Readers sound off.


Parallel Computing

Your column in the September 2006 issue [see Nicholas Petreley's “Parallel Is Coming into Its Own”], and the issue itself, was inspiring, and I found myself blogging away on the topic: (bitratchet.prweblogs.com).


When Good Enough Is Good Enough

Great comments by Dave Taylor [see Dave's Work the Shell column in the September 2006 issue]. I think his Blackjack script exercise was perfect for the large audience he addressed, no matter what some purists think about the endless pursuit of “perfection” in an imperfect world.

Those of you as ancient as I may recall something Gerald Weinberg passed along in The Psychology of Computer Programming (ISBN 0-442-29264-3): “...it is often and truly said that 'any program that works is better than any program that doesn't'” (p. 17 under section “Specifications” in my version).

Give 'em hell, Dave. You're right on the money in my book.

Harold Stevens

64-Bit JMP for Linux

FYI: in the September 2006 issue, Erin Vang of SAS states that R is the only statistical software available on the Linux desktop other than SAS's JMP product. However, as I'm surrounded by folks who use SAS's main competition, I recently went looking for open-source tools that might work well with SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences). My search turned up the GNU PSPP page (www.gnu.org/software/pspp), which claims:

PSPP is a program for statistical analysis of sampled data. It interprets commands in the SPSS language and produces tabular output in ASCII, PostScript or HTML format.

PSPP development is ongoing. It already supports a large subset of SPSS's transformation language. Its statistical procedure support is currently limited, but growing.

Although perhaps not as far along as other efforts, there is at least one package other than R. (I cannot comment much on how well PSPP compares to JMP or R, as I have only recently installed it and have never worked with either R or SAS software.)

Kevin Cole

The Dark Age of Linux Journal

First, let me make it quite clear that I have no intention of canceling my subscription. Being a reader, collector and subscriber of LJ since its very beginning is a honour that I will not give up that easily. But after reading an extensive letter of support in last month's issue, I felt compelled and obligated to write an as long (or longer) letter pointing to the fact that this is the worst age ever of this magazine. An age, for example, when Marcel Gagné's articles are not any longer the by-far-worst articles in any issue.

In that regard, up to a few months ago—before these Dark Ages of LJ—reading “Monsieur” Gagné's articles was a simple exercise of skipping the first two annoying, dull and repetitive paragraphs of his every article. From what it seemed, Mr Gagné uncreatively cut and pasted ad nausea his same little wine cellar story from previous articles. Fair enough—all one had to do was skip straight to the third paragraph, where the “good” (or at least the “better”) part could be found.

Nowadays, to find a “better part” of his article, one must skip two or three pages and usually a comfort happens only if one can find a good advertisement—that is, not necessarily will he/she find comfort in the next also-bad article.

But Monsieur Gagné's articles have never been the chief car of the magazine. Such role is more reasonably expected from, for example, Jon “maddog” Hall, whose article this month could only be more patronizing than it is offensive to a certain “unknown” Portuguese-speaking country. Apparently, Mr Hall has visited many countries in the world, but he hasn't learned much about them, and he still belittles their inhabitants as uncivilized, uncultured and almost retarded people. In fact, I dare not ask which country he is referring to in his article out of fear that it may be the one where I was born. Nevertheless, the article in question was so childish and the dialogue reproduced therein was so painfully disconnected, pointless and senseless that I may now finally understand the reason for Jon Hall's middle (nick) name.

When things seemed bad enough, I found Dave Taylor's excuses on why his codes are so badly inefficient and yet that one should still buy or read his books and articles. In a pathetic attempt to justify himself and his apparently highly criticised lack of programming skills, Mr Taylor went over and over arguing that being a bad programmer and trying to find the easy way out is “okay”—as long as you make the proper citations, as he did in his cheating episode at UCSD.

His attempt to justify the unjustifiable could only be as degrading to oneself as the Chief Editor's, Nick Petreley, constant rebuttals to the now-so-common letters of criticisms. After all, a Chief Editor who spends his time and talent (?!) to write notes in defense to what he had already defended in the first place (in the original article) only shows a pattern of patent and spread unpreparedness of the current staff at LJ.

I cannot really expect you to publish this letter, and I can only hope that you won't publish its parts in a distorted way in which I may sound dull and unprepared. However, I would be happy to know that my words above made you think, at least for a brief, unexpected moment. That my criticism made you (and the others to whom I am Cc'ing this message) re-evaluate what can be wrong in the magazine's new direction.

I, as anyone else, cannot assign all the blame of the current errant trend to one single person. However, when people waste pages of the magazine defending themselves—as Mr Taylor did and the CE frequently does—one starts to wonder about the coincidence of dates between this new Dark Age and the change of personnel. Either way, I still long for the days when Mr Gagné's article would—despite the boring beginnings—concentrate on the importance for our health of breaks after long uses of the computer and the availability of many software to help with that. Instead, we now find endless reports of one silly and specific Disney-like software for that purpose. Or still, two articles in the same year talking about “cool applets for KDE”. I miss the days when Jon “maddog” Hall's stories in the magazine would justify his middle name solely because of his daring, bold and yet brilliant views of a different future for the software industry, rather than his current picturesque experiences with last-century native people of “Neverland” (at least, that is how Mr Hall seems to imagine them).

Bottom line is: I hope this magazine finds its way back to being a technically rich magazine, on which people, like me, relied to read good articles: nothing more, nothing less, nothing possibly better.

Guilherme DeSouza

Dave Taylor replies:

Thanks for your note and your passionate enthusiasm for the publication, Guilherme. I can appreciate your desire for a more technical publication and your perspective on our editorial content, though I don't agree with it. Linux, and, by extension, software development itself, is about far more than just the lines of code. As demonstrated by the increasingly political Open Source movement, software now is the cog in the machine of commerce and as the journal of record for the Linux community, I'm proud to help offer perspectives on both the detailed geek stuff of coding and the rest of the picture.

Jon “maddog” Hall replies

I am a little shocked that you felt my article was “patronizing and offensive”. The scene, by the way, is Brazil. I mention real towns in it, real places and even real people (although I sometimes substitute people from Mexico and other countries). I follow this habit from one of my favorite cartoonists of all time, Walt Kelly (Pogo), who often put the names of people he had not seen for a while in his comic strip, just to let them know he was thinking of them.

The column is supposed to impart a transferral of knowledge. Most of the time the knowledge comes from me, but I also try to bring in some of the issues from the other people. A lot of the people I am “talking to” in the magazine are younger people, whose life skills are not as vast as an older person, and this would be true in any culture. If this appears to you to be condescending to the culture, I assure you that it is not meant to be that way.

I have also had people thank me for trying to bring back to the technical and commercial world the fact that Free Software is supposed to be fun.

Finally, I chose the place and the setting because I like going there, and I like the people. I will be going to an event called OpenBeach in Florianopolis, Brazil (the setting of the Beachhead) for the fourth time this year.

Marcel Gagné replies:

I write for a very different audience than Mr DeSouza would have me address. I believe that Linux and open source is good for people, all people, including the ones who want to do cool things with their desktops. I've written six books, several hundred articles and I'm coming up on seven years of Cooking with Linux. I keep writing Cooking with Linux, complete with Francois and my wine cellar, because people enjoy reading it. If they didn't, I would take a different tack. With a very few exceptions (such as Mr DeSouza), I get nothing but praise for my articles.

I want everybody using Linux, not just hard-core techies. Computers aren't magic and neither is software. Sometimes I feel that if we can't reach out to the average person, explain things in simple terms whenever possible, and make it fun for them, we aren't doing our jobs right. If offering up a wine suggestion with every column makes my discussion of desktop backup solutions, multimedia jukeboxes, panel applets, desktop search engines and so forth more fun, then so be it.

Mr DeSouza has every right to express his feelings, whether I agree with them or not (and I don't), but I'm not writing for him. Apparently, none of us are.

Nicholas Petreley replies:

I'll take your advice and decline to defend the fact that I've written rebuttals in response to some critical letters.


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