Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Give Them Hell (and Geek Wednesday)

Before I let the cat out of the bag for Geek Wednesday, here's a question that many of us should be asking Congress as it continues to walllow...that is, I mean, conduct, its debate on the Iraq War: the biggest four-star cheese in the U.S. military says that there's no evidence of Iranian involvement in attacks on US troops. Now Gen. Pace is presumably an expert on military affairs, and might know a little more about what's really going on than a dyslexic political figurehead or his criminally psychotic VP. So...who ya gonna believe, Congress?

And let's say that the General is misinformed: after all, he does lack the advantage of having a golden earpiece exclusively tuned to the Voice of Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior, Inc. What about it? Don't you end wars by negotiating with the enemy? Or is it remotely possible, would you say, that Gen. Pace's bosses don't really have an interest in ending the war? Could it be that Gen. Pace, being a soldier, sees all too clearly what the result would be of ramping this war up into a large-scale regional affair, with the possibility of nukes becoming involved? Could this be the General's motive for effectively spitting in the eye of his clueless Commanders-in-Chief?

Meanwhile, 75% of Americans (and 72% of Republicans!) openly support negotiation with Iran and Syria. Once again, we are at one of those turning point moments where we will have to enforce our common will, our common wisdom, on these ignorant tyrants who are ruling us. We will have to especially be all over Congress on this one, because like them or not, they represent our main chance at the restoration of democratic process here. We are in the midst of an escalation; we could be on the doorstep of an explosion whose devastation will threaten the lives of generations to come, including those of our kids now. Here's an idea; use Progress Report's tracking form to keep tabs on how your local Reps and Sens are leaning or voting on both issues, and give them hell. Call them, write them, stop them on the street next week when they're back home for their winter break. Just give them hell.


Geek Wednesday

Hey you nutty people, it's pawprints time at Geek Wednesday. My human is busy trying to find a job, and you know how people can get whenever there's an economic crunch—first thing that gets downsized is the poor kitty's food, and I'm not interested in getting scaled down to 9-Lives anytime soon.

So what's going on in geekdom these days? Yeah, I know, the web is more cluttered than a 3-cat litter box with talk of DRM, now that both Steve and Bill are competing to sound the grassroots-iest note on DRM.

Not bad, but let's get real for a minute: is it possible that Norway put the fear of heavenly retribution into Steve's heart? Or that Uncle Bill is ready to take the DRM locks out of his brand new OS (see below)? Yeah, and the Japanese are going to slap some sanity into Dick Cheney's head. Oh, and I'm going on an all-vegan program starting tomorrow...

But, given some time and more of Uncle Bill's stumble-over-my-shoelaces act, Linux might just take command in the enterprise and a solid bite in the consumer area. In this series, e-Week columnist and uber-geek Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols puts a variant of Ubuntu Linux side-by-side on the same hardware with Vista, and comes to some interesting, though hardly surprising, conclusions. One of these, by the way, is, "an operating system -- any operating system -- is not the place for DRM." Guess which OS he's referring to?

Vaughan-Nichols reaches many of the same conclusions that we've already arrived at in our prior posts here—namely, that dedicated audio and video hardware equipped with plenty of its own juice (no borrowing system RAM allowed) is required to run Vista in either its midrange or advanced flavors; that most of us will have to lay out at least a grand to get the gear necessary to run Vista without going the upgrade route (which in Vista's case is instant heartburn); and in short, that for the expense now involved in going with Windows, you can actually save money on new hardware (and certainly on software) by taking Vaughan-Nichols' last recommendation:

I have to say that my last thought on both Vista and Linux is that if you really, really want the best possible graphics... get a Mac.

Now that laptop you see me peeking around above is the Intel-equipped MacBook, which costs around $1300 with a 2.0 GHz Core Duo 2 processor, 80GB hard drive, and 1GB of RAM. We reviewed it here, and after six weeks, we're still happy with it. The only thing we'd add is something that won't impact most people: if you're a longtime Mac user who still has a toe or two in OS9, you don't want an Intel machine yet, because the Intel Macs don't play at all with OS9 apps.

In fact, some veteran Mac users among you may want to keep a PPC machine around even after you've migrated to an Intel box. If you want to get a sweet deal on an old PPC machine but still get a robust warranty, try the TechRestore link at the top of the sidebar—they come highly recommended, and if you buy a machine through that link, you'll be helping us out, too. You could actually get a new Intel Mac AND a 1GHz PPC iBook for the price of a loaded Vista box that has everything it needs to get going and give you some hope of keeping going.

Incidentally, why is it that Vista can't reliably support an upgrade path? We hadn't even thought of that when we did our upgrade from Jaguar to Panther and then to Tiger on the Mac: it just worked. You stick the cd (or dvd, in the case of Tiger) into the drive, take a nap while it's installing, and then get back to your Mac geekery without a hiccup. But every discussion board and geek pundit we've read has warned against an XP to Vista upgrade, and recommended a "clean install" (that is, wipe the HD clean or install a new one, and then do your Vista installation). Hell, if you humans want to throw away your money, I've got one unemployed human and a distinct hatred of cheap cat food: you can toss away your bucks right here:


And a final word about our stats: as you can see, 45% of our traffic still comes from IE (W3C released their most recent global usage stats today, here). Now I understand that a lot of you don't have any choice: you're at work or on somebody else's machine that only uses IE or sets it as the default browser. But for the rest of you, you'll need to make an effort to get yourself out of that IE dog pound. Firefox and Opera are still the best cross-platform alternatives (that is, you can run current versions of them in Mac, Linux, or Windows); and Safari is still the best choice on the Mac by itself.

And I don't want to hear anything out of you about you not being geeky enough or not having enough time to pick, install, and use a decent browser. How do you think lousy stuff gets to dominate the consumer marketplace everywhere? I'm betting you have time to compare brands when you're at Home Depot or the supermarket, and you carefully choose what is best, not necessarily what's right at hand or cheapest or that carries the most prominent advertising. Same with browsers and software: think of how  much you use it (I wish corporations did!), and how important it is to use what's safe, reliable, fast, and fun.

Firefox and Opera win easily on all those fronts over IE, so what do they lack? How about a few billion to spend on marketing? That's the only thing that distinguishes MS: massive amounts of $$$ to spend on advertising. Fools enough people to make them the monster in their industry. But it all comes back to the people who don't have enough time (or think they don't) to make sound purchasing or usage decisions. Bottom line is, it has nothing to do with geekdom, but with smart shopping, even if the products are "free" (IE is no more free than Vista is--you pay for it with the OS). You don't have to be a geek to make the right choice, you just need the information and the will to use it.

But advertisers today count on a lazy marketplace populated by consumers who imagine there's no time to decide freely, so why not just take what they're shouting about on TV the most and what's in the first aisle or in the window display (which is there by virtue of marketing $$$ as well). 

Back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, Betamax was clearly the better product for clarity of display and playability over its competitor in the home multimedia market; VHS won because corporations put marketing $$$ behind it. Back in the mid 90's, IBM's OS/2 Warp was obviously a better, more reliable, faster, more user-friendly OS. But NT and Win 95 won out because got it, Gates's marketing $$$ (and IBM's laziness and stupidity--they had the cash but not the marketing acumen). Gates had already bought or beaten the rest of his competition, so he hired Mick Jagger, staged Windows-mania in the media and at the storefronts, and won on the back of money and manufactured hype. That's how monopolies are made: you buy out competitors and potential competitors, and then you let the marketing and hype machines drive the rest of them into the grave.

That, fortunately, won't happen to Firefox, nor to Linux, because people are waking up to the fact that they have choices; and that they can choose a better OS, a better browser, a better government, if they care to ignore the advertising and find the one that really works for them.

So let me finally get serious with you people for a minute, because many of you are good to us animals—that is, you treat us as equals. Here's some advice, from a cat who's been around the block and seen your good and bad sides:

Strip off the masks. Tear down the facade that the collective built over your heart. Dissolve the scales of conditioning that are covering your eyes. Feel freely the light that has glowed within you since before you were born, and let your heart and your brain work as one, with no image or inhibition to disguise or enshroud them. Let your true and total self be felt by all and touched by some; and you will dance on the skull of evil, transcend the ghost of death, and continually expose and dispel the shades of deceit.

And always remember: meditate every day with your favorite animal beside you. Good luck, people.

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