Friday, November 28, 2008

ABC (meme)

Everyone's doing this, it seems.

Bug 71728
CSS 2.1 spec
Pork (on MDC)
Hiragana (Wikipedia)
Hunter × Hunter (manga)
I can has cheezburger?
Java Language Specification, Third Edition
I can has cheezburger?
[ School resource ]
[ School resource ]
Bleach (manga)
Planet Mozilla
Questionable Content (webcomic)
[ Anime video site ]
/. (Slashdot)
[ School resource ]
BOFH (web... column)
VGCats (webcomic)
Worse Than Failure
XKCD (webcomic)
YouTube (specifically, part of a walkthrough for Golden Sun)
Zero Punctation (web video columnist)

A public service announcement

If you are a programmer who is writing code that will be released to the world as open source, this announcement is for you.

If your code will be seen by the world at large, one of your first tasks should be to write documentation. Document all functions as soon as you write them (before is also helpful). Provide samples on how to use code as soon as you finish a module (or earlier, if possible). Do not wait until your 5.0 release. Do not wait until your 1.0 release. Do not even wait until your 0.5 release. Do it as you write your code. The sooner, the better.

Users of your code will thank you profusely if you manage to provide comprehensive documentation along with the actual binaries of reference builds. DO NOT make them have to scour source code or bug developers in IRC channels to figure out a simple task like "get all cards from an address book" or "how do I write a synchronization conduit?"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Why I bemoan Tuesday

On Tuesday, November 4, the United States held its presidential and congressional elections. As I am sure most of my readers know by now, the outcome was to elect the Democratic nominee, Obama, as well as increase Democratic gains in the House and Senate (although probably not filibuster-proof). To many, this news was greeted with elation; I do not count myself as one of those people. Let me explain why.

First and foremost, I dislike the results because the United States missed out on an opportune time to make up for its polarization. A Republican presidential victory would leave the government divided, a prospect I feel would be ideal for the government. In lieu of a true multiparty system, we have two major parties who will, by necessary of definition, tend to stake opposite sides of issues and, furthermore, stake them at opposite ends of the spectrum. Giving the entire government solely to one party—actually more, giving it to one with strong enough majorities to evade some mild dissenters—would have the effect of hindering debate.

During the Constitutional Convention, one issue that the drafters considered was the tyranny of the majority. One of the Federalist papers, No. 10, dealt with this topic, mostly by the argument that a larger region would have more diverse parties. However, the two-party system (among other factors) tends to dilute the power of size; another mechanism should be present.

This second mechanism is the tortuous process of law creation. A common criticism of Congress is that it is slow to act. Yet why should lack of speed of action be a bad thing? If one wishes to expedite a bill, one has to cut something out. Almost all of the time it takes to pass a bill is spent on debate. So improving Congress's reaction time would mean that one has to debate less and therefore rely on the bill being correct as it is. We don't regret any rushed actions, do we?

A divided government would force moderation as the Democrats would not have enough votes to override a Republican veto, so a bill would have to amenable to both (and therefore moderate in effect) to pass. With a Democratic president, the extreme positions could show up in laws more easily without general discourse. The large gains in Congress give the Democrats more ability to cut off dissent; thankfully, though, the Senate looks to not be filibuster-proof.

I have discussed enough on the theory of divided government; I also support the Republican candidate on several issues. On social issues I vary between whether or not I agree with McCain, but I do not base my decision on these. Chiefly this is because I think the president has no real power to enforce these opinions on a national level or even be able to have one of these opinions enter into law.

The primary issues I concern myself are more economic in nature. I am an ardent supporter of free trades and no economic subsidies (especially agricultural ones). In terms of policies such as energy, I opine that the government should not favor one alternative over another in terms of, say, research funding, as history has shown the government to be bad at picking winners.

A more generalized position I hold is that I am not in favor of socializing certain fields. One such field is health care; the issue I have here is not one of universal versus non-universal health care but one of privatized versus socialized health care. I am skeptical of claims that socialized (as opposed to privatized) health care would control costs or make health care more efficient. All studies I have seen compare across countries without accounting for factors that would vary between countries.

Another problem with socialization is that government needs restraint. Historically, governments have shown much delight in stealing from funds to pay for general costs, such as Argentina's pension system. Indeed, the United States is quite guilty of this, as our budgetary deficits are partially ameliorated by taking funds from the Social Security Trust.

The final issue I am concerned about is that of regulation. The recent economic and financial crisis has renewed a call for increased regulation. Lack of regulation played little part in the causes of this crisis. In fact, the entire mess started with the mortgage industry, which is the most regulated financial industry. Similarly, calls for caps on executive wages and windfall taxes have increased, both of which are known to discourage innovation. Note how many major oil producers with nationalized oil companies (like Venezuela) are facing problems maintaining output.

On all of this issues, Obama's policies are in clash with my views. He has called to renegotiate NAFTA, create a single-payer health system, enact windfall taxes, and, naturally, called McCain out on supporting deregulation. At least McCain is candid that the economy is his weak point.

And, most importantly of all, he would likely be able to rush his ideas to completion with less discussion. Oh well, we won't get another National Recovery Administration… I hope.