Why I Plan to Ditch Ubuntu

Throughout the years I’ve used Slackware, Debian, Red Hat, Debian again, Ubuntu, Linux Mint and Ubuntu again. Except for that brief stint with Linux Mint, Ubuntu has been my distribution of choice since Feisty Fawn but lately I’ve been thinking about ditching it. Canonical has made a number of terrible decisions that have damaged Ubuntu’s value. In this post, I’m going to go over the issues I have with Ubuntu. Continue reading

WTF ECMA?

Ok, so apparently the following is valid JavaScript:

var undefined = "blah";

Yes, you’ve read that right. What I’m doing there is redefining the undefined symbol to “blah”.

I learned from Angus Croll that this is something ECMA added to ECMA 3. Presumably, in earlier versions you could not do something as pants-on-head stupid as this but someone someone thought that adding this capability would be an improvement. How did that work exactly? “Hey! JavaScript is not sucky enough. Let’s allow undefined to be redefined to arbitrary values.”

Here’s how an intelligently designed language handles this kind of nonsense:

$ python
Python 2.7.4 (default, Jul  5 2013, 08:21:57) 
[GCC 4.7.3] on linux2
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> None = "blah"
  File "", line 1
SyntaxError: cannot assign to None
>>>

Angus points out that ECMA 5 disallows assignments to undefined so I guess one of the ECMA luminaries had an epiphany.

Boss Battles

Yahtzee in this Extra Punctuation column argued that boss battles ought to fit in with the rest of the game. That is, a boss battle should not require the gamer to rely on a specific set of skills which have hitherto been considered optional in the game. A good example is that if a game gives you the option of creating a super stealthy character rather than a brute force fighter, the boss battle should not be winnable only by brute force. I agree. In the comments on his column the following opinion was expressed:

Well, some skills are better than others and if you did not select the skills which would allow you to win the boss battle, then it just sucks to be you. It is like real life. If you are trained in nuclear physics, you are unlikely to survive a fight with a ninja.

This is a paraphrase capturing the gist of the original statement. I do not cite because it would open issues I don’t want to deal with. I’m going to explain why this opinion is terrible.

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The Finale of Lost? Meh…

Lost started with a bang but ended with a whimper. After last night’s finale, I have to say that Lost is going to become my go-to example for illustrating how easier it is to sprinkle a story with mystery without having any idea of how the mystery is going to be resolved than it is to write a solid story in which mystery serves the purpose of a well-crafted plot. I am reminded of J. Michael Straczynski (creator of the sci-fi show Babylon 5, among other things) saying that people often came to him with “ideas” but that what matters to an author is not an idea but a story. It seems to me that Lost was a show in which too much emphasis was put on ideas and too little on story. Read on for more thoughts…

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The Definition of “Activist Judge”

So Justice Stevens is about to retire. Already there are calls for the President to make sure that the judge nominated to replace him is not an “activist judge”. I imagine a discussion about the meaning of “activist judge” going like this:

Alice: “The president must not nominate an activist judge!”

Bob: “What do you mean by activist judge?”

Alice: “Well, an activist judge is one who is imposing his values on me by means of judicial decisions.”

Bob: “What if the judge shares your values? Is he then imposing his values on you?”

Alice: “No, because our values coincide.”

Bob: “So only a judge who does not share your values could be an activist judge. In effect, your real position is that the President must not nominate a judge who does not share your values.

All the blah blah about activist judges amounts to “let the President nominate a judge who shares my values.” Using the word “activist” instead of spelling out the real intent (“shares my values”) is just a way to disguise a selfish desire under a cover of pseudo-fairness.

(Oh, and don’t assume that in this discussion one side is inherently Democrat and the other Republican. No matter which roles the parties are playing in the current context, the roles are quite reversible and have in fact been reversed again and again.)

The Drive-by Yoda

There is a certain type of person often encountered in public forums on the Internet but also in “real life.” I call this kind of person, the “drive-by Yoda”.

He is a “Yoda” because like Yoda, he likes to speak words of wisdom. However, his method is to spout wisdom while driving by his target. In a drive-by shooting, a criminal tries to kill a target by shooting bullets out of a moving car. In a similar way, the drive-by Yoda tries to make a point (i.e. hit a target) by spouting wisdom while “driving by” a discussion. I’m talking here about discussions in which all the parameters of a problem have been explained. The drive-by Yoda, because he is driving by at a fast pace, is unable to seize the whole picture. It may be that he is lazy, that he can’t be bothered to really think about the problem, or that he thinks the problem is not worthy of his attention. At any rate, he whizzes by but rather than apply a healthy dose of self-awareness to realize that maybe he does not have the full picture and therefore should remain quiet, he still offers pearls of wisdom. Yet because the drive-by Yoda has not seized the problem, his contribution is faulty. He fills the gaps in his understanding of the problem with wild guesses and offers an answer which is patently inadequate to anybody who paid attention to the parameters of the problem.

It is a bit like in the American Idol auditions at the start of a season. Very many contestants who could not sing a tune to save their lives consider themselves to be great singers. The drive-by Yoda thinks his contribution is worthy of a prize when in fact it ignores the problem being discussed.

My Squirrel Phase

Young naive folks are likely to do things which in retrospect are pretty stupid. I was a child once and I was naive too. So I did stupid things. It gets even stupider when said child is trying to say things in a language he does not master. There was an ethnic insult against Anglophones which was current in Québec when I was a kid: “square head.” (The Urban Dictionary states that the insult is always expressed in French but this is false.) I heard the insult without the benefit of knowing English or getting a full explanation as to what it meant. An untrained ear is treacherous. Soon I started calling the Anglos “squirrels.” You can imagine the surprise when someone addressing me in English would get the evil eye accompanied with the exclamation “DAMNED SQUIRREL!!!”

Auditory stink

As I was riding on the bus recently, another passenger a few rows behind me was listening to music.  He or she had headphones on but the music was loud enough to leak out of the headphones.   When there is leakage, it does not matter whether the music is actually Mozart or Britney Spears: it always sounds like someone rhythmically shaking the utensils drawer in the kitchen while a buddy remodels the bathroom with a jackhammer. And then whatever singing there may be sounds like someone screaming in a pillow.

While listening to the other passenger’s utensil music, it occurred to me that I was experiencing the auditory equivalent of having to smell someone’s stink.  That is, someone oozing jackhammer music all over the place is not unlike someone smelling like rotten garbage.

It is remarkable that the same people who would not dream of going out of the house smelling like garbage would think nothing of stinking up the air with sound. Well, I guess the answer here is that body odor is commonly associated with bad hygiene. This is where social pressure comes in. It does not really matter what the real story is: if someone smells bad, then the automatic presumption is that that person has bad hygiene. If we were to ask, then maybe the story would be that a baby just pooped on that poor individual and that they are rushing home to change their clothes because they do know that everybody in the world will assume they can’t be bothered to wipe their own asses, etc. When it comes to auditory stink, no presumption of bad hygiene exists. So there is no potential for embarrassment here.

Maybe through social engineering there would be a way to make “auditory stink” socially unacceptable. I don’t know where I would start though…