Lord of the Rings

I just bought first-day Lord of the Rings tickets last night. It should surprise nobody to learn that I was a major LotR fan in my childhood. There was a period where I read the whole thing – including appendices – about every other weekend. I stopped counting at about 30; my best estimate right now is 35 reads, but only two in the last decade. From what I’ve seen and heard, this promises to be an excellent rendition into film, so I’m quite excited. If it’s that good it might even erase the blot on the cultural landscape put there by Ralph Bakshi. It doesn’t hurt that it was shot in New Zealand, either. I have a soft spot for films with NZ connections.

Many other links from the Tolkien Sarcasm Page at the same site are also extremely amusing, at least to a Tolkien geek like me. I think my favorite is the Middle-earth Test, though the If LOTR were run like RABT [rec.arts.books.tolkien] piece in the Crackpot Theories section comes close in a different way.

My Web-log Code

The code that I use to generate the content you’re reading seems to’ve stabilized, and I finally got around to writing a semi-decent doc file, so I’ve wrapped it all up for download here. Enjoy!

Welcome, Freenet folks!

I expect a spike in my usually-modest hit counts today and tomorrow, as a result of this post to the freenet-tech mailing list by Ian Clarke. As I pointed out in a reply to the list, his posting of our email conversation was done without permission or even notification, and omits some messages. Having more respect for his privacy than he has for mine, I do not intend to correct the omission.

case, welcome to all the newcomers. I hope you’ll take a little time to look at something besides my articles specifically about Freenet and my picture that was posted to the list. For your convenience, here are some links most likely to be of interest:

There’s also a pointer to a really good link collection for distributed-filesystem and other stuff in the very next (actually previous) entry, just a little below that is the message to which Ian referred, and that in turn contains a link to a previous entry on the same topic. Also, don’t forget to visit my humor section to help maintain some perspective. Enjoy!

Some Links, and Serendipity

I had a spare moment at work and decided to spend it updating myself (a never-ending process) on what’s going on in the world of distributed data storage. First I found a really good link collection. From there, I found a reference to Graydon Hoare’s Symptomatic File System which looks very cool. As I read the paper, I came across this quote:

I also discussed this sort of stuff with Ian Clarke in email for a while, but he seemed totally uninterested in making a filesystem (with things like the ability to update data, or even ensure it stays online if it’s not popular)

In the context of my comments earlier today about Ian, this is a very serendipitous find. It’s also interesting that when I mentioned this quote in a conversation with another well-known and oft-cited researcher in this field he said he’d had a similar experience, so that makes three. Makes Ian’s claim that “nobody cares about persistence” rather suspect, doesn’t it?

How Many U Are You?

In case you ever wondered, the “U” used for the sizes of rack-mounted computer equipment is defined by IEC-60297. Despite the fact that I thought it was a European-derived standard, it seems that it really is exactly 1.75″ high and 19″ wide – not some number of millimeters. The thing that really amazes me is how hard it was to find an authoritative definition. In fact, I’m still not absolutely sure the number I have is authoritative, because IEC-60297 and its American cousin IEEE-1101 are not available except for pay. I’m quite sure I’m not the only one disgusted by the idea of having to pay for standards documents; the fact that RFCs are freely available to everyone has undoubtedly played some role in the Internet’s success.

Apparently I’m 42U, which just happens to be the same size as a standard rack. I guess that means a lot of people have less than a full rack’s worth of equipment, but not me.

Data Loss in Freenet, part 2

Yet again, I made the mistake of trying to correct mistaken impressions about Freenet on Slashdot. Ian Clarke – Freenet’s original designer – jumped in with this counterfactual gem:

Also, with respect to data loss, the only data Freenet loses is that which is unrequested. If the author wants to ensure that unpopular data is available in Freenet then all they have to do is reinsert it.

I immediately responded:

That’s just not good enough, for reasons that have already been discussed in this article and elsewhere. Reinserting data is not only horribly inefficient but also unreliable. How often do you need to reinsert? You can’t know that unless you know what else is going on that will cause old copies to drop off the end of everyone’s cache, so you make a pessimistic assumption and spam the network with reinsertions…and it seems to work until someone else starts doing the same things and the caches start turning over faster and IT JUST REALLY SUCKS. Freenet is useful as a data transmission method but not as a data store, and some people want a data store. Get over it.

Once Ian remembered that we’d talked before, he sent me a barrage of email trying to intimidate me into silence. As readers could surely guess, it didn’t work. For the record, then, here is what I really believe about Freenet:

  • Freenet is very interesting conceptually and as an exploration of how to do various things while maintaining strong anonymity/uncensorability. It’s a very interesting research project.
  • Freenet’s rudimentary caching – which I call rudimentary because it lacks basic updatability and therefore totally punts on consistency – is also very interesting, and much nearer to my own “core interests” than the anonymity.
  • Freenet is not a persistent data store, and should not be suggested where such a data store is needed. It’s like putting stuff in /tmp and expecting it to be there when you come back months later. Debunking myths is something I go out of my way to do, and this is Freenet Myth #1.
  • While Freenet’s ideas are very interesting, its implementation is severely flawed. The development process is even more flawed, and the “culture” that has grown among the developers worse still.

The last point probably deserves further explanation. Certain Freenet team members – especially Ian, and Oskar Sandberg almost as much – go well beyond common evangelism in their efforts to promote Freenet. Any non-laudatory comment about Freenet in a public forum, however accurate the comment might be, will be viciously attacked both publicly and privately. At the same time, the most absurd of exaggerations and other positive statements made in those same team members’ undeniable presence will be allowed to stand without clarification or correction. To me, that’s putting comfortable lies ahead of inconvenient truths, and is contrary to the spirit of honest research. That and the data-store myth explain why I’m so aggressive in my own criticism of Freenet – sometimes a devil’s advocate is necessary to create a balanced view. Just as disagreeing with feminist extremists does not make me anti-feminist, disagreeing with Freenet extremists does not really make me anti-Freenet.

Democracy, Freedom of Religion, etc.

In the context of an infoAnarchy thread about Abandoning the US I got into a bit of a flame war with the site’s owner, Erik Möller. My first response was, I thought, pretty moderate considering the vitriolic tone of the article itself. But Erik, who either wrote the original article under a pseudonym or at the very least finds himself in full accord with its anti-US bigotry, couldn’t leave well enough alone. Here are some of his more “interesting” statements, with the childish “you need therapy because you disagree with me” putdowns deleted for the sake of clarity:

US is not a democracy
When it comes to democracy (freedom of voting), the US system has proven itself to be lacking behind even very basic democracies
The ultimate authority on English grammar
What I said is that the US are “lacking behind even very basic democracies” (as in, democratic countries). Now, this sentence seems grammatically correct to me
More authoritative than the dictionary
although you may wave with dictionary quotes, these are only of limited helpfulness in this context
Pedophilia laws == genital mutilation
When it comes to sexual freedom, the US may laugh about some African tribal rules, but their “statutory rape” laws are really on the same level.
[Note: Erik is a prominent advocate of the view that the world would be a better place if children had more sex and everyone had more drugs, as in the list of his supposed antidotes to terrorism in a previous infoAnarchy article. That is the woefully-incomplete list toi which my earlier article was a response.]

OK, I think we’ve had just about enough about Herr Möller. Here are some excerpts from what I was trying to say in the same thread:

It’s a large world, after all
I don’t have any problem conceding that there are a dozen, maybe a couple of dozen, countries in the world that are more free than the US. However, there are a lot of countries in the world. Much as the original poster “forgot” that people actually live in the places he’d like to create new markets, you seem to’ve forgotten that there’s a world besides the US and western Europe. Most of Africa, South America and Asia – that’s a lot of countries – are considerably less free than the US, and not a few in Europe itself.
Matthew 7:3
In a display of exactly the same sorts of arrogance and “cultural imperialism” for which the US itself is often lambasted, you seem dead certain that the people best qualified to identify and fix everything that’s wrong with the US are not Americans but western Europeans (like yourself, what a surprise).
The Real Point
There’s just no excuse for “let the US die” even if the US is as awful as you claim.
Standards of democracy
Suffrage is almost universal, elections are regularly held, few people are prevented from voting or intimidated while doing so, there are – despite the two-party system – many candidates to choose from, and the end result at least roughly represents the popular will. That’s “basic democracy” isn’t it? In what percentage of the world’s countries – not just western Europe – are all of those things true, Erik?
Freedom *of* religion vs. freedom *from* religion
I accept other people’s right to choose a religion and for religious organizations to have exactly the same rights as any other kind of interest group. I don’t think the government should actively stamp out religion by banning Nativity scenes, for example; I’m not “bothered” by them as you claim you are and see no justification for the government to oppose their display.

The constitutional restriction is on “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Allowing religious organizations to use public facilities does not violate that standard so long as such access is not preferentially granted to members of one religion. “Equality” does not have to mean “zero for anyone”. If you want to provide evidence that the simple English words of the first amendment support a different conclusion, or that the people who wrote/signed/ratified the constitution thought it meant something different, feel free.