Software Engineering Links for Saturday 13th, 2008

For Mat, Anandhan, and the team: Dobbs Code Talk: Software is a Team Sport: Write-up for the upcoming Software Development Best Practices conference in Boston, MA October 27th-30th. Looks like a good event.

Google: Demystifying the Duplicate Content Penalty: There isn’t one folks. Please get that clear.

From Aaron: Pinax and django-hotclub – a project to build reusable Django apps.

Burningbird: Death to Extensibility: “I can’t help thinking that we should keep the extensibility and just get rid of the Yellow Screen of Death.”

Linux Journal: Programming Python, Part I

Linux Journal: Programming Python Part II

Need to try this: nxml-mode for Emacs.

So, what is ‘truth’ anyway? Ben Kenobi and Sarah Palin Share The Stage

What’s your reaction to Sarah Palin’s performance in her interview with Dave Gibson last night? If you were a conservative, it most likely was positive. If you were liberal, most likely negative.

How can I confirm such a crazy statement? How can there be two opposing opinions of the same event? Two different takes on the ‘truth’ of it?

Go to memeorandum and follow the discussion on blogs that match your political view point and follow the discussion on blogs that don’t.

Or switch between CNN and Fox News if you want a massively bad head ache.

Witness reality torn asunder.

Back in 1997 Dave Winer wrote a piece about programming that helped solidify how I felt about my career choice – he summed it up as a pursuit of truth: Programmers:

Programmers have a very precise understanding of truth. You can’t lie to a compiler. Try it sometime. Garbage in, garbage out. Booleans, the ones and zeros, trues and falses, make up the world programmers live in. That’s all there is! I think programming is deep, it teaches us about the non-cyber universe we live in. There’s something spiritual about computers, and I want to understand it.

…When a programmer catches fire it’s because he or she groks the system, its underlying truth has been revealed. I’ve seen this happen many times, a programmer languishes for months, chipping at the edges of a problem. Then all of a sudden, a breakthrough happens, the pieces start fitting together. A few months later the software works, and you go forward.

When I look at memorandum each day and click away from the warm confines of blogs that share my political view, I am confronted with the the fact that truth is greatly determined by our point of view.

Thank you Obi-wan Kenobi, you bastard.

John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as Vice President is both interpreted as a disaster by liberals and as an inspired move by conservatives.

But one thing is for sure, the move has dominated our attention and driven us a way from weightier topics like the economy and moves taking place across the world, with light weight controversies and indignities (kinda like Britney Spears news does every once and a while).

On this point, two folks I read daily for their points of view (usually opposing), greatly agree:

Doc Searls: Framing wins:

I don’t know if the McCain campaign actually intended for this to happen, but the way it looks to me right now, it’ll work. Palin is single-handedly turning Barack Obama into John Kerry: a policy wonk quarantined to the bottom end of the FM dial. It’s amazing to watch.

Groundhog Day: Competing Messages: Attention Deficit Nation:

…as I watched the media coverage around the announcement, and that of the self-important, self-aggrandizing “blogosphere,” it became clear, to me anyway, just what this was about.

While this is at least partially about winning attention for McCain’s candidacy, some of it even negative attention, it is mostly about taking attention away from Obama’s campaign. And, in that regard, it’s been a brilliant tactical move. Whether it will be enough to swing the election his way remains to be seen.

Obama at the bottom of the FM dial. And so moved are the policies and important events of the world taking place, while we are dazzled and spun every which way.

Jay Rosen outlined the strategy, in a piece posted on September 3rd, that was prescient: The Palin Convention and the Culture War Option:

John McCain’s convention gambit is a culture war strategy. It depends for its execution on conflict with journalists, and with bloggers (the “angry left,” Bush called them) along with confusion between and among the press, the blogosphere, and the Democratic party. It revives cultural memory: the resentment narrative after Chicago ’68 but with the angry left more distributed. It dispenses with issues and seeks a trial of personalities. It bets big time on backlash.

At the center of the strategy is the flashpoint candidacy of Sarah Palin, a charismatic figure around whom the war can be fought to scale, as it were.

It’s not like much of the press isn’t reporting on the lies and mischaracterizations spewing from McCain/Palin. Witness on the 9th: As Campaign Heats Up, Untruths Can Become Facts Before They’re Undone:

From the moment Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin declared that she had opposed the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” critics, the news media and nonpartisan fact checkers have called it a fabrication or, at best, a half-truth. But yesterday in Lebanon, Ohio, and again in Lancaster, Pa., she crossed that bridge again. on the 10th: Finds That McCain’s ‘Facts’ Don’t Check Out

Fact is the media, mass and independent, are being played like marionettes in a game to control your attention and keep Obama, policies, or real impacting events like the economy, from the public discourse.

Glenn Greenwald at Salon did a good job of tracking one of the latest false controversies – the ‘lipstick on a pig’ quote that was taken out of context. He mistakenly attributes the mass media as being the first on the story when Memeorandum was spreading the meme a day before it broke across the country: New heights of stupidity:

It isn’t surprising that the McCain campaign wants this sort of tawdry, Freak Show/Reality Show vapidity to determine the outcome of the election. If you were them, wouldn’t you want that, too? And though it’s not news that establishment media outlets are so easily and happily manipulated by these tactics, tactics which enable them to cover “stories” which their empty-headed reporters can easily comprehend, it is still striking to watch the now-decades-old process unfold and observe how absolutely nothing has changed.

It makes you wonder if ‘truth’ really matters anymore. Marc Fisher at Washington Post goes so far as to wonder if the Boomer ingrained distrust of authority has morphed into something far more ominous: For Working Moms, ‘Flawed’ Palin Is the Perfect Choice:

In this hyperdemocratized society, the national conviction that anyone can succeed is morphing into a belief that experience and knowledge may almost be disqualifying credentials.

Like many at the rally, Victoria Robinson-Worst sees Palin’s lack of experience as an asset. “I know people who have experience who are totally incompetent,” said Robinson-Worst, who lives in Loudoun County, designs wedding flowers and raises two children. “And I know people who have no experience who step in and get it right. I mean, women can do amazing things.”

This is where culture wars, identity politics and self-suffocating academic theories of deconstructionism have led us: Authority is suspect. Experience is corrupting. Ignorance is strength?

Next will be “war is peace.” Or have we already heard that one?

Shades of Nick Carr there huh?

Boing Boing posted about a book that might be the most important must-read of the year (I’m buying this today): True Enough: the science, history and economics of self-deception:

Manjoo makes a good case. He walks through a number of net-based conspiracy theories on both sides of the political spectrum, speaks with their adherents, the experts who claim it’s all bogus, and then to cognitive scientists and other scientists who explain the gigantic gap between what is so obvious to non-partisans and what is blindingly, passionately important to the adherents.

Grounded in history and science, True Enough paints a dismal picture of a species with a limitless capacity for self-deception and selective reasoning. But Manjoo doesn’t ascribe the rise of truthiness to fragmented media alone: he calls out PR firms, media outlets and others who have profited from the erosion of the truth.

Here’s a link: True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society (Hardcover)

So what to do?

As a programmer with a drive to find and share ‘truth’ I have no idea whatsoever. To me, 2+2 will always equal 4. Trusting a sound bite is like criticizing a system’s infrastructure without recognizing the context it was built in. I don’t give a damn what a politician says on the matter. We should all be looking for the big balls of mud that provide us with truth.

But slacktivist has an idea (which I don’t agree with) and that is to fight fire with fire – witness his latest post – John McCain, Friend of NAMBLA.

And a reminder – beware the October surprise: Bush Said to Give Orders Allowing Raids in Pakistan. It’s about time we close the deal, but why did it take seven years?

Good Bash scripting tutorial Bash scripting Tutorial. One gotchya for OSX folks: replace seq for jot: Mac OS X Hints: A primer on using ‘jot’ in UNIX.

Noise filter

Add to /private/etc/hosts on OSX:

Why Mozilla sticks with Gecko over WebKit Why Mozilla is committed to Gecko as WebKit popularity grows:

From a technical perspective, Gecko is now very solid and no longer lags behind WebKit. A testament to the rate at which Gecko has been improving is its newfound viability in the mobile space, where it was practically considered a nonstarter not too long ago. Mozilla clearly has the resources, developer expertise, and community support to take Gecko anywhere that WebKit can go.

It’s also worth noting that some of Gecko’s unique and seemingly idiosyncratic features are becoming useful to third-party adopters. There are a growing number of applications being built on top of the Mozilla platform that leverage XUL with impressive results.

BTW – Songbird is pretty darn cool and I can’t wait to see it reach 1.0.

Social Media/Software Links for Today

NYTimes: Brave New World of Digital Intimacy: About social networks and software and how we are using them to connect with one another.

Mind Hacks: The distant sound of well-armed sociologists – Reflections on the above mentioned NYTimes story. – generates graphical ‘word clouds’ from the text provided.

Reflections of a Newsosaur: Newspaper sales fall record $3B in 6 mos. An Uneasy America: ‘Why We Hate Us’:

The Reality Club: A coversation On “Is Google Making Us Stoopid”.

J-School:’s Convention Coverage and the Ethic of the Link

J-School: The Future of Journalism

Annenberg’s is doing a great job fact checking our candidates. Anyone listening? The Political Brain – Brain-imaging study shows political predilections are a product of unconscious confirmation bias. How we see reality is biased towards our own currently held beliefs.

Music Links for Today: Alice Cooper, Weezer, Oscar the Grouch, and What Makes Metalheads and Classical Fans the Same?

In the largest such study ever taken, research carried out by Professor Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University has identified the personality types behind fans of different genres.

Take aways: Indie music fans are pricks. Metal and Classical music fans are very, very similar. Why heavy metal and classical fans make sweet music together

BBC: Music tastes link to personality

Wired: Study: Country Fans Work Hard, Metal Fans Are Gentle

O’Reilly Radar: I Am Trying To Believe (that Rock Stars aren’t Dead):

When it comes to income, I don’t think there will be another Rolling Stones any more than I think there will be another Microsoft. Reznor’s creative partner Rob Sheridan hints at the same thing in his amazing piece on the state of the music business written last year. He does a masterful job of parsing all the deck chair rearranging going on in the industry today but what he is unable to do is offer a meaningful business model to replace it.

Everyone is fishing for the answer (see item #1) but more and more I think it’s just not there. After all “sell records” was not some complex business model come down from on high. I can’t help but think that if there was an equally effective replacement someone would have thought of it by now.

That’s not to say I don’t think new and better music distribution and monetization models won’t be invented, I just don’t think they will capture and concentrate as much value as the one that is dying before our eyes did. I suspect the balance between linear (touring) and leverage (selling stuff while you sit at home) has simply and irrevocably shifted toward the linear.

Weezer: “How To Play Troublemaker (8/21 video – hootenanny lesson)”

Weezer: “Keep Fishing” (Emma loves this!)

Wired: Metallica: Master of YouTube? – Metallica opens a spot on YouTube to highlight fan cover videos. Nice move and nod to the fans.

YouTube: Alice Cooper: Elected:

YouTube: Classic Sesame Street – James Taylor sings to Oscar:

Development links for today, Sunday, September 7th 2008

An Army of Solipsists: A Grails Plugin for Spring MVC Controllers. :: public Jabber / XMPP Instant Messaging Server: Jack Moffitt: Get Twisted On XMPP – The Future Of Twisted Words

Thoughts on the Republican Convention

I don’t talk about my poltical views as much as I used to here on my blog. There are a few reasons for that, more than likely dealing with burnout after the 2004 election and the fact that I know that my co-workers read this (hi folks!) now. So it feels… a little weird.

But still, I can’t keep quiet when I see something so infuriating take place.

Our two-party political conversation is little more than marketing pitches for two different corporations. Corporations whose goal is not to gain money, but to gain influence and an opportunity to be written into history via public service.

When an organization is selling us something it is confronted with a certain marketing reality – “benefits sell, features tell”. That was drilled into me a long time ago as a telemarketer for Sears, later as a trainer and supervisor.

It is no different here.

So what were the benefits each convention were selling us?

Both conventions closed with inspiring calls to service, wrapped in the clothing of “change”. But before those last few minutes, there where three to four days of pitches to the party faithful and the rest of the country that informed us that they were the party we could relate to, that cared about us the most, and that the other choice wasn’t a choice at all.

It’s kinda like Mac versus Windows. Both offer us the same features in the end. They even run on the same hardware these days. But the benefits they sell us thru soft features like interface, branding, and look and feel divide users into two warring camps. Don’t ever tell someone in the Apple faithful that a PC can do just about the same things, or vice versa. People will fight for their chosen brand and avoid the reality that they have bought into a brand in the first place.

This time, in this election, there really are different ‘features’ each will offer us. But those issues aren’t being discussed in the public sphere loudly since they rouse so much passion – for example – women’s right to choose. Which one of these parties would deny everyone else.

When that convention goer says that “freedom of choice” is different than being “pro-choice” – that is a triumph of marketing.

And notice how one convention avoided talking about policy whatsoever? Understandable since it plans doosies like pushing along the elimination of company provided health plans.

Instead, both parties sold benefits, soft features, like the inspiring call to the future and bridging of the red-blue divide that is Obama/Biden and and the call to reinforce country and family that is McCain/Palin.

One party offered uplifting oratory and generalizations.

The other offered ‘us versus them’ with does of sarcasm. And within that, a hella-load of lies.

So many lies I almost got as angry as I did watching the Republican Convention of 1992.

So many lies it reminded me of a NYTimes article where a Bush aide that belittled the “reality-based community” (no that is not a quote from the Onion!).

A McCain staffer said “This election is not about issues,”.. “This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”.

They mean it folks. The marketing and the packaging bare that out. They are marketing directly to a large population of Americans who are angry and afraid of the future since so many of the cornerstones that were relied on have been knocked away.

So it comes down to which party will America choose? The one that uses divisive marketing to divide us into warring camps, to cast blame, or the other which reminds us that we worship a mighty God in the blue states as well as the red, that there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America, there is the United States of America – that we’re in this together.

We shall see.