Thursday, April 28
Some of you might remember, back about 15 months ago, when we were on the old old server, it used to take something like 30 seconds to leave a comment. That was before we moved to the new old server, and before we moved from Berkeley DB (boo hiss!) to MySQL (yay!)
Back then, I started work on a blogging program I called Minx. Minx was written in Python and used a database called Metakit, and it was really really fast, at least until you started getting a lot of posts and comments, whereupon it ate all your memory and died.
So much for Minx 0.1, which bit the dust around January 2004.
Minx 0.2 re-arranged the database a bit, and came along in April 2004. However, by that time we were on the new server and things were relatively speedy again, so there was much less urgency to Minx (and I had a lot of work to do with the migration, and a swarm of new MuNus who joined us around that time). And as it turned out, Minx 0.2 also, once you got past a certain point, ate all your memory and died.
Minx 0.3 came along in December, just before my brain got eaten by hackers and spammers, something that lasted through January and February. March I basically went to bed and played Final Fantasy X and Rumble Roses.* This month I dug out Minx and started playing with it. Minx 0.3 was the best yet, but after a certain point, it ate all your memory and died.
The problem in all three cases was the Metakit database, which is extremely fast and flexible, but has a nasty habit - if you push it too far - of eating all your memory and dying.
And so, a couple of weeks ago, I came up with this startling insight: Minx might work better if I didn't store all the data in Metakit.**
And so Minx 0.4 was born. And it's even faster and better than before, and it still works when you throw - What was it? Right. - when you throw 4000 blogs with a total of 4 million posts (and 20 million comments) at it. At that point, my home machine was starting to struggle a little, but certainly hadn't eaten its memory and died. Minx 0.4 uses Berkeley DB (boo - I mean yay!) only it uses it completely differently to Movable Type, so that it actually works.
Soon - maybe even very soon - the Minx Dev Blog and Ambient Irony will be making the Great Leap Sideways and switching to Minx. You'll know it's happened when trackbacks suddenly stop working. Well, unless they come back five minutes later, in which case it's just Fluffy the anti-spam watchdog at work.
Oh yes, there was a point to all this. Munuvians, if you're interested in the future of your blogging platform™, hop on over to the Minx Dev Blog and take a look around. If that makes your brain hurt, wait for the test release, coming soon to a server near you.
* I'm not a sexist pig, I just play one on TV. Um, literally. At least it's better than Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball.
** There's slightly more to it than that. It involved a full understanding of Metakits on-disk and in-memory data structures, and realising that there was no work-around for the problems I was encountering. No matter how I split up the data, as long as I stored it all in Metakit, it would eat up all my memory and die.
[Also posted at Munuviana]
Sill waiting for the video card for my new computer, which will be named, let's see... Naga. I could get an X800XT tomorrow, but that's more than I wanted to spend on a video card for a Linux box.
Oops, phone ringing... I can get an Abit X600XT by Friday. Sounds good to me.
Meanwhile, if you're in a geeky frame of mind, I've been posting over at the Minx dev blog. Minx is the new integrated blogging & forum system I'm developing for MuNu. The project was stalled for about a year, but recently got under way again and is now close to its first alpha release. It's blazingly fast, and should run even faster on an Athlon 64 3200+. Zoom zoom!
Monday, April 25
Psyco is a compiler for Python. Once you've installed it (which consists of typing the command
python setup.py install), you can use it by adding two lines to your Python program:
How well does it work? Well, I'm currently working on Minx, an integrated blog/forum/wiki/coffee-and-donuts application, which happens just by chance to be written in Python.
Let's see how long it takes Minx to generate 10,000 pages of 20 posts, first with regular Python:
real 1m28.206sAnd now with new improved Psyco:
real 0m56.130sPsyco chops more than a third off the time, giving almost 60% more pages per second. Not bad for a free compiler that requires no code changes! Particularly with this sort of application, which is mostly database accesses and text manipulation, things compilers generally can't help you with.
Note 1: These timings were run against Minx 0.4.03X, not the current 0.4.02A. My tests with Psyco uncovered a performance problem which I will have to fix in the main codebase, which was costing whole milliseconds for each page generated. Which isn't significant, but it would have got worse as the database size grew. Fortunately, there is a fairly straightforward fix.
Saturday, April 23
It seems to me that for every good, smart, funny and/or sensible blogger, there is a mirror image, an alternate, shadow-world, goatee'd-Spock version, who takes on the same form but has the essence completely inverted.
I call this the Law of Conservation of Blogging: For every blogger, there is an equal and opposite anti-blogger.
What blogger/anti-blogger pairings have you noticed? And what happens when they meet? Do you have an anti-blogger? Discuss. I'll be back Tuesday.
Friday, April 22
We all wonder from time to time which will be the next country we* have to send our troops into to straighten out. Syria? Iran? We have hopes of some sort of revolution in both those nations, which is probably why we're holding off for now. North Korea? Great humanitarian need, but a very touchy situation. Sudan, maybe.
But it looks like someone is growing impatient:
During a state visit to China, French Premier Raffarin threw support behind a law allowing China to attack Taiwan and continued to push for a lift of the EU arms embargo.Hmm. Okay, if that's how you want to play it.
At the outset of a three-day visit to China, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said he supported Beijing's "anti-secession" law on Taiwan, and vowed to keep pushing for an end to an EU arms embargo that could open the door for Paris to sell weapons to the Asian giant.
We'll pencil you in for the second week in August.
(via the Instadude)
* We = the axis of countries that don't suck.
Wednesday, April 20
Mark Noonan, via Captain's Quarters:
Now, what do we conservatives (many of whom are highly upset right now) want? We want taxes reduced massively;And spending too.
we want the War on Terrorism won;I'm willing to be patient, as long as we see solid progress.
we want Social Security privatised;Not all in one go, perhaps, but over time it should be dismantled.
we want abortion at least highly restricted if not banned outright;Banning abortion has historically been about as effective as banning alcohol, and with similar side-effects. Banning some current practices, I can agree with.
we want prayer back in public schools;I don't want prayer in public schools. I don't not want prayer in public schools. But I certainly don't want to see prayer mandated in public schools.
If individual students want to pray, they should be allowed to. And that's as far as it should go.
we want tort reform;Oh yeah.
we want regulatory reform;Always, but that's a process that will last as long as there are regulations.
we want increased nuclear power and oil drilling;Pretty much, yes.
we want our borders secured;Such is the right of any nation.
we want illegal immigrants deported;Yes. There are, if not two sides, then still one-and-a-bit sides to this.
we want government spending to be heavily cut;Yee-hah!
we want conservative judges to be approved yesterdayConservative? I'd settle for intelligent and honest.
Friday, April 15
Okay, the title is stolen from James Taranto, but what else is there to say?
Ross Gittins, economics writer for the Melbourne Age and Sydney Morning Herald, tells us:
With so many businesspeople, economists and politicians banging away, you would have to be pretty slow not to have got the message: what our economy desperately needs is a lowering of income tax rates, particularly the punishing top rate of 48.5 per cent.BANG!
The high tax rates we face are discouraging people from working as hard as they could. We need more incentive to try harder - to earn more, produce more and consume more.
But I've just been reading a new book - by an economics professor, no less - that argues the exact reverse: we need to keep tax rates high to discourage us from working so hard and, in the process, neglecting more important aspects of life, including leisure.
The prof is Richard Layard - Lord Layard, to you - of the London School of Economics. His book is Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, published in Britain by Allen Lane.
Okay, now that that's settled -
This guy is arguing that people working hard is the problem, and taking their money away is the solution? Niiiice.
Why on earth could so many of us - particularly those on the top tax rate - be working too hard and neglecting our leisure?Because we like to get things done? Because we want the money? Because we enjoy our fancy toys? No:
At base, because our evolutionary make-up makes us highly rivalrous towards other people, to be always comparing ourselves with others and seeking higher status.Mmmf. It's true enough that people seek status in various ways, including by the possession of material goods. But to argue that this is the only reason people work hard is as silly as, oh, I don't know, basing an entire economic theory on the levels of serotonin in monkeys.
The researchers manipulated the status of a male monkey by moving him from one group of monkeys to another. In each situation they measured the monkey's level of serotonin, a neuro-transmitter connected with feeling good. "The finding was striking," Layard says, "the higher the monkey's position in the hierarchy, the better the monkey feels.I am not making this up.
Not convinced this has any implications for humans? Well, in a famous study of British civil servants, those of higher rank secreted lower average levels of stress-related cortisol - one reason people in the higher grades lived on average 4½ years longer than those in lower grades.There are just sooo many things wrong with that paragraph, I hardly know where to start.
It's the tea, I tell you. The tea in the low-rank civil service cafeteria will kill you.
Meanwhile, back at the monkey farm:
Still not convinced we're obsessed by getting ahead of the Joneses? Consider this experiment where students at Harvard were asked to choose between living in two imaginary worlds. In World One, you get $50,000 a year while other people average $25,000. In World Two, you get $100,000 a year, while others average $250,000.Now this is actually interesting. There's a leetle problem, of course, in that if everyone else makes 2½ times as much money as you, anything scarce will end up getting priced beyond your reach. So hey, you'll be able to afford twice as many ham and cheese sandwiches as in World One, but that nice house? That holiday in Tahiti? Forget it.
The majority of respondents preferred the first world. They were happy to be poorer in absolute terms, provided their RELATIVE position improved.
All this suggests that a major motivation for people in working so hard is to gain higher status directly from their position in their organisation or from the amount of money they earn and the homes, cars and other status symbols they are able to buy with that money.Either that, or they have priorities other than ham-and-cheese sandwiches.
Or, y'know, because we should never discount this possibility, they're just idiots.
Trouble is, what may make sense for the individual doesn't make sense for society. Status-seeking is a zero-sum game. I can advance myself in the pecking order only at the expense of those I pass. My gain is cancelled out by their loss.Says who?
No, really, says who?
Status is what people decide it is. Status is only zero-sum if people decide it is.
Thus all the effort we expend trying to get ahead of the Joneses, or at least keep up with them, is like a perpetual arms race, which is socially wasteful. We'd be better off if we could somehow call a truce.In this case, "calling a truce" means "stealing everyone's weapons".
"So most people are not rivalrous about their leisure," Layard says. "But they ARE rivalrous about income, and that rivalry is self-defeating. There is thus a tendency to sacrifice too much leisure in order to increase income."Oh, thank you, milord. Wouldn't want to suffer from the horrible fever of actually getting to keep some part of the money I've earned.
Taxes are clearly performing some useful function beyond that of raising money to pay for public spending, he concludes. "They are holding us back from an even more fevered way of life."
When did they start making communists into peers?
Thursday, April 14
This blog is two years old today.
Monday, April 11
Considering that this blog has been up and running for nearly two years, you'd think I'd have more than (counts on fingers) 33 blogs of the day. Well, I don't, and the reason is simple: I'm a lazy slug, and there's nothing I hate more than to have to do anything on a regular basis.
Having said that, there are lots of good blogs out there that you should be reading. Many of them actually get updated, unlike this one over the past month or two.
One such is Least-Loved Bedtime Stories (formerly Victory Soap, formerly Twisted Spinster, formerly, um, something else). It's the collected jottings of Andrea Harris, who also keeps Tim Blair's blog alive and, um, blogging.
If you're a fan of high-grade (and well-aimed) snark, Vic - uh, Least-Loved Bedtime Stories is the place for you. And if you're a reader of Tim Blair and have a few bucks sitting in your Paypal account, why not slip them to the lady who keeps him on the air? (I'm just glad I don't need progressive bifocals. $300 for lenses?)
Our very own Ilyka has something to say on the matter too.
Blog of the day, ladies and gentlemen: Least-Loved Bedtime Stories.
Saturday, April 09
I was out shopping for socks at lunchtime, because this morning I discovered that I had five clean socks, none of which matched. Anyway, I went to David Jones, which is having one of their "not a sale" sales (including 30% off socks) and bought another six pairs of the socks with little sheepies on them.
In the next aisle they had men's underwear, including some examples adorned with Mr Men characters. Or rather, one character in particular, since they were all identical. I'll let you guess which one.
Wednesday, April 06
Captain Ed of Captain's Quarters, Instalanched, Slashdotted, media star and enemy of the Canadian government. He's even got an apropos Day by Day cartoon.
I'll see if I can resist saying that I knew him way back when. Oops, apparently not.
Update: What happens when you get Canadalanched:
Sunday, April 03
Go to Janis Ian's site. Go. Now. Shoo!
Update: Never mind, gone now.
Saturday, April 02
Daniel Henninger has an article in today's Opinion Journal (an online offshoot of the Wall Street Journal) discussing the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer v. Grokster case currently before the Supreme Court. The article is called Wonder Land.
In case you haven't heard of Grokster, it's just one of the new crop of file-sharing systems. The all work the same way, basically: You put files on your computer, and you share them with other people.
Which is fine and wonderful and exactly what the internet was designed for (all this email and web stuff was just a hack added on later). The problem is copyright, or more specifically, that people are sharing files that they don't have permission to share.
The music industry (represented most notably by the RIAA) and to a lesser extent the film and television industry (represented by the MPAA) have been doing their level best to stamp this practice out. They've been trying for years, and they have made some small progress; at the least, they have splintered the file-sharing networks into many small segments, and discouraged businesses from trying to make a profit out of aiding and abetting copyright infringement.
I'm a writer, a programmer, and a musician, so my income depends to at least some degree on the protections of copyright law. (These days I work as an in-house programmer and not for a software publisher, so it's more a matter of trade secrets than copyright, but we'll leave that point for the moment.) So as you'd expect, I'm firmly on the side of the file-sharers.
The reason being, whatever the technical and legal merits of the case, the recording industry is a corporate cancer devoted to ripping off everybody: Musicians, songwriters, the public. Well, not politicians or "music industry" execs, but all the people who actually matter in the process. They have been paranoid about file-sharing and savage in their attacks (verbal and legal) precisely because they no longer add any value. Their time is done, and they are merely forestalling the day the doors are closed for good so they can keep looting the coffers for a little while longer.
This does not apply quite so much to the film and television industry: The big studios are still necessary, they don't always screw everybody, and they have been more circumspect in their approach to file-sharing (though still fundamentally opposed to it).
Further, most downloaders would likely concede that in a royalty-free world the incentives for the next Dylan diminish. Even writers gotta eat. But this means one has to buy into the validity of eeeek, "profit." I would push this even further; it requires a moral or at least philosophical commitment to the legitimacy of profit. Absent that, there's no hope.Most downloaders (not all, I admit) accept and indeed approve of profit. What they don't approve of is being ripped off. A CD costs rather less than a dollar to produce; we know that the musician is not (with very few exceptions) getting rich of the CD sales. We now, in fact, where the music is going, and we know that the recording industry has set itself up with a tightly ruled little monopoly, an empire of greed. And we don't appreciate that.
I've got about 600 CDs here, about 500 DVDs, and as many more VHS tapes and laser discs, so I'm not exactly a freeloader. But when unit costs are going down and retail prices are going up, people object.
What a weird ethic. Some who will spend hundreds of dollars for iPods and home theater systems won't pay one thin dime for a song or movie. So Steve Jobs and the Silicon Valley geeks get richer while the new-music artists sweating through three sets in dim clubs get to live on Red Bull. Where's the justice in that?Ask Janis Ian. Even with CD prices the way they are and file-sharing stamped out for good, most new-music artists would still be sweating through three sets in dim clubs for a percentage of the bar tab. Thus it ever was. And we can accept that. What we don't accept is a recording industry that is still structured as though it were the 1950s. If there were any actual competition, most of the record companies would have gone bankrupt years ago.
But Henninger also says this:
For starters, if "the people" don't solve this problem themselves, Congress will, and you won't like the solution--unless you enjoy the tax code. Try Googling "Chapter 17 Federal Code Copyrights." Then click on any of its 13 chapters or any of Sections 101 through 1332. It can get worse.He has no idea how much worse.
The only way to really block file sharing is to ban everything that can be used for file sharing. That includes - just for starters - every computer, every tape recorder, every VCR, every video camera, every microphone in existence today. Every last one has to be seized and destroyed; every new product sold has to be designed from the ground up so that it cannot possibly be used to share files. The requirements for enforcing this are so odious that they'd make the tax code look like Dr Seuss.
There is a way around it.
First, stop screwing around with DRM (digital rights management). Until every electronic device in the world has been destroyed under the new RIAA World Government, DRM can always be broken. All it does is annoy people because they have to go and break the DRM before they can do what they want with the music (or film) they have just bought. Like, in many cases, listen to it.
Second, stop charging those absurd prices. A buck a track? You're dreaming. Your unit cost was less than that when you were selling CDs; your cost now is zero. A buck an album. Two bucks for a feature film. Maybe five bucks for a season of a TV show.
The rental places will scream at the latter, but hey, they're dinosaurs too. They're not parasites like the recording industry, it's just that they found a niche and now it's disappearing. Nothing in the constitution* guarantees you profits in perpetuity.
Make it quick and easy and convenient to buy the things. Offer subscriptions so that people can have the latest episodes of their favourite shows delivered straight to their digital home entertainment centre. Make it so that it's just not worth the bother of going out and finding a stolen copy.
Because most people want to be honest. They're just not willing to be robbed. And stop trying to force people to buy the same thing twice.
* Yours or mine.
Apparently the brouhaha over at Wizbang was all part of an elaborate practical joke that I walked right into the middle of.
I'll leave my previous posts up for the record. And Wizbang's link stays. Though if you do this again, guys, it's pie-in-the-face time. Frozen pies.
Friday, April 01
The Great Wizbang Evolution Debate (such as it was) is over, with Paul being hiativated for his excesses. (That's gotta hurt.) The discussion was getting a bit out of hand, and Kevin stepped in to settle things down.
And I haven't delunk* Wizbang, nor do I plan to. Hang on, I do link to them, don't I? Yes, thought so. While I agree with Pharyngula and disagree with Paul on this issue, I'm more likely on the whole to find good sense at Wizbang.
Republibertaricenterneocomoderates: The new big tent. Now with added name-calling!
* The only proper past-tense formation of delink.
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