Time to Part with My Illusions

I removed the Amarok button on the bottom of Vault today. It was long past time but I didn’t really want to say good-bye to what used to be the greatest media player on any platform ever. The unmitigated evil that is the new version of Amarok only goes to reinforce Joel Spolsky’s rule number 1 from Things You Should Never Do.  Unfortunately this is an all-to-common problem in the world of free software; where the needs of users are functionally secondary to the desires of developers (not ALWAYS, but often enough.)

By way of comparison take a look at the software I am using to replace Amarok.  Clementine is nothing more than a port of Amarok to Qt 4 (what Amarok should have done.)  Yes, it looses some functionality from its predecessor but it is not nearly the total nightmare that is Amarok 2.x… and it is gorgeous!

Undoubtedly, Clementine will continue to make improvements to their player and someday soon I suspect it will start to exceed the functionality of its progenitor; all the while Amarok will continue to make “usability” improvements to an interface that was formally famed for its usability.  I know that it is simply nostalgia but it seems a sad fate for software that was once unquestionably, to anyone who had been lucky enough to use it, the king the music player world.

The last government program that worked

Of course the federal government cannot force individuals to actually buy something they don’t want, but it is just as much an abomination that the court didn’t strike down the power of the federal government to regulate healthcare. Anyone who is ignorant enough to bastardize the Interstate Commerce Clause to assume such should really check their history:

It is very certain that [the commerce clause] grew out of the abuse of the power by the importing States in taxing the non-importing, and was intended as a negative and preventive provision against injustice among the States themselves, rather than as a power to be used for the positive purposes of the General Government.
–James Madison

The Hardest thing in the World to Understand.

Just to be clear, when it comes to the government “giving” millionaires $750 billion for a middle class tax cut; the US government isn’t giving anything to anyone. They are simply not TAKING $750 billion from people who make millions a year. We can rationally argue the cost/benefits of such action but government only gives away what it has taken, by force, from other people.

In free societies, States do not have rights; people have rights. States (i.e. governments) have powers that are delegated to them by people.

I believe that government has the power to tax people and I even think taxing people is a necessity in any successful government. But people who confuse a right and a power are doing themselves an intellectual dishonesty by choosing to remain woefully ignorant about the means and methods of obtaining that freedom. Government is ONLY capable of taking liberty; it cannot give it.

Again, I believe that it IS necessary to take some freedoms to have a organized society but do not foolishly convince yourself that you have not surrendered something; even if in the act of surrender you give yourself more stability or opportunity.

Facebook Post worth Posting

My friend James Gladwell just posted this on his wall, and I just had to repost it:

Lindsey Lohan who? I can’t believe the news coverage is been given to a spoiled20-something yr old! Here are a few 20 year-olds worth knowing about: Justin Allen 23, Brett Linley 29, Matt Weikert 29, Justus Bartett 27, Dave Santos 21, Chase Stanley 21, Jesse Reed 26, Matthew King 23, Christopher Goeke 23 & Sheldon Tate 27. These 20-so…methings gave their lives for you this week.

Some of My Favorite Rules

The website 1001 rules for my unborn son got me thinking about some of the rules I have for my life. Thought I would put down my own and list some of my favorite from 1001.

  • –There is always time for a lemonade stand.
  • –Perfect at least one recipe, steak doesn’t count.
  • –Obstacles are ways of demonstrating our dedication.
  • –Don’t complain, just work harder.
  • –Take the new guy out to lunch.
  • –Never swing at the first pitch.
  • –Carry a pocket knife.
  • –Learn from criticism.
  • –X never, ever, ever makes the spot.
  • #394: Try to lose the adverbs. Seriously.
  • # 325: When excusing yourself from the table, you need not give a reason.
  • # 270: Stand up to bullies. You’ll only have to do it once.
  • # 238: Read before bed every night.
  • # 231: Keep your passport current.
  • # 230: Become an expert in something.
  • # 206: Never turn down a girl’s invitation to dance.
  • # 201: Order the local specialty.
  • # 189: Learn to drive a stick shift.
  • # 77: Never side against your brother in a fight.
  • # 76: Memorize the Bill of Rights and your favorite poem.
  • # 28: Keep your eye on the ball and follow through. In sports and in life.
  • #9: Stand up for the little guy
  • #5: Never be afraid to ask out the best looking girl in the room.
  • #3: When shaking hands, grip firmly and look him in the eye.

Chaos, with better lighting

We are time travelers. Moving through the universe forced to experience it through the lenses of history. Not simply limited to our memories; our very senses can experience only what has already happen, not what is currently happening. The clock for the whole of the universe it is measured by the speed of light (299,792,458 m/s) and while trivial, on our microscopical level, it is yet undeniable. The sun we look at is 8 minutes old, the stars hundreds (or millions) of years old.

The implication of this is nothing short of awe-inspiring. If we could instantly travel 2000 light years away from our planet (and had a telescope large enough pointed back at our planet) we could see Jesus walking the earth. In this way the universe has a memory more thorough and more complete than any computer or human has ever had. Nothing is forgotten, nothing is lost, nothing is missing… it is just getting harder and harder to put the picture back together in a way we would recognize it.

Then there was Nethack

I recently saw a post from someone who (after 7 years) had finally ascended in NetHack. Ascending in NetHack effectively means beating the game and if you think 7 years is entirely too long to play a game you haven’t beaten; then you haven’t ever played NetHack.  I have posted about NetHack previously and suffice to say that I haven’t (in my 6 year of playing) ever come even CLOSE to finishing the game.  So to keep all of you from ever ruining your perfectly sane existence I am going to list a number of reasons why NetHack is both THE game by which all other RPGs will be judged and why you should NEVER start playing it!

  • –NetHack is the most expansive game ever created.  This is partially a product of design.  Like Legos, the game is almost stupidly simple, but the byproduct of such simplicity is infinite expandability.  Which brings us to the second cause of NetHack’s depth… It has been in constant development for over 20 YEARS!  Rogue (the game NetHack was based on) was created in 1980.  The origins of NetHack actually  pre-date the personal computer!
  • –Developers * Time * Design = The DevTeam Think of Everything! (TDTTOE.)  This is not a joke.  You honestly have to play the game to really “get” how connected each piece of the game is.  My favorite example of this comes from GameSpy when NetHack was inducted into their video game hall of fame: Eat a floating eye corpse and you’ll get ESP, which will allow you to see enemies anywhere on the map, but only while blinded. To take advantage of it, you may want to drink a potion of blindness, or preferably, find and wear a blindfold. Of course, while blindfolded, even with ESP you won’t be able to see inanimate objects on the floor — when you find piles of items, your character will have to “feel” for them. Oh, and you won’t be able to read scrolls. Whoops! In that pile of items you just felt is a cockatrice corpse — fortunately you were wearing gloves, otherwise you would’ve been turned to stone just by touching it. But now, blind and protected, you can pick up the cockatrice corpse and use it to attack monsters — now your enemies will turn to stone when you strike them! Unfortunately, their inventory turns to stone as well. Hey, no problem — you’ve got a pick-axe, so you can chisel open their statues to yield a pile of rocks and any of their old possessions. Sadly, thanks to the blindfold, you can’t see a nearby pit and tumble inside. Too bad you were holding the cockatrice corpse — it landed on top of you and turned you to stone. Yet Another Stupid Death, and another reason to cry out in anguish because they think of everything!
  • –You get one life in NetHack.  ONE!  That is it. You can suspend the game but not save it.  The closest thing to continuity between games is that you often come across your ghost from previous games (in fact your grave will often have your old loot in it…  cursed, TDTTOE.)
  • –The game doesn’t care.  In fact is probably works directly against you.  For example, you simply don’t know how an object will effect a situation until you use it (or until you find some side effect that you can test to discover it.)  All objects (potions, scrolls, spell books, etc.) are named differently EVERY GAME.  And so until you figure out what a “pinkish gold” potion is THIS TIME, you don’t know what it will do.  Then, even if you know what an object is, that doesn’t mean you know if it is cursed or blessed.  The game not caring also means that things like alters (or specialized equipment) are not necessarily likely to be the same alignment as you.  Hell, the moon phase even effects the game… the REAL MOON PHASE!  Oh, and did I mention that the levels are auto-generated and so are NEVER the same.
  • –Games go on for DAYS but death always seems to happen suddenly.  So just as you really start to get your hopes up, you loose 3 days worth of work in an instant because you get bit by a ware-rat, turn into a rat, and get killed by a group of fire ants that wouldn’t have given you any trouble 10 seconds ago.
  • –You have to do everything intentionally!  Don’t (I repeat don’t) just go running into a group of enemies and start swinging.  Because the game it turn based you REALLY need to consider as many possibilities of what will happen when you do something.  You certainly cannot think of everything that could happen but you will live longer if you at least try.  Heck, you cannot even leave old/cursed/useless crap laying around because and enemy is likely to pick something up and attack you with it.  And if you haven’t played before you probably can count on dying the first 6 times just trying to figure out how you will keep from starving to death.
  • –The only friend you have the entire game is your dog… and even god will not help you if you get him killed.

So 7 years isn’t to long to finish a game that was basically designed to be an exercise it masochism.  I will be lucky if I am able to ascend sometime in the NEXT 7 years.  For those who are not detered may I recommend the Absolute Beginners Guide to NetHack.

Bookshelf Investing: A Drew Yates Re-post

Here is a repost of a Drew Yates article I found EXTREMELY useful. Unfortunately most of his old posts seem to be forever lost. It is an unfortunate fact that the great blog post I have read are hidden jems that must be dug for. I need to make a habit of copying them on occasion because, all to often, they disappear when their author looses interest and moves on. This is one of the useful top-10 lists I have read and I hope (that by saving it here) it will be useful for a long time to come.

On Books, Top 10 Rules For Investing In Bookshelves

Your bookshelf is like your knowledge portfolio. By investing in yourself, you can become a more interesting, intelligent, creative, and happier person while education improving your judgement and learning new skills. Here are my top ten points for managing your education by investing in your bookself.

1. Buy books for who you’d like to be, not who you are.

Why only buy books about what you already know? Don’t feel guilty about books you own that you haven’t read yet, don’t quite understand, or don’t quite fit your persona. Surround yourself with what you want to know. Achieve by osmosis.

2. You can’t know what you don’t know. Diversify!

Never underestimate the value of learning what you don’t know. Buy books in topics that have “no interest in.” Maybe you are wrong. Inject some randomness in your life.

Excercise: Minute Compass

Try this: stand in the center of the bookstore with your back to the door and check your watch. Turn and face the direction your minute hand points. Buy and read one book in that direction.

3. Understand your investment profile

A book you bought but didn’t read is $20 lost. A book you read but didn’t like or learn from is $20 and maybe a few hours lost. A book you read and learned from is priceless. So: a calculated risk of $20, or never learning anything new? You can’t even begin to understand what you’re missing when you don’t know what you don’t know.

It’s much easier to start reading a book you have than a book you don’t have.

Unless you have urgent expenses, invest generously. This is true for all investments.

4. Give your favorite books away.

Ideas are like currency. They only have value when shared.

Real power today lies at society’s “information hubs.” What better to demonstrate your informational worth than to give books? You can alway rebuy books if you need them. Don’t bother asking people to return your books. That’s tacky. Let them keep it as a token of your thoughtfulness, advice, and generosity. Maybe they will pass that book along to their friends with a shining review, too! That’s the ulitmate compliment.

Not: Used books are NOT GIFTS. Gifting something you are “done with” as is fantastically tacky and cheap. Besides, traditional gifts are more tokens of sacrifice and obligation than tokens of good-will and thoughtfulness. How else could you explain all those $10 gift certificates from your extended family and coworkers?

5. Buy books cheap, but don’t be cheap.

Investing in books are one of those rare opportunities where it pays to be a spontanious shopper. If you suddenly have the motivation to learn, don’t squander it to save five dollars! Naturally, don’t spend more than you have to. But like the morons who drive around town for the cheapest gas, it doesn’t pay to waste time to save a couple dollars. Well, actually it pays a couple dollars. Unless you’re 11, you probably could spend your time better.

Also, most good technical books can usually only be found new. Good technical books are kept as references, and people resell back books they don’t think they’ll use again. Also, most technical books have a shelf-life of only a few years. The only technical books at a value book store will probably be outdated and mediocre.

Cheap, readily available books, like classical literature, are usually at the library or internet for free, anyways.

6. Be Wary of Textbooks. Many Textbooks Suck.

Be suspecious of any book that marketed to undergraduates. If the publisher doesn’t take pride in their work and churns frivolous editions, why should you take pride in owning a copy? In my experience, most required engineering books are terrible. If you’re a computer science student, forget buying the textbook, just use the Internet.

Note: this varies per university. If you are savvy enough to judge books, you can often judge the quality of a university department by the quality of the required reading. Andrew in the comments also noted that many very specialized texts can only be found at universities.

7. Ask Bookstore Employees for Advice

Most bookstore employees like books. Unfortunately, they are usually stuck playing the Warehouse Index game for impatient customers. Make your bookstore employees happy. Ask for their advice. They will know which books are well-liked and which are trash, and they might know which publishers print the best quality books. Ask employees which books they like. And then buy what they like. You might even make some interesting friends this way.

Side note: never harass retail employees. Be nice. Really, whatever your problem is, it’s almost guarunteed not be the fault of anyone around you can talk to. Worse, have you ever known an employee to make exceptions for a jerk? Rarely. If you have a problem with a store, complain with your wallet (or your blog ;) ), never to employees.

8. Throw away bad books.

You probably own some books that were disappointing or technical books that are outdated. Throw them away. There’s nothing to be learned by hording trash knowledge. In fact, make trashing books symbolic of your intellectual health. You can’t fill a full cup.

9. Non-fiction is usually a better investment

Non-fiction has an obligation (you hope) to be true. Most fiction, like movies, only mean to be entertaining, not to make you think. If you want to read fiction, avoid books you would expect to find at your grocery store. Also, most science fiction and fantasy books are rarely good “investments.” Watch Star Wars, read Lord of the Rings, and be done with it.

10. If somebody recommends a book, STOP, note the title, and buy it immediately

Your investment will stagnate if you don’t do this. Make this a habit. Don’t try and rationalize this away. Shut up and do it. Somebody you respect has chosen to share very valuable knowledge with you and you have an obligation to due diligance. Even if you don’t like their recommendation, you have learned something important about the person who recommended it. To not do this, I think, is crude and insulting.

In fact, you should take notes whenever anyone is describing something they care about, whether it’s people they think you should know, books that they enjoy, or places they enjoy visiting. Not only is this flattering, but it’s honest and smart. What better way to prove your legitimate interest in somebody’s opinion than writing them down… and then backing your word with your wallet? Not even $20 in beer could be as well spent.

Note: don’t be obnoxious about taking notes. Just write down the author and title. People don’t want to feel like professors in casual conversation.

Random Excerpts from “Just Courage”

Some notes from the book “Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian” by Gary A. Haugen:

“The sin of injustice is defined in the Bible as the abuse of power – abusing power by taking from others the good things that God intended for them, namely, their life, liberty, dignity, or the fruits of their love or their labor.  In other words, when a stronger person abuses his or her power by taking from a weaker person what God alone has given the weaker person -…”

-Gary Haugen

“Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker”

-Proverbs 14:31 NRSV

In-justice is a particularly egregious evil because the sufferer (the weaker person who is being acted on) isn’t suffering because of a random unfairness, an uncontrollable act of nature or bad luck; but because of the very intentional abuse and oppression of a stronger person.

“(caring for the poor of Africa…) is not a matter of charity; it’s a matter of justice”

-Bono

“…we can give all manner of goods and services to the poor, but if we do not restrain the hands of the bullies from taking it away, we will be disappointed in the long-term outcome of our efforts.”

-Gary Haugen

Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong.

-Theodore Roosevelt

Violence is just different. Violence is intentional. Violence is scary. And violence causes deep scars.

-Gary Haugen

Those who prey upon the poor are not brave. They only prey upon the poor when they think they can… Most fundamentally the predators (the instigators of injustice) are afraid of the truth.

-Gary Haugen

Justice is the aura of God. It is something every human understands, even from the time they are small children, but something that doesn’t exist as part of “the world.” In a universe that has absolutely no concept of fairness; every being on this planet, regardless of race, creed, or belief, screams out for justice. Those that pursue it are considered the greatest examples of mankind. Those who die for it are considered martyrs and saints. And those who stand in opposition to it will forever be judged on the wrong side of history.

“Ultimately we can choose to be safe or brave.  We cannot be both.”

-Gary Haugen