This is BrainLog, a blog by Dan Sanderson. Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained. See the front page and newer entries.

November 2002 Archives

November 28, 2002

John Rawls has died, aged 81.

Mozilla 1.2 has been released! I've been checking Mozilla.org for 1.2's official release pretty much daily for the last couple of weeks. (I could have just installed the beta, but I like products with official "stable" status. :) 1.2 includes some features I've been wanting, including pretty-printing XML, and little things like being able to select and copy text from message headers in Mail. Type Ahead Find is especially cool, and with use may become as necessary as tabs in my daily use of the web.

Anti-aliased font support is now included, but disabled by default for Linux because it requires the xft library. It is enableable with a compile-time option. RPMs are available for RedHat 8.x users, including special easy-to-install RPMs of binaries built with anti-aliased font support enabled. I'm not sure I can recommend it; other anti-aliased fonts on my RH8 system look quite good, but "Bitstream Charter" or whatever it's using is getting anti-aliased even at very small sizes, which is difficult to use. I had to re-tweak my Fonts settings to get something more sensible, and Mozilla no longer seems to be using (or making available) all those TrueType fonts I copied over from Windows just for web browsing (like the ubiquitous Verdana).

Also, if you install via RPMs, make sure you get the nss, nspr, and psm RPMs and install them simultaneously with mozilla-1.2-0 so the dependencies work out-- which I couldn't figure out how to do with RedHat's Package Manager or whatever handles package installation when double-clicking on an RPM. I had to use rpm from the command line ("rpm -Uvh mozilla-*.rpm"). The mail and web development features are also in separate RPMs.

November 27, 2002

If you're the type to early-adopt a T-Mobile Sidekick, you can now get 'em at Amazon for $99 (with service plan activation). That, plus a new T-Mobile service plan with more minutes, almost puts the thing back on the table for me. :)

Someone on a mailing list recommended Bookpool for discount technical books. I haven't tried them myself yet, but they appear to beat my usual bookseller (*cough*) on most counts, often by substantial amounts.

The story of a millionaire spammer.

November 26, 2002

Verizon sues in federal court to block Washington State privacy laws. Verizon wants exemption from privacy laws so that it can sell information about who you talk to, when, and how often, without your permission. The new privacy laws take effect in January, 2003; the bottom of the article has details on the new rules.

Seattle Firsts, some notably true, some highly dubious. (Thanks, Geegaw.)

Many a web application involves editing blocks of text, and many of those involving editing blocks of text that appear on web pages (such as posting BrainLog comments, or even BrainLog entries). To allow for formatting (bold, italics, numbered lists), sometimes web applications let you enter HTML (<b>this is bold!</b>) into your text. For many users, HTML for use in web applications is cumbersome, even in formal publishing situations like journalists posting their articles into a newspaper's database. Some web publishing apps include JavaScript functionality that automatically inserts HTML tags so users don't have to remember what tag does what, though it still isn't What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG); the tags look like tags in your edit box, and become formatting after it is posted.

Many Through The Web (TTW) WYSIWYG text editors have been developed in response to this need in web applications. Unfortunately, due to limitations in common browser functionality, these solutions almost all require Internet Explorer, Java, or Flash. A web app developer must require one of these of the users of their application, and that's not a fun thing to do. Some web apps will attempt to detect the browser type, then dish up an IE fancy HTML editor for IE users and a plain text box for the rest.

Mozilla Composite does not solve this problem. It doesn't even bother. Instead, it goes around the other way, and lets Mozilla users elect to use the Composer WYSIWYG HTML editor for any textarea on the web. It's a neat idea, and I'll probably use it for editing blog entries instead of attempting to build in one of the TTW solutions. TTW solutions are still useful, in theory, but only because browsers lack a common HTML WYSIWYG text editing widget-- which is pretty much what Mozilla Composite is (for Mozilla), with the added bonus that it can optionally be used everywhere.

November 25, 2002

The Sims Online, the forthcoming and highly anticipated 'net-enabled version of the widely successful virtual people game, The Sims, will contain branded McDonald's food kiosks. Consuming McDonald's food will improve your Sims' fun and hunger stats. Shift.com's Tony Walsh thinks we've got them right where we want them.

Dan Castellaneta's first sketch comedy album, I Am Not Homer, is in stores now. I glimpsed Castellaneta on Conan O'Brien's show last week (Wednesday, November 20); he was on with Harry Shearer and they were doing Simpsons voices. Alas, the sound was off when I glimpsed this, and I'm eager to see this appearance in full. I found out later that Nancy Cartwright was on that night as well.

What's worse is that after near-missing Conan that night (who I don't normally watch), I rushed to the TiVo, remembering that NBC used to re-run Leno and Conan in the early morning ("up all night" repeats, or something like that). Alas, only Leno was scheduled to re-run at 3am or so, so I gave up. I did not remember until it was too late that the previous night's Conan is now repeated on Comedy Central several times the next day. D'oh!

Incidentally, Shearer was on to promote his new movie, Teddy Bears' Picnic, which he wrote and directed. As of this writing, 104 IMDb users gave this movie an average of 1.9 out of 10 stars, making it the 68th lowest rated movie on IMDb.

Pine 4.50 has been released. Threading is now part of the official distribution. My favorite minor change: "Fcc copies of sent mail may be automatically marked Seen." I often switch between Pine and other IMAP clients, and it's slightly annoying to have messages I've sent show up in my sent-mail folder as "New" messages.

November 22, 2002

The IBM WorkPad z50 was a sub-notebook (or was it a palm-top?) to beat all sub-notebooks back when sub-notebooks were all the rage. It features a comfortable full qwerty keyboard, a TrackPoint mouse, a small but comfortable 640x480 256 color screen, PCMCIA port, built-in modem, weighs three pounds, contains no moving parts, generates no heat, runs Windows CE, comes with Microsoft Pocket Office (Pocket-Word, -Excel, -PowerPoint, and -Outlook) and Pocket Internet Explorer installed on ROM, uses Compact Flash memory for storage, and lasts up to ten hours on a single charge of its rechargable battery, or even a bunch of AA batteries. Back in 1999 the z50 cost about $1000, which maybe is why they weren't incredibly popular-- that is, until IBM discontinued them and the price dropped to $250.

From Byte Magazine's February 2000 article:

I have come close to tears over a computer twice in my life. The first time was the joy I felt when realizing IBM's sub-three-pound WinCE-based WorkPad Z50 was my dream machine I had been seeking for years. The second time was from frustration when, just six months after I popped $800 for one, IBM discontinued the line and prices dropped 60%-75%.

For a brief period in late 1999/early 2000 there was a buying frenzy, and then they were gone. If you want one, they still surface regularly on eBay from $100-$250. When I heard about the z50 last year, I plunked down about as much to an eBay seller for the sole purpose of playing and composing interactive fiction on the road when I didn't want to risk lugging my 8-pound primary laptop. (See FrotzCE, a z-code player for WinCE.) I adore the thing, but it's a handful. Being an unsupported product, it's difficult to sync with Windows NT/2000/XP without some fiddling. I also couldn't properly upgrade its WinCE 2.11 to a more stable version, nor could I get it to run a bunch of WinCE software (which needed these WinCE MFC DLLs, though they still didn't work). I was able to get it to run a Java Runtime Environment for WinCE, which meant I could at least hack up my own Java apps, and the PocketOffice apps were fabulous for on-the-road office tasks. I especially love the way Outlook reminders will cause the z50 to beep and flash a light even when the unit is turned off and closed.

It is possible, and, if you're the type to try it, even desireable, to install NetBSD on the IBM WorkPad z50. (See also NetBSD's hpcmips page.) Frustrated with trying to get WinCE to do what I want, I seriously considered this, though was hesitant to give up PocketOffice. The required extra hardware (a PCMCIA network card) stalled me on the idea, but as the z50 has sat unused on my desk for many months, I'm still interested. You can even buy hundreds of dollars worth of battery-sucking peripherals like PCMCIA hard drives and such and beef up your BSD install. Linux is also quite doable, but I lost the link to a page about it; Linux MIPS would probably be a good place to start. I like the BSD instructions because they assume minimal extra hardware.

PocketPC City's z50 message boards, while not terribly active, have some good info. Others have had far more luck than I had doing neat things with WinCE. This IBM WorkPad z50 internals page might also be useful.

While I was playing with it, I found a bunch of great free-to-download Microsoft tools for the thing. MS even had a complete developer's kit for embedded/handheld WinCE available free to download at one point, which included the full Visual Studio IDE and everything. I don't know how relevant these are, but they were destined for the bookmark dumping ground, so I thought I'd mention them: Microsoft Windowns Handheld PC Plus Pack download; Microsoft PowerToys for Windows CE.

PocketC, an inexpensive WinCE development language/package. Pocket Scheme, an on-device Scheme programming language/environment. WinCE development tools. WinCE development FAQ. WinCE development Yahoo Group. You can tell this started as a bookmark dumping ground and grew into a full post. :)

November 21, 2002

L and I (mostly L, but I like it too) have been dying for Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 comedy classic Trouble in Paradise to be released on DVD. The only way to have seen it otherwise would have been to get an old laserdisc of '30s comedies and borrow a laserdisc player, or to TiVo it off of Oxygen or AMC when it shows up at 3am every few months. Our very long wait for a version we can own is finally over, and it exceeds expectations. Trouble in Paradise will become part of the Criterion Collection on January 7, fully restored, with commentary by a Lubitsch expert, an additional Lubitsch short, a Screen Guild Theater radio program, and more.

To all the Perl programmers in the audience, I recommend MJD's Perl Quiz of the Week mailing lists. The puzzles are reasonably challenging and fun, and MJD's solution summaries are thorough and thoughtful. If you have the time, try solving some and contributing to the separate discussion mailing list.

Bookmark dumping ground:

November 20, 2002

Infocom games, text adventures of the olden days, came with not just floppy disks containing the software, but trinkets, papers, and other items that relate, somehow, to the game. This might include an issue of a fictional magazine that's present in the game, inside of which might be clues (or copy protection material used in the game), or coins, or maps, or stock certificates, or magic stones, or pocket fluff, or more. Somehow, sometime, these game-included toys earned the collective label, "feelies."

Feelies.org wants to encourage the production of feelies for new games by offering their production and sales services. It's a fascinating idea, and is begging me to write a text adventure just so I can invent and distribute little toys to enhance the gameplay experience.

The 8th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition has completed, and the results are posted.

Bookmark dumping ground:

  • I keep forgetting how to use Apache's mod_rewrite, so I bookmarked its confusing but complete documentation. Much better is this mod_rewrite User's Guide.
  • Seattle Arts & Lectures.
  • I keep meaning to get more into Zope development for some reason. I just love the idea, I guess. ZopeNewbies.net, a weblog for Zope developers. ZopeZen.org, another one.
  • RAWWrite for Windows, for all your floppy imaging needs.
  • Nullsoft's Scriptable Install System is a nice, lightweight, free for all software installation system for Windows. Hey, maybe some day I'll write and distribute Windows apps, you never know.
  • I always assumed that there was an intentional reason why there was a lack of documentation or reference material on the web for Microsoft Visual Basic and the like, but maybe I just didn't look hard enough. Microsoft itself has VBScript documentation online, if for some reason you want your web site to only work with Internet Explorer. (Noted mostly out of fear that I'd have to some day interpret someone's VBScript code and translate it to more portable JavaScript.)
  • The Seattle weblog community at CommunityZero. What, you're not a member?

November 19, 2002

Glengarry Glen Ross is now out on DVD, including commentary from the film's director and a documentary on salesmen. Missing is Jack Lemmon's commentary from the laserdisc edition. An Amazon reviewers says, "You call yourself a Special Edition DVD you son of a..."

The Peon's Guide To Secure System Development.

Call yourself a computer professional? Congratulations. You are responsible for the imminent collapse of civilization. If you atone for your sins now, we may be able to steer ourselves away from a collision course with destiny before it's too late.

While I'm not necessarily without stuff to blog, it'll be a while before I have stuff worth reading. So I think it's about time I revive a BrainLog tradition: the Bookmark Dumping Ground! As I use my blog's queuing feature for all my bookmarking while researching various topics, sometimes the queue needs flushing out. It may not be of any interest to you, but it was of interest to me once, and may be again. The funny thing is that the BDG tends to be about as good as the rest of my blogging anyway, so it's like BrainLog concentrate, unfiltered. So here goes nothing!

November 18, 2002

Theme Park Insider Accident List.

How to build your own digital satelite receiver and video disk recorder. Why would you want to build your own TiVo-like unit? So you can have features TiVo would never implement, like on-disk editing, digital archiving and network-based configuration. Add-ons to this project can make your home-built PVR into a DVD player, an MP3 player, and more.

Alas, the digital satelite part of this is only easy to do outside the U.S. DirecTV and other dish networks have proprietary (non-DVB) broadcast standards. It'd be cool if there were a DirecTV PC card, including a spot to insert an I'm-a-legitimate-DirecTV-customer card, but I'm sure their players have a bunch of mandatory features that'd make such an implementation difficult. In any case, there are plenty of TV tuner cards on the market with Linux support, so if you have straight cable or VHF reception, you can still build a PVR with a bit of hacking.

The hardware necessary is impressively low-key. It's easy to forget that standard television is low resolution, compared to what we're used to on our computers, and it's straightforward to display, record and manipulate TV-quality video images in real-time. Almost any old PC will do, just add the digital satelite receiver card and a remote control unit.

See also linuxdvb.tv and their FAQ.

Thanks to djsinder of the linux-dell-laptops Yahoo group for providing a solution to the "RedHat 8.0 kernel upgrade broke sound" problem I complained about earlier. Driver code patches aren't grandma-friendly, but this bug (see message-- C coders, don't let that be you!) ought to be fixed in another RedHat automated kernel upgrade later down the line.

November 14, 2002

The Perplexing Life of Erno Rubik, originally printed in Discover, March 1986.

Considering buying a digital piano? The Digital Piano Shootout has audio recordings of a variety of digital pianos all playing the same piece, including a performance on a real grand, and a MIDI of the piece to try on your own hardware. My Yamaha CVP-207 isn't directly represented, but comparable Yamaha pianos are.

RedHat, scared of new licensing fees imposed by the owner of the patent for MP3s, decided not to include MP3 capabilities in RedHat 8.0. To fix this, download and install XMMS RPM's for RedHat 8.

November 13, 2002

Wow: The Classic Computer Magazine Archive has complete and semi-complete texts from old computer magazines. Not nearly enough Compute! and Compute!'s Gazette (I was a C64 kid), but perhaps with time.

Because it came up in conversation the other day: How Quartz Watches Work.

Still getting used to Seattle's neighborhoods? Check out the Seattle City Clerk's Office's Neighborhood Map Atlas with a very simple and easy click-to-zoom interface. See also the full detailed city map, the list of neighborhoods, or use Google to search neighborhoods by name, ala site:clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us capitol hill.

November 12, 2002

Alreadly well-blogged, but still worth a look: The Color of Cool, why everything electronic now glows blue.

Ars Technica: Understanding Bandwidth and Latency. I stopped building my own computers just before CPU/motherboard architectures got complicated. (Either that, or it was easier to ignore the complexity, I'm not sure which.)

Cinelerra, powerful no-cost compositing and video editing software for Linux. With Firewire support in RedHat 8.0, home video editing is even freer.

Speaking of visual devices and Linux, I was pleased to discover that the Digital Camera Tool that comes with RH8.0 works flawlessly with my Olympus C3030Z.

And for fairness on the subject of "RedHat Linux is easy to use," I should mention that I had a problem with sound in RH8.0 that was caused by a slightly newer kernel being installed by the automatic updater. It was nice enough to leave my old kernel readily accessible in case anything stopped working, but that's more detail than a casual user should have to deal with.

November 11, 2002

PRIMES is in P.

Prof. Manindra Agarwal and two of his students, Nitin Saxena and Neeraj Kayal (both BTech from CSE/IITK who have just joined as Ph.D. students), have discovered a polynomial time deterministic algorithm to test if an input number is prime or not. Lots of people over (literally!) centuries have been looking for a polynomial time test for primality, and this result is a major breakthrough, likened by some to the P-time solution to Linear Programming announced in the 70s.

One of the main features of this result is that the proof is neither too complex nor too long (their preprint paper is only 9 pages long!), and relies on very innovative and insightful use of results from number theory.

See also their FAQ, which reviews related concepts.

This Ben Folds Five fansite informs me that Hal Leonard has published Ben Folds Five: Keyboard Signature Licks, a detailed songbook with commentary, interviews, and a vocal-less practice CD. SheetMusicPlus has more full-score Ben Folds songbooks.

Belarc Advisor is a free utility to audit and catalog your Windows PC and the software installed.

Blizzard launches new World of Warcraft web site. Quit stalling!

November 8, 2002

Microsoft critics complain about the security and stability of their software. Defenders say all software has bugs, and any software that is as widely used as MS software would reveal just as many bugs. The second part of this claim can't actually be proven, of course, but it is true that even the most beloved software in anti-MS circles has occasional bug and security flaw discoveries.

Whether or not these six flaws in Mozilla (which known MS critic The Register reports under the headline "Mozilla riddled with security holes") are on par with Internet Explorer security holes is dubious, but it does demonstrate that last point. Of course, all but one of these flaws only apply to Mozilla 1.0.1; the current stable version of Mozilla is 1.1, and 1.2 should be out in the next couple of weeks. Nevertheless, 1.0.1 is still widely used (RedHat 8.0 comes with it, and I don't see any official RPMs for later versions).

Whether you care to compare an expired version 1 of a product to version 5 of another product depends on why you'd care. Advocates on any side of the operating system/browser wars want to evaluate the general practices of how software is built and distributed in order to make general claims about their software products, past and future versions, because picking an OS (or even a browser) is a long-term investment. Should the rest of us care? Don't we just want to know what works, what doesn't, and when it'll get fixed? Do you switch operating systems (or browsers) every time you hear about a security flaw in the one you're using?

Mozilla users wanting to feel better can read 101 things that the Mozilla browser can do that IE cannot. I'd like to see a similar list going the other way, though I expect it'd be mostly Microsoft's proprietary closed-standard features, like support for VBScript. I'll let the advocacy folks debate whether XUL is to Mozilla like VBScript is to IE in this regard. :)

November 7, 2002

The Society of Professional Journalists Western Washington Pro Chapter: Invasion of the Bloggers, tonight at 7pm in the Seattle Times Auditorium. Panelists include Rebecca Blood, Gael Cooper, Glenn Fleishman and Clark Humphrey.

As Linux matures as a desktop solution with its own repretoir of quality, interoperable software packages, developments over the last couple of years have sought to fulfill the needs of power users making the transition from Windows. The top reasons why someone interested in switching to Linux still uses Windows have been addressed with various cross-over solutions.

CodeWeaver Crossover Office ($54.95) runs your copy of Microsoft Office 97 or 2000 in Linux (on x86 processors). It also runs Visio, Lotus Notes, Quicken, and even Internet Explorer 5.0 and 5.5. If you already own it, this may be the best way to continue using Microsoft Office on your new Linux desktop.

CodeWeaver Crossover Plug-in ($24.95) runs the Windows versions of many browser plug-ins in Linux. Much of the media on the web requires plug-ins that do not have Linux-native versions, such as Quicktime or Windows Media Player. And I'm not completely satisfied with the Linux Flash plug-in just yet. Crossover Plug-in enables these and more in most Linux browsers, including Mozilla, Galeon and Opera.

The main reason why I intend to keep my Windows partition (or build a separate Windows machine) is for PC games. Some game companies have released Linux versions of their products. Others were ported by the now-defunct Loki Games. Still others appear to run fairly well using Wine, the famous Open Source Windows emulator for Linux. Indeed, Wine is able to run a variety of Windows applications and functionality quite nicely, which might be especially useful for businesses that need to run old or proprietary Windows software.

TransGaming offers WineX, an Open Source emulation of Windows' DirectX gaming libraries (based on Wine) that allows Linux users to play even more PC games. The Canada-based company has a subscription-based business model, where users that contribute get access to a special easy-to-install version of WineX, and can vote on how the company uses its resources to support new games. This is especially interesting because various PC games have various difficulties running with WineX, and given customer approval, TransGaming can work on improving their Open Source product to work with popular games. WarCraft III, Grand Theft Auto 3, Civilization III, and Black and White, among many others, all work to varying degrees of success. Side note: I rushed to subscribe when I noticed they got The Sims to work with Linux, only to discover that they struck a deal with Electronic Arts to sell a special Linux version of the game, and the PC version does not work with WineX directly.

The biggest win for me so far has been in the arena of the dual-boot set-up. I now run Linux and Windows on one laptop computer with a 20GB hard drive. As anyone who has done this can tell you, 20GB is not a lot of space for two operating systems, a handful of modern games (some of which can take up to a full gigabyte of disk space each to install!), and all my personal documents, images, music and web projects. As Linux and Windows save files to disk in different ways, the dual-boot set-up involves "partitioning" the drive, and "formatting" each partition in a different way. Windows NT/2000/XP use a partition type that is not well supported in Linux, and Windows does not know how to read Linux partitions. So what if I want to have access to my documents in both Linux and Windows, without saving them to an external source?

Enter Paragon Ext2FS Anywhere, a $30 product that allows Windows to use Linux partitions. Beyond RedHat Linux itself, this product was the biggest enabler in my transition to Linux on the desktop. My "/home" directory (folder) sits on a Linux ext3 partition (ext2fs Anywhere supports ext3), and, with a little help from TweakUI for Windows XP, my My Documents folder resides in /home. My only issue with ext2FS Anywhere is that any time I touch a file on the /home partition in Windows, it sets it to be owned by the "root" user in Linux, and only viewable and modifiable by its owner, meaning I have to become root and reset the file permissions any time I switch OS'es to continue working on a file. (This could be seen as a security "feature": Windows effectively has root privileges on Linux files, so a security hole in Windows could lead to root access in Linux.) Paragon's U.S. technical support have assured me that this will be addressed in a future version.

November 6, 2002

Microsoft's New Set of Hurdles.

Everyone has a threshold of how much they are willing to do to get their computers to do what they want them to do. For most people, paying for, taking home, unpacking, hooking up and turning on the computer is it. Some may even prefer that someone else do all of that. Others may be willing to install software and printer drivers. Still others may download software updates and free add-ons, and change the appearance and settings to their liking. And some-- perhaps more than you might expect-- are willing to install (or re-install or upgrade) and configure entire operating systems, if that's what it would take to run their computers faster, better, newer, more stable or even cheaper.

Yes, this is going to be about Linux, but I'd like to make it clear that I'm not actually in the final, unmentioned category: users who are willing to learn a great deal about how computers work and do research and trial-and-error experimentation to manually tailor their computers to do what they want it to do. I used to be, of course; I've installed almost every version of RedHat Linux since version 4 and several versions of Debian over a similar time span, though mostly just for fun. I quickly settled on Debian Linux for running a web server in my apartment (something not everyone wants to do), but Linux was never quite beneath my threshold for using full-time on my desktop computer. And my threshold has been dropping as I've grown older, less patient, and to terms with the fact that I'm not really all that geeky after all. The race for Linux to my desktop seemed almost unwinnable.

Until now. RedHat Linux 8.0, just released this year, is fantastic. Everything just works. Not just works-for-geeks, but works. 8.0 was a breeze to install, and almost all of my hardware and devices were automatically detected and configured. RedHat Bluecurve (the windowing desktop, based on both Gnome and KDE), Mozilla (web browser), OpenOffice (office suite, including fully-featured word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software and more, all compatible with Microsoft Office files), and Ximian (email/calendar suite) are excellent, even by commercial standards, and are designed to be familiar and comfortable to users of their non-Open-Source equivalents. Free quality software is available for pretty much any other task, including Gaim, an instant messaging client compatible with all of the major IM networks, GnuCash for your finances, and Gimp, a powerful, fully-featured image editing system.

My set-up, a laptop that needs to switch between being a laptop and being in a fancy port replicator, is still something of an edge case that required hand-editing a configuration file to get working, but everything else, including the auto-probing of my port replicator's monitor and the setting up of multiple network connections, was a breeze using RedHat's control panels. Nobody should have to see a "command line" if they don't want to. RedHat now has some excellent user's manuals, too, and though it is all available to download for free, it is easily worth $29.95 for a nice boxed set. RedHat Linux 8.0 has won my desktop.

Of course, just because it won my desktop doesn't necessarily mean it will win yours, but if it doesn't, it is notable that it is much closer to doing so. Some of the Open Source software mentioned above is still in earlier development stages than their commercial counterparts (OpenOffice in particular needs some user interface work), and not all hardware has automatic Linux software support yet (still trying to get my scanner to work, though I'm told it is supported). But overall, Linux's newfound accessibility means great things for everyday people who want an inexpensive alternative today, and the rapidly increasing adoption of Linux in the workplace (both inside the tech industry and out) will continue to fuel development of Linux on the desktop, which will inevitably result in a grandma-friendly computing experience, possibly as soon as two years from now.

So Linux is great. But why would I switch? Monetary cost? No. Geek pride? Heck no. I switched to Linux because I had no choice. I was serious about not being able to accept Microsoft's new End User License Agreement, and if future security patches for their products require that I "sign" that agreement to patch their security holes, I have to stop using their software today, because running an unpatched system puts my life, my work, my identity and my privacy in the hands of thieves and vandals, and makes my computer a threat to other computers on the Internet. If I sign the agreement, I sign away my rights to use my computer for my legal and legitimate purposes, I sign away the ability to maintain my computer in a responsible fashion by knowing of and having complete control over what is installed, and I sign the device around which my life and lifestyle is based over to the will and agenda of corporate entities that are not looking out for my best interests. The costs of running my life using Microsoft software are just too high.

That doesn't mean I'm done with Microsoft software for good. With the current state of their license agreement, I'd be happy running a Microsoft-controlled secondary computer for gaming and perhaps other purposes. In fact, like many who are running Linux on the desktop, I actually have a dual-boot set-up, where both operating systems are on my computer and I pick which one to use when the computer starts up. I actually think I'm taking a stupid (theoretical) risk by doing this, as there's nothing in the Windows XP EULA that qualifies what Microsoft is allowed to do to my computer in the name of Digital Rights Management. Does the EULA allow Microsoft to disable software on my Linux partition on a dual-boot computer? It doesn't say...

November 5, 2002

regarding: Adaptation, a weblog about a movie by Spike Jonze based on The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. Jason Kottke, who designed Susan Orlean's site, runs this weblog about this new Spike Jonze / Charlie Kaufman / Donald Kaufman project based on the lives of Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman and Susan Orlean, starring Nicolas Cage as Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman, and Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean. Watch the trailer and get very excited.

Privatized U.S. schools sell off their textbooks and equipment, and propose replacing staff with unpaid student labor.

Facing an educational crisis last year, the city [of Philadelphia] handed 20 of its worst-off high schools, in some of the most abject slums in the country, to a private, for-profit company called Edison Schools Inc... Edison, a high-flying firm that was the first school-management company traded on a stock exchange, promised to provide computers, books and new curriculums, and to raise test scores. In exchange, the school board would give the company $881 (U.S.) a student....

Days before classes were to begin in September, trucks arrived to take away most of the textbooks, computers, lab supplies and musical instruments the company had provided -- Edison had to sell them off for cash. Many students were left with decades-old books and no equipment....

As a final humiliation, Chris Whittle, the company's charismatic chief executive and founder, recently told a meeting of school principals that he'd thought up an ingenious solution to the company's financial woes: Take advantage of the free supply of child labor, and force each student to work an hour a day, presumably without pay, in the school offices.

(Thanks Boing Boing.)

November 4, 2002

The premiere of 24: Day 2 made me wonder if I want to sit through another 24 episodes of exhausting (and somewhat monotonous) trust-no-one tension. I'd still be on the fence about it if it weren't for Sara Gilbert as Paula, the new tech geek in the office. It's just nice to see Sara on television again.

P.S. Malcolm in the Middle: Season One is now on DVD, with running commentaries of every episode, an extended pilot, and more.

Berman's P2P hacking bill may be rewritten.

The Direct Marketing Association has decided to endorse anti-spam laws, realizing that "illegitimate" spam (buy a PhD in making porn fast) is encouraging people to delete, block or otherwise not pay enough attention to "legitimate" spam (buy most everything else).

The DMA told [PDF] the Senate Commerce committee in April 2001 that a law governing spam might not be objectionable if it overruled about 20 state laws currently on the books and prohibited only "the practice of sending fraudulent electronic mail messages" with forged headers.

...

But, [Jerry Cerasale, the DMA's vice president for government affairs] said, a federal requirement that consumers "opt in" instead of "opt out" of bulk e-mail is unacceptable. "We think the opt-in creates a true noneconomic model," Cerasale said. "We don't believe you get a viable economic model in opt-in."