Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Tyranny and Corruption Update (and Geek Wednesday)

Geek Wednesday today, but first here is your Daily Rev Tyranny and Corruption Update:

NIE not NICE: The (only partially) declassified National Intelligence Estimate is out, and it alone constitutes grounds for impeachment of both Bush and Cheney. Here's a quote, and read and see more at the TP link above:

The Iraq conflict has become the ’cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.

The Crawford Caligula Declares: No Science Allowed:

The Bush administration has blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday.

Mind you, this comes to us not via some lefty version of National Enquirer—we're hearing this from one of the most prestigious science journals out there, Nature. The tyrants of the Bush administration continue to suppress information on matters that will affect our childrens' ability to survive on this planet. And we're supposed to fall right in line with the mainstream media, which bends over and cries "Hail to the Chief!" as the hot poker is rectally inserted.

Torture is still US: This note came to me from Larry Cox of AI-USA:

Last week, President Bush on national television defended cruel and humiliating treatment of detainees and proposed legislation that would legalize the sham military commissions that the Supreme Court has repudiated. Equally outrageous, he wants to grant immunity from prosecution to administration officials who sanctioned the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. And furthermore, he aims to prohibit the Federal courts from intervening on these crucial human rights issues.

With this brazen move, President Bush has launched an all-out assault on human rights and the rule of law. Torture? Secret prisons? Unfair trials? Impunity for law breakers? This is not the America we believe in.

Click the link above to go to AI's action page and register your opinion on the treatment of detainees.

The Country Club Congress: Someone has been keeping a Fortune 500-style list of the richest members of Congress. The findings are alarming (click the link), and reveal a bipartisan litter of fat cats. These are public servants, each of whom is valued in the hundreds of millions. Can we reasonably expect to see any positive change in the legislation coming out of a government run by cash-drunk, corrupt, bloated millionaires?

Now plutocrats are not always bad: I happen to live in a city that is being governed fairly well by a benign plutocrat, and a Republican at that (hey Mike, you're definitely better than Rudy). But plutocracy as a system, as a domineering trend, as a malign habit—this is the social equivalent of brushing your teeth with a razor blade. Later this week, when we reveal the source of our banner quote, we will be offered a history lesson in what inevitably happens to a civilization that turns its government over to the glutted corpse of wealth.

The MSM Bites Back at Bubba: Just click the graphic and watch. Also compare the neocon media's bloviating over Bubba's anger (which, by the way, considering the provocation, was, to my mind, of very moderate measure) with their benign ignorance over Bush's "comma" quote, here.


Geek Wednesday

A Macabre Tale of Our Time: Passwords that are taken to the grave. This could open up a whole new industry: cyber-seances—learn the password to that bank account or the mysterious private online journal that poor Uncle Bob left behind. It's mine—I called it.

And as Professor Dumbledore told Harry, "to the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." Here's a geek who has the odds down, and his graphic is straight out of the John Ashcroft playbook.

Mini-Review: iLife '06 (and its alternatives)

As great as my admiration is for Linux and the Open Source Society in general, not everyone has the bandwidth in their life for learning this stuff in a weekend or two. So while I'm still doing my own study of Ubuntu Linux and its possibilities, let's stop to offer a glance at what is still the best consumer OS for people who don't think in binary code and just need computers to do things for them, Mac OS X, and its companion suite of vanity applications, iLife.

I picked up the latest version of iLife last month, and have had a look at its components. Well, some of them. But since I lack a video camera, I can't very well offer any view of iMovie and iDvD, the apps that Apple says transform home movie making into a kind of art (I'll take them at their word on that one, with the proviso that most home movies I've seen are the kind of art you'd find in Rod Serling's Night Gallery (remember the episode with the young punk who winds up in the Pit with the old couple out of Reader's Digest?).

Anyway, let's look at iPhoto, which is really exemplary for its ability to perform complex tasks while demanding hardly anything of the user's intellect or patience. Even on my old G4 1GHz dome machine, iPhoto opens effortlessly, loads its files, and recognizes my camera with barely a blink. Even the slideshow feature works well, and quick-edit and enhancement functions are just enough to help without becoming an annoyance.

The problems with iPhoto come with any attempt to use its more advanced features—especially its interface with iWeb, the new member of the iLife family. iWeb is another instance of Apple's recent predilection toward soaking its customers; because to work properly, it requires that you have a dot-mac account ($99 a year for email, 1GB of storage, and the now-obsolete web page creator). Every time I've tried to make iWeb publish to a privately hosted web account, it has failed or been maddeningly slow on the uptake.

iPhoto has a feature whereby you can publish a picture album via iWeb online. The effort to do so made my processor groan, created a lot of spinning beach balls (the Mac equivalent of Windows' hourglass), and generally locked up the machine. Clearly, these kinds of features are another example of what Windows users would instantly recognize as the "software bloat" phenomenon. It's the geek catch-22: you can't have the benefits of the latest, coolest software unless you're running it on the latest, hottest hardware. And in the Mac universe, that hardware will run you at least $700 for a reasonably configured Mac Mini. Not bad, mind you, but still...

The same applies to GarageBand, the remarkable sound synthesizing/Midi interfacing/music playing application that has been so impressive in previous versions. Unfortunately, it simply wouldn't do very much on this machine before the hardware was simply overwhelmed by GarageBand's demands. I set every preference that Apple recommends to minimize processor taxation in GB, but it didn't help very much.

Bottom line here is: if you have an older Mac with a previous version of iLife, keep it that way. If you have a G5 or a new Intel machine (preferably with Core Duo in the latter), then it's worth a go, as long as you have at least 1GB of RAM on the box. As for iWeb, Apple is simply going to have to either:

(a) make it simpler and more efficient to publish to non-.mac accounts; or
(b) do what Google has done, and make the services free.

Google's Picasa photo management software, while not quite up to the Mac's graphical perfection (most likely due to the fact that it runs in Windows), easily equals iPhoto in ease of use and far surpasses it for economy. Picasa is free, and all its services are, too. You can upload a photo album in Picasa of up to 250MB to a web page that it creates for you, and either make it publicly available to everyone or to selected friends and family who are given access to a password-protected page. For a fee, Google will provide additional storage space beyond the free limit—$25 a year for 6GB of space.

So if you're made of money and don't mind spending $100 a year for a .mac account and have the necessary cojones in your Mac hardware to run iLife '06 efficiently while taking advantage of all its features, then you are likely to prefer iLife on the Mac. Or if you're a home movie hobbyist or a musician, then maybe iMovie and/or GarageBand will be worth the $73 you'll need to shell out for iLife.

But if you're a normal human like me who has a rather tight budget, then Google's Picasa is your choice for photo management, with its generous upload features. Google, by the way, would also be your choice for simple website creations: if you have a Gmail account (free), then you get access to Google Pages, with its 100MB of storage capacity and simple GUI web editor. My 12-year old daughter made her own website on Google Pages, with virtually no help from Poppy.

In terms of price points, Apple's headed in a lot of good directions lately: the Mac Pro compares favorably with a comparably-equipped and configured Dell machine; the Intel Mini's are real bargains by any measure; and the iMacs are splendid machines at a very fair price. Even their low-end laptop, the MacBook, sits strongly beside any Wintel portable for performance and price. We've also noticed that the new iPods offer more storage capacity at competitive prices. But before they can really take hold in the consumer market, they're going to have to trim the gouging costs out of the extras they offer—$100 a year for an email service is positively ridiculous in this day and age; and they'll have to be more generous with software offerings in general, and upgrade options in particular (iWork 2 came out less than a year after I had purchased the first version, and I saw no offer of an upgrade discount). Maybe the recent addition of Google's CEO to Apple's Board may help bring about some changes on this score. We'll be watching.

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