Friday, April 30, 2010

Knowledge and the Internet

There's a service called HARO - Help A Reporter Out, which is pretty cool. Today one of the queries asked for opinions about the value of "real knowledge" in the internet age. I'd post it here, but there is no clear policy about what kind of privacy they expect for the queries that go out.

First, it's important to understand that there are categories of knowledge, and they are nested.
  1. Stuff you don't even know you don't know
  2. Stuff you know that you don't know
  3. Stuff you actually know
  4. Stuff you do all the time and can apply practically
People think that the purpose of Education is to increase to the necessary size the area of practical knowledge (#4), but this is a false assumption. The real purpose of education is to increase the size of #2, thus decreasing slightly the size of #1.

Category 1 stuff is the most dangerous stuff. It's the reason we parent children. They are naive to the dangers around them, having no idea of the tremendous potential energy surround them in the form of stairs, shelves, cars, trucks, trains, etc. Parenting is first of all about reducing the size of #1 stuff to the point where you don't get killed just going about your day. It then moves to #2 over time.

The problem with teenagers, fundamentalists, and younger versions of myself is that they don't really know about #1 at this point, because they have deluded themselves into the false and dangerous belief that they have reduced its size and scope to zero. This leads them to undervalue any skills or products that depend on knowledge that they didn't even know existed.

Through reflection and life experience, wisdom comes when you are fully aware of the vast size and scope of the stuff you know you don't know. It humbles you, and makes you more likely to consider fairly the opinions of others who do know the domain in question.

Now... how does the Internet and Google come into play here?

The internet helps you to explore stuff you don't know anything about, and get the basics. By makes you aware of all of the details of that stuff, and increases your awareness of the stuff you didn't know you didn't know... and makes it stuff you now know you don't know. This allows you to have a much better sense of an area.

So, if you are wise, and open you can both greatly decrease the size of #1 for a subject of interest by moving it into #2, and possibly increase #3 along the way.

Now... this does not help you become an expert instantly. That continues to take practice and work, but it does help you become more well rounded. The internet and Google play an incredible role in making it possible to learn about things that would otherwise be opaque. They are an immense positive asset.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thoughts on Thoughts on Flash

Steve Jobs has made his case against flash on the iPad. It's interesting, and I kept reminding myself about the presence of the well known reality distortion field that permeates his being.

As a programmer, and person, I hate reality distortion fields. This blog post is meant as an exercise in building skills to see through it.

First, the post was not just Steve, sitting in his office, jotting down a few notes. He's thought about it, long and hard, carefully avoiding certain areas that might cost him points, while pushing the strengths of his position. Lots of my stuff here is off the cuff, and might qualify as a jot... his definitely is not something quick and dirty.

First, there is "open", as Steve said. Just how do you send code to someone who owns an iPad? It appears to this observer that the way is definitely not open, but only goes through the Apple toll both. Open ports like USB would be nice too.

The there is the "full web"... Flash sucks because it's a layer between the web and the browser. It's a shim at best. However, it's the best shim out there for most cases. Allowing flash, with some disclaimers would be far better than denying the use of this shim.

Then there is security. If you can't protect your iPad from bugs in Flash, you certainly can't protect it from any other rogue applications either. It's just a matter of time before the holes start showing up. Steve - read up on Capability Based Security.

Battery life - good point. Hardware acceleration is good. It would be nice if I could replace the battery at some point as well.

Then there is Touch - If you don't allow cross compatibility, how are others going to figure out how to deal with touch? You'll always be a special case, and never mainstream.

Conclusion - Steve is good at distorting reality, but it's a near field effect with limited range.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Humor: How to give a cat a pill

How to Give a Cat a Pill
1. Pick up cat and cradle it in the crook of your left arm as if holding a baby.
Position right forefinger and thumb on either side of cat's mouth and gently apply pressure to cheeks while holding pill in right hand. As cat opens mouth, pop pill into mouth.
Allow cat to close mouth and swallow.

2. Retrieve pill from floor and cat from behind sofa.

Cradle cat in left arm and repeat process.
3. Retrieve cat from bedroom, and throw soggy pill away.


4. Take new pill from foil wrap, cradle cat in left arm, holding rear paws tightly with left hand.


Force jaws open and push pill to back of mouth with right forefinger. Hold mouth shut for a count of ten.
5. Retrieve pill from goldfish bowl and cat from top of wardrobe.


Call spouse in from the garden.

6. Kneel on floor with cat wedged firmly between knees, hold front and rear paws.


Ignore low growls emitted by cat. Get spouse to hold head firmly with one hand while forcing wooden ruler into mouth. Drop pill down ruler and rub cat's throat vigorously.

7. Retrieve cat from curtain rail.


Get another pill from foil wrap. Make note to buy new ruler and repair curtains. Carefully sweep shattered figurines and vases from hearth and set to one side for gluing later.
8. Wrap cat in large towel and get spouse to lie on cat with head just visible from below armpit.


Put pill in end of drinking straw, force mouth open with pencil and blow down drinking straw
9. Check label to make sure pill not harmful to humans and drink one beer to take taste away. Apply band-aid to spouse's forearm and remove blood from carpet with cold water and soap.


10. Retrieve cat from neighbor's shed.


Get another pill. Open another beer. Place cat in cupboard, and close door onto neck, to leave head showing. Force mouth open with dessert spoon. Flick pill down throat with elastic band.
11. Fetch screwdriver from garage and put cupboard door back on hinges. Drink beer. Fetch bottle of scotch. Pour shot, drink.


Apply cold compress to cheek and check records for date of last tetanus shot. Apply whiskey compress to cheek to disinfect. Toss back another shot. Throw tee-shirt away and fetch new one from bedroom.
12. Call fire department to retrieve the damn cat from the top of the tree across the road. Apologize to neighbor who crashed into fence while swerving to avoid cat.


Take last pill from foil wrap.
13. Using heavy-duty pruning gloves from shed, tie the little *&#%^'s front paws to rear paws with garden twine and bind tightly to leg of dining table. Push pill into mouth followed by large piece of filet steak. Be rough about it. Hold head vertically and pour two pints of water down throat to wash pill down.


14. Consume remainder of scotch. Get spouse to drive you to the emergency room. Sit quietly while doctor stitches fingers and forearm and removes pill remnants from right eye. Call furniture shop on way home to order new table.


15. Arrange for ASPCA to collect mutant cat from hell and call local pet shop to see if they have any hamsters.


How To Give A Dog A Pill
1. Wrap it in bacon.


2. Toss it in the air.


I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did reading it. The photos and text came to me in an email, author and photographers unknown.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Looks like Twitter has managed to upset some of their vendors to the point of taking action to offsource it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

20 minutes of down time due to updates

I spent 20 minutes without computing resources, because both Adobe Acrobat, and Java needed to be updated. I could spend an hour or so figuring out why, but I strongly suspect they had security patches as the lead cause, not functionality increases.

Once again, time lost because we don't have cabsec.

I have several important ideas to express

Like most bloggers, I have ideas I think are really important. These are deep, very meta ideas. Ideas which can make a huge difference in the world, if I can effectively communicate them to others, but alas, I wasn't taught rhetoric. This is making things far less efficient than they could have been.

I will list some of them below:

  • Computer security can be fixed using cabsec
  • Because computers aren't secure, people don't really own their own computers
  • Because we're not the true owners of our computers, we can't really own our data
  • We can't run our own networks because we can't keep them secure, we have to pay others
  • This invites censorship and government intervention because we can't keep them private
  • We're not taught the skills necessary to be citizens in the US these days, perhaps deliberately.
  • The US economy is imploding because we don't manufacture things anymore.
  • The civil war was about grabbing power, it did not end slavery, but transformed it.
  • The Federal reserve caused the Great Depression, and is causing the Second as well.
  • Peak oil happened already, Thanksgiving 2005
  • It's impossible to find the truth about global warming for the average citizen. It seems to be happening, but it could also be the basis for yet another power grab.

See, that's quite a list... and I'm sure there are more things to add to it. I might have effectively communicated 10 of these ideas to 10 people in the last 10 years, if I'm lucky. I need to do far, far better if I'm to make any kind of dent in this world before I pass on.

There are some things I'd also like to know

  • Who really killed JFK?
  • Who runs the US, really?
  • Where did all of the bailout money go?
  • Where did the Trillion dollars the DOD lost go to?
  • Is our current lack of computer security a historical accident, or was it deliberate?
  • Why didn't we learn that prohibition doesn't work?
  • What would it take to restore our country to a true democracy of informed citizens? Can it still be done?
  • What's up with global warming?
  • How do we effectively discuss non-trivial concepts when Google is the tool to find the conversations? Keyword search only works well for popular subjects, and hides alternative meanings.
Ok... tangents and time sinks and really deep questions... comments and conversations welcome.

The importance of Rhetoric and the Trivium

It is now apparent that the US educational system has failed me. I was never taught Rhetoric, and it's causing me to be very frustrated. I have a deep hole to dig out of.

The classical education movement is interested in the Trivium. This is an educational system that teaches children in three age-appropriate steps.

  • Grammar is the words we speak, what they mean, and the rules for putting them together.
  • Logic is how to think about those words and concepts, and the rules of critical thinking skills.
  • Rhetoric is the means and rules for communicating those concepts clearly to others.
The education system I was brought up in did teach Grammar fairly well. It taught a little bit of logic, but not enough of it. Most of my cohort lack were not given the critical thinking skills necessary to be good citizens at the time we graduated, myself included. Rhetoric was right out.

It's possible to learn logic and critical thinking skills given sufficient life experience. When it doesn't happen, you either end up naive, or cynical. We seem to have an overabundance of both of those in the US at this time.

Where things really fall apart is the lack of proper education in Rhetoric. We don't know how to properly convey our thoughts and transmit them to others. The lack of proper rhetorical skills is really frustrating me at this point. I'm going to spend quite a bit of effort to catch up to speed in the next few years. Its sad that I wasn't taught this stuff 30 years ago.

Blogging has helped, as have various life experiences, including my current job as IT manager at a small marketing firm. It really opened my eyes when I learned the behind the scenes reasons for the way things work. I never thought about having to distill a message down before that point. I just assumed you just start talking until you've said the what they need to know. It's far more nuanced and requires a much higher level of skill than I could have even thought possible 12 years ago.

It is my hope that I can successfully help my daughter, Virginia, make it through all of the Trivium by the time she leaves our nest. I want her to have all the skills I have, as well as the ones I aspire to, when she starts her adult life. I want her to be a fully empowered citizen.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Offsourcing Web 2.0

I believe that the silos are winning the war, and we need a new strategy.

In the Electronics industry, there has traditionally been a strong preference for choosing components which have a second source, that is an provider who can independently deliver functionally identical and interchangeable parts. Businesses prefer this as it helps to protect against supply side disruption, and the need to change designs because a part can no longer be purchased.

A second source for Twitter, for example... would be API equivalent, and would hopefully be able to perform the same functions should Twitter close up shop. However, this is not an attractive option, because Twitter is not a component, it is a complete service and infrastructure.

A better way to provide second sourcing for Twitter would be to provide the tools to build a Twitter equivalent ourselves, so that we maintain the infrastructure (or pay a hosting provider to do so). If any part of the system goes down, we could route around the nodes that have failed.

I'd like to call this idea offsourcing, for lack of a better Google tag.

We should start figuring out ways to offsource the main things we all depend upon daily. To figure out components and services that could be used as replacements. Then we need to start offsourcing to these new systems and networks.

Merely replicating an existing system is not enough, however. There needs to be an through analysis of what the benefits are of a system, and how it really interacts with things. For example, twitter has evolved into a notification platform. When you post a blog entry, you can tweet it. But it's more than that... it's also a voting platform, because you can retweet someone's notification about a blog post, in effect giving it your endorsement, and a vote.

The downside of twitter is that it's a big stream, and people tend to piss in it. As pointed out by Merlin Mann in his post, Better, we need to be more mindful of what we put out there, and we need to add value. It's impossible to edit your posts once they are out there, so they are biased towards low value, high flow sewage.

An ideal Twitter replacement would allow notification, but would be more nuanced. It would allow better curation, and support editors. it wouldn't be Twitter anymore, but would keep the best features.

I believe it will take a while to find the necessary components to build a useful, decentralized slower but more useful Twitter replacement. I don't have a quick fix to offer here. I just want to get the idea of doing it into play.

Maybe I'm getting too tied to creating a new term... but I think this type of analysis needs to be done for a lot of things, and I'd like to be able to find those ideas with google, so it needs a new term to help.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Cabsec work continues

I've now got TortoiseHg, Google App Engine SDK for Python, Python 2.5.4, and the source code for myfs on my laptop. I hope to be able to cobble together some basic capabilities demos to get the ball rolling.

It looks like I'll need to define all of the basic mechanisms necessary to build what would eventually be the basis of the internet operating system as defined by me... not the Tim O'Reilly version.