just stealing money from those who don't use much butter. Me? I'm not at risk.

Visa discount!

Imagen045

This was a shop in Avenida Alem in Buenos Aires. It was unusual to see a "VISA is suspended, 20% discount" sign. Much more unusual was to see the small letters: "present your visa card". I mean, wasn't it suspended?

And then I saw the rest:

Imagen046

It says "present your visa card and pay using anything else".

That guy must really have been pissed off at Visa!

I got a bunch more for some other time.

2010-05-12 20:08

What's wrong with this dialog?

I am writing a book. And I am writing a chapter about UI design. And why not use the Internet?

So, go ahead and tell me all that's wrong with this dialog!

radio-14

For example, I don't like the dead space at the bottom-left, the different-size of the "Close" button, and the misalignment of the icons.

Are those valid concerns? Are there many more? Would you do it completely different?

The book is open source, and available at http://nomuerde.netmanagers.com.ar (In spanish, sorry!)

2010-04-11 05:12

I am posting very little because I am writing a lot.

I am just not writing here. I am writing a book instead.

What book am I writing? A book about python programming, of course! It's called "Python No Muerde" (Python Doesn't Bite) and it's in spanish.

Now, I am the first to admin: I am not a great programmer. And I am not a great writer. But I have lots of things to say. If I can organize them correctly, they even make sense sometimes!

So, I am giving this write-long-stuff thing a try.

Of course since I am an open source nerd, I can't do things the usual way, therefore, the book is under Creative Commons. And because I am a programmer, I hacked together a (if I may say so myself) decent structure to handle book-writing.

  1. I write in restructured text
  2. I use rst2pdf to create PDFs both of individual chapters and the whole thing.
  3. I use rest2web to create a website
  4. I use mercurial (at googlecode) to handle revision control and history.
  5. I use make to control rebuilding of chapters when code changes, or images get updated, etc.

Of course it's more complicated than that, the PDFs are in the site, the site is uploaded via rsync, the uploads and rebuilds are triggered by hg push, and so on.

In any case, I may post a few times about how this whole thing works, here is the output of the machinery:

http://nomuerde.netmanagers.com.ar

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