Thursday, May 04, 2006

The chicken or the feather?

Maybe it's a sign of the times, Patriotic Act and DMCA and the overall sorry state of liberties around the world, but it seems that more and more web-writers tend to confuse cause with result these days.

Case in question,, a somewhat seriously-browed online magazine that asks "Will Cell Phones be Responsible for the Next Internet Worm?".
Now, last time I checked, malicious programmers (aka 'crackers') were responsible for creating those Internet worms, while non-informed users were "responsible" for spreading them. Not the hardware.

The worse example of this is something I mentioned before, which is the new and exciting "natural language" syntax of Inform 7, which goes a long way to make a point most programmers already know, which is basically that while the user-side should be as natural and simple as possible, the programmer side shouldn't.
Using a "natural-language" syntax usually means that the programmer will have to use a lot more text to define what he would've been able to do previously with a very short text.
I realise that game creators don't easily understand programming-language like syntax, but, then again, they're not the ones that need it. It's not a Saturday afternoon D&D session, and the medium here is the computer. The writer should devote the most of his work to the actual descriptions (you know, those that the player will actually read) and not write paragraphs over paragraphs of description for the computer, which doesn't need more than a clear indication of what goes where.
The argument here is usually "I don't need to learn to program to create an Interactive Fiction game". That may be true, but if you really want your game to be more than a "Choose Your Own Adventure" and really be INTERACTIVE, then you will need to use robust and dynamic tools, which, from the computer point of view, isn't natural-language.

It's deeper than that, it seems, this page shows a mind map of common GNU/Linux libraries in a way that the writer claims to be "human readable". In reality, if this diagram is "human readable", I might be in need of a biological check.
But that's besides the point. Why do I need a "human readable" diagram anyway? If someone's going to become a GNU/Linux developer, that someone is (or will need to be) well versed in the library dependency structure. Anyone else just doesn't need it.
Just to push forth that argument, take this clown who claims "Freedom to use" is irrelevant if the software demands a high degree of technical know-how. I'm not going to delve too far into his argument, as the writer obviously doesn't understand the concept of free (as in Willy) software, and seems to confuse the Open Source ideas with the Free Software ones, while peppering it all with a nice dosage of demagogy.
Basically, free software doesn't mean "everyone should be able to use it". It means that if you want to use it, you will have the means to use it freely, and unrestrictedly. Free software doesn't mean "freedom from complexity". In fact, one of RMS' constant mantras is that one should ALWAYS choose the free solution DESPITE the limitations that it poses. You want to play your mp3 collection while reading a site rendered in Flash? You can't. Those are proprietary formats.
In my view, this whole argument is as empty as claiming that the "everyone should be able to view and modify the source code" isn't a real freedom since only programmers are able to understand and modify source code. And only in languages they know.

We live in a technological world. But we are not technological people, so sometimes ideas like "ease of use" and "user friendliness" and "better productivity" and "Interface design" get mingled and mixed up. Other times we get reviews that claim that Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 "has no soul".
There isn't really any harm in these things, at least not in the way I presented them. The real harm comes when companies start market their latest lock-up technology as "protecting the customer", and when laws that throw civil rights out of the window claim to be a "Patriotic act" (which reminds me of that Catch-22 scene where people had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance just to enter mess hall).
So once in a while, someone need to stop and remind himself that it's not the boxes that brings the planes, it's the war.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Kitchen maker use stupid defence line, rescued by judge

The register registers the following item:
A Manchester kitchen company "Moben" was accused of misleading their consumers by placing an umlaut over the 'o', thus giving the impression that they are a German company, which is grasped by British consumers as a seal of quality.

Moben's defense was, and I quote, "the dots are an artistic device and that any resemblance with an umlaut is coincidental".

However, instead of throwing them out of court and holding them in contempt, the court decided that "using a German-sounding name did not imply that Moben or its products were German" and that "umlauts are used in countries other than Germany ... and that viewers would recognise that a company's trademark would not necessarily relate directly to the origin of that company or its products". Nice, but did you notice that the decision had absolutely no reference to Moben's actual claims? Wonders will never cease.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

First lesson of the day

After a 60% post vanished when Firefox just decided to call it a day and happily crashed: Write posts in Vi before entering them to the online interface.
I get the html syntax-highlighted that way too.

Seven lucky seven

As an avid user of The Editor, it's a no-brainer that I'm anxiously expecting the release of Vim v.7. To make my salivate even further, are offering a review of the 7.0f beta, running on Ubuntu 5.10, would you believe it :)

Another of the Great Ones has been awoken from it's slumber, as Graham Nelson releases (after 10 years!) the next release of Inform, aka inform 7. Inform is a language for writing Interactive Fiction, fully compatible with Infocom's Z engine, which makes Inform interpreters able to play Infocom games as well as more contemporary ones. Inform 7 is a complete IDE package (including an editor as well as an interpreter), with a 'correct while you test' feature, as well as many other niceties.
The language itself has shifted from the more programming-language-like syntax into the land of cargo cult "natural English-language" syntax.
For more information, Brass Lantern offers a nice introduction.

While on the matter of updates, I've just discovered that updating both my desktop and laptop to the latest Ubuntu Beta 2, has broken GTK-VIM and TinyCOBOL on my laptop (I was able to resurrect TinyCOBOL by downgrading libncurses5), and GTK-LyX on both the laptop and the desktop. I hope that eventually this will be fixed in one way or the other, but it's not a big issue, as GTK-LyX was only introduced with the 1.4.X version, and up until that point I was using the QT flavour (the GTK version is also less featured, I needed to set most of the preferences using the QT one). To those wondering what the hell I'm talking about, a quick "first look" at LyX is available at the LinuxCult.

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