Sound economic policy

Dear Mr. Bush, Speaker Pelosi, and Senator Reid;

The National Debt isn’t a golf score — the lower it goes, the worse off we are. Neither is it a charge card with an unlimited balance. And while a $300 check would be nice, I’d rather earn it though the fruits of my labor rather than borrow it at interest from the coffers of the Chinese.

You have absolutely no idea how to balance a budget, do you? You can’t spend like a fiend and not have some plan for where the money’s going to come from. And accumulating debt isn’t a sound source of revenue — it’s a good way to hamstring the next generation at the very LEAST. If I were to budget the way the federal government does, I’d be on the welfare that you so vehemently abhor.

You want to fix things? Fine. Balance out the tax structure so that the top 40% of earners pay more taxes than the bottom 40%. Roll back the Bush tax cuts. Increase the capital gains tax. Fix the healthcare system so that at the very least I don’t have to pay $300 a month for my medication. If nothing else, end that fucking war.

Consider this a final notice: anyone who votes for that “stimulus” package will automatically lose my vote in the next election, even if it means I have to write in ‘Mickey Mouse’ on the ballot. I’d rather have a government that works, even if it’s imaginary.

Get the hell back to work,
Grant Dobbe

The Center of the Internet

I’ve got this thing for symmetry. I love the hubs of wheels, I trace the patterns of ceiling fans in my mind, and I have this unconscious habit of identifying the center of anything I look at.

It doesn’t matter what it is, either. I look for the center line and midpoint of bananas, candles, throw rugs, tables, remote controls — you name it, I just do it. Everything. Even the internet. It’s something I’m in nearly constant contact with; I make my living on it, and it is a relatively large part of how I live my life. That’s why when I think about the internet, I think of as its center.

It’s not a shiny or fancy site by any means. It’s not even a functional thing; its sole purpose is to be a URL that can be used in documentation and teaching. But it pops up everywhere in documentation, in default configuration files, all over the place in the bowels of the internet. If you look long enough, all of those links and references and pointers all lead back to that one simple address.

Just like the spokes of a wheel leading to the hub. And it makes me really happy.

What have we become?

Waterboarding is the practice of strapping someone to a plank or
board, placing a rag over their nose and mouth, and then pouring water
over the rag until it is soaked and no air can get through. The person
is forced to breathe water, which enters their lungs and causes intense
pain, and can damage the lungs or even kill a person if done long enough.

It’s brutal, it’s cruel, and the Government of the United States
thinks it’s a good way to make people talk. I don’t. And my new goal is to spread the word and educate as many people as I possibly can so that we don’t treat the term “waterboarding” like we would the term “parallel parking”.

A question for anyone looking to hire a freelance web professional

Normally, I’m pretty laidback and easy-going, but I see this on Craigslist more and more and it just bothers me.

If you need a website built or designed, and you want to hire a freelancer, you’re gonna need to trust us. I look at postings all the time that say stuff like “must be local”, or “must work from my office for this project”, and I don’t really see a good explanation as to WHY you want this.

I want to work with you. I want to help you make your ideas and products come across to your clients. You most likely want to reach clients across the country, or even the world, regardless of their location.

So, if you’re willing to take money from a client who’s not in your office, why aren’t you willing to work with someone who isn’t?

Laziness is a Desirable Trait

I use open source because I’m lazy.

Not in that I don’t want to work, or in that I cut corners. I’m talking about the kind of laziness that breeds efficiency. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever ordered take-out while moving into a home or apartment, or worked as part of a study group — it just makes sense to do it that way.

It turns out that it’s not all that uncommon a trait in programmers, developers, sysadmins, and geeks in general. It’s the reason why services such as SSH and VNC were written (why walk across the building or drive across town every time you wanted to modify a server setting?). It’s why we have modern object-oriented programming languages, and why every modern language used in software development has a shared library of common functions and data structures: C++ has the Standard Template Library, Perl has CPAN, PHP has PEAR, and so on. It’s common sense, really — there’s really no sense in building your own wheel if you already have one available to you.

The geek-minded laziness I refer to above also does another interesting thing: it inspires community. Hence, open-source software. If I want to put up a website with good, secure, well-written code that I can build on and maintain easily, chances are that I’m not the only person who wants to do the same thing. And if, instead of building our own content-management system or blogging software from scratch for every website that we ever create, we pool our resources and build some software for all of us to use, it becomes incredibly easy to set up, customize, and maintain our websites. When we contribute our changes and fixes and methods back to the community of people that want this software, the entire process becomes even easier.

We reap mutual benefit from not trying to reinvent the wheel (CMS software, in this case) over and over again, so we work together to build and mass-produce a bunch of really nice, really well-built wheels. And by making the plans for the wheels available (source code), we make it easy to modify, customize, and improve those wheels. It’s not just limited to wheels, either — it turns out you can build a lot of tools this way.

That’s why you see software like WordPress and Drupal used all over the place, and more modular add-ons for both of those than anyone could have ever imagined. That’s why I balk at building a custom PHP-driven online storefront when I know that Drupal and its e-commerce module can do the job better, if not just as well. And it’s the reason that when I find a bug in a Drupal module or a WordPress plugin, I always try to fix it and post the patch on the appropriate forum: so that when I encounter the problem again, I don’t have to retrace the steps, and neither does anyone else.

It actually turns out to work pretty well for everybody this way. Imagine that you’re my client. Would you rather have me build you a site entirely from scratch for $5,000 and have to come back to me every time you wanted to add a feature or fix a broken page, or have me build a site using one of the software suites above for $1,200 and go to whomever you want when it come time to upgrade or fix something (or even better, do it yourself for free!)?

It means that I have to work much more to make a decent living, but it makes life much simpler for everyone else in the long run — myself included. Every website, server, desktop, handheld device, cell phone, and toaster that’s built on open-source software is simply easier to work with and maintain, which means that it costs less to work with and maintain.

Which means I can keep being lazy. 🙂