Because illiteracy is cute in politics

As a general rule, we try not to reward idiots for being it.

And so, logically, people try to conceal the fact.

For some reason, it is acceptable for politicians to adopt ambitious technological policies while at the same time admitting that they understand absolutely nothing about technology and IT issues. How does that even work?

In Danish politics, the political parties designate speakers on a number of topics. The environment, social issues, that kind of thing – and IT. The latter has traditionally been a post rewarded to good party soldiers. They are just generally completely clueless on the issue. In what appeared to herself to be a stroke of genius but to everyone else merely appeared a stroke, Social Democrat speaker on IT issues Trine Bramsen wrote a guest blog post encouraging the ” IT nerds” to start dressing nicely and speaking a language other people could understand. She was relieved from her duties shortly after that, only to reincarnate as the speaker on legal rights issues (retsordfører), where she brought up the idea of banning the TOR network because it hampered surveillance by the police.

I am not an IT professional by any means, but on this topic, I think it is fair to say that I am an informed citizen. And so, it is like being part of the IT Crowd:

Is it supposed to be cute? I mean, it is not like any politician would grin, wave the arms and say Well, it is not as if I understand all this economy stuff anywayBut we have a lot of smart people around. Imagine the prime minister doing that? Or I generally think lowering taxes will improve employment, but it is not like anyone actually knows. Well, it is worth a go. 

In my workplace, the decisionmakers I work with who appreciate that they are not completely informed on the issues will simply ask, Is this realistic? – or What are the practical implications of that? - which makes sense. But actually bragging about ignorance?

The latest example which prompted this piece was the trial against Gottfrid Svartholm Warg – also known as Anakata, who some will know as one of the founders of the Pirate Bay (and if not, I very much recommend watching TPB AFK). He is on trial in Denmark accused of having taken part in the break-in on the mainframe of

The Danish Syndrome or why heavy is evil

I have a fetish for statistics, numbers, formulae and technological manipulation.
What this means in practice is that I do online courses to master the intricacies of statistics  and R and spend a significant part of my working day juggling (well, wrangling) Excel. Today, I assisted an extremely competent colleague in converting spreadsheet data into a format where Excel would eat it. Small wonder that it was not easy – it was a weird date sorting… bug, I would say, but I am sure some would call it an eccentric feature. So I had dates defined as, say, 50810 to represent 05-08-2010 – the result of an automated data set from one of our systems and the addition of a pinch of Excel magic insisting that 050810 made no sense as a figure, so – 50810.
Which would not be converted into a date.
I converted the dates by asking Excel to add a 0 if the number only had 5 digits, harvest the first two characters with =LEFT, a hyphen, then the middle two with =MID, then a hyphen and ’20’ and finally the last two with =RIGHT. So, 05-08-2010. After that, no challenge.

Not exactly graceful.

It was the equivalent of trying to do origami by cutting paper and sticking the parts together with duct tape.

I wonder why I get so frustrated with the heavy-handed approach. Is it just because of training teaching us patterns instead of manual approaches? Is it because I am from a small country where maximalist solutions are frowned upon? Or is it simply a case of personal aesthetics?

Rediscoveries in recollection

There are a few things that will get me sitting down to think about life.
One thing is the Leonard Cohen tribute movie (at time of writing available here); another is, curiously, this Xkcd cartoon; and it is all amplified if I consume scotch. Today has seen all three factors, specifically featuring Wilson & Morgan House Malt. So, a couple of words.

First: My life never went a straight line. I have spent a lot of time in a pendulum between envy and disgust towards people who did education, work, career, life partner, children, all that. I broke off one education (cand.negot.), chose another (Russian language, history and literature), did fairly well initially despite being distracted by everything else, then lost momentum – and after that, I felt like a broken spring. I could have been an international-profile economist by now. I suppose I should be grateful I did not manage to. I was unemployed for a while, found work, studied IT support, let it go, went unemployed, studied technical design for a while until I gave it up (I confess I still have a weakness for CAD, at least 2D), and finally got my BA from SDU, the University of Southern Denmark (one should note that I had taken so long to finish that they renamed the university; so my degree is not actually from the university where I began my studies). Somewhere along this process I was engaged, left her, got married, got a divorce and married again. Not because it was unimportant, it was all that mattered when it happened. But life shaped me as much as I shaped it. I finally started working in public administration and have settled into that, even if I have worked in several places on the way.

What I wanted to write about today is a series of epiphanies. I am, you see, a serial spiritual reincarnator.
I grew up in a house with that diffuse combination of left-wingers who like the notion of the people (The People) but have little respect for the individual representatives of the tribe. We were smarter. And yes: My mother was very intelligent, and my father is. But there is a sort of equivalent to The White Man’s Burden when you feel it is your responsibility to educate. When my ambition broke, I got to talk to a lot of interesting people; I may have experimented with life at university, but nothing compared to what happened when I was sent into the unemployment projects. But characteristic for all the stages: I came to a realization of what I was and was not. When I was studying IT support, I saw that I had to get back to my studies; I remember sitting at university one afternoon, looking at the sun through the trees – it was in the countryside, and even if it was a huge block of concrete with rusty plates, it felt like home for a very long time; and I remember sitting there in late summer, thinking I had to move on. I found a new me.
It seems the definition is important. I have rediscovered myself as a bureaucrat. I am curiously fascinated with the term. I certainly discovered I was not to become a scientist. My good friend Kim showed the talent for the task. He deserves every scrap of success he ever gets – deserves as in having earned it through hard work. I could not do that. My mind is restless (which is a poetic dodge; my concentration is just all over the place) – he has the patience and focus, which I acknowledge and occasionally envy.

I find MOOCs seductive. I know that I am not going to be a scientist. But the method and being presented with new ideas has a magnetic effect on me. I have studied statistics, networks, rhetoric and other topics with Coursera, Stanford EdX and Open2Study. They are great.

hammer_lilleI came to a conclusion. That I will invent, reinvent and re-conclude what I am. I am fascinated with headlines and definitions, but they will only go so far to cover what I am. So I thought of three things that I want to do and always wanted: To create, shape and defend.

To create – to decide to leave behind something I have created. It can take on many shapes, physically and intellectually. A carpenter as much as a school teacher – but important because you are not just a tourist in this world, you create something that will last. It is easy to create something of use for today and tomorrow, and it is worthy to have a job to feed and shelter yourself and your family. But we should all try to leave something enduring behind. An opus, if you will.

To shape – to strive to give the world the shape it deserves. To shape is also to reshape, to split the unhealthy and and unconstructive. There are thoughts in us and around us which are not worthy. There are values in us which have not found their final form, and the creativity around is presents a potential.
So everyone has an obligation to shape and reshape oneself and the world around us in a direction of equilibrium and sustainability, so the shortsighted, the selfish and the narrowminded does not defeat us. After having children it is more clear than ever that we – as well as the world around us – have not found our final form.
Creation is ongoing, and we are all subjects and objects – with an obligation to strive for the best in ourselves and others.

To defend - to acknowledge the value of oneself and the people around you in a way to also understand the necessity of stopping the people and ideas that present a threat to you and your loved ones.
If you create your life’s work and shape the world around you, there will be those who try to pressure you – perhaps because what you do threatens their view of the world, perhaps they feel your ideas are misguided. Understanding is not the same as allowing others to decide for you. So you or the people you love are threatened on your life – physically as well as in your views – you have the right to say stop! – and resist.

Update on Slackware

From the under-staffed Department of Updates, I should note that I have expanded my page on Slackware a bit – I thought it would be useful to write down what I do post-install to make it usable, to lighten the load of it a bit and to make it prettier.

A bit of standard Slackware in there, and some general distribution goodies.

Digital hoarding

I sometimes feel that I have the online equivalent of people who just shop to have stuff. I have an archive of articles I need to read – print to PDF just to be sure – if I had not deleted hundreds of hours, I would have podcasts to fill this year and the next.

I download Linux ISOs and feel I should keep them because someone may drop by who would need the latest Opensuse, Fedora, Slackware, Arch, Frugalware et cetera.

I find Youtube videos – documentaries, shows and movies I want to watch. I download them just to be sure.

If I focused entirely on all the stuff I have pulled down and have stored, I would be occupied for a month.

I was considering getting a new hard drive – my latest Thinkpad came with the 60 gig drive that was the default when it was new.  It may just be a good idea that I do not.

Richard Feynman: The pleasure of finding things out

The people who have been reading this place pretty much from the start will remember that I did a review of the Richard Feynman biography; I would like to share a brilliant talk by Feynman – it is an interview from the BBC published by The Science Foundation. It is longer than your average Youtube video, but Feynman is so intelligent, charming and uncompromisingly scientific in his mindset that this is a good view.

The file is available for download here.

FSF Free Software Awards 2012: Jonathan Nadeau

The FSF announced they were receiving nominations for the Free Software Awards 2012.
I have sent the following nomination of Jonathan Nadeau:

 

I nominate Jonathan Nadeau for the 15th Annual Free Software Awards.
Jonathan has put great effort into promoting and advancing the efforts towards accessibility on GNU/Linux systems. The FSF will know him for this effort as part of his internship - http://www.fsf.org/about/interns/2011/jonathan-nadeau.

Jonathan has repeatedly stressed the importance of this effort as part of the Free Software ecosystem in particular and technological infrastructure in general. As a natural consequence of his focus on Free Software, he has worked with Trisquel GNU/Linux on this.

He has been the driving force behind establishing the Accessible Computing foundation – http://accessiblecomputingfoundation.org/ – for the purpose of promotion, fundraising and to serve as a rallying point for debating the implications of the issue.

Talks like his very powerful presentation at Ohio Linux Fest – http://frostbitemedia.org/node/156 – show his dedication, his humor and an always positive approach to this challenge, mixed with a firm belief that these efforts could change the lives of people all over the world as an example of how free software can help people overcome their challenges and help them provide for themselves.

The nomination of Jonathan Nadeau for this award is also a nomination of the ACM – and of Free Software as a driving force for freedom.

Sincerely,
Morten Juhl-Johansen Zölde-Fejér

My name is my name!

So as of recently, my name is my name.
That would be fairly straighforward for everyone else, but no such simple things in my household.

I married my Transsylvanian Hungarian wife, now Juliánna Juhl-Johansen Zölde-Fejér, in September of 2007. We merged our names, and my Juhl-Johansen and her Zölde-Fejér came together as something which was ours entirely – and, of course, as some have pointed out, would be a challenge to pronounce correctly in its entirety anywhere. Be that as it may, it is ours, and it is not likely to be lost in a crowd.

However: A while after we were married, she had to get a new passport. And so, she ran into some difficulties. As it turns out, the Danish naming conventions – which had obviously been used, because the state church is actually the name registrar in Denmark – offered some challenges. Thing is: In Danish, you have a first name and a last name. Anything else is your middle name. Not so in Romania – Transsylvania, which was a part of Hungary, is now part of Romania, and no, it is unlikely you can come up with a Dracula joke we have not heard – They have first names and last names. So her Danish name document was rejected. After a bit going back and forth with various authorities on this, we simply pulled out my old last name, and after that was done, I was registered in the public registry as Morten Zölde-Fejer. They had also pulled the last accent.

After our return to Europe after living in the States in 2010, we started the process with my wife applying for a Danish citizenship. Since she was from a Hungarian family, she was not particularly connected to her Romanian citizenship; she had also never been part of the country of Hungary, so being a part of this country seemed equally irrelevant. We had come back to Denmark and decided to stay here, at least until the children are older.

And so, she became a Danish citizen recently, after a longer process. And at last we could actually go through the process of syncing up our names! So the name you see at the top, here – it is actually my name now. Again. Still. At last.