Food Pills and Flying Cars

The Jetson's robot, RosieThe future is now and it kind of sucks.

Paul Krugman reminds us of that in today’s column. He takes us back the 1979 cult classic, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. In that book, Earth is dismissed as an archaic planet whose life forms “are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” Yeah, well that was before the technology revolution. Now we have iWatches that remind us to stand when we’ve been sitting too long …. ugh.

So what happened to the future? We were supposed to have flying cars and they gave us 140 characters. We were supposed to have witty housekeeping robots. Instead we’re watching rumbas terrorize the dogs. We were supposed to have food pills but we’re still feeding ourselves. What do you want to eat? I don’t know, what do you want? Why can’t I just take a pill? We have pills for everything else. Can’t get a boner? Here’s your pill. Can’t pay attention? Have a pill. And what is hunger but a medical condition? It’s 2015 and we still haven’t cured that chronic disease.

Well things are looking up, you guys. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are concocting food shakes to get you through the day. Hunger pangs? Drink this protein pancake batter. It’s not a food pill, but it’s a start. You still have to drink it but the only thing you dirty is a spoon and glass. If you use disposable plastic, clean up is a snap. Gulp, gulp, gulp, toss. Your JoeDog had a protein shake for lunch. Gulp, gulp, gulp, toss. Two hours later, he’s hungry as hell. Stupid science. Where’s my food pill?



Why Did Linux Become So Successful?

Over at the Var Guy, Christopher Tozzi asks an interesting question:

Why did Linux succeed so spectacularly, whereas similar attempts to build a free or open source, Unix-like operating system kernel met with considerably less success?

Tozzi doesn’t claim to know the answer but he examines several theories.

  1. Linux had a decentralized development model.
  2. Torvalds was pragmatic whereas Stallman was ideological.
  3. The Linux kernel was better designed.
  4. The open source community threw its weight behind Linux.

Your JoeDog is not particularly fond of any of these notions. With the exception of number three, most of what is attributed to Linux could also be said of GNU. Yet the GNU kernel never took off while Linux did. But keep in mind, Linux would be nothing without GNU.

Stallman’s team provided the compiler, the debugger, the shell all the command line utilities. Most of what you think of as ‘Linux’ is actually GNU interface utilities. When you type ‘ls’, you’re executing code that Richard Stallman personally wrote. GNU’s only real failure was its kernel but given all its other success, it’s hard to fault its development model. And they were certainly not without community support.

It’s often said that timing is everything and I think that applies to Linux. Torvalds’ kernel arrived at the right time, with the right license, with the right amount of complexity to satisfy the hobbyist. You could do things with Linux. You could breathe new life into an old 386. So maybe there’s some truth to the third bullet but it depends on the definition of “better.” By computer science standards, Linux was primitive compared with GNU’s kernel yet that simple design help align its timing with the stars.

Carly Fiorina For President? Of the US?

Fiorina For PresidentSo Your JoeDog heard that Carly Fiorina is running for President. Why? She’s Donald Trump without the comb-over.

Or she would be Donald Trump if she had a more successful business career.

With only a failed Senate run on her political resume, her presidential aspirations are tied solely to her tenure at Hewlett-Packard. During her stint at at that company, she laid off thousands, botched a high profile merger, fought with just about everyone until she left on a $21 million dollar golden parachute. If that’s presidential timber then the bar is lower than I thought….

And that’s all the time Your JoeDog will spend on Carly Fiorina. Does he think voters are smart enough to see through whatever bullshit she spreads on the stump? Oh, hell no. He’s confident that big monied interests won’t give her a dime and her campaign will end as soon as it began for lack of funding.

The Wikipedia Draft

The NFL draft is one of the biggest sporting events in America. Nobody actually plays anything. It’s basically a schoolyard pick up game without the game.  Your JoeDog watched until his team selected the most awesomest player ever, then he went to bed. Looking for updates, he logged into the NFL’s official website but their presentation sucked. All he wanted was a list of teams and players. You know, like Wikipedia has for each NFL draft.

“Hmmm,” Your JoeDog thought, “I’ll bet the Poindexters at Wikipedia are updating that site as it happens.” So he logged in and sure enough: the 2015 NFL draft is being updated in real-ish time on Wikipedia.


Godspeed, Turtle Ninja Road Warrior

After some asshole rat gnawed their pet turtle’s legs off, a Welsh couple started a social media campaign to raise money for emergency care. With her legs damaged beyond repair, they had to be surgically removed. I’m not sure if you are aware of  this but turtles aren’t known for speed. When sloths tell slow jokes, turtles are the butt of them. One-legged turtles are slower than that. To overcome her disability, Mrs T. was fitted with prosthetic wheels. You have to admit, they’re pretty freakin’ cool.

Your JoeDog doesn’t pretend to know what “Godspeed” means — he suspects it’s Latin for “Hurry the fsck up!”  — but he wishes it to Mrs T. Godspeed, little turtle. Godspeed.

Use Break Statements, People

A few years ago, Your JoeDog was re-working someone else’s code. Fun times!  It was written in java by a professional web shop out of Chicago. He’s not going to name the shop but it rhymes with “Oxy Dom.”

In one particular segment, there was a big mother of a switch statement with perhaps a couple dozen case conditions. That’s quite a few case conditions! But here’s the thing about this code which was executed by a highly paid software engineer. It contained no break statements.

Why does that matter? Let’s find out after the jump! Continue reading Use Break Statements, People

Big In India

According to Alexa. Your JoeDog is ranked 300,052nd in the world. That’s cool — I guess — but in India, it’s ranked 127,320 and that’s stinkin’ awesome. “Big in India, tonight. Big in India, alright…”

Here’s the thing: We’re big India even though we drop references to archaic Western things like Alphaville and a 1980 Pennsylvania lottery drawing. Imagine if we dropped the names of attractive Indian women. Imagine if we mentioned Kareena KapoorAishwarya Rai and Rani Mukherjee. We could be 126,00 by Friday…


A Nerd Dream Becomes Reality

xrayGreg Charvat has been tinkering with things his entire life. He’s well-known in the maker community where he’s published a lot of neat hacks. In his garage he builds vacuum tube audio equipment and restores antique autos. He’s also a university professor who’s written a course on building RADAR systems. Now comes the fun part. Greg recently combined his maker skills with his scientific knowledge to make every nerd’s wet dreams a reality. He’s developed x-ray vision!!11!1!!

Hacking Computers

stallmanYour JoeDog has blogged about cyber intrusions recently. (Yeah, we know, how about discussing something else?) In these discussions, he tends to avoid the terms “hacked” or “hackers.” While those words commonly refer to infiltrations and intruders, they are erroneously applied by the tech media. Hacking is an ethic to which hackers subscribe.

This ethic was popularized by Steven Levy in the book “Hackers.” To Levy, the last true hacker was Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software movement.

In the early 1980s, software producers began putting restrictions on their products and stopped distributing their source code. This put a damper on the hacker community which was used to a free flow of information. Stallman was peeved that he couldn’t freely alter, copy and share licensed software with colleagues. It struck him as highly unethical. In “Hackers” he contrasted this ethic with his own:

“The hacker ethic refers to the feelings of right and wrong, to the ethical ideas this community of people had—that knowledge should be shared with other people who can benefit from it, and that important resources should be utilized rather than wasted.”

When it became apparent that he couldn’t fight City Hall, Stallman decided to build his own operating system. Its copyright would mandate code sharing. You could use the source however you liked as long as you published your changes and made the source available. Distributors could not restrict access to the code. This is the essence of the GNU Public License.

So the key points of hacker ethics were free access, freedom of information and the betterment of all. Yet somehow the term is now almost universally known for breaking-and-entering. Are these people hackers? Well, maybe.

Your JoeDog considers guys like Richard Stallman hackers. He considers himself a hacker as well. When dickheads were attacking his site, he published his method of thwarting them. That’s hacking. Breaking-and-entering guys? They’re just dicks.

Unfortunately, Your JoeDog doesn’t control the lexicon so the term is now applied to the world of cyber-security. And within that community, subcultures have formed. We now have white-hat, black-hat and grey-hat hackers. The first group is dedicated to finding, publishing and fixing security flaws. They are most assuredly hackers that Stallman would recognize.

Black-hats are dedicated to finding and exploiting computer vulnerabilities. Are they hackers? It’s a tricky question: they could be. There are many who publish and share their vulnerabilities. They may do that for LULZ instead of a desire to share for the betterment of the community but the result is the same. These guys often benefit the community but it’s a small community comprised of other black-hats. They tend to restrict information to the outside world.

Grey-hats are morally ambiguous types who fall in between the white and black communities. Your JoeDog considers them the least likeable of all the dark side. Grey-hats are the guys who will work within the white-hat community then sell a zero-day exploit on the black market. Fsck those guys.

As a general rule, if the tech media properly applies the term “hacker” then it probably pulled a Homer, i.e., properly applied the term despite the ignorance of the author.