Stylophone Goodness

No Matter How Hard You Try, You Will Never Out-Nerd This Man « Whatever

I’d never heard of a “Stylophone” before.  80’s Nerdy Goodness.


Silicon Dreams special Critical of Senator Conroy Edition

Labor’s blog-watch plan hits Whirlpool of dissent |

Senator Stephen Conroy is an idiot.

His plans are foolish and will damage this country economically and democratically, lessening our freedoms, raising our fear levels and generally turning us all into paranoid twits.

The worst part of all, the completely unforgivable part, is that the mandatory filtering will not actually work to curb child pornography distribution, which, as many studies have pointed out (and been completely ignored) are traditionally traded in a peer-to-peer fashion, over chat and filesharing networks, rather than the small fraction that are websites.

And now he’s monitoring blogs that disagree with him?  I suspect the Minister for Communications is planning on being the Minister for Truth – doesn’t he realise he’s 25 years too late?

I could, and have, go on about this issue at length and in detail, but there are others doing it just as succinctly as I could ever hope to.  Go see them, and resist these attacks on your freedom.

Also remember that some things that Stephen (The Nanny) Conroy dislikes, disapproves of, and would consider “unwanted material” are not “illegal”.  There is a difference.  Fetishes are not illegal, just distasteful to fundamentalist Christians.  Distasteful to fundamentalist Christians is, in my view, more of a reason to spread something around then filter it out.  Most of the people enjoying these things are hurting no-one – unless they want to be hurt – whilst these religious right hurt us all when they try and shape our country in their own image.

“I think it’s disgusting” is never a reason to ban something.  “It’s taking away their freedom” -is-.

The place the rant originated

After all that, I forgot what triggered my latent rage in the first place, it was this:

Max Mutchnick: Where Did You Get Them?

There’s an example of disgusting discrimination.  (and a quite funny writer) I admit, I would love to see stuff like this completely stamped out, whether it be because of sexual preference or race.  I just don’t think anyone is making sense as to how it should be done at the moment, and I don’t think shocking people with the phrase “We are all racists” is adding much of value to the discussion.

It’s a shame really, I suspect there was a lot more of value in that race essay then what I read, but I couldn’t get past my anger at being tarred like that.  That probably says more about me than them.

Race-Fail 09

Theres been a lot of noise lately about racism in fiction, and a particularly notorious live-journel discussion that devolved, apparently, into a violation of privacy party.  Scalzi has talked about it, a lot of others have talked about it, I got bored quickly and didn’t read it.

I do follow Scalzi’s blog however, which means I was inflicted with essays written by friends of his who were involved in the idea.  I think they were supposed to be thoughtful essays on race in fiction and in the world.  What they actually were was insulting, and I have to admit I didn’t read the whole thing.  I actually don’t get worked up about race; it would be stupid for me to.  I grew up middle class and white, regardless of where I live (unless I moved, say, to a poor bitter black community in America who decided to take out their issues on me) I am unlikely to be touched by racism.  I got off scott free, I get it.

I also agree with some of what they said.  It’s true that lots of people suffer for other reasons.  They are fat, unattractive, stupid, female, there are lots of other people that are discriminated against other than for race, and its true that suffering one of those discriminations does not mean you understand the pain of racism.  Sexism and Racism, for instance, are different, equal in magnitude (or not, as you believe), but not “same”.

Then they start with the “everyone is a racist” generalisations and my back was immediately up.  I think, to be generous to them, that what they were saying was that everyone, through their upbringing, has a certain set of prejudices that they can’t help having and that colour their world view.  This is true.  It’s not, however, what they said.  They said “everyone is a racist”, and whilst it makes great shock-copy, the word “racist” has decades upon decades of negative connotations piled on top of it like a big steaming insult sundae.

Let me explain what I think.  Remembering that i’m middle class, professional, white and male, so as far as the political correctness hitlist, i’ve grown up as public enemy number one (which I can assure you is a new, modern form of discrimination which has it’s own level of pain.  Certainly not “can’t ride the bus” pain, but it’s not negligible either).  So knowing that, you should feel free to abuse me, shout, scream, hate and generally point the finger, with or without actually understanding my point of view.  Society says it’s ok for you to do so, so go ahead.

Racism starts, in my opinion, when someone looks at someone else and says: They are different to me, they look different, therefore we must not be the same.  That is the very beginning of racism.  It becomes the modern ideal of racism when the second party is a minority, in that they do not have the power (militarily, physically, emotionally, culturally, educationally or even intellectually) to resist the will of the first people being placed upon them.  Therefore a white says “black people are less civilized than white people, and they need us to conquer them and rule over them, as they are fundamentally incapable of ruling themselves.  This was the official position of government in England during the Victorian era, used to justify expansionist policies in Africa and India.

I don’t believe the phrase “Black people are lazy” could ever be true.  It is a generalisation for a start.  What I believe is that a black person “can be lazy”.  So you can have lazy black people, white people, asian people and martian people.  You can also have a lazy culture – and certainly many cultures would likely appear lazy to one wholly posessed by the protestant work ethic for instance.  But even within cultures, there are people who go against the grain.  Generalisations fail because people aren’t general.

Which is why the minute someone says “Everyone is a racist”, I immediately think “Epic Fail.”.  It’s a generalisation and a stupid one.  When people think of the phrase “we are all racists” now, with all the history the word has built up, they don’t think it means “we all have a certain level of prejudice related to our environment and childhood” which is true, they think it means “we all perform acts that oppress those of a different race to ourselves due to a lingering hatred and desire for our own racial supremacy” or some such rubbish.  Which is so patently untrue that it could be a politician’s sound-bite.

What is interesting is the author of this essay, whilst claiming we are all prejudice, makes statements designed to be statements of fact.  You cannot make an objective claim that we are all biased.  (The following statement is true.  The previous statement is false.)  And her bias shows here.

I’m an Australian.  Even more to the point, i’m a Tasmanian.  Teachers in school years ago used to say we are “a multi-cultural” nation, which is a politically correct saying a nation of mongrels.  You just don’t find that many “pure breeds” around the place, we’re creating our own race of raceless people in a lot of ways.  There are many cultures, beliefs and colours represented, but they don’t necessarily follow established traditional lines.  Personally, I hail from scottish, english and maori descent (that I know of) and probably other besides.  That is to say, despite the fact that my skin is the pale lily-white of the scottish poor and english convict, i’m actually 1/8th (or something) black.  My wife is in a similar position, but descendant from the aboriginal people – her grandmother is one of the Tasmanian aboriginal elders.  My daughter’s birth registration recognises her as being of aboriginal descent.

Tasmania is a state that knows a little something about racism.  Just ask a full-blooded Tasmanian aboriginal about it (you can’t, they’re all dead.), and yet i’ve never known anyone to be discriminated against in modern times because of it.  Certainly aboriginals have a harder time, particularly on the mainland, for similar reasons that I have heard black americans do – lack of education, born to poverty, crime, abuse.  These are problems that exist within the modern aboriginal culture, problems that society are trying to fix, problems that have no simple fix.  (Problems that our previous government used to perform some of the most incredible institutional racism of our time, but I digress)

The point is that, for the most part, these are problems of ‘traditional’ racism for us.  That movie kind of racism, where a black man can’t get a job cause they dont take kindly to his type round here.  Aboriginals aren’t uneducated because they are prevented from going to school.  They’re uneducated because a vicious cycle in their culture prevents them from seeing the benefit in making the effort.  Some do and escape the cycle, and it is important that all assistance possible be given them. 

Part of the problem of modern race disadvantages is the fact that you can’t help people who don’t help themselves.  Whilst real hateful people still exist and may always exist who will hurt these people simply because of their, the idea that people of all races are equal is one that is gaining ascendance amongst modern people.  I have met several truly racist people in my life but they are the exception, not the rule, and I take decided offence at the implication that we are all racist.

I may have swayed from my original points and i’m not sure i’m as coherant as I could be, but thats nothing strange in arguments about so passionate a topic I suppose.  In the end, I put it like this.

I have never oppressed anyone.
I will not apologise or feel guilty for the ease or hardship I have or have not had.
I have worked hard in my life.
I have helped others along the way.

Personally, I think white guilt is a crock, and am always happy to point out that those who did some of the most damage, short of the massacres, to racial relations in this country were “only trying to help” and honestly thought they had the Aboriginal’s best interests at heart.  I wont carry their guilt either.

Essay: Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.

Fresh off the not-press (actually a couple of days old now but anyway) is this fantastic essay by Clay Shirky.  It covers off the problems facing the newspapers today and points out the hard truths; that this is not a unique or new problem, that there is no guarantee that newspapers will, or even should, survive, that journalism and newspapers are not the same thing.

My favorite quote, “‘You’ll miss us when we’re gone’ has never been a good business model”.

The main points of the essay seem to be:

  • People in the industry have known this was coming and purposefully ignored the pragmatists who warned that their preparations and ideas (micropayments, ad-supported, drm) were not working.
  • We are in the middle of a revolutionary cycle, the likes of which existed in 1500 with the invention of the Gutenberg press.
  • Revolutions are scary, social contracts and long-lived institutions die, but we cannot prevent them simply by putting our fingers in our ears and shouting “la la la”.
  • Much of what was happening and considered “the way things work” were actually that way by coincidence and environment.  Changing the environment will change those things, like it or not.  This will go for music, movies and tv as well, however hard they fight it.
  • We have no way to know what the future of these changes will bring.  We just have to wait and see.

This is a scary and exhilarating time to be alive and see the new world opening up, much, I imagine, as it was for the people living through the literacy and print revolution of the 1500’s.  I find myself particularly concerned by the changes as I straddle several lines both in the old world and the dawning one.  As a technologist and solutions architect, I find the changes invigorating and exciting.  The new technologies, the connectedness of our world.  The internet gives everyone their own platform, their own space, their own voice – and if that leads to a cacophony of babellian proportions then that is the sound the new world makes.

I am also a writer and have been for many years.  The internet gave me a platform, particularly when I was younger, for poetry and fiction.  It brings the industry within reach and allows collaboration and discussion with people all over the world.  It brings ebooks which the technologist and reader in me loves as I carry whole libraries around on my phone, so reams of reading material is always at my fingertips.

But also as a writer and reader I love books.  Not just the content, but the objects themselves, the feel, smell, look of them.  Despite owning hundreds upon hundreds of ebooks and reading on my phone, I also own a small library full of books, all perched on their shelves in my office, slowly transforming it into a library.  This revolution that is sweeping the world and changing it is threatening these books that I love.  Electronic books are cheaper to produce and distribute, free to duplicate and take up no physical space at all save the space the storage medium takes in your pocket.  There are many other benefits too that ebook-lovers will tout (instant word definitions, book search, instant purchase in the case of kindle).

Eventually these could destroy the market for physical books.  In the same way, ebooks being easy to copy undermines their value in the same was as it does for music, tv and movies.  It will be harder to make a living as an author, indeed, it may eventually become impossible, destroying the very possibility of achieving the dream I have held since I was a young child.  You cannot be a full-time author if the job itself no-longer exists.

What will happen then?  Will novels cease to be made?  I doubt it, but what they are, and the way they are made, may well change.  No-one will really know till it happens as revolutions are a time to experiment.

We just have to wait and see.  It’s frightening.  Many of us are torn by conflicting loyalties and desires.  Tomorrow’s world will be very different, and theres no-way of knowing how long it will take to get there.  Remember: It was Gutenberg’s revolution that made it even possible to have newspapers.  The idea that they are a necessity that cannot be allowed to die is a falsity.  Society existed before and will exist after newspapers – if there is something better, then people will use that, and newspapers will die.  Maybe, even before that something better.

The essay:

Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable « Clay Shirky

Common mistakes in Sharepoint Development

I was sent an interesting article today about performance issues in Sharepoint Object Model Code.  There are some interesting points in there, particularly with regards to how to structure code to minimise database calls.

InfoQ: SharePoint Object Model Performance Considerations

It is important to realise that a lot of these mistakes would be quite easy to make, particularly for a developer more used to the windows forms environment.  One I was quite taken by was when they pointed out that each discrete time the “items[]” element was accessed, if the results weren’t stored, it trigger a complete rowfetch from the database.  That sort of thing, used in the standard way in a loop, could cause an awful lot of database access.