Method and madness.

At work, there are certain things we do all the time. We do these certain things every day. Most people here have developed a method of doing these things, a way of (for instance), writing descriptions for tools of different sorts. After a while there’s a sort of community lexicon for these things.

There are, however, a few people who resist change. Though I should say they resist changing by constantly changing. Or, they cannot seem to do the same thing the same way twice. They’re immune to the community lexicon no matter how long they work here.

I alternately find this annoying and fascinating (I have a deep ambivalence to caring about such things) and sometimes wonder: why do some people settle into patterns and adopt informal standardisations while other people seem to resist them at the atomic level?

Say a quick prayer this morning.

Say a quick prayer (or a long one, by all means) for the people of Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma. The brutality of the military junta there is a reminder of this world’s real condition, and the terrible toll in lives is an affront both to God and to human dignity.

Oops.

I just noticed my How I Met Your Mother S03E01 torrent had run up a share ratio of 26.2 and a bit. Which is pretty crazy, considering that I’m doing nothing but facilitating leechers.

For those of you who disagree with me, remember that the Bittorrent protocol starts off as a negative sum game at the beginning of a torrent, but once it reaches any appreciable seeding/leeching mass, it becomes neutral. After the first accumulation of peers (during which the initial seed, of course, passes on as many copies as possible), if everyone simple shares approximately one copy, the torrent will be fine.

But we don’t live in a perfect world: I have strewn my data all over the internet.

Qoph

It’s not often I have the opportunity to lay “Qoph” down on a Scrabble board. But I do today. On a double word score. Watch out world!

Gah!

Where is my book of Paul Aster’s poems? I search for it angrily but can’t find it. If you happen to come across this book, I will give you a large cash reward. (Please note that your idea of large and my idea of large may very well be orthogonal.)

Voting for dummies, by a dummy.

Since you asked — well, you should have asked — I’m going to expand on why I vote my conscience instead of adhering to the utilitarian philosophy of my past.

First, I’ll take you back. I used to be surrounded by people voting for Christian parties, who claimed I should vote as my conscience led, for principles that matter, and for a party that upheld my beliefs. That I set my tent up with the more jaded pragmatists was — I admit — reactionary; just because those people happened to be, generally, weirdos, doesn’t invalidate their point. Of course, I don’t think I ever really plumbed the thinking that got me to “vote for those most likely to get into power and do the least evil”.

That said, I still can’t vote for an explicitly Christian of “family-oriented” party (made up of, let’s admit it, mostly Christians). These parties hold out a false promise of political salvation, that we can somehow legislate the world better. No, I can’t cast that vote: even if Christians rule the country, the country isn’t really Christian, simply nominally Christian.

That’s just me. That’s my conscience. That’s what my intellect, such as it is, dictates. It also dictates that I no longer vote pragmatically; and with the above history behind (or above) us, let me move on.

When I decide to do something that seems morally grey, I like to ask myself a set of questions. First on those list, and most relevant here, is, “What would happen if everyone acted like me in this situation?” For example, if I throw a fast food bag out the window of my car whilst driving, it’s not that big a deal. It’s just one bag. If, however, everyone did that all the time, we’d be swimming in trash.

See, if everyone votes pragmatically, the parties you define as “alternative” and “not likely to be voted in” are by definition left behind at the polls. Your position on voting creates the very conditions that you supposedly evaluated to come up with your position on voting. This is a feedback loop, and a bad one. It’s a snake eating its own tail.

I like to, instead, view my vote as one way I can speak out. To the point that if the Freedom Party or the Green Party get just one more vote in this election than last, that vote says that one more person in this election is saying that the “mainstream” parties have nothing left to offer. That one more person has decided that voting the a different version of the establishment into power yet again is less important that voting for something.

If every man and woman in the province truly considered their options, and considered that we have however many parties for a reason, election results would be much, much different. If we stood up and said, Wait, no, I am not going to be swayed by by government spending before an election, spending that amounts to cheap bribery, and I am not going to simply run with the crowd, and yes, I have beliefs, and will vote accordingly! the government would, I think, actually reflect the people.

Instead, right now, the government essentially reflects the politicians and spin-masters who happen to have their hand in the till. They package up the election, crouch it in a certain light, and manipulate it like a magician performing in a circus.

I’d rather elections not be a circuses, wouldn’t you? I mean, I know my voice is just another in a crowd of people saying things, and I’m not likely to be heard. Especially not these days in Ontario.

But hey, that’s why I vote.

Five Ubuntu applications you’ve probably never heard of (but should!)

Most of us who use Ubuntu and its variants are aware of the best-of-breed software that comes installed with it, or that a majority of the Ubuntu user-base is fans of. Things like OpenOffice, AbiWord, kTorrent, Amarok, Compiz, VLC… the list goes on. But what about those neat applications hovering around the periphery of your awareness? Here are a few good programs I’ve tried. Give them a shot.

1) Hyrdrogen – Even if you don’t like music, Hydrogen is a fun drum simulator. Hydrogen is, as an added bonus, dead simple to use. I’ve seen people with no musical training figure it out in under three minutes.

2) Tilda – If you’re one of those people who likes to have a terminal open at all times, give Tilda a shot. Hit whatever key you’ve mapped, and boom, there it is. Though the default fonts are a little wonky — oversize, ugly — once you change that, it’s magic. And useful!

3) Easytag – If you’re managing your music collection with MusicBrainz Picard and you’re wondering why nothing’s working right, why Picard is perpetually stuck at version 0.7, and why it can’t pass valid URLs to your browser (Python 2.5, by the way), why not use a different tagger? Or maybe you have a lot of music that isn’t in the MusicBrainz database and you understand that they have no good way to submit file-based metadata (even if you’ve confirmed it!): why not use another tagger. Easytag is exactly what its name means. Easy. Tag. It allows you to tag things easily.

4) PDFedit – On Windows, there’s a real lack of free, useful PDF editing and viewing programs. I can count the viewers on two fingers; I can’t find a free editor. Ubuntu, however, doesn’t suffer from that problem. Want to view a PDF? Built in. Want to print to a PDF? In the repos (and built-in to Gutsy, apparently). Want to edit a PDF? One quick Synaptic search or Aptitude command, and you’re on your way.

5) View Your Mind – Want to organise your thoughts? Have a messy mind? Here you go. One on many mind mapping applications, VYM has the added benefit of being able to export to OO.o Impress presentations (and of course from there, to MSOffice Powerpoint, if you absolutely must).

Election time is here!

And having read all five party platforms (NDP, Tory, Liberal, Green, Freedom, those that I feel might be relevant to me), I’m so very divided between voting Green and voting Freedom.

The Green Party’s focus on transferring taxes to environmentally costly areas, for instance, is quite attractive. On the other hand, the Freedom Party is, for me, a strong idealogical fit. What I like most about both parties, though, is that they simple stand for something. Greens are unabashedly Green, and don’t fear saying that the populace must pay for what the populace does, and in fact they should pay for that instead of paying for other things. The Freedom Party is unabashedly libertarian. Read it: their platform is like nothing else you will read in Canadian politics. These are not parties pandering to get votes; they exist so I can vote my conscience, to raise awareness, and perhaps even wait for their time to come.

(As a side note, I used to believe in the “throwing away your vote” view, that if you vote for a party no-one thinks can possibly win, you’re basically burning your vote. Which is, of course, a fallacy: if everyone does that, no wonder these parties don’t get much of the vote, even when people may find their platforms extremely attractive. Now, I think that voting according to your conscience is much, much more important than voting for the Tories or the Liberals — who are essentially the same party! — regardless of your party’s chances of winning. Do I go to the ballot box as an arbiter of the lesser evil? No. I go as a contributor to the greater good.)

The NDP are a bunch of left-wing nutbags, which to their credit is something of an impressive feat in Canadian politics. The Conservatives and Liberals are essentially the same party with different faces. (If you want evidence of this, note that the issues both campaigns are focusing on and consider whether these are anything more than niggling variations on each other. The Tories are Red, and the Liberals are Redder. They’re pretty much interchangeable.)

If there’s anyone out there who wants to help sway me to an alternative perspective, by all means, do so! In the meantime, read the parties’ platforms here:

The Freedom Party Platform
The Green Party Platform

Quash that subpoena like a bug!

I just finished reading The Honourable Mr. Justice Watt’s decision regarding two subpoena issued against Derek Finkle. Essentially, after the Court of Appeals for Ontario ordered a new trial for Robert Baltovich, the prosecution decided that Derek Finkle’s book, No Claim to Mercy, a journalistic “true crime” investigation into Mr. Baltovich’s conviction of killing his girlfriend, Elizabeth Bain, would provide some sort of new evidence to the assist them in the re-conviction on Mr. Baltovich.

Now, considering that subpoenas duces tecum command “attendance for the purpose of giving evidence” (according to the Honourable Mr. Justice Watt), and direct the subpoenaed to bring whatever was described on the face of the subpoena, the issuer of the subpoena has to be fairly certain that what the subpoena describes is not only relevant, but — especially in this case — cannot be derived elsewhere. (Interestingly enough, the criminal code does not make any distinction between types of subpoenas, though the courts recognise two that I know of.)

In Mr. Finkle’s case, the police, or more specifically Detective Robert Wilkinson, simple sent a subpoena compelling production of written materials used in the creation of Mr. Finkle’s book. Later, it was joined by a second subpoena (issued by the same clerk, incidentally), compelling production of recorded materials and the like.

This is a bit strange. Actually, quite strange. First, the subpoena is remarkably sweeping. Second, Derek Finkle is unlikely to be called as a material witness for the prosecution. Third, there are other mechanisms in place for production of documents, all of which require explanations under oath. Fourth, the subpoenaed material could reasonably considered hearsay, making them inadmissible as evidence. Fifth, Mr. Finkle is a journalist, and as such is afforded special constitutional consideration.

Why did the police decide to issue a wide-ranging subpoena? As far as I can tell, Det. Wilkinson decided to do so simply because it was easier. A Document Production order, for instance, has a strong burden of proof against the issuer, and requires a statement under oath. A subpoena does not. And from Justice Watt’s statement, the subpoena was issued by a clerk without proper consideration, which the issuing office is required to undertake before a subpoena is issued. In effect, it was a boilerplate steam-roller of a subpoena, requested, approved, and issued without a whole lot of thought on the part of anyone involved.

But this is what got me. I find the last section of Justice Watt’s statement at once humorous and indignant — not to mention right on the money. In quashing the second subpoena, having already quashed the first, he said in section 95:

The subpoena issued on April 30, 2007 amounts to a fishing expedition under a colourable licence issued without authority. Fishing season is closed. The subpoena is quashed.

I don’t like to be a cheerleader, but rebuking police overstepping their authority, safeguarding freedom of the press, and firing off a witty sound bite in the closing? Niiiiiiice.