How bad is the current state of US foreign relations? Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture. Before Bush was elected, who would have guessed that at the end of 2002, Germany would have sided with Iraq against the United States, and that South Korea would side with North Korea against the United States? To be honest, I would have considered those things outside the realm of possibility. Relations between Israel and the Palestinians are as bad as they have been since the start of the intifada. Islamist parties are gaining ground all over the world, despite our concerted efforts over the past year to deter Islamism wherever we can. It’s a given that the Bush administration has done a poor job domestically, the counter argument is that events have demanded he focus on foreign policy. Ironic that we’re perhaps doing even worse on that front. I expect that countries like France, Russia, and China would oppose the US agenda as a matter of course — not so with countries like Germany, South Korea, and Turkey.
While I was away, I started reading Charles Petzold’s book Code. This is the perfect book to read if you’re a programmer who doesn’t have a traditional computer science/electrical engineering background. If you spend your time proramming, but are irritated every time you have to deal with bitmasks, bitwise operators, or hex in any way shape or form, pick up this book immediately. It’s an incredibly clear explanation of how computers work at the level of circuitry, and provides a great refresher course in all that fundamental stuff that is hidden below about 100 layers of abstraction when you’re writing a SQL query or writing code using an IDE. The book is also really interesting, so reading it doesn’t feel like work. Or, I should say that if reading it feels like work, maybe you shouldn’t be a programmer. I’d guess that even real computer scientists might find it interesting, but since I’m not one, I can’t say for sure.
By the way, this book would also make the perfect gift for that teenager who has an interest in computers. Their level of interest in the book will be a great gauge as to whether they ought to consider making computers their career.
I have returned. Even though I didn’t get groped or fondled by anyone working for the Transportation Security Administration, I can say that travelling by air sucks really, really badly these days. So much so that I think it provides a strong incentive to avoid air travel altogether.
I’ll be back on December 31.
Last week the United States won a WTO vote 1 to 143 to keep affordable drugs out of the hands of poor countries. Master negotiator Dick Cheney snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and protected the right of drug companies to charge prices too expensive for the vast majority of the world’s population to afford.
Fortune’s Peter Lewis gives his worst technology of the year award to TIA:
But in terms of potential impact on our lives, the Worst of 2002 award goes to TIA, the Total Information Awareness program, spawned by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Information Awareness Office. TIA is exploring the feasibility of developing a national surveillance system intended to identify potential terrorists and criminals through “data mining” of the public and private electronic records of every citizen.
If you think getting felt up in the airport by rent-a-cops is bad, trying being left to die on the side of the road in Kenya because you’re not obviously American. Over at Electrolite, I saw a link to the story of an American diplomat and American teacher who had a head on collision at night in Nairobi, Kenya. Embassy personnel rescued the diplomat and left the occupants of the other car to die, not knowing that they were an American schoolteacher and his son. They, in turn, were brought to a Kenyan hospital in the back of a pickup truck. What do you think of that?
I’ll be travelling from tomorrow morning until December 30, and won’t have convenient access to the Internet, which means that I’ll miss all the big news stories and won’t be posting anything here. Posting should resume on December 31.
One funny thing about the holidays is that during the holiday it’s a check-in bonanza on open source projects. I guess the holidays are a good time for hacking. I checked in my RSS 2.0 update for XML::RSS, and there were a ton of check-ins for Struts last night.
Donald Rumsfeld has served notice to the North Koreans that we can whip their butts with one arm tied behind our back. That should fix everything.