Politics and Whatnot

Just another liberal political blog

Monthly Archives: March 2012

Libertarians to waste energy, raise prices for everyone else during “Asshole Hour”

According to an article on Fox News, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think thank, wants you to join them in being a total dick of an hour from 8:30 to 9:30 on Saturday (tomorrow).  They’re calling it “Fucking Asshole Hour,” or “Human Achievement Hour” in douchebagish.  It’s to oppose an annual event known as “Earth Hour” in which non-assholes turn off their lights and electronics for an hour to make a statement about reducing carbon emissions and fighting global warming.  The CEI hopes to oppose the spirit of the event by being a bunch of total fucking assholes and wasting as much energy as possible.

Why Linux isn’t taking off

I’m a big fan of open-source software – I use Firefox, Apache, Launchy, Autohotkey, and many other such open-source programs that have made my life much easier without costing me anything.  But when it comes to the most prominent example of open-source software – Linux – I just can’t make it happen.  It’s not like Word, where I’m forced to use it because my co-workers can’t figure out how to open a .odt file, it’s that Linux has a lot of really unnecessary complexities that make it difficult for people like me who aren’t computer programmers.  Sometimes I feel like Linux programmers tend to think everyone is a programmer and can do whatever they do just as comfortably.  So if you’re one of those Linux guys who just can’t figure out why the public is still addicted to Windows, here’s a non-programmer’s thoughts on what needs to change:

1. The Console: This is the first big problem new Linux users will run into, and probably the root of many other problems.  People who give out Linux advice treat this like it’s the simplest thing in the world.  “Ok, you just open up a console at type ‘sudo chmod /root/…'” That all sounds fine to you, but the average computer user is thinking “done” at the point.  Any non-programmer feels very uncomfortable looking at a black screen with a blinking cursor staring back at them.  They’re thinking “Can’t I just click on something to make this work?”  This is why Windows really took off – simplicity.  No typing mysterious commands, no committing full file paths to your short-term memory.  I understand that having the console available is great if you’re a programmer and want to do something complex, and one of the drawbacks of Windows (especially recent versions) is how little can be done from the command line.  But Linux goes to the opposite extreme where you can’t even make half the stuff work without opening up a window and pretending you’re back in the MS-DOS era.

2. Chmod: Chmod is the DMV of Linux: it handles who has permission to do things, it always takes longer and is more complicated than you expected it to be, and everyone hates having to go there.  Part of the problem is that it’s often unclear if something needs to be done in chmod or if the problem is somewhere else, so when you try to do something and it still doesn’t work, you don’t know if you’re not doing the right thing in chmod or if you’re supposed to be doing something else.   Then there are those times you do something in chmod, it seems to work, but then you later found out that apparently nothing happened.  I’m increasingly accepting the idea that if I have a problem where the solution involves doing something in chmod, that problem’s not getting solved.

3. Sudo: Sudo is like the magic password – when you’re in a console and trying to do something, and it’s not happening, typing “sudo” first tends to make it happen.  This isn’t really a massive problem in and of itself, but it represents the needless red tape in Linux that new users tend to find frustrating.  Why is this necessary?  Why not just ask for a password if I’m about to do something that needs high security?

I don’t know if these things can be made any easier, but until they are, Linux is going to be simply something I play with on virtual machines rather than a serious competitor to Windows.

Proof that widescreen laptops are stupid

Not too long ago I purchased my first computer in a long time, and was disappointed to see that every new laptop computer on Earth was suddenly a widescreen.  To me, this made no sense at all – if you’re writing something that’s going on a narrow sheet of paper, why would you want a big fat wide screen?  Here’s the only things other than laptop computers that are widescreens: TVs and movie screens.  Here’s what’s never a widescreen: books and notepads.  The reason is that short lines of text are much easier to read than long lines of text, which make it difficult to go back to the start of the next line and find your place again.  Which is a laptop more similar to?  I understand more people are watching movies on computers now, but its really still mostly for reading things and writing things.


Steve Jobs proves my point

Still not convinced?  Well, what if we did a little experiment – let’s say we gave someone some sort of computer-device that could just as easily be used as a widescreen or as a more narrow screen, like a book or notepad.  Then see which way people would prefer to use it.

Of course, we have such a device – it’s called an iPad.  Does anyone use an iPad sideways?  Of course not.   Actually, the mere fact that you know what I’m talking about when I says “use an iPad sideways” goes to show that we all just assume that a narrow screen is better.  It’s inituitive.  The only reason people ever got into widescreen computers was because of widescreen TVs, and the assumption that widescreen=better.  But who knows, maybe with the iPad’s popularity, we’ll be seeing narrow-screen TVs soon instead.

Kim Dotcom, Megaupload owner, gives interview under house arrest

There’s a great interview here by Kim Dotcom, the founder of Megaupload who was arrested by New Zealand at the order of FBI goons recently.

It’s funny to hear him actually speak in eloquent English, given the American media’s (most of which is owned by prominent members of the same organizations that have been so eagerly pushing for oppressive anti-piracy measures) attempt to portray him as a “flamboyant” weirdo outlaw type.  Of course, the fact that his name is reminiscent of “Kim Jong-Il” probably doesn’t help either.

And the fact is, its hard to see why the reaction was so severe against Megaupload.  When it was operational, I always considered Megaupload to be a place to get both legitimate and illegitimate files.  I also noticed that Megaupload not infrequently took files down for copyright infringement.  The only movies you could get on Megavideo were old movies that you probably would have some trouble finding a legitimate copy of.  I can’t recall finding a recent movie on any Mega-whatever service.

And he’s also correct that there are many other services that do the same thing – Mediafire, Rapidshare, and Filesonic were all virtually synonymous with Megaupload at the time the arrest occurred, but they are not in trouble.  Why?

I think the reason has to be Kim Dotcom himself.  He’s not a sympathetic guy – he’s ostentatious, he has a strange self-chosen name, and he lives in a far away land that, while not actually a good place to hide out, might appear that way to idiots.  It’s easy to create the perception that he got rich off piracy and knew he was doing something illegal, although that perception would be absolutely false.

The big point he makes, which is absolutely valid, is that this should be happening in the civil courts.  This sort of thing has NEVER been a criminal issue before.  It is so very rare for someone to be arrested for running a business that doesn’t involve killing people.  I can’t remember any other case of someone being arrested for running a website or for media piracy of any sort.

Now, to acknowledge the elephant in the room, Megaupload certainly knew there were some who were using its services for barely illegal activity.  But at the end of the day, the #1 complaint against Megaupload was that it’s take-down system was insufficient because it only removed the specific file requested to be taken down rather than each copy of the same.  The fact that that sort of thing gets you arrested, considered a flight risk, and prohibited from using the internet while you await a trial on flimsy charges shows just how much power the largest corporations have gained over American and international governments.

The Catholic Church is against pulling out. No joke.

One of the things that I’ve found surprising in this whole birth control-Catholic Church debate thing is learning just how ridiculously backward the Catholic Church’s views on birth control are.  I mean, before this whole thing happened, I just thought they opposed abortion.  As it turns out, they’re also against birth control – not just pills, ALL BIRTH CONTROL. So they’re against condoms too, meaning that protection from disease is limited to abstinence and limiting your choices to virgins.

And according to this fascinating Catholic sex FAQ section, it is a sin to even pull out.  Apparently, even this famously unreliable attempt to avoid pregnancy is considered “birth control” by the church, and is forbidden.  No word yet on how the church feels about thinking “don’t get pregnant” over and over again while having sex.


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