New Chess Games

For the next while, I’ll be “filling in the blanks” when I don’t have anything else to say by posting analyzed versions of chess games from my archive. Here’s the current installment, just to show that I don’t always play a purely defensive boring-endgame style. Most of the time, yes, but not always.

Free Speech for Profit

A certain forum site that shall remain nameless has just gone for-profit. They recently put ads on the site, and now they’ve incorporated – not as a non-profit, which would provide all the protections they claim are the reasons, and be more advantageous tax-wise besides, but as a for-profit entity. Besides explaining certain things, such as the administrator’s total obsession with search-engine rankings, this raises a couple of ethical questions:

  • The value of the site is in its content, which is provided by its users. So far, at least a score of those users have provided more of that value-creating content than have either of the site administrators (most of whose posts are official in nature and not very interesting) on the basis of contributing to a community. The terms of service explicitly deny any responsibility for that content, even though it’s policed carefully and any “safe haven” status would thus be highly questionable. Now the owners expect to have their cake and too, deriving profit from that very content for which they refuse to be held responsible.
  • The site’s owners have been soliciting contributions for some time now, supposedly to defray costs. I know which rate plan they’re on, at which hosting service, and I have personally contributed over half of that cost. I’m hardly the only contributor, and the staff are all volunteers. Unless the owners are spending many hundreds of dollars on search-engine consultants (a distinct possibility, even though that business is 100% snake oil) it’s hard to believe that costs aren’t already being covered. Now those contributions become part of the for-profit entity’s bottom line.

I have no problem with running a discussion forum as a for-profit enterprise, as long as it’s done honestly. Unfortunately, that has not been done. The users – including and perhaps most especially the staff – on the site have quite simply been used for commercial gain, with their contributions solicited under what many would consider false pretenses.

Lessons in Customer Service

As I mentioned here earlier, my Diamondback 1000ES (not 1100ES as I said earlier, and yes that is significant) stairclimber broke a few weeks ago. I finally got someone from Precision Fitness Equipment to come out and look at it on Tuesday, leading to a quick determination that it wasn’t fixable. The part that broke was part of the frame, you see, and fixing it would require some pretty hard-core welding. However, while the original three-year warranty on the machine has expired, the frame is covered by a lifetime warranty. We decided to contact Diamondback and see what we could do. When I say “we” I mean mostly PFE, by the way; they’ve pretty much done all of the work here.

Well, it turns out that they’re not the only ones. PFE just called to tell me that Diamondback is going to replace the entire unit for free. Not only that, but – since they don’t actually make the 1000ES any more – they’re going to ship me an 1100ES as the closest equivalent. That’s right, folks: I’m getting an upgrade. Furthermore, PFE is trying to work it out so delivery is free (piggybacked on other trips) as well.

I just have to say, I’m incredibly impressed by both Diamondback and PFE. Both have given the phrase “customer service” new meaning, and deserve high praise.


If a tool or codebase is unpleasant to work with, productivity will drop. The problem is not that programmers are lazy or undisciplined, but that we all have a mental “gag reflex” and overcoming it takes energy. On a good day, the required energy is simply subtracted from that which would otherwise be applied to productive work; on a bad day it exceeds the energy available and absolutely nothing gets done. Making programmers work on awful code is like requiring them to run an obstacle course every hour.


The people who need to see this and understand it will recognize the context. Everyone else can ignore it.

  1. Information from a press release that is available via an obvious search on Google cannot be considered private.
  2. Alerting someone to a possible (note: not actual) action that might affect them is a courtesy. Absent any kind of demand for a response from them to avert that action, it is not blackmail and calling it that is slander.
  3. Threatening to take away something that someone values if they refuse to do you a favor is blackmail.
  4. Anybody who doesn’t already know these things or understand their implications is in serious need of some education about basic ethics.

That is all.

Leaf Pickup

I think the people who shot down the town budget override should be forced to haul everyone else’s leaves to the composting center. Because of them, the town had to eliminate curbside leaf pickup, so every day I have to fill up the car with big bags of leaves and drop them off on the way to work. And I’m one of the lucky ones, because the composting center really is on the way to work for me; I feel really sorry for some little fifty-year old woman who lives in southeast Lexington and works in downtown Boston or Cambridge. This is what happens when people aren’t properly educated about social contracts and the value of cooperation for everyone, and instead their decisions on a selfish basis like “I don’t have kids so I shouldn’t pay for schools”.

Abusing Science

I just happened to find a very interesting website and report called Politics and Science in the Bush Administration, prepared for the minority office of the House Committee on Government Reform. Here’s part of the introduction:

The report Politics and Science in the Bush Administration (.pdf) finds numerous instances where the Administration has manipulated the scientific process and distorted or suppressed scientific findings. Beneficiaries include important supporters of the President, including social conservatives and powerful industry groups.

The report then goes on to list, in great detail, abuse of political influence to alter, hide, or stop scientific research in twenty areas from Abstinence-Only Education and Agricultural Pollution to Workplace Safety and Yellowstone National Park. It’s very depressing reading for anybody who cares about science and the integrity of the knowledge-seeking and -disseminating processes. It appears that scientific results are being driven by dogma, instead of policy being driven by scientific knowledge. Anybody who cares about science in the US should read the report, and then contact their congresscritter to ensure that these abuses against the pursuit of knowledge do not continue.

28 Days Later

I just watched 28 Days Later on DVD last night. It’s a good movie. Unlike most in this genre, the characters are believable and sympathetically portrayed. The infected (effectively zombies or monsters, plot-wise) are also more believable than usual, and are used sparingly instead of appearing in vast hordes. The thing that really stands out, though, is the atmosphere of the film. The scenes of Jim (the main protagonist) walking around first the hospital where he woke up and then around downtown London struggling to comprehend the enormity of whatever as-yet-unknown disaster has apparently occurred while he was asleep are extremely well done, and the music (by Godspeed You Black Emperor in this case) fits the mood just perfectly.

This is a very disturbing movie. It’s not because of the gore and carnage, which are actually not very prominent but are nonetheless unpleasantly realistic (as opposed to the cartoonish violence of most genre material). It’s not because of the global-catastrophe premise. It’s more because of the little ways in which rational – or at least mostly rational – survivors respond, in the way they interact with each other at a personal and psychological level. It’s all too easy for me to imagine people I know making exactly the decisions and saying or doing exactly the things as people in the movie, even though those things turn out to be grotesquely wrong. I can even imagine myself following some of the less pleasant characters’ lines of thought, and that can be the creepiest experience of all.

Backup4all vs. Handy Backup

Last night I did some simple tests of two very similar Windows backup programs – Backup4all, which I’m already using, and Handy Backup. They both have extremely similar interfaces and features, to the extent that I wonder whether the authors know each other. As far as I can tell, as of Backup4all 2.0 (which just came out) the only significant functional differences are:

  • HB has a synchronization feature which B4A lacks.
  • HB has some plugins to do things like registry and Outlook email backups in addition to files.
  • B4A supports differential backups (delta since last full backup) in addition to incremental (delta since last full or incremental) and a little more control over how incrementals get stored/coalesced.

That’s really about it. The facilities for selecting source and destination directories (including CD-R burning and spanning) seem pretty much exactly alike. The schedulers seem exactly alike except that B4A can combine items into groups which can be scheduled together. The interfaces seem to be at an approximately equal level of maturity and polish. They both produce plain zip files plus separate index files which aren’t really necessary (I just dive straight into the zip files if I want to retrieve something).

For someone like me who doesn’t really use any of the features that are different, there’s really only one thing to distinguish them: when I backed up the same large directory with both programs, B4A was about 20% faster and produced an archive that was just a tiny bit smaller. That’s a welcome result for me, considering that I already have a bunch of B4A backups and it only costs me $12 to upgrade from B4A 1.5 to 2.0 instead of the $30 it would cost someone else to buy either program. Both programs are excellent pieces of work, but in this race it’s B4A by a nose.

Monadnock Pictures

Markus Jork has kindly put up some of his excellent pictures from the Monadnock/Jaffrey fireworks night-hike last August. Thanks, Markus!