Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Geek Wednesday: How Much Does Air Cost?

Save the Internet: Click here
Geeks, technophiles, gearheads, and webaholics: we've got a new assignment for you, once again courtesy of our friends at Save The Internet. Here's the pitch:

The FCC is on the verge of turning over a large chunk of the public airwaves to the same giant phone and cable companies that control high-speed Internet access for more than 96 percent of connected American homes.

This public "spectrum" could revolutionize the Internet in America. Its wireless signal passes through concrete buildings and over mountains; it can connect tens of million of Americans who are being passed over by Internet providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.

Don't let the FCC give away our wireless Internet to these price-gouging giants. The FCC deadline is fast approaching. Act now!

Remember when Bechtel Corp. "owned" the water of Bolivia--even the rain that fell from the sky, so that you were expected to pay them even if you went outside and opened your mouth in the rain? (to see and hear the whole insane story, rent or buy The Corporation, one of the great documentaries ever made). Well, this is along the same lines: selling the air to Big Telcom so they can charge you megabux for your Wi-fi so that fat corporate trolls are made wealthier, fatter, and more trollish.


Social Networking Update: LinkedIn now has an "Answers" module, where users can post questions to the community and receive intelligent, well-thought responses. I found a question about what is required to be a success as an author or editor, so I posted a response. By the way, the titles of those books in that post are all real: I just sat beside a "Business Motivation" shelf at B&N and copied them out on the MacBook. Amazing.

But LinkedIn is for our professional and not our horny self. For the latter, I recently discovered Orkut, a Google-administered social networking and dating site. The profile entry section is very detailed, though not a total slog to get through; and because it's run by the geeks of the big G, the design and functionality are very cool, sure, and breezy. I'll let you know if it helps me with my HTML (come on, you know what HTML really stands for, right?).

Fire-foxy Lady: In case you don't recognize that lovely lady in the picture, she's the Lizard-Wrangler-in-Chief of Mozilla/Firefox, Mitchell Baker. I've been reading her blog at the Mozillazine, and much of what I see as the potential of open-source modeling for government and mainstream business can be discovered in the writing of this extraordinary woman.

The Geek Groan, or why there are no geek comedians: So the Tux car at the Indy 500 finished last, and one reader of C-Net's story on the disappointing finish commented "It's real hard to get good drivers for Linux hardware."

Dell-buntu ships: You can order one now. Though the savings won't exactly blow your socks off, these units are cheaper than comparable Vista boxes, and marginally less expensive than their counterparts at System76 or Linspire. I put together a Dell desktop box, sans monitor, for $700 that I know would make Ubuntu fly; and my friend Nearly Redmond Nick added a monitor and ended up with $1080 for a box with 2GB RAM, 22" monitor, upgraded processor, video card and 1 year support.

Still, my previous advice stands for any Windows switchers who are contemplating Linux but don't want to stick their head under the hood and spend a lot of time in Synaptic Package Manager (software download utility for Ubuntu) or the Terminal/Console (geek command line): get a flavor of Linux that features a more complete installation with all available third-party drivers, such as Xandros, Linspire, or my own favorite, MEPIS. I have another video demo of MEPIS, below. I'll simply say it again: the more I use this Linux distro, the more I like it.

But as I said last week, I'll slip into a Best Buy one day later this week, once the Dellbuntu boxes are there, and check out what Dell has done with the Feisty Fawn. Meanwhile, if you're looking for a way to install Ubuntu onto your existing hardware but without having to partition your hard drive or jump through any other geek hoops, Wubi may be your best option. It will allow you to run Ubuntu just like any other software application on a Windows box. And Ubuntu running in Wubi will run your Windows applications inside Linux...your computer will be like those Russian dolls, one within another within another...

But what's the big deal about open source software, after all (aside from the fact that it's cheap to run, free to have, exponentially safer than Windows and usually just as functional)? Here's one answer, which I wrote nearly two years ago, in June, 2005:

To me, the Open Source Society represents a return to, and recovery of, Democracy. A democratic society works through its challenges collaboratively, in a spirit of active inquiry, where dissent is both tolerated and even encouraged. In a culture like ours, where the Cult of the Specialist seems to have locked us into inner cubicles of narrow expertise in which one's identity is defined exclusively by one's specialty, the Open Source model offers us some hope of recovering Freedom--especially freedom of the press.

Later in the week I'll have a review of an ingenious book that goes further into this theme. It's called The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, by yet another two Stanford geniuses.

But then again, really--who needs open source when Microsoft is constantly innovating on behalf of the people? Yep, the coffee table PC: just think of the possibilities.

"We see this as a multi-billion dollar category, and we envision a time when surface computing technologies will be pervasive, from tabletops and counters to the hallway mirror," said Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer.

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