Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Another High Crime (and Geek Wednesday)

At a ceremony in Washington, Mr Bush said it was a rare occasion when a president signed a law that he knew would save American lives.

Because withholding evidence from people who have been detained amid torture without charge for 3+ years saves American lives; because suspending habeas corpus for selected enemies both foreign and domestic saves American lives; because now anyone and anything can become an enemy combatant, or (which is to say the same thing) an "aider and comforter" of an enemy combatant. Like, for example, an attorney or a filmaker (the former has been convicted and is in jail; the latter is on a terror watch list). Maybe even a left-wing blogger.

Just get out and vote this year, people: with this lot in power, heaven knows how many more chances we'll get to do it. That's a pack of criminals in that picture—people who are entrusted to protect our legal system, but have absolutely no faith in it. Remember that.

Geek Wednesday

As we enter the era of Goo-Tube, many may wonder what exactly is the difference between tech and TV. It's a question that deserves an answer here, given that I have written before, "we will resort to medication—either doctor-prescribed pharmaceuticals or the self-medication of alcohol, drugs, and other socially-sanctioned forms of mental sedation, such as television." So here is one answer, offered by Bill Moyers, in a program that can be seen on PBS tonight:

“The Internet is revolutionary because it is truly democratic, open to anyone with a computer and connection. We don’t just watch; we participate, collaborate, and create. But this wide-open access could be slipping through our fingers.

It's true: I sometimes get more out of reading the Comments sections at the Huffington Post, Air America, or Daily Kos, than I get out of the main content. The Internet still can draw people out of that solipsistic shell that television wraps us in so easily. And on top of all that, Robert Bly may not have been all that far off when he referred to television as "the thalidomide of the 1990's": a new study from Cornell indicates that TV may contribute to autism.

This is another reason why Net Neutrality matters. Since I work in corporate IT, I get a lot of the trade and print publications that all tend to play to the same theme—technology exists to make money for mega-business, and the more the merrier. ROI is "king" in more than just French (in techno-business, it's an acronym meaning "Return On Investment").

Publications like Baseline Magazine are typical of this ilk. A fellow named Dignan recently wrote an editorial against Net Neutrality for them. It has the voice of someone who's arrived halfway through a conversation and imagines he grasps the entire gist of what he's missed. This guy has started paying attention long after the issue had become news, and thinks he can opine on it at will. His argument is, basically, anything that smacks of regulation is bad for business and Congress should stay out of our techno-turf.

What he has missed, of course, is the simple fact that nobody in technology started this: the whole shitpot was stirred up by a few big media giants who wanted to set up toll booths on the information highway, with all profits therefrom going straight into their already overloaded coffers. Christ on a bicycle, Google and even Microsoft are against handing over the Net to a few corporate behemoths. But this guy Dignan aligns himself with the same fat cats who want to make fast lanes for the well-heeled while chopping the bandwidth for the rest of us; so he flies out with this regular-joe sounding editorial that makes a pretense of understanding the issue, while only revealing that he was in bed with the corporate technocracy when others were telling Congress that they didn't want the Internet handed over to the highest bidder and wrapped into a porkbarrel earmark. If you'd like to see the web protected from such characters, then watch the Moyers program tonight to learn what the issue is really about, and then click on that Save the Internet banner in my sidebar to find out how you can act on behalf of a free, fair, and open Internet.

Net Neutrality update: check here for an inspiring story (for a change) on how a true grassroots movement can stop some of the wealthiest and most powerful forces in the corporate kingdom.

Vista Watch: Wouldn't you know it, I actually spent the five bucks to get a copy of RC2 of MS's new operating system, and then as soon as it arrived, I realized my Wintel machine here only has a CD drive, no DVD. So I stuck it into the Mac, just to see how big the files are, and they are massive: 2.6 GB is the base installation; and according to C-Net's recent review, they've actually taken away some features from RC1! The C-Net reviewer, therefore, concludes that it's "not ready for prime time" and that an interim build should be released for further testing before there's any talk of a final version. This means one of two things: either (a) the January release date is knocked back a few months (and smart geeks will check out Leopard on the Mac—due out in Spring '07—before they even touch Vista); or (b) Microsoft will release yet another piece of garbage beta software that will drive those on the bleeding edge straight into insanity or alcoholism. Which option would you bet they'll go with?

Elsewhere on the Vista front, here's a piece on the Draconian anti-piracy defenses being built into Uncle Bill's new cash cow. The headline says it all: "Microsoft wants to make sure that its customers feel as if they are being treated with contempt."

Apple on the Cheap: Meanwhile, if you're looking for great, inexpensive hardware that is likely to last you several years, check out the prices on "old" pre-Intel Macs. The machine I have here, the G4 dome desktop, that I paid two grand for three years back, is $650 at TechRestore; and for an extra hundred you can get a G5 flat-panel iMac, which were going for between $1300 and $2000 last year. And if you're looking for a laptop that you just need for running Word, Excel, email, and web-surfing, then a G3 or G4 iBook is your machine. Just click the TechRestore banner ad at the very top of the blog here and look around (yes, Daily Rev gets a little commission if you buy that way, so you'd be getting yourself a great machine and helping us to pay our hosting costs). $400 - $600 for a great laptop is the kind of bargain you'd want to check out; and anyone who tells you the pre-Intel Macs will soon be obsolescent just isn't in geek reality. Damn, you can still be productive on a Mac box running OS9, five years after the release of OS X. The G3 and G4 Macs will all run OS X (Jaguar and Panther, mostly), and all the software written for them (MS Office for Mac, Apple's proprietary stuff, and all the great third-party apps written for the Mac) will still be viable at least five years from now. If you're looking for a solid, safe machine as a second or portable computer, or something for the kid(s), then these "old" Macs are worth a very close look.

The Pooh-Bear PC: Finally, some geeks at the BBC tried this fun little experiment with what they called a "honeypot PC." They just did, under a controlled, lab-style environment, what thousands (probably millions) of people around the world have unwittingly done at home: opened the cyber-door to hackers, thieves, and malware authors. Believe me, folks, clearing out a machine that's been infected like this is just as hard as allowing it to happen in the first place is easy. That's why people so often trash a new PC once it's been infected and the enormity of the problem is apparent to them. If it happens to you, don't throw the box out—or if you insist on throwing it out, leave it in my trash can, for god's sake.

Better still, don't even go there in the first place: get a Mac, or else a Linux machine. The former you can get at any Mac store or straight from Apple; the latter are sold by a number of system makers, most notably System76. Then you can take all that money you save on avoiding Windows and donate it to one of Bill Gates's charities. The frustration, headaches, and hangovers you will also save yourself—well, that you can keep.

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