November 19, 2011

“I knew it, I’m surrounded by assholes.”

Dark Helmet: Who is he?
Colonel Sandurz: He’s an Asshole, sir.
Dark Helmet: I know that! What’s his name?
Colonel Sandurz: That is his name, sir. Asshole. Major Asshole.

Have I mentioned that the No Asshole Rule has profound geopolitical implications? It’s an idea that’s been rattling around my head for a while.

JWZ links to the question:

In Egypt earlier this year, the cops refused to attack the people. East Germany and then the whole Iron Curtain collapsed when the local cops wouldn’t smash heads when Erich Honecker ordered it. What about America? Where are the cops who walked off the job rather than attack their neighbors drowning in debt and despair?

Daniel Davies provides the answer:

And so that brings me to a useful piece of advice for any readers who are aspiring dictators, one that the Communists knew, Suharto knew, but that some modern day tyrants seem to have forgotten. There is always a level of civil unrest that outstrips the capability of even the most loyal and largest regular armed forces to deal with. In all likelihood, as a medium sized emerging market, you will have a capital city with a population of about five or six million, meaning potentially as many as three million adults on the streets in the worst case. Your total active-duty armed forces are unlikely to be a tenth of that. When it becomes a numbers game, there is only one thing that can save you.

And that is, a reactionary citizens’ militia, to combat the revolutionary citizens’ militia. Former socialist republics always used to be fond of buses full of coal miners from way out the back of beyond, but the Iranian basijis are the same sort of thing. Basically, what you need is a large population who are a few rungs up from the bottom of society, who aren’t interested in freedom and who hate young people. In other words, arseholes. Arseholes, considered as a strategic entity, have the one useful characteristic that is the only useful characteristic in the context of an Egyptian-style popular uprising – there are f—ing millions of them.

This is my advice to any aspiring dictator; early on in your career, identify and inventory all the self-pitying, bullying shitheads your country has to offer. Anyone with a grievance, a beer belly and enough strength to swing a pickaxe handle will do. You don’t need to bother with military training or discipline because they’re hopefully never going to be used as a proper military force – just concentrate on nurturing their sense that they, despite appearances, are the backbone of the country, and allowing them to understand that although rules are rules, there are some people who just need a slap. The bigger and burlier the better, but when the time comes they’ll be fighting in groups against people weaker than themselves, often under cover of darkness, so numbers are more important than anything else. The extractive industries are indeed often a good source, as are demobbed veterans (Zimbabwe) or the laity of an established religion.

I think this is my new rule for assessing the stability of any dictatorship around the world, and I am on the lookout for any Francis Fukuyama-style book contracts. The key factor in determining the survival of repressive regimes isn’t economics, religion or military success. It’s arseholes.

If you’ve been reading the news lately, this may sound familiar. It’s that sentence near the end there – “The bigger and burlier the better, but when the time comes they’ll be fighting in groups against people weaker than themselves, often under cover of darkness, so numbers are more important than anything else” – that makes it so horribly prescient.

January 7, 2011

A Note To My Business-Niche Cohabitants

Filed under: a/b,academia,awesome,business,future,interfaces,vendetta,work — mhoye @ 3:29 pm

You Shouldn't Be Rapping

My little startup is moving along quite nicely, have I mentioned that? 2010 was a good year, and 2011 is looking extremely promising, in large part because of the awesome people I’m working with now and looking to hire. But I’d like to clear up one little thing about that; noted Seneca professor Dave Humphrey has recently observed about hiring college students:

But there’s at least one big problem, and it is perfectly reflected in a mail I got recently from a mid-sized tech company:

“…we normally only hire from universities, but might be open to a college student.”

This was followed by an invitation for me to come sing and dance for them, in order to prove our students were worth considering. I’ve done a lot of singing and dancing over the past five years and I’m starting to tire of the intellectual snobbery and education elitism that claims to want one thing, but interviews and hires for something else. Meanwhile, we’re shipping software. Meanwhile, we’re getting real shit done.

Incomprehensible. He even has the audacity to go on to argue that this is somehow a problem! And just I want to make it clear to businesses that operating in those niches in or near my own: this is not a problem at all for you. You should absolutely keep doing exactly what you’re doing. If you could just forget about college students outright, circular-file their resumes and ignore their emails, that would be great.

Trust me, future competitors, just keep doing that. I really appreciate it.

October 15, 2010

Picking Turing’s Pocket

Filed under: a/b,academia,awesome,digital,doom,future,interfaces,science,weird — mhoye @ 1:06 am

Pleasingly Apocalyptic

This is interesting, and stirs some pleasingly cyberpunkish ideas around in my brain. Three months ago, from The Atlantic:

Mysterious and possibly nefarious trading algorithms are operating every minute of every day in the nation’s stock exchanges.

What they do doesn’t show up in Google Finance, let alone in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. No one really knows how they operate or why. But over the past few weeks, Nanex, a data services firm has dragged some of the odder algorithm specimens into the light.

The trading bots visualized in the stock charts in this story aren’t doing anything that could be construed to help the market. Unknown entities for unknown reasons are sending thousands of orders a second through the electronic stock exchanges with no intent to actually trade. Often, the buy or sell prices that they are offering are so far from the market price that there’s no way they’d ever be part of a trade. The bots sketch out odd patterns with their orders, leaving patterns in the data that are largely invisible to market participants.

This week, from various sources including Futures Magazine:

“Two Norwegian traders, Svend Egil Larsen and Peder Veiby, were handed suspended prison sentences on charges related to market manipulation. According to the Financial Times, the two were charged for figuring out how a computerized trading system at a large American firm that is a subsidy of Interactive Brokers would react to certain stock moves and using that information to manipulate the price of low-volume stocks.”

From the The New York Times:

“But Mr. Brosveet says the court would never have ruled the way it did “if it was just a stupid human being” on the other side of the trade. Instead, it was a computer, and “the computer must be held as a responsible actor,” he said.”

The examples of the patterns mentioned in the Atlantic article are fascinating, and are almost certainly exactly doing procedurally what these clever Norwegians were doing (apparently) manually. Except thousands of times a second, looking for a response that’s not clear; I wonder how many of the stock market’s algorithm designers even have threat models, much less models that account for subtly malicious input. I suspect all of them will, by this time next week!

May 4, 2009

Wallace And Gromit: Real

Filed under: academia,awesome,doom,interfaces,weird — mhoye @ 1:34 pm

Exhibit 1: From “A Close Shave“, the Knit-O-Matic.

Exhibit 2: A Sheep-Shearing Australian Robot. From the description:

This robot clipped around 400 fleeces between 1985 and 1993 at the University of Western Australia. The sheep was in its natural state, with no drugs or artificial means of keeping it still. In over 1000 tests with this robot, only a few sheep were seriously injured, and there were many times fewer skin cuts than human shearers inflict because the robot could react in thousandths of a second.

No artificial means of keeping it still besides being held firm in the iron clutch of an automated shearing robot, he manifestly failed to add.

January 6, 2009


Filed under: academia,awesome,life — mhoye @ 5:44 pm


December 23rd:

Hi, my name’s Mike Hoye, and I worked until recently for TVOntario.

I understand, that as per you are looking for one Janet K. Webb, and with a bit of effort I’ve managed to track her down.

Her current mailing address is:

Janet K. Webb

I understand that Mr. Knuth doesn’t receive these messages directly, but if you could pass on my thanks for his work I would be grateful.

Take care, and happy holidays.

Mike Hoye


Dear Mike, Many thanks for sending Janet Webb’s address. (Her name
wasn’t on my page “help.html” but rather on “address.html“, since
I wanted to reward her for reporting an error in The Art of Computer
Programming. Now I’ll be able to put her name on my page “boss.html“.)

Best wishes for 2009! — Don Knuth

I feel like a twelve-year-old girl at a boy-band concert. I can’t decide whether to scream or pass out.

I believe I am now going to buy one of these shirts.

December 23, 2008

The Litmus Of Nerd Cool

Filed under: academia,awesome — mhoye @ 5:19 pm

You might not know this list, but since I’m a nerd and I worked at TV Ontario for a while, a more than a few fellow nerds asked me if I could look into it and see what I could do about that name at the bottom.

It took some doing, but I’ve found her. She graciously let me pass on her address to Professor Knuth this morning.

It might take him a while to respond – he checks his email every three months – but I’m reasonably confident I’ve got the right person. I’ll keep you posted. And in a curious twist of circumstances, she now lives about an hour’s drive from drive from Stanford.

Go, me.

August 9, 2008


Filed under: academia,future,linux — mhoye @ 8:22 pm


I’ll be involved in two of the talks at the Free Software and Open Source Symposium at Seneca this year. I’m giving a presentation on making movies with Ubuntu Studio, the sound and video editor’s variant of the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, and I’m organizing a set of Pecha Kucha presentations as well.

The cool thing about the PK (20×20) format is that presenters don’t control the pace of their slides. The clock starts, and your twenty slides are on the screen for twenty seconds each. Six minutes and forty seconds later you’re done. Even if you’ve got just one, tiny little extra thing to say, even if you’ve just spent the last four hundred seconds telling the greatest knock-knock joke in the history of western civilization and you’re almost at the punchline, you’re done, hard stop. At six minutes and thirty seconds, a cartoonishly long shepherd’s crook emerges menacingly from stage left, threatening to yank you unceremoniously offstage; as the four hundred and first second ticks past you are seized, with the speed of a cobra, your eyes bulge briefly out as you are bent double and snatched from the scene. Your detached collar will be all that remains. It will spin, empty, in midair before it drops to the ground.

Well, maybe not that last bit. But if you’ve got some free or open source software to show off or just something cool (about free software!) that you think the would should see, and you’re ready to deal with that format, we’re soliciting presentations. If you’re interested, send me an e-mail. If you happen to own a very large wooden hook, that would also be helpful.

July 18, 2008

I Call My Discovery “The Procrastamatic”

Filed under: academia,awesome,digital — mhoye @ 12:42 pm

If you were looking for a way to completely destroy any work you intended to get done this afternoon (weekend, month…) and spend it lost in wikipedia, I’ve got your starting point right here.

Fellow nerds, if you have anything important to do in the next few days, like “eating” or “communicating with loved ones”, do not click that link.

March 22, 2008

Because The Stakes Are So Small

Filed under: academia,losers,vendetta — mhoye @ 1:49 pm

Oh student politics. How I love to watch you flop about, so very noisy but so very, very ineffectual. I have so loved watching you grow up into the modern left wing of politics, dealing with issues that are profoundly important and failing spectacularly to accomplish anything whatsoever. It is so much more important that all voices be heard and understood and validated than it is to, say, get a good strong grip on economic policy or the consequences of international trade. I just want to take that beret off your head and ruffle your hair. Stay precious, you little scamp!

The Torontoist reports on a protest turned not so much “ugly” as, the video would indicate, “noisily petulant”. The money quote, I think (are parent-funded, university marxists allowed money quotes? I suppose that they are, provided every letter gets a share) from the website of the group “AlwaysQuestion” who ostensibly organized whatever it was describes the police “assault” on their peaceful demonstration:

“One student was dragged across the floor against his will, while another was pushed and pulled to the point where his shirt almost ripped in two.”

Can you believe it? His shirt was almost ripped in two. It’s hard to imagine police being more thuggish and oppressive than that!

God, you people are so useless, and so self-important. And, one notes, so very very privileged. It’s like watching a peacock puff itself full of air to make itself look larger. It’s hard to believe that  people who’ve focused on dollar returns and getting results rather than feel-good consensus have been getting so much more traction out of the electorate lately than the current generation of self-aggrandizing fops. Who could have predicted that?

Rolling Stone writer Matt Tabibi wrote an eloquent bit about this a while back:

“Anyone who’s ever been to a lefty political meeting knows the deal – the problem is the “spirit of inclusiveness” stretched to the limits of absurdity. The post-sixties dogma that everyone’s viewpoint is legitimate, everyone‘s choice about anything (lifestyle, gender, ethnicity, even class) is valid, that’s now so totally ingrained that at every single meeting, every time some yutz gets up and starts rambling about anything, no matter how ridiculous, no one ever tells him to shut the fuck up. Next thing you know, you’ve got guys on stilts wearing mime makeup and Cat-in-the-Hat striped top-hats leading a half-million people at an anti-war rally. Why is that guy there? Because no one told him that war is a matter of life and death and that he should leave his fucking stilts at home.”

One of the reasons Obama’s speech from the other day was so inspiring to me was it presented me the chance, the slim hope, that there might be somebody out there in the political arena who holds progressive, left-leaning views on the critically important public policy issues of our time without also being a patronizing, cripplingly smug and completely ineffectual ninny.

I have a dream.

March 20, 2008

Ryerson At Night

Filed under: academia,flickr,life — mhoye @ 10:03 pm

Ryerson walkway at night.

Ryerson Campus Buildings

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