Notes on a New World Order

Would you like fries with your Universe?

Friday Rant #13: The Right Way, Personal Pride, and Intolerance
2007-02-16 00:00

I’ve been in a bit of a slump recently. It’s not my fault, really, the whole system is pushing me down. Everyone else is willing to submit, and I’m not. It seems like they believe the same or similar things that I do…but they don’t ever do anything about it. Unlike in fiction, belief alone does not determine reality, action does. If you believe in good deeds, do them. If you believe in free software, use it. (And if you write software, make it free.) And so on. There is always, always, always a way to get your beliefs out there. This doesn’t mean going and pushing them on people, but it does mean that if they share your sentiments you should push them to act on them. Silent dissent does nothing but frustrate; if you have a problem be vocal. I complain, not out of any hope of changing things myself, but in the hope that enough complaint will fall on the right ears who can change things for the better.If you end up in a position of even symbolic power you can do this; however, you will usually be called intolerant or closed-minded when someone who would stand to loose dissents. This is where you need to be sure you have the Right Way to do things. Once you are, no amount of dissent can change what is best. (I will leave how we determine of what is best for another day.) For small things, like doing a project well, or excelling at a task you’ve been assigned, the motivation is personal pride. For anything larger, the motivation is easier to play off as love of country or any number of other populist ideals. What is really needs to be is personal pride, though. If you can’t brag about what changes, policies, or finished tasks you’ve done, you aren’t following the Right Way. This is true whether you know the Right Way or not.So be intolerant of bad choices, wrong reasoning, faulty logic. Be intolerant of the Wrong Way, because there’s no other Right way to be. Follow the Right Way, and be proud of your intolerance.

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Macrovision's Response to Steve Jobs' Open Letter
2007-02-16 00:00

Macrovision’s Response to Steve Jobs’ Open LetterOkay, just had to post this….WTF! I’m not going to bullet point why Macrovision is wrong in every way imaginable… just look at this article on competition for a start. DRM will never do anything but promote monopoly and vendor control. It removes the market forces that consumers exert, destroys innovation, and leaves nothing but willful ignorance and slave mentality for the greater population at best.

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Freaks & Geeks: A More Glowing Report
2007-02-04 00:00

So I posted a bit ago that I was going through the show “Freaks & Geeks”. I’ve finished now, and I have to say, the show impressed me more and more, the more of it I watched.

At first, I thought the show was pretty “high school stereotypes” and “cliche situations,” but it goes deeper than that. The characters start out as stereotypes because it’s easy to ignore them when they’re not part of a story, but there are “real people” (in a manner of speaking) behind them. As each character got a story or two to him or herself it became very obvious that the character was intended to be that from the start. What’s so wonderful about it is the real sense of discovery of people when you realize you’ve been selling each of the characters short, in turn, throughout watching the show. Sure, it makes you feel kind of bad at judging people, but it does make you realize that we do it every day. For better or worse we judge people based on who they hang out with, what they look like, and where we find them. We even try to hide who we hang out with, what we “really” look like, and where we go all the time just so people think certain things about us. Not everyone does that all the time, but we all try to do it a little bit.

I happen to have been lucky enough to go to a high school with very little clique-ish-ness, but even within a very healthy school community there are groups, and not everyone knows everyone else (especially at larger schools, mine was rather small.). It was easy to recognize the dynamics that take place in every social setting, not just high school, not just parents and teens. Thankfully, I’ve not had to deal with nearly as many or as difficult problems as the characters in the show, but I know I’ve had to deal with a few of them, if only barely or not as severely. “Freaks” really shows people who act like people really do, dealing with things much worse than most people ever have to. It’s great to learn from, if only because eventually we all have crises to work through, and we don’t always know how we can deal with them. Plus, it never hurts to get vindicated in your desire to not do homework. I’m certainly avoiding doing a buch of writing for classes by writing a critical analysis of a television show I just hauled through avoiding writing homework. Whether hypocritical or not, I’d rather be thinking for myself, on what I’ve decided to ingest (the best word to describe the collective thing people do when they experience or watch or read some media or other) of my own free will. (The debate of the actual or practical existence of which I will leave to another day.)

Now, off to not avoid responsibility, not be passive-aggressive with my friends, and to do my own thing, expore myself, and all that other hippie-like stuff that’s actually reasonably useful. But no drugs, or random partying. That’s for losers. </sarcasm>

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Free, On Purpose
2007-02-04 00:00

These days, whenever you're talking with mostly college-aged or younger people, or those who aren't on the higher end of the income spectrum, there's a couple of extra 'kinds' of free when it comes to software beyond the normal shareware, abandon/freeware, open-source, etc. There's 'free-to-me'/'free-if-I'm-not-caught'-ware. This happens a lot with products that are almost universally considered best in their field at what they do, but are, of course, multi-hundred, sometimes even thousand(!)-dollar software packages. Photoshop is a prime example of a piece of software that almost nobody outside of professionals (who can';t get away with not paying license fees) actually buys. I';m about as useless with graphics as a blind potato, so I';ve not bothered to go find some illegitimate copy, but the point is, there are probably at least as many people who don';t buy it as do.

But it doesn';t have to be like that. I';m not going to say that Adobe should open up and give away their software for free, or that proprietary software is inherently evil (it is metaphysically, but less so practically), but that there are good programs out there that are free, on purpose. And they';re good. Really good. At least, some of them are. I';m a fan of free, because it doesn';t cost money, which I don';t have, really. I';m also a fan of open-ness, which is like free as in freedom (to steal shamelessly from the open-source folks).

When it comes down to it, most people think that free is often second-rate, shoddy, or otherwise inferior; why else would it be free? Chalk it up to intelligent communities, new social forces, or the difference between intellectual property and 'real'; property, but the open-source communities out there have created some amazing things. I';m not going to particularly harp on how awesome they are; but, well, they are awesome. What it comes down to is this, free can be better than anything you could pay for, it can also be much worse. So how do you find what you need, sort the wheat and chaff, so to speak?

You come right here. That';s right, I';m starting a sort of semi-regular review of software that isn';t just free, but good and free. Today I';m going to go over the, in my opinion, holy triumvirate of desktop applications: the media player, the instant messaging client, and the web browser.

First, because this is such a huge category, each one could take many many articles of its own, I';ll set up a few restrictions. Whatever I find, has to run on multiple operating systems, at least two of the major three (Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux). Secondly, nothing "weird," just normal applications this time. No network streaming music players or text-based web browsers this time. Thirdly, no crippleware, nagware, or abandonware; we want something current, and, if not new exactly, maintained and actively developed. A dead project may work now, but it won';t forever, and I like to use software that works, and will continue to work.

Web Browsers:

Right, I';m not going to say a whole lot about these, as more recently there';s been a bit of a revolution regarding web browsers, with Mozilla';s Firefox gaining a lot of market share. The other major free option (though, unfortunately not open) is Opera, which is currently more web-standards compliant and, I think, much faster and easier on the computer. Firefox does have the advantage of a gigantic user community of very talented people with many extensions, but most of the really usable ones (enhanced tabs, mouse gestures, sidebar bits, and undo-close) are all built right into Opera. I use Opera, so that';s my vote, but many people like Mozilla';s offering, and it definitely has mindshare. Both are available for practically and OS you could run, so try them out, run them both, and choose for yourself.

Instant Messengers:

Here';s where I think a lot of people are missing a truly superior product that is absolutely free: Gaim. It supports any IM protocol you could possibly use including, AOL, MSN, Yahoo, Jabber, GaduGadu, IRC, ICQ, and many more through plugins. It has plugins for history, logging, dynamic profile generation, a psychic mode, new message notification, and is about as configurable as software can get without being overcomplicated. I use it, and if you IM, you should too. Gaim itself is only directly available for Linux and Windows, but a natively ported version, Adium is available for Mac OS X. I';m sure there are some other wonderful free IM clients, but I';ve never had a need for one. If you have some particular love of something like Trillian please let me know, though I';d almost call it crippleware because they have a "pro" product that isn';t free. The only other client that might be as cool as Gaim could be Google Talk, which has voice chat, which is still in development for Gaim. (The other interesting option, though not particularly IM-related, is Skype, Gizmo, and other VOIP systems.)

Media Players:

This is where things get sticky. Everyone has their preference, to a degree. I was a fan of Winamp for a long time, but it got really slow and big and just didn';t impress me much. Plus, I switched my main computer to Linux, so there went that. The most versatile free media player I';ve yet come across is VLC, or Video Lan Client, though nobody calls it that. This little guy has all it';s own codecs, so if you use windows you can play things that won';t with any other player. It';s also incredibly robust on weird and badly formed (corrupted from download or otherwise) video files, as it is designed with streaming video in mind. In fact, VLC comes with the ability to stream audio and video out of the box, no setup required (Though you do need to know what you';re doing). VLC can even play encrypted DVDs, though in the United States this is technically illegal as the libdvdcss library it uses to do so violates the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Complain to your congressperson, or donate here to fight this idiocy. Other than a little hiccough when it comes to the legality of playing encrypted DVDs (your home movies are perfectly legal), VLC is the best overall player I';ve yet to find. One caveat, and this goes for every free media player, is that VLC won';t play DRM-protected/copy-protected music files purchased from most online stores. This is a violation of your fair-use rights and all, but it';s not VLC';s fault, blame the RIAA, MPAA, or whoever passed the laws. Link above applies.

Again, VLC will run on any modern operating system, and runs pretty much identically on all of them. It';s solid, and all-around the best media player money can';t buy. On a day to day basis I use AmaroK for my music playing and mplayer for videos on my Linux machine, but those aren';t widely available for other OSs. Other players that are available that could be of interest include Media Player Classic and Songbird, a music player based on Firefox (above). I really want to check Songbird out sometime, but I';be been quite busy with school and all that. If someone wants to check it out and review it, I would certainly feel like posting it as a follow up. Or, really, anything I';ve missed that you think is essential in one of these three categories.

That';s all for now. More when I get some time to do research.

Next up: Virtualization, try an OS without breaking your computer.

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Freaks & Geeks
2007-01-31 00:00

Ever heard of it? (Freaks & Geeks, that is) It's a television show. Saw it at Borders one day. Was told it was good. "Cancelled before it's time" or somesuch nonsense. So I've been watching some of that. (No, I didn't buy it, I'm not rich. Just looking for good stuff to watch.) Good show. I can see why it was critically acclaimed and wouldn't get network execs all that excited. It's a show about uncomfortable moments. A lot of it seems a little cliche, but it pretty much defines the cliche, rather than imitates it, so I don't think it's misplaced.Anyway, though I'd post what I've been up to, as I'm not going to let this blog die. Not without a fight.Go watch something cool, then tell me about it. Because I like watching cool things.

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Pre-Release Madness
2007-01-22 00:00

This weekend I went to the Planar Chaos pre-release tournament (a tournament for the new Magic: The Gathering set that will soon be coming out.I didn’t win anything, but I got a bunch of cards from the new set and had a bunch of fun. I went with Matt D, and he made out much better than I did, but definitely did worse in the tournament. (Matt’s luck is a story for another day, because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone he knows that might read this.) In any case, only chase card I got was Damnation, but I did also get a timeshifted Psionic Blast, so that was cool too. At the release, I played in a total of two sealed deck flights, and one draft, though the draft was kinda a joke, as five of the players just wanted to get cards and dropped almost immediately. The one game I did play before being eliminated was against one of the judges from the main events, and I got thoroughly destroyed. It was fun to watch someone that good play, but I had no chance to begin with.I managed to trade for a few cards I’d been looking for, though I did trade away cards I’d rather have also. All in all an excellent way to spend a weekend, despite the strenuousness of going to Syracuse to do it. By the by, thanks to all the judges and people who organzied and set up the event (Gray Matter Conventions in particular) and to all the players I played against for a wonderful time.

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Apologies, there's no excuse for lazy, writing sucks…
2007-01-18 00:00

Alright. I don't update nearly as often as I should. I'm also doing so much random writing for school that I have no free moments to actually do some recreationaly useful writing. So—sorry if there's a lack of useful running around. Comment if you think I should write shorter more snippet-like posts on a day-to-day basis on—let's say, whatever is interesting in the world at the moment to me. Or anything else you think. It's just nice to know I've got actual, honest-to-goodness readers. Not that all two of you really matter. But the Internet-as-catharsis thing gets old quicker than you'd like if no one actually reads your ranting. That and if nobody really read it, then I'm ranting at me. And yelling at yourself is a sure fire sign of insanity. Just like too many exclamation points.

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Friday Rant #12: Home, the Heart, and Dying Fires
2007-01-13 00:00

This rant brought to you by Deadly Serious™.I’ve been thinking about my family, my friends (and lack of them), and all that other stuff that makes the social side of my life interesting. My conclusion, there’s a dearth of it.It’s like a log in a fire. The log burns longer if it stays in the fire. Passions breed passions. All my friends going off to college was pretty rough, but I was still at home every night for dinner because I was going to community college and was living at home. Now that I’m off at a real college, things are different. I’m still fairly close, and I’m actually writing this from home, but I don’t sit down to a family dinner every night. I don’t hear about my sisters’ and parents’ day, and they don’t hear about mine.For a lot of people, avoiding family dinner, and the boring conversation with family about the inane little details of their day is a blessing. At some level you know you love them, but it wears on, and you have “better things to do.” But right now, more than ever, my family is all I’ve really got. And, really, I’ve got a family that’s pretty special. We all get along, nobody hates anyone else, we don’t agree on everything but it’s never personal. My siblings are honestly friends, my parents people I trust and can talk to about a lot of things. Going off to college has really impressed on me how rare that really is, and how much I need to cherish it. I’m a damn lucky bastard for how awesome my family is.But right now, I’m a log out of the fire, and I can feel myself going out. I feel like that last cinder of a dying campfire, the one you find the next day…all alone, just barely warm to the touch, no longer glowing. Even when I come home, it’s not the same, I feel the familiar warmth, and I’m happy to be with my family, but it doesn’t feel like home used to. So right now, I’m searching. For what, I’m not sure, but I’m tired of being quite so alone as I’ve been. I’m no party animal, and I do like to be left alone quite a lot, but just having someone in the same room, or house, is comforting. I don’t know quite how to explain it, because just anyone isn’t quite what I’m looking for. This less of a rant than a plea, to whom I don’t know, but it’s cathartic, which was the point for me. Maybe it’s the last flare of fading passion, or the rebirth of a great blaze.Either way, I’m looking…

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A Toast to "Regret"
2007-01-11 00:00

The new year is a time for new things. New resolutions, a clean slate, forgiveness. But it's also about regret. If we don't regret, we don't change. I'm going to tak a moment to talk about regret, and why it's better for you than resolutions. Regret hurts. Hurt motivates. Good feelings don't.You should want to feel good, sure. But I'd rather not feel bad all the time than feel great every once in a while. The goal is higher, but that's the low-bar. If you're above that, you're doing alright. You stay above that low because of regret. Every decision you've ever made is at least partially motivated by not wanting to regret it. We all try and live our lives without regret. Regret sucks, right? And we really don't need it to know what good feels like, do we? I don't think we need regret to compare against. We need regret to hurt. When you hurt, you don't give up. Not right away. Hurt moves you from it's cause. That works for a while, but we can't dwell on it. But we can dwell on regret and get somewhere. Every moment, of every day, if you think about what you regret it could crush your spirit. But when you need something to believe in, even a little bit, you can look at that, your regret, your humanity, your imperfection, and you can believe in yourself. You can believe you can be better than you are now, because for that regret, you have paid a price, and that regret makes you better than you were. Perhaps wiser. Perhaps stronger, slower, quicker, or more humble.If you want to live without regret you want to live a lie.I have regret, and plenty of it. Things unsaid, undone, done in haste, done too late. None of it matters now, in that I can not change it. I can not do it over, do it right or wrong or backwards or forwards ever again. But it motivates me to do now what is better. It's not just mistakes, mistakes don't always hurt. The hurt is what matters, what makes us better. The hurt is our humanity, bared to the world, crying in a rainstorm, screaming in the wind, feverish in an inferno.And so, a toast:To regret. To what might have been, what ought to be, and that which shall never happen. There's a world out there waiting for you to regret to not having made it. Don't let it happen.

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Merry Christmas!
2006-12-25 00:00

Heya all my wonderful reader(s). Merry Christmas and all that. I’m in Florida. So, it’s not a white Christmas, it’s muggy, not all hot and tropical like you’re thinking. Plus, however nice my grandparents are, they’re kinda boring. I’m just glad I can steal some random neighbor’s wifi connection from the back porch. (And no, it’s not really stealing, it’s propagating onto property I’m allowed to be on, and it’s unsecured, so it’s like leaving the sprinkler set up on the edge of your property. You can’t complain because your neighbor got their lawn watered too.)Anywho, this is a very different Christmas thing for me, so I’m (mostly) without internets here to begin with. Without my cell phone I’d be completely cut off, because we’re staying at my other grandparent’s house where there’s no internets to steal. At least I can get my email and all that.

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