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Authority's Traces

Woke up feeling ok.

A few nights ago I hacked on shem a bit and got it to a state where I now use it regularly instead of what it replaces. Shem's a tool written in perl to make it easier to get information about a hostname or an ip address. It queries various sources of information, either as its told or using heuristics to try to get "enough" information (e.g. "if this fails, let's try doing that"). It'll use any readline modules it can find to do a command history if it can. Notes:

  • WHOIS is a lousy protocol to try to access programmatically. All the modules that try to fudge this suck both because of that and because they're written badly. Because of one module that would not shut up, I decided to temporarily close STDERR before calling into it. Grumble.
  • It uses a few slightly uncommon modules like Net::DNS, Net::Whois::IANA, and Net::Traceroute
  • Net::Whois::IANA doesn't handle WHOIS queries on hostnames, so I'll need to choose another module that does.
  • I want to use dbmopen() to let me take notes on an IP address/netmask/isp ... but I need to decide which and how to implement that.
  • I've included a trimmed-down version of my Argpass module, inline, because the code has gotten big enough that I want more structure. I still need to refactor the rest of the code to use it when it makes sense.
Those interested in giving it a spin (and who don't mind installing a few modules from CPAN it needs) should grab it here. I still have some refactoring to do on it, and there are a few features I haven't implemented yet, but it may be relevant to some of y'all's interests.

I was a bit surprised to recently find myself on two mostly-identical mailing lists for the same thing - slight digging showed that there was a feud involved in the creation of more mailing lists, which had considerably more content than I felt like digesting. Knowing that I lack a lot of the details, that my level of knowledge of everyone involved is light-moderate and they seem to be good people, and that this looks like a black eye to some people, a few musings on running group projects:

  • I don't think argument, even that with the most vitrol, should be hidden away from the outside world for the sake of putting up a united front to those not in an inner circle. People should not be ashamed to disagree or even to have flaming rows, and worrying about "how things look" when other people can see things is not, in my opinion, a worthy concern. Openness is more important.
  • That said, segmenting forums appropriately so people who are uninterested in that stuff don't have to see it is fine. If you want to have an "inner-workings", a "public discussion", and a "public announcement" mailing list, all available to the public, that's a good way to handle things.
  • This is one of the things that Wikipedia (mostly) gets right - most of the inner discussion on wikipedia occurs on publically accessible mailing lists (that most people don't read because it's uninteresting to them - before I left the project I made summaries of some lists) that were not in the spotlight but open. There were, of course, private lists and some stuff going on behind closed doors, but this was minimal and (largely) justified by the specifics.
  • Sometimes administering something and keeping it working smoothly requires someone with authority to keep order (a lesson I learned a long time ago when I became a Usenet moderator, and then reflected on being a BBS operator) - a complete lack of authority combined with traditions of personal responsibility does not work. However, when this is working well, usually there are two factors present:
    1. People know/accept that there is someone there who has authority and can do whatever it takes to keep order (ideally this person is viewed as being at least reasonably fair)
    2. That person usually uses their authority little enough that it feels to most people that they can confortably say anything in a reasonable way
  • When possible, there's should be a "right to fork" whatever the project is without too much fuss, should either the authority make a wrong decision or prove to be the wrong sort of person. This mailing list seems to have forked in this way.
  • Most people are not suitable for that kind of authority, because they resist the idea of authority, they're too quick to use any authority they're given, they're too hotheaded, or they're not fair or civil enough. Some people have much rarer unsuitabilities like paranoia, a huge ego, or similar. The demands of that kind of role differ from most other interpersonal roles, which is why some people would make a great friend/relative/coworker but a terrible boss. Of course, most places of employment operate far too much like the military and too little like a collective....
  • Having people skills in the normal sense is at least partly orthogonal to being suitable in such a role.
  • Every so often explosions will happen or unsuitabilities will turn up - finding ways to deal with things reasonably when they do is a challenge
  • As is generally the case in life, there are always people who think that planning ahead and making laws and rules and charters that will predetermine and preresolve most issues actually will help things. As with almost all fetishism of order, it does not work. What works is creating an appropriate culture in the group, making sure that there are enough people with the right character to deal with situations, being humble enough to admit that sometimes mistakes can happen or that two or more decisions or interpretations are all reasonable while acknowledging the need to move forward regardless, and being as open as possible.
One of the greatest failures in the Soviet Union was adoption of a notion called "Democratic Centralism", under which after debate finished on a matter and a vote was concluded, all members of the party were expected to publicly agree with the overall judgement, keeping their disagreement until the next party/comittee meeting where they might move to overturn it. We can understand the motivation for this - if the party saw itself as the vanguard for great social change, a mixed message due to party disagreement would not fill that role as well as word from on high. This fails because it makes it too hard to turn around or admit error (two different things), it distances the demos too much from political issues, and it makes political privilege/corruption too easy. An open autocracy would probably serve the people better than a closed semi-democratic system - openness as a guiding principle is a more reliable path to keeping any organisation healthy.

Also, I recently had to explain this to someone - truthfulness, forthrightness, and bluntness..Being truthful is in its simplest sense not misrepresenting reality to someone else - it can be interpreted in the strictest sense, where one's words are literally not false, or in a somewhat broader sense, where reasonable interpretations of the words/situation are considered. Truthfulness should be considered a good (although other values may override it depending on circumstances) - some tolerance might be made for small untruthfulness (white lies) dependng on one's perspective - the more the import, the more the potential harm.

Being forthright is being willing to volunteer information, generally about one's mental state or the relevant situation. A forthright person is open with other people, sharing information with them whether that information is positive or not. This may involve confrontation when disagreements or dislikes are involved. Being forthright should be considered a good, although a weaker/more nuanced one than truthfulness and one that balances more against one's mental energy - except in certain types of relationships (particularly spousal), it's reasonable not to be forthright with many types of information particularly if they lead to long, unpleasant, and nonproductive conversations. Tactfulness is a kind of opposite of being forthright (or at least a concept that consists of carved exceptions to it).

Bluntness is a roughness or unkindness, either on unpleasant facts, disagreement, or emotional expression. While necessary or useful in some circumstances, in the general case it is not helpful, is often a mark of poor character, and is a societal harm.

Being forthright without being blunt is generally positive - one can say what needs to be said in ways that are direct but not unnecessarily harsh.

I watched a few more Hitchcock films that wern't shown in the film class I took on him - "Suspicion" was good, "Mr and Mrs Smith" too, "The Wrong Man" was terrible. I also saw Pleasantville (not by Hitch), which I had mixed feelings about - it was a great film, and I liked much of the message (having read some of the varied discussion on the topic, but I don't like how it bundles acceptance of infidelity with all the other complexities of the modern world that shatter the film's utopia with acceptance of infidelity. While the law should probably not accept it, real people are (and should be) willing to use strong measures to protect their relationships ("Mr and Mrs Smith" touched on this). I suppose in any set-up conflict between modern values and idealised past values, one would find the lines drawn in some odd places - barring that issue I'm comfortable with smashing the idealised past (although the film, of course, doesn't explore the messiness and other consequences of that, it being more about revolution than new establishment).


  • The array of comment thrusts here is kind of interesting.
  • Yay! Peru's congress won't let (hopefully) their president sell Amazon tribal lands to developers.
  • Political news: Obama picked Biden (reasonably likable foreign policy, so-so domestic), McCain picked Sarah Palin (much less likable than McCain himself on the issues). I'm disappointed (but not surprised) that Russ Feingold wasn't Obama's pick (I've stated before that I think Senator Feingold is one of the best figures in American politics right now), but much more disappointed overall in McCain's choice of Palin - she does have some of the anti-corruption/reform mindedness that makes McCain somewhat likable, but her position on most of the issues is much more conservative than his (she reminds me of my mom, actually). On the upside, she is a female, and regardless of who she is beyond that, this election is changing the face of American politics. I believe that the Republican party is, as Schwartzenegger suggests, undergoing an image and factional shift as middle-class suburban values come to prominence (meaning a conservativism that incorporates women's liberation and a more egalitarian structure), while the Democratic party (thanks partly to Howard Dean heading the DNC) is reviving passion about issues (rather than people/celebrities - Bill Clinton downplayed what he was about, compared to who he was).
  • In Pakistan, Musharraf has stepped down as president. I believe he did a good job as a national leader, and regret that nobody as capable or with as positive of character/values is likely to have that role anytime soon. Unfortunately, one of the worst political figures of the nation, Zadari, is running for the role - if elected, we can expect all of the reforms Musharraf enacted to curb corruption undone. It's regrettable that he was not exiled when his late wife was.
  • It's nice to read about when public schools are not failing.
  • This is what hypercolor-technology evolved into..

Job stuff:

  • Google - now very unlikely, thanks to byzantine hiring processes
  • CMU - another possibility might be opening up
  • MIT - No responses, although the jobs I've found to apply to look deeply interesting

Some other things are probably better left unsaid.