Review: goodnight Sweetheart

I’ve just watched the special for goodnight sweetheart (BBC Sept 2nd 2016). Goodnight Sweetheart was a sitcom/drama back in the 90s about a tv repairman (Garry) who finds a portal back to the 1940s during the world war London Blitz. This deeply flawed time traveler then flits back and forth between the 1990s and the 1940s with a woman in each era.

The show was and still is, very well written. The jokes are masterfully done and I appreciate how much the show dovetailed the two times.

** Spoilers below, but I think spoilers add to the experience **

The part I always found fascinating is the time travel stories. There’s one episode where he has to stop pearl harbor attacks, he fails, goes back to the 90s to discover everything changed. Apparently in his universe he was able to stop the attacks by pretending to be a British spy. There’s another where he finds a portal back to the 1800s by going the wrong way round and discovers that Jack the ripper is actually a time traveler from the 1940s.

So this is a sci-fi and a comedy. But it’s also a drama. The snarky biting tension between his wife Evon and him as his marriage falls apart, the pressure on his friend Ron who’s business and life is ruined by Gary’s self centered story. It’s the best possible balance and the three way split between funny, interesting and serious reminds me a lot of Back to the Future; where some quite complex (for mainstream) time travel is the backdrop for some funny shenanigans. The only difference is that Goodnight Sweetheart has more time over six seasons to develop and the drama is a lot more serious when it’s there.

I’m writing this so my friends in the USA can find themselves a copy and see if they like it too. It’s an off-brand British sci-fi of the best kind. Something I wish we did more of to be honest. But hopefully this series has enough seasons to really binge watch.

The new special which caused this blog entry was excellent. Although it’s not a good idea to watch it without having seen the original series. In fact the show should be watched in order as there’s a lot of layers that build on each other as the show progresses and even the jokes and often back references. For example Gary playing music from the Beatles during the war, and then everyone believing that the famous band stole all their hits from Gary.

It was very funny seeing Gary, who often would be the one to be ‘in-on-the-joke’ with regard to technology and time travel, be thrown into 2016, where he’s been missing for 17 years. He tries to use a public phone box, but they’re all not-phones (the gags are great). No one responds to him because they’re all on their phones and there’s just a ton of jokes at the expense of how things have changed since the 1999. The Adel song was quite sweet actually, it’s hard to imagine Gary learned the song in a single car ride, but I’ll forgive it because it fits so well for what he’s been through.

Well, if you’re interested in the show. Check it out now! and let me know in the comments what you thought.

Re: Control is Highly Overrated and Overpriced

Ken’ Hess has posted a blog article on ZDNet about how control over your own computer is overrated. This sentiment I feel is an attempt to embarrass people into moving their computing further onto the cloud.

This type of thinking also deeply effects the free and open source culture. Since one of the reasons for using FOSS is ultimate control (and responsibility).

From an individual perspective the goal of personal control is simple: You have this responsibility to provide this service and you do it with this property running this configuration. It’s human nature to want to control directly the service you’re responsible for. The other option is to pass over control to a good friend who you have a good positive relationship with (company or individual is irrelevant).

I think the failure of a speedy transition to “cloud computing” has been a failure in relationship building, but I’m sure that will come along in due time as the industry matures.

From a social perspective, having everyone on the same centralised system can introduce a fragility which can cause some interesting cascading and simple root failures which would be very bad for economy should enough businesses all move to the same few providers.

A lot of the people who would want their services taken care of are already not in a good mood from the 20 years of bullshit from the likes of Microsoft, as providers go we’ve had some fairly nefarious characters in control of everyone’s desktops.

I think it will take a while to turn that around, of course I’m putting my bets on distributed computing using things like the sheva plug or the free software router currently in development, because distributed resources that are properly designed can be much more interesting that centralised service prevision.

What are your thoughts?

Ubuntu’s Non-Free Parabox

Our venerable friend Jono Bacon has posted an interesting blog post concerning the outcome of the bug to enable the nonfree installation of Flash on Ubuntu. It would have manifested itself in the installer, by having the nonfree checkbox switch on by default.

  1. The problem: We can not have what we want in the default install.
  2. The current solution: Provide a set of proxy packages which can install the functionality after the installation, moving the liability and problems from Canonical to the user.
  3. The problem with the current solution: It requires manual user interaction.
  4. Problem with checkbox solution: It’s against Ubuntu policy and the Technical Board Voted it down.

I’m a big proponent of “nonfree offsetting” (few people are, but I’m sticking to my guns); If Canonical wants to ship nonfree Flash instead of almost fully working GNU Gnash, then they should be willing to offset their balance with adequate investment into the free software alternative; i.e. they should be putting money into Gnash.

It’s funny because I was talking to Rob Savoye, winner of this year’s free software award, at LibrePlanet 2011. Overcoming the technical barriers to finishing Flash 10 support in Gnash, now that there is good documentation from Adobe, is so close. But the only businesses investing in Gnash are embedded systems; systems who need a Flash player to work on ARM and other architectures. Red Hat isn’t one of them, neither is Canonical, and I tire of not hearing from these companies on why they can’t invest more into solving these issues with an economic nudge.

Even if you don’t want to give the money to Rob, then send in your own engineers to get the job done!

Back to Jono: his position is that this issue is down to design. In his world view, installing nonfree Flash is required, it’s the only option and the one that we offer when you install Ubuntu; let’s assume that’s right for a moment. He’s asking designers to mull over how to achieve the right kind of communication to users to encourage them to click on the checkbox: This in itself is a policy paradox.

Anything we do to encourage users to install nonfree, nonessential components, is simply against the Ubuntu policy of shipping free software and encouraging its use. It’s hard to claim that this is a balance of free vs. nonfree with a straight face when your stated aim is to encourage users to install nonfree components.

In the comments to the blog post there are some very good responses from Alan Bell and ethana2, but there are also some comments from users who I think are more pro-compromise then they are pro-free-software. An example from Cleggton (I don’t mean to pick on you personally Cleggton, you’re just the easiest to quote):

If we take philosophy out of the argument for a second, then it seems clear that the users who care whether they are non-free, patent questionable etc are the ones that are most able and informed to uncheck a checkbox. And the ones that aren’t aware of the difference are our new users, who need YouTube just to work out of the box, lets make it work and then lets educate them later.

I hear this kind of appeasement argument an awful lot. Users don’t care (so we’re told) and free software is too hard to achieve. Not everyone of our users is going to care, especially when we so rarely tell them about free and open source software and it’s practical ramifications to them personally. But even that doesn’t make it irrelevant. Our users expect us to care about the things that will benefit them. In fact they expect us to care for them with careful policies. Even if polices get in the way of jam today; they’re there to make sure there’s jam tomorrow and users trust us to make those calls on their behalf.

Besides, you know what your mother always said about getting your own way without putting any work in: It trivialises the issues involved and waylays expectations and the reality of our situation. Then it’s much easier to ignore real solutions like spending the time creating free software and instead continue to make excuses on why we should keep the toxic workarounds like the nonfree Flash player in our ecosystem.

What are your thoughts?

Video: Why Free Software Matters

This is my response to some very good comments on my last video entry which I felt should be addressed with another vlog entry.

I’ve attempted to explain why Free Software is politically important, as much as open source is important to creators; we must be supportive of Free Software for user reasons and not just consider our own hacker culture issues.

Video Problems: Go directly to the video on blip.tv here and download the source mp4 here.

Personal: The reason for begging your indulgence with the video blogs is that I’m inspired to practice my speaking skills in order to further eliminate my stammer. From a young age I was bullied and called names and I have gotten much better since, but seeing The Kings Speech really brought it all back for me.

Angry Birds

God damn this game and it’s attractive graphics and addictive game play physics.

There is another game that we designers and game players could learn from when it comes to addictive and attractive qualities in software interfaces. I mean take a look at the way the interface is laid out:

It’s a selection of levels, you can see how many you’ve got to go through, enjoy, it’s not too many like a giant block of levels like you would see if every level was present at the same time. And most importantly it’s cute and attractive with drawn graphics on everything and decorating every space.

Your thoughts?

Is Ubuntu Commercially Driven?

I was reading the comments on the interesting Mint blog about Mint testing a Debian derivative so they can take advantage of rolling releases and get away from Ubuntu’s instability. Some of the comments allude to a different sentiment:

Ubuntu is so commercially driven, whereas mint is such a nice community effort, I’d be so much happier to use mint.

– fred

Ubuntu started to annoy me a bit with all this commercially oriented development of the distro.

– Miro Hadzhiev

But above all I believe that Ubuntu will change direction and become increasingly turned to a more commercial aspect. At the same time they will lose the * community * Exchange.

– F.Dionne

My response to this anti-commercial sentiment is this quote:

You keep on using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

Simply that users and members of the community are confused by what commercial actually means. Commercial is not against the community, the community is commercial, people are employed to work on Ubuntu, work with Ubuntu and to be a part of the community. A varied commercial community would actually be kinda nice, imagine if we had a Dell community manager, or a system76 guy in IRC who was chatting away to the rest of the community of users *and* business people. Take a look at Organisations Learning to contribute to FOSS the right way.

I don’t think *making money* is the real fear of these people, I think the fear is Canonical with their often over bearing unfair influence with Ubuntu that often seems like they are on one side inviting development of their features that they decide are cool and on the other side ignoring and diminishing the features that others who are not Canonical want to work on or would like Canonical to help with.

There is also a fear that Canonical will only really want to work on what makes Ubuntu attractive to OEMs and other large organisations that they have a commercial relationship with. I know that aint true and lots of Canonical people continue to work on things which are good for the whole platform, but sometimes Ubuntu’s certainly had the flavour of feature stuffing and Mark hasn’t helped with the way he words his posts about new features in the past makes it seem like they distrust users opinions.

My personal concern is the lack of commercial involvement of Ubuntu’s users, basically it goes like this: Canonical is a business and is interested in making enough money to pay it’s developers a wage. What they work on is based around what makes money. The money comes from Dell and HP. The developers work on what Dell and HP want. Users never get a direct say in the development of Ubuntu because A) They have no commercial relationship with Canonical and B) Canonical doesn’t co-operate wonderfully on DX with other programmers (commercial or non) preferring instead to announce features at the last minute and rail-road decisions and opinions of others.

OK I’m not on a rant against Canonical, both of these might actually be solved/able:

B) We’ve seen a turn around in Caonical’s DX team shenanigans, announcing Unity at UDS was a very good thing and shows leadership instead of authority. Hopefully the flavour of the team has shifted from assuming all users are idiots and need to be told what’s good for them, to something a little more progressive.
A) If the continued redesign of the Software Center can include the ability to pay for FOSS, then we can introduce the commercial relationship with Canonical _and_ App developers and provide a way for non-technical people to have an economic relationship and thus a say in the future development direction.

All signs point to common sense and progress, mistakes were made but I don’t see more on the horizon. So lets make sure Ubuntu isn’t considered “too commercial” let’s consider FOSS “not commercial enough”, because only through demanding the right commercial terms in our transactions can we make sure that developers get to eat and users get rights to the software they use and we’re not forced to accept traditional locked down software because we’re too eager to get free beer and not responsible enough to pay for Free Speech.

Your thoughts?

Polemic Design

Between the early adopting individualists and the aesthetically pleased seems to be a rift growing wider and wider. Unity is a not customisable, read the comments too.

The culture that surrounds the community is certainly one of individualism. We like to think ourselves as cool outsiders doing something beyond the norm. There are users who don’t care so much, but the majority of us involved in advocacy and development have come to like the ownership and the sense of self style that comes with Free and Open Source Software.

The culture of Apple is a little different, it’s one of polemic design. A place where there is one right way to do something and there is a special person who will decide what that principle must be. Because this design philosophy has produced aspiring designs there are signs that others are copying. The problem is that polemics isn’t compatible with individualism, it’s not even compatible with science or rhetoric.

My own struggle with polemic design is rhetoric. I’m far more interested in dialectics than positivism for certain classes of problems, but software engineers don’t understand dialectics and so tend to simply stick with dualism. As if argument was about proving the other person wrong instead of working out a solution that solves the problems and resulting conflicts.

Dualism has gotten us into trouble especially when it comes to design. We have often looked blind to design because we add options to solve every conflict. Not having design skills available in the ecosystem has meant the community has been unable to come up with solutions to complex design problems preferring to copy instead. This is why Mark says “the community can’t do design” and it’s “design by committee”.

It has frustrated me how hard it is to work out design problems in the community in the past; but I don’t think the answer is to jettison faith in the community as Mark has done. I think with the design skills people are learning from the new Canonical design team and some studying of dialectic rhetoric we should be able to come up with good designs without the need for Apple’s polemic philosophies.

Your thoughts?

Why you Should(‘nt) use Windows 7

According to Dell while I was digging on their websites about their Ubuntu support I noticed this really interesting PDF file. The text of the document is attempting to convince you to get a computer from Dell with Windows 7 instead of other versions of windows.

Note: It has long been understood that Microsoft’s biggest competitor is against Windows is Old Windows.

But the independent research they’ve put together to try and convince readers isn’t exactly very convincing, it shows most tests as favouring Windows XP over both Vista and 7 which is probably what most windows users would expect. I have to wonder if the document is a bit tongue in cheek from Dell.

Of course there is not any comparison with Ubuntu as that would mean Dell weren’t selling ubuntu machines to just geeks, so more the pity.

Your observations?