SOPA/PIPA protest disappointments

Wednesday 18 January 2012, 13:40

As you probably know by now if you live under a rock and get all your news through the Net, several popular sites are protesting current US proposed Net censorship laws. I'm glad to see that happen, and I'm glad that a lot of people are paying attention, and I don't want to understate how glad I am of those things. But I'm also disappointed by a lot of what I'm seeing, too.

Distributed version control is not my favourite technology

Wednesday 11 January 2012, 11:41

Not too long ago a free software project I'm peripherally involved in decided it was time to replace its old and not broken version control system with something new and broken, and the lead maintainer conducted a straw poll of what the new system should be. My suggestion of "anything, as long as it's not distributed" was shouted down by the chorus of "anything, as long as it's distributed." Having lost the argument in that forum, I'm going to post my thoughts on why distributed version control sucks here in my own space where it's harder for me to be shouted down.


Saturday 31 December 2011, 21:43

It's the end of 2011, and I'm writing this from my parents' home in Nanaimo, where I'm visiting over the year-end holidays. If you ask me how this past year has gone, I'd have to say it's been mixed. Some good things have happened; some not so good; and my current situation is what I'd call metastable.

Ideographic Description Sequences: some thoughts

Monday 19 December 2011, 15:14

I went through a bit of a crunch to get Tsukurimashou 0.5 out the door before my year-end vacation. With that done, and at least 99 kanji to do before the next planned release, I have a chance to sit back and think about some longer-term and spin-off projects. Here are some ideas on kanji searching.

UPDATE: A prototype implementation of the system described here now exists as part of the Tsukurimashou project, and you can check it out via SVN from there. Packaged releases will be available eventually.

Building a build for something weird

Monday 12 December 2011, 22:39

Here are some thoughts on the Tsukurimashou build system. You can find the code, and some documentation of how to use the build system, in the package, but this posting is meant to look more generally at some of the issues I encountered while building a build for something weird.

The thing is, Tsukurimashou isn't a piece of software in the normal sense, but a package of fonts. It's written sort of like software, using programming languages, but the data flow during build doesn't look much like the data flow during build of the usual kind of software package. As a result, although it seemed like using Make was the thing I wanted to do, the way I've written my Makefile doesn't look much like what we might expect on a more typical software project. Working on it has forced me to see the structure of the project quite differently from the way I'd usually look at software, and maybe some of the ideas from that can be applied to other things.

On begging

Wednesday 7 December 2011, 18:06

December 2011 on Earth, but it is eternal midmorning on the third layer of the Astral Plane. THOMAS OF AQUINO, NICHOLAS FLAMEL, and K'UNG FU-TZU sit at a card table, in that order clockwise around the table. At the fourth, otherwise unoccupied, spot sits an ominous blue-painted Chinese porcelain ginger jar.

Code refactoring by combinatorial optimization

Monday 5 December 2011, 14:56

I encountered an interesting problem on the Tsukurimashou project recently, and some inquiries with friends confirmed my suspicion that if anyone has solved it, they've done it in a language-specific way for ridiculous languages. It appears I have to solve it again myself. Here are some notes.

Air Canada's bug letter

Saturday 29 October 2011, 12:15

Well, I wasn't looking for compensation to help me feel better about what already happened. That's past and cannot be changed, and the actual expenses I incurred were minimal and don't need to be reimbursed; but the future can be changed, and what I was looking for from Air Canada was some solid reason to believe that it will never happen again. Giving me a discount code or similar benefit serves that goal only if I can reasonably believe that it costs them more to do that than it would have cost to solve my problem at the time it could have been solved - so that at a future opportunity they will have an incentive to solve the problem rather than paying me off afterward. A back-of-the-envelope calculation (based on number of passengers involved, number likely to complain and get paid off, and so on) suggests the break-even point would be a payoff with a wholesale cost of at least about $5000; and that's far more than it's plausible they would ever offer, and far more than 15% off any ticket they sell.

Instead, I figured it was possible, and I was hoping, that they'd give me some other reason to think that it would never happen again: for instance, by telling me that it was against policy and they would follow their policy better in future; or even that they were changing their policy. A policy change to "find me an hotel when that is impossible" wouldn't be the only way they could change the policy; I'd have been pleased if they'd just pull strings to have me and the other passengers allowed to remain in the terminal overnight. I know that's possible, it would have cost them very little money (much less than finding hotels in a town where the hotels are all sold out) and it's something Air Canada could do that I could not do for myself.

But they didn't tell me their agents' actions were against policy, nor that their policy would change. Instead they gave me documentation in writing that they think they did nothing wrong, and implicitly that they will do it again if they have the chance. Since my point of view is that it must never happen again, the logical conclusion is that I have to stop doing business with Air Canada.

Unfortunately that won't be easy. There aren't many choices besides Air Canada on some routes into, out of, and within Canada; and because much of my travel is for work and paid for out of other people's budgets, I'm not always completely at liberty to choose the airline I use. So it's not realistically possible that I can promise myself never to step onto an Air Canada plane again. But I'm certainly going to try to avoid it.

Another thought on the Astrolabe copyright thing

Friday 7 October 2011, 08:54

It may have been inevitable that this or something like it would happen, because the astrological community has a long history of making extralegal claims on factual information. Many algorithms have been published in books with copyright notices claiming that if you implement the algorithms, then you can only use the resulting software for non-profit purposes. That's a transparent attempt to claim software patent protection (inherently questionable already) without having a patent at all, using copyright law as the basis instead, so as to get the much longer term and lack of review applicable to copyrights instead of patents.

Astrolabe announces change in business: was astrology, now copyright trolling

Thursday 6 October 2011, 22:13

The Unix time-zone database - necessary to the operation of Linux-based computers and many other systems around the world as well - has been withdrawn from distribution because of a lawsuit filed by Astrolabe Inc. I'm really saddened to hear of this, because I liked Astrolabe. They've been in the business of selling astrological software for a long time, and they make many popular products, some of which I have used and recommended. But now I can't give them any more money nor can I recommend that others do so, because they have attacked the basic infrastructure of global computing. The word "terrorism" is so overused now as to be practically worthless, but attacks on infrastructure are often mentioned when people try to define it. Shame on you, Astrolabe.