Older blog entries for cinamod (starting at number 44)

23 May 2005 (updated 23 May 2005 at 19:23 UTC) »

[Update: A few people asked me to clarify my objections to the new PGO site]

I appreciate the work being put into a new layout. I must say that as aesthetics go, I prefer the old layout to the new one. IMHO, the speech bubbles look cool for about 10 seconds, but the novelty wears off quickly. But there's no accounting for taste, or my lack thereof. After that, I start caring about things like:

  • Minimizing wasted space. I think that the columned text with large whitespace on either side leads to decreased readability.
  • The increase in time the page takes to download and render, since the new site uses lots of images to achieve the speech bubbles and drop shadows.
  • The page working well in any browser, not just recent versions of Mozilla/Firefox. The new site layout looks like smeg using Mozilla 1.6 and earlier, or Internet Explorer 6 and earlier. This doesn't mean that the page must render identically in every browser, just that it must be reasonably readable in any browser. I'm willing to provide more screenshots if you care to correct the problem. For what it's worth, it does seem to look ok in lynx :)

But, you can't please all the people all of the time. Please take my opinion with a grain of salt.

"Sen. Rick Santorum says he 'meant no offense' by referring to Adolf Hitler while defending the GOP's right to ban judicial filibusters." Senate Democrats should invoke Godwin's law and thus end the debate over judicial nominees and filibusters...

This hubbub comes a scant 2 months after Santorum criticized Senator Byrd's remarks comparing "Hitler's Nazis and the Senate GOP plan to block Democrats from filibustering." In his chastizement, Santorum said that the Nazi references "lessen the credibility of the senator and the decorum of the Senate."

Throughout this whole ordeal, I'm reminded of Doc Holiday's famous quote in "Tombstone" - "my hypocricy knows no bounds." This political gesturing is sickening. Washington has become a circus. If the Senators stopped wearning suits, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between CSPAN and "Jerry Springer" anymore.

To follow up on what Marc said:

AbiWord already has some support for the OASIS OpenDoc standard, but the spec is just so daunting (~700 pages) that it would be really useful to have some nice test documents to work from and PDFs to show how they should look. A lot of people have requested it. If we want to avoid OASIS OpenDoc becoming the next "Esparanto" of file formats (i.e. great in theory, no one uses it in practice; and let's face it - DOC, RTF, and company have one heck of a head-start on OASIS OpenDoc), we need to get good support into all the major producing and consuming apps.

Ideally, we are looking for some OpenDoc test cases that are fairly comprehensive and self-contained. That is, we are looking for these kinds of documents:

  • A test that shows everything you can do with fonts, and not much else.
  • A test that shows everything you can do with paragraphs, and not much else.
  • A test case that shows off tables. Nested tables. Table borders. Background colors and images. That sort of stuff.
  • A test case for headers and footers.
  • A test case for the types of fields you can insert.
  • A test case containing some bitmap images. Try to throw in some text wrapping around images cases and maybe a doc or section with an image as its background.
  • A test case showing off footnotes.
  • A test case for endnotes.
  • A list test case. Show off some different types of bullets, numbering, levels of nesting, etc.
  • A test case for floating text/image frames.
  • A multi-columned document.
  • A document with some different kinds of "breaks" - page breaks, column breaks, forced line break, etc.
  • A document with various metadata properties set.

This is a great way for a user/non-hacker to get involved with AbiWord, and we're be really appreciative of any help you'd provide. This is a highly voted on bug and oft-requested feature. Please follow up with Marc if you're interested. Thanks.

In law class tonight, we got to talking about a hypothetical situation (a hypothetical situation in law class? no, go on...) - one where our job was to roll out an information technology infrastructure to a small "third world" country. In this exercise, there was an established, underdeployed, corrupt government-sponsored telco, to which we could do with as we pleased.

The near-uninamous reaction of the class to immediately privatize the telco seemed specious at best, and quite alarmed me. This was in a class of what I had judged to be effectively socialist Harvard students. Maybe I missed something.

I see this attitude more and more every day in the States. The president is arguing that social Security should be privatized. Affordable, universal health care is not a human right. Philadelphia should not set up municipal wifi, lest Verizon lose a few of their precious monopoly-protected dollars. Of course, intelligent debate and discourse is healthy in a republic, but the list goes on. And lately, I feel this attitude has been snowballing.

I think that many are forgetting the astoundingly high opportunity costs that are involved in entering a market; that economies of scale coupled with legislation and corruption on the macro level favor existing players. Even with the "democracy" of capitalism where we allegedly vote with our dollars, economies of scale and information imbalances all too often work against the individual consumer. There are latent costs everywhere in the system - and from where I'm sitting, they almost always favor the incumbents.

I strongly believe that some things should just work (tm) and should just work (tm) regardless of whether they are economically "practical" or not. Poor kids should have food, education, and health care. Even if they live in a rural town and don't know who their father is. Roads, fire departments, water/sewers, electricity, defense. All this infrastructure should just work. On a macro level. 24/7/365.

In these sorts of situations, individual contributors can't go it alone, and hoping for the goodwill (aka free advertising) of large corporations is a non-starter. Sometimes we need to vote and act with our hearts and minds, and not only with our wallets.

The government has done and continues to do good things. It is supposed to be an infrastructure that we as a society can build on. In no small part, it should be an enabler. It is supposed to do the hard things that we can't do individually, but are collectively achievable. Sometimes we need to do the right thing, even if the right thing isn't the cost-effective thing. To this end, government should sometimes be a check against the "free" market and sometimes a carrot that leads the market to the ends society desires.

Whether or not a government-sponsored telco is the right answer to the above problem, I honestly don't know. I do know that a knee-jerk reaction against government involvement, while sometimes understandable, is often innappropriate. Sorry for venting.

Today, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by John Perry Barlow at Harvard University. Barlow's lecture was a biography that traced a path from his small-town roots to his role at the EFF, taking note of how particular life experiences helped shape his views on internet governance and how unlikely circumstances brought some unlikely people together.

Unfortunately, due to time constraints and the class' format, Barlow couldn't go into much detail on the more salient problems "IP" faces today in the States, such as the DMCA, CTEA, DRM, and their kin, nor was there much time for follow-on questions. Here's hoping that we cross paths again :)

Luis' observation, of course, is frought with tragic coincidence. Of course, this is the same company that makes MP3 players and also sued to make the sale of MP3 players illegal. The same company that makes a region free DVD player, and also is the largest member of the MPAA that fights against such things.

In my opinion, Sony's manufacturing arm has always cared about consumers and consumer rights. Their media division, however, couldn't give a bugger-all about consumer rights. Just another example of a MegaCorp whose right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing.

I decided to give Poppler a try today, and I figured that AbiWord was lacking a PDF import plugin. One hour later ($*@! Poppler guys removed pdftotext's source code...) I had this up and running:


It's not perfect, but it's a start and a good foundation to build on top of. Well done, Poppler and XPDF developers!

Marc makes a good point in his most recent blog entry.

Simply put, too many "squeaky wheels" like Eugenia have forgotten that, whenever they ask that a bug be fixed or a new feature be added, they're asking a developer for a favor. My mother taught me that when you ask for a favor:

  • You ask politely, which may mean that you have to ask that person in a special manner (i.e. via bugzilla)
  • You can't be overly-demanding, otherwise you'll be ignored (or worse...)
  • If the favor gets done at all, it gets done on the favor-giver's timeframe
  • If that person is unwilling to fulfill your request, say "thank you" and either go ask someone else, do it yourself, or forget about it entirely
  • If/when the favor is fulfilled, express some modicum of gratitude to its giver.

I guess that it all boils down to the adage that "you'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

I guess my problem is that, while I know Eugenia is a troll, she's brought her own soapbox and megaphone and she's pontificating from on top of it. And people are listening and even agreeing with her. And that really irks me.

The sheer reality of the situation is that your license to use our software doesn't include support. It doesn't include bugfixes. It doesn't entitle you to enhancements. You didn't pay for these things. And you get what you pay for.

By and large, it's not the developers who are screaming from the rooftops that "OSS is a better development model!" or "OSS helps the users out so much more than proprietary software." Those are the words of fanboys, "moguls" and latchers-on. They don't speak for me.

By and large, we developers are here doing our thing because we like doing it. We really do like when others find our stuff to be useful - so much so that we might start paying a good deal of attention to what they're saying. But that doesn't mean that users get to decide how I spend my hour between getting home from work and passing out.

Remember that being a prat makes us like doing our thing less. And that means that not only is whining not getting you anywhere, it's doing both you and the community a disservice. And that won't work out well for anyone involved.

That's not to say that a non-developer can't complain from time to time, file bugs, or request enhancements. In fact, these things are encouraged, provided he/she follows my mother's protocol. It's heart-warming when I see how a bugfix or enhancement helps a user.

But you must remember that when you ask for help, you must tread lightly. You must criticize constructively rather than destructively. All told, you'd do well to heed my mother's advice. Keep a sense of perspective. Read the Expectations document that Jesper Skov and I wrote four years ago. Take a deep breath, and move on. Life's too short.

Luis makes a good point, not much unlike one I made 2 weeks ago on the AbiWord list.

From what I've seen of Pages' UI, it's awful. But Apple gets (at least) one thing right - its users deserve a streamlined, task-oriented interface.

This is a niche that I believe Abi, Gnumeric, and company can thrive in. I believe that we can provide a more streamlined, refined experience than the competition. Word and Excel are clunky behemoths, and OOo is orders of magnitude worse. We can do better.

Pages strives for minimalism, and that's not bad in and of itself. In fact, I think that - more often than not - minimalism is a virtue. I just think that Apple got it wrong. My intuition is that they chose the wrong tasks to orient their application around. But hey, Apple has millions to spend on usability studies, and all I have is a girfriend that yells at me when something breaks :)

It took a bit of time and effort on the part of myself and Martin Sevior, but AbiWord now features a working grammar-checking plugin for English, based on an adapation I did on CMU's link grammar project. The plugin should be considered alpha-quality at the moment. We're contemplating building some sort of plugin loader compatible with OOo's lingucomponent, if they've managed to build a grammar checker yet (this page suggests that they haven't yet, but it's likely outdated).

As always, screenshots speak louder than words, so here's AbiWord 2.3 doing grammar-checking ala MSWord (i.e. ugly green squiggles):


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