Saturday, June 17, 2006

Actually, a grammar question.

In dem letzten Eintrag habe ich diesen Satz geschrieben: Aber ich wollte etwas schreiben...wenn es keinen Eintrag hier gibt, dann wäre die andere Leute, die ich eingeladen hab', verwirrt vielleicht.

Ich wurde in ein Paar Deutsch als Fremdsprache Kurse erzählt, dass wenn man einen Relativsatz benutzt, soll (nicht muss, aber jemand hat mir erzählt, dass es besser ist) man ihn am Ende des Hauptsatzes stellen. Auch wenn der Relativsatz schränkt eine Nominalphrase ein, die mitten in dem Hauptsatz ist–ja, sowie dieser Satz! Aber es scheint mir ganz merkwürdig zu sagen, etwas wie: Aber ich wollte etwas schreiben...wenn es keinen Eintrag hier gibt, dann wäre die andere Leute verwirrt vielleicht, die ich eingeladen habe. Eh? Klingt das komisch bei jemandem?

Willkommen! :-)

Ich bin so aufgeregt, dass Matt und ich ein deutsches Blog beginnen, und ich hoffe, dass es erfolgreich wird. Ach, aber ich hab' so viel administrative Arbeit gemacht, bin ich ein bißchen müde und kann nicht einen echten Eintrag schreiben. Aber ich wollte etwas schreiben...wenn es keinen Eintrag hier gibt, dann wäre die andere Leute, die ich eingeladen hab', verwirrt vielleicht. Also...ich hoffe euch alle geht's gut und ihr habt ein schönes Wochenende!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I don't update. EVER. Some recipes.

Nummy Salmon: (serves about two)

1 peeled and seeded nectarine
2 peeled and seeded apples (we used cooking apples we found at the farmer's market, but I'm sure you can experiment with this)
many minced cloves of garlic (say...5)
about 1/4 cup cilantro
about a teaspoon cinammon
about a teaspoon cayenne pepper
about a teaspoon chile powder
black pepper, freshly ground
fresh sweet marjoram
fresh cardamom
1 serrano pepper, fresh

1. Steam fruit with the fresh herbs on top until the fruit is very tender (about 10-20 minutes).
2. While fruit is steaming, fire-roast the serrano pepper.
3. Remove herbs from fruit and in blender, blend fruit with all other ingredients.

about 1 pound salmon (or anything you'd like, I suppose)
1/4 red onion sliced
3 or 4 mushrooms sliced
1/3 zucchini sliced
1/2 teaspoon sesame seed oil (or any kind of oil)

4. Sauté mushrooms and zucchini in pan with fresh black pepper on top.
5. Pour half of the marinade in a bowl. Add veggies and salmon.
6. Massage the marinade into the meat...don't be shy!
7. Pour the rest of the marinade in the bowl.

We grilled all of this, but you could just as easily stick the dish into an oven and bake...I have no idea at what heat or for how long...salmon experts? Help me out?

I Love Frege Awesome Salad:
Spring Mix (which is spinach, red lettuce and arugula, I think)
sesame seed oil
sesame seeds
soy sauce
chili powder
cayenne pepper
red chili
1 block extra firm tofu cubed
as much garlic as your heart's content minced or pressed
freshly ground black pepper
2 tomatoes diced (heirlooms would be best, but if not hot house works too)
red wine vinegar (you can make some awesome stuff with red wine vinegar with rosemary and jalapeños in it)
1 avocado diced
fresh wasabi
a litttttle sugar

1.         in a bowl mix about 2 cups of this sauce:
soy sauce
sesame seed oil
black pepper

2.         fry the tofu in a pan with this sauce until the sauce is completely cooked into the tofu (ie no liquid remains). Add sesame seeds to pan so that cubes are coated nicely

3.        mix spring mix, tofu, vinegar, more black pepper, tomatoes, chili powder, chili, cayenne and avocado...yummmmm!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ruby: Language of the Programming Übermensch?

I spent a couple of hours this evening writing my first real Ruby code for the Lexical Semantics course I am taking this fall. It's excellent. The syntax is very appealing. Tokens are strangely verbose, replacing "{" and "}" of C descent with "def" or (insert block starting token here) and "end". For the first 30 seconds after encountering this on page 1, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. It seemed verbose. But now I see that "end" is much easier to type than "}", whose presence in Java forces me to reach and twist for basic program vocabulary. Maybe it would be different if I weren't on Dvorak, but words as delimiters rather than punctuation is a definite win. And while the tokens are fat—in a good way—they are also few. The syntax is remarkably terse, but not at the peril of clarity as I feel is the case with Perl. Ruby makes me understand the power of judicious syntactic support for common tasks. String interpolation is an obvious and immediately addictive feature. Built-in regular expression literals are also a plus. And there is an elegant interplay between these syntactic features on both a functional and visual level. As syntax is concerned, Scheme has represented a year-long exile in the wilderness. The bare minimalism of S-expressions was good for me. Scheme's uniform and parsimonious syntax let me focus on concepts that are fundamental to high-level programming: recursion, higher order procedures, and data abstraction. Scheme taught me by giving me only a handful of powerful tools and then training me to use them well. Now I think that Ruby can empower me by equipping that sharpened outlook with richer facilities for the completion of the common tasks. Its assumptions are friendly to my most cherished and hard-won programming intuition, but they also cater to the harsh realities of programming in an imperative world.

Paul Graham says that languages are evolving ever-closer to Lisp, and he asks, why not skip directly to it? And I think that I finally have an answer. Perhaps the ideal programming experience is purely functional, and the mainstream's gradual adoption of purely functional features reflects this truth. But there are other truths. Tim O'Reilly presents another point. He says that as new computing paradigms emerge, new languages seem to rise with them, suggesting that from a pragmatic standpoint, a language's "goodness" is sensitively dependent on the world in which it is used and with which it must interact. Every time I have programmed functionally for practical applications, I am always keenly aware of how imperative the world outside my program really is. The operating system doesn't behave functionally, and I/O operations certainly never could. There has to be a reason why these languages are so popular, beyond the simple fact that they are easier to learn for programmers whose first language was C. My conclusion is this. In the real world of computing, one finds explicit notions of state; one finds assignment. The computing hyperscape is not (yet, perhaps) very functional. State-oriented computational objects seem a natural complement to our false intuition of objects existing in the real world as well. Nietzsche would say that there are no objects, and, indeed, there aren't even any facts. There is only "will to power". Sounds remarkably similar to me trying to explain to C programmers that there is no data, and there isn't, in fact, any need for assignment. There is only Lambda. I think Nietzsche is right and I think Steele and Sussman were right, but that truth does not mean that the illusion of objects is an utterly worthless one. If we actually cognized the outside world as consisting only of "will to power" rather than tables and chairs and people, we'd never get anything done. And perhaps, similarly, when we pretend that everything is a Lambda, we face similar difficulties in interfacing this remarkably beautiful, completely true notion with an ability to do anything about it.

These ideas, are, I guess, nothing new. Haskell's monad system, from the cursory understanding I have of it, is a formalization of them, a clean interface between the rough and tumble outside universe and the sublime purity of Haskellspace. But if I'm not going to use an airlock, maybe a clever, elegant, and even artistic bridge between functional wisdom and imperative truth will suffice. For now, Ruby seems to be a pretty decent attempt. Lambda may be vulgarized into a quirky codeblock, but in a language in which shell commands are syntactically supported, at least it exists.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Really cool urban art.

Check out this blog: Wooster Collective

Short About Statement:
COLLECTIVE \Col*lect"ive\: done by or characteristic of individuals acting together; "a joint identity"; "the collective mind"; members of a cooperative enterprise
WOOSTER: a street in Soho, New York

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Deutschland, Deutschland über alles...

Es gibt keinen, der noch dieses ließt oder dafür schreibt, aber ich hab' etwas toll heute gefunden:

Deutsche Fernseher-Programmen!

Und was auch Spaß machen, sind die deutschen Podcasts, daran ich heute ein bißchen gehört hab'.

Dies war vielleicht ein oberflächlicer Eintrag, aber ich hab' Nostalgie für die deutsche Sprache und auch meine Berlin.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Haskell takes it up a notch

I think exotic programming languages are the best way to explore the core ideas of information science. Haskell is so god damn expressive, it's amazing. Here is the definition of the "increment" function:

inc = add 1

That's so fucking organic. How can that idea be encoded any more elegantly?
The trick with Haskell is that their language is designed firstly as a really clear system of notation, a higher level syntax for a system of rigorous mathematics developed in the study of algorithms and semantics. Haskell is a veneer over the lambda calculus and type theories, converting the greek letters from the theory into something that is easier to type. C is a veneer over the system's operating instructions, the mechanical arrangement of electrical impulses that results in the computation. C created a useful shorthand for the tasks that assembly code programmers found themselves doing often. Instead of writing branch statements and pushing to the stack, they wrote for loops. But their code was still very much linear, a cleaned up revision of the very linear programming model of machine instructions. And that indicates the difference between Haskell and C. Haskell is built to express meaning concisely and naturally. C is built to tell the computer what to do. But more and more of that "telling the computer what to do" is becoming redundant and unnecessary. The "higher level" languages need to be divided into two categories. "Mid level" languages are those that rely on sequencing imperatives, and are really just veneers over common patterns in assembly programming. True high level languages are expressive, and completely abstract away the technical details of how the computation occurs. The creator is left to deal just with the idea, and assume his computer will support him.

Look at this definition for quicksort:

quicksort [ ] = [ ]
quicksort (first:rest) = quicksort elsLessThanFirst ++ [first] ++ quicksort elsGreaterThanOrEqFirst
                elsLessThanFirst = [ y | y <- rest, y < first]
                elsGreaterThanOrEqFirst = [ y | y <- rest, y >= first]

That says that the quicksort of an empty list is an empty list. The quicksort of the first and rest of the list is the quicksort of every element in the rest of the list that is less than the first concatenated with the list of just the first concatenated with the quicksort of elements in the rest of the list that are greater than or equal to the first.

I think the code expresses that much more clearly. In fact, Haskell programs can be compiled as documentation in the LaTeX format. The programs serve as executable documentation of programs. Hmm... deathly elegant idea eh? Just look at the quicksort in C:

qsort( a, lo, hi ) int a[], hi, lo;
int h, l, p, t;

if (lo < hi) {
l = lo;
h = hi;
p = a[hi];

do {
while ((l < h) && (a[l] <= p))
l = l+1;
while ((h > l) && (a[h] >= p))
h = h-1;
if (l < h) {
t = a[l];
a[l] = a[h];
a[h] = t;
} while (l < h);

t = a[l];
a[l] = a[hi];
a[hi] = t;

qsort( a, lo, l-1 );
qsort( a, l+1, hi );

Tell me which one you'd rather be using on a hard problem. And even adding layers of shit, as in Java, you still don't avoid the barrier to abstraction enforced by that view of programming.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Fundamental theorem of arithmetic

Finding prime numbers is like factoring infinity.

Humans are a single life form

cams churning
darting metal bearing cascade through the tunnels
a river of metal and heat carry nutrients here and waste there
the asphalt extends its greasy grip

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Organized Living

Man... I ended up wandering into a Southern California big box retail outlet today, but one of the yuppie ones. Organized Living. A rather apt description of the culture it represents. This store was filled with more plastic shit designed to contain and subdivide other shit than you could shake a stick at. It's like meta-materialism. But organized people are better parts of the organization... or the organism, the mechanized parasite that feeds on the children of parking attendants. Have a great day.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

the long walk of death

The entrenchlings of organized academia have denied access to myself for the past two months. In that time I wrote four essays. "What Happened to the 'Marketplace of Ideas'? Social implications on Civil Liberties.", "The Politics of 'beyond being: A Criticism.", "The syntactic correlates of functionalism.", and "The Phenomenological Foundation of Hegemony: Limitations on Identity and Liberation in Marx and Hegel." The day after I turned in the fourth paper I sat down to read a few passages from Bertold Brecht's "Kalendergeschichte." Something unenforced and enjoyable. It had been a long time. Within a page I felt a bit nausieated. Was everything I worked on not only useless but actually restricting my own creative and perceptive potential? Intellectuals often say they are attempting to "figure things out"or "make sense of the world." The evolution of experience towards categorization has been extensively figured into all "fields" of science, psychology, philosophy and literary studies, and the effects perhaps exhaustively documented. Having said that, an answer of "it's better than nothing" seems inadequate and unjustified.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

DARE - way cooler than that grade-school crap.

The Dutch have done it again. They're opening up a new avenue of freedom for the mind, except this time it has nothing to do with psychedelics or paid attention from a woman. The Register reports that Dutch academics have allied together to create a DARE, an initiative to create free access to scholarly publications to all. This doesn't make subscription journal services very happy, of course. But academics know better than to let that sway them, as proven by such other free and successful research archives, like the Semantics Archive, founded by Chris Barker at UCSD. Why restrict knowledge when it is only the rebuttal of former arguments that create improvement?

Hopefully others catch on. As much fun as it is to Google search something, stumble across publication titles and then sign into my VPN account with USC to access the desired repositories, I get the feeling that a freer and more organized knowledge base will be more enjoyable to all involved.

(DAREnet is still mostly Dutch language only, which makes me happy to have learned German. If you're wondering, 'zoekken' will get you to a search page. Many articles are however in English, so three cheers to American linguistic imperialism.)

Friday, May 06, 2005

Microsoft IS a Major Problem.

For a while now, I hadn't thought much of Microsoft or Microsoft users as much more than a minor mistake, a joke that seems almost too absurd to be true. (The recent Microsoft is a Major Problem post just provoked laughter.) Who was I to care? I, in my isolated tower of the superior operating system and peaceful computer use, had no need to think of such bad jokes. And yet at long last, the honeymoon is over. I feel the pain of being part of that elite, and now I want blood.

Whose blood do I want? The developers of the Trees Program, who have given up on any further work on supporting OS X, despite the main developer himself being a Mac user, because they don't have enough funds to do so? No. The people who had convinced me to make the switch in the first place, seducing me with demonstrations of its not only clean but beautiful performance? No. The hegemons at Microsoft themselves for imposing such fascist tyranny in the land of computing? Slightly.

But the real enemies here are the users of Microsoft. I'm sorry, but they deserve all the viruses and worms that have been created. No, they deserve more. In 1995 it was no wonder that Microsoft had curried so much favor, but to keep supporting the hegemon a decade later, when not only Microsoft's flaws are evident but also when far better options exist, is to perpetuate its evil. So, a pox upon your houses, Microsoft users; a pox, and as many viruses and worms possible until you are forced to accept the truth: Microsoft is a major problem, and if you're one of its customers, so are you.

From the Microsoft Virtual PC site: "Windows running on a virtual machine is less susceptible to viruses than Windows running on a PC. It is unlikely that a virus will affect the Mac OS or Mac files..."

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The free culture of the electronica movement.

I have never really been a fan of electronic music. Growing up in Southern California, my taste in music was taught to be loyal to ska, punk and the emerging indie scene. Anything else was not only dismissed, but held in contempt for being of a lesser genre, one far less sophisticated than the one that I held my loyalty to. I never thought much of rap, avoided it, and all I'd ever heard was the emerging pop bling bling crap on the radio. To me, it seemed that the genre must have gotten its name from dropping the c in front of it. But worse than rap was electronica, techno, trance, dance music; whatever name it had, no difference--it all sounded the same to me. And it had no words. Surely this is not music, I thought.

I'm not sure exactly when my mind changed from rigid to fluidly embracing, but I am glad for it. In some ways I became less critical, and in others more so. I am more open to trying anything once, and more selective of what I will listen to twice. Gone now is my blind loyalty to the Southern California scene (which is a misnomer anyhow as the gangsta rap scene is also a big player in the area, but not where I grew up, in the culturally exclusive suburban sprawl), and in it an appreciation for electronic music. Not just electronic music and certainly not all. A lot of electronic music is really bad and does indeed sound the same, but so does a lot of indie music.

Good electronica, however, reaches a level of stimulation that the muted pop hooks of the SoCal punk/ska/indie seems unfit for. There are interesting things to be heard in those genres, but for different reasons. Electronica (from now on let's assume I mean the less repetitive mindless bass beats, the 'good' kind) functions much like a game. The artist starts from one set of beats and rhythms and slowly layers them, modifying each so slightly, and you as the listener try to focus on each layer, each individual placement (of both note and tempo) of every beat. And yet the artist distracts you with a pop hook so that while you get carried away on that, you often miss the subtle change in the bass/drum beat, and with that the entire song changes, and once you realize what has happened, it becomes very noticeable just how much has changed. That's why electronica does not usually depend on vocals because it does not need to, much in the same way that jazz and classical music do not. (I would say that for a lot of punk/ska/indie this is different, vocals have become a vital instrument to those genres; what percussion is to electronica, vocals have become to punk/ska/indie.)

Part of the success of electronica, I think, has been its ability to support itself, its artists, and its listeners without needing the music industry. This and jazz are the closest thing we come to freedom in music because they are not reliant on the industry that in many ways is just a virus. It took rock first, now bastardizing the genre for the sake of pop, movie soundtracks, commercials. The music industry controls both production and distribution (a practice that should alert suspicion). But electronica has been mostly untouched by that. Artists don't seek major distribution in 30-second commercial ads, and therefore the genre is not expected to conform to making music more friendly for such a medium (with some exceptions of course--remember that horrid cover of the already despicable Bryan Adams song, something about heaven or other...yeah). They make money off of fans who appreciate their work, their innovation. The most popular electronica artists are certainly not nearly as wealthy as the most popular of pop (say...Aphex Twin vs. Jessica Simpson even). So why do they do it? I can only guess at the motivation. But I think electronica serves as a beautiful model for what all of music can be (and was before the commoditization of audio culture). Look at this wonderful underground culture! They make, share and mix recordings, and the original artists don't seem to mind at all. In fact, this practice is common amongst the artists as well. And it's promoted experimentation and innovation; who cares if you can't sell it to a record label to play it on the radio when your core audience doesn't listen to the radio?

I won't try to argue any supremacy of one genre to another, but for now let me, a former hater of all but my small microcosm of Southern California rock, attest for the good in good electronic music (and rap, the off-air kind). And let that serve as a testament to the promise of a free culture, one not owned by fat men who have lost the joy for life and humanity to be able to appreciate the beauty when the artist has pushed him/herself beyond anything known, when the artist has the courage to explore that dark part of the forest and invites you to follow along.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Subhuman Sprawl

Walking into the condo complex felt strangely like entering another world, a valley walled on both sides by identical two-story buildings with blue siding and white trim that crowded an asphalt access road. A row of tiny garage doors were beneath the awkward roof lines of puzzled together floor plans, with tunnel-like paths leading to entryways off the main road. Inside, my parents were hastily unpacking cardboard boxes, and my dad asked me what I thought of the new place, telling me how much he liked it with thin, unconvincing enthusiasm. The move was the consequence of him losing his high-paying job to a corporate power play, and it had hurt him pretty badly. Looking out on a ten by ten foot patio surrounded by an eight foot wall, it was hard to respond positively. I felt strange. This place felt strange, desolate, as if no one else lived in the other condos that crowded upward around the patio, blocking out the sun. It was large on condo standards, with a fireplace and an upstairs washer and drier, three bathrooms, an office, and a guest room. But something about it seemed synthetic and thrown together. I couldn't shake uneasiness.

        After dinner, my sister and I went for a walk outside, taking a seat on the red curb that separated the access road from a narrow ravine. We stared out together at a drab office complex on the other side, ringed by an empty asphalt parking lot, a siren wailing in the distance. There seemed something inhumane about this place, something ugly. It was more than the careless, repetitive construction of the condos or our depressing view of the beige office park. It was everything, the fact that across the road behind us there was another faceless complex, and up the road another, neighbors crammed on top of each other and yet painfully alone, doors shut. It was the landscape, the numbing strip-mall homogeneity, the anonymous currents of cars. I started to cry.
        This was the American Dream? Sitting in this eerie place, the promise of a house for every family and a car in every garage seemed a cruel lie. To me, no matter what the square footage or how many consumer goods filled that space, living here was the definition of poverty. For an instant, I saw myself differently, a man watching his parents move into a void. My imagination unrolled all the asphalt and uninspired construction, ripping up my conception of our surroundings and replacing them with a new reality. We were in the middle of nowhere. There was no soul to this place, just buildings, thrown up at minimal expense. These condos felt degrading, like the emotional equivalent of a labor camp, carelessly crammed off the side of the freeway, just another driveway interrupting the unused sidewalk. There was no public space anywhere around us, no relief from the monotony of big box retail, condos, and office parks. None of it felt permanent. It didn't feel like a community. And if it wasn't a community, then what was it?
        Suburbia is the abdication of civic responsibility for the design of our living spaces to the commercial sector. Towns used to grow organically, but the post World War II building boom took a different approach, the planned community. Modern development typically divides a space into broad single-use zones. One developer gets a plot of land only for houses, the next only for shopping, the next for offices. Between these homogenous chunks of land are thousands of miles of pavement that connect it all together. And because each area is solely dedicated to only one purpose, residents have no choice but to drive for even the most basic of daily activities. The average suburban household generates 13 car trips per day, and the huge volume of traffic must be handled by multilane collector roads, which are optimized for automobile efficiency, not human use.
        The inevitable result is the typical American suburban area, the sprawl. Commercial establishments moved away from the urban center and transformed themselves into the ubiquitous shopping center, pulling away from the street to make room for ever-expanding parking lots and erecting massive free-standing signs to attract the attention of speeding motorists. The congestion means that motorists have little time for the multiple stops that would be possible with foot travel, and consequently, retailers must clump together around large lots in order to survive, further centralizing traffic patterns and thus further worsening traffic. The result is a vicious positive feedback loop that isolates the segregated zones even further, squeezing smaller centers that fail to offer enough variety in a single car trip.
        I watched this process transform Santee, the community of my childhood in east San Diego County. It's shopping centers used to be filled with family-run restaurants and local grocery store chains. It was suburban, but had a pretty strong sense of community nonetheless, at least in comparison with more crowded, apartment-dominated towns nearby. But in the early nineties, Santee began a development called Town Center, which brought its first big box store, the Home Depot. Soon after came Wal Mart, and then a K-Mart on the other end of town. As the new stores arrived, traffic patterns began to shift. The smaller centers on the periphery gradually began to cycle through one failed business after another. Another shopping center with a Target and a TJ Max later, the transformation was complete. The quiet community is now another bustling chain-store hell. The failed grocery store that I used to walk to from my house has been converted into a megachurch.
        The problem with zoned suburban development centered around large collector roads is that this story is the inevitable result. Once the roads are in place, the process is in motion, and the pressure from developers is constant. But after they win, locally owned businesses don't stand a chance against the high-overhead, high-volume chain stores that can attract traffic. Without local ownership, the community loses its identity to an endless stream of national brands that make it look and act like everywhere else. Welcome to Nowhere in Particular, USA.
        The American urban environment is losing its humanity, changing to physically to mirror the metaphoric capitalist machine attempting to maximize its production. We have places to eat, sleep, shop, and work, all scattered randomly across the ravaged landscape. But what's missing is any sense that this sprawl has a center, that it means anything. We can stay at home, where our houses and apartments and condominiums are designed with ever less regard for fostering interaction with our neighbors. Or we can get in our cars and drive, perhaps in a desperate attempt to be among other people. But drive where? To which parking lot? An office park? A shopping mall? A megaplex? None of these consumption or production oriented activities really add up to an authentic public space.
        Increasingly, American children are learning to associate entertainment with consumption. And why shouldn't they? Their environment offers them no other options. Empty streets greet them outside. And if they want to leave, they'll have to get a ride. Public schools are changing in design, ever more distant from the students they serve, surrounded by ever more parking, schools to which no child will ever walk. When I finally earned my driver's license, it felt like I was being let out of jail. Finally, I had the freedom to go visit my friends, to interact with the rest of my world rather than being stuck at the mercy of my parents. Yet after the novelty wore off, living in suburban culture can still feel like prison. Increasingly, we don't know or trust our neighbors, even–or perhaps especially–in the wealthiest of neighborhoods. And when we leave in search of this community, we find instead just more opportunities to consume, with all the fanfare and novelty of a parking lot and an encounter with a minimum wage worker.
        The dominance of the automobile is making us a sedentary culture, but worse, it's isolating us from one another and homogenizing our daily experience. And while the standard of living may be going up, look around you. I'd say that the quality of life is plunging, smothered in the soul-crushing mediocrity of seedy retail shopping centers. They say we're the middle class, but I have to wonder if we aren't just the new underclass of the highly industrialized societies. We own nothing, toil in isolated office parks, eat reheated food from bags that match the buildings of fast food chains, and live in mass produced homes that are plonked down in expanding swaths at the frontier of the advancing development. The structure of our built environment forces us into the role of super consumer, burning gasoline at all times, wearing out tires, buying Red Bull at 7-11 and towels at Linens and Things to salve the disconnection. We're free, but not from the burden of car ownership. We're brave, but not brave enough to strike up conversation in line at Starbucks. Our lukewarm lives of convenience convince us we are the luckiest citizens of the world. Meanwhile, they are robbing us of our souls

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Microsoft is a Major Problem

Microsoft is one of the worst organizations in the history of the planet. I don't think people get it. They look back at dens of snakes like Standard Oil or The Steel Trust and they think... now those were companies that did some damage. Microsoft? No, they're just annoying. They're not grinding up worm ridden meat and rats into the dinner sausage, now are they? And in some ways, these people are correct. Microsoft isn't exactly a weapons company. But the damage that they are inflicting may turn out to be far more costly, on some measures.

They are trying to own the experience of computing. Everything. If Microsoft could embed itself into every last nook and cranny of information technology and bill us for it for the rest of time, they would. Their threat is not just one of monopoly, but of the keys to the machines that are becoming ever central in almost every aspect of our culture.

Bill Gates is a megalomanic. He postures himself as this revolutionary figure, the innovative pioneer, President and Chief Software Architect of the Microsoft Corporation. Puke. Anyone who knows anything about software knows that Bill Gates is no towering genius. It somehow seems that Gates has become the new Horatio Alger symbol of the digital era, but only for the uninformed. The rest of us know he's a power grubber, and a few of us know that he comes from one of the wealthiest families in the Pacific Northwest.

He has all sorts of plans up his architect sleeves to screw society out of freedom for the sake of his profits, and there's a silent movement that's attempting resistance. It's one of the most unnoticed wars I think humanity has ever fought. Thousands of programmers across the world have been battling, pouring out their sweat and tears, in a race against the spread of Microsoft's power. If you've heard of GNU/Linux, that's them–some of them. There's also Apache and Firefox, two free software projects that have been struggling for some time against Microsoft's push to own the Internet.

Typical tactics Microsoft employs? They find a developing set of agreements between members of technological communities, and they use their overwhelming market volume to absorb that standard, pumping out a product that comes bundled with their other products so that their sea of clueless customers can join the community too. But they don't just copy the system. They break it. They add extra features and twists and quirks, negligible things, so that software that abides by the agreements of the community no longer functions correctly. As soon as the standard no longer matters, Microsoft has control. They then add proprietary features and integrations with other products, entrenching their hold on the market and locking out competitors: for-profit and non-profit alike.

Microsoft publicly states that it aims to "embrace and extend" popular preexisting standards. Many have a term for this strategy: "Embrace, Extend, Extinguish."

The most glaring example is their hijacking of the World Wide Web, which was originally an academic project by a community of laboratory scientists. It has been mired in so much Microsoft filth and propreitism that the average website developer spends countless hours learning to make their work display properly across Microsoft's broken system and the standard honored by the rest of the community. But it's happened throughout the computing landscape. They go after programming languages, networking protocols... they even employed this strategy with the PC itself, wresting control away from IBM by supporting clones of their hardware with a slightly altered copy of the operating system they licensed to IBM.

And in case you think that it doesn't effect you, consider their plans for "Trusted Computing", with which they plan to embed a mechanism to make a PC obey the orders of Microsoft over the orders of its owner, in the name of security. This from a company that produces an operating system so full of design flaws that it has to release fixes for it on a weekly basis. Their products are notorious for their poor workmanship, brittle with the contortion and conglomeration of a thousand strategic maneuvers disguised as functional code. What happens when this system runs your bank? Because in Microsoft's vision of the world, it will.

The hope the Internet gives us at breaking out of this corporate mass-media-swamped Fox News mess relies on it being free. They're trying to take that away. And they've only met their first real obstacle with the Internet. See many more revolutionary technologies out there? Nope... It's all robotic soldiers from here. So while it may be true that the revolution will not be televised, lets just try and make sure that it isn't embraced and extended.

"Non co-operation with evil is as much a duty as co-operation with good." -- Mahatma Ghandi