Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Archive for March 2010

The trial of the year—Victory!

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I recently wrote about the SCO vs. Novell trial, the verdict of which is now, with some delay, in:

A unanimous jury rejected SCO’s copyright claims, which likely means the end to this threat once and for all. Virtual champagne all around!

Of course, looking at the preceding decade, SCO has been harder to get rid of than Jason Voorhees; however, unlike Jason, it is not actually supernatural.

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Written by michaeleriksson

March 31, 2010 at 4:01 am

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Tabbed browsing

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One of my pet peeves is sites that screw up tabbed browsing. I have already written an article on How incompetent webdesign breaks tabbed browsing, and will not repeat this discussion here.

However, I am currently in a less than brilliant mode after having added two pages to my blog, despite the anti-tab behaviour of WordPress, and I tend to get rid of my annoyance at things by writing about them:

Carelessly, I clicked on “Add new post” when I wanted to add the first. I soon realized my mistake, and moved on to “Add new page”, keeping the old tab open to copy the contents of the title and main text. So far so good.

Next I proceeded to add the second page, making sure to use “Add new page” to begin with. I made some previews and corrections, was about to hit “Publish”—and noticed that I am somehow on the “Add new post” page again! (Notably, my first attempt at a preview somehow started to reload the wrong tabs.) Now somewhat annoyed, I repeated again, making very, very sure to click on “Add new page”, made another preview, published, and proceeded to make sure that all links are as they should be in the various link listings. To my surprise they were not. I investigated further—and found that the page was somehow published as a post… I delete everything, start over again, and, fortunately, the third time was the charm.

Add to this that the “Preview” functionality is somewhat annoying, using an explicit target page in a manner that also breaks tabbed browsing. Notably, the natural way to open it for an experienced surfer is to manually open a separate background tab and only switch to that tab when (the lengthy) loading is over. The resulting page will, however, not share the target id, which makes for chaos. It would be better to leave these decisions to the user.

(The action names used above are a little approximative, for simplicity.)

Written by michaeleriksson

March 25, 2010 at 10:08 pm

The trial of the year

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Right now, a trial of great importance is underway: The battle between Novell (the good guys) and SCO (the bad guys) concerning the rights to Unix. Unfortunately, most people seem to be entirely unaware of it.

Why is this battle so important?

In order to understand this, a brief overview is needed, and will be given below. By necessity, it will be an over-simplification: The story is extremely convoluted, involves many parties, and is stretched over a very long time. For those interested in more details, I recommend Wikipediaw; for those truly interested, there are enormous amounts of material present at Groklawe or, in German, Heisee.

Some forty years ago, the operating system Unix takes its first steps at AT&T. This little toddler is to grow into one of the dominating server and workstation operating systems for several decades—and to be the progenitor of both Linux and Mac OS X.

In the early nineties, AT&T sells the rights to Novell (the first of the combatants). In 1995, some of these rights are sold to SCO (confusingly, not the second combatant). Here however, we encounter the point of contention: Which rights, exactly?

Only in 2000 does the second combatant, then called Caldera, enter the arena by buying the Unix business of the original SCO. Not long thereafter, Caldera changes its name to SCO Group, in an effort to capitalize on the strong brand-name of the original SCO, which it has also bought. Meanwhile the original SCO departs from our tale.

Having had a few less than successful years, SCO looks for a solution to its money problems, and in 2002 it begins the dangerous gamble of claiming more extensive rights to Unix than it was acknowledged to have—and that Linux would contain significant portions of unlicensed Unix code. Calls for proof are raised; none is given.

In 2003, all hell breaks lose. A slew of law suits are started: SCO v. IBM, Red Hat v. SCO, SCO v. Novell, SCO v. AutoZone, SCO v. DaimlerChrysler. Claims and counter-claims are made, and litigation that lasts until at least 2010 ensues. SCO’s most noteworthy claim: IBM owns it one billion dollar (yes, billion) relating to its alleged and allegedly illicit use of intellectual property allegedly belonging to SCO. This amount was later increased to five billion… To make matters worse, this has the appearances of pilot case, with more to follow upon success.


Side-note:

The above paragraph has been revised for two errors since the original publishing:

  1. When checking the numbers, I overlooked the increase to five billion dollars.

  2. I claimed that even one billion was far more than SCO was every worth. While I still hold this statement to be true, it is technically wrong, seeing that Caldera had a market capitalization of more than that shortly after its IPO. That number, however and IMO, was severely hyped, did not reflect actual sales and prospects, and dwindled soon afterwards. (See also CNET on the IPOe or historical share-price informatione of SCO.)

Generally, I gathered most facts from a few timelines on the given links, without revisiting the case to a greater depth. (I followed the case with great interest in the early years, but with the passage of time…) Correspondingly, there may be other errors in detail—not, however, in the big picture.


In parallel, SCO tries to leverage its claims in other ways, e.g. by trying to bluff companies merely using Linux into purchasing “anti-dote” licenses as protection against potential law suits for larger amounts.

As time goes by, SCO becomes more and more focused on these lawsuits, seeing the rest of its business disappear. It is now in a do-or-die situation—win the jackpot in court or end up in bankruptcy. It has become a company effectively geared at just one thing—litigation.

Because SCO is never able to produce evidence, it has little success, often see its claims struck down by summary judgments, and only manages to stay above the water-line through injections of additional capital, including from Linux’, Unix’, and Apple’s archenemy—Microsoft. Those claims that are not struck down are often stayed awaiting one of the other cases, either SCO v. IBM or SCO v. Novell.

In the autumn of 2007, the issue seems to be concluded: A summary judgment falls, stating that Novell is the rightful owner of the relevant Unix rights, which pulls out the carpet from all other cases; and SCO is effectively bankrupt.

However, hanging by a thread and protected by Chapter 11, SCO manages to remain to in the fight—and in August 2009, an appeals court finds that parts of the summary judgment were premature and must be treated in a full trial. This trial is now underway, expected to be concluded in the coming week (knock on wood).

As should be clear even from this greatly simplified overview, the situation has been highly chaotic, and great stakes are involved. Those who dig into the sources given above will find more chaos yet, including many other examples of highly disputable behaviour on the part of SCO—and many cases of infighting and internal intrigues.

Now, why is it important that SCO lose this trial? Mainly, were SCO to win, it would set a dangerous precedent with regard to making legal claims bordering on the frivolous, extorting money by means of legal threats, and making grossly misleading accusations against other organisations: The justice system is abused often enough as it is—with a SCO victory, we could see a flood of lawsuits where failing companies try to ensure their survival by suing wealthier companies, possibly causing immense damage to third parties along the way. In addition, it is still conceivable that a SCO victory could do great damage to the companies and communities involved in developing Linux, and similar lawsuits against other members of the extended Unix family would not be inconceivable—and consider if Linux takes a severe hit at the same time as Apple is locked up in ten years of costly litigation: All of Gaul could well be conquered by the Redmonds this time.

Notably, while the probability that SCO will win sufficiently many battles is small, the stakes are sufficiently high that there is still reason to be nervous. In football terms: We may be a few minutes away from the end of the fourth quarter and have a two-touchdown lead—but the game is the Superbowl.

The issue of ObamaCare may be more important, but neither the OJ trial(s) nor the actual Superbowl holds a candle.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 21, 2010 at 4:20 pm

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Free news or censorship?

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This blog is intended to deal with a great variety of topics, but here I find myself writing about Sweden, newspapers, and blogging—again:

Firstly, I would like to comment on the presence of Fria Nyhetere (“Free News”) on my blogroll: Why would I add a Swedish news-blog that I had (at the time) only visited twice onto the blogroll, while writing for an international audience?

The reason is simple: The abysmal quality and strong political/ideological distortion of Swedish news-reporting. This is not unique to Sweden, but it appears to be both stronger (on average) and more uniform in direction than in other countries. The most blatant problems include an exaggerated political correctness and the gender-feministic reporting discussed in an earlier entry. Generally, I often have the impression that there is an “official truth” on many subjects that is uncritically propagated in a manner indicating quasi-religious blindfolds (similar to those worn by e.g. creationists).

To make matters worse, the two papers (DN and SvD) that I regularly visit, have been known to delete user comments that are too far from this official truth. (Notwithstanding that the remaining comments are often in aggressive disagreement with the articles they are attached to—the people does not appear to be as easily led as some would like it) In particular, I have made a rare comment of my own to point out the lack of objectivity that the paper it self has—these have without exception been deleted.

Here Fria Nyheter plays an interesting role as a news medium which is not bound by political correctness and official truths, but instead often focuses on the spots that the normal newspapers gloss over. I do not always agree with or identify with what it says, but I feel that it could become a very valuable counter-weight to the newspapers—and would like to give a small help in doing so.

Secondly, I would propose an extension of the freedom of speech to, among other things, combat the selective deletion of comments. To paraphrase what I recently said in reply to a Swedish anti-censorship poste:

I would consider an extension of freedom of speech to a point where even a natural person or a business is not allowed to suppress opinions in a selective manner: If one has a comment function, one is only allowed to filter out statements that are illegal, are an abuse of the comment function (e.g. spam), or are offensive in their form (e.g. through personal attacks or bad language)—but not because thy are “unsuitable” or “politically incorrect”.

If this is not acceptable, one has to live without a comment function (and take the risk of losing readers or that Google comments [by which I meant “Sidewiki”] are used instead).

The details of this can be discussed, e.g. whether a natural person (say, an individual blogger) should underlie these restrictions, or whether the list of criteria that allow deletion is complete; however, by and large, I would see it a clear improvement on the current situation.

A case could be made that blogs should underlie the same restrictions: As I gather by hearsay, there are many bloggers (in particular those belonging to exactly the PC or gender-feministic factions, or those with a strong religious conviction) who delete too disagreeing comments as a matter of course—even be they comparatively polite and factual. Just like with some newspapers, it is dangerous to deviate in opinion, point out errors in reasoning and facts, or otherwise criticize the credo. (Unlike with newspapers, however, this issue is complex and has many other aspects.)

Written by michaeleriksson

March 19, 2010 at 2:13 pm

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Continued discussion of creativity

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Preamble for third parties:

I recently commented on a post discussing creativitye. This lead the author to elaborate his opinions in a second poste.

Seeing that he had gone to considerable effort on my behalf, I wished to give sufficient comment, and decided to do so here, rather than within the limitations of the comment field.

Some original formatting has been lost in quoting.

Preamble for cpsinclair:

First off, thank you for your efforts in elaborating on your opinions. Below, I give my feedback to your text. In addition, for completeness, I would like to provide three links with three different takes on creativity, which I just found via Google:

http://www.brainstorming.co.uk/tutorials/creativethinking.htmle

http://www.csun.edu/~vcpsy00h/creativity/define.htme

http://www.creativityatwork.com/articlesContent/whatis.htme

(Comparing and contrasting different opinions is usually a good way to get an understanding of the meaning of a word or phrase.)

I regret that I will likely not be able to continue an in-depth discussion after this, for reasons of time.

Main analysis:

If it was possible to define creativity in any meaningful way, restrictions would have to be placed on the idea, in order to contextualize it within bounds. How to isolate creativity? If it was possible to isolate creativity, then creativity itself would not be necessary.

Here you point (I think) to a very general problem, namely that it is near impossible to make good definitions where “natural” concepts are concerned. (Where I differ between concepts that have arisen by natural development and those that are defined in an ad hoc manner for a specific context.) I fully agree, and consider many attempts to define something like trying to find a rectangular box that is a perfect fit for a highly irregular object (e.g. a tree).

What you say about isolating creativity, however, I do not quite follow—and I am very unsure whether I would agree. How could creativity become unnecessary?

Creativity is so ubiquitous throughout the history off mankind that it isn’t helpful to ask “what actually is creativity”? A more effective question is “what actually isn’t classed as creativity”? That is a more creative question – the question of creativity requires a creative answer.

Negative definitions are indeed often useful; however, mostly when it comes to resolving border issues and special cases, or to clarify ambiguities in language. Then again, there are many roads to Rome, so will play it your way.

* Creativity is not a response to a challenge where everything that needs to be said or done is known in advance. In other words, creativity is not the ability to follow instructions.

I agree.

* An antonym of “creation” is “destruction”. But destruction can be creative as well as destructive, as I’ll discuss later on at some point

I agree, with the minor reservation that “annihilation” might be the better antonym.

* Creativity is not a polar opposite of logical reasoning. Some people think it is.

I agree. I would further argue that creativity and logical reasoning are not even on the same spectrum, in the same way as e.g. humor and prose are on different spectra. (Possibly, I abuse the word “spectrum” here; in a mathematical or physical context, I would likely speak of “dimension”.)

* Creativity does not answer questions without there being a context within which other solutions a possible. Creativity is not the realm of 100% possibilities.

I am not quite certain whether I understand you. In particular, do you mean “probabilities”, rather than “possibilities”?

At any rate, I would opine that every situation/problem must be seen within a context in which many solutions are possible—or, if not, that there will be situations where creativity does underly a one-solution only situation. (The latter, however, would be very rare and of little practical importance.)

* Creativity is not realistically confined to dictionary definitions or encyclopaedic entries, especially not Open Source Software platforms like Wikipedia.

Partially agreed, as discussed above. IMO, the elaboration from Wikipedia given earlier is a reasonably good attempt. Further, if we look at the article as a whole a more differentiated and useful image is given. Notably, the very openness of Wikipedia makes it unusually well suited for such purposes, compared with a traditional encyclopedia. (In principle: Whether that particular article was up to Wikipedias normal standards can be disputed.)

* Creativity is not an idea to be applied in financial accounting. This could land you in prison!

Not necessarily: I understand what you mean, and in that meaning I agree. However, there are perfectly legal cases of creative accounting. In most countries the accounting laws are so convoluted and/or give so much leeway and flexibility that a good accountant can be both creative and law abiding.

Looking at your items taken together, I still do not have a clear image of what you mean by “creativity”. What we have now is roughly “A computer is not a car, not a calculator, and not a collie.”, which does not exclude the possibility that it is a lobster.

In contrast, I would likely have started with the word “creativity” and worked my way forward by giving positive examples. A possible result (without working through the details) would be “The ability to create new knowledge of sufficient originality, quality, and quantity.”; where “knowledge” is taken in a very wide and non-standard sense, including, but not in anyway limited to, mathematical theorems, literary novelties (“novels” in an earlier sense), and methods to do something. “Originality, quality, and quantity”, are necessarily somewhat subjective—just like “creativity”. (Is “L.H.O.O.Q.” a creative piece of art or a disrespectful and trivial piece of junk?) Their interpretation may further depend on context, and it is certainly possible that even a comparatively simple action by a layman is creative in the right context.

(I stress that this should not be seen as a complete discussion, but as the general direction in which my approach would lead.)

The best way to deal with the question of creativity is not to ask what it is, but rather what it is not. How creative was this post? The answer to this question is another question: How creative are you? This is both a question and an answer. A creative person can work out how this post relates to creativity, because to ask what doesn’t come under the banner of creativity was paradoxical enough to be classed as creativity. There is indeed a relationship between paradox and creativity, which will be elaborated on at some future point. Although creativity is not universally paradoxical, and in fact paradox may be just one form of creativity, but there is a strong connection between the two. Creativity most definitely is about making connections between things, especially the right things.

Here you are little to zen-ny for my taste (and, again, I do not quite catch your meaning). As with a koan, your post could be something beneficial to contemplate in order to improve ones own understanding, but is not well suited to communicate what your understanding is (nor to formally define “creativity”). In addition, gaining this private understanding may, in it self, take some considerable creativity—which limits the use of the text.

I agree, however, that your approach in this post is an example of creativity; further, that making connections is a very common aspect of creativity (but not, necessarily, all there is). I disagree, as discussed above, that it is the best way to approach the issue.

Returning to the questions originally raised, I am still not certain how you land at the claim “Members of the scientific community stereotype creative people as hippies and air-heads.”, although (re-reading the latter part of that post more closely) I suspect that you might have had something like the “Dead Poet Society” in mind. My thoughts upon reading “scientist” go more towards the natural scientists, and I assumed that you were referring to the stereotypical division into “Spocks” and “Byrons”. Either way, I fear that you over-generalize and/or misunderstand.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 16, 2010 at 2:53 pm

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Google penalties and bad links

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I have so far not paid much attention to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for my website: I find greater enjoyment in thinking and writing than in actually being read, and SEO is just a necessary evil along the road. (Just like many engineers would prefer it, if they could fire the entire marketing and sales departments, and hire a few new engineers in order to build more and better products—but find their hands tied by the economic reality.)

However, I have gone to great efforts to “keep a clean slate”, avoid shady practices, deploy HTML that validates and is widely browser conformant, and so on.

As you can imagine, I was not thrilled to discover that I appear to have a “Google penalty”, i.e. a handicap that Google puts on sites that they suspect of being less-than-kosher in their SEO practices.

This is a very tentative estimate, because Google it self keeps quite on such issues; however, the original heuristic claim by one checkere was verified by a seconde. (Then again, web-based checkers are often unreliable.)

After reading up on the topic, the most likely reason seems to be that I link to some sites that could be considered shady, which would draw my own credibility down: I discuss many topics and tend be liberal with linking to sites that could be of interest to the readers—including by serving as negative examples. (Another possibility is that a disproportionate part of my incoming links are from comments on various blogs and newspaper articles, just like comments made using a WordPress account link back to that account. These could be misinterpreted as some kind of comment spam or link exchange—both of which are frowned upon.)

As for my own experiences, I did note a surprising drop (30 %?) in the number of incoming hits from Google in December; however, not one which had me in panic: This could happen e.g. because of an algorithm change or a seasonal variation—and need not be a cause for alarm.

For the time being, I have added a rel="nofollow" to all external links (which effectively tells search engines that I do not endorse the linked to page). This is obviously unfortunate with the sites that I would actually want to see get more traffic, but I prefer to save more flexible changes until a later date. (I currently use a very basic template language which is transformed directly into HTML. I plan to add an intermediate XML stage in the near future, which will make extensions and alterations much easier.) This in particular as there are some other possible attributes of the HTML anchor-tag that may be useful—and adding them all in the current system would be very messy.

In conclusion: I would recommend others to link with care and to use rel="nofollow" when linking to sites they suspect of being shady—or simply disagree with: There is no reason why Google should include a “thumbs up” for a site in their algorithms from those who disagree with the site’s message or methods.

However, beware that I am not certain whether I, specifically, have a real problem or just a false alarm—or whether I have the right cure for this particular problem. As a further disclaimer: There is much speculation and little true knowledge of what goes on “under the hood” with Google. Claims in this area should be taken with a greater pinch of salt than statements in more well-researched areas; and SEO is, in my mostly theoretical understanding, partly a game of trying to experimentally find out what currently works, to reap the benefits until the rules change again.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 13, 2010 at 4:53 pm

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The International Women’s Day…

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…has been a major annoyance to me for roughly the last week. The reason: Swedish newspapers.

While women have a very rough deal in many countries, and while an international women’s day still has legitimacy, the situation is very, very different in Sweden. Feminists (in particular gender-feminists) have had an enormous influence both on politics and on various media—and society has been transformed to such a degree that men are now (on average) the disadvantaged. All the while, pseudo-scientific “gender-studies” are given public financing, media keep spouting a “women are disadvantaged” message, and any man who dares to speak up for equal treatment (note: “equal treatment”—not “restoration of a medieval patriarchy and oppression of women”) risks being branded as a misogynist. Looking at my own early years, through the lens of my far more nuanced adult world-view, I would go as far as say that the joint effect of the school system and news reporting amounted to feminist indoctrination.

Even during a normal week, there are some feministic gripe being spread through the newspapers, topics not inherently related to men and women are given a “gender spin” (e.g. by high-lightning the proportion of women involved or by writing a separate article on the break-through this or that means for women), men and women are given different treatments for doing the same thing, etc. A typical example is that whenever women have less than 50 % of something (e.g. a particular job or award), the reporting goes in the direction of “failure”, “we have a long way to go”, “men must learn to leave space for women as their equals”, or similar—this completely disregarding actual accomplishments, who is interested in doing what, and other factors that legitimately affect the selection. No such statements are made when men are in the minority: On the contrary, when the University of Lund recently gave a few men preference based on their sex to compensate for a clear over-weight of women in their psychology program, the newspapers raised hell about women being discriminated against—and the courts found it to be illegal. Apparently, however, the same kind of discrimination, favouring women, is perfectly acceptable for “Militärhögskolan” (“Military College”, where future officers of the Swedish military are educated).

In the last week, this has taken so ridiculous proportions that SvD and DN (the two leading morning newspapers) had about as many articles on women, the Women’s Day, “gender issues”, and various artificially angled articles, as they did articles on other topics put together. (Looking at their respective website entry-points when it was at its worst; for several days it must have been roughly a quarter to a third of the total.)

In contrast, I did not even notice when the International Men’s Day (November 19) went by—in fact, I only became aware of it when looking up the Women’s Day in Wikipedia today…

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March 10, 2010 at 5:44 am

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