A lazy Reykjavik


Sat, 01 Jul 2006

An update

Just pointing to Tom Abba and his fabulantorious new weblog.

More about the future of my web endeavours later.

baldur, 1/7/06

Tue, 07 Jun 2005

New Weblog!!

I’ve started a new weblog over at Another Quiet Day. A new age beckons. baldur.

Thu, 13 Nov 2003


A couple of articles have been causing a bit of a brouhaha on the web recently.

One is Kim Du Toit’s “The Pussification Of The Western Male”.

The other is Steven Den Beste’s “Anglo Women are an endangered species” (who exhibits good taste and sound judgement by playing GURPS and listening to Shostakovich).

Go on, read them, then come back here. Be warned though, Du Toit’s article, especially, is what the traditional English gentlemen would have called “uncouth”.

As in “lacking in good manners and refinement”.

Done? Good.

I’m going to be rude enough to paraphrase the point and conclusion of the two rants into one unified statement:

“There’s been a strong tendency in Anglo-American culture and society to turn men and women into de-sexualised, gender-neutral persons at the cost of sex-specific characteristics”

I apologise to Kim Du Toit for cleaning out his ignorant gay bashing, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite gel with his point. Gays like men to be men. After all, that’s the whole point of being attracted to them, isn’t it?

But then again, I suppose he can be forgiven for missing the whole Bear movement or the leather-gay thing.

The de-sexualisation of the Anglo-American culture, if a fact, is a bad thing. You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to realise that.

Me being a European means that I don’t really have a sense for what your average American is like, any more than Du Toit knows what your average European is like, so I can’t honestly claim to be able to judge whether Du Toit’s and Den Beste’s observations are true or not.

It is something, though, that other cultures have claimed to observe about the anglo-american culture (Cesar, my Columbian friend used to be a frequent proponent of this theory).

It is one the few characteristic that seems to be fairly unique to the anglo-american one.

Although I’ve heard this description of American culture many times since, I still remember the first time I heard it. I, fairly young then, was arguing with my mother about film-ratings (me not being old enough to watch a movie I wanted to) and the discussion then turned to the fact that those ratings vary from culture to culture (I was trying to argue my way into seeing that movie).

One point that came up was that in Iceland violence tends to get a movie a high rating while nudity doesn’t. A movie with full-frontal nudity in a comic context would get a fairly low rating.

The UK and the USA are different. The movie with full-frontal nudity would probably get a higher rating there than a movie with a bit of casual violence.

To most of us who aren’t anglo-american this only means one thing. Those who are in charge of film-ratings, and consequently their culture as a whole, think that the physiological differences between a man and a woman are somehow harmful or a bad thing.

Frankly, it doesn’t make sense, but it is a symptom of a larger problem which Den Beste’s and Du Toit’s more polite examples exhibit as well.

I can’t say that it is a problem in my country. Or in most other European countries I know of.

There is a word for this Anglo-American problem but the word we’ve used to describe is not “pussification” and it isn’t a way of turning men into “girly-men”.

It’s Puritanism.

“The Scarlet Letter”, Den Beste’s “Anglo Women are an endangered species” and Du Toit’s “The Pussification Of The Western Male” all describe to us the same puritanical, sex-phobic America.

They are right to rail against it.

Just don’t blame it on gays or Europeans, because this one is entirely a problem of your own making.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.

Thu, 30 Oct 2003

Party Like It’s 1998.

My GNU/Linux

I usually don’t complain or try to correct Dave Winer. As far as I’mnormally concerned he’s a guy that’s done quite a few interesting things butlets his temper all too often get in the way. That temper of his has cost him a few potential allies and burnt a few bridges.

But like Larry McVoy, who has a similar personality, he’s innovated in ways thatarguably would otherwise not have happened at all.

Certainly a pioneer irrespective of what you think of the man.

So I’m going to assume that the following statement—quoted from his website onthe 30th of October (at around 16:40 GMT, for those who suffer from insatiable curiosity)—is a result of Winer not keeping up with the arguably fast moving GNU/Linux scene:

And Linux ships with every security feature wide open. An end user who actually installed it (an amazing accomplishment in itself) would end up (instantly)hosting a playground for script kiddies everywhere. And the user interface of Linuxsucks.
Dave WinerScripting News

What can you say to that? How to you respond to somebody who has just mischaracterized dismissed a whole computer platform out of hand?

Well… I’ll at least take you through my own computer history up until recently(which at the same time conveniently explains my recent quietness). That way youcan at least be aware of where I am coming from when it comes to operatingsystems.

I’m a Macintosh guy when it comes to computers. Have always been, will always be. Was hooked as a kid by a Hypercard children’s puzzle stack and consolidated by the fact that they were generally just good computers.

The only Windows computer I’ve ever had was an old DOS machine my mother used for her linguistics research (on language uptake and bilinguality in children, I was one of the main research subjects, which explains a lot).

We had Windows for it somewhere, version 1.0.1 or something similar.

That, is the extent of my Windows knowledge. My experience with Windows is limited to applications which are cross-platform in the first place. Web Browsers. E-mail. Director troubleshooting.

So the Apple Mac interface is my only reference when it comes to the computingexperience.

And my new computer, a fairly new athlon-based machine, is a GNU/Linux only machine, Slackware at that.

I don’t even dual-boot between GNU/Linux distributions.

The new computer is something I had to do, my old ibook was simply too slow. Working had become painful. When I had spare time and given a choice between writing up something short for the weblog or sitting on a comfy chair and reading a novel the novel always won hands down.

The experience of using the computer had become about as pleasant and user-friendly as trying to clean your teach with a powerdrill.

So I needed a new computer. The question being, what to save up for?

Apple’s computers were not an option. Overpriced being the keyword here. As muchas I like those machines I simply can’t afford them yet (maybe next year).

A PC it was then.

A PC with GNU/Linux.

It’s time to look at Dave Winer’s off-hand dismissal, point by point.

And Linux ships with every security feature wide open. An end user whoactuallyinstalled it (an amazing accomplishment in itself) would end up (instantly)hosting a playground for script kiddies everywhere.

Unfortunately, for Winer, this is simply untrue. Besides, it’s not an issue withthe linux kernel itself, but an issue with the distributions which are the actual operating systems. Most, of them come with firewalls and quite a few come only with essential services turned on.

Much like Mac OS X, in fact. OS X doesn’t come with the root enabled while thenormal user has quite a few privileges out of the box. The GNU/Linuxes on the other hand come with a root user while the default user has almost no privileges speak of.

I’d say that that balances out. The Linux kernel itself isn’t any more or lesssecure by nature than the XNU/Darwin kernel that OS X comes with and many of theservices are the same between the two platforms (OS X comes with Apache and Cupsfor example, as does Slackware).

So I’m not quite sure where Dave Winer gets this idea from. The only source I can think of is the unpopular atrocity that is Lindows, which is the only Linux distro that fits Dave’s description.

The installation thing is misguided as well, as that’s something that has improved a lot in the last few months. Quite a few of the new distros come with versions of the linux-hotplug system which makes hardware detection and setup a cinch.

Turn off the machine. Install a card. Turn the machine on and the coldplug system will detect the card and install the driver automatically on bootup.

Installation on desktop machines, generally isn’t a problem anymore. (Laptops being an area that’s still problematic due to the proprietary and nonstandard nature of the hardware).

The only thing that’s even remotely close to the mark is the user interface issue, and that has changed a lot in the last few months with the release of Gnome 2.4 and will improve further with the impending release of KDE 3.2.

These two releases are, to steal one of Alan Kay’s phrases on the Macintosh, thefirst Free Software desktop environments whose graphical user interfaces “are good enough to criticize.”

GNU/Linux serves all my needs and unlike the designers of Mac OS X (who blatantly disregard their own user interface guidelines), the programmers and designers of the Gnome and other Free Software environments, take user interface design seriously.

As a platform, it might not be ahead of the game, but situation certainly isn’tas bad as Dave Winer paints it.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.

Mon, 08 Sep 2003

Putting Up.

She gave a triumphant cry and came back with her trophy.

It was a largish bottle and its neck had been carefully sealed. A roll of paper could be seen inside.

“Jinn, break it open, hurry up!” Phyllis begged, pawing the ground.

Pierre BoullePlanet of the Apes.

I’ve been reading a lot of trash literature recently. Crap sci-fi, old Ian Fleming James Bond novels, Leslie Charteris’ Saint books, all books a few votes shy of a Booker award.

Cheap and entertaining, two words that modern literature and film industries are trying hard to ignore. (Hollywood doesn’t entertain. It panders. Which is something slightly different.)

Cheap printing. Cheap paper. Cheap and simple layout. Cheap design.

These books, which all cost around a pound each in used book stores, give or take fifty pence, are the true competitors to e-book fiction.

Less impatient, Jinn methodically chipped off the sealing-wax. But when the bottle was thus opened, he saw that the paper was stuck fast and could not be shaken out. He therefore yielded to his mate’s entreaties and smashed the glass with a hammer.

The paper unrolled itself of its own accord. It consisted of a large number of very thin sheets, covered in tiny handwriting. The message was written in the language of the Earth, which Jinn knew perfectly, having been partially educated on that planet.

Pierre BoullePlanet of the Apes.

E-books are priced high for two reasons, I’m told.

The first one is that of necessity. It costs money to put together a publication. Bolting modern markup and electronic media onto the traditional publishing process also adds another layer of complexity and cost.

DRM, cuts another layer off the margins because restrictions technologies require a constant level of maintenance and observation to be effective. If you don’t keep up as more and more circumvention techniques pop up like gophers on ephedrine , you’ll end up with an ineffective piece of software that’s cutting into your profits for no discernible gain.

The only solutions to low margins are either to increase the volume of sales or to increase the price.

Any attempt to increase sales is made problematic because of technical issues in current DRM systems and the archaic sales system the publishers still rely on.

DRM limits sales because you’d have to have a large part of your brain clawed out schizophrenic pandas suffering from congenital syphilis before you can accept some of the restrictions imposed on e-book purchases by publishers.

A single tune in the Apple iTunes Music store costs 99 cents. Don’t even try to tell me that a similar model is impossible to implement for e-books and publishers have to sell those things for five to ten dollars a pop.

The iTunes store is interesting for other reasons as well. The “only three machines but you can pretty much burn it to audio CD as often as you want” is much closer to acceptable DRM practice than anything you see in the commercial e-book realm.

The e-book equivalent would be to have little to no restrictions on printing the book and allow reading on three different devices.

Even with those relatively loose restrictions I’m not convinced that DRM will do anything but limit volume and cut into margins.

An uncomfortable feeling, however, restrained him from starting to read a document which had fallen into their hands in such an incongruous manner; but Phyllis’s state of excitement decided him.

She was not so well acquainted with the language of the Earth and needed his help.

Pierre BoullePlanet of the Apes.

The second reason—and I’m speculating here, conjecture coming from the perspective of a comparative literature guy—behind high pricing is psychological. Publishers think that e-books are competing with the print books available new in bookstores and as a result they price them in relation to the print books.

Or at the very least they probably do not feel any pressure to lower the prices as long as e-books remain cheaper than the equivalent newly published hardcopy.

Which shows that they are blind to the fact that their main and growing rivals are used book stores.

In essence they are crossing swords with their more competent predecessors.

They are competing with publishers who knew how to put together and publish a variety of relatively cheap and accessible entertainment. The keywords here being ‘variety’, ‘cheap’, ‘accessible’ and ‘entertainment’.

I can walk into an Oxfam used book store with five pounds, walk out with four or five top notch books in good condition and be sure that the money went to a good cause.

E-books should be able to give me a similar sort of experience, the reading experience for those who have laptops with decent screens being not as bad as is generally thought.

“Jinn, I beg you!”

He reduced the volume of the sphere so that it floated idly in space, made sure that there was no obstacle in front of them, then lay down beside his companion and began to read the manuscript.

Pierre BoullePlanet of the Apes.

Project Gutenberg guarantees that e-books have a viable future, even though that future might very well only contain e-books of nineteenth century novels.

But the concept of modern literature as cheap entertainment is obviously not a part of your average publisher’s vision.

And that is the crux of the problem with publishing. While it affects today’s e-book publishing the issue isn’t specific to the industry’s handling of the digital domain.

It’s the focus on bestsellers and prestige. What isn’t readily apparent is that a publisher’s motivation for finding the next bestseller is the same drive that’s behind the publishing of a slow-selling, more ‘artistic’ book.

It’s the drive for prestige and reputation, so desired because they bring a publisher power and money.

A book that isn’t bait for a Booker (or the American equivalent, a Pulitzer) and isn’t likely to be a bestseller doesn’t have much of a chance in today’s publishing market.

There are exceptions, of course—Fantagraphics comes to mind—but the state of the e-book industry is more a symptom of underlying problems in the publishing world, than it is a sign of an implementation problem in today’s e-book retail infrastructure.

Solving the e-book problem on a large scale means solving a large number of fundamental problems in our entertainment industries.

And we have to make up our minds whether it’s worth it at all.

Is it worth the effort?

Baldur Bjarnason,
Clifton, Bristol.

Thu, 04 Sep 2003


Oh. My. God. Can’t wait to hear tomorrow’s Archers. The suspense is thick in the air.

Thu, 28 Aug 2003

Running a Loop.

One of the reasons why I ‘blog less these days is that it just isn’t part of my routine anymore.

On the GNU/Linux side of my computer I, first of all, have a lot of very nice, free text editors to work in.

And second of all, I just got into the habit of always working on a weblog post in the background that I could work on when I felt that I needed mental space from my task at hand.

But the date when I switched to Mac OS X on my laptop coincides almost exactly with the date when my weblogging hiatus began.

I just fell out of the habit for a while.

The text editor situation is also a bit annoying. I know that I can get all of the same text editors I was using on GNU/Linux to run on OS X under Apple’s X Windows server, but I tend to prefer using native applications on whatever platform I’m running.

And most of the good text editors on the Mac (or ftp programs, for that matter) are proprietary apps that cost money.

They’re good apps, I’m sure, but paying for a usable ftp program and a usable text editor is like having to pay extra rent to have running water in your flat.

Stuff like that aren’t perks or extras. They’re basic features that every single operating system should support natively, and not in the ugly and unusable way that Apple has implemented ftp support in the Finder (OS X’s file browser).

And a simplistic rich text editor like TextEdit doesn’t count either.

Well in one case Free Software comes to the rescue, as it always does on the other Unixes.

Luckily for me, since most of the ftp servers I need to work with support sftp, I could switch to fugu for the ftp support.

Fugu’s a very nice user interface for SFTP, SCP and SSH available under the BSD license from the University of Michigan and has deservedly won an Apple Design award.

The text editor situation isn’t that clear. I’m writing this in a fairly nice free as in beer text editor called mi, while most of my other work is either in Project Builder (nicer than I expected) or Alpha (a pale shadow of it’s old Mac Classic self).

OS X is an interesting beast in many other ways. Feels a lot slower than the GNU/Linux system, which is mostly due to OS X not supporting Quartz Extreme on my laptop, as well as it’s monstrously excessive memory use.

And the overzealous unhinted anti-aliasing, probably all nice, sweet and pretty on larger, higher resolution screens, makes this small screen look as if it has been smeared with vaseline.

About as nice as trying to read a newspapers through a thick mud of multicoloured sugar. Which makes you wonder why the colour schemes in Windows XP and OS X seem to have been chosen by a bunch of overactive five year olds high on chocolate, sugar cereals and ritalin.


Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.

Wed, 20 Aug 2003

Threads in My Mind.

This is something I had planned to write a while ago, as a sort of followup to my last entry before my slight hiatus.

And today, as I glance through my daily reads, I read a post over on Mark Bernstein’s website that mentions this Postel fellow and a law of his.

Not that I’m disagreeing with Mark’s post in any way. It, and Aaron Swartz’ post Mark links to, just sparked of a thought I’ve been nurturing for a while. Their thoughts are definitely worth reading.

Postel’s Law goes along the lines of “be liberal in what you accept and conservative in what you put out.”

Which seems fair enough. I also happens to be the magic rule of conversation (stick to it and people you talk to are less likely to want to shred your face with a fruit peeler).

The problem, it seems to me, only starts when people assume that XML breaks Postel’s law because it demands validity and failure upon non-validation.

Which glosses over the fact that Postel’s law refers to actions, a task, a process, things like protocols and applications.

Repeat with me: “XML is just a format.”

It doesn’t break Postel’s law any more than a light-bulb does. It works until it breaks. Then it stops working. Trying to keep it working after that is generally too problematic to be worth the effort.

No, Postel’s law kicks in when you view the production of XML formats as a task.

When you look at weblogging tools, that is.

Tools like Radio, Blosxom, Movable Type and such are the true criminals in the eyes of the law.

They should take crap input (the junk users like me shovel in) and output healthy, valid XML formats. Without exception.

Liberal in, Conservative out (sounds like a Democrat slogan for the next US presidential elections).

It’s the applications that should follow Postel’s law, the authoring applications, that are the ones causing the vast majority of our interoperability problems on the internet.

Stop blaming it on XML or XML-based formats.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.