developments at TechRepublic

http://sob.apotheon.org/?p=288

Things are changing over at TechRepublic since my last SOB entry -- thus far, for the better. I'll keep you updated. Thus far, at least, I can say that the email alerts have improved to the point where they're somewhat useful again, and it looks like they'll keep improving for a little while at least.

More as it becomes available. . . .

So much for TechRepublic — apparently.

http://sob.apotheon.org/?p=287

I've written a number of articles for TechRepublic, and contributed a whole lot to the discussions there. Recent changes in the way TR handles email alerts of discussion activity, newsletter updates on articles appearing on the site, and so on, has basically eliminated all the convenient means at my disposal for keeping up with community activity, however. As I result, I'm unlikely to be very active there any longer, and given a little time I'll probably end up never setting virtual foot in the place ever again -- unless something drastically changes in the near future.

It was fun while it lasted.

As I mentioned in a discussion post there, in the thread following my mention of the fact that I may be leaving TR, I'm considering whether to create an IT professionals' community website of my own. Ideas for the format of such a thing are welcome: please post them as comments here, use my contact page, or contact me by other means if you have access to them, as you come up with ideas, comments, questions, and so on. This is not an announcement that I'm starting to build such a thing -- only that I'm trying to decide whether it's a good idea to do so.

Among ideas I'd want for such a site would be:

  • why I should or should not do it at all.
  • what to use as the main page's primary content.
  • what pre-existing tools I could use to assemble as much of it as possible without having to write it all from scratch.
  • how to make it pay for itself while still keeping it an open community.
  • how to discourage spamming and trolling without interfering with legitimate participation.
  • how to market the thing.
  • oh, yeah -- I'd need a name for the thing, too.

Obviously, such a thing would (for real usefulness and success) need to provide more than just a discussion forum -- preferably something with some real, professional value. If a good, coherent idea doesn't come to me for what else to provide, consider it a stillborn project.

website failure earlier this week

http://sob.apotheon.org/?p=286

On Thursday this week, this domain ran up against a 50,000 SQL query per hour limit imposed by the webhost. This is not a limit that is advertised before webhosting service is paid, and it's not something that is clarified in the control panel software for the webhosting account. I found out the hard way, when I apparently got enough traffic at SOB -- somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 to 2,000 views per hour would suffice -- to exceed the secret SQL query limit and destroy basic functionality for WordPress for a period of about six to eight hours.

I'm working on a fix for the problem to ensure this doesn't happen again in the future. I'll fill you in on details when I'm finished shuffling things around. In the meantime, I'll try to keep up the posting here and at Ameliorations at a rate something above zero, but my free time is pretty well taken up between offline stuff, fixing this problem, and playing WoW with the SigO at the moment. I had the time, until the queries per hour limit reared its ugly head. . . .

Quicken: an example of proprietary, closed source software security.

http://sob.apotheon.org/?p=285

Russian password recovery tool developer Elcom has discovered a back door in Intuit's Quicken software. Of all the application types that should not have built-in security vulnerabilities like secret "back doors", I'd think financial software like Quicken would be near the top of the heap -- but Intuit seems to disagree. Of course, Intuit's password removal service for people who have locked themselves out of their software seems like a legitimate use for this back door, but the fact that the back door provides more than simple password removal capability seems suspicious, as does the fact that Intuit concealed the back door's existence before Elcom found it.

In case you're one of those people always inclined to believe in a corporate conspiracy to act in the customer's best interests, I'll enumerate some of the implications of something like this:

  1. This gives unauthorized people -- at Intuit and in the federal government, for instance -- access to your confidential financial data.
  2. It's an intentionally built-in security vulnerability. If the backdoor exists, someone outside of Intuit can find it and use it -- someone other than people you'd trust with that information, such as a malicious security cracker looking to make money with your financial data.
  3. Intuit has been deceiving its customers for at least four years now. The intent was obviously not to provide password recovery for its customers, because while they do provide a password removal service, they don't tell anyone that the backdoor allows them far more access to the software's functionality than simple password removal.

Sadly, this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Quicken is closed source, proprietary software provided by a corporate vendor. The implications of that state of affairs should be obvious:

  • The fact that Intuit is a publicly-traded corporate business entity means that you cannot trust the company to act in your best interest. Even if the people in charge this year are trustworthy (which you really have no way of knowing), the people in charge two years from now may be completely different people, and completely untrustworthy. That's the nature of corporations, and there's nothing to be done about it unless you find some way to get your software from non-corporate vendors/developers whose nature is not so mercurial from one year to the next due to executive turnover and regularly reshuffling the board of directors. Furthermore, the separation of actors in business from the legal consequences of their actions by corporate law reduces the motivation to avoid unscrupulous behavior, as does Intuit's dominant position in the financial records application market.
  • The fact that Quicken is closed source, proprietary software is relevant to the fact that, with closed-source software, it's exceedingly difficult (if not effectively impossible) to be sure that you're not getting lied to by the software vendor. Furthermore, attempts to discern the inner workings of the software for the purpose of discovering how trustworthy it is has been rendered largely illegal by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the United States. Open source software, among other benefits, ensures that any reasonably popular software has enough eyes on it that the vendor/developer can't expect to get away with back doors, rootkits, and other reprehensible "features" to their software -- the way vendors like Sony (remember the rootkit?) and Intuit can. Consider this: for each piece of closed source software in which we (the public) find back doors, rootkits, and other built-in security vulnerabilities, we don't know how many exist that we don't find. We do, however, have a pretty good idea how many are in open source software -- none.

Keep that in mind when choosing software that manages your confidential data, such as financial records.

I'm guest-blogging at Ameliorations.

http://sob.apotheon.org/?p=284

In case anyone is just that interested in reading everything I write, I'm now guest-blogging at Ameliorations as well as maintaining SOB. I know that I don't always keep up a steady stream of new material here, and it might seem like guest-blogging somewhere else would reduce my weblog authoring activities somewhat so that things slow down even more. I'm going to try to make sure that I actually increase my average posting rate here while I'm guest-blogging at Ameliorations, just to make sure that doesn't happen.

I'm thinking of you, my readers, y'see. Really.

My first post there is called attention, good and bad. It starts with a vanity tour of the positive attention SOB has gotten lately, then dives into the kind of attention one has to give to prospective employers when one is in the job market looking for a new source of filthy lucre. Hopefully, you'll enjoy it, or at least learn something from it.

. . . why "you can't read on the web".

http://sob.apotheon.org/?p=283

From Rands in Repose, Shaking the Atoms:

   3.       You can't read on the web.

Did you catch that? I'll type it again because there's a good chance you're scanning this article, which, incidentally, proves my point. You can't read on the web.

Ahh, but you can read on the web. This assumption arises from a failure to differentiate between "can't" and "don't". The statement of causal relationship -- that the web is the cause of increased tendency to skim -- is insufficiently precise.

Here's my quick thought on the matter:

The World Wide Web has a particularly low barrier of entry (measured by the standards of other methods) for broadly available publication. This is of course a big part of its value. It is also ultimately responsible for reducing our collective motivation to read deeply. A sort of habitually short attention span for reading is encouraged by the fact that almost anyone can publish, and it tends to require actually spending some time on the written material to ensure you don't dismiss and overlook writing of great value.

Skimming helps to reduce that time investment, at the cost of decreasing the accuracy of your judgment of the value of the skimmed work. In general, however, the time savings tends to be significant (in each case, all else being equal, of course) while the reduction in accuracy of the judgment tends to be fairly insignificant. Thus, the practice of skimming is rewarded, mostly by reducing the negative impact of time spent on any given individual piece of relatively valueless writing. As the brain optimizes its operation for oft-repeated behavior such as skimming online text rather than reading deeply, that mode of operation becomes habitual. This means that the process of online "reading" is abstracted into a more automated form. The Law of Leaky Abstractions kicks in, of course. As a result the consequences of the ever-more abstracted (and "optimized") habit spills over from where it is most beneficial to other areas where its practice can actually produce net detriment.

The early symptoms of an effective habit becoming a bad habit, in this case, manifest in such notable behavior as skimming everything on the web, and failing to read more deeply if the value of the writing is found to be greater than the average (or the mode, or even the median, depending on what you think is the most useful benchmark here). This does not, however, indicate an inability to read (deeply) on the web. On the contrary, I tend to take an opposite approach: I start out reading and, as evidence of value in the work in question proves more and more elusive, I skim more and more. Often, the end result is that something has proven so valueless in the parts I actually absorbed that somewhere around halfway through a thousand-word essay I skip to the last paragraph to see if the conclusion suggests I should go back and read more. Sometimes, I end up skimming so much that I leave off after a couple paragraphs and go right past the end and into whatever piece of writing was next on my list.

When what I'm reading is interesting and shows increasing promise, however, I often painstakingly mull over every individual piece of the thing as I read, ensuring that I absorb all the implications that are there for the taking. A good piece of writing proves that I (and you, for that matter -- though you may choose otherwise) am not incapable of "reading" on the web. My tendency is to grant the benefit of the doubt at first, and retract it rapidly when that benefit of the doubt is increasingly contraindicated. This is a (usually consciously pursued) policy of reading that began before I was introduced to the web, when I learned to put down a book when it was obviously a waste of time (before that I obsessively finished every book I picked up -- thus wasting many many hours that could have been better spent reading tripe).

The fact that many people do otherwise does not suggest that they cannot read on the web. Instead, it suggests they cannot detect the disservice they do themselves when they take an approach that often leads them to miss out on a lot of the value the web has to offer.

weblog attention, motivation, and underlying meaning

http://sob.apotheon.org/?p=282

As Sterling pointed out today, Quasi Fictional featured me today. Quasi Fictional is an interesting cross-section of the motivations of weblog authors across a wide range of interest areas. The posts in this series are profiles of the subjects' reasons for writing their weblogs that are written by the subjects themselves, which of course leads to some (often predictable) trends in the sort of description of weblogging activities presented for each person.

While it can be an entertaining diversion to speculate about what people are downplaying, talking up, and misrepresenting due to a certain amount of self-blindness (myself included) when they talk about themselves, the first question that occurs to me is "How are we chosen for a profile at Quasi Fictional?" Obviously (or, at least, it's obvious if you've looked around Quasi Fictional a bit), Diogenes (the Quasi Fictional author/editor) takes submissions openly, but also obviously (since I received an invitation) some people are specifically asked to contribute -- and it's the reasons for these invitations that interest me. When the invitation to write a profile for contribution came to me so hot on the heels of my receipt of the Thinking Blogger Award, of course there was a moment where I considered that the editor of Quasi Fictional might be following the progress of the Thinking Blogger Award. I suspect, however, that there's some other mechanism behind the choice. I might ask Diogenes personally, but really, that requires opening an email client. Who has that kind of time (he asked facetiously)?

I admit to a bit of laziness. When asked to contribute a piece about myself to Quasi Fictional's Fine Art of Blogging series of profiles, I was asked to post it here at SOB and submit it in a Microsoft Word document. I pointed out, in a response, that I do not have (nor want) Microsoft Office installed on a computer here (and the fact that I use FreeBSD as my primary OS is part of the reason for that), and have already posted on the subject in the past. I directed Diogenese to my post the introvert blogger, which I thought was somewhat more interesting than my previous weblog whys/wherefores. Apparently, that was sufficient for the needs of Quasi Fictional, because it is the text that now adorns a post there. That disclaimer out of the way, I hope you learn something about the parts of my personality that come to the fore when I've been drinking sake in celebration of my imminent birthday.

The day before one's birthday, in the wee hours of the morning, hammered on good rice wine, is sure to produce something (relatively) interesting. At least, that seems to me the intuitive assumption to make. For timing and circumstances, that seems an excellent example of the sort of thing that could bring one's baggage and subconscious issues to the surface. I wonder, to an outsider, what that SOB entry seemed to say about me -- aside from the direct meaning of the statements made.

how microframeworks happen: three reasons I'm building one

http://sob.apotheon.org/?p=281

I've bitten off a big old chunk of side project, again. This time, I'm working on Copyfree, something of a cross between the Free Software Foundation's What is Copyleft? essay and Free Software Definition, the OSI's Open Source Definition and list of "approved" open source licenses, and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions page. There's a bit of similarity to the OpenBSD Copyright Policy page thrown in there for good measure, too.

I threw together a quick placeholder page with some information about what Copyfree is all about, and let the people who were aware of the idea at its earliest stages of conception (before I even knew for sure there'd be a website or that I'd be using the term for anything) know that it was there. I did so with a single-page index file so that I wouldn't be locked into a particular choice of back-end technology by incoming links, should someone discover it and start linking to it. If, for instance, I had started out using static XHTML pages with the .html filename extension with multiple pages on the site, and people started linking to the various pages, I would then -- when I settled on a back-end technology, say for instance SSI+Perl/CGI with .shtml filename extensions -- have the problem of either maintaining a redundant set of legacy static pages (or redirects) or breaking incoming links. The answer was simple: don't create anything at first other than an index page, and only refer to it by the site root URL, because all that's needed to access the one and only page is the domain name (copyfree.org).

I had a fire lit under me last night when Sterling linked to Copyfree (see the "people who use it" link) at Chip's Quips. The content on the placeholder page at least doubled in volume, I set up a Subversion repository, I thought about the options for back-end technology in earnest, and started experimenting with writing the back end for the site. The latter two comma separated values in that sentence manifested as follows:

I started fiddling around with options. Right off the bat, I rejected the notion of a content management system -- I have very specific needs for Copyfree that in no way fit into the approach of any CMS I've ever seen, to say nothing of the fact that I wanted the option for a more unique, customizable appearance to the site. I very briefly considered constructing the site with PHP, but really, I'm trying to stop mistreating myself like that. I briefly considered eRuby for PHP-like markup-embedded Ruby, and even more briefly considered Rails (as briefly as "Rails? Nah, that'd be overkill for this!"). I then "settled" on Perl/CGI, with SSI to embed script output in pages with URLs using the .shtml filename extension (and without "cgi-bin" in them). I decided that, doing this, the only smart way to do it was to use CGI.pm (aka the Perl::CGI module) to generate valid markup. Alas, I haven't used CGI.pm in quite a while, and needed to refresh my knowledge of it. After puttering around, grousing inwardly about the ugly, bolted-on Frankenstein's monster OOP syntax in Perl 5, I started to rethink that assessment of the use of CGI.pm as "smart". (Granted, Perl's OOP features blow PHP's out of the water, but it's not difficult to outdo that POOHP*.) I had already constructed an exact duplicate of the index page of the site using CGI.pm to generate markup, at this point, and was about to embed it in a sane URL using a simple SSI statement, and was pretty much over my initial enthusiasm for refamiliarizing myself with the module. At this point, there was only one other option open to me:

I could create my own microframework (and no, I don't mean the .NET Micro Framework) as I go. Sure, it's sorta "reinventing the wheel", because there are tons of frameworks out there already -- but most of them are kinda huge, and would require as much familiarity with their inner workings as CGI.pm even if I wanted to use them. Worse yet, most of them aren't readily available in a form that fits into a shared hosting account's restrictions, and of those that are, one is CGI.pm and another is basically just a collection of core PHP functions with a few unified function-collections. There's that PHP microframework I already created a while ago (and keep changing every time I use it), but again, I don't want to punish myself like that this time around.

End result: I came back to eRuby. That's what I'm working on now, though I may end up discarding that for SSI+Ruby/CGI (but without the woefully out-of-date Ruby CGI module) by the time the Ruby-based microframework is complete enough to actually migrate the live site to it. Either way, I'm building formatting functions and planning the data model. I'm building a microframework in Ruby.

So, to sum it all up, this microframework is happening for the following reasons:

  1. PHP is hurty (for anything more complex than duplicating SSI functionality).
  2. Ruby is fun (and provides excellent OOP capabilities).
  3. I'm too damned lazy to refamiliarize myself with CGI.pm this week.

It's even possible that this microframework will one day have a tidy enough codebase to bother offering it as a publicly available alternative to PHP for (extremely) simple website development -- all under a Copyfree license, of course.

Frankly, I'll pretty much consider it subject to the terms of a Copyfree license anyway, except that I'm unlikely to share it as a whole with the world unless and until it's no longer an embarrassment to display. License terms only really come into play when someone can actually see the licensed work, after all.

Just for the heck of it, I'll share a single method that I've already written (it'll probably need tweaking for edge-cases, but it works for now):

def fix_full_stops(passage)
  passage.gsub(/  /, '  ')
end

There are about half a dozen others, and there have been about half a dozen that I've written and thrown away, in the course of a couple hours' worth of playing around. I wrote that particular method right after I decided to stop screwing about, and start taking a more systematic approach to planning the development effort, but before I actually started employing a more systematic approach. Whee, fun.

(note: you may find some of the acronyms/abbreviations on this page instructive)

(edit: * POOHP is a term first publicly coined in a guest blog post by Sterling of Chip's Quips, and first privately coined by him before that in IMs.)

responses to objections to some statements on copyright law

http://sob.apotheon.org/?p=280

The following is in answer to the points brought up by reader SLR in answer to my previous post, "a quick primer on theft and copyright". I only separated this from the collection of comments there and chose to make a new post of it because it grew so long and, I think, is worth presenting more visibly -- if only because it addresses reasonable questions directed at my statements, coming from the perspective of long familiarity and even comfort with our current system of copyright law. In other words, I think these are ideas and implications in need of answer.

I've reordered things a touch to make my points in what I hope is a more effective manner.

Thanks to a little cutie called "economy of scale," music copyrights are probably worth more to a copyright accumulating corporation than they are to the innovator.

Economies of scale in the music industry are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, thanks in large part to the growing prevalence of the Internet and the greater natural distributability of market forces therein. It's all well and good, then, to make the argument that copyright had its time, and was more valuable than it is now, to the music industry -- but that assumes that without copyright all else would have been equal. I think it more likely that there would have been greater innovation in matters tangential to the actual production of music itself, as musicians desired greater economic value from their works. How much sooner might we have had the technological equivalent of the CD burner -- so cheap to own and use that it almost makes a music distribution channel of anyone with a few thousand dollars in his pocket -- if musicians actually needed it to reach a wide audience? What of the advancement of communications networks? How about business model innovations? Artificial scarcity imposes opportunity costs as well as the apparent benefits many believe justify it in the case of copyright, as it eliminates motivation for improving on the means of gaining economic benefit from musical works. At worst for the argument against copyright, that pendulum swings both ways.

The innovators need to start demanding that the copyright accumulators pay what the rights are worth.

That strikes me as effectively impossible. The only way to break the stranglehold the record labels have on conditions of copyright ownership in the record industry is to break the dependence upon them -- which means not demanding value for value, but finding a way to jettison the record labels as they currently exist from the business of music distribution entirely. So much for economies of scale.

From my PoV, the likely fraudsters are the agents who say, "This is a standard contract" (true, beside the point) under the guise of and under the professional obligation to seek good contracts for the artists. I wonder if it's possible to apply the pressures of "fiduciary responsibility" to an agent.

The fact that an agent may also be culpable in no way excuses the record industry corporations. The more people you get involved in an act of fraud, the more people are to blame, typically -- and the fact that more people are to blame in no way diffuses the blame or reduces it in any instance. Unethicality is a bottomless well of which anyone may sip, with none the less refreshed for the fact that anyone else partakes.

Record labels don't just provide effectively unreadable contracts: they provide contracts deliberately designed to take as much from the artist as possible while giving as little back as possible. There's a point beyond which one is no longer "just trying to get a good deal", and that's the point beyond which one gives an impression that rewards will be granted that will not, if one gets one's way, ever be available. Promising the world and delivering a printout from Google Earth is hardly honest dealing, and the fact it's all in the contract is hardly justification for those who don't understand what they're getting into or have already gotten into it and feel they have no other option than to take whatever scraps they're offered -- regardless of whether an agent gives it the nod. That just makes the agent complicit. It doesn't hand off the blame for the moral equivalent of debtor's prison without the implied initial debt.

That aside, the wickedness of the record label doesn't change the fact that they have been assigned copyrights, or publishing privileges (usually the former, because of the misery of music-industry contracts). I don't think "stealing" is the right word for what happens when somebody ignores a copyright, but… ignoring the copyright owners copyrights is wordy. (ItCOC?)

I was a touch sloppy in how I referred to the artist as being "robbed" by the record label. I do not mean that (s)he is literally the victim of theft. It was an ironic point -- that theft actually does not occur and, even if it did, the record label is the only one actually getting something valuable from the artist effectively at gunpoint. I suppose it's kind of a dirty rhetorical trick: point out that the emotional investment in the idea that the artist is the victim of "theft" at the consumer's hand is incorrect no matter how you look at it, with the intention of putting the reader in a position to stop thinking about that aspect of it and start thinking about the matter of whether theft has occurred at all.

It sounds totally disgusting to say it, but giving money to the record label helps to buy your artist better treatment from the label. Is that the way it should be? Probably not…

Not only does that not strike me as "the way it should be", but it also is only true in a vacuum -- and we all know nothing truly exists in a vacuum (at least within our range of experience). Paying the label only provably buys the artist better treatment in comparison with other artists. There are arguments as strong for the notion that even the artists who generate the most revenue are no objectively better off than the most valuable artists might be without the record labels at all.

So, to get down to my personal stance, I believe that copyrights do, generally (which is to say, not necessarily as they are now), have a positive effect on innovation, because without copyrights, innovation is an economic public good where the whole world is "the public."

One of the problems with the "public good" (and that's a perfectly valid economic term in this context, so there's really no need to explain it) argument here is that it assumes copyright law ultimately leads to greater public accessibility to innovative works. Completely aside from the possibility that the pure, unadulterated motivation to create may be improved by copyright law (which I find wholly without supporting evidence -- it's an intuitive argument, not a logical one, largely debunked by the successes of open source software development and pre-copyright history), there's also the problem that it is assumed that once created these copyright-motivated works then contribute more value to the general pool than would otherwise exist. This is an obvious assumption, but not necessarily an accurate one: copyright law, in fact, specifically limits distributability, as its entire motivational justification is dependent upon a state of artificial scarcity, and introduces a greater opportunity for force to be employed to prevent the potential immortality of original works.

Furthermore, reducing the span of copyright may also have the unintended consequence of decreasing economic motivation for creating certain types of original works: the environment of artificial scarcity fostered by copyright would then be optimized for works that are most valuable when acquired rapidly, which seems to me to imply technical application and secondary economic benefit. For copyright measured in a period of five years, I could imagine the fiction publishing industry all but drying up as publishers focus their efforts on works that go "stale" such as programming texts. Granted, this would bring the situation closer to a complete lack of copyright law for works of fiction in some regards, as the economic motivators would be more structurally similar to conditions of a lack of coercive power in distribution privilege, but in contrast and competition with other, more lucrative writing markets it may suffer more than it would in a copyright-less world -- and, to the extent it didn't, that would only debunk the entire economic argument for copyright motivating greater innovation.

Finally, nothing in the economic motivation argument in any way suggests it is ethical to impose artificial scarcity on a "product" that exists wholly within the mind, that can only be regulated in the form of its representation -- and if it could actually be regulated in its (nontangible) substance would introduce far more troubling ethical aspects to the entire set of circumstances. Do you really want copyright law to regulate the manner in which you derive benefit from reading a book, to in effect regulate the contents of your mind, the processes of your brain's operation? That, unfortunately, is the final consequence of copyright law in the face of inevitable technological advancement.

When in doubt, let economic principles apply naturally -- distorting them with the externalities of such unnatural impositions as artificial scarcity is just asking for trouble.

I received the Thinking Blogger Award. Your turn.

http://sob.apotheon.org/?p=279

Thinking Blogger Award badge It's a good thing when I get handed an award for making my readers think by someone whose writing makes me think. At least, I think it's a good thing. You might think it's bad, if you're of the opinion my ego is already overinflated. Thanks, Sterling, for the compliment. For those who aren't aware, by the way, Sterling was my first (and so far only) guest blogger, and he did a fantastic job.

It's also nice to get tagged with the Thinking Blogger Award before this pyramid scheme gets anywhere near critical mass. There will come a day when more regular writers of weblogs have them than don't, I suspect, but at the moment I think most people in the so-called "blogosphere" aren't even aware it exists. At the moment, people who actually say thoughtful things are still far more likely to get tagged, from what I've seen.

As Sterling suggested, following on the footsteps of the originator of the award, the point of being a Thinking Blogger Award recipient seems to be the one makes others thinking by being thoughtful oneself, and sharing one's insights and questions with others. I know I do a lot of thinking, and sharing of those thoughts, but it's always nice to know that others are noticing and being inspired by what I've said. I'm going to quote Sterling's comment about me, because of the five people to whom he bestowed the award, I think I got the most complimentary mention. At least, of the five reasons stated for bestowing the Thinking Blogger Award, the one he offered for me is the one I'd find most flattering:

Whether it’s about programming, security, philosophy, or politics — each of Chad’s posts will give you at least one perspective you hadn’t thought of before.

I mean . . . damn. A compliment like that is some pretty heady stuff. Of course, assuming it's true, I think it assumes that you actually consider what I have to say, even when it strikes you as counterintuitive (which much of it probably does for most people). That's really the best material, though, in my opinion -- the seemingly counterintuitive insights -- and that's why I share those thoughts. That actually makes me think of more to say on the subject of how I got to the point of writing the stuff I do here at SOB, but I think I'll save that for another time. (edit: Apparently, I already did comment in SOB on the subject of how I got to this point -- not just once, but twice.)

Enough about me. Let's talk about what I think of you. It's time for me to pick out five weblog writers on whom to bestow the Thinking Blogger Award. Without further ado, here's a list of five "bloggers who make me think", chosen from among those you probably don't know I read, in alphabetical order (discounting "the"):

  • The Agitator: Penned by opinion columnist, frequent expert witness in Congressional hearings, and rough-and-tumble sort of libertarian thinker Radley Balko, the man has a talent for bringing previously ignored contradictions in public policy to the reader's attention and stripping away obfuscation and irrelevancy to get to the heart of the matter. If you're a corrupt government bureaucrat, you'll definitely want to try to fly under his radar.
  • Algo Blog: A Silicon Valley algorithms expert has decided to share his thoughts about algorithms with the world. It not only hones one's programming skills to think through interesting algorithm puzzles, but helps to sharpen the wit in regards to all of life's problems. It helps that he really knows his shit stuff (or so it seems thus far), and is good at explaining it in clear terms (as long as you know some programming). It may not be for everyone, but it's definitely for me.
  • Barely a Blog: I find that Thibor Machan is a well-reasoned, well-written libertarian thinker, and I have a copy of his essay collection Liberty & Culture on my shelf -- but he has nothing on Ilana Mercer, author of "Barely a Blog". She is the single most deep-thinking, thoroughly reasoned libertarian writer of our time, in my experience (except me, of course). In fact, though I had managed to entirely miss that particular article until only yesterday, I discovered that she not only seems to hold the same opinions as I do about copyright and patent law (a rare thing indeed, in my experience, among people who didn't get the ideas from me), but wrote about it two years before I even arrived at the same conclusions. Smart lady.
    (edit: For the moment, the RSS feed link at Barely A Blog is broken. The correct URL for syndication is here.)
  • Ideas: An excellent choice of title, "Ideas" is full of exactly that: ideas. David Friedman, economist son of that Friedman, is a well-regarded author and a guy with a propensity for applying principles of economics to all kinds of interesting, often surprising, subjects -- like the market for marriage in a future where brain chemistry is understood well enough to be tailored at will by prescription. Yes, really, he wrote about that in "Ideas". Some of what he says really comes out of left field, and is generally in less-poor taste than my recent ponderings on the notion of infanticide as an ethically acceptable form of birth control. It was a tough choice, by the way, between this icon of anarcho-capitalist culture and small business owner Warren Meyer, but in the end the originality of Friedman's application of economic theory to wide-ranging subject matter won out.
  • Ratha: Ratha Grimes is the woman who introduced me to what was, to me, a revolutionary new way of thinking about copyright and patent law. I was already halfway there, but I don't know how long it would have taken me to arrive at these conclusions on my own. Thanks to her, I didn't need to: she metaphorically smacked me upside the head with a cluestick, and introduced an idea that I just never really considered before. She also introduced me to Debian as the obvious best Linux distribution and a number of other interesting and refreshing notions. She moved out of Florida a while before I did, and we don't talk much these days -- busy lives in different states -- but simply observing from afar her continual experimentation with self-development and introspection provides a breath of fresh air for an active mind.

Warren Meyer, by the way, wasn't the only close call. I had about six more on my list as finalists, and another half-dozen or so who nearly made it to the second-to-last cut. Life's too short to spend too much time reading stuff that doesn't make you think, and I spend a lot of time reading, so I hunt down a lot of good writers and occasionally have to cut people out of the list that are probably more interesting and thought-provoking than many people ever encounter just because the list gets too long. Thinking is addictive, you know -- and it's my favorite drug.

So . . . for the five of you (assuming you ever notice you were "tagged" by me) on whom I've bestowed the Thinking Blogger Award, here are the rules for participation:

  1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
  2. Link to the original Thinking Blogger Award post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the award tradition. It might be a good idea to link to this post, too, as validation of your legitimate receipt of the award.
  3. Optional: Proudly display the Thinking Blogger Award with a link to the post that you wrote (TBA badge image available in silver and gold).

(edit: If you want to contribute to my ego-inflation, you might consider swinging by The Z List to upvote me. Unfortunately, you have to register and log in to do so -- but that makes a certain amount of sense for purposes of validation. Also unfortunately, the process of registering and logging in was a little less than intuitive when I signed up for the first time, but I'm confident my readers are smart enough to manage.)