Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: March 2004 (page 1 of 12)

Another bad sign

Juan Cole reports that Iraqi academics seem to be getting the hell out of Dodge or assassinated at a worrying clip. When Iraq was invaded, the hope was that educated Iraqi exiles familiar with Western style democracy would flood back into the country, facilitating the rebuilding effort. Is the opposite occurring?

Situated Software

Clay Shirky: Situated Software. Shirky describes a growing class of software — software designed and built for small audiences to serve an immediate need. One prediction Shirky makes that I don’t think will turn out to be true is that such software will often have a limited lifespan. He points out that software big, complicated software designed for large audiences often fails to last a long time, so when creating situated software, designers should assume a short lifespan. In this, I disagree with him. If people depend on something to accomplish things, they’ll use it until something better comes along, and events occur that make it utterly obvious that the new thing is better. And when you create situated software, chances are you will create something that people depend on, because it’s designed just for them.

Simon Willison on PHP and Apache 2.0

Did you know that PHP and Apache 2.0 are incompatible? That may be too strong a word, but the PHP guys do not recommend using them together in a production environment. I recently switched my server to Apache 2.0 so that I could easily run Subversion, which is incompatible with Apache 1.3. Threads are the problem for PHP, and some people say that threads are a problem, period.

Jeremy Zawodny switches

Jeremy Zawodny is switching to the Mac. It seems like all the cool geeks are becoming Mac users these days. And why wouldn’t they, with that Unixy goodness underneath? I’ve been a huge fan of the Mac for at least a dozen years now, but I haven’t used one on a day to day basis for the past 7 or 8 years. I bought a laptop three and a half years ago and wound up going with a Toshiba because I wanted to play games and because the iBook that was comparably priced seemed underpowered. I’d love to switch, but I imagine it will be awhile before I spend $2000 to $3000 on a computer.

Revisiting how bad it is

Today, the Washington Post has an editorial attempting to goad the Bush administration into getting Iraq into shape for the big handover at the end of June. The paper points out that the security situation sucks, this troop rotation is reducing our forces in Iraq by 20%, and there’s no real plan for the government that’s going to take over when Paul Bremer hands over the reins. The reality of how bad things are becomes clear when you look at the Washington Post’s recommendations. Here they are:

The first step must be to address the security situation — which, despite the repeated assurances of U.S. commanders that the insurgency is failing, appears to be growing worse. Mr. Bush should review whether the decision to reduce U.S. forces to 105,000 as part of a rotation of units this spring still makes sense in light of the undiminished intensity of attacks by Iraqi insurgents and terrorists.

I’m not an expert on the military, but I suspect that the reason we’re drawing our forces down is that we don’t have people to deploy to replace the people who are rotating out. People warned all last fall that the number of US soldiers deployed into Iraq was going to have to come down and that we desperately needed other countries to fill in the gaps. Even the current level of troops isn’t adequate, judging from the lack of improvement in the security situation. That’s not the fault of our soldiers — again, going into this, there were good metrics on the ratio of peacekeepers to civilians that were required and we were never anywhere near that ratio.

He should renew efforts to recruit contributions of troops by other governments.

It looks to me like we’re losing allies, not gaining them. The reluctance of other countries to get involved in Iraq is a shame, because nobody in the world will be safer if Iraq goes to crap. Unfortunately, other countries see it as our mess, and aren’t willing to help clean it up. The fact that the Bush administration has refused to offer any quid pro quos in exchange for their help certainly hasn’t improved the situaton.

And he should eliminate the bureaucratic and logistical obstacles preventing U.S. commanders from adequately equipping Iraqi security forces with armor, vehicles, radios and weapons.

I don’t know enough to say anything either way about this one. What I do know is that the new security forces are ill trained and poorly vetted. They’re the long term solution but I don’t know how effective they are right now.

They also beseech the administration to come up with a political plan that will bring forth a consensus among all the factions in Iraq, but it seems to me that they’ve been trying to do that for almost a year now, and the Shiites don’t seem to want to be deterred from getting their hegemony on. I’m glad I’m not in charge of fixing Iraq right now, the situation seems hideously bad.

Drezner on Clarke

Daniel Drezner offers an explanation of the character of Richard Clarke, that of the perfect bureaucrat. Here’s the money paragraph:

That’s not bad. I’d make it simpler — Richard Clarke is the perfect bureaucrat. I mean that in the best and worst senses of the word. In the best sense, it’s clear that Clarke was adept at maximizing the available resources and authority required to do his job, given the organizational rivalries and cultures that made such a pursuit difficult. In the worst sense, Clarke was a monomaniacal martinet whose focus on his bailiwick to the exclusion of everything else is phenomenal.

I actually think it’s complimentary and accurate. I think that explains why he wrote the book as well — Clarke is a proud (or, if you prefer, arrogant) man. He feels like if he had been in the same position he was in under the Clinton administration during the first 8 months of the Bush administration, he could have sussed out the plans for 9/11 and put a stop to them. He’s probably wrong, but you’d have a hard time convincing him of that. He reminds me a lot of the kind of star athlete who wants the ball with the game on the line, because they have supreme confidence that they’ll do what it takes for their team to win. If the coach doesn’t draw up a play for them, then they’re liable to gripe about it to reporters in the postgame interview. The griping is unpleasant, but you want such a player on your team, because someone has to make those crucial shots if you’re going to win.

The problem with the DBunker

When the John Kerry campaign web site launched an ancillary weblog called the DBunker, I linked to it, thinking that it was going to be a very effective forum for refuting distortions of Kerry’s voting record and other misrepresentations made by Republicans and their media friends. Unfortunately, that’s not what it has turned out to be. The site is just yet another outlet for generic campaign rhetoric. Campaign rhetoric is perfectly fine, but I was hoping that the DBunker would be focused on one thing — countering the lies and distortions that are slung at Kerry. Honestly, I rarely click through and read the items that are posted to it just because it’s more of the same. That’s too bad.

Update: FactCheck.org polices the advertisements and claims of both candidates.


Earlier this month, Lance Arthur wrote an article about personal grooming, and Brad Graham posted his own list of recommendations. Both were largely lists of recommended products that fall into the category that I’d refer to as toiletries. I read them with somewhat detached interest, because my grooming habits don’t extend much past cleanliness (I do brush twice a day and floss religiously). Anyway, my own personal list of toiletries is boring — Crest toothpaste, Dove soap, Head and Shoulders shampoo, various brands of anti-perspirant. Like I said, I floss (I have no idea which brand I use) as well.

One area where I have experimented quite a bit is in the shaving cream area. I hate shaving. In fact, I’ve had a goatee for years, despite my growing fear that they’re no longer fashionable. The main reason for the goatee is that it means I can get away with only shaving once a week. Were I clean shaven, I’d probably have to shave several times a week. Also, I shaved off my goatee last year on a lark but grew it back immediately because I didn’t like the way I looked without it, and nobody complimented me on its absence. Anyway, shaving has always left me with painful red marks on my neck for a couple of days after the shave, and I’ve tried to conquer this problem in a number of ways. I’ve used just about all the different razors and shaving creams (or gels) you can buy at the supermarket, with varying results. (For what it’s worth, the Gillette Mach 3 razor is the best, even better than the blue disposable razors I used for a long time, which I had chosen because have incredibly sharp blades.) I had even branched out from the supermarket to use some kind of Clinique gel stuff that you can get at any department store at the mall. The Clinique stuff may have been slightly better than Edge gel or whatever, but certainly was not demostrably superior. For what it’s worth, I’ve been using proper, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy-approved shaving technique for about 10 years, after reading about it in some men’s magazine at a friend’s apartment in the distant past.

Anyway, Brad recommended two shaving creams in his article, and of the two, the one I found online and discovered that I could buy locally was something called Anthony Logistics Shave Gel. The closest place to the house that sells the stuff is Sephora, which is a store I had only ever been to once. That time, my wife wanted to check out some expensive skin cream she had read about in a magazine. The stuff was ludicrously expensive, and came in a big glass jar that turned out to be made of thick glass and had an extremely concave bottom. She didn’t buy it, although she did say it was very nice. We went back to Sephora to buy the shaving cream. I couldn’t find the product on my own, so I had to talk to one of the salespeople. She was very friendly, but as I expected, she asked me some questions, like, “Do you prefer gel or cream?” I was, of course, immediately stumped, and after a short conversation I have already blocked out, wound up with the cream. She then tried to sell me some other products for washing your face, or rubbing on your face after shaving, or something, but I was getting dizzy and managed to escape with a “Maybe next time.” Getting involved in business transactions where I’m totally out of my depth induces panic rapidly.

Anyway, the point of all this is to say that it was all worth it. This Anthony Logistics Shave Cream is great stuff — I’ve been using it for weeks and have not had any of the shaving related problems I have always been plagued with. I’m still not shaving more than once a week, but I could if I wanted to and it wouldn’t hurt. That’s pretty cool. In fact, I was feeling so flush from my success with shaving cream that I asked my barber to recommend a new hair product for me (the hair gel I had been using for years finally ran out), and he sold me some kind of expensive goop, and that works great, too. By this time next month I may be exfoliating, whatever that is.

File sharing doesn’t hurt record sales

A UNC professor has conducted an empirical study that shows that the effect of file sharing on album sales is insignificant. Somehow I doubt that the copyright industry will give a crap about this study.

The evil command.com

One of the worst things about Windows is command.com. Even if you have Cygwin installed, using command.com as your shell stinks, if for no other reason than because copy and paste don’t really work. I just learned today that rxvt, an xterm-like application, is available as part of Cygwin. It’s a lot more flexible than command.com, and supports copy and paste like every other Windows application. It also supports X-style copy and pasting. Once you’ve installed it, change your cygwin.bat file (in the Cygwin home directory) to run a command like this one:

rxvt -geometry 80x32 -sb -sl 10000 -sr -fn "Courier New-20" -e /bin/bash --login -i

instead of this one:

bash --login -i

Update: Sadly, the MySQL command line client won’t run under rxvt. Nothing is ever perfect in life. Even so, using rxvt is well worth it.

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