Archive for September, 2007

Now even random spammers believe I think too highly of myself

September 19th, 2007

From a spam email I received today, after the link to their site:

Greeting yaron
get rid of that self-esteem once and for all.

I think I’ll keep my self-esteem, but nice of them to offer.

Release notes should really include the release notes

September 18th, 2007

A new version of the Firefox browser was released today. A minor update from version 2.0.0.6 to version 2.0.0.7.

Even more minor than that, actually, since what came out was just an RC version for testing. Sometime in the past I downloaded an update that was considered a beta or RC, so I’m on the list to keep getting them on the automatic updates.

The problem is that there was no information provided on what exactly the update includes, and what is the purpose behind it. The release notes page did not contain any relevant info (I’m not promising they won’t change the page in the future. It doesn’t contain the info now, and haven’t for quite a few hours so far).

It had lots of other things, the general outline they put on each release-notes page. But the actual release notes, what was changed from the last version, no. Nothing.

There wasn’t even any link to a page where this information could be found. Because, well, in theory it would have been that exact same page.

That’s a very very poor way to roll out an update. If you ask someone to install a new version of a software, and especially if it’s a beta/RC that you want people to test and provide feedback for, you have to tell them why and what has changed.

Seems very sensible to me. Apparently doesn’t seem so sensible to some of the people in the Mozilla foundation. Don’t get me wrong, they’re doing a great job, and Firefox is terrific. But most people don’t follow all the bugs and progress on every single application they use, so it’s far from obvious what an update is for.

I do hope they’ll do better next time. I’m more than willing to install updates, but I need to know why.

In this particular case, if someone is interested, it’s a single fix for a single security vulnerability. Well, a potential whole class of problems, but only a single known point. Which was now actually more of a problem with the Quicktime plug-in (on Windows) and not in Firefox itself, but in this case it’s a good idea to fix it in Firefox as well, to prevent any future problems from the same direction. You can look at the actual bug report for more technical information, if you really want to.

Compensating for DST, twice

September 18th, 2007

This Sunday (well, the night between Saturday and Sunday) Israel went off DST[1], meaning that the clocks had to be set to one hour earlier.

Normally I’m a very small believer in letting computers do things automatically, following the old adage that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself (rather than let a computer guess its way at it). And so usually I always set my computer not to compensate for DST automatically, and change the hour myself on the correct dates.

This year I made a mistake. I figured that changing the clock should be trivial enough for Windows XP to manage doing by itself. So I set the computer on Saturday to correct for DST automatically.

And on Sunday morning everything seemed fine. The time on the computer’s clock did indeed move an hour back, and it showed the correct time.

I went to work. I came back late at night.

And found that sometime during the day the computer… moved the time back yet another hour.

From now on I’ll get back to doing complex tasks like this by myself.

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  1. In Hebrew the DST time is referred to as “Summer Time”/”Summer Clock”, and in contrast the non-DST time is referred to as “Winter Time”/”Winter Clock”[back]

Happy new year

September 13th, 2007

For anyone who lives in Israel, or who is Jewish, have a happy new year. Shana Tova.

Anyone else, well, you probably don’t follow the Jewish calendar anyway, so no worries.

No entry. Seriously.

September 11th, 2007

No entry sign, but there's no roadThe standard No Entry / Do Not Enter road sign is pretty, well, standard.

Almost all over the world, the same red circle with a white horizontal bar.

And it means pretty much the same thing, all over the world, including here. An indication that the road it is attached to is going the other way, and it’s forbidden to drive into it.

Where do you usually see those signs? At the exit of one-way streets, pointing the other way. Often at both edges of the road, to be visible from all directions.

Where do you usually don’t see those signs? On places which are not roads, and where no driver will try to turn to anyway.

Such as, say, at a side of a road where there’s no turning, no diverging road, and surrounding a large concrete and wood pillar standing ahead of several trees.

That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, as you can see, it sometimes works differently.

A Democracy is not a Technocracy

September 2nd, 2007

There are a lot of accusations, that started to fly around after the recent war in Lebanon, against several politicians and military officers. Many justified, many not. Heck, everyone is unhappy after a military exercise which doesn’t end in a resounding success, and military actions never end in resounding successes.

This post is just about one of these claims/accusations. Specifically, there are a lot of people claiming that one of the faults was nominating Amir Peretz as the minister of defence, because he has no military background.

Now, I’m far from being a fan of Peretz. Most of what I have to say about him is not particularly nice. But this particular accusation is stupid nonsense. Not because he does have military experience. He doesn’t. But because it’s not relevant to the way we run our government.

The form of Representative Democracy we’re using is based on the idea that people vote for parties. The parties have some political agenda they’re supposed to focus on[1], and their list of candidates. Based on the relative amount of votes a party receives, the top candidates from the party go in the Knesset (parliament). The leader of the party most likely to manage to form a coalition is given a chance to do so, and if he/she succeeds then the leader becomes the new Prime Minister. And candidates from the parties that joined the coalition get appointments as ministers, based on the political dealings that were made in order to convince them to join the coalition.

Notice how nothing here mentioned particular knowledge and ability in any particular skill related to the relevant ministry? This is not an oversight. This is by design[2].

People vote for a party to represent their general goals and ideals. Maybe even based on the top candidates of that party. But which person gets to be minister of what, that depends more on the agenda of the party (If their political agenda focuses on a specific issue, ministries relevant to that issue will be something they will work for when negotiating) and overall political game, than on the knowledge and pedigree of candidates.

The minister of health does not have to be a medical doctor, or hold degrees in biology, zoology, or environmental studies. The minister of education does not have to have a degree in education, psychology, or sociology. The minister of science does not have to have a degree in physics, biology, chemistry, or math. The minister of culture does not have to have a degree in history, art, or music. And the minister of defence? No need for degree in military studies or strategy, and no need for military experience.

That’s the system. On purpose. This is why we call it a representative democracy, rather than a technocracy.

The minister needs to hold some level of public trust, even if by proxy (of the political party that was voted for). And needs to have the administrative ability to run the ministry.

For the technical knowledge the minister needs to have assistants, and advisors. The responsibility of the minister is not to know in advance about the subject matter, but to be able to find people to inform him/her about relevant topics of the subject matter. And to make decisions that fit the political agenda of the party, are good for the country[3], and make sense based on what the minister can understand from the experts and advisors the minister consults with.

Anyone who isn’t happy with it, well, has a right to. But they have to realize that their position is that they want to get rid of democracy in favour of a technocracy. Not that they want the same type of democracy we have now, except with a minister of defence that knows military. That’s hypocrisy, and intellectual laziness.

After all, if you want a professional for defence, why not in other fields? The usual answer is that it’s because defence is important. There are two problems with that argument:

  1. Education? Also important. Health? Also important. Science? Also important. Finance and economics? Also important. Keep going. Which one of them you think you can abandon and then go on and keep the country alive, and worth living in, after a decade?
  2. If a professional is a superior option for any important field, why wouldn’t it be a good idea for other fields, important or otherwise? It needs to be a good idea there as well, right? So why pick a professional just for defence?

So claiming they want a professional there, means they want a professional everywhere.

And this does not go well with our democratic idea. You can’t keep both. The current election and party structure cannot survive if you need each minister to be a credited professional in the field.

If it’s skill based, there’s no point in an election. Professionals are recognized by other professionals, and by academic institutes, not by the masses[4].

And not everyone can have a degree in everything. So, if you start by the pool of candidates that won votes in a global election, and then filter them in ministries by their knowledge, you can easily get in a position where you only have a single eligible candidate for some ministries. Not very democratic when there’s no choice. Worse, you may get in a position where you have nobody to fill a certain ministry. What do you do then?

People can claim they want a new system of government. They can go and try to solve, to some level, all the technical problems of the new system. But they can’t fault the current system for things which are a parts of the system’s design, while claiming that they really do want the current system and not the replacement system that doesn’t have those “faults”.

Or, in this case, you think Peretz is an idiot? Fine. You think that, only[5] because he has no military experience, it was a huge mistake to appoint him defence minister? Not fine, and you may be a bigger idiot than he is.

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  1. liars, the lot of them, of course, but that’s the difference between practice and theory, right?[back]
  2. As the computer saying goes: “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!”[back]
  3. Hopefully, anyway. And filtered by the minister’s worldview[back]
  4. Though even there it’s a mess, and in many areas you have professionals who disagree, and follow different schools. Which one do you want to make the decisions, unchecked?[back]
  5. other reasons can be fine, as long as this one isn’t on the list[back]