August 2003 Archives

The long night behind, a long day looming in the foreground, and a bin full of links staring me in the face. Must be quickytime.

  • Looks like it’s going to be Dean Week over at The Boondocks: Monday, today. All y’all Dean-watching masses let us know how this plays in the Dean camp, eh? Knowing whether or not they can laugh at themselves and deal with the low-grade sniping in a productive fashion is important to evaluating their suitability.
  • While we’re on the ‘toon tip, let me point to “Bob the Angry Flower’s Guide to Its and It’s, You Idiots”, which fills the obvious gaping hole in the classic apostrophe guide, so now there’s no excuse. (You idiots.)
  • At this point, it appears that a fleet of Segway-riding Google-funded web loggers knocked down Andrew Orlowski and took his lunch money and maybe beat up his dog. At least, that’s the best explanation I can come up with after the latest in a series of Google- and blogger-bashing “news” articles he’s written. Either that or he’s doing some sort of weird Andy Kaufman-esque extended performance art thing; I guess if he offers to mud-wrestle Sergey Brin, that would be a clue.
  • Technological monoculture considered harmful.
  • Wacky fundies set sights on kids. The Cosmo-esque Bible is frightening, especially the content:

    The content, however, hews to conservative Christian values on subjects like homosexuality and women’s deference to men.

    In one hypothetical question and answer, a girl asks, “How do you tell a friend that’s your crush that you’re into him without ruining your friendship?” Revolve counsels her: “You don’t. Sorry. … God made guys to be the leaders. That means that they lead in relationships.”

    You know, I keep rereading that and considering the implications, and my brain coredumps each and every time. I can’t conceive of giving my daughter a book that’s supposed to be the holy word of a god when it also tells her she’s can’t be a leader because she doesn’t have a penis.
  • Speaking of penises, the GAO released a report over the energy task force investigation that, broadly summarized, said, “Cheney was a huge dick about releasing any records, so we can’t really say what happened”. Compare and contrast with “Travel-gate”, if you will. You do remember Travel-gate, don’t you?
  • Speaking of integrity, the policies of the party of “limited government” could lead to a five <DrEvil>trillllllion</DrEvil> dollar deficit over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Oh, and that doesn’t include the check for Iraq, which is estimated being anywhere from $100 to $600 <DrEvil>millllllion</DrEvil> all on its own.
  • If you’re using SpamAssassian, or are responsible for any sort of mail server at all, you should know that the Osirusoft RBL is currently blacklisting everybody. If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, that’s okay too.
  • Let’s end on a happy note: TheBaby had a birthday last week, and one of the presents she got was a very cool quilt; now you can admire it too.

It’s Monday morning, and I’m not feeling that ‘quicky’. Maybe figuring out something pithy to say about all these links will help…

  • The SCO debacle continues. Torvards says, “[SCO] are smoking crack.” (No, really, that’s what he said. Follow the link and do a ‘find’ for ‘crack’.) Bruce Perens says much the same thing, in a much longer form. So far, it looks like the biggest problem that this foofooraw has revealed is that there might be some BSD code in the kernel without a BSD copyright stuck next to it. (And even that is open to debate over what constitutes a “derived work”.)
  • So, this Ashcroft tour thing. Just one thing I want to know: who is paying for it, and if it’s the taxpayers, how is that justified? (Okay, so that’s potentially two things, but you see what I mean.) I’m not even going to get into how inappropriate it seems to have the Attorney General out stumping for particular laws, even if somebody else is paying for it, but damn, isn’t the fact that he wants it so very badly reason enough to distrust it? Note also the news of ‘PATRIOT 2’, which they’re apparently calling VICTORY — evidence that the Department of Ironic Misleading Bill Names is still getting fully funded — and the news that the new strategy is going to be conflating “The War on Terror” with “The War on Some Drugs”. Wankers.
  • Speaking of wankers the current administration, the White House pressured the EPA into lying about post-9/11 air quality in New York. Thanks for restoring all that ‘integrity’ to the office, guys. Note that the air quality continued to be poor for 10 months after the attacks. How many unneeded respiratory problems does that add up to?
  • Microsoft Windows: Insecure by Design” is getting a lot of linkage in the Microsoft-unfriendly parts of the web. — and those parts are increasing in number over the past week, thanks to SoBig.f, MSblaster, and friends. Has some valid points, especially the last one: Microsoft sits on an ungodly cash horde, which you’d think would allow them to solve these problems if they really wanted to.
  • The long-promised vacation write-up has finally appeared, along with a photo gallery from TheBaby’s first birthday. Yes, I wrote my own gallery generation script. No, there’s no reason I couldn’t have used one of the dozens that already exist.

Nothing like a “back in a bit” that turns into a week, eh? Let’s see if we can’t clear out some of this backlog…

Based on history, won’t say “more later”; will say that the bookmark hopper isn’t empty yet. Is time to go to work however.

Too much going on this morning; no time for love, Dr. Jones. More later, but first this:

  • The GAO on government compliance with the Privacy Act: “the government cannot adequately assure the public that all legislated individual privacy rights are being protected.” Or, in the words of another, “You have no privacy — so get used to it!” Bah.
  • It was one hundred Fahrenheit degrees in London on Sunday. Britain has been keeping weather statistics longer than anywhere else in the world, and this is the hottest temperature they’ve ever seen. I’m surprised this isn’t getting more press play, frankly.
  • In other heavy weather news, West Nile cases tripled last week. Could somebody just figure out a way to kill the damn mosquitos already?
  • Google juice: my buddy Rob Garret. Cheers!
  • Those nutty Episcopalians have decided that their Friend in the Sky is okay with blessing same-sex couples. The Friend is still going to rain down hellfire if anybody calls it “marriage”, though, so be careful.
  • Cool-looking beta software of the day: MusicMan plugin for Konqueror.
  • Danny O’Brien has the low-down on some post-9/11 changes to visa procedures. Seems like we’re asking for quite a bit more information from people. On one hand, I understand the intention. On the other hand, won’t the people that this is designed to keep out (you know, the terrorist Bad Guys) just lie on the forms?

I was a busy little worker bee at work yesterday, and post-work time was squandered down the pub, so today’s collection of linky goodness is, well, rather pathetic. But I’m here, dammit.

  • Primate Programming. Because if a bunch of monkeys can reproduce Shakespeare, VisualBasic should be no problem at all.
  • In the “peanut butter in chocolate” category, we have Vimacs, emulating Emacs key bindings from within Vim. I’m intrigued but repelled.
  • I’ve been seeing “How to install Windows XP in 5 hours or less” linked all over the place (I think I first saw it on Flutterby), but I’d been skipping over it, because what the hell do I care about WinXP installs. Then, this morning, I actually followed the link, so I can now report that it’s funny as hell, and should be read by everybody. So make with the reading and skedaddle.

Need to dash to work, but want to keep my mojo goin’; hence, the ultra quickie: blink, and you’ll miss it.

  • Yea! for the Episcopalians, and congratulations to Bishop Robinson. (I’m not sure if “congratulations” is really an appropriate response to bishop-hood, but there you are.) (Oh, and I’m not really sure “bishop-hood” is what you call it when you make somebody a bishop.)
  • Want a Wiki, but don’t have a server? Do have that “Windows” OS? Check out Pepys, the “Natural Hypertext Notebook”.
  • DreamHost, my other hosting provider, recently set up The idea is, when you run into a situation where you need a throwaway email address, but actually need to see the first mail sent to that address (so that you can’t use a true throwaway), but don’t want to deal with the flood of crap that will show up after the first message, you use “”. Then, when mail is sent to that address, it gets displayed on for all to see. Yeah, it sounds sort of screwy to me too, but it’s sort of interesting to look at what’s showing up on the page; sort of like the Google Zeitgeist, but more tawdry.
  • Bookmark Keywords, a very cool feature of Mozilla Firebird.

I cleaned out the bookmark bag on the iBook last night; here is the fruit of the harvest, along with a few other gems. Hopefully something for everybody…

  • Big news yesterday: RedHat sues SCO. ‘Bout time. Groklaw cheers from the sidelines; over on linux-elitists, Adam Kessel points out that RedHat is talking declaratory injunction, not preliminary injuction as Groklaw initially said. This morning, there’s a correction on Groklaw, saying the same thing. The difference is significant, because a declaratory injunction has more consequences if RedHat wins, and declaratory relief is the route people take when they think the court is more likely to side with them (ObIANAL). The ‘whoosh’ sound you may have heard around 5pm EST yesterday was SCO stock speculators rushing to put in ‘sell’ orders.
  • Secret Agent Penguin Man: SuSE gets ‘low to moderate’ level Common Criteria cert, with an assist from IBM. Win2K has a ‘moderate to high’ Common Criteria certification, for those of you playing the home version.
  • An old review of Genomic Perl, from Simon Cozens. Doesn’t sound like anything I need to pick up right away.
  • TechFocus is trying to organize an HTTP Death Penalty for RIAA and MPAA subnets — getting people to configure their web servers so that they won’t talk to hosts from the RIAA and MPAA subnets. BTW, The ‘Death Penalty’ term is mine, not theirs, but to me, this sounds exactly like the ‘Usenet Death Penalty’ that the Usenet Cabal (TINUC) used to threaten (and carried out, in a few cases) to get ISPs to respect the rules of Usenet, such as they are. All sorts of interesting ramifications of starting this particular boulder rolling down hill…
  • Speaking of Usenet, this year marks the tenth anniversary of “Endless September”. Why not celebrate with an commemorative tee shirt? (Plus, the shirts are being produced by the author of Gnus, so you’re potentially helping to fund the development of the last mail and news client you’ll ever use.
  • Speaking of Endless September, somebody forwarded along a pointer to a nice Flash animation that lays out some basic netiquette tips. Next time somebody forwards you an email chain letter, this approach might correct the problem more effectively than calling them an idiot.
  • The past few RISKS Digests have featured a running thread on ID theft, kicked off with some news about the extremely low arrest rate in identity theft cases, followed up by a report on a new Virginia law creating “Identity Theft Passports”, designed to help the victims of identity theft, which spawned a followup pointing out that identity thieves could just forge that document too. sigh IDs: Not That Easy.
  • Does your hosting provider have a Wiki? Why not? CornerHost opened the CornerHostWiki yesterday.

The most annoying thing about the on-going SCO thing isn’t the actual SCO thing itself, or even the way a certain stock price continues to go up. (Mirrored by the decline in my belief that the stock market has anything at all to do with reality.) No, the most annoying thing is that Sun has apparently decided that this is a perfect time to unleash a barage of FUD over the use of Linux.

For the past couple of weeks, it seems, Scott McNealy has been making the round of the trade rags, telling anybody and everybody “Don’t touch open source software” unless you have legal protections from your supplier, while simultaneously talking about how much Sun knows about open source software. That alone would be annoying, but not sufficiently annoying for me to even bother pointing at it — Sun is on the ropes, and McNealy is trying to compete (and failing), so the FUD comes out. It’s like the barrage of fouling at the end of a basketball game: annoying but expected.

But the most recent example of this crap (which happens to feature Jonathan Schwartz instead of McNealy) was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Let’s pull this apart a bit, shall we?

About Sun’s Approach to Linux
To me, operating systems are the single most valuable asset on the Internet. Period.

The reason why operating systems are so valuable are the same reasons a masthead in a newspaper is so valuable or the chassis of a vehicle is so valuable. It is the vehicle through which you distribute all your content. Absent an operating system you are left to your own devices to try to get your product out into the world.

Everybody that looked at the chassis the last time you were car shopping, hands up. Right, that’s what I thought. Now, at a time when everybody else is talking about how Linux does for the OS what the x86 processor family did for the CPU — that is, make it cheap, relatively uniform, and not that exciting (i.e., a “commodity” product) — can we imagine why somebody who makes a different OS might want to talk about the importance of the OS? Is it because the hardware products that

they sell aren’t x86-based, and they can’t compete on CPU features? Anybody? Bueller?

Schwartz goes on to talk about Solaris on Intel, which is such an utter joke that I’m not even going to bother. If you’re not in IT, ask people you know who are about Solaris on Intel sometime. Be prepared to be ranted at a bit, and to hear lots of words like “crap”, “no drivers”, “pain in the ass”, and “sucks”. He also says, “If Red Hat tweaks their distribution just a little bit, does anyone care about what Linus says? ISVs (define) qualify to Red Hat, not to Linus.” Got that? Red Hat is the only thing that matters.

There’s another bit of FUD after this that’s beautiful, in a really twisted and evil way:

But there are two problems [with open source development]. One is that IBM appears to have committed a landmark mistake in the [alleged] leakage of its IP license from SCO into the mainstream distribution of Linux. My bet is that as a result, there’s going to be a bunch of end users, who, just like the mothers of 14-year-olds who trade files, will be getting letters telling them that they have an obligation to compensate for the liberties they took with that IP.

Doesn’t that just make you want to know who inserted that ‘alleged’ bit? Yeah, me too.

From the various back-handed slaps he takes at Red Hat, you can tell that Sun is getting trouble from them in some of their market segments. Check out this aside that he tosses out:

[Interviewer] What of enterprises running, say, JBoss for application servers? They run it because it’s cheaper.

[Schwartz] That’s an illusion. Did you know that Red Hat has no more free Red Hat?

I’m not a Red Hat user, and I don’t particularly care for their products — but that’s a crock. You can get free Red Hat the way you always could: by downloading it. Will you get support from Red Hat? No, you have to pay for that. In the sense that Schwartz is talking about, there’s never been free Red Hat, because you always had to pay to get support. That’s what they were actually selling.

Then we have another bit about how Red Hat is the only Linux that matters, in the context of Linux on the mainframe:

People qualify to distributions. What was the distribution IBM was going to run on its mainframe? IBM’s distribution. Guess how many ISVs are going to write to IBM’s distribution? Zero.

Now, two questions later in the interview, we find this gem:

Q: Which Linux distribution version will you be using for Mad Hatter [Sun’s desktop bundle, which includes MS Exchange, Sun’s StarOffice application suite, Mozilla browser, Java 2, Gnome 2 and Linux]?

Our own. We will likely work with other companies to build it.

Now, what are you expecting at this point? That’s right, the obvious “why will people qualify to yours if they won’t qualify to IBM’s?” question. Does it get asked? No, of course not. A few wet noodle slaps for Erin Joyce, the interviewer. (And when did Sun start shipping MicroSoft Exchange? That one is in the running for worst fact-checking/proof-reading error of the week…)

The “what’s important in a Linux distribution” madness continues with:

The thing you really need to think about with a Linux distribution is what does an ISV qualify to? On a server side they generally qualify to a very low level set of APIs

Got that? Those low-level APIs are under community control (which includes Red Hat and all the other distribution vendors), and those are what’s important. Now, those APIs are so low-level that they’re actually uniform — they’re the same everywhere — which means that the stuff he was spouting off earlier about Red Hat being the only thing that matters is crap. (Or the low-level API thing is crap, take your pick — they can’t both be right.) Now, does he get called on this? Nope. A few more wet noodle slaps for Erin.

That brings us to the end of the article. What have we learned? Well, if read uncritically, we’ve learned that Linux and open source software in general is a big stinking morass of potential liability, and only a fool would venture in without a strong protector (i.e., Sun) to shield them from the potential business-destroying hailstorm of litigation. However, if you read between the lines and break things down a bit, you come away with a point of view that’s quite different than that. First of all, Sun’s Linux strategy is still a mess. They’re doing their own distro, then they’re not, now they are again — or, at least, they were at the time this interview occurred. Maybe it’s changed again. Second, at this point, they’re more worried about losing business to Red Hat than they are to Microsoft. Why? Because pretty much everybody that’s going to go to Windows is already gone. Sun’s remaining customers are Unix shops, and have to or want to remain Unix shops, for whatever reason. But unless they’ve got applications that require 64bit CPUs, Linux (be it Red Hat or somebody else) on commodity Intel hardware is going to provide greater performance at lower cost. The reliability might not be as good as those Enterprise-class Sun servers, but the prices are cheap enough that you can over-provision by a factor of two and still save money. You’ve got a one-time porting effort (which, if your code is any good, won’t be that hard), and then you’re golden. (And Sun is out another customer.) Plus, with the availability of Itanic2 and Opteron CPUs, even the 64bit barrier isn’t a real obstacle. Sun isn’t going to go out of business any time soon, but they’re going to get pushed into the same niche backwater where SGI lives, unless they manage to come up with something more substantial than the smoke, mirrors, and FUD that they’re currently pushing.

  • After several months of hiatus, I’ve put the webcam back up, so now you can once again enjoy poor-quality grainy jpegs of my seemingly immobile head, interleaved with shots of an empty desk chair, and occasional people shaped blurs! Isn’t the ‘net just grand?
  • The National Academies of Sciences (really seems like there’s too many plurals in there, doesn’t it?) has issued a report outlining some recommended changes for the National Institutes of Health. Decrypting the bureaucratese in the NIH response, it seems to boil down to “buzz off”. Wouldn’t mind seeing the actual report or a pointer to same, should somebody know where to dig that up.
  • Just a reminder: the recent events in Iraq were not, doublescore underline emphatic not about oil. Thanks for your attention.
  • A drawing, by Vernor Vinge, of what the Spiders from A Deepness in the Sky are supposed to look like.
  • Science Friction” documents the ham-handed and ideologically-driven way the Bush White House has interacted with the American scientific community.

    George W. Bush embodies the modern GOP’s attitude toward science. He hails from a segment of the energy industry that, when it comes to global warming, considers science an obstacle to growth. He is strongly partisan, deeply religious, and also tied to evangelical supporters. And, like Reagan, he has refused to endorse the scientific principle of evolution. During the 2000 campaign, a New York Times reporter asked whether he believed in evolution. Bush equivocated, leading the Times to write that he “believes the jury is still out.”

  • Maryland to close at end of August. We’ll try to get you our new address sometime before that.
  • 16 words, 28 pages — anybody else getting that “first slow trip circling around the drain” feeling?
  • A Slashdot thread has some clarification on the LPGL/Java thing that went around a week or two ago. (If you look up at the head of the thread, you can see the ‘prizog’ is the nym of David Turner of the Free Software Foundation.)
  • There’s an unofficial patch to bring Xft support to XEmacs. I’m hoping this either gets brought into the mainline quickly, or that the Gentoo maintainer takes matters into hir own hands. Hmm, maybe it’s time to file a ‘wishlist’ level bug report…