Arrogance, slashing Slashdot (and MySQL) and the end of America

Doing some research for an upcoming Tectonic article, I came across some writings by Fabian Pascal and Christopher J. Date. They are both well-known in the relational database world, and have been particularly harsh on MySQL, calling it ‘one of the worst SQL options‘. Written before MySQL even supported transactions, and while the developers were still saying things like foreign key constraints were unecessary, their criticisms were valid. MySQL is not the only DBMS they attack though – their main thrust of argument is that no DBMS implements the relational model correctly, nor does SQL. Opponents claim they are impractical theorists, but I believe their arguments are valid.

Both are highly experienced in their field, and their arguments are not refuted easily. They can get frustrated by the Slashdot level of debate and ignorance, as well as clashing with the culture of ‘getting things done’ that happens in the office coalfaces. Their abrupt responses can make them seem arrogant. But there’s a fine line between arrogance and having carefully considered all the options, being convinced you’re right. Someone who believes they are right can seem arrogant when they abruptly dismiss another’s view. But what differentiates the two positions for me is that the arrogant person is close-minded, and refuses to even consider that another could be right, while the other has considered the opposing argument, but come to the conclusion that they are right. Pascal puts it differently, perhaps conceding the arrogance charge, saying ‘Worse than arrogance is ignorant arrogance.’

I have always respected those who stand up for what they believe in, even if they turn out to be proven wrong. I believe not telling the other person why you think they are wrong is harmful, a dereliction of the duty to make sure truth prevails

Pascal has attempted to take on the Slashdot hordes. In 3 columns, Slashing a Slashdot Exchange, Part 1, Slashing a Slashdot Exchange, Part 2, Slashing a Slashdot Exchange, Part 3, he painstakingly shreds the opposing ‘arguments’.

Dealing with decades of this sort of thing has given Pascal a certain cynicism. I got a bit distracted and ended up reading a piece written in July entitled, Lenin, Trotsky and freedom from the tyranny of knowledge and reason , he concludes (and remember this was before Bush’s win) that the US is descending into fascism and theocracy.. A quote from Thomas Jefferson wraps things up nicely: “The end of democracy, and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of the lending institutions and moneyed incorporations”.

In another piece, entitled The Myth of market-based education, he concludes “So it is with education: it ends when it falls into the hands of moneyed incorporations. It becomes training at best or, to put a stop to independent, critical thinking, indoctrination at worst”.

So if you’re in the mood for some intelligent reading (especially if you use or design database), I recommend perusing some of Pascal and Date’s work.

Firefox usage growing quickly amongst South Africa readers

With Firefox 1 being released, there’s been a rush of sites displaying their browser statistics. However, none of the big South African sites to my knowledge have done this.

I’m hoping to get these stats on the IOL site itself quite soon, but I couldn’t wait. Here’s what IOL readers are using (which is probably as good a figure as any for the ‘typical’ South African reader).

Internet Explorer sat at 93.16% in October (though there’s been quite a dramatic drop so far in Nov, to 91.07%, with Firefox 1 making an impressive showing). Last October it was 97.78%, so quite a drop over the year. Mozilla (all flavours) sat at 4.53% in October, up from 2.29% in July. The change has been even quicker between IE versions, with IE 5 dropping to 2.62% from 22.07% last year, and IE 6 moving from 58.04% to 75.99%.

Operating Systems
Linux uptake has been quite slow – clearly the vast majority of Mozilla users are on Windows. Linux was on 0.61% in October – last October it was at 0.29%. What’s disappointing is that it was 0.63% in June, so it’s been relatively stable for the last few months. Obviously the migration of our editorial staff from Windows 98 to Fedora Linux has made little difference to the stats! Most of the movement has been from older versions of Windows to Windows XP, now at 52.23% (Win 2000 has fallen to 28.25%). A year ago, it Windows XP was at 28.58%, and Win 2000 at 36.25%. But it’s not only Linux and Windows – FreeBSD has stood firm at 0.1% the whole year!

DOS attack by Impi fans

Spotted an amusing snippet on Distrowatch. It appears South African Impi Linux fans were attempting to up their distro’s profile by calling their page on Distrowatch (which ranks distros by the number of times their page has been called) up to 10 times a second.

Read the full commentary here.

As Madonna said, no publicity is bad publicity, but I think there’re better ways guys!

The next peg?

I always think of the peg when considering inventions I wish I’d thought of, but probably would never have, even though they are obvious now.

I used to ponder inventions much more as a child, or at least in the days when I didn’t have 3000 emails in my inbox demanding immediate attention. Now there’s a site that lets me consider the feasibility of inventions without having to come up with them myself. Each day, New Ideas (off IOL) lists a number of possible inventions. You can rate their commercial viability from “Definitely Yes” to “Definitely No”. I’ve found the site quite addictive recently, and been going back often. It’s fascinating to wonder how people can go to the trouble of patenting an inflatable wig stand is the next big thing, or a bag with holes in the bottom for a fork lift to be able to stack higher. But there’s usually one that tickles my fancy – the digital frying pan was today’s.

US Election – the aftermath

Everybody on earth knowing
that beauty is beautiful
makes ugliness

Everybody knowing
that goodness is good
makes wickedness

That’s why the wise soul
does without doing
teaches without talking

The things of this world
exist, they are;
you can’t refuse them

The above is from Ursula Le Guin’s version of the Tao Te Ching. One of the insights she gains from this section is that ‘values and beliefs are not only cultural constructs, but part of the interplay of yin and yang, the great reversals that maintain the living balance of the world. To believe that our beliefs are permanent truths which encompass reality is a sad arrogance. To let go of that belief is to find safety.’

I’ve (perhaps not coincidentally since Bush’s win) been quite sick, so I’ve had lots of time to both sit and think while I look at the ceiling, as well as read piles of commentary. Some I relate to in different ways – at first these included anger or bitter disappointment. Later, sadness at the fear in the American people, and the resultant breakdown in civil liberties, and international multilateralism, well analysed by Sid Blumenthal.

I had a taste of one aspect of Le Guin’s understanding looking at old US presidential election maps. Compare the results of the 1960 US presidential election with that from the 2004 election. Quite a reversal (California voting Republican, Texas Democrat). Look at South African legal system – from one of the most conservative to one of the most progressive. There are examples everywhere – the dance of humanity is ongoing and many-stepped. There are no final victories or defeats. Bush’s victory is not the end, nor the beginning. Human suffering remains, as does human joy.

Sometimes, Taoism is seen as a do-nothing philosophy. Exactly! Very profound if you grasp it fully. But that doesn’t mean what it can seem to, and it’s highly different from the much-maligned form of Christianity that existed in South Africa prior to liberation theology. The kind that said “don’t worry about your oppression, God will provide for you later”. It’s not an attitude of “sit on your cushion and be happy while the world falls apart”. Rather, understand and become yourself, and through that, the world around you. Action inevitably follows. Those who have different understandings will continue to act in different ways. The suicide bomber, the soldier, the peace activist, the lover. How important that initial step is. The game of life continues.

Icanonline shutting down

Found out today that Icanonline is closing its doors. After my post on open source and banking it’s now even more urgent to find a decent bank! In a way it’s a relief, another opportunity to leave Nedbank. I’ve always disliked them. To me, they have a reputation as being expensive and inefficient. Twice they’ve bought my existing bank and made the experience worse. My first ‘bank’ account was with the Permanent Building Society, then Nedcor took them over and moved me to the People’s Bank – horrendous charges, useless interest and bad service meant it never lived up to its name. I also had to move to a branch miles away from where I lived. I never understood why anyone with lower income, which is supposedly the target market, would choose such an expensive bank.

So, I moved to Icanonline, then owned by NBS (part of the efficient NBS/BOE/Pep group), which was great for a while, until Nedbank came along and took them over too, immediately upping the charges (this was also around the time of 20Twenty’s hiatus). Nedbank’s strategy then lurched into deciding to use only one brand, which meant they closed the superb Cape of Good Hope Bank which my partner used. She also refused to stay with Nedbank and moved to FNB. The FNB branch next door to the Cape of Good Hope branch apparently told her that 80% (an exaggeration I’m sure) of COGHB client’s had moved to them. Nedbank, not content with alienating one segment of their customer base, are now in the process of doing the same with NBS, moving them to People’s Bank. Last time I was at the friendly NBS I use when I need to do some physical banking, a customer was having an argument at having their account summarily moved to a distant People’s Bank. The staff could only shrug and blame Nedbank management for the policy decision. So, now I have another chance to leave Nedbank! They’ve bought me twice, and twice I’ve had the pleasure of leaving them.

The problem still remains though, where to go. In South Africa, bank services are not great. I’ve applied for a 20Twenty account on a Windows machine, after the hopeless code wouldn’t allow me to submit using anything but Internet Explorer – not a good start, but what are my options? Does anyone have suggestions?

George Monbiot and the looming energy crisis

A friend attended the talk given by George Monbiot when he was recently in Cape Town. The gist is given in a Mail and Guardian article on the same talk in Jhb (the article’s in a horrible archive format!).

Monbiot had talked about a looming energy crisis, as oil is running out. He mentioned that we would look back on the last 50 years as an opportunity lost to make serious inroads into world poverty, and that humanity would not have access to this sort of cheap energy again. Afterwards, there were a number of questions. One person queried whether oil was relevant, as cars were now moving to hydrogen as a fuel source (the Toyota Prius is even soon to be available in South Africa).

Monbiot apparently answered that “hydrogen as a fuel source takes energy to create. Where’s that energy going to come from? Certainly not oil!” I don’t agree with his conclusion. Governments will not sit by and let energy run dry. There are two realistic options (assuming coal is out – it will last slightly longer than oil, but shares the same fundamental problems): The pessimistic option. Nuclear. In spite of the fact that we can’t safely dispose of the high level waste, I doubt many governments will let that bother them. Besides, it’s a good smokescreen for nuclear weapons. An energy crunch may see a proliferation of nuclear power plants and therefore nuclear weapons. The high road – renewables! The main argument against renewables is cost. They are deemed to be more expensive forms of energy than oil/coal/nuclear. This is nonsense if you remove all government and research subsidies, as well as look at environmental and storage costs. The cost of generating renewable energy has dropped markedly over the last few years, without much in the way of funding. When oil runs out, many governments will swing that way, and I believe we’ll soon see a much greater rollout of renewable energy power stations. It cannot but be cheaper than nuclear, taking into account the costs of disposal (or storage), security etc.

So here’s to my hydrogen-powered car and solar powered house!

Gonzo predicts the US election

Yes, finally I succumb and write something on the US election. The inspiration was one of my favourite writers, Hunter S. Thompson – see his . excellent article on IOL. A colleague knows a supposedly accurate clairvoyant who’s predicted a Kerry win. With nothing better but a clairvoyant and blind hope to go on I’m cautiously positive. Neil Blakey-Milner has also cracked and posted on the election – his post led me to’s endorsement of Kerry. While streets apart from them politically, I take solace in their conservative endorsement of Kerry.

I’ve questioned myself quite extensively on this – wouldn’t another Bush win lead to a positive outcome? Is there really a difference between them? Is Kerry not the respectable face of American imperialism? With Bush being so dislikeable, perhaps a win for him would lead to invigoration amongst environmentalists and other progressive forces. Every effect has an opposing effect – the aftermath of World War II was positive, humans undertaking not to repeat the atrocities. Bush is not up there with Hitler yet, but who knows what a second term would bring. Right now Bush is the planet’s number one baddie, but I’d like to be optimistic, and think that people can say ‘never again’ without Bush having to go to the level of Nazi Germany. I do really believe that humanity is evolving – the level of opposition to the Iraq invasion gives me hope. In the US, there’s already a groundswell of support for democracy, many new voters registering and probably voting for the first time as they realise a vote does make a difference (see the M&G’s article on Ohio’s non-voters getting a push (it’s a locked article). I’m still optimistic – I think voting does make a difference. In the South African General election I encountered this same issue, with progressive friends deciding not to vote, some supporting calls from a social movement, and others just apathetic. I still believe a non-vote is in effect a vote for the status quo – American’s who didn’t vote effectively supported Bush. South African’s who didn’t vote supported a two-thirds majority for the ANC. The idea of a non-vote as protest does not hold water – the system treats the non-voters as apathetic and they exclude themselves from any influence on the outcome.

In a poll of international readers on the US presidential election, I voted for David Cobb – I bet most of you haven’t a clue who he is! There’re quite a few candidates to choose from. The fact that only two have the funding to win shows up the flaws in the US system. If I were really American I’d probably have to vote for Kerry, a pragmatic choice with it coming down to him or Bush. Hooray for proportional representation here. Neil made an interesting point in his blog when deciding to post on the topic – that the South African election rarely gets analysed in this detail. Perhaps. I’d like to think I spent more effort deciding who to vote for locally than I did on the US election, but it’s a fact that the US being the superpower bully they are, who they choose to lead them has a disproportionate effect on us down on the Southern tip of Africa. I mean how much coverage has the Botswanan election got?

I surprised myself and managed not to froth too much in my US election post, and I promise that’ll be it, at least until it’s all over.

MySQL 4.1 and FreeBSD 5.3

MySQL 4.1 has been released as production, and it’s a big step forward. Perhaps it’s about time to update my book and start working on a Mastering MySQL 5. Also due to be released is FreeBSD 5.3 (it’s just been delayed from Oct 25 to Nov 5). The database servers at work are running on MySQL 4.0 and FreeBSD 4, on 3Ghz Athlons, but they’re starting to creak again. As FreeBSD users know, FreeBSD 5.3 offers enhanced multi-processor performance without using Linux threads (Jeremy Zawodny’s blog had some popular posts about Linux vs FreeBSD for MySQL, culminating in this suggestion. We’ve never used Linux thread as the single CPU servers have been sufficient until now, but it’s time an upgrade. If no-one’s done it by then, when everything’s ready in mid-November we’ll look at benchmarking the options. I’m hoping that FreeBSD lives up to the hype (especially since it’s hype from those in the know rather than marketing wishful-thinking) and we’ll see a significant performance boost.

MySQL 4.1 also offers some potential performance benefits (I wrote a MySQL roadmap a while back, as well as a more recent update). Prepared statements mean MySQL needs to parse a query it will run multiple times just once. Secondly the new binary protocol for prepared statements means that the client no longer needs to convert the data into string format. These will probably both be minor improvements in our environment, and I suspect they may be counterbalanced by the weight of the extra features, but we’ll have to see.

Related Updates:

Found a great quote on Cath’s M&G blog.

“Psychosclerosis: the hardening of the attitude which causes a person to cease dreaming, seeing, thinking, and leading.”

Ashley Montague

In my case it’s caused by interminable meetings about trivialities. Now that I’m working 3-day weeks (Tue-Thu), I find I can see by Saturday and think by Monday. Now for the other two…