Reflections on learning Rust and violating copyright law

A year ago I attempted to learn Rust, a new systems programming language created by the Mozilla Foundation. I learn new computer languages not because I get any practical utility out of them, but rather because I find computer languages to be inherently fascinating. Studying a new language is like reading a profound work of philosophy. It makes your mind expand with the possibilities and stretches you to think in new ways. At my job in ProcessMaker, Inc., I occasionally learn a new trick or two from reading PHP and JavaScript code, but those languages no longer stretch the horizons of what I already know.

On the other hand, I still fondly recall how my mind was blown by the concepts I learned when I first learned programming. It was my senior year in college and I picked up the book, the New C Primer Plus, 2nd Ed. by Mitchell Waite and Stephen Prata while Christmas shopping in 1995. I stumbled across it in Circuit City on the bottom shelf below all the shrink-wrapped software. I recall that it was sitting all alone on the shelf–all the other things around it had been snatched up by the Christmas rush. It was a throw-back to the time when learning how to use a computer still meant learning how to program it, but most people rushing through Circuit City had overlooked it. At the time, people told me to learn a newer language like Java or Visual Basic, but I had become fascinated by how computers work, and wanted to learn the gritty details of a low-level language like C. I spent the next 3 weeks reading 700 pages of code examples in utter fascination. The book taught me dozens of new concepts. At the end of each chapter, there were exercises to do as homework. Since I didn’t have a C compiler, I wrote out my code examples with pencil and paper, not really knowing if they worked or not, but simply enjoying what I was learning. 
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How “open” is open source business software?

I have worked for ProcessMaker, Inc. since 2009, mainly because the company allows me to work part time with flexible hours, but also because it develops free/libre/open source software (FLOSS). The core of ProcessMaker comes with an open source license, the AGPL, but the company has never functioned like an open source project. The development is almost exclusively behind closed doors. We have a public bug tracker, but the bugs get fixed in a private bug tracker, so the community can’t see when their bugs get fixed. We have no beta releases for public testing of the software. Anyone who downloads the software can play with the PHP and JavaScript code, so we get a couple dozen bug reports or forum posts per year that contribute bug fixes and new features, but there is very little community involvement in the development of the software, aside from bug reports and posts on our forum.

The open source license is great for marketing and helps attract new users. I love the fact that ProcessMaker allows anyone to change the code, because it gives me great flexibility when I answer people’s questions on the public forum, which I have maintained since 2009. When people encounter a bug or need a new feature, I can tell them to go to line 1205 in workflow/engine/classes/class.pmFunctions.php and change the source code to fix it. I try to answer people’s questions on how to hack the source code and develop plugins for the software, but I’m not a core developer, so my knowledge is limited.
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Questioning the benefits of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general

When I first learned how Bitcoin worked, I thought it was a marvelous technology. Today, I am growing increasingly pessimistic about Bitcoin. The environmental costs of Bitcoin mining are very high when we consider the resources to fabricate millions of specialized chips and circuit boards and energy to run them. Moreover, Bitcoin can’t adjust its money supply, so it is highly prone to inflation. Although the number of Bitcoin transactions has stayed the same over the last year, the price of Bitcoin has skyrocketed, which makes it an unacceptable currency in my opinion.

Like many new technologies, it takes a while to find all the potential problems and design a blockchain technology that is capable of serving as a stable, widely-accepted cryptocurrency. Unfortunately, Bitcoin is stuck in the first iteration of the technology and it can’t evolve. I have no doubt that it will continue being used, but better cryptocurrencies are being designed and one of them will eventually take Bitcoin’s place as the premier cryptocurrency. Continue reading

Arguing with the climate change deniers over the 97% consensus

I find myself spending more and more time arguing with climate change deniers online. I know that it is an utter waste of my time, since the vast majority of online deniers aren’t seeking truth, but rather validation of their ideological agenda, so it is impossible to convince them no matter how much contrary evidence I present. It is so frustrating visiting web sites like Watts Up With That and that oppose the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, because most people with any knowledge of the field of climate science don’t bother weighing in or have been banned, so the skeptics are largely uncontested when they post utter nonsense. They would get torn to shreds and dismissed as crackpots if they bothered to post their garbage in a legitimate scientific forum, but they are free to spew their specious arguments uncontested on their web sites and an army of ignoramuses online then “like” their posts and vociferously support what they don’t understand. Whenever you get into an argument with one of these ignoramuses, they will link endlessly to these articles as “proof,” which they believe to be just as valid as my links to peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals.

What is even more frustrating is that the deniers appear to be winning the battle online. If you go to YouTube and type in “global warming”, the majority of the videos which are returned by the search will contest the scientific consensus on climate change, and probably also try to convince you that most climate scientists and their supporters are are nefarious people with hidden agendas.

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Overreaction to sexist blog posts destroys the Justice Democrats

It looks like the Justice Democrats just imploded as a viable group capable of effecting political change, which leaves me very despondent. Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks, who was one of the founders of the Justice Democrats, wrote some sexist blog posts between 1999 and 2005, and the staff of the Justice Democrats demanded that he resign. Uygur has resigned from the group and has avoided saying anything negative about the Justice Democrat’s staff in public. Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk, however, was so outraged by the behavior of the staff, that he then also resigned from the board of the Justice Democrats in protest.

Without the media support of either the Young Turks or Secular Talk, I can’t see how the Justice Democrats will have any public traction. Most of the people who joined the Justice Democrats first heard about the group by watching the Young Turks or Secular Talk on Youtube and the media coverage of the group would be essentially nil without those two Youtube channels. Judging from the comments posted on Kulinski’s video announcing his resignation, many of his viewers are outraged that Uygur was forced to resign.

Most of the criticism of Uygur focuses on a 1999 post. After reading the post, I can understand why the JD staff found it offensive, but they also seem to be incapable of interpreting the situation in its proper context. Uygur essentially complained that he was surrounded by many beautiful women in Miami, yet he wasn’t getting laid. He then said that women are genetically inferior because they don’t want to have sex enough. Yes, the general tone of the post was sexist, but the JD staff are being purposely blind to the lame humor of a guy who is making up sarcastic excuses why he can’t get laid. It was a poor attempt at humor and an effort to be an edgy, politically-incorrect right-wing blogger.

I don’t think that Uygur truly believed that women are genetically inferior at the time that he wrote it, and he certainly doesn’t believe it now.  He has run a progressive media company since 2002 where he promotes women’s rights and female hosts clearly play an important role in deciding on the content and presentation of the shows. It is hard to believe that strong women like Anna Kasparian, Hannah Cranston, Aida Rodriguez, Grace Baldridge and Kim Horcher would continue to work at the Young Turks if it was a pit of sexism and they weren’t treated as equals in the company. I find it hard to believe that these female hosts would keep working part time at low salaries at the Young Turks if it was a place that tolerated sexism. Many of the female hosts of the Young Turks shows also have their own separate shows which they built up independently from the Young Turks, so I doubt they would stay if Uygur displayed sexist attitudes toward them. Anna Kasparian frequently argues with Cenk Uygur about why he is wrong about a particular issue and challenges his authority on air.

If Uygur had written those comments last year and stood proudly by them, then the reaction of the JD staff might be justifiable, but Uygur deleted most of the offensive posts over a dozen years ago and has apologized, saying that people are right to criticize the sexism in the posts.

The JD staff seemed determined to smear Uygur in ways that he didn’t deserve, by saying that he was “contributing to rape culture.” I’m guessing that they wrote that because in a 2003 post Uygur wrote:

I had one of the best nights of my life at Mardi Gras. I kissed over 23 different women, saw and felt countless breasts, and was in a wonderful drunken stupor thanks to my friend John Daniels.

Yes, the whole Marti Gras tradition of men kissing women and women flashing their breasts and men touching them is sexist and does objectify women, but there is no indication that Uygur was talking about non-consensual activities.

The staff of the Justice Democrats seems to have lost sight of the larger objectives of their organization in making their decision to kick out Uygur. Without an effective media arm, the organization is essentially dead, because it won’t be able to recruit many new members and it just alienated many of its existing members who are fans of the Young Turks and Secular Talk. Maybe some of the members of the Justice Democrats will applaud the action as taking a principled stand against sexism, but it appears that the group will also loose many members, judging from the online comments on Kulinski’s video announcing his resignation. Many of the comments on the video also criticize social justice warriors in general as intolerant extremists. The left appears to be needlessly attacking itself and eating its own.

Some of Uygur’s harshest critics like Sargon of Akkad are now defending him and saying that he did “nothing wrong”. Unfortunately, tarring and feathering Uygur in this way allows right-wing critics to dismiss the #metoo movement as a witchhunt and an overreaction. Just like some people dismissed feminism in general when Hillary Clinton’s campaign accused Bernie Sanders of promoting sexism, some people will be inclined to disregard sexual harassment as not being a serious problem when they see progressives like Uygur being attacked for old blog posts. At the end of the day, I’m not sure if denouncing Uygur for sexism really helps the cause of women’s rights. What I am sure is that it helps to fracture the movement to elect politicians who aren’t corrupted by corporate money, and that is an outcome that we should all mourn.

Why the melting of the Arctic sea ice matters

I’m more than a little frustrated by the ignoramuses online who claim that climate change isn’t happening or is just Mother Nature taking her natural course. Either they scientifically illiterate or amoral sociopaths who don’t care about the consequences of not dealing with greenhouse gas emissions.

NOAA recently graphed the Arctic sea ice extent over the last 1500 years, which clearly shows that the recent loss of Arctic sea ice is not part of some natural cycle:

K. Pistone et al (2014) found that loosing 40% of the Arctic sea ice area between 1979 and 2011 decreased the planetary albedo (reflectivity) over the Arctic from 0.52 to 0.48 and that decrease in the amount of reflected light caused warming that was the equivalent of a quarter of all global CO2 emissions during that time period. We are now on route to losing all summer time sea ice at some point in the next decade or two. Some experts think it could happen as soon as 2020. This probably will double the warming measured by Pistone et al. due to the reduction in the albedo.

Loosing all the Arctic sea ice means a lot more than losing a few polar bears. According to Shakhova et al (2008), there are 1400 gigatonnes of carbon locked up as methane and methane hydrates under the Arctic submarine permafrost. If the Arctic starts melting that methane could escape and cause a dramatic burst in warming. There are indications that the methane is already starting to escape in increasing amounts. It is estimated that roughly 0.5 million tonnes of methane have traditionally been released every year by the Siberian Arctic. In 2006, that amount had increased to 3.8 million tonnes and it was 17 million tonnes in 2013. If this continues to increase at an exponential rate, then we can expect far more warming than is predicted by the IPCC’s CMIP5 climate change models.

What will be the effect of melting the Arctic methane? Nobody is really sure. Currently humans emit roughly 10.9 gigatonnes of carbon per year. According to the CarbonBrief, the global climate budget for a 66% chance of keeping global temperature rise under 2 and 3 degrees C is 219 and 601 gigatonnes of carbon, respectively. Most experts don’t think that all the Arctic methane will leak, but if a quarter of it leaks, then it will effectively double global warming. If all of it leaks, then it might be the end of the human race.

Whither American Democracy: FDR-style reform, revolution or slide into populist dictatorship?

Three people, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, together own $248.5 billion which is as much wealth as 56% of Americans. This level of inequality is unsustainable and I often wonder when the American political system will implode. In other countries, other political parties would have arisen long ago to replace the Republicans and Democrats, but the rules of the US political system make it virtually impossible for an effective third party to come to the fore.

At this point, it is increasingly pointless to call the Republican Party a political party in the traditional sense. A party is supposed to represent the interests of a significant block of voters, but the Republican Party increasingly only represents a tiny percentage of Americans when it comes to economic issues. The new tax bill is a shameless give-away to rich donors, while raising taxes on households making under $75,000 or less over the next decade, raising the national deficit by $1.45 trillion, and taking away the health care of 13 million Americans. Basically it raises taxes by $4.5 trillion over the next decade on the lower and middle classes, in order to give $6 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthy, of which 62% of those tax cuts go to the top 1%. One analysis found that 71.6% of Americans would be worse off, while 5% would benefit from the bill. This is basically a tax bill which says let’s rob from society in general to give to those who already have too much.
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