Tolkien on the NSA wiretapping

June 16, 2013 at 2:22 PMMichele Mottini

[Sam]  ‘I wish you’d take his Ring. You’d put things to right. You’d stop them digging up the gaffer and turning him adrift. You’d make some folk pay for their dirty work.’

‘I would,’ she [Galadriel] said. ‘That is how it would begin. But it would not stop with that’

‘The Lord of the Rings’, book two, chapter VII.

Posted in: Opinion


Phrase of the week

June 9, 2013 at 7:21 AMMichele Mottini

...activist investors seeking to crack Japan have fared only slightly better than the Christian missionaries of the 16th century (who were crucified).

The Economist in 'Goodbye, Mr Bond?'

Posted in: Opinion


Phrase of the week

June 2, 2013 at 9:50 AMMichele Mottini

The resource that is in shortest supply is usually time, since there is no way to create more of it.

Raymon Chen in Microspeak: booked

Posted in: Opinion


Phrase of the week

May 26, 2013 at 10:06 AMMichele Mottini

A committee is an animal with four back legs.

John le Carré in ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'.

Posted in: Opinion


Phrase of the week

May 19, 2013 at 7:24 AMMichele Mottini

 Apple Computer is now unlikely to survive its current crisis

Brad de Long in The Corporation as a Command Economy (originally written in 1997)

Posted in: Opinion


Phrase of the week

May 12, 2013 at 12:47 PMMichele Mottini

It is not a correct deduction from the principles of economics that enlightened self-interest always operates in the public interest. Nor is it true that self-interest generally is enlightened

John Maynard Keynes in 'The end of laissez-faire'

Posted in: Opinion


Phrase of the week

May 5, 2013 at 2:00 PMMichele Mottini

It's usually difficult to make the complicated case easy; that's why it's called the complicated case.

Raymond Chen, in 'Another way to create a process with attributes, maybe worse maybe better'

Posted in: Opinion


Phrase of the week

April 28, 2013 at 5:15 PMMichele Mottini

economists can . . . link almost any unexpected effect with any favorite cause. That is one reason they are held in lower esteem than engineers.

The Economist in ‘Climbing, stretching and stumbling’ – China section of the April 20th 2013 issue.

Posted in: Opinion

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Udacity HTML5 game development course

April 18, 2013 at 6:13 PMMichele Mottini

…I dropped it after completing five of the eight units.

I kept reading about these new free on-line courses. I want to improve my JavaScript / HTML5 / canvas skills. I saw that Udacity was offering a new  HTML5 Game Development course. It seemed perfect – and is free! – so I  gave it a try.

The course is organized as a walk-through of the development of the GRITS video game – a technology demonstration by Google. Good idea: better to work on something specific instead than explaining things in general.

The course is split in eight units, each on a specific subject: use of the canvas, atlases, handling input and so on. Good as well.

Each unit is composed of short videos – and when I say short I mean it: never longer than 3 minutes, and often under a minute. Here is the first problem: it is difficult (impossible?) to explain anything of real substance in such a short time, so what you get are small snippet of information without much real meat.

The second problem is that there are not that many videos – the total time of all the videos for an entire unit is in the order of 10-15 minutes. This means that in the entire course you are getting something like a total of a couple hours (at most) of lessons.

Then there are the quizzes! After almost every video you have to complete a quiz. Most of the quiz involve writing some JavaScript code, that is then automatically tested. You write the code directly in the browser.

Writing code in the browser as part of a fairly large project is not that easy, so they ‘dumbed down’ the tests a lot: often you have to write no more that 10 lines of code following comments placed in the code itself (‘Write a loop that does such and such. Insert your code here’). On top of this the automatic tests use fairly simplistic test cases. The result is that the quizzes are an exercise of writing syntactically correct small JavaScript snippets; they do not test if you really understand (or not) what you are supposed to be learning. Finally, often the quiz code does not match the instructions – or even the comments inside the code itself – so you have to guess what is being asked.

A couple of other things (and then I stop, promise):

There is no explanation of the overall structure of the program, you look at the various pieces in isolation. Makes everything more difficult to follow – and it would have been an interesting subject in its own right.

The code itself look a bit weird, for example there are methods of a class that has a global instance that access directly the global instance instead than the current one:

var TILEDMapClass = Class.extend({
    currMapData: null,

    parseMapJSON: function (mapJSON) {
        gMap.currMapData = JSON.parse(mapJSON)


var gMap = new TILEDMapClass();

No explanation given – but surely looks wrong to me.

As I wrote at the beginning: I stuck with it for some weeks, but in the end I dropped out.

Posted in: Opinion | Programming

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Free as in speech

April 13, 2013 at 12:32 PMMichele Mottini

I don’t completely get the enthusiasm for open source software, to try to understand it better I had a look at the Web site of the Free Software Foundation. I found it…puzzling? objectionable? …crazy? Not sure what’s the right word.

Start with this:

The corporations behind proprietary software will often spy on your activities and restrict you from sharing with others.

The assumption seems to be that proprietary software is developed by (evil) Megacorp Inc and used by Jane Consumer or Joe Small Business. This is ridiculous: most software is developed by small companies and used by other companies – including large ones. Amongst the first 100 US corporation by revenue only two are software developers – Microsoft (37) and Oracle (82). I’d bet that for most line of business application the norm would be small(ish) software companies selling to much larger customers (it has always been the case with my own software business).

Then there is this:

The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Nice. Let’s go ahead and use this freedom – here is the list of the 100+ top-level directories containing the OpenOffice source code and here you are warned:

Let's be honest. The size, age and complexity of OpenOffice's C++ codebase makes coding a challenge. This is not a trivial codebase to learn.

Who can honestly say that access to these sources will allow Jane Consumer – or even Bob C++ Programmer – to ‘change it so it does …as you whish’?

Of course it is a different matter if the USER of the software is Megacorp Inc – that has the resources to actually do something with the sources: fix bugs, make improvements, adapt it. Think of Google or Facebook - big businesses that use a lot of software and sell advertisement: they surely benefitted from the availability of Linux, PHP, Python and so forth.

Aside: the free software definition apparently applies to all possible software, but – just as an example - would it really be a good thing if anyone was able to tinker with the software embedded in their cars? No mention of this nuances though.

Finally, there is this:

“Free software” does not mean “noncommercial”. A free program must be available for commercial use, commercial development, and commercial distribution. Commercial development of free software is no longer unusual; such free commercial software is very important.

That is very true – there are a number of businesses based on distributing and supporting free software. But if the software itself is freely distributed these businesses would never be able to charge much – the marginal price will be the cost of distribution and support, disregarding development – and this will hurt software development companies (that – see above - are mostly small and mid-sized, not Megacorp Inc.). The free availability of Git allows GitHub to exists – but hurts Perforce and SourceGear.

Summary: free software – benefits the big at the expense of the small. And Jane Consumer, in the meantime, switched to an iPad.

Posted in: Opinion

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