One worry less

This year, we’ve got elections in the Netherlands. Which means, I have to choose where my vote goes. And that can be a trifle difficult.

After fifteen years in the free software world, I’m a certified leftie. I’m certainly not going to vote for the conservative party (CDA, formally Christian, been moving into Tea Party territory for a couple of years now), I’m not going to vote for the Liberal Party (VVD) — that’s only the right party for someone who has got more than half a million in the bank. Let’s not even begin to talk about the Dutch Fascist Movement (PVV). The left-liberals (D66) are a bit too much anti-religion, and, shockingly, being a sub-deacon in the local Orthodox Church, I don’t feel at home there. That leaves, more or less, the Socialist Party, the Labour Party and the United Christian party. The Socialist Party has never impressed me with their policies. That leaves two…

Yeah, you know, I’m a Christian. If someone’s got a problem with that, that’s their problem. I’m also a socialist. If someone’s got a problem with that, that’s their problem. If someone thinks I’m an ignorant idiot because of either, their problem.

But today, the Labour Party minister for international cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, has announced an effort to create a fund to counter Trump’s so-called “global gag rule”. That means that any United States-funded organization which so much as cooperates with any organization involved in so-called “family planning” will lose its funding. She is working to restore the funding.

News headlines make this all about abortion… Which is in any case not something anyone with testicles should concern themselves with. But it isn’t that, and just talking about abortion makes it narrow and easy to attack. As did our local United Christians party, which will never again receive my vote. It’s also about education, it’s also about contraceptives, it’s about helping those Nepali teenage girls who are locked in a cow shed because they’re menstruating. It’s about helping those girls who get raped by their family get back to school.

It’s about making the world a better and safer and healthier place for the girls and women who cannot defend themselves.

And I don’t have to worry about my vote anymore. That’s settled.

Coincidence? Unlikely

The Stichting Brein — the Dutch equivalent of the RIAA, or so it seems — has lost a court case a few days ago. Seems that internet providers are not obliged to provide information about supposedly copyright infringing customers. At least, not under all circumstances.

So, today’s news is that the Dutch police and secret service are going to create and maintain¬† a database for matching IP addresses to persons. Of course, this is for the loftiest of goals: we’re combating child pornography and terrorism here!

But my bet is that this just means that next time Brein wants to sue a Kazaa user, they can skip the providers and go to the secret service. And that this will happen a lot more often than that the database will be used to catch terrorists. And that catching so-called “pirates” (you’re not a pirate unless you kill, maim and rob, I feel) was the actual reason for creating this database.

For a non-governmental organization, Brein (and the BSA) do have an awful lot of powers. And for a free country, we’re under an awful lot of surveillance.

Were the British WWI Generals Stupid or Extremely Stupid?

The answer is, of course, extremely stupid. And that’s not a left-wing extremist position, as a certain “Michael Gove” claims, according to a BBC article I just read.

And to say:

“Tony Robinson is wrong. Michael wasn’t attacking teachers, he was attacking the myths perpetuated in Blackadder and elsewhere,” said the spokesman.

“Michael thinks it is important not to denigrate the patriotism, honour and courage demonstrated by ordinary British soldiers in the First World War.”

is a filthy bit of twisted rhethoric indeed. Nobody attacked the soldiers did they? But the officers.

The image of clean-shaven, cowardly officers in nice chateaus doing their utmost to not get near the front-line that Gowe attacks is not a myth. It’s the truth. Blackadder was pretty accurate there, especially for a comedy series.

It’s a pretty well-known fact that it wasn’t the ordinary British soldiers who were mind-bogglingly stupid. It was the officer corps. The generals. The generals who never, ever even visited the front-line, who stayed in their comfortable chateaus poring over increasingly irrelevant maps.

Not that Gove or Murrison or Paxman will do it, of course, but they should read On The Psychology Of Military Incompetence (Pimlico) by Norman Dixon. The author definitely is not left-wing (unlike me) and did serve in the British Army. And he explains in a very clear and very to the point how the British generals in WWI were stupid, and why — and also how the army rewards exactly that kind of stupidity. And also that the British army wasn’t the only place where stupidity of this kind reigned — it was rife everywhere.

This is not an image that needs to be “balanced”. It needs to emphasisized and amplified and remembered. Because the system that rewards these monumentally moronic and mentally defectives with the power to lead armies are still in place, and time and again, from Singapore to Sebrenica, they have managed to get hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands killed. Every officer ought to read Dixon. And every politician.

Software Freedom Day 2009

Yesterday, Irina, Jos van den Oever and I went to the Software Freedom Day in Amsterdam. I think there were about fifty to sixty attendees, and a nicely balanced schedule of talks in two tracks. Very interesting was the presentation about Soleus: community driven virtual private servers.

We did enjoy ourselves a lot, but since it has been ages since Irina and I have been in Amsterdam without the kids, we left around four o’clock to go on a book buying spree the like of which we haven’t committed for over four years. And then we rounded off with an excellent Indonesian dinner for two.

And our kids are wonderful: when we came home they had done all the dishwashing for us:-)

Just a few days

And then I’ll be able go into a restaurant again and enjoy my meal. Or go to the pub for a beer, without first flying out to hospitable Montreal, where I for the first time discovered how much fun a smoke-free pub could be.¬† Dutch restaurants and cafes will be smoke-free from July 1st. Of course, restaurant and cafe owners are complaining that they “used to be hospitable, but now they have to tell guests they cannot do something”. I‘ve never found them hospitable.

Every time I had to eat out the past few years — for work, for instance, or at a KOffice hack sprint I had to leave early or go home really sick. Whenever we had something to celebrate with the family, we’d go as early as possible to a restaurant, so we could have finished our dinner before the smoking customers started arriving. Sometimes that wouldn’t work out, and I’d be sick again.

Bubble Thoughts

Through Mark Rosenfelder’s Zompist website, which I’ve been reading since my conlang days, I came across Eric Janszen’s article The Next Bubble: Priming the markets for tomorrow’s big crash. Well worth a read — and now I am pretty certain that, no, there won’t be a stop to burning food as fuel, no matter how many scarce food becomes. No way anyone can fight the might
of $…

Which reminds me of another article I’ve read but lost the URL of that explained how the corn lobby in the USA was ultimately responsible for the Volstead act (because corn was too bulky to move, it was converted into something smaller and more valuable, namely Bourbon, which caused massive alcoholism, which caused the anti-alcohol campaigns because¬† factories needed sober people to work the machines, etc.), and later the corn-syrup-in-everything phenomenon. I really should have saved that URL.

Of course, if the corn that used to be converted into corn syrup now gets converted into fuel, maybe ubiquitous obesity will be a thing of the past very soon… But so many other foodstuffs get caught up in the food-for-fuel bubble, too.

On being part of a publicity machine

I doubt anyone but myself has noticed, but I’ve been blogging less and less lately. Partly because I’ve been really busy, but also because everytime I was writing an entry for Fading Memories I was thinking of whether it would help or detract from the KDE publicity machine that Planet KDE has become.

I have always maintained that since I never asked for syndication on any planet, I didn’t care whether what I wrote fit in or not. If I blog about Easter, and it gets syndicated and the Gnome games maintainer complains in the comments section about me bringing religion in the public realm, I couldn’t care less. After all, he has blogged about his religion and got his blog syndicated on Planet Gnome, too.

But on the topic of KDE, KOffice I feel the curious urge to constrain myself and exercise restraint unless I’ve got another gosh-wow-bang-zip innovation to report.

And that may well be counter-productive: when I started working on Krita in 2003 nothing worked and the project was nearly dead. A powerful stimulant. Bart Coppens recently said on IRC how the fact that even the line tool was broken gave him the courage to try and hack on Krita. Adrian Page got sucked into hacking on Krita because I was too dim-witted to make free-hand painting work.

Admitting that there are problems, that things are broken and need fixing can be a powerful inducement for people to start helping out. When Bart Coppens told the audience at Fosdem that it seems likely that only a tiny fraction of the KOffice applications might make it for 2.0 release of KOffice, we noticed quite a few people dropping by on irc and asking us what they could do to help.

So: people, there is plenty left to fix in KOffice. There are plenty of interesting but not too hard things that you can pick up. There are quite a few quite patient people around on the mailing lists and on irc who are prepared to spend an evening helping you get started. And — we’re still committed to making something that’s fun to work on, fun to with and that will really boost your capabilities as a coder.

Backward backwater

Kant, or some other famous German philosopher, or maybe it was Voltaire (or all of them) has famously said that everything happens fifty years late in the Netherlands, making our little delta a safe haven during the Second Coming.

And you know what? He (or they) was (or were) right: Firefox share up over 20% in Europe, mostly at expense of IE. In the Netherlands, uptake of Firefox is lowest of all Europe, at a measly 14.7%.

For shame! (And it’s not because we’re all using Konqueror.) For instance, i cannot get at my salary specification without IE — the webapp only works with IE.

A pattern is emerging

And so are the three stooges. I have been wondering what Microsoft would try after having failed buying a fast-track standardization of OfficeOpen XML (and I’ve been wondering why nobody has sued Microsoft for break of trademark for that name). It’s getting clearer: in the past few days all over the it-related web stories have started sprouting that spread the meme that ODF supporters are leaving the sinking ship, that ODF isn’t a good enough standard for all document needs now and in the future and that since we’ll need to interoperate with OOXML anyway, why not have it standardized. All backed up by statements from some ODF Foundation spokesperson. But while ODF Foundation has a very grand sounding name, it’s just two or three crackpots who failed to make money out of ODF and are now trying to make money out of something else.

But even though I’m not a conspiracy nut, I do think I’m detecting a pattern here. If you cannot convince people your standard is good enough, try to convince them other standard sucks, too. And for anyone wondering what exactly is wrong with OOXML (apart from the problem that even Microsoft doesn’t implement it in its own office applications), please look at the Eooxml Objections Clearinghouse.

A very weird feeling…

As long as I’ve had the right to vote, I’ve always been able to say “I didn’t vote for these idiots” whenever a cabinet minister did something silly or evil. Being a natural born conservative about social issues — I want everything to stay the way it was in the seventies — for the first ten years of my life as a voter I voted Green Left. Then, about nine years ago when I got fed-up with some of Green Left’s sillier shibboleths I switched allegiance to a party with about as little chance of ever getting into the cabinet. Or so I thought.

Well, the easy times are over. No longer for me the old cop-out “who voted for these idiots? Not me!”