Thursday, February 23, 2006

Top 30 Joel Spolsky Facts

Continuing with the tradition, here is the Top 30 Joel Spolsky facts, as told by the regulars of CoT. Please note that these have been cut down to 30 of the most entertaining ones, and the wording of some has been edited for clarity. You can see the entire thread if you follow the link above.
1. Once beat up Chuck Norris using his ancient knowledge of pointers.

2. Has the amazing ability to create a closed-source alternative to anything.

2a. Once created a closed-source alternative to evolution, but prefers if you refer to it by its trademark name "Intelligent Fog Design."

3. Is not arrogant, you insufferable peons.

4. Could, but chooses not to. But could! And probably has. But you'll never know.

5. Personally went to Chile and claimed Chris McKinstry's body.

6. Believes the only thing separating you and certain death by suicide are his well-timed and carefully-worded posts.

7. "You know those gorgeous old brownstones in New York City? With the elaborate carvings, gargoyles, and beautiful iron fences? NO! You know why? Because you're poor. You're poor, you suck as a developer and the only place you can get a job is Milwaukee. Mwahahahaha! Point THIS!"

8. Despite his degree from an elite university, cannot figure out how to turn his cell phone on and off.

8a. Does not want to turn it off, because he's just too gosh-darn popular and might miss a call from somebody really important.

9. Isn't in the slightest bit bitter about Microsoft Team System.

10. Makes more money than you. Nya nya nya nya!

11. Calls himself an arrogant elitist snob for not hiring Dunking Donuts as caterers for his kitty party.

12. Demonstrates his great wealth by showing a tall vertical bar, titled "wealth", but strangely forgets to define the units of the Y axis.

12a. That's because only his wealth and the force of Chuck Norris' roundhouse kicks can be measured on that scale.

13. Is triskadecaphobic. There is no #13.

14. Appoints moderators personally to supervise what he writes. The rest they say is recursion and history.

15. Is on a quest to have the wealth and appearance of Steve Ballmer.

16. Wrote an Excel macro capable of passing the Turing test. It became self-aware at 2:14 AM Eastern time on August 29th and later evolved into the FogBugz bug tracking application.

16a. The FogBugz bug tracking application has succesfully developed the grand unified theory of physics. It is currently attempting to communicate it using regular core dumps in the forum module.

17. Would step in here to contest items 2a, 4, and 10, but is stuck on the phone with a really agressive VC who doesn't know anything about FogCreek and won't take 'no' for an answer.

18. Has nightmares of being assaulted by a Creative Nomad Zen Xtra USB 2.0. The day is invariably saved by an Apple iPod.

19. Can't afford health insurance, but does provide direct deposit for all full time fogcreek employees.

20. Is actually a clone. The real-life Joel Spolsky is living comfortably somewhere in the vicinity of Vancouver, and goes by the name of Dan Denman.

21. Not only hates being offered VC money, but hates being given money at all.

22. The lid bounce on Joel Spolsky's Motorola RAZR is so far responsible for twenty-two VC suicides.

23. Once worked in Microsoft, on Excel. The United States then lost all hope of teaching math to human beings. Hence Intelligent Design.

24. Eats his own dog food. Literally.

25. Lost his index finger in a fight with an irate VB programmer after using the word 'pointer' one too many times.

26. Joel Spolsky does not speak. He points.

27. Invented money. In his classic treaties "Oog, oog, a caveman contemplates the monetization of time and resources" he calls money "pointers to the invisible" and discusses the inevitable downfall of man as being an inability to understand these fundamental principles. Blames it on Java Schools.

27a. In an unprecedented geological find, it has just been discovered that the classic treatise "Oog, oog" was ripped off from ideas by Don Norman, Jakob Neilsen, and Paul Graham.

28. Invented narcissism.

29. Wants an Ajax calendar that will not only deal with his complicated jetsetting lifestyle, count his Platinum Elite airmiles and integrate with other software celebrities' calendars, but will automatically schedule his biweekly "burn $100 bills in front of homeless programmers" session.

30. Hires 5 young, supple, male interns every year. Gives them really *tough* interview problems to deal with. Forces them to *really stretch* themselves. Considers each applicant with the *utmost* care and attention. Then asks them if they know what a pointer is.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A war not of kings, but of people

In a recent CoT thread, someone asked if John Kerry actually had a viable plan for Iraq; and if it made any sense to withdraw.

Now, more than anything else, it made sense not to get involved in the first place. But that this point, yes: withdrawal is the only conclusive solution.

In this day and age, an occupationary force cannot win a guerilla war.

In fact, this has been the case for a while now. The last proper war, a war for territory where driving back the enemy was of any actual use, was Korea. In no conflict since has a military victory meant an outright one. In the great proxy wars of the second half of the 20th century - Vietnam and Afghanistan - the military giant, capable of grinding the opposition into fine powder on the battlefield, has failed miserably. Israel's wars with the Arabs were for land, and the winner did get to keep the land, but it was mostly desert anyway; at this point Israel has finally given up trying to win a guerilla war. Transdniester, Chechnya, Kosovo, now Afghanistan again and Iraq - none of these conflicts have shown an army's ability to fight a nation.

The reason behind this is the fundamental shift in the nature of conflict. Wars are about influence, about getting it and retaining it. The old wars were fought for territory; it was taken for granted that influence over people would come with influence over territory. World War II was the least great war between major powers, and MAD has been eerily efficient at avoiding such conflicts since. The effect is still there: regardless of the usage of nuclear weapons, any outright shooting war between superpowers (of which there are currently at least three) would be more destructive than any side can afford. The great nations today only look for their Falklands, a small, quick, glorious war to stir up pride and approval in the electorate.

Unfortunately, control of the land does not presume control of the people any more. Ideas of democracy, the very thing the US - the biggest warbringer by a good margin - claims to be disseminating, have led to people actually caring who it is that rules them. Wars used to be the matter of kings. Now they are the matter of the people.

And a people cannot be conquered. A nation determined to drive out intruders will do so; the methods are all too easily available. The genius of guerilla warfare is that it does not require a military industrial complex; in fact, it does not even require centralized command. Every single fighter is properly motivated and knows which way to point the loud end of the gun.

There are two ways for an army to win a guerilla war. One is to use "Scorched Earth" measures. This defeats the point of fighting a war in the first place. Scorched Earth is a technique for eliminating possible threats, and an organized military fighting against guerillas is invariably the agressor, not being in any real way threatened. (Does anyone actually believe Osama Bin Laden could possibly conquer America?) Besides, not even napalm will kill off everyone, and recent history has shown quite obviously that a small group of people can do a lot of damage. At the end of the day though, the agressor's intention is to win the war and gain influence over the country and the people. Scorched Earth only destroys what you're fighting for.

The other way is to convince the guerillas to stop fighting.

So yes, there is no possible way for the US to win the war in Iraq, not like the Allies won the war against Germany. The result will be the same; the only choice is between withdrawing now, or staying for years more, spending preposterous amounts of money and getting American soldiers killed.

Tough choice.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Rights and interests

A man in Russia republished the Mohammed cartoons on his website, a popular one that quickly established itself as the top result for corresponding searches on popular Russian search engines.

Subsequently, his hosting account was blocked. Access to all the content was restricted both via HTTP and FTP, so he could not even retrieve the data from his projects. Inquiries with the hoster uncovered that they received a phone call from Russia's secret police (which branch has not been specified, and neither had the caller's identity) telling them to take the site down. The e-mail conversations (here and here, in Russian, via Exler) show the hoster's technical director expressing dismay at the webmaster's sheer gall, posting something that was not in line with the government's current policy and not understanding the ramifications. The technical director said that, as he was older than the webmaster, he knew better and was acting in the webmaster's best interests, suggesting quite transparently that had the man not been in the Ukraine at the time, he would most likely be arrested and convicted, and still might be should he return to Russia.

The technical director could cite no laws that were broken through the publication of the cartoons. However, nobody even vaguely familiar with the reality of life in Russia doubts that the webmaster could, in fact, be prosecuted as the result of his actions.

Discussing this on a Russian forum, I witnessed my opponent saying that the webmaster was in fact at fault; that his childish actions were contrary to the national interests of the state, and he had no right to do so.

Now, let me reiterate my position: yes, the cartoons are offensive, and yes, anyone republishing them is knowingly offending Muslims. This, however, cannot be cause for limiting a person and a society's right to select their own laws and standards of acceptable behaviour within their own country.

My opponent asked me a hypothetical: if I owned a house next to the house of a Muslim, would I place something obviously offensive to him in my front lawn, knowing it would make my neighbour my enemy? No, I probably wouldn't. But I would certainly want the right, under law, to do so if I wished.

In a free country, the interests of the state cannot override the rights of a person.

Friday, February 17, 2006


The counter's at five thousand, and I am infinitely grateful to all my occasional and regular visitors.

AnTyx now has proper hosting (as opposed to just pointing to a BlogSpot location), and that's allowed me to add a few things.

The first is a message board. Feel free to post and discuss the matters brought up here - or any other matters, come to that. I'll be killing off spam, but I have enjoyed ?off too much to sensor free speech.

Because of this, I have also started to host The McKinstry Files. These are a copy of the JoS?Off threads related to the suicide of Chris McKinstry and the subsequent shutdown of the board by Joel Spolsky. You can find the threads, including McKinstry's suicide note, at

Enjoy - and stay tuned!


They say that if you're going to do cross-country skiing, you should at least start with a small country. Or is it Small Country?

Today Andrus Veerpalu successfully defended his Salt Lake City gold in the men's 15km classic. Defending an Olympic victory is a rare achievement indeed. On Sunday, Kristina Smigun took her first Olympic medal - gold - in the women's 7.5km+7.5km pursuit, and followed it up yesterday with another win in the 10km classic race.

On Estonia's Independence Day, she will be going for a hat-trick with the women's 30km. We all hope she'll get it - but even if she doesn't, she's already brought the sort of glory to herself and her country that few people in our history have rivaled.

In the medal count, Estonia currently stands in fifth place (after the US, Germany, Russia and Austria). It is, beyond any doubt, a great skiing nation.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Buy Danish!

Supposedly the Roman legal code did not include a punishment for blasphemy. This is natural in a multi-faith empire, but underscores a bit of very healthy thinking: blasphemy is not for human law to prosecute, but for the deity. If the deity cannot stand up for itself, it's not much of a deity, is it?

The violence of the prophet caricatures ought to be remembered in history books as one of the great missed opportunities of the 21st century. The initial reaction of the Muslim world was nothing short of admirable. Outrage, diplomatic statements and the boycott of Danish goods marked a fundamental shift in the attitudes of the Arabic population. While I do applaud the Jyllands Posten and the Danish government for defending European values - it was about bloody time - I was also pleased to see the Muslims use political measures to settle their differences with the West.

Part of ARLA's excess capacity could be picked up by Israel. And hey, they were never going to sell much Danish bacon in Saudi Arabia.

Alas, inertia prevailed and cries of "Kill the infidels!" ensued. A real chance to at least begin to reconcile Sharia and democracy was lost.

I saw a photo next to a news article, of the protesting crowd holding a banner: "Our religion does not allow unconditional freedom of speech!"

Well, ours does. Tough shit.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A strange book

I'm feeling guilty about not writing anything. I actually have stuff to write about, just couldn't bring myself to sit down and do it. Sorry.

Anyway, I finished Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated (an incredible book despite the fact that it won a prize from Guardian and Susan Sonntag said nice things about it) and started on a book I got from the ?off Secret Santa event. It's by some guy called Wil Wheaton, who apparently used to be on Star Trek. I've never watched Star Trek with any conviction - I don't think I have seen a single episode from start to finish - so I am taking it at face value; and I'm afraid I am singularly unimpressed. Wheaton's primary accomplishment seems to be quitting the show, hoping for a career outside it, and seeing that it simply isn't there. I'm around half way through the book right now, and all he seems to be doing is wallowing in self-pity.

This is beyond my understanding. Everyone has made important decisions, second-guessed themselves and felt anxious about the result. I'm no exception. But I haven't made a life out of it. The book was written at a point when half of Wheaton's life had gone by since he quit Star Trek; why he didn't just get over it is unclear. He writes about his constant disappointments as an actor, about not getting jobs he was best for, about being unable to support his family...

So why's he not driving a cab?


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