Throw out the first segment, and this is one of the best Bad Voltage episodes yet.
It’s not that the first segment sucks (well, for certain values of “suck”), but it pales in comparison to the rest of the show.
I can understand the frustration. There was a recent rant by Linus Torvalds about a pull request submitted against the kernel that was unnecessarily obtuse. As the pressure mounts to get more and more code out faster and faster, not only are novice programmers being asked to do more complex tasks, they are relying more and more on frameworks and libraries to do them.
While I am not a coder, I do view the writing of code as an art form, and I like code that is artistic: beautiful, clever and functional. I can remember many years ago visiting an especially ugly page on a government website, and when I looked at the source I found it had been generated by Microsoft Frontpage. Yes, that tool would create a web page, but in no way will the code be beautiful or clever, or in this case, functional.
I was not sure if this rant applied to IDEs. Almost all OpenNMS code is done in Eclipse. I think I’m the only one who uses vi, along with healthy amounts of recursive grep. We also use a lot of libraries. Why reinvent the wheel? Of course, this has caused the size of the OpenNMS application to balloon, currently pushing more than half a gigabyte. But space is relatively cheap and time matters, so why not?
I thought it very telling when Aq decided he disliked code that involved any level of abstraction above what he was using. It reminded me of the old George Carlin joke that anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac, while anyone who drives slower than you is an idiot. I did like it when they reminisced about classic code that was very compact and just plain fast. These days we trade speed of completion for speed of execution. My own memory is of running Mac OS 6 on one double sided (800K) floppy. I could put the O/S, MacPaint, MacDraw and MacWrite all on one disk will about 100K left for my files. I couldn’t afford a Mac back then (they ran about US$5K) but the school had ones you could use and all I needed to carry was that disk.
The next segment talked about the Blue Yeti microphone. I bought one of these specifically for the time I was on Bad Voltage, so there must be something in the water about this show and owning one. I was a little confused, however, when the segment starts and Jono states he bought his as a travel mic. This sucker is huge, and as I like to travel as light as possible I can’t imagine dragging it around. However, as the segment continues, it is obvious we are talking about the same mic.
It is a great device. While I like getting input from the gang on which toys to buy, my go-to source for tech advice is The Wirecutter, and the Yeti is their microphone of choice as well. If you plan on recording for the Internet, you should seriously consider getting one of these.
It is the third segment that I thought was brilliant. I’m not sure who came up with the idea, but the discussion centered around ethics programming in self-driving cars. While I disagree with Jeremy that this is something that will need to be figured out before these vehicles become mainstream, it will be a question in need of an answer as they mature.
The scenario offered is this: You are in your self-driving car going along a mountain road. Suddenly, you turn a corner and there are five people in the way. Assuming the car can detect this, should it continue on, protecting the passenger but possibly killing the five people, or should it drive over the side of the cliff, killing the passenger but saving the people in the road?
Wow – what a neat question.
I have no idea of the correct answer. It did dawn on me (as it did the gang) that if the solution was to sacrifice the passenger that pranksters would be more than happy to jump in front of these cars just to see what happens, and I think in at least those models aimed at higher end consumers, they may tout that passenger safety has been programmed into the system to be paramount.
It was a real “grown up” question and I think spawned one of the better discussions ever done on the show.
I was surprised no one brought up Spock’s death speech, “The needs of the many, outweigh … (the needs of the few) … or the one” but Aq did reference the I, Robot movie so he gets points for that.
The final segment concerned the UK government’s decision to put pressure on technology providers to eschew strong encryption in favor of either weak encryption or some sort of back door. Apple has stood up and stated that, if enforced, they would stop selling their products in the UK. It was scary to think about this, since no elected official in any company would want to be labeled as the guy who stood in the way of someone getting an iPhone. Bryan pointed out that the market capitalization of Apple is roughly US$700B, putting it at about 25% of the UK’s GDP (with its fifth highest GDP in the world), and so that threat carries a lot of weight.
This was another “big boy question” and I liked the discussion. Should anyone announce that a back door exists in a popular technology, you can bet the bad guys will throw everything at exploiting it. It’s just not a good idea, although it isn’t surprising that it comes from the UK, a country known for the ubiquitous use of CCTV (on a side note, they have also started using traffic cameras that track you between points and if you exceed the posted speed between them, you get ticketed.)
Of course, there is the thought that a private company like Apple has the ability to sway governments, but no one minds the 800 pound gorilla when it is on your side.
During the outro the guys announced they are returning to SCaLE next year to do a Live Voltage show. These are awesome and shouldn’t be missed, and they have room for nearly 1000 people in the venue so expect it to be crazy. Plus, if you visit the site you’ll see Bryan Lunduke right on the front page next to Cory Doctorow – which I think is pretty cool. Outside of Live Voltage, he’ll be doing a presentation on why he hates freedom, I mean, why Linux sucks.
While we aren’t sponsoring that show, OpenNMS is a gold sponsor at the conference, so be sure to go and stop by our booth.
Anyway, the lads did a great job this week. If you have never listened to Bad Voltage, this would be a great one with which to start.