Month: January 2013

Warrior [Ke$ha] (CD)

Kesha Warrior Album ArtLike any self-respecting intellectualoid, I had only haughty disdain for Ke$ha and her antics. After all, she sang a childish bubble-gum rocky electropop that glorified getting drunk, getting high, and calling people either douchebags or losers. On top of that, she couldn’t even sing!

Then I spent two weeks in Hawaii, working on the house. My handyman, in his early twenties, forced me to listen to Ke$ha’s first album, Animal + Cannibal on the half hour drive from and to the site. At first, I was horrified. After a couple of days, I was intrigued at how easily some of her songs just catch your mind. I never got into the lyrics as much as he did, but I started really appreciating the music.

First of all, the criticism leveled at Ke$ha is appropriate. She cannot sing, as she amply demonstrated in her live appearances:


L’America: The World of Movies

It is incredibly hard to gain an idea of what a country feels like without actual experience there. To make up for it, I guess, we tend to use sources of information that are very, very indirect. 

So it happened that Albanians started crossing the strait into Italy, fooled by Italian soap operas into thinking that every Italian lives in a marble palace, and that even the poor can afford a bedroom for each child. Imagine the shock when they landed into one or the poorer parts of the country and found laundry hanging from the balconies, and the cars tiny and old.

Before coming to America, I had a similar image of the place, grown from decades of watching American movies and TV shows. I did know that the wealth displayed in the movies was an ideal (mostly since we had the same type of fiction in our own movies). What I didn’t know was that the America that comes across in Hollywood productions is similarly fictionalized when it comes to attitudes and customs.

I’ll give you a glaring example: any decent Hollywood movie has to have at least a car chase scene, a gun fight, and a sex scene. This is such a powerful trope that those three have to be inserted into movies even when they don’t make a whole lot of sense to the story. Why is there a car chase on the freeways in the Matrix Trilogy? How do you get to gun fighting in the Star Wars universe? Surely, nobody would be dumb enough to randomly shoot in a starship, right?


L’America: Where Do I Get a Visa

As most people around the world know, America is split when it comes to immigration. One part of the country remembers that America is a country of immigrants. Even the oldest inhabitants came here from Asia, tens of thousands of years ago. To prevent people from entering the country, these people say, is unfair to them and to America, which has always benefited from successive waves of immigration.

On the other hand, many people feel threatened in their livelihood and in the vision of a unified America by waves of immigration. That was true at the end of the 19th Century, when many though Chinese immigration had swamped the country in the West. Now it is mostly Latino immigration that is of concern to some.

The discussion about immigration itself has become muddied, in that cross-border traffic has been linked with the drug trade and with illegal attempts to cross the border. Since 9/11, the situation has been complicated by the threat of terrorism.

Lastly for the introduction, America is a wonderful democracy. Like all functioning democracies (there aren’t many in the world) it works very well when it comes to regulating the functioning of the voting society. Like all functioning democracies, though, it works extremely poorly when it comes to regulating the functioning of the non-voting. That’s true for laws concerning children, minorities, and non-citizens.


L’America: Introducing L’America

When I moved to America (from Europe), I was surprised at how different things were. I had to get used to a new life in every detail – from the banal and bureaucratic (“Where do I get a Social Security Number?”) to the social (“Why is dating so different?”). 

No sooner had I gotten used to everything being different that my friends and family in Europe started using me as a resource to explain to them why America did this, that, or the other thing. This all started with the election of George W. Bush, and initially the questions focused on details of the process.

The asking didn’t stop with the passing of the hanging chad from the vocabulary. Every time America did something, or whenever someone needed practical advice on living in and visiting America, I would offer help and guidance. 


The Law of Wishing Well

Once upon a time, there were wells. Those were long, straight holes dug into the ground, usually with a retaining wall and a pulley. You dug until you hit fresh water and used that for drinking, bathing, watering the plants, etc. Some people thought that wells could be magic (they certainly could be tragic, e.g. if you fell into one and drowned). So they’d throw something (usually a coin) and make a wish. 

This is not about that kind of well. This is an article about people’s ability to wish well. My thesis is going to be that people wish poorly for a variety of reasons, and that it is incredibly important to analyze a wish and turn it well, instead of just implementing whatever it is the person wished.

I have had problems with this in my personal life in the past. You know the moments a wide-eyed and clearly not well-slept friend comes over and says you should be going on a wild adventure? And I look at him or her and say, “You really should go to sleep.” Infuriating, right?

Well, in my professional life the same problem has been much worse. Usually, that’s because I am several steps removed from the person making the wish, and by the time I hear about it, I cannot see the wide eyes. I just have a feature request and I scratch my head.


HOWTO: Map Truecrypt USB Drives on Linux

One of the little annoyances with USB drives on Linux is that they are placed on a different device node each time, depending on the sequence with which they were mounted. The problem with that is that if you tell Truecrypt to mount, say, /dev/sde1, it might be a different drive next time you mount.

My setup here is such that I have truecrypt mounting drives automagically using autofs. I have a smart script that knows how to mount all sorts of things, and truecrypt files are just one of those things. (It also knows how to automatically mount source code repositories, ssh/ftp/http file systems, ISO files, and a bunch of other things.

The one thing that eluded me, though, is the ability to mount automatically USB drives, because I have no fixed target to work with. After a while, I was quite annoyed at having a script that was almost perfect and dug up if there was a way to identify a drive that didn’t depend on the order in which they were connected or responding.

Turns out there is a very simple way, at least on Kubuntu: the /dev directory has all sorts of fancy symlinks that give you alternate names for the devices you already find in the top level directory. In this case, the devices we want are simply in the /dev/disk/by-id directory.

There are two easy ways to go about this, depending on the information you have:


Habla Espanol? Chat Translation in Pidgin

logo.pidginI have a new surfing buddy in Mexico. He doesn’t speak much English, I am struggling with Spanish. It works fine in the water, because we just nod and congratulate when we hit a good wave – the expression of joy doesn’t need translation. Organizing a trip, though, was a nightmare until recently.

I figured out that instant messaging was a good solution. I could type something in English into Google Translate, which is good enough for communication (although at times hilarious). I would then copy and paste the translation into the client. He would read and reply, usually doing as I did.

The process works, but is slow. So I started looking at something that would automate the copy/paste part. I needed a tool that would take what I typed, translated it into the target language, and then translated the reply back to me. In essence, I would have a conversation in English, and my friend would have a conversation in Spanish, and the tool in-between would be the interpreter.

Guess what, i found the solution. It’s the purple-translation plugin for Pidgin. It works like a charm, and aside from getting occasional snide comments about the fact that “you don’t say it that way,” the other end frequently forgets that I speak none of their language. And I tested that with a friend in Russia, one in France, and one in India.


Why Android Must Die – and Why Nokia Did It Right

Have you ever held an Android (or newer BlackBerry) phone in your hands and played with it? Have you ever experienced that sometimes, randomly, when you didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, the phone freezes for a variable amount of time? Nothing seems to be helping, you can punch keys and screen as much as you want, but the phone is dead. Then, miraculously, the phone springs back to life.

You’ve probably seen that. It’s one of the most annoying features of Java, the system that underpins Android (and BlackBerry apps), garbage collection. Essentially, your app uses the memory in chunks it gets in credit. After a while, the tax collector comes to visit, everybody has to stop what they are doing, and the tax collector decides what memory is not used any longer, frees it up, moves everything around to be in a smaller packet, and then leaves. 

Apple apps don’t do that. They free their memory as soon as they don’t need it. That slows things down incrementally, but you never have that stupid freeze that blocks you out of your phone (well, only out of your app). Apple apps are written in Objective C, where memory is handled differently. Better, from the perspective of mobile apps.

But why did Android choose Java where Apple chose Objective C? And why does it mean that, as the title boldly states, Android Must Die? And what does Nokia have to do with any of this?