Categories
society

A Free Press

One of the biggest reasons the United States has advanced is that we have a strong media (endowed with the natural freedom of the press, with its recognition in the First Amendment) that has helped to keep corruption in check. Those who value liberty must value fact-based reporting of the state of our institutions and of the world.

Indeed, where the US has gone awry it is often coincidental with media failures. Think of the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq as a good example. Fox News is another good example.

A year into the imitation presidency, with a president who cannot understand the role the nation has played, with its quest to move ever-forward, we continue to see attacks from a man that must always pretend to know what he is doing. And yet, the media continues to indulge his pretense. I could not count the number of editorials and op-eds that have called on the president to take some action or other, always failing to understand that this is not a White House equipped to take advice to heart.

There were a number of times when the media decided he was becoming presidential or sounding or appearing to be the man of the office. Ha!

But the presses roll on. They learn, which is why we need them. A self-governing nation must have a learning mechanism. It reviews the facts and attempts to keep the narrative on track: we still require good governance. We must strengthen the rule of law once again. We must take care of the planet. We have an obligation to our neighbors to help them better themselves. We must know the state of things to make sound economic decisions, too.

The press lets us know when abuses have come to light. They try to uncover abuses, they try to tell the story that our founders knew when they wrote amendments against police corruption, against military permanence, and against religious zealotry infecting government. Those that wish to wrap themselves in the Constitution while committing those sins should not be surprised as it constricts around them.

And the press will be there to report the tale.

Categories
design

Knowing the Greatest Bug Number

Most open-source projects have a bug tracker, and bugs are numbered sequentially. Thus, knowing the highest existing bug number (GBN) is an important piece of information if you’re looking for what you believe is a new (globally, not just new to you) bug.

You do a search for bugs, and one of the things you see is their number. If you know roughly what the GBN is, you can tell at a glance whether the bugs in your search results are new or old. That will give you important information, as a bug from ten years ago, from a deprecated version that won’t even run with your current libraries, etc. is probably not your bug.

Of course, technically knowing the GBN isn’t sufficient. You must also have some vague idea of the reporting cadence. That is, if GNB is 600K, and you’re looking at bug 550K, the rough time to accumulate the intervening 50K bugs could be large or small. And the cadence changes, probably following an elliptical orbit (speeding up close to release, slowing down at the midpoint between releases).

The question is, would it make sense to change how bugs are numbered? Would it make more sense to have bugs numbered like: YYYYMM-NNN? Adding in DD would probably be too fine-grained, but months probably fit well for most projects.

Bug numbers do not have an inherent meaning. They are already security-compromised in terms of giving away the timeframe they were filed. (That can be avoided by squirreling away some numbers and filing them late, but it’s unlikely to be done in open source. Even if it were, you could still squirrel some date-stamped bug numbers.)

You would lose guess-the-date-for-bug-N contests, though you could technically still hold one, it would just be using bug numbers people don’t refer to as often.

You might also gain a benefit: developers would have the date-of-filing staring them in the face every time they referenced a bug. I don’t think that would really matter; software gets built as best it can. Most unfixed bugs aren’t from laziness, but from difficulty, lack of information, and lack of time.

The other side of that is the users who will say, “this bug is five years old.” They already exist, though, so it doesn’t seem like this adds to that problem.

But having a year-month-numbered bug can, in some cases, give an immediate idea of a project’s size. A bug like YYYYMM-1 won’t, but a bug like YYYYMM-2468 will. They’re getting at least thousands of bugs per month.

There might be some technical issues. Will a bug database handle a lookup as easily when fragmented into years and months? Should there be that dash or should it be YYYYMMNN? Will people think the Ns are days?

What other benefits would this scheme achieve? Could you type MMNNN for the current year in a search? Or NNN for the current month? Will people get frustrated when it’s the first day of the month and their bug now needs to be typed out? Could you use some shorthand for that case?

I think using partial dates rather than purely sequential bug numbers (at least as an alias; there’s probably value in keeping the regular, sequential numbers, too) may have some use, but what do you think?

Categories
society

Why Information Matters

If you look at the history of any major problem, the solution has involved the freeing of information in some manner. For diseases it involved understanding the transmission, immunity patterns, and eventually understanding the actual bacteria and viruses. World War II was largely an information war, with mathematical feats used to free information and hide it, to gain the upper hand in the conflict.

Is hiding information okay? It depends on the information being hidden. For example, for a military campaign in the aforementioned war, a certain amount of hiding was necessary. But that sort of information has a short half-life (the time until the sensitivity of the information is halved).

Other information is private. That means the information may be necessary to the person’s well-being. It’s up to the person (or organization) to determine when and if to share that information, and who to share it with.

But, all things being equal, the more information that is known about a problem, the easier it is to solve the problem. That means systems that try to tie up what is really public information, like scientific and artistic works that have been published (from the same general origin as public) are failures from their inception. They are confusing control with revenue.

It makes sense for people that create works have a decent quality of life. But that’s different than what’s being done. What’s being done is you have people afraid to share their works because they don’t want someone else stealing their works. You have people who are doing everything in their power to lock down a perpetual copyright law enforced under penalty of death. You have people fighting for the right to share art and scientific knowledge with each other. And you have people missing crucial pieces of information in their endeavors to become better scientists, artists, citizens, because access is blocked.

That’s all bad enough, but the same tools being sold to the Copyright Armada are also turned against people fighting oppressive regimes the world over. You have the same information blocks leading to huge recessions because the traders are naive enough to think an information gap is their best way to make money.

Information is the critical element that makes us more than mere animals, just as when a crow picks up a piece of bent wire and uses it as a tool it is something greater than a crow with a piece of wire. Information is what allows us to do something other than forage and hunt all our days, without shelter.

It is critical that we improve our flows of information. It is information alone that can prevent our worst acts and enable our best acts.

Categories
entertainment

The Economics of News Stories

When a big story breaks, like the killing of a major figurehead of a terror corporation, it follows the typical market model.  More stories (firms) enter the market (news stream) given the demand and resources, until the market is saturated (people get tired of it) or a more viable alternative (new story) comes along.

Just as a new product generates a lot of interest (a fad) for awhile, a new meme spreads rapidly until it reaches a point where it hits dead walls (places it either can’t spread due to lack of saliency or where it has already spread) or runs out of steam (the spreaders give up on it).

All systems are informational systems.  The fact that information spread is vital to every aspect of human life still has not quite been recognized by most policy makers.  Secrecy is the equivalent of clogged arteries to an economy; we get heart attacks, where lack of fluidity in the market causes various sectors (organs) to seize and cell death begins to occur (firm closures, downsizing, layoffs).

Worse than simple secrecy is the one-way mirror.  Asymmetric informational flows are poisonous because of the ability for only some firms to recognize trends.  When a piece of information is only available to limited numbers, it can never reach its full potential.  That is why Open Source works: spread the information of how a piece of software is programmed and the result is better software because more eyes swept over it and had the opportunity to refine it.

All of our current problems, from health care to warfare to budget to terror scares, are the result of poor informational flow.  Many of these problems are caused by man-made dams in the information flows, where a single company or an industry seeks competitive advantage or to simply perpetuate their cash flows through the ignorance of others.

It’s vital we recognize the harm from informational blockage, lest we repeatedly find ourselves victimized by poor information.

Categories
unAmerican

When Non-informational Regulation Matters

In an earlier post I claimed that informational regulations were sufficient.  There are at least two examples of where they fail in the current system, however:

  1. Low-competition fields
  2. After-the-fact changes

If you can’t switch vendors, then the information won’t help you very much.  It might spur a cooperative or new alternative to be created, but if the government is failing to prevent monopolies from existing, then that may be difficult to initiate.

Changes to existing behaviors may also preclude information being sufficient, as well.  For example, if you already bought a good and it is then revealed that there is a defect, you would be stuck with the good.  Your recourse might be to file suit, but if you are left in a bad way until the resolution of such a suit, it would be very harmful.  An injunction might bring relief.

The question still remains, if one assumes an immaculate judicial system and that the government does actively work to keep barriers of entry low (eg, it doesn’t act in collusion with service providers to raise such barriers), would these problems go away?  I believe they would, but will continue to examine the original claim and tune the full description and argument.

Are there other circumstances that I’ve overlooked (I believe there’s at least one that slips my mind at the moment)?