Site Moved and Temporary Theme
I’ve moved my site off of Posterous as the April 30th closure was fast approaching. Muelnet . Org is now hosted on Tumblr, and will be so for the foreseeable future. The RSS feed should be transferred over as well as the DNS settings. So any RSS subscribers should continue getting my feed in their reader as usual.
That’s all for now folks. Hopefully once I’ve got this theme stuff worked out I will be back to posting more regularly. There are a lot of topics I have been wanting to post about, but I justn’t haven’t had the time to sit down and write lately. Anyways, that’s all for now folks.
Losing the Magic
Call it what you want, immersion, suspension of disbelief, etc., as for me, I prefer ‘the magic.’ All of it means the same thing: the willingness to forget the bonds of reality and go forth on new adventures. Lately I’ve been watching all the Star Trek series in the order they would appear in the Star Trek timeline. Today Star Trek: Voyager just lost the magic. I was watching S5E25 followed immediately by S6E1, Equinox parts 1 and 2 respectively when my ability to see past the unreality was broken.
I could go on to list the ways in which the episodes were broken, (and believe me it would be quite a list), but this post really isn’t about Star Trek. It’s about the magic. When writing, in any genre of fiction, the writer must pose themselves on the narrow road of believability. If they avoid the fantastical, the extraordinary, they risk losing their readers. Stray too far in the other direction and you become Dan Brown.
The Part in Which I Talk About Dan Brown (But Really It’s About the magic)
Look at me being a Literature Snob. But in all seriousness, Dan Brown’s writing only works because he doesn’t give you time to stop and think about what you just read. He’s the Michael Bay of books. Let down that pace for even a second and people will see through it.
I remember the first time something really lost the magic for me. It was when I was reading Deception Point by Dan Brown. Having read three of his books already, I started on a fourth. I started reading the book then left it at my Dad’s house. Being me, when I finally got around to reading it again I started from the beginning. Dan Brown has a very specific formula:
- the hook
- the setup
- the action
always in that order. In my first attempt at reading the book I had made it to the beginning of the action. Then, when starting over, I read through the setup again. Which gave me that time to stop and think. And when you do you start to think how crazy it is. How poorly written the characters are. How ridiculous the scenario is and *poof* the magic disappears.
It kicks you in your gut, a sneaker of disappointment. All the excitement falls apart. All your appreciation of related works disappears as you are sucked into the realization that none of it is any good. Up to this point you’ve been able to defend the fiction and then suddenly the other side rushes upon you. All those little problems you’ve let go by suddenly become the heads of the hydra, multiplying as you try to suppress them. And then I stop my hyperbole. You just feel bad.
And Then The Good
All this pessimism has made me want to talk about people doing it right. So now I go to my two favorite examples of the magic done right. These two works are some of my favorite works of fiction of all time. Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. What makes these two works so extraordinary is how they manage to make ordinary people fascinating.
Many works, whether they be sci-fi, historical fiction, or something in between have what I call ‘The Magic.’ If we are talking about the narrow road of believability many shows, Star Trek included, like to keep one wheel just over the shoulder, just a touch outside the path towards the fantastical (Michael Bay on the other hand goes for THE MAGIC!!! which would be offroading in dreamland).
Firefly and Death of a Salesman forego the need to tell the story of the hero, the guy who beats the odds, the most important people in the universe. Instead, they focus on the guy getting the shit kicked out of him. And their narrative is stronger for it.
Now I’m running out of things to say. I’ve let my creativity atrophy, I guess I just needed a good kick in the gut.
When a Good Trek Goes Bad
Image Credit Memory Alpha
Editors Note: I wrote this a little while ago at work one day and meant to post it after I got home. Unfortunately I forgot. I’ve debated since then about whether I should post it or not. I’ve decided the content is worth posting. Hope you enjoy.
I guess I was foolish to expect better from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Watching it you get the overwhelming sense that it is nothing more than a product of its era. In the first season alone there was the episode about the planet that was dying because of holes in the Ozone layer, then the episode about people from the 80’s waking up from a Cryogenic Freeze. But unlike the time specific nature of those episodes this one was almost the opposite.
It dealt with an issue that humanity has been dealing with for awhile, and one that we still struggle with. Unlike those episodes, this one managed to do so many things wrong. The episode in question is called A Matter of Perspective and deals with a murder trial involving Commander William Riker. The problem I had didn’t deal so much with Commander Riker being accused of murder, there was good reason to accuse him of murder (even if he was innocent). It instead dealt with the witness testimonies looking at intent.
Before I can get to exactly what happened I first need to talk about the nature of this murder case. First of all the proceedings that are being shown are to decide whether Captain Picard should send Riker to the planet for trial. Secondly, it is important to note that Riker’s supposed motive for murder was being caught in improper conduct with another man’s wife. While we are never told exactly what happened we are given three different view points on what happened. Riker says the wife was tired of her scientist husband not giving her enough attention, the scientist’s assistant says they were both in on it, but, the real problem is the wife’s account. Her claim is that her husband foiled a rape attempt.
The problem is the message these depictions of women crying rape send. Everyone watching Star Trek knows Riker wouldn’t rape anyone. Sure there are several instances of him having sex with women (alien and human) throughout the series, but always with the woman’s consent (often with the woman initiating the advances). And this is exactly the type of meme that is so damaging to stopping the rape culture in much of the modern Western World. It portrays the woman as lying in so they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions. It gives an example of women coming forward with rape allegations as people who were caught or regretted their decision to have sex.
While I realize Star Trek is a work of fiction and not real life, these things affect people in more ways than I think we realize. I’m not going to say that violence in TV, movies, and video games causes real life violence, however, denying the effect of television, movies, and video games on our cultural understanding of issues is short-sighted at best. While I realize this episode is over 20 years old now, that doesn’t save it from my ire. I feel it necessary when coming across these things to point them out, because when people stop doing that, the cause becomes lost.
So here’s to not forgetting to be decent human beings!
I am Disappoint: Star Trek Edition
Lately I’ve been doing what I refer to as a “Trekathon.” In simple terms it means I’ve been watching every episode of every series of Star Trek (except the animated one, who wants to watch that?). I’m proceeding in the order in which they occur in the time line, meaning I started with Star Trek: Enterprise, followed by The Original Series, and so on and so forth.
Next glimmer of hope came at the second to last episode of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In it we were introduced to Captain Walker Keel. Once again, having heard it and not seen it, I was convinced it was the proper Germanic pronunciation of my name (Kiel, for those of you who don’t know). Instead we have some guy named after the steadying mechanisms on boats. I guess the lesson in all this is, your name is probably less important than you think. I guess my dream of having a Star Trek character with my name will never be realized. So sad. EOF
So far I’ve enjoyed watching these shows, but one thing has bothered me. I keep getting excited thinking there is a cast member who shares my last name. First, in The Original Series there was Lieutenant Kyle. Upon hearing his name I thought there was not only a crew member with my last name, but one who pronounced it in its non-Germanic form. Alas, as you can see from the link, it was not so.
Not a Chair to Sit In
Lately I’ve been trying to improve my ergonomics. Being a computer engineer means spending a good portion of the day sitting in a chair. It turns out, how you sit in a chair, and what chair you’re sitting in make a big difference. The posture I’ve gotten down, but I’m still having trouble getting the chair right.
The chair allotted for dorm use has a proper ergonomic back, but the height was wrong. I’m 6’3”, which makes me a fairly big guy. The chair didn’t allow me to have my knees at a good angle and I was too low compared to the desk. Since this was all started by me trying to fix my shoulder, the right relative chair/desk height is rently extremely helpful for recovery.
So I brought my computer chair from home. Unfortunately, I bought this chair for comfort, not ergonomics. The height is perfect now, all my joints are aligned just about right. But, now the back is much too leaned back.
While this is not my normal fair for my blog, I felt it important thing to write about. Bad ergonomics, bad posture, and bad chairs have contributed to an injury which has been with me for over six months. I’m working on mine, maybe this post will help you start thinking about your own.
Big Brother has Only Your Best Interests at Heart
No he doesn’t. Once again the U.S. Government is showing where its true loyalties lie, and it’s not with Americans. It’s with big business and entrenched interests. They are proving
it this time with another round of copyright “enhancements” (my word not theirs).
If you are perceptive you will have noticed the stop censorship flag at the top of my site. Clicking that link will take you to the biased viewpoint on this topic. For the straight from the source information see http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-h3261/show. If you can’t understand all the legal ramifications of the proposal, take a second and look at the entities who are backing it and those oppose it. Backers: entrenched media interests who have a habit of sueing children and abusing the legal system, and Opposers: educators, technologists, and consumer advocates.
I know which side I’m on. Which are you?
The Free Stuff Diary: Google Swag
Tonight Google gave a tech talk for the students in my department. At my school giving a tech talk really means give the students free junk in the hope that some of them will come work for you. So I went to the talk to get my allotment of free junk.
Tonight the tally came to a free sandwich, free pair of sunglasses, a slice of pizza, a cookie and an android plushie. Technically I won the plushie by answering a question. So all in all a productive night. Oh and I also got to prototype some circuits today before going to the tech talk.
So a good day at the old Uni (150 this year).
Today I wrote my first piece of software that other people will actually use. I have contributed to projects that other people have created, and I’ve also written some automation scripts that we use at work to speed up certain things, but never before I have I found something that needed to be fixed and worked out a solution from scratch. Unable to come up with a clever name I called it “Changeloggerizer.”
For software people the idea of a changelog is pretty common place, but of those who don’t know a changelog is a way of keeping track of changes to files and projects that are worked on by large groups of people. They are also used to just keep track of what state things are in, what bugs have been fixed on big projects no matter how many people are writing them.
The need to create changeloggerizer came about from work. I are increasingly working towards automation and working with lots of different executables that need to be installed on every computer we set up. I started noticing problems with keeping track of who updated what, and what versions of the software we had download etc., all of which stemmed from a lack of communication. We have a mailing list for our department that we could notify when we updated or changed things, but most of the people on that mailing list don’t actually care about the software sets. Of the twelve people in our department, only about 3-4 have direct involvement with these folders full of software. Because we are trying to script things, having version numbers isn’t usually a good idea, so it was getting quite annoying to try to figure out what version different pieces of software were in the folders.
In comes Changeloggerizer. The basic idea behind Changeloggerizer is making it extremely simple to write readable changelogs. The program is written in Java and I have a whole defense I could give about this, but I’ll save it for another time. The program basically consists of one window with two text entry boxes and a big button. One text box is labeled “Change” and the other is labeled “Name”, the big button says “Submit.” If this was just for me I would have used some other system for this sort of thing. But at work, if I wanted people to use this they needed something super simple like Changeloggerizer. I couldn’t count on people installing things, so it needed to be portable. It couldn’t be a commandline tool because people wouldn’t use it.
There are a few more things that need to be added to Changeloggerizer before I’m finished with it, but today marked what I’m going to call the 0.1 release. Once I get finished setting up http://muelnet.com I’ll have more about Changeloggerizer over there, including a link to a public git repo. Until then
I just got back from playing Ultimate Frisbee with some people from my dorm (actually I just got back from showering after said ultimate frisbee but that isn’t important). All in all I had a good time and met some new people, and got to know some people I’d met earlier this year a little better. I played decently and had my fair share of good plays as well as bad.
It was a good time and there were enough people there that it was actually split into two teams, which was fine, but it would have been nice to been able to meet more people from the other game as well. I found out I still have the tennis style endurance. In tennis you train to be able to sprint for about 30 seconds then recover in about 20 seconds and repeat the process for several hours. Which is what I was able to do in this frisbee game. Unfortunately, my sprint times were dimished, and some better long term endurance would have been nice.
So to sum it up, good time playing Ultimate Frisbee with some of my class mates.
Open Standards vs. Open Source
This initially appeared on my blog on my VPS, since I’ve moved my personal blog back to Posterous I’m posting it here as well.
NOTE: In this context I am using Open Source and Free Software interchangeably
There has been debates in the free software community as to whether or not open standards count for anything. The argument is open standards are not a replacement for open source. This thinking is wrong. Open standards are several times more important than open source in the short term, because it allows for competition.
What are Open Standards?
Open standards are a way for data and messages to be passed around easily. That is it. An example of an open standard you might know is HTTP. HTTP of course, is the protocol that allows computers to send and receive web pages, mostly (it can be used for sending other information, but usually other protocols are used, i.e. FTP). Another open standard you may be familiar with is HTML. HTML is how websites are made. It is a way of storing data in a manner which can be interpreted by the computer. Some of the most important technologies around today are based on open standards.
Why are they Important?
Often times the importance of open standards are ignored by free software/open source people. Usually, they argue open standards are not equivalent to open source and we shouldn’t be worried about whether a product uses open standards. This kind of thinking is short-sighted and utterly ridiculous. If I was to make a transportation analogy it would be this: standards are roads, programs are cars. Closed standards would be like private roads that require you to pay and place a sticker in your window. Sure you can try to beat the system, but it may be illegal and you might only be able to drive on certain parts of the road. An open standard is like the highway system. Anyone can drive on it without having to pay. When we use open standards for storage and communication, anyone can write software for them. Yes this means people can write proprietary software, but it also means you can use a fully compatible free/open source program that can work just as well.
Before I mentioned HTML and HTTP as open standards. Now everyone can browse the web using free software. An opposite example, one where free software has never seen the same level of success is document editing. Here Microsoft Office is the dominant product and it uses its own closed standard (.doc,.ppt, etc., and later .docx, etc.,). Opening a Word document in any other program never works quite as well. Saving into Word’s format is even hairier (I’ve been bitten by this one personally). Because Word has a monopoly, people feel the need to use Microsoft products to make sure they can interoperate with other people.
Similar situations happen all the time. A proprietary system becomes dominant using a closed standard, forcing others to use the same software to ensure compatibility. Any time an open standard is used the door way for free and open source software is much larger, and often times it leads to greater success for open products. If the goal is open source domination, then the first step is open standards.