Just got back from a day trip. Up at 4, head over to Logan, fly BOS-BWI on an American Eagle RJ, get rental car, drive to office park near DC for meeting. Then drive 90 miles up I-95 to Wilmington for another meeting. Drive from Wilmington to PHL, make good time, successfully switch to an earlier flight, eat, fly PHL-BOS on a US Air A320, and home by 10.

Driving up I-95 between DC and Philadelphia, I saw at least 25-30 state troopers from three different states, busy pulling people over. What’s going on? If I saw that many Massachusetts State Police cruisers in one day, it would be because I’d driven past a police funeral…

All monocultures are dangerous

In Internetnews.com, Dan Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) is quoted as saying: “Open source is not about having five different operating systems, it’s about everyone working together to create one rock-solid operating system.”

Wrong. The last “one rock solid operating system” was OS/360. Dan is suffering from a grievous lack of imagination. This is like Pamela at Groklaw, saying “The FOSS community needs to face the world with a united face”, and earlier “when [Sun] say ‘the Open Source community’… they don’t mean Linux. When I say ‘Open Source community,’ I do.”

Open source is about collaboration. It’s about groups (plural) coming together to work on stuff, and sharing the results. It’s not a cult, not a political movement, not a utopian (i.e. unrealistic) dream. Above all, it cannot be about monoculture: one technology, one group with one leader, one license, one goal. All monocultures are dangerous: Microsoft Windows, Monsanto’s ‘Terminator’ seeds, and influenza vaccine – even Linux if “true believers” have their way. I want more OSS operating systems, not fewer. I wish Palm would release BeOS to the world. (Yes, I know about OpenBeOS. I want the original.) I wish HP would post the full source of VMS for all to use. Competition is good. It’s good for engineering. It’s good for customers.

(For better coverage of these issues, check out Simon’s blog.)

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

El Reg just reported a major cross-platform flaw in 30 of Symantec’s security products, including Norton AntiVirus 2004, corporate anti-virus apps and Brightmail spam filters. Of course the root cause is a system architecture which is so broken that it requires the use of antivirus software that is so tightly integrated that it becomes a potential source of compromise.

I’ve always thought that I understood the history – or at least the mythology – of how this came about. Cutler and crew knew (from their VMS days) how to make NT secure, but chip support, backward compatibility and performance “optimizations” did them in. They could have used Win31/DOS VMs to cope with the legacy crud, but it wouldn’t have been fast enough. We’re all living with the results today (even if we don’t run Windows.)

I wonder how close this mythology is to reality….

Remedial English 101

This seems to be an accurate transcript of Bush’s recent town-hall meeting in Florida where he went to sell his “fix” for the nonexistent Social Security crisis. Please read it carefully. Don’t just glance at it, roll your eyes, and go on to the next blog. If you pay taxes in the US, this guy works for you:

WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: I don’t really understand. How is it the new [Social Security] plan is going to fix that problem?

BUSH: Because the — all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculated, for example, is on the table. Whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There’s a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those — changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be — or closer delivered to what has been promised. Does that make any sense to you? It’s kind of muddled. Look, there’s a series of things that cause the — like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate — the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those — if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.

— President G. W. Bush, Tampa, Florida, Feb. 4, 2005

More on cellphones

As I noted earlier, I replaced my old Nokia 3650 with a Motorola V551. I thought hoped that the inability to sync with my Mac via Bluetooth wouldn’t be a big deal. I was wrong. I tried syncing using a friend’s USB cable, and it was a hit-and-miss affair. Furthermore I couldn’t transfer photos, video clips or data between the two. I guess Motorola and Cingular want to force me to use billable air time and bandwidth to move stuff around.

The other thing I realized is that I’ve gone off flip phones. Over the years I’ve had both fixed and flip units, and I guess I forgot how inconvenient it can be to flip open a phone one-handed. If I was planning to use my headset all the time, a flip might be OK, but I’m not. Oh, well. Cingular has a 30 day no-questions return policy, so I’ll probably trade the V551 in for a Treo 650 some time in the next few days.

100% Hume

Thought for the day:

“Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.”

David Hume, 1739


It feels as if I’ve been blogging less recently; one of my friends/readers in England said that “I can fully understand why your blog is no longer a mainly daily occurrence.” (He also recommended that I go out and get a copy of the new CD by Spock’s Beard, Octane. I did try, Paul, but Tower didn’t have it. Neither does iTunes. sigh…)
In any case, there are three things that have slowed my blogging. First is the Philosopy of Mind course I’m taking at Tufts. I’ve already talked about that; suffice it to say that I’m having a blast, and spending a lot of time reading. I guess I could post book reviews here, but then people would know how much dosh I’ve forked over to Amazon.com.
The second thing is seasonal. Maybe it was the flu that clobbered me at the beginning of January, but this winter has really been a physically draining experience. One big snowstorm after another… and we have another one heading our way on Thursday. Enough – I’m ready for spring, stupid rodents notwithstanding. *
Acer Ferrari pictureThe third thing that is taking up my time is my new laptop, an Acer Ferrari 3400. It’s got an AMD Athlon 64 CPU, so that it can run Sun’s new OS, Solaris 10 in 64-bit mode. It’s a great way to get hands-on experience with the features of Solaris 10, expecially Dtrace and Zones Containers, but right now I’m spending most of my time on installation and configuration issues. I’d originally planned to set up a triple-boot configuration, with Solaris, JDS/Linux, and Windows XP, but I soon realized that (1) I was going to need plenty of disk space for the stuff I wanted to do, and (2) I didn’t really need any OS other than Solaris. So I’ve been (re) learning more about disk partitioning than I ever wanted to know…
Regular readers will know that I’m a hard-core Mac user, and that’s not changing in the foreseeable future. I believe in using the right tool for the right job, and at this point my little 12″ PowerBook is the right tool for much of what I do. There’s a really smart bunch of people in Sun (including a great team in Beijing) working to prove me wrong, and I’m backing them 110%. And I’ll stay on the bleeding edge with them, and do as much as I can to test, test, test.

* In case you haven’t seen it, this joke is making the rounds:
“Today is Groundhog Day and the State of the Union Address. As Air America Radio pointed out, it is an ironic juxtaposition: one involves a meaningless ritual in which we look to a creature of little intelligence for prognostication and the other involves a groundhog.”

If you want to be an historian…

In Salon today, Charles Taylor reviews Deborah Lipstadt’s new book History on Trial, her account of the libel case brought against her by the Holocaust denier and Nazi sympathizer David Irving. Taylor is particularly interested in the way that some historians continued to support Irving even after his fraud and mendacity had been laid bare for all to see. Money quote:

What seems to bother Irving’s defenders is the very notion of professional and intellectual accountability. Running into Lipstadt after the trial, [British historian, Donald Cameron Watt] said to her, ‘None of us could have withstood that kind of scrutiny.’ In a column for the Evening Standard, he said, ‘Show me one historian who has not broken out into a cold sweat at the thought of undergoing similar treatment.’ What Lipstadt was perhaps too polite to say to Watt was that any historian who wishes to be worthy of the title had damn well better be able to withstand that kind of scrutiny.


There’s science: a method of learning about the physical universe by applying the principles of the scientific method, which includes making empirical observations, proposing hypotheses to explain those observations, and testing those hypotheses in valid and reliable ways; also refers to the organized body of knowledge that results from scientific study.

And then there’s Kansas, as reported in the Guardian today: But the largest applause of the evening was reserved for a silver-haired gentleman in a navy blue blazer. “I have a question: if man comes from monkeys, why are there still monkeys? Why do you waste time teaching something in science class that is not scientific?” he thundered.

(Woodrow Wilson had it right, a mere 83 years ago: “…of course, like every other man of intelligence and education, I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should still be raised.)