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Mar. 1st, 2007


The folly of free software

I've been meaning to blog about this for some time now, but I've found I rarely have the time to blog. Fortunately, waking up at 5am has left me with plenty of time this morning.

I'm a computer admin and programmer by trade, and I'm really intolerant of software that's not up to scratch, be it badly-written or non-intuitive or whatever. I hate it. I work with Windows, Linux, Solaris and Mac OS and none of them are perfect. I used to be a Mac evangelist, these days I still use a Mac in preference to anything else, but it's very much the "lesser of evils"

Linux has so much potential, but alas is riddled with stupid politics and ideology. I started using Linux about 7 years ago. RedHat 6.1 was the distro of the day and the idea of a free OS for your PC was still pretty novel to many people. Sure it wasn't perfect, you had to spec your system to be compatible with linux, since most hardware didn't work. Configuration was still very much text-file editing, and the available software was primitive, but it certainly was a breath of fresh air.

Fast forward seven years and Linux has come a very long way. Ubuntu, Gnome and OpenOffice 2 showcase much that is good about Linux, but all the time I keep seeing stupid decisions and arrogant software developers.

First off, Ubuntu have decided to change their default shell (/bin/sh) to be dash instead of bash. In principle, this should work, because both shells are compatible with the specification. However, the specification was changed, and bash is no longer compatible. The problem is that just about every piece of software that uses this is dependent on bash and the old standard.

By changing to dash, Ubuntu have decided that being compliant with the standard is more important that having software work! [1] Sure, there are fixes, but I can guarantee that we'll never be in a situation where all the software in the world that relies on the old standard is repaired. Microsoft would never do this. DOS is now obsolete, but most of the patches for Windows 2000 were to increase compatibility with DOS or Win9x games. Windows XP has a whole host of compatibility stuff to run games that use old standards, and Apple made sure that new Intel-based Macs can run PowerPC code and Classic MacOS applications.

Imagine if your web browser just gave you an error message when you looked at a site that didn't meet the standard. You'd dump it in favour of one which did the best it can. Why don't the Ubuntu folks see it this way?

Thn there's the issue of Gnome and the "Dragging a disk to the trash" feature. You get a warning message that this doesn't do anything, and that if you want to eject a disk, you need to do something else. Apparently this is because "Dragging to the trash is not an intuitive synonym for eject" [2] -- Yes, I agree, it's not intuitive, but that's not the issue here. If you look at it the other way, what's the intuitive thing to happen when you drag a disk to the trash? Erase it maybe, or possibly eject it. There's no reason why they can't have more than one eject mechanism. Worst of all, of course, is giving you a dialog box that says "I know what you were trying to do, but I'm not going to let you do it." -- That's just plain offensive.

These may just be small fish in the bigger picture, but it's more the ethos and mentality that drives these decisions that I object to. I believe that anyone who produces software should be more responsible to their end users and the community at large. Arrogant remarks like "I wrote this for free, you should be grateful" or "It's free software, you have a compiler, fix it yourself" hold absolutely no weight with me at all. Then there's the intolerance to commercial software. I agree with Richard Stallman that it'd be nice to have a world of entirely free software, but I've got things to get done and don't have time to refuse software on principal.

[1] https://launchpad.net/bugs/61463
[2] http://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=154283

Nov. 27th, 2006


Riding the bus

So it's 17h24 on a Sunday Evening, and I'm waiting at the Civic Centre waiting for the Northbound U1 to take me home. Yes, I know... Public Transport is a popular target for rants, but this is a bit different. To be fair to the Unilink service we have in Southampton, they have new buses, which are clean and frequent (although still suffer from overcrowding at peak times) Thing is, it's not the bus service that bothers me, it's the incompetence of the morons who are using it.

How many times have I stood on a bus and heard the driver shout "Can you please move towards the back of the bus" and nobody moves anywhere. These days, I push my way down the bus saying "Excuse me" at no-one in particular as I go. Why can't people follow instructions? One of these days it'll be you stood on the step to the bus, when the driver says "No, we're full" because people won't fill the space at the back of the bus.

Then there's what the chemists refer to as "Hund's rule of maximum multiplicity" -- for those who don't know, this relates to electrons orbiting the nucleus of an atom. Put simply, electron orbits are divided into sub-orbits, which take up to two electrons. Hund's rule states that sa you increase the number of electrons, they'll take an orbit to themself rather than share one. Sound familiar? Ever got on the bus with a friend, only to discover that you can't sit together because every pair of seats has one person there? And they're always sitting by the aisle too. In this situation, I've taken to asking people to move up, or even asking "Would you mind if my friend and I sit together? There are other seats available" -- If anyone tells you that a seat has been taken, you should say "That's OK, I'll move when they get here"

Of course, the single most offensive thing is the "I'd rather stand than sit next to someone else." This is where the centrepiece for my rant comes from. I'm standing at the front of the U1, crushed in amongst the other folk, watching as the bus driver says "Sorry, we're full now" to the person right behind me in the queue. The bus departs and essentially runs a one-in-one-out policy at every subsequent stop, leaving people out in the cold. Eventually we reach my stop and I disembark, and as the bus pulls away, I see three empty seats at the back of the bus. Stupid, Stupid people!

So for this reason, I'm proposing bus feng-shui -- the process of rearranging the other passengers so that you can get seated. The basic rules are as follows:

  • Don't be shy or afraid, make your way through the bus to seating, ask people to move up, they're unlikely to say no.

  • Remember that it's OK to shove people out of the way, as long as you keep saying "Excuse me" as you go

  • Aim for the back of the bus, even if there isn't any seating available, it'll be less claustrophobic, and if someone gets off, you'll have first dibs on their seat.

  • Standing on the top deck is forbidden, so if you see someone descending the stairs to disembark, it means there's a free seat on top. If you're near the stairs, then go for it!

  • If you are on top deck and are disembarking, and you have to make your way through throngs of people between you and the door, remember to point out that there are however many unoccupied seats upstairs, some of them will be smart enough to get a seat, and make more space for you to get out.

Bon voyage!

Nov. 1st, 2006



Let's get one thing straight, I hate blogs. The Internet is full of ineducated morons who think that because they've got a blog, they're suddenly an authority on all aspects of human life. Blogs are for arrogant people who think their opinions are so important, that the world needs to listen to them.

This situation is only aggravated by the proliference on message boards, attached to just about every online news site. When was the last time you looked at the letters page of a newspaper and found all the letters were just two lines of completely unpunctuated text with no structure and appalling spelling? And even these traditional forms of media are getting worse... "Text us your views now" -- I'd love to know how one can put across a coherent viewpoint on a current issue in 160 characters or less.

So, why do I have a blog then? Well, to be honest, I'm arrogant enough to think my opinions are important. Not to everyone in the world, but maybe some people are interested in what I've got to say. Unlike those news site comment boards, I endeavour to keep my posts grammatically correct (And I know I'm not perfect, but I like to think my posts are readable), and if you don't like what I've got to say, you don't have to stick around and read it.

So, welcome to my blog, I expect it will be full of rants about computing, and probably the world at large. I'm sure my political views will shine through within a few postings, and I reckon some of it will be uninformed or inaccurate, or just plain waffle. Anyway, thanks for tuning in and please enjoy the show!

March 2007



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