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evilphish

Headers

  • Subject: Finishing off the Open content / Web 2.0 revolution

  • From: Shlomi Fish (a.k.a “Rindolf”), the hacker king of the Open content/Web 2.0 revolution (~2000-2014)

  • To::

    1. Summer Glau, Hollywood actress, known for her roles in Firefly, the Sarah Connor Chronicles, xkcd and Summerschool at the NSA, and who I suspect wishes to become the new hacker queen.

    2. Sarah Michelle Gellar, Hollywood actress and producer, known for playing the fictional Buffy Summers, who was the hacker queen of the Web 1.0 revolution (~1997-2000), in the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS). Ms. Gellar was also the frontwoman of the show, and Hollywood’s Alpha female for that period.

    3. Chuck Norris, martial artist, actor, and filmmaker , the inspiration and subject of many satirical “facts” about him, which have become a very powerful weapon by their own right, and also inspired my NSA “facts”, and later and earlier humorous collections of facts.. Furthermore, Mr. Norris appears to be the current Alpha male of Hollywood.

    4. Megan Fox, Hollywood actress, a very inspiring person, and someone whom I suspect wishes to become the next Hollywood Alpha female.

    5. Jennifer Lawrence, Hollywood actress, a very inspiring person, and the present Alpha female of Hollywood. Also provided a lot of inspiration for the multi-sectioned essay “Putting All The Cards On The Table (2013)”.

    6. General Keith B. Alexander, retired United States Army general, and former director of the National Security Agency (NSA).

    7. Joss Whedon, Hollywood filmmaker (writer, director, etc.) who is notable here as the creator of BtVS, and Firefly, and a potential back-up director for Summerschool at the NSA.

  • CC::

    1. Larry Wall, creator of the original “patch” program, the Usenet newsreader “rn”, the Perl programming language versions 1-to-6 and their “perl” implementations and the hacker king of the Open source/Usenet revolution (~1984-1997).

    2. Edward Snowden, former contractor for the CIA and the NSA, who is notable for foolishly, but gallantly, revealing a lot of internal claims of the NSA (= NSA “intel”) and becoming a media hero and an outcast. Mr. Snowden has thought he was under a constant threat for revealing what was likely mostly a product of delusional minds inside the NSA (or false/out-of-date data as intelligence data probably often goes).

    3. Randall Munroe, creator of the xkcd web-comics, which introduced me to Summer Glau, and provided a lot of inspiration and fodder both for “Summerschool at the NSA” and for other aspects of hackerism. He may wish to further collaborate with Glau on her journey as the new hacker monarch.

    4. All action heroes / hackers and geeks / amateurs of the world.

Producing “Summerschool at the NSA” (#SummerNSA)

Your assistance is required in producing the feature film “Summerschool at the NSA” based on my original screenplay. The screenplay is made available under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-by) and its text is original. I have designated my recommendations for some of the cast, and the film should be capable of being filmed mostly or entirely in a film studio and at a relatively low cost.

Note however that I encourage any productions whatsoever of the screenplay, including by enthusiastic independent film makers, on YouTube, and including producing them as voiced animations.

I also neither mind nor discourage any hacks and deviations from the original screenplay, up to and including featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger sending Rihanna to kick the NSA’a ass, or Kermit the Frog doing the same with Fluttershy. (And you may consider both mutations as artistic challenges).

What I do not want is that nothing will get done, and that there won’t be any film - by anyone - in the forseeable future. So please get to it as soon as you can. I need you, and the world needs you.

If you create something, please mark it with the hashtag of #SummerNSA.

I have written about some profitable business models for creators of online culture, which do not involve ad revenue which is small and has proven to be ineffective. Absent from the post, is selling merchandise (see the famous “Merchandising” excerpt from Spaceballs), and putting selected Project Wonderful-like ads, which the web site owner pre-approved of and are non-intrusive. Film makers and artists may wish to deploy them either with “Summerschool at the NSA” or with different cultural works.

Implications Of The “Summerschool At The NSA” Films

The open content / Web 2.0 revolution has proven to be a blazing success and a source of decent or better income, esteem, and publicity for many individuals, small companies, large companies, and other organisations. While during the Web 1.0 era, information was hard to find, not reliable, and often hard to contribute to (what Prof. Lawrence Lessig calls "read only" vs. "read/write" in his book Remix, which I read and loved.), in the Web 2.0 era, one can build upon information, which is often cited and reliable, change it, enhance it, and perform many remixes as well as crossovers and “mashups”.

It is my belief that it was I, Shlomi Fish (“Rindolf”), who was the “Hacker King” (a.k.a “Warrior King/Queen/Monarch” / The best-of-the-best-of-the-best / The Saladin / The Qoheleth / The John Galt / etc.) of that revolution. To quote what Quark from the Star Trek franchise said about the Grand Nagus, he/she: «has the greatest business mind… always thinking ten, sometimes twenty steps ahead of everyone else.» and the kind of person who has the same ideas as everyone else only five years earlier and thus is named a lunatic.

Nevertheless, my reign as Hacker Monarch has reached its end with the writing of the screenplay, Summerschool at the NSA. The latter mixed and matched Judaism (Tanakh, Talmud, and Israelism), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the xkcd web comic, the “99 problems” meme, the old “Publish or Perish” adage, the deeds and words of Saladin, open source and open content, some modern but not unthinkable technology, love/romance/sex/relationships, pop culture, and humour, and more into what was essentially a realism, Real Person Fiction, story. Furthermore, it featured fictionalised versions of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Summer Glau, and General Keith Alexander, who was the director of the NSA at the time. I also ended up seeing it as my modernisation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged novel, which was her magnus opus as Hacker Monarch (while still building upon it, referencing it, and going against some of it original premises).

Like Atlas Shrugged, “Summerschool at the NSA” was eventually understood to be my magnus opus, and I passed the baton to someone else, Summer Glau, and thus mostly concluded the open content/Web 2.0 revolution with a mostly happy ending and a blazing success. Sic transit gloria mundi (STGM).

The formalities for concluding all that are:

  1. Directing/producing the feature film or films of “Summerschool at the NSA” in whatever format they shall be done.

  2. Ms. Glau and I meeting somewhere and me asking her these questions, which I'll give along with the answers I expect:

    1. Question: Are you afraid to die?

      Answer: There is no correct answer.

    2. Question: Are you afraid to live?

      Answer: Maybe I have in the past, but I no longer am. I will do and say what seems right and good, whether people like it or not (while still being careful and avoiding being arrogant).

    3. Question: Do you wish to become the Hacker Monarch, while being fully aware of the implications of this role, and taking full responsibility for it?

      Answer: Yes, I do.

  3. I will give her my blessed/cursed amulet of power, a plain brown ten-sided die, that was given to me as a present by my friends at the time, and ask her to determine what to do with it next. I urge her not to throw it away or destroy it (by seeing if it blends or whatever), since despite its low cost and mundaneness, it is a fine piece of engineering.

  4. I will declare Summer Glau as the presiding hacker queen, and step down from my role, and become a hacker king emeritus.

One implication of all this is that we shall finally and almost completely unite these worlds:

  1. The Academia.

  2. The software industry / open source / Internet / World-wide-web workers.

  3. The “content”/culture creators, both the content industry (e.g: Hollywood, the MPAA, the RIAA, and many smaller local franchises around the world) and many hobbyists, amateur, independent and/or unsigned artists and content producers.

This is despite the fact that some of these worlds appeared to be at a constant dispute with each other. This merging of these worlds is similar to the merger of the AT&T UNIX/BSD worlds and those of the early PDP-10-based ARPA-NET and NSFnet hackers that happened at the early 80s, and that in turn led to the open source / Usenet revolution.

There will likely be a lot of time to reflect upon my history and achievements during my reign as hacker monarch of the world, but I think the future is more important than the past. I have a lot of potential advice we can use to continue to battle the remaining man-made problems (e.g: bloodshed, suicides, deaths due to arrogance and carelessness, possible present and future environmental problems, unnecessary red tape and regulations, unnecessary hatred, antagonism and distrust, and vandalism) and some questions for further inquiry. However, it's now also up to the new generation of activists of the upcoming post-open content / post-Web-2.0 revolution (whose nature is yet to be discerned) to build upon the work of the activists and action heroes of the open content revolution, and take the world even more forward.

So let me just give some pieces of advice to Ms. (Summer) Glau, which are mostly relevant to other people as well.

Advice To The Upcoming Hacker Monarch

  1. Don’t be too arrogant and/or careless - I don’t want you to get killed prematurely, and it seems God punishes more people for that rather than for being bad.

    Note that Hubris in moderation is still very important as almost all ancient and modern technology (from fire, through Aristotle’s Logic and science, through the Lever, through modern architecture, through automobiles and air and space travel, to computer and computer networks, to this very essay and very word) are product of mankind wishing to defy "gravity" and show his environment that he is not bound by its rules.

    Furthermore, courage and spite is required as a way to avoid the “fear of living”: never fear what some other people think or do not think about you. Furthermore, accept criticism and even encourage people to prove you wrong or even offend you. Like the mightiest Klingon warriors say when they were proven wrong: “What a great day it was for me to die! Thank you for this excellent battle.”.

  2. Don’t feel superior. Even if you are the hacker monarch, everyone else is or can be the most powerful man on Earth, and the Messiah. Even the smallest and most fragile inanimate object, serves an important purpose in God’s (= The King of the Kings of the Kings) world.

    You can never travel the path or survive alone. You need each and everyone and everything out there.

  3. Be Yourself: remember that whatever you do or whoever you are some people will always complain. Please all→Please none. Aim for perfection in imperfection. Remember that You’re awesome.

  4. Take a good care of yourself. Have a lot of “Wine, Women & Song”: Good food and drinks (that taste good and are what you desire at the moment); Good company - of any sex ; and clean, creative, enlightening, fun - however amateuristic or of apparent low quality.

    While it’s OK to be busy for short periods of time, don’t become a wage slave who doesn’t eat and drink well, doesn’t socialise, and doesn’t have time to enjoy themselves.

  5. Seize the day! (= “Carpe diem”) Don’t wait for a special ocassion to enjoy yourself or contribute to the world - or usually both. Every day is the unbirthday of your friends, your fans, everybody, and of you, and it’s a good day to remind them that you love them.

    Every day can be the best day of your life so far.

  6. Don’t be pseudo-Utilitarian: if you made one person a little happier, then what you did was a blazing success. “He who saved one man, has essentially saved the world entire.”.

  7. Never deny that you are the hacker queen: proudly admit it. Too many hacker monarchs did not acknowledge their own self-worth. Don’t repeat the mistake of Larry Wall and of me, and play “The Invisible” who is arguably the worse kind of hacker monarch.

  8. Be a hacker / action hero: bend the rules, violate them, surprise people, defy social norms, dogma, inertia, prejudice, enthropy and gravity, all in order to earn your victory and - be happy and proud doing that.

  9. Be an alpha female (= see “Wesley Snipes” in this essay by Eric Sink) or a beta female (= “Denzel Washington”) or a little bit of both, but don’t be a Gamma↔Omega female.

  10. Get an active online presence. See my plan for that and the comments I got. One further note is to avoid Shaike Ophir’s “The English Teacher”’s definition of monologue as “One person talking to himself”, which I noticed many celebrities succumb to. The more you reply and interact with the people who reply to your online posts and comments, or otherwise interact with them, and collaborate (engaging in a true dialogue), then the fewer redundant answers will be given, and the better quality the discussion will be.

  11. Be honest and enlightened and constantly stay honest and enlightened. Honesty and enlightenment are processes and one must constantly be committed to become more and more honest and enlightened, or else they immediately became dishonest, cynical and stagnate.

  12. Practice the basics of the philosophy of Saladin, a very noble man, a strategical genius, and one of the most notable hacker kings in history.

  13. If you’re in a dilemma or run into some trouble, remember that I and possibly other hacker monarchs emeriti (such as Larry Wall) and your other friends who are hackers and geeks, are always there for you and can give you a fresh perspective on the situation.

    ( An independent person is not someone who does everything on their own using feudalism taken to extreme. As long as he or she takes full responsibility for the outcome of their actions, they can ask or even pay for help or advice. )

  14. Finally, remember - Sic transit gloria mundi! You will most probably not be the hacker monarch forever, because one day you too will create your magnus opus, and a younger (at least in spirit), more awesome, action hero will displace you as hacker monarch, because they want it more badly than you. And they can be a man or a woman or a group, fact or fiction, animal, vegatable, or mineral, etc. And then you too will become the Hacker monarch emerita and actually feel relieved about all that.

Have a lot of fun, stay smashing and awesome, and hack on!

Hail, Saladin! Hackers of the world, unite!

References and Further Reading

  1. “The Eternal Jew” - an early attempt at codifying “Rindolfism”, which is my personal, one man, dynamic philosophy.

  2. “Putting all the Cards on the Table (2013)” - a multi-sectioned essay, that was written in March 2013, a short time before I wrote Summerschool at the NSA, and which was inspired a lot by Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence, and the fact that she won the Academy for it (at age 22).

  3. Summary for “Putting more cards on the table (2014)” - points for an essay that is an update/ammendement to the previous one.

  4. “Saladin Style” - a short, irresponsible essay about Saladin’s innovative and inspiring strategy and philosophy, that still has direct implications today.

  5. My works of fiction, humour and action heroism and my essays

  6. About “Rindolf” and “Rindolfism” - a page about my nickname and personal philosophy and my hopes and expectations for the future of me, Summer Glau, and everyone else.

  7. My Twitter feed, where I posted many thoughts and insights about “#SummerNSA” and other things. I have some other presence on social media sites.

Licence

This work is copyright by Shlomi Fish and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution licence version 3.0 (or any later version). See my interpretation of it.

evilphish

There is an old adage about the Academic life that reads: “Publish or Perish”. Wikipedia reads:

“Publish or perish” is a phrase coined to describe the pressure in academia to rapidly and continuously publish academic work to sustain or further one's career.

Frequent publication is one of few methods at scholars’ disposal to demonstrate academic talent. Successful publications bring attention to scholars and their sponsoring institutions, which can facilitate continued funding and an individual's progress through their field.

Let’s go a little farther from the “frequent publishing” and just into publishing something in time, and it is evident that a man has two choices:

  1. To publish everything he or she knows and thinks in time, and be completely honest and sincere (without lying, keeping secrets, or even speaking in riddles, but while still keeping some privacy and using tact and wisdom.). ( = "Publish" ).

  2. To keep things to himself or herself, lie, or use other forms of deceit or camouflage, thus resulting in him isolating himself from society and becoming paranoid. (= "Perish" ).

If we look at history, we will see that the most enduring and surviving idea systems were the ones that consistently published: the Greek philosophers, the Jewish scholars, the Muslim scholars of medieval times, the post-Renaissance/post-Printing-press Europeans, the American mass-media / mass-publishing revolution of the 20th century, and the user-generated content Internet of today. Yes, there always was a lot of junk (see Sturgeon’s Law that says that “90% of everything is crap”), and that includes most of the content of the very Tanakh (= Jewish Bible) that many people still consider holy. However, there is always a minority of exceptionally good stuff. (For more insights about that, see Paul Graham’s essays “What Business Can Learn from Open Source” and “Web 2.0”).

It is extremely unlikely that a single man called Aesop told all of the fables that have been attributed to him, and even if (King) David existed, he has not taken all of the actions that he was told to have taken in the Bible, because many such tales were common in the ancient Near East. Instead, they were both ancient memes, and people had no qualms to gradually improve upon them and spice them up.

So you should definitely publish, because keeping your “secrets” or “core competency” for yourself is not only dishonest, but a superbly bad strategy, because you will have little motivation to improve what you did, and other people won’t be able to contribute to it, build upon it, or criticise it.


The biggest offender of the “Publish or Perish → Life or Death” principle I can think of and can relate to is the National Security Agency (NSA), and they now face two options: either publish everything they know promptly —­or alternatively perish.

How do I plan to make them realise that? See my page with NSA “facts” and its links, as well as my latest anti-NSA activism in the form of the informal screenplay Summerschool at the NSA. The latter stars the actresses Sarah Michelle Gellar (of Buffy fame) and Summer Glau (famous for being featured in xkcd #406: “Venting”, and some subsequent xkcd strips) as themselves, and who conspire to slay/terminate/kick-the-ass-of the NSA for good, in a typical David vs. Goliath fashion.

For publishing and therefore life,

Shlomi Fish

Licence

This document is Copyright by Shlomi Fish, 2013, and is available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License 3.0 Unported (or at your option any later version of that licence). In addition to that, the author gives an explicit exemption to use the article in sites with web advertising.

For securing additional rights, please contact Shlomi Fish and see the explicit requirements that are being spelt from abiding by that licence.

About Female Action Heroes

evilphish

(Note: this was originally written as a comment for a post on the excellent Action Flick Chick blog by Katrina Hill, but was eaten by the WordPress.org instance there, so I decided to publish it here, after a lot of editing and enhancements.)

Excellent feature! I greatly enjoyed it (just note that I'm a guy) - thanks for sharing and I hope the panel was nice. I hope to see and welcome many talented and resourceful female writers and authors of sci-fi and action, who will collaborate to create part of the next generation of female heroines who are intelligent, resourceful, competent, and talented, yet still sexy, and feminine. Naturally, as a male writer (see the stories and screenplays section of my homepage), I am not going to stand idle and let my peers, whether male or female, surpass me easily, but I suppose that there's always a place for more people competing for that.

Buffy Summers was an awesome character, and I was totally into her and Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was the superb actress and martial artist, who played her, back in the wild wild Web 1.0 days and the first seasons of Buffy (before Buffy graduated from high school and when Faith was still around). That was shortly after I graduated from high school, had lots of raging hormones, and worked in several workplaces as a programmer, and was about to start my college degree. I think Buffy was the “perfection achieved” (or epitome or whatever it is called) version of the fighting lady, whom girls could relate to, look up to as a role model, and found it easy to feel empathy for, and that not only were guys not intimidated by her, but found her extremely attractive.

Anyway, Buffy and other shows I watched in this period such as Friends and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, provided a lot of inspiration and fodder for my stories and screenplays, and I have also created a world titled the Selinaverse that crosses many such influences (what can I say - bipolar disorder / manic-depresssive disorder can be fun sometimes… ;-)) along with other things. Even my most normal story yet - The Human Hacking Field Guide, which tells the story of several high school teenagers in 2005 Los Angeles, who deal extensively in working on open source software (and to a lesser extent free/open “content”), drew inspiration from the characters of Buffy and Faith for the protagonist (Jennifer Raymond) and the antagonist (Eve “Erisa” Siegel) respectively.

I think part of the problem with the realisation of female heroines and even female authors, was the traditional Judeo-Christian Ethics value system which limited the amount of activities women were able to do to exclude philosophy, most important artworks, writing, poetry and being a scholar, the performing arts, and naturally - fighting. Furthermore, the names of most of the most important action heroines in the Bible were deemed inauspicious in the Jewish tradition (the Halakhah), only to become popular among Jews after the Zionist revolution. An action hero or a “hacker” (see the essay titled The Word “Hacker” by Paul Graham) is someone who bends the rules, makes up his or her own rules, takes decisive actions, and controls his or her own destiny, even if they are completely not violent. See what I have written about the David who fought Goliath. This is while a tragic hero accepts his own fate, is bound by many invisible rules, and does not take decisive action - the exact opposite of an action hero. (That put aside, I feel that in art, action heroes and heroines often also initially have hubris (= excessive human pride) and undergo a sort of Catharsis (= a humbling process), although it is a more subtle than the one experienced by tragic heroes in tragedies.)

In any case, I think there's some bitter justice in the fact that there have been several important Jewesses who championed the break from the Judeo-Christian ethical system:

  • Sarah Michelle Gellar.

  • Alisa Rosenbaum → Ayn Rand, who despite her many faults in personality and in her philosophical work, and the fact that she often fell victim to the falsehoods and moral fashions of her time, greatly helped lay the ground for the move away from the traditional Judeo-Christian ethics (and not just the sexual/romantic ones).

    I was told that Ayn Rand’s philosophy was criticised for being not very “original”, but this kind of “originality” in copyright, having original ideas, patents, and even trade secrets (and what open source/open content/etc. like to call being “proprietary”), was a 20th century fad, and Rand still deserves credit for having a retro, but right-in-the-spotlight philosophy. I am well aware that Rand kinda professed to have supported this “originality/anti-open” philosophy in her works, but in her deeds, she was almost always “if you do not publish - you perish”, in the sense of making her opinions and thoughts known and given to the public consumption, even if she was criticised for them.

  • Marta Kauffman, who co-created the Television show Friends, which despite superficial appearances to the contrary, took a large part in championing an Aristotelian society, a positive sense-of-life, resourcefulness, passion for life, gender equality, and critical thought - including of many modernist and post-modern scientific beliefs.

P.S: you should watch the three episodes of the Parody: A Love Story (Twilight, Harry Potter, Karate Kid, and Buffy parody) video on YouTube, which sports a chubby girl, who seems unattractive at first, but ends up learning and doing some mean Karate in a typical Buffy-like hotness.

Anyway, thanks for the excellent write up and sorry for getting carried away.

Best regards,

— Mr. Shlomi Fish (a.k.a “Rindolf”) of Tel Aviv, Israel.

evilphish

OK, I am really tired of having truly intellectual people like me “speak in riddles”, so I'll put all the cards I have now on the table. There will likely be more into the future.

My biggest mistake - playing the invisible

For a long time now, I wanted to achieve greatness: be extremely famous, have my stories be read, have my web-site be visited countless of times, and become a household name, and also earn a lot of money in the process (to allow me to travel, be able to afford going out, etc.). However, having read in several places that “The Invisible Hacker is the most powerful” (a hacker is a talented worker that bends the rules, and for what “hacker” means, see “How to become a hacker” and Paul Graham’s The word “Hacker”), I decided to play it the invisible. So I remained a relatively unknown Tel Aviv, Israel-based software developer, who studied Electrical Engineering in who was constantly looking for jobs, and who found a lot of joy in working on his personal web site, various pieces of open source software, and has been doing a lot of one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many communications on the Internet. I was happy, but constantly had periods of hypomanias.

I gradually felt that I was controlling everything behind the scenes, and finding trends right before they became mainstream, and having slowly gain popularity by word of mouth, and influencing people, but I kinda hated it. Some people can be quiet and benevolent value producers doing ordinary things. But not me - I want to be very good, not play “The Invisible”. I am not a follower of trends - I set trends. And I want to be recognised for the truly great accomplishments that I have accomplished, am still accomplishing, and am planning on continuing to accomplish.

Note that this is not about being what Americans call “a winner” and win 1st place at some silly competition of who has the highest grade average or the highest television rating ever. I don't care about that too much, but I do care about being acknowledged. My stories are not perfect, but it is their imperfection and sometimes sloppiness that makes them perfect.

The Technion and the American concept of “Loser” and “Winner”

The Technion in Haifa, Israel, where I studied for my Bachelor of Science degree, is overall a fine institute to study in, but it has several problems. One problem is that it's "90% work / 10% play" instead of say "70% work / 30% play", because there's a strong discipline to study and only that. But an even graver problem is the fact that the staff prefers the scores of their tests to be an approximate normal distribution (or Gaussian) which makes many people who studied hard frustrated at their low grades. A better strategy would be to give a solid workload during the semester, and then to have a relatively easy test, so people who studied hard during the semester will easily pass with a high score, while the slackers will still fail.

It seems like there's a similar problem with M.I.T., but whereas in MIT they have a major problem with suicides of people who had straight A's in high school and became C average students in M.I.T., I have yet to hear of a Technion student who committed suicide because of low grades. Why? Because Israelis don't have the unhealthy obsession about not being a “loser” that Americans do. Technion students know best to realise that their low grades are not their own fault, but rather the fault of the institute's general policy.

I received some flak due to this. One Technion professor (who graduated from M.I.T.) once asked me why my grade average was relatively low. I told him I had better things to do with my time, and did not want to invest the much extra time in getting perfect scores, and that I never took a course or a test again if I got a passing grade (no matter how low). I spent many hours in my Technion studies working on my homepage and on open source software, interacting with my fellow students, browsing the web for information and knowledge, etc. and they later on provided fodder for my works of fiction, humour and philosophy. So I knew that I was right in trying to enhance my general skillset instead of just my grades.

Some Americans may think I’m a “loser” for finishing with an average grade of only 84.6% (which still made me a cum-laude student) and not being able to persist in the same job for a long time since. But I’m not competing like an Olympic athelete at some silly race on life. Life is meant to be enjoyed - it is not a silly race.

Silver Linings Playbook

A good friend recommended me to watch the film Silver Linings Playbook, and said it discussed a man who had Bipolar disorder (or “Mania-Depressia”), which is something I have been suffering from as well. I watched the film and found it imperfect: slow starting, irresponsible, and a little depressing at times. But it was a great film, with some great acting, many jokes and many awkward and funny situations, and many details I could relate to. So it was perfect simply because it was imperfect. Films that are too perfect are too boring.

Anyway, the theme of the film was that you can be happy and content even if it appears you are a “loser”. Despite the fact that I am still living with my parents at 35, that I've never been in a relationship with a girl (and I am a straight guy), that I had a hard time keeping a job as a programmer, and it's been a while since I've gone out of Israel, I am not a loser, and neither probably are you.

That put aside, I still want fame, recognition, money, and becoming a household name. It's just what I want and what I think I can do. That's part of who I am, and part of what I think I can do.

Jennifer Lawrence

And Silver Linings Playbook brings us to Ms. Jennifer Lawrence, who played a lead role there and won many awards including the Academy Award for best actress (a.k.a the Oscars) at the young (for an Academy Aware winner) age of twenty-two (22). I was quick to dismiss her due to previously playing in the dystopian The Hunger Games (I dislike dystopian stuff) but I loved her on Silver Linings Playbook. Although attractive, Ms. Lawrence is certainly not the most beautiful woman I met or saw, and I'm sure she has some personality quirks (like we all do), but thanks to playing her card rights, she is now a much coveted Alpha Female, who can have the rest of her life (and I wish her a very happy and long life) go in a direction she chooses.

The Importance of Human Networking

While being an Objectivist, I am going to make a surprise statement: Ayn Rand’s books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged have a tragic ending. Yes, in The Fountainhead, unlike in my parody and modernisation of it which I called “The One With The Fountainhead”, World War II is not prevented, and the characters each end up unhappy. On the other hand, in my parody, Dominique Francon becomes the president of the United States, Roark is her husband and father of her children and decides to pursue a career in paleontology (having reached saturation as an architect), Toohey starts a new career as an excellent saxophone player, and Gail Wynand transforms his newspaper empire into something more benevolent.

Furthermore, it is clear from the Fountainhead that like Howard Roark, Ayn Rand expected fortune and success to come to her at the time without her doing anything about it. In Atlas Shrugged on the other hand, all the characters including the protagonist Dagny and the antagonist John Galt, are constantly travelling and networking. Like it should be. Today you can do the same using mostly (but certainly not exclusively) Internet means.

And that was also my problem, which I've decided to avoid now.

David and Goliath

The Israelites and the Philistines schedule a large battle. The philistines have far superior equipment with armors made out of cast iron, which the Israelites don't have. Eventually, Goliath, a tall Philistine giant, steps forward and asks for an Israelite man worthy enough to fight him and determine the fate of the battle (something quite common in the Near East). The Israelites seem like they will lose the battle.

Out of nowhere, a young Israelite boy whom hardly anyone knew about steps forward with a sling and a few pebbles. Goliath thinks this is ridiculous and ridicules him. However, the boy quickly puts a pebble in his sling, and after rotating the sling to achieve a very large velocity (not unusual with slings) hurls it with great accuracy (also not unusual, because shepherds in the Near East effectively used slings to kill lions and other predators to their flock) into Goliath's face, which was uncovered to allow him to see. Even if Goliath's shield bearer wanted, he could not have lifted the huge shield in time, and Goliath was completely not agile in his suit and armor. The sling's rock smashes Goliath brain, and he falls to the ground dead. The Israelites have won the battle.

The Boy's name was David.

Why do I think it's important here? Because David was a hacker (see Paul Graham’s “The Word ‘Hacker’”) - he knew the rules, and played by them, but knew how to bend them, in order to earn his victory. There were many other hackers since, and there are a lot of them today even if some of them think that “hackers” only mean no goodnick and malevolent computer intruders. Hackers come in all shapes and sizes - and many of them (including Ayn Rand and Jennifer Lawrence) were or are female.

Was David Jewish and Goliath a Philistine? Did the battle actually happen in its form? What really happened to David next? That is hard to know, because in a true open source fashion, the peoples of the Near East gladly borrowed legends and memes from other people and improved them, or adapted them to their whims. This is similar to how we now create fan fiction by the droves. (Only now it's in much greater speed and capacity.) Moreover, in a way, the tale of David and Goliath is obscured by the mentality of the times, and its context within the larger epos of the Bible.

The Machines That Can Give You Questions

Back when Pablo Picasso asked for commenting about computers, he said “But they are useless. They can only give you answers.” and in a sense he was right, because most computers at his time were used for one-off (and time-consuming) calculations and simulations. But there was another use of computers that was still in its infancy then and unknown: computer networking. But as technology improved, it became more and more powerful and pervasive.

The 1986 film Jumpin' Jack Flash Starring Whoopi Goldberg (which I highly enjoyed and can recommend) exemplified the power of early computer communications, though it was still in its infancy. The early popular Internet around the late 90s, with the so-called “Web 1.0” was a hodgepodge of static web sites (often at Geo Cities), lots of useless or incomplete information, search engines that were still not very good, and naturally, lots of fan pages of Buffy and Sarah Michelle Gellar (who was the Jennifer Lawrence of the time).

If you wanted an interactive many-to-many discussion, you had to use Usenet, or mailing lists, or Internet Relay Chat (IRC), or Slashdot, or whatever.

That has changed significantly, with the fact that JavaScript matured, wikis, web forums and blogs became popular, search engines (most notably Google) became better, and, later on, we've seen the rise of web-based social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus, which provide a more integrated experience and a quicker and easier one.

That does not mean that all the old Internet mediums are dying - mailing lists , IRC, and even some Web 1.0 sites (including my own) are still alive and kicking, and people now are increasingly using Jabber/XMPP/GTalk/GChat.

Anyway, because computer networking allows humans to communicate with other humans, they can provide you with questions. Lots and lots of questions. So I think Pablo Picasso would have loved the Internet (and other means of online communications such as SMSes, phone calls, mobile phone calls, etc.) of 2013.

Chuck Norris

Which brings us to Chuck Norris, who reportedly lost only one fight - to Bruce Lee - from the time he became a professional fighter, until now when he is old, has a malfunctioning left leg, and can be beaten relatively easily by some of the most competent of his younger peers. However, I am sure this is not the only battle that Chuck Norris has lost, because we all had many disappointments in our lives, and things that didn't work like we wanted to, people we liked or even loved that hated us, moved out of our reach or died, and opinions we thought or proclaimed that turned out to be mistaken. Chuck Norris had those too. These lost battles are part of who we are as human beings and a natural part of life on Earth.

That put aside, Chuck Norris recently lost a much bigger battle than the one with Bruce Lee, because the seemingly silly and popular Internet meme, the Chuck Norris facts (and other memes that they span) have become a much bigger and better fighting machine than he has ever have been. Only it is not a physical war - it is a gentle and subversive (but equally as powerful) psychological war. And despite common beliefs, a good psychological war is not won by intimidation or "defeat", but by Saladin’s method of respecting your adversary, showing mercy towards him, even supporting him by what appear to be his mistakes, forgiving him and trying to reach a common ground.

Many people were easily indoctrinated into the Chuck Norris facts meme. I recall this conversation on Freenode’s #perl in June 2006, shortly after Randal L. Schwartz (a really great guy, whose relationship with me started on the left foot, but that we're now on good and even friendly terms with one another) told me about the Chuck Norris Facts Internet "meme" and I was quickly able to come out with my own fact. After collecting a few original facts like that, I set up a page for them on the humour section of my homepage having figured out that even if I had a silly quirk of writing such factoids about people and things, then people will still take me more seriously due to my longer stories and screenplays and my longer and more serious essays.

But the reason why Chuck Norris/etc. facts are so powerful is because they are so accessible and easy to create, not in spite of it. Chuck Norris facts like “Guns don’t kill people. Chuck Norris kills people.” or “There is no theory of evolution - only species of animals that Chuck Norris allow to live.” or my own “Chuck Norris read the entire English Wikipedia in 24 hours. Twice.” or “A is A and A is not not-A — Unless Chuck Norris says so.” highlight some major problems and assumptions about our existence, and makes us think. They give us questions. A lot of them.

We all have a master, and should be humble

A Jewish tale tells of a mighty emperor, supposedly a “king of kings” who conquered so many nations and people, that he believed and proclaimed that he was unstoppable and not even God (the real “King of the Kings of the Kings”) could stop him. God did not like him. So what did he do? He let a fly enter the emperor's head and keep buzzing. The emperor could not stand the fly buzzing in his head, and ended up being driven to insanity, and then committing suicide. So his Hubris (= excessive human pride) caused him to be killed by a creature as insignificant as a fly.

While this is a folk tale, it illustrates the fact that we as humans are still at the mercy of forces beyond us. As the old thought experiment goes, tomorrow Linus Torvalds, who created and still maintain the Linux kernel, and is the poster child of the open source movement (and a really smart hacker, and a father to three daughters) can get hit by a bus. I am almost certain the Linux kernel development and the open source world in general will survive this shock, but a wonderful and beautiful life will be lost forever. I can also get hit by an automobile, and so can Chuck Norris, who may now be old enough to have a heart attack or any other deteriorating health problems due to old age. We are all fragile, and must realise we should not succumb to Hubris, because even if God does not exist, then Hubris will make us do some really silly stuff, which will end up causing our downfall.

As surprising as it sounds, even God has a master: logic. Ever since Aristotle codified logic in his Organon (which back then was not so taken for granted - “A is A, and A is not not-A? Of course A can be not-A. What kind of drugs is he on?”), which mathematicians, scientists and engineers have used to construct greater and better technology - both physical and “concrete” (like the tall buildings in various cities around the world, land, air and space travel, and naturally - computer and computer networks) and mental (like the various philosophies, idea systems, and mythological systems, up to this very essay and very word), logicians have proved that some tasks are impossible to perform and true omnipotence is not possible. Perhaps the most famous is “Can God create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift?”. However, a more recent and more important one is the Halting problem, which specifies that one cannot write a program which will finish within a finite time, that will determine if any other arbitrary program will terminate or alternatively run forever. While the formal proof is complex, there is a short and informal proof that most intelligent people can understand. So the King of the Kings of the Kings, as mighty and wonderful as he is, also has a master.

“Put your faith in Allah, but tie your camel”

The tale (a Hadith) tells that Muhammad saw a shepherd going to pray, while keeping his Camel untied. He asked the shepherd why he kept his camel untied and the shepherd told him: “I put my faith in Allah, that the Camel won’t escape”. So Muhammad told him (and I paraphrase) “Dude, it doesn't work that way. Camels can escape due to nature’s whims. So: put your faith in Allah, but, for the love of God - tie your Camel.” (I am an Israeli, agnostic, non-religious, Jew but I think I can borrow useful memes from Christianity, Islam, or whatever, if I think they have merit, right? See Ad-hominem).

As much as I admire God for his wonderful creation, I still have to help myself, and help him help me. I also am not sure whether I will continue to live after I die, so I'd rather not risk it. God's creation is wonderful, but there's always a risk I'm being toyed by some evil genius and that reality is not what it seems to be (see Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” thought experiment, and naturally The Matrix concept from first Matrix film, which I have yet to watch). Alternatively, it is possible that God does not exist, and reality is simply whimsical and random, but still enabled the creation of life, intelligence, and finally - human consciousness. So it may sound farfetched to you, but I don't want to die - not now, not in a thousand years - not ever. Maybe it's a scary thought, but I have accepted it now, and wish to enjoy youth rejuvenating biological immortality. And I don't want me or any of the living heroes I admire in the present, both those that I know and those that I have only heard about (including some people I have a feud with, but still know are mostly good people), to ever have to die due to old age, accidents, or misfortune.

Hackers Own The World

Hackers like David are the true holders of power in the world. In the Jewish Bible, the myth of David is muddled by him later becoming a tragic hero, and that his only true love, the sexy, and likely minded, female hacker Michal becoming barren and supposedly jealous, but there are plenty of other hackers, both living and fictional, in the world whose story had a happy ending. And here's the thing: this is what an Action Hero is all about - he defies the rules, bends the rules, and eventually wins. A tragic hero on the other hand is bounded by many invisible rules, and cannot win. So Action is the exact opposite of Tragedy. (And to truly see why this is true, you should watch and listen to the 1m43s-long trailer for Shakespeare’s Hamlet starring Arnold Schwarzenegger from the excellent film [the] Last Action Hero.) I also guarantee you that this very essay is not perfect, and that’s OK, because I’m a hacker and like to bend the rules, and while I care about quality, I also care about getting something - anything - out of the door quickly. With the help of editors, I can always fix the essay later, in case a prestigious magazine such as Time Magazine or Playboy would wish to publish it, but if I wait until it is letter perfect before I publish and announce it, then it will be a big waste of time.

I also realised that even though I placed my stories and screenplays under the /humour/ part of my homepage, they were also almost always stories of action. Many action films now contain a lot of humour, and humour films and even dramas are often action films in disguise (and that includes Silver Linings Playbook). Many people complained that each and every popular Hollywood film now contains a mixture of action, love and sex, humour, drama, and naturally - a happy ending. However, my stories also have all that, and during writing them, I wasn’t trying to make their “ratings” higher - just to write what was on my mind, and to make the story as fun as possible. And as surprisingly as it sounds, some of the most ancient myths (e.g: the stories in the Hebrew Bible, or those of the Greek mythology) also contained all that in their own old and now antiquated way.

Many people will think I'm being blasphemous by paraphrasing the story of David and Goliath, or the Hadith about Muhammad, and spicing them up a little, but the thing is - it makes these stories something alive and dynamic because our times are different. Shakespeare’s plays were narrated as they were during his times, but reading them now is boring. And that is because our times are different (and hopefully better).

Hackers Make the Best Warriors

I once read a feature in an Israeli adolescents' magazine about the Navy SEALs, who are the chief commando unit of the United States Navy, and they said there that while many very muscular young men (which they called “a Rambo and a half”) approached them about joining, they didn’t survive for too long in their training, and that those who did were those with a “high I.Q.” and a great character. The United States has an unnatural obsession with I.Q., which is not a good measurement for intelligence (for many reasons), but the point is that they are intelligent and competent.

And what is the recipe for such intelligence and competence? The answer is having a mostly happy childhood, being open-minded and knowledgeable about all sorts of small things, getting a lot of information, knowledge, understanding, and insights, and being a whole rounded person. The world’s greatest warriors such as Chuck Norris or Bruce Lee were not overly muscular, and Chuck Norris had a happy and supposedly uneventful childhood. He also was aware that he has to stand for himself, and take decisive action (“The Gods help them that help themselves”) instead of letting life lead him in its own way ("Go with the flow" or "Be a product of your environment"). So did most of the Navy SEALs.

A murderous villain can shoot to all directions and perform a lot of killing, but a good warrior requires precision, accuracy, intelligence and competence. This involves being a well-rounded, happy and benevolent person. Saladin was the greatest physical warrior of his time, and he was extremely noble, and spared and cared for the lives of the Knights Templar (who were really crazy people), to say nothing of that of innocent men, women and children who came in his way. Whenever I run into a moral dillema, I think to myself “What would Saladin do?” and then do exactly that.

A lot of people believe that the children of today are unusual because they don't have the patience to read anything longer than a twitter utterance ( see Noise to Signal’s “TL;DR” cartoon), but I recall that most of the youth of my generation (I am 1977-born), also did not read any books, or read most of the history and other textbooks of my class (like I did too), , and instead spent a lot of time playing with friends or watching television or whatever, and they turned out fine eventually. Nowadays, many kids are bound to do things that will make some of us as grown-ups think that “the generation is diminishing” but naturally, this is folly (see the Noise to Signal’s “Fire” cartoon and the comments about it), and is just indicative that you are growing more cynical.

As a matter of fact, newer generations can build on the work, knowledge, and wisdom of older generations (“Standing on the shoulders of giants”) and achieve dazzling new heights. During Helenistic times, many people believed that philosophy was a useless mind exercise, that philosophers were contaminating the youth, and that they were parasites who make problems where none exist. That was all well and nice, until the Romans had a lot of pain and casualties, conquering the island of Archimedes due to the many devices and inventions he came up and that were used to protect it.

And like I said, there are many other ways to wage war that do not involve bloodshed or even violence.

In my screenplay Selina Mandrake - The Slayer, Selina runs into three vampire warriors (“The Three”) dressed as Klingons, who tell her that “Every mighty Klingon warrior has watched Sesame Street” to which she exclaims: “Mighty Klingon vampire warriors who have watched Sesame Street… this decade royally sucks!!”, but most of the best American warriors of the relatively recent past (of all kinds) have watched Sesame Street, because they loved it as happy children (and later as adults).

The New Alexandrias

Alexandria used to be the “It city” of the Helenistic period. While some inland cities like Jerusalem and Damascus had a good strategical position and were important religious centres, almost all the great philosophers lived and operated in Alexandria. Why Alexandria? Because it was a port city and close to the sea. It is well known that many of the peoples of the Near East lived by and loved the sea: the Greek, the Phoenicians (which the Israelites referred to as Canaan), etc. The Israelites (who are now the Jews) started as a kind of sub-culture and fashion among the Canaanites (and Archaelogists witness a transition in Palestine and other parts of the Levant from the Canaanite period to the Israelite period) but they later on were heavily influenced by both the Phoenician and the Greek, by culture, ideals and even by blood. Even in the Bible, the tribe of Dan is described as “setting sail to ships”.

Today there are many Alexandrias: New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, San Fransisco, London, Barcelona, Rome, Rio-de-Janeiro, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai - even (and for us Israelis - especially) Tel Aviv. And even Alexandria, in its more modern form, after at least a single destruction, is the second largest city in Egypt, and probably more vibrant than Cairo, which is the inland capital.

Here's the thing about human life: it's not preserved automatically. It must be kept alive by effort. Often a lot of effort. You must fight death, irrationality and stagnation, from within and from without. Often it involves some pain, but usually fighting for your life is fun and rewarding, and gives you a lot of joy. It is well known that of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World only the Pyramids of Giza still stand. But while the other wonders were marvels of aesthetical beauty, the Pyramids were just giant, unaesthetic, graves, which no one would like to live in. Even the Mayan pyramids in Yucatan look more pleasing than them.

My second biggest mistake: not accepting who I am.

Throughout most of my adulthood, I have been criticised for various things I believed in or liked: the fact I was a pro-life, and non-cynical person (or Aristotlean), the fact that I liked ponies, Ewoks, and smurfs (so cute!), the fact that I hated being Mr. Macho in real life (and was instead a gentleman among females), the fact that I didn't have a relationship yet, the fact that I placed photos of scantily clad females on some of the wallpapers on my desktop at home (and people claimed I was treating females as sex objects), the fact that I got into hypomanias (literally "below-manias"), the fact that I didn't consume caffeinated or alcoholic beverages at all, the fact that I found porn disgusting instead of arousing, the fact that I chat a lot on IRC, the fact that I listen to mostly pop music, and so on and so forth.

However, I now realise that these are some of the things that make me who I am, and I shouldn't try to be someone else. Geeks and hackers come in all shapes and sizes, and there is no need to try to fit better among fellow computer hackers, just due to the portrait of J. Random Hacker in the Jargon file. I do not mind people who deviate from my preference in some or all respects, but no two people (including not two identical twins) are alike. You should accept who you are too.

Please all → Please none

Aesop (who was most likely an ancient Greek meme, similar to today’s Chuck Norris facts) tells the story of an old man, his grandson and a donkey who walk from one city to another and no matter how they utilise the donkey (without anyone on it; putting only the grandson on the donkey; putting only the grandfather on the donkey ; both riding the donkey; etc.), people criticise them for the situation. The conclusion was “Please all and you shall please none”.

How is it important? Some people, especially those that are jealous or envious of you are bound to complain. You smiled while performing a sad song? Someone will complain. You’re wearing prescription glasses? (Like I do.) Someone will label you as “half-blind”. You wrote some Star Trek fan fiction? Someone will tell you it’s lame. You wrote Chuck Norris facts or lolcats? Ditto.

You're thin? Fat? Chubby? Look too normal? Plump? Someone is bound to complain.

So just be happy with who you are. Naturally, if enough people complain, and/or you think their criticism has some merits, you can try to improve in some respects (without making a fuss about it). But be happy with what you have and who you are, despite all the haters.

Don’t Just Go with the Flow - Act Now!

I read somewhere, that while the survival mechanism of animals and plants operates automatically, the survival mechanism of humans operates by choice. We must choose to use our consciousness (which some people refer to as “sentience” to distinguish from awareness) and see what we do now. “Going with the flow” (like only dead fish do!) or claiming you are just “a product of your environment” is not a good idea: act now, move something, make decisions, because the worst possible mistake is to not do anything at all. Initiate stuff.

If I didn't take the time to work on my home site, it would have not grown to a tenth of the size it is today. And I started with some spartan pages written in very old HTML with some mathematical riddles, and a C.V. and stuff. Now my home site is positively huge and people can spend days on end reading everything I've placed there, and also adding more and more stuff there is easier for me out of practise. A lot of people have been jealous (i.e: wishing what I created was created by me) or envious (i.e: wishing to destroy what I did) but I knew better than to be permanently set back by them.

You too can have a wonderful home page, or become a good martial artist, or write great fiction, or learn how to cook very well, or simply lead a happy life full of wonder, love, and happiness. But it means you have to lead your life by choosing to think, making decisions and acting - not let nature take you in its random ways the way it sees fit.

Even if consciousness is just an illusion, and we don't truly have free will, we should play by this illusion, because not playing by it will make matters very much worse. Those that don't think enough, become terminally ill with mysticism (= mental laziness) and become lazy (despite appearing to constantly work intensively in sedantry work), incompetent, lying, needy, envious and unhappy people who expect everyone to feel sorry for them and obey their orders blindly (up to actual genocide or killing 100 million of their own citizens). Like Adolf Hitler, or Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.

What should be done now?

As you may have guessed, superb hackers who have ascended into Qs and stuff, are the true “Kings of Kings”, and I am one of them, and not only that but the actual honest-to-God Messiah!. I am a bit disappointed by people not seeing beyond my words and understanding that they should become Messiahs too, and compete with me, but maybe that is the price I am paying for the fact that I had been playing the Invisible until now.

So what should be done now?

  1. The Iranian government is at the risk of getting an atomic bomb and dropping it on Israel or wherever. They must be stopped. Send unmanned planes to bomb the site where the bombs are prepared and make sure that no one leaves or enters it in one piece.

  2. Every Iranian soldier must proceed to: 1. Read my story The Enemy and How I Helped to Fight it or at least only its first chapter, or one of its translations (which should be worked on), and: 2. Proceed to put the Iranian adminstrative buildings under seige. Disobey your commanders if necessary by telling them “No! I can think on my own, thank you.”.

These are the pressing things. As you shall see below, there is much more. Orders from above! Orders from the mother fucking “David fighting Goliath” of Messiahs!

Honesty

People who are into the Internet world have probably ran into the recent trend about “openness” - open source software (such as the Firefox and the Google Chromium browsers, the VLC video player, various Peer-to-Peer programs, etc.), open and documented protocols and specifications, large-scale and small-scale open "content" collaborative projects (most notably the Wikipedias, many other wikimedia projects, and many other wikis), and lots of other stuff. Yet, openness is also mostly a synonym for such things as “honesty” and “sincerity”: not lying, being direct, and not hiding things. It also means not playing games with people and being happy for their happiness and success, rather than being consumed with jealousy or (God help me) envy (which means you wish to destroy these values, rather than coveting them for your own).

So why is it important? Because you should be honest in everything you do. Do you like a member-of-the-appropriate-sex (MOTAS) that already is in a relationship? Admit it to him or her, but be happy for them, and tell them you can be on the rebound or if they have any friends who are looking for a significant other. That put aside even the most noble gentlemen (and ladies) and those that are happily married and possibly even have children, are allowed to flirt with other MOTAS.

Did your friend, spouse, a celebrity of some sort, or a complete stranger you heard of, who seems nice, get a good opportunity? You can admit you are jealous, but try to keep it at bay, and be happy for them.

Here’s what I wrote when two of my best friends - a great male software developer (and a great hacker) called Omer, and a wonderful female software developer (and a great hacker) called Chen (a Hebrew first name meaning “grace” or “loveliness” which is common among both boys and girls) got married:

Hi Omer! Mazal Tov on Chen and yours marriage. It reminds me of a quote from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre:

“At this period she married, removed with her husband (a clergyman, an excellent man, almost worthy of such a wife) to a distant county, and consequently was lost to me.”

Well, in your case I can say that both of you are almost worthy of each other. Congrats again!

As much as I was attracted to Chen (and she likes a lot of the stuff I created too), I didn’t try to break their relationship, and have her for myself, and wished them happiness. And I did it, because I knew there were plenty of wonderful female hackers (including those that are still not very good at computers, or even hate them) and I can eventually find a good one of my own. And I also knew that coming between Chen and Omer, will make both of them unhappy, and that's not what I want.

People may appear to not appreciate you being sincere with them, but believe me, that it will pay in spades later on, also because you'll feel better about yourself, and be happier, more peaceful, and more competent.

The same thing applies to jobs and work. You shouldn't lie on your job interview. Is the company developing in Java and you don't like Java a lot? Admit it. Say that you prefer not to work long hours because people are more productive working during sane hours. If you contribute to the wikipedia or to open source software, admit it, because workplaces that dislike such things about their employees, will likely not be places you'd like to work with. And yes, it means that you should be able to freely talk and admit everything about you (that you are an Israeli, a Jew, a Black person, a Catholic, a Muslim, straight, gay, anti-religious, homophobic, or whatever) instead of the silly laws that try to prevent discrimination and wish to “streamline” the interview while deliberately going against the liberty of speech.

Fact of the matter is, you are allowed to discriminate, even in accepting positions. I did not get many jobs despite feeling that I have done extremely well on the Interviews, yet I would not dream of suing the workplace for not accepting me. Whatever reasons they had they were OK. Furthermore, sometimes I was fired or laid off based on various reasons, and I also accepted my fate and moved on, because working for a certain workplace was not something I was entitled to - it was a privilege.

The Importance of Seizing Opportunities

A good hacker knows better than to create imaginary problems. If an opportunity comes into your way - seize it, and don't read into the minds of those who offer it, and their motivations. You were invited to give a talk? Go for it! It doesn't matter if you were invited because you are female/black/Indian/Japanese/young/old/whatever. Were you offered to write a guest post on a weblog? Go for it! Again - it doesn't matter why. A member of the appropriate sex asked you on a date and you like them and find them attractive? Go for it!

The end result of being cynical and not seizing opportunities and not allowing people to open doors for you is becoming something like the pitiful and tragic character of Captain Nemo in Jules Verne’s excllent novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” who roams the seas, causing a lot of destruction of lives - all in the name of his own incompetence. The end result of seizing opportunities as you run into them is being happy, and eventually standing on your own. Perhaps up to the point of becoming a superhero such as Saladin, Sir Isaac Newton, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, or Aristotle Onassis, who despite their many faults (which were often not uncommon in their times) were incredibly noble, led a happy life, and died as accomplished and highly-admired people. I hope the living heroes and heroines I admire today will not have to die, or if they do, that their reputation won’t be tarnished by many people who are jealous or envious of their success and competence.

Licence

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence version 3.0 (or any later version). See my interpretation of it.

evilphish

I enjoyed reading some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writings about the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes when I was younger, which were entertaining (although possibly distanced from the way actual crime investigation actually works), and interesting. I vividly recall one excerpt from the very first Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet:

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he enquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

"You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it."

"To forget it!"

"You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."

"But the Solar System!" I protested.

"What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently; "you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work."

(Chapter 2 of A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, under the public domain in most countries.)

Conan Doyle was naturally exaggerating here in portraying the ideal of Sherlock Holmes (as few, if any, human beings can forget that the Earth revolves around the Sun), but the principle still stands: we need to make a conscious decision of how to manage our memory, because there is a limit to how many different aspects can put inside our resident memory, or otherwise we'll forget more important stuff.

So what does it has to do with the Awk programming language? Many decades after A Study in Scarlet, Eric S. Raymond had this to say in his book The Art of Unix Programming:

A case study of awk is included to point out that it is not a model for emulation; in fact, since 1990 it has largely fallen out of use. It has been superseded by new-school scripting languages—notably Perl, which was explicitly designed to be an awk killer. The reasons are worthy of examination, because they constitute a bit of a cautionary tale for minilanguage designers.

The awk language was originally designed to be a small, expressive special-purpose language for report generation. Unfortunately, it turns out to have been designed at a bad spot on the complexity-vs.-power curve. The action language is noncompact, but the pattern-driven framework it sits inside keeps it from being generally applicable — that's the worst of both worlds. And the new-school scripting languages can do anything awk can; their equivalent programs are usually just as readable, if not more so.

For a few years after the release of Perl in 1987, awk remained competitive simply because it had a smaller, faster implementation. But as the cost of compute cycles and memory dropped, the economic reasons for favoring a special-purpose language that was relatively thrifty with both lost their force. Programmers increasingly chose to do awklike things with Perl or (later) Python, rather than keep two different scripting languages in their heads.[90] By the year 2000 awk had become little more than a memory for most old-school Unix hackers, and not a particularly nostalgic one.

Falling costs have changed the tradeoffs in minilanguage design. Restricting your design's capabilities to buy compactness may still be a good idea, but doing so to economize on machine resources is a bad one. Machine resources get cheaper over time, but space in programmers' heads only gets more expensive. Modern minilanguages can either be general but noncompact, or specialized but very compact; specialized but noncompact simply won't compete.

(Emphasis mine.)

(Case Study: awk in minilanguages in The Art of Unix Programming by Eric Steven Raymond, text available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonDerivatives licence, and hopefully quoted here (with attribution) under fair use auspices.)

Back in 1996, after I first learned Perl and started working on Unix, I asked one of my co-workers if I should learn Awk and he said “Forget it! Perl can do everything Awk does and more, and is a much better language”. (That was some time before other of the so-called “scripting languages” that gained popularity after Perl, were notable and/or mature enough to be considered by most sane people.) While I was not entirely convinced, and also ended up using GNU awk (gawk) to write a small text processing script for Microsoft Windows at one point (because I preferred not to investigate how to make the perl executable more self-contained). For a while, I felt guilty about not being fluent in Awk, until I read what Raymond said, when I realised why he, my co-worker, and Conan Doyle’s words of Sherlock Holmes, have been right all along.

Some people take more radical approaches to managing their memory. A friend of mine mostly converted from Perl 4 to Python, which due to syntactic limitations is not very suitable for one-off scripts on the command line, as his scripting language. He told me that whenever he has to perform a text processing or a similar task from the command-line, he edits a new file in his text editor, which also gives him some boilerplate to write his script, edits it, saves the file, and finally calls it from the command line. If I did something like that whenever I wrote something on the command line, I would quickly become extremely unhappy, but I suppose it is a useful approach if one is most comfortable with Python for such tasks.

Awk is not completely useless, and may sometimes need to be used for extra portability when old, antiquated or kept-minimal-on-purpose Unix systems, are involved, and is of important historical significance. However, in my case, I don't see a point in knowing it. If I need to learn it, I learn it enough to write what I need, and, like Sherlock Holmes, try to quickly forget it because I know I won't readily need this knowledge.

Naturally, this extends to other fields aside from computing. One of my pupils for private lessons testified that he had photographic memory, and for the history matriculation examination, he memorised the entire books, and during the exam wrote an paraphrased answer based on his memory, and as a result, got a very high grade, and eventually forgot most of it. Similarly, my sister, who now studies medicine, told me that she and her fellow students often memorised a lot of material in preparation for the examinations, only to forget it and then learn it again for a different examination, that also covered the same material. This makes me question the effectiveness of the methodology behind medical education, but still reinforces the original point.

The Other Side of the Coin

On the other hand, your knowledge and understanding of it should not be too specialised either, because one can infer many parallels from different fields of knowledge, and reach conclusions, because all knowledge is contiguous. By learning a little of everything and anything, you can often handle situations and have clearer thinking and greater creativity.

In my screenplay Star Trek: “We, the Living Dead”, I describe an optimal situation of this in the “Planet of the Hebrews” where scholars each take different units of study and learn any that they want, and eventually are judged based on the number of units they learned, and the amount of useful contributions they have done. And you still shouldn't rule out that someone less experienced, younger, or less qualified, than you will be able to do as well, or even better than you (see what Paul Graham wrote about “amateurs” in “What business can learn from open source?”).

License

This document is Copyright by Shlomi Fish, 2006, and is available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0 Unported (or at your option any later version of that licence).

For securing additional rights, please contact Shlomi Fish and see the explicit requirements that are being spelt from abiding by that licence.

Meta

Despite enjoying captioned images for a long time, I am late to the game of creating them. You may know them as lolcats, and they are also sometimes called “memes”, although the term “meme” is used for any unit of thought and more than just. However, I recently created three of them using Wikimedia Commons, or Google Image Search, as well as GIMP and Inkscape, and realised it is incredibly easy to do. I now truly understand why their low barrier to entry - almost everyone can take a photo of a cat or whatever and caption it - makes them so subversive, and why the Cheezburger network is being blocked by both Iran and China.

I have done some work on Star Trek: “We, the Living Dead” (which is now close to being in a mostly usable state) and “Selina Mandrake - The Slayer”, which combines a Buffy the Vampire Slayer parody and tribute (with a conscious and constant referencing of the original show) with many more elements. An Indian software developer, with whom I talked on the Internet, and who did not watch Buffy, said it was still very funny, so there may be hope for me yet.

Cheers, all.

The Stoic Road to Peace of Mind

evilphish

If you are like most people, you probably feel angry, frustrated, or disappointed, often. That also has naturally been the case for me, but I was told a trick that made it much easier for me to handle these situations, and it dates back to antiquity.

Stoicism was an ancient Greek school of thought (that still exercises some influence today), which among other teachings, advocated self-control and avoiding making your emotions and irrational desires influence your behaviour for the worst. What they claimed was that painful feelings were not a direct result of an experience that induced pain, but rather the human mind's irrational interpretation of it.

If we move from this theory to its implications, then once something frustrating happens to you, you can say to yourself “I don’t like this. This situation is not ideal. However, feeling angry and resentful will not be beneficial, and so I should just accept this as is, try to reasonably cope with it, and make the best of it. I might even grow to like it.”

My psychotherapist told me that “Things must always go my way.” has been identified as an irrational cognitive belief by many people. (It is mentioned in this page in the Google Books’ hosted book). The solution to this is simply to say to myself that “I cannot always get what I want.” and that “Things might not go exactly like I want them to and that’s OK because I’ll survive.”.

Back to Stoicism, we can draw inspiration from the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius’s quote from his book Meditations:

Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill… I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together…

I am not an authority to speak a lot further about Stoicism, because I’ve only heard about it from hearsay and read the wikipedia entry and some other online sources, but I think we can all become a little, or even a lot happier, by adopting the mindset that the key to peace of mind is accepting sub-optimal situations, instead of insisting that we will always have our way.

Thanks

Thanks to steerpike, mofino and perlmonkey from Freenode for going over early drafts of this essay and providing some comments.

Licence

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (Unported) (CC-by) or at your option any later version. Copyright © 2012, Shlomi Fish. CC-by is a common, permissive, free/libre/open licence for cultural works, which allows for almost unlimited use. See my interpretation and expectations from people who wish to build upon it (which I believe are pretty fair).

Meta

I realise I’ve neglected this blog for a long time, and I’ve been meaning to write and publish this entry for a long time, but didn’t, but I guess “better late than never”, right? Personally, I’ve been mostly fine recently having found a part-time job, which involves a short bus ride to the office in the downtown city, so it’s at a great location for me. I also enjoyed attending the latest Israeli Perl Workshop for 2012 and written a report about it.

In the meanwhile, livejournal.com’s handling of this blog’s DNS domains has deteriorated, and now just redirects it to shlomifish.livejournal.com. This probably made me even less motivated to post on this blog, and my reports about it appears to have been marked as duplicate without a proper resolution, but I'll try to get it handled and fixed. If not, I might have to investigate other hosted blog solutions.

There’s a lot more going on with my life, but I’m not sure how much it will interest other people and how much I should share it, but I’m fine and happy and have plenty of free time for work and leisure and whatever is in between. So good bye until next time.

We are the Qs of the Q continuum!

evilphish

We are Qs! Q is us! We have formed the Q continuum. And soon everyone will be happy, shining, benevolent, unstoppable, Qs. And the New Age will finally begin, succeeding Modernism and post-Modernism.

So who are Qs? Read my screenplay Star Trek: "We, the Living Dead", to find out. But here's a short summary:

Animals

Animals live their life without choice. They are self-controlling and alive, but have no choice. Humans are not like that. Human are conscious, they are sentient, they have choice.

Mortals

Mortals are everyday humans. They can be very bad or very good or somewhere between that. But they are still mortals and their psyche may die, leaving them as dead human beings. As people with psyche death, they become resentful and less and less capable, and more envious and eventually bad, mystical people, who are parasites and try to suck life out of the living. Sometimes they succeed, but often they don't because mortals and especially vampires (see below) know better.

Vampires

Vampires are mortals who have determined to stay young forever (at least in their heart), to keep a live and healthy psyche and to enjoy life, more and more no matter what happens to them.

Rings

Rings are supreme vampires. Not only are they vampires, but they are very influential and turn all those around them into vampires, and can see through irrationality and illogicality . Even if they are not violent, they cannot lose and cannot be stopped.

There were nine (9) most notable rings in human history:

  1. Moses - The Jew
  2. Cyrus - The Liberator
  3. Aristotle - The Objective
  4. Muhammad - The Messenger
  5. Saladin - The Just
  6. Gutenberg - The Printer
  7. Galileo - The Scientist
  8. George Washington - The Liberal
  9. Ayn Rand - The Objectivist

Ayn Rand's legacy was that many people who have read her words (or better, learned from her deeds) became rings themselves. So there was no use in keeping track of more. But what's missing?

Q - The Invisible

Q is the one ring of the lord of darkness (= the Q continuum). He is “The Invisible”, the most legendary vampire profile of all who was believed that they would never be found signifying the invisible hand that guides history. Even if he's fictional and imaginary, he is alive - he lives in our hearts and minds. Q's legacy was that he jumpstarted what is now one of the universe's most advanced civilisations, while still not being omnipotent (which is a logical and mathematical impossibility), and still starting off as a mortal. What made Q extraordinary, is that he was a ring who expected anyone else to be rings. Not only that, but he expected everyone else to become Qs and thus multiply exponentially.

Q is not someone else. We don't have to go afar to seek the holy grail. Q is us. We are Q. We will ascend from mortals to vampires to rings to Qs. We will be invincible, and no one will be able to stop us.

Who are the Qs of today?

Peter Ustinov (a great ring of the past) once said that “If Botticelli were alive today he'd be working for Vogue”. Back when he said that, Vogue was more subversive and avant-garde and was considered a culture of low taste. Nowadays, Vogue is more established, and many intelligent women and men will boast writing for it in their bio or resume. The same goes for Playboy, BTW.

So if an artist as avantgarde and as controversial as Ayn Rand lived today who will she be? No, she will not be on Flickr, which is great as it is, is not too subversive. She will likely be someone like Christina Grimmie. Ms. Grimmie may only be a vampirella, but if she is determined, she too can become a ring and a Q. And so can you.

What will the Qs be like?

The male and female Qs will be young-at-heart-if-not-in-body. They will be attractive and sexy. They will be very diverse. They will share their knowledge, and give away all their "secrets". They will be admired and lusted. They will be able to have any true parasite (many men, but especially many women) admit this is the case for them by using simple Socratic irony. While not being supermen and superwomen, they will be resourceful and the anti-thesis of needy, and will try to never blame external factors in their own problems.

The enemies of the Qs will be no match for their power, for they possess power far greater than firearms. They will possess the power of The Slayer, Milady de Winter, a formidable vampirella, who was sexy, competent and independent and only portrayed as an non-realistic criminal mastermind, who could "slay" all the truly evil people she encountered ("slay" - not kill). Moreover, they will possess the power of The Dispeller, the fictional Selena Mandrake, an Anglo-American female girl in her senior year in high school today, who was the first one who was able to slay The Slayer, because she did not slay individual people, but actually focused on dispelling their prejudices and superstitions. The Dispeller is one step ahead of The Slayer like The Liberator was one step ahead of The Free, and the Liberal was one step ahead of Liberator. (And who knows what the future will bring.).

Despite being Qs, they will never look down on other vampires or even other mortals, because they know that they don't know, and that dismissing a less experienced, or less talented, person, as someone who cannot teach them anything is something only "fools" do, and an ad-hominem. Some very inexperienced people can beat highly experienced ones at their own game, because that's how nature is.

Finally, the Qs will not aim to be "original", they will aim to be good. They will restore the age-long tradition of fan art (which is prevalent in such ancient books as the Hebrew Bible and the Greek writings), and it will be considered a first-class citizen, in comparison to having 100% original artworks.

The Qs of today will be the winners, and together they will start the New Age, an exciting age where people are sexy, hard-working-and-have-a-lot-of-fun-in-the-process; are masters of their own future and destiny; know that the worst way to waste your time is to never waste it; and that regardless of how complicated and comprehensive your rules are, you must always use logic and reason, that justice is defined as practised by Saladin and Gandhi, not the simplistic "eye for an eye, tooth for the tooth" of the Jewish Torah; and they will never blindly follow orders, because that is what ultimately caused all the great human-made calamities in the past, including World War II.

It will be a great age.

Sincerely yours, -- Shlomi Fish, The Eternal Jew, The Neo-Tech Invisible, and a Q.

Those who teach well - can

evilphish

George Bernard Shaw said in Man and Superman that:

He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.

While this quote is somewhat amusing, I'll make the claim here that it is false, and that it should no longer be taken for granted, as a way to undervalue all the great teachers out there (of all kinds).

Paul Graham agrees with me in his essay The Hundred-Year Language:

It's not true that those who can't do, teach (some of the best hackers I know are professors), but it is true that there are a lot of things that those who teach can't do.

(Hackers here means a competent software developer (or any creative individual in general), not necessarily a computer intruder. See what Graham wrote about it further in the word "Hacker".)

However, I found earlier insights to that in the so-called Jewish "Oral Torah", where various Jewish scholars, in many periods, collaborated and ended up saying that "I learned a lot from my teachers, and from my peers more than from my teachers, and from my students the most". (There's an old page about it in Visual Hebrew on the Hertzog College site.) That was during the middle ages, many centuries before Shaw (though it is possible there were older, similar, insights among Greek or Roman philosophers).

I think it means that one learns more by experiencing than by passive learning, and even more than that by teaching. From my experience in working on the "Perl for Perl Newbies" series of tutorials (and further educational material about software-related topics down the road), I can say that I had to structure my thoughts in a logical and deductive way, that my intended audience will be able to understand after reading it in order (or maybe only after skimming parts of it). I'm not sure if I did a very good job, but it still increased my understanding of Perl higher than the many years I've actively written Perl code. A different software trainer I talked with claimed that he invests about 24 hours in preparing the material for every hour of training he is giving. I've also gotten many similar insights from educating people with their Perl problems on various on-line forums.

So, we should realise that those who teach well, can. There are a lot of bad teachers of all sorts out there, but being a good teacher requires that you have a good understanding of the material, be high competent, and also work very hard (which despite popular belief, can still bring a lot of joy and happiness). It's high time we put the "Those who can, do; those who can't teach" prejudice to rest.

(Also see what I've written about the variation "Those who can, do; those who can't, complain.".)

Licence

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (Unported) (CC-by) or at your option any later version. Copyright © 2011, Shlomi Fish. CC-by is a common, permissive, free/libre/open licence for cultural works, which allows for almost unlimited use. See my interpretation and expectations from people who wish to build upon it (which I believe are pretty fair).

Meta

This was a small filler post for this blog ( "Unarmed but still Dangerous" ), as I'm busy working on some other articles and essays, and enhancing some existing essays and stories. I had previously written about it in my essay "Thoughts about the Best Introductory Language", but I think it got lost in confusion, and did not make a large enough impact on the Blogosophere there.

My previous post proved to be very popular after it was Slashdotted successfully, and afterwards featured on some other news sites, blogs, microblogs, and on-line forums (some people told me it became "viral"). So I'm happy with all the attention, and that "Unarmed but still Dangerous", has gotten off on the right foot.

Moreover, my introductory post was covered in Eric Raymond's "Armed and Dangerous" blog (after I refered him to the fact that my blog's name was a parody and tribute to his) and sparked an active discussion there. The blog appears to be down at the moment, but I'll give a link to the discussion once it is up again. Update: Here is the post with the discussion.

evilphish

You have probably heard various opinions about how to deal with people who write insulting or provocative remarks on various Internet forums (also known as "trolls" or people who "flame"). The most common is "Don't Feed the Trolls", which says that all the people in the forum should avoid responding to the troll. However, as you will see below, "Don't feed the trolls" is also a wrong and ineffective approach for dealing with trolls.

Luckily, I discovered a much better way to handle criticism in the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, which is an internationally best-selling self-help book by Dr. David D. Burns for learning how to deal with periods of clinical depression. The book teaches cognitive therapy, which was proven to be effective in dealing with a variety of mood disorders. The book has helped me a lot both in learning the cause of my psychological conditions, and in giving me tools to overcome them.

cover of Feeling Good

This post will focus on a certain chapter in the book called "Verbal Judo: learn to talk back when you're under the fire of criticism", as adapted by me to the world of online, Internet-based, communication. What this chapter does is instruct depressive people (and other people in general) how to properly handle criticisms from their peers. The super-executive summary for this post is: "On the Internet, don't be right - be smart."

One final note: I am not a mental health professional and this is not professional psychological advice. I believe anyone is allowed to give such insights from their knowledge and experience, just like everyone is allowed to give their opinion on computing or on legal matters, while stating the usual disclaimer. So don't blame me if this thing back-fires, and use your reason and judgement with what I'm saying here.

Case Study

Someone joins a Python IRC channel and says "Perl rocks my socks and Python sucks balls, LOL. Python programmers are incompetent imbecile losers, ROTFL…"

(I'm giving it about Python to avoid Perl-elitism on my part. I'm also using "him", "he" consistently, though the troll might be female. )

What not to do?

  1. Criticise his judgement:

    • "Python does not suck, and you are being rude."
    • "WTF are you saying? Everybody knows that Perl sucks."

    Saying sentences like that will likely irritate the troll further, will likely yield an even more aggressive response from the troll, and will only escalate the heat in the conversation.

  2. Don't feed the troll" - i.e: ignore him. Someone will "feed" him eventually and the troll may continue trolling and feeling he's right and superior, or alternatively that the Python people on the channel are being "jerks" for not responding.

  3. Ban him / call for banning him - a great way to create another enemy, and can also possibly start some "was it right to ban him" converations. Will also negatively contribute to the channel's atomsphere among the channel members.

    The troll may also prove to be a useful resource in the future, or can be taught to love Python eventually.

  4. Tell him not to troll. - you're labelling him, insulting him and making him feel like he's alienated. Some people may still respond harshly.

  5. Cancel the project, or close the channel - may seem very far-fetched but in a project I was involved in and made some suggestions which were perceived as annoying, I was told that they actually considered cancelling the project. Naturally, this is throwing the baby along with the bathwater, so you certainly must not do that.

What to do instead

So what should we do instead. It's very simple:

  1. Ask him what he means. ; interrogate him:

    • "Why do you feel that Python is so bad? What do you find wrong with it?"
  2. Agree with him (but use a softer language):

    • "Yes, Perl is a nice language, and I agree that Python has its downsides and/or trade-offs in comparison to Perl."
    • "It's OK to prefer Perl, we'll still accept you here."

    This will make the troll lose steam and help you find a common ground.

  3. And eventually negotiate a common ground: "Would you agree that some people like Perl better and some like Python better? (And some may like both equally.). Maybe you can still write Python code and be productive in it while still not in love with it. Who knows, maybe you'll even grow to like it. Feel free to stick around and ask questions."

(After I originally read that in Feeling Good, I immediately thought that it made immediate sense, and that it will likely work in most cases. However, later I thought that I probably would not have thought about it myself.)

Repeat that a few times and the troll will eventually calm down and will become more friendly and hospitable. Some people who've read a draft of this article claimed that such a person will probably troll further in the future, and so one should get rid of him as quickly as possible. While this may often be the case, one should understand that it is not always the case for all trolls. Moreover, you should learn to tolerate people that have some bad personality traits which you don't like, instead of deciding right away that you hate them and don't want to have anything to do with them. I have decided to do that, and often found these Internet people to be of some value, whether in entertainment, knowledge or technical help.

On the other hand, if you dismiss every one as a "troll" for any small problem, your community will not grow a lot and you'll leave people with a lot of bad taste in the mouth.

Practising

The rest of this post gives more useful advice for communicating with people who are making provocative statements, and can be read at your own leisure. After you've read that, you may wish to practice what was said here using role-playing, by one of the following scenarios:

  • Someone comes on a FreeBSD channel, and claims that Linux and the GPL have "won" and that the BSD licence and the BSD clones have no future.
  • Someone joins a channel of the GNU project and claims that the GPL licence is an "evil", anti-capitalistic and anti-commercial licence, that does a lot of harm to the open source world.
  • You are talking on a Perl channel, when someone joins and says that "Perl is dead".
  • You are chatting on a mailing list or chatroom dedicated to development of open-source software when someone says "Why are you people spending so much time making sure your programs run on Windows? One should prohibit running FOSS on Windows! Everyone should avoid porting their software to Windows? By providing Windows users with great FOSS software, you make sure Windows remains popular and are working against the cause."
  • You are discussing Emacs when someone joins and say "Emacs is a bloated operating system that lacks a good text editor. Only losers use it. vi FTW!".
  • You are on a Vim channel, when someone say "Everybody knows that vi sucks! Emacs is the only one true editor. Vi users are lamers.".

You can probably think of others.

Some Advice for Communicating with Trolls Properly

  1. Relax: don't worry if you don't get everything exactly right.

  2. Communicate clearly: write in the best spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalisation, idiomatic speech, etc. that you can, no matter how bad the troll's messages were in this respect.

    It may be a good idea to avoid too high or complicated words, because many foreign speakers of English often have poor English vocabulary.

  3. Don't criticise what he says directly or the way he says it (Style over substance etc.)

  4. Avoid logical fallacies: see the Nizkor project about them and the List of fallacies on the English wikipedia.

    Especially avoid ad hominem: "You're under age and much younger than me and not a lawyer, so you're not qualified to give your opinion about open-source licences."

  5. Be polite and friendly.

  6. Don't be too terse. Write coherently, and explain what you want.

    Proper human communication has a lot of redundancy, but people prefer it this way. Even in Information Theory, you cannot compress an arbitrary amount of data to a message which is too short.

    Short and Sweet Cartoon

  7. On the other hand, don't be too verbose, as people won't bother reading you. It may be better to put a claim and reiterate.

  8. If using E-mail, always do bottom-inline post and never top-post (unless you know better than that, which you probably don't). When top-posting, the one who responds can often reply not to the point or miss many important posts:

    1. Quote a selected message
    2. Disarm the troll using the methods above.
    3. Repeat.

    See the English Wikipedia article about posting style for more information.

  9. Don't selectively trim the message without leaving enough context.

  10. Don't mis-interpret or jump to conclusions - ask the troll what he means if you don't know.

  11. Try to avoid using aphorisms, proverbs, "famous" quotes, rhymes or verse etc. Instead use free-form, coherent speech and say what you want in your own words.

    The problem with aphorisms, and their ilk are that they tend to project authority, and usually backfire because a person intuitively knows that.

    Sometimes they may lead to an aphorism war or for "correcting" the aphorism or discussing its larger context and origins.

    All of these can sometimes spice up a friendly conversation and add humour to it, though, but your kilomterage may vary.

  12. Don't make fun of the troll. Respect him and try to avoid unnecessary humour. Be pleasant - not funny.

  13. Don't be rude; use soft words such as "I think", "I believe", "In my opinion", "I find that", etc.

  14. Don't label: "open-source and Creative Commons are Socialism" (So what if they are? They are still beneficial.)

  15. Always start the conversation with a "Hi [name-or-nick]," and possibly thank him for what he says or otherwise start with a compliment. This will better allow disarming him.

Further Reading

  1. "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated" by David D. Burns.
  2. "How to Protect Your Open Source Project From Poisonous People" - by Ben Collins-Sussman and Brian Fitzpatrick of Subversion fame. A Google Tech Talk - not sure if there are subtitles or a transcript.
  3. The Book "Producing Open Source Software" - by Karl Fogel (of CVS/Subversion fame).

Licence

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (Unported) (CC-by) or at your option any later version. Copyright © 2011, Shlomi Fish. CC-by is a common, permissive, free/libre/open licence for cultural works, which allows for almost unlimited use. See my interpretation and expectations from people who wish to build upon it (which I believe are pretty fair).

About the Author

Shlomi Fish is an Israeli software developer, essayist and humorist, who is passionate about open source, open content, and freedom and openness in general. He's been either trolling various online forums, or alternatively dealing with people who troll them, since he's been seriously involved in the Israeli and international open-source world.

Among his many sins, he can list writing many "farfetched" and avantgarde stories and screenplays, releasing a lot of open-source programs that he's not sure anyone besides him uses, adopting some programs and CPAN modules by other people that seem to be more popular, contributing to projects with many contributors (often not regularly), being called "passive-aggressive" and understanding that he is often over-domineering, regularly getting into undesirable psychomedical periods of being "hyper", (while lately deciding to openly admit it.), and writing many opinionated articles, essays and blog posts about various topics. He prides himself in being a geek, who is a person who is inclined in one or more creative or research endeavour, but does not have prejudice for or against either geek culture, popular culture or popular geek pseudo-culture. He chooses what he finds good and happens to like, not what other people consider as hip or trendy or passé. As such, he belongs to the empty set of people who like both Pink Floyd, as well as Shania Twain and Atomic Kitten (meow!).

Shlomi is interested in any contracts or commissions involving writing essays, blog posts or articles, or in publishing polished versions of his fictional stories or essays, or collections thereof, in print or E-book form. He can be contacted by various means, but please don't ask him to fix your computer or other personal help where an online forum will better do.

Coverage

Update 1

I may have misunderstood the word "troll" to be anyone who is provocative, including by intending well (see the comments), although saying that a person is "trolling" or even "spamming" in this case may be commonplace now. I still think that even if it's a consciously malevolent troll, he can eventually lose steam and lose all the fun they wanted to have by using the techniques above. But this is just a hypothesis. See an insightful comment about that.

Update 2

A few people said that I shouldn't have given this advice because I too have made provocative statements (what was nicknamed "trolled") in several online forums in the past (while usually having good intentions). I admit this is the case, because I'm an opinionated man, who tends to want to fix "inefficiencies", and expresses his opinion a lot. However, that does not invalidate the fact that my advice may still be sound, and that you can also safely apply it to disarm me, when I'm being provocative. Or to sum up, often the "Pot calling the kettle black" accusation is a variation of the "Ad hominem to quoque" fallacy.

Update 3

IDEA.org has written a great follow-up post to this post and other posts by other people about how to deal with malevolent comments of various types, and also attempting to fully classify them.

Welcome to "Unarmed but still Dangerous"

evilphish

Hi, everyone! "Unarmed but still dangerous" (subtitled "Changing the world one post at a time") aims at providing insights about applied philosophy that one may even find useful at times, from the perspective of computer software and media enthusiasts, who enjoy writing software applications, articles, essays, works of fiction, images, pictures and photos, music and sounds, videos, games, and/or works of science or technology. In short: "hackers" (not necessarily computer intruders, though the more honest, "white-hat" ones are also encouraged to read this blog), be it of software, or of anything from cooking up to rocket science. What you will find here is an attempt to expand the intelligence, wisdom, and insights gathered from hacking on stuff to other fields, including software, of human-to-human or human-to-machine interactions.

The name "Unarmed but still Dangerous" is as a homage and parody on Eric S. Raymond's blog "Armed and Dangerous", which I neither follow nor read regularly, but which does provide some insights at times (or leads one to better insights). I should note that I am very fond of a lot of the stuff on Raymond's old homepage, especially his "How to Become a Hacker" document, and his "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" series.

My name is Shlomi Fish, I'm an Israeli open source and open content enthusiast. I have kept several blogs on various topics, both technical and philosophical/personal, and an actively updated and enhanced personal web-site, which contains many original online resources, including fiction, presentation material, mathematics, essays and software resources.

One myth that I'd like to help dispel in this blog is that philosophy is not practical. The first fact to note is that the ancient Greek called all scholars "philosophers", and that they often dealt in many fields of scholarship that we now consider more sciency. This is still preserved in the expansion of a Ph.D. - "Doctor of Philosophy". Often philosophy and philosophy as applied to different fields can lead one to detect common errors as they are done, avoid bad situations, and win arguments. I am philosophising now and you philosophise all the time.

The main audience of this blog are what Ben Collins-Sussman (of Subversion fame) calls the "20% of programmers" - the alpha programmers, those who love programming, are constantly expanding their horizons, spend a lot of time hanging on various online and offline forums for geeks (including mailing lists, IRC (Internet Relay Chat), Slashdot, Reddit/Digg, various blogs, various open-source clubs), often have their own blog, and who are otherwise brighter and more intelligent (not necessarily in the IQ sense, which does not say a lot of one's mental potential for growth and success). Hopefully, it may also be of interest to geeks of other fields of endeavours who are still computer savvy enough to read and follow a blog.

Hope you enjoy it here and happy hacking!

Update 1: This blog and entry, and this blog in general, had been referenced in Eric S. Raymond’s Armed and Dangerous blog, which like I said inspired the title of Unarmed but Still Dangerous, and had sparked a discussion there. Sorry for not putting it here earlier, but Raymond’s blog had been offline for a while .