Saturday, March 17, 2001

"Drugs - failure - kinky sex - caffeine - satanism". Behind the Music that Sucks, UGO's offensive and extremely unreliable Flash animated guide to music history.

So after I'd seen Horse Feathers (nothing I say can possible do it justice, so I won't), I found out the Duck Soup tape was broken or something, so I watched Gimme Shelter - Rolling Stones at Altamont 1969 instead, which I stumbled across in a store yesterday.

Wow. I already knew what happened at Altamont, but in the history books it's just yet another rock concert tragedy -- seeing it happen is something completely different. The same goes for Mick Jagger, btw. In still photos he's ugly as hell, but on stage he's Rock'n Roll incarnated. I've been a fan of the Stones since I heard Gimme Shelter in the 1993 mini-series Wild Palms, although it actually took me years before I found out which band it was.

A package from Heaven (or some other nice place) arrived today, with two Marx Brothers movies I haven't seen. Suddenly this weekend is looking a lot brighter, I can hear the echo of the birds that were singing last week before the snow came back, and I'm starting to believe in politicians again.

Friday, March 16, 2001

"But your computer! You, uh, you must have developed a combat computer as ... small and rugged as an auto-pilot - I thought miniaturization was our specialty."
  Rostock laughed.
  "And you'd still need a large human staff," Diaz protested. "Bigger than the whole crew of this ship!"
  "Wouldn't you?" he finished weakly.
  Rostock shook his head. "No." His smile faded. "Not under this new system. I am the computer."

[...] "In yonder office is a highly specialized computer. It is built from solid-state units, analogous to neurones, but in spite of being able to treat astromilitary problems, it is a comparatively small, simple and sturdy device. Why? Because it is used in connection with my brain, which directs it. The normal computer must have its operational patterns built in. Mine develops synapse pathways as needed, just as a man's lower brain can develop skills under the direction of the cerebral cortex. And these pathways are modifiable by experience; the system is continually restructuring itself."

[...] "The military value is obvious. Were that all, I would never have revealed this much to you. But something else developed as I practiced and increased my command of the system. Something quite unforeseen. I wonder if you will comprehend. [...] That repeated experience changed me. I am no longer human. Not really."

[...] "There are no words, except those I have made for myself. [...] As a matter of fact, the only emotional effect may be a simple intensification. Although ... there are myths about mortals who became gods. how did it feel to them? I think they hardly noticed the palaces and music and feasting on Olympus. What mattered was how, piece by piece, as he mastered his new capacities, the new god won a god's understanding. His perception, involvement, detachment, totalment ... there are no words."

From Kings who Die, by Poul Anderson, a 1962 short story about cyborgs, neural networks, counsciousness expansion and war as ritual sacrifice.

Oops! P� vei til Ramaland isn't dead after all -- it's only sleeping.

Transition has an interview with a former officer in the rumanian Securitate. Apparently the people of Rumania got it all wrong, the secret police was on their side all along:

Until 1989, we hadn't had a single complaint, not even an anonymous one, against a information officer. The [communist] party activists were more afraid of the Securitate than the common people [were]. Only those who had something on their conscience lived in fear of the Securitate.

Added Løvebrølet to the ever-growing list of norwegian blogs and online diaries. It is written by Torbjørn Lien, teacher and cartoonist.

In less happy news, I've degraded a few weblogs to inactive status: Noemata, P� vei til Ramaland and X Government Weblog. That reduces the number of active weblogs to 11 -- 7 of which were created this year. The meme is spreading. As always, please let me know of any changes / inaccuracies in the list.

What's going on here? Isn't anyone installing security patches anymore? Doesn't anyone care? What's going on is that there are just too damn many patches. It's simply impossible to keep up.

Bruce Schneier explains why I keep my fingers away from system administration in his monthly security and cryptography newsletter / weblog CryptoGram. Keeping up to date on relevant exploits and patches for a web server is a full-time job, one which I'm more than happy to leave to my good friend and excellent sysadmin Arcade. This attitude I must admit is kinda like those small european countries that rely on the US marines to rescue them when the russians arrive - (oh, wait, the cold war is over - who is it these days, anyway?) - but we can't all be sysadmins. Somebody have to make all those bugs too.

Personally I rely on those two trusted (cough) security concepts Obscurity and Anonymity to protect my Windows home PC.

Thursday, March 15, 2001

Nobels Peace Prize to Fidel Castro? So suggests Hallgeir Langeland of SV. Well, at least their press isn't stirring up any trouble.

The more I think about it, the more I recognize the concept of weblogging (links + comments + regularity) in regular news media like newspapers. I'm not talking about the honorable profession of journalism, which is basically the act of digging up information that wasn't previously available. Weblogging is the complete opposite of this, and whatever it is it isn't journalism - but neither is much of the stuff I read in the newspapers.

The foreign sections, for instance, rarely stoop to actual journalism - they're usually just quoting and summarizing foreign newspapers and press agencies they happen to be reading, (which is why you might want to read these foreign newspapers yourself). Anyone who knows how to write and wield an href can do this. Reprinting articles from AP or NTB is not journalism - this too is primitive blogging. Op-ed and letter pages are not journalism - they're linkless weblogs, or simplified discussion forums if you like.

What's left when you remove all this is journalism, the kind where people dig up facts and ask questions, and I respect that as a profession that might actually benefit from specialized education. But on all these other areas, newspapers are going to face som real competition from the numerous news blogs, thematic websites and discussion forums that are popping up all over the web. They're catering to the same audience, and cheap, independent websites have all the technical advantages.

Modern Humorist explains how to survive an airline disaster. They also carelessly spoil some movies I wanted to see.

Jill Walker and Torill Mortensen, (both excellent bloggers), have followed up about language on the web. I'm glad to see serious discussion about this, because there isn't much of it elsewhere. The official position is either taken for granted, or simply ignored.

But I think I should clarify a bit here: When I encourage everyone who has something worth saying to write it in english, this isn't some radical call to arms, it's not about forcing or prodding anyone. It's simply acknowledging reality, a reality our cultural protectionists, (see image to the right), are well aware of, but still refuse to accept. The reality here is that to a lot of norwegians, including myself, writing in english comes as natural as writing in norwegian. And this is a good thing, because it finally gives Norway a voice in western culture, which since world war 2 has been dominated by the native english-speaking countries. Norway is pretty small and insignificant, in the larger scheme of things, but occasionally, once in a while, some of us say things that are actually worth listening to. We've been receiving for 50 years, and now it's time to start transmitting.

The way I see it, the norwegian language is a part of our cultural heritage, along with bunader, hardingfeler and Asbj�rnsen and Moe - but it's not a vital part of our culture as of 2001. Our heritage deserves to be remembered, but not artificially preserved. It could be argued that if you subtract western culture, protestant culture and scandinavian culture from norwegian culture, there's not much left to set us apart from everyone else - except our language. It could also be argued that subcultures are more important than national cultures these days, (a nerd is a nerd everywhere.) But I'm not concerned with being distinctly norwegian -- I feel more like a netizen of norwegian heritage than an actual norwegian. I am, however, concerned with all those norwegians - and swedes, danes, germans, belgians, french - who have something worth saying, who are encouraged, (even pressured), to use a language that prevents 99.95% of the world from reading their words.

By all means, use whatever language you feel comfortable with. There's nothing wrong with choosing to write norwegian, it's the cultural protectionists that are dangerous - and short-sighted. Our culture may not die if we don't start writing english, but it certainly will remain a well-kept secret. Nobody gains from that.

Custom officials and farmers are working overtime these days, disinfecting, confiscating and burning - and not only in Europe. This whole foot-and-mouth panic is an eerie reminder of how vulnerable our civilization is to ingenius biological killer machines. (Hey, at least they are natural and ecological, which is good, right?) Europe is doing the best it can to prevent this disease from spreading, and there's absolutely no guarantee of success. Imagine if the next mutation targets humans. Where previous plagues took years to spread over the continents, the modern version would travel almost as fast as the news of its arrival.

The first reaction among farmers everywhere when this started was xenophobia - justified, but still xenophobia. A human plague would have the same effect - large scale xenophobia in ever-decreasing circles. First we would close our borders, then we would close our cities, and in the end we would lock up our homes. Civilization is built on trust, and within 24 hours that trust would simply be gone.

(Note: This entry was in no way inspired by Verdi's Requiem. It helps for getting in the right mood to write about plauges, though.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Jorunn Danielsen interviews me (along with S�nnev and Sven Hope) at Kulturnett, a netmag dedicated to norwegian culture on the web. The original threat of translating me into nynorsk was not carried out, and in return I won't say anything bad about the Ministry of Cultural Affairs this week.

Oh, and for the long version of why norwegians should write english on the web, read my March 5th entry, (or the even longer version at Kuro5hin.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Ronald McDonald stolen, then recovered.

Read Matt Welch's heartening article about Sergio Bichao, a 16 year old Drudge clone and randian who runs an underground high school news site. Is there a better illustration of the power of the web than a teenager challenging the powers that be at his high school? (Yes there is: a lone journalist challenging the president of the US, but that's beside the point. Read the article, then visit the site. Don't you wish your high school had had something like that?)

I really recommend these two Middle East publications: Ha'aretz and Middle East Realities. Ha'aretz is a major Tel Aviv newspaper, and MER, a magazine written by arabs, is as critical of Arafat as they are of Israel. Both are biased in their own way, but together they give you a view of the Middle East situation you won't find in american and european media.

Even if international media did a good job covering the conflict, and they don't, an objective and educated analysis from the outside is inferior to the genuine feelings of the people who actually live there. Propaganda is better from the source.

Ericsson's turbulence on NASDAQ is followed by similar tech falls in Norway, and predictions that worse is to come. In a way I'm relieved that the tech industry is in serious trouble at last. I'm one of those uneducated besserwissers who for years have been warning people that this can't possibly last, that IT shares are about to fall any minute now. "Um, ok, so you made $10.000 on a portal IPO last week? Uh-huh, well, maybe you could do that last week, but not next week, because, you see, the stock market is totally inflated, or something, honestly!" Muwhahaha, proven correct at last.

On the other hand, I'll be looking for a Real Job in programming this fall, so I might want to wait a bit with the champagne.

Magnus Itland of the Chaos Node believes christians have a larger sin than homosexuality to worry about: Wealth. [alt. link]

Monday, March 12, 2001

There is an old saying that you should not pick an argument with people who buy their ink by the barrel. In the 21st century version, neither should you pick an argument with a mainstream Web site that has more than one million readers a month.

Cyber Patrol, the appallingly inaccurate nanny software that does a better job censoring criticism of itself than porn sites, has unblocked tech news-site The Register. They're now only censoring the specific article that mentioned arch-enemy PeaceFire. Linking to Peacefire propably makes my weblog eligible for censorship too -- perhaps I should notify them. Getting censored by Cyber Patrol might be good for my readership numbers, what with all the free speech advocates scrutinizing illegally decrypted blocking lists.

Please put down your weapon. You have 20 seconds to comply.

Bug testing, anyone?!

Robocop (1987) is one of those movies that made action great in the 80's. Good scifi, memorable music, inspired one-liners, and some definitely unforgettable exploding blood-bags. The ED-209 animation scenes were more impressive last time I saw them, but the sadism is still pretty shocking.

Excuse me, I have to go. Somewhere there is a crime happening.

Sunday, March 11, 2001

Read Foundation by Isaac Asimov on the train this weekend. Last time I finished it 6 years ago, it made me doubt religion for the first time, so I thought I'd check up on some old fictional friends and see how they had aged. First thing I noticed: psychohistory is complete and total nonsense. It's also only the least realistic aspect of a kind of massive-scale rationalist idealism that drives the whole book. In Foundation there is no chaos. Everything, even emotions, creativity and religion is predictable and subordinate to rationality.

This faith in predictability and rationality makes Foundation a book of optimism and belief in the future - the book of a society that has beaten the nazis and are inventing washing machines. These people are destined for greatness and they know it. Foundation (like many Asimov books) also draws inspiration from the Christie/Doyle-style crime mystery. All the heroes, basically identical, are super-rationalists who deduce simple solutions to complex problems based on seemingly irrelevant clues.

The rationalist naivety here is beyond ludicrous, but an idea doesn't have to be true to be beautiful. Foundation is a programmers wet dream.