Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Skewering History (and Geek Wednesday)

Before we get to Geek Wednesday, click the graphic to hear Keith Olbermann delivering a history lesson for Condi. Of course, he could have applied this remedial pegagogy to nearly anyone in the Bush administration; they have all twisted facts, distorted history, and served us word salad with half-truth dressing and a garnish of lies. It is almost beyond imagination to think how these people can look themselves in the mirror every day. But that is the power of conditioned deceit: it becomes your identity. When that happens, then what everyone else around you may realize as the most blatant, moon-is-made-of-green-cheese delusion, is to you the most crystalline of truths. Many a grave has been packed with the mud of this simple habit of belief.


Geek Wednesday

And speaking of cheats, liars, and thieves, here's something from my inbox (click the graphic for a larger view). Now the look and feel of that html is perhaps enough to fool some people into thinking that it's genuine; but read it, and then you'll immediately understand that it has to be a scam. That Borat-style English is the giveaway; and indeed, I got confirmation from someone in Monster's security unit that this message is in fact a phishing scam. The moral: learn and practice your English grammar and spelling, kids—it will protect you and your PC from harm.

More to the point, you can't be a writer without understanding such things as grammar, spelling, and usage (nor should you be President, for that matter). Now since many of our readers are themselves writers (and there are several very good ones among you—I've seen your work), it may interest you to know that there is another player in the field of online word processing. If, like me, you used to write (and even do DTP) in WordPerfect 5.1 back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and WP 5.1 for DOS was the best software of its kind, you may want to check this one out: it's the Corel WordPerfect Lightning Beta. I just found out about it a half hour ago, but I'll be checking it out and updating this page with a review next week.

What else is happening in geekdom? Dell is listening to its customers and will be offering Linux packages on its desktops. So far, it appears Novell's SuSE Linux will be the OS of choice in this vein, since they have concluded their uneasy truce with the Redmond Leviathan. But look at this as a forward step along the path toward a truly open marketplace in tech. Granted, there are already excellent choices available in affordable computer hardware bundled with Linux (System76 offers great machines with Ubuntu Linux pre-installed); but the fact that the hardware megalith of IT is now smelling the grassroots must be considered a sign of progress.

Your Microsoft-Bashing Moment

Meanwhile, over in Redmond, the gang that can't boot straight is getting tangled in its own shoelaces again. They've added a "maybe pirate" classification to their paranoid screening system for unpaid copies of Windows. Remember when these people used to make software that strove for uniqueness and user-friendliness (I'm thinking mainly of Word and Excel)? Now they just slap new skins onto old products (IE, Office, and XP/Vista) and leave it to the marketers to convince us that it's new and revolutionary. Meanwhile, they piss away good resources on defending their monopoly and making Uncle Bill worth $60 billion rather than a mere $50B.

I was reminded of this recently when I thought I'd try out their 64-bit version of XP, which is available for download as a 120-day trial. I have a MacBook here which can run a 64-bit OS and Windows XP, so I thought it would be worth a try. I downloaded and burned the ISO file successfully, but Apple's Boot Camp didn't recognize it. Thinking that this was simply a problem with Apple's utility, I used the VM-Ware Fusion for Intel Mac, now in beta, to install XP. The VM-Ware utility did a nice job with the installation, though it was rather slower than an install of XP Home that I tried last month with Parallels. But it worked out fine, except for one thing: XP wouldn't recognize any of either VM-Ware's or Apple's XP drivers. So I couldn't even get online with it, even though I had both an Ethernet/cable hookup and an 802.11n wifi card on the machine. I puzzled over this for a while until I checked the Start menu to see what version of XP Pro had been installed. The puzzle was instantly solved: "Service Pack 1", it said—in spite of Microsoft's claim at the download site that it comes "complete with Service Pack 2."

Now you may ask, as I did, (a) why is MS lying? and (b) what are they doing offering an OS in a two-year old versioning format? But that's life with the big Redmond devil, I suppose. And get this: the first message on screen was a talk bubble telling me that "there are only 14 days left in your trial period—click here to register your copy of XP." What happened to my four month trial that was advertised on the website? I'll be damned if I know, but what that message told me is that it was time to wipe that installation off the MacBook right away.

Under the Apple Tree

I wish I could tell you how excited I was to see the iPhone ad at the Oscars show (it was nice to see Al Gore's movie win an award, though). And perhaps I should be concerned or upset about the shipping delay on iTV or Apple TV or whatever they call it. It's just two over-hyped products that aren't available and will be too expensive for what they deliver, anyway, once they're finally on the market.

But while we await the arrival of something from Apple that is worth the anticipation (OS X 10.5 Leopard may be out in March); I do have one positive note on an Apple software product. I downloaded the 802.11n driver upgrade last week (it cost me $2.16, and is available only for Intel Macs that have the n-card version of Airport in the hardware), and I found that it was well worth the two bucks. I used it for a few days and even tested it beside my daughter's iBook with its 802.11g Airport card. What a difference: the n's signal strength was uniformly solid, even where the g-level card faded; and the n-card delivered DSL-level connectivity nearly anyplace I took it. If you've recently bought an Intel Mac that is n-ready, you can't go wrong with this upgrade. Give Steve his two bucks and you'll be glad you did.

Inside the Web

As I finished my Webby Award reviewing for this year (the presentation show is in June), I realized that some of my favorite sites don't seem to make it into the light of nomination (sites are self-nominated for the Webby's, meaning you have to fork over a couple hundrerd bucks to be considered for an award—not that I'm complaining about that, it's what helps to pay me for reviewing them!).

So I thought I'd help fill in that gap by offering a site of the week mention here at Geek Wednesday. Our first choice is an excellent learning site for anyone, beginner, intermediate, or advanced, who wishes to become a better web geek. It's so good I've put a link to Patrick Griffiths' outstanding HTML Dog site onto my sidebar. This is a site you'll want to bookmark and spend some time with; you may also wish to pick up his book, which is widely available (I saw it in Barnes & Noble here in Brooklyn yesterday). I've been helped by Griffiths' smooth, thorough, and intelligent teachings on HTML and CSS, and I'm betting that you will too, if you have any interest in learning something new, improving your skills, or just getting occasional help with a thorny piece of online geekery.
HTML and CSS tutorials, references, and articles

So HTML Dog is our site of the week at Geek Wednesday. If you have any nominations to offer, just post them to the comments—no application fee will be necessary.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Becoming the Enemy: The American Police State

Here's what happens in a society where habeas corpus is dead and journalists are oppressed:

An Egyptian court has sentenced a blogger to four years' prison for insulting Islam and the president.
Abdel Kareem Soliman's trial was the first time that a blogger had been prosecuted in Egypt.

He had used his web log to criticise the country's top Islamic institution, al-Azhar university and President Hosni Mubarak, whom he called a dictator.

Think it couldn't happen here? Think again—it has happened, and it is happening.

''For the first time in American history, the executive branch claims authority under the Constitution to set aside laws permanently -- including prohibitions on torture and warrantless eavesdropping on Americans. A frightening idea decisively rejected at America's birth -- that a president, like a king, can do no wrong -- has reemerged to justify torture and indefinite presidential detention.''

Undermining checks and balances here at home and acting unilaterally abroad have made us less safe, said Mr. Schwarz. Some of the actions the U.S. has taken ''have so hurt our reputation,'' he said, ''that Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay have become in many eyes more the symbol of America than the Statue of Liberty.''

AI tells the story of a Gitmo detainee who has been denied the protections of habeas corpus.

Amnesty International is deeply troubled by yesterday’s ruling by a federal judge dismissing Guantánamo detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan’s habeas corpus petition, on the grounds that the Military Commissions Act, signed into law by President Bush on 17 October, strips the federal courts of jurisdiction to consider such appeals.

The right of all detainees to challenge the lawfulness of their detention is among the most fundamental principles of international law. That any legislature or any judge anywhere should countenance such stripping of this basic protection against arbitrary detention, secret custody, torture and other ill-treatment is shocking and must be challenged.

A related police state tactic is to employ journalists as government spies, and imprison those who don't play along. Josh Wolf is just the tip of the iceberg here, and there is every indication that these two trends—killing habeas corpus and imprisoning non-compliant bloggers and journalists (Wolf couldn't even get a holiday furlough—drug dealers get better treatment) will coalesce in a nexus of tyranny that will mark the end of this nation's experiment in democracy.

It is time again to demand that Congress stop its circle-jerk of complaining, fighting, walking on eggs, and dilatory campaigning, and get to work in deadly earnest—as if the most dire constitutional crisis in this nation's history were happening right now. Because it is.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Powerless at Fifty

As the number 23 appears to have some pop currency these days (if you like Jim Carrey, that is), it may now be revealed that I turned 50 the other day, on the 23rd of February.

It's not as if there weren't constant reminders and warnings coming along these past few weeks. I got a membership "invitation" from AARP last month. These people don't miss a beat—look at their logo: it seems that even when you're old you need "power." Well, for better or worse, I'm not interested. We have enough power in the world; we sure don't need any more of it, least of all from me. Power, I am afraid, does not "make it better."

Every time I've gone to the bookstore lately, there's another book about turning 50. I wish I had time or the disposition to read them; I'm sure they'd be very helpful. But this chicken soup phenomenon has just passed me by; perhaps it's after my time.

But the most significant reminder of my age has come from the relative silence of would-be employers. Yes, age discrimination is against the law and all that; but you can't very well disguise 25 years of corporate experience on a resume, and folks tend to jump to certain conclusions based on age.

We live in a culture where the only old men that have any influence or comfort are on executive row or in the White House. So it seems only natural, given the devastation, corruption, and greed that these 50-and-60 something men have wrought upon us, that we affirm our culture's animosity toward the elders—especially the white male elders such as myself. Therefore, as a reminder to any who are concerned about such things, and perhaps to encourage a reconsideration of the aggrandizement of youth that seems to define our Generation X-Y-Z society, I offer this excerpt from my Tao of Hogwarts, which is a celebration of a very old man (click the graphic to hear an "interview" with Prof. D):

In a youth-obsessed culture where middle age is deemed the onset of senescence, and particularly in this country, where the attitude of trust and respect toward the elders of a society breathed its last in the slaughter at Wounded Knee, the appearance on the world's literary stage of Professor Dumbledore is a welcomed blessing. Here is a man of indeterminate age (somewhere over a hundred, we are led to believe), still possessed of the strength and ability that have earned him the designation of "greatest wizard of his time." In Order of the Phoenix, he overcomes the attack of three younger opponents in one scene, and then personally tips the balance of the climactic battle scene. Yet he is the farthest thing from an "action hero" imaginable: he is gentle, yielding, soft-spoken, often unabashedly silly, meditative, and modest. He is, of course, the headmaster of Hogwarts School, and apparently has refused the position of Minister of Magic (the highest office of the wizarding government) in order to remain with the school and its students. Indeed, he appears to be entirely lacking in ambition, violence, contempt, impulsiveness, acquisitiveness, and the hunger for fame—in short, he is the human embodiment of Te, the cosmic principle of Modesty that Lao Tzu speaks of throughout the Tao Te Ching. This poem, from Chapter 56 of that work, appears to fit Professor Dumbledore very well:

Understanding doesn’t talk a lot;
A lot of talk lacks understanding.

Can you be guided by silence?
Can you shut down your outer senses?

Can you blunt your jagged edges?
Can you let the inner knots unravel?
Can you let your brilliance be dimmed?
Can you merge with the dust of the earth?

This is called “harmonizing light and dark.”
In this, you possess no one,
But are loved by many.
You are equally immune
To attraction and revulsion.
You are equally receptive
To profit and to loss.

You are unmoved by fame,
Yet you attract honor.
Because you make no claim,
You can be free of disgrace.

Thus are you lovingly received
Into the Heart of Nature,

As a leader, Professor Dumbledore is everything that our current major world leaders are not. He retreats from display; is non-violent, even amid combat; his vision reaches beyond appearances; he embodies archetypally feminine traits; is simple in his needs; modest in both the amount and volume of his speech; and he promotes loyalty from his students and staff by nurturing their independence. His dignity and splendor are gifts of Nature; he makes no outer demand of others' respect, but his inner aura seems always to evoke it anyway. He is, in short, the "Tao Leader" of whom Diane Dreher wrote an entire book. Dreher writes:

Tao leaders affirm an inner strength that transcends ego. They know that their current leadership position is just that—a position, not a set role...They don't identify with their titles. They know that who they are is always more than what they do. (p. 200).

As will be further discussed in Chapters 8 and 10, Professor Dumbledore is indeed human, meaning that he is subject to error. But he again distinguishes himself from the current crop of political leaders in our society by displaying the capacity to admit his errors. He goes further than this even, in his ability to share the blame for the miscommunication that leads to some of the tragic events of the stories. In doing so, he reveals the defining nature of true leadership, which is the ability to open new paths to understanding and correct action for others, through the example of inner truth, expressed in speech, thought, and action. In acknowledging his error and accepting his share of the blame, Dumbledore engages the Cosmic energies that transform the ideological stain of guilt into the cleansing water of remorse. This is truly the mark of a "Tao Leader."


For those who are used to "Mondays with McKenna", Terry has been given a week off (which is fine, since he doesn't get a dime for writing here), and will be back next week.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Writer's Notebook: Accepting Rejection

Today, I received a letter from an agent who had offered a nibble at my Tao of Hogwarts book. Since it contains a good object lesson for writers in handling rejection, I thought I'd quote it in full here:

Dear Brian:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to consider THE TAO OF HOGWARTS. It's clever and smart and timely. However, after giving it much thought I feel that I'm not the right agent for this material. Another agent may feel differently, and so I encourage you to submit this elsewhere and wish you the best in finding the enthusiastic representation you deserve.

This is fairly standard fare for a rejection letter. That is, it delivers the message "we don't want it, look someplace else" with a rather shallow positivity that still doesn't give any real information about the reader's genuine reaction to the material. I am not for a moment swayed by the apparent compliments, though: note that they are all rather superficial, glossy terms that don't really convey anything substantive: "clever, smart, and timely" are not, in any event, what I would like Tao of Hogwarts to be.

In other words, the way to translate this message is not as a judgment upon the intrinsic value (or lack thereof) of the work, but rather as a bland statement from a worker in an inherently commercial realm. Very often, these folks test-market a prospect, and if the water seems cold, they drop it. This, of course, is information they're not likely to share with someone who is not going to be invited into their stable anyway. Thus, the generally non-informative and crisp, coldly genial reply.

The larger lesson here is that a reply like this deserves the same kind of reception that has engendered it in the first place. Agents and publishers have the same question for every work that crosses their path, and it's not "what is the artistic or social value of this?" Nope, the question they all ask is, "how much can I make on this thing?" If their answer to that question is "Nothing," then you might have written something of clarion insight or even great art, and you still have undiscovered treasure.

Just keep in mind that you're dealing with essentially corporate workers here: they're being paid to find investments that will deliver return—stuff that can be, as they say, "monetized." And like most corporate workers, they make plenty of mistakes. So if you can get some real information out of them—answers to the questions that are meaningful to you (such as, "what in my work lacks commercial potential, and what would you like to see that would make you more enthusiastic about that potential?"), then by all means do it.

But most of the time, these folks will be a dry well in that respect, because they don't want to waste their time at a dry well, no matter how many unseen springs may be feeding it. My solution to this is still developing—that is, I'm not sure what the hell to do about it yet. I thought that uploading excerpts of my books to the web and begging readers to offer feedback would be the ticket, but that doesn't seem to work. It seems that when it comes to creative endeavor, people tend to project their own sensitivity onto others, I don't know. The weird thing is that most of the truly creative people I know are fairly thick-skinned in terms of receiving criticism. Or perhaps the better metaphor would be "thick-webbed": they are open to all forms of comment and criticism, but they have a carefully-nurtured filtering process that sorts out the constructive and useful feedback from the misguided, superficial, or malicious stuff. Therefore, they benefit from solid critical insight on their work, while screening out what won't really help them.

But perhaps the final lesson in this is how difficult it seems to be in our culture to give constructive criticism: here in the blogosphere and even among the mainstream media, for example, we have one camp that slings arrows, mud, and various other substances in a shrill demonic monotone; while others walk on the proverbial eggs. Yet even that realization should encourage the writer or artist who is seeking a commercially viable audience. After all, if the supposed professionals of critical commentary can't get it right, why take an occasional rejection from an agent or a publisher personally?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday Reflection: Camus and the Beauty of Nonbelief

Many of us have seen our lives changed or shaped by a book or other work of art—an encounter that takes you to a place that had never existed for you, or that you had always been told was not accessible to you. For me, Albert Camus' The Plague, which I think I first read at the age of 13, was such an experience. I can remember reading it over the course of a week, finishing that last memorable paragraph, and then turning back to page 1 to start over. The characters of Rieux, Rambert, and Tarrou stayed within me for a long time, and perhaps have never left.

Our banner quote this week is from a small speech that Camus delivered in 1948 for an audience of Dominican monks who had asked him to speak about "what unbelievers expect from Christians." Here is that selection in its larger context:

I shall not try to change anything that I think or anything that you think (insofar as I can judge of it) in order to reach a reconciliation that would be agreeable to all. On the contrary, what I feel like telling you today is that the world needs real dialogue, that falsehood is just as much the opposite of dialogue as is silence, and that the only possible dialogue is the kind between people who remain what they are and speak their minds. This is tantamount to saying that the world of today needs Christians who remain Christians...Hence I shall not, as far as I am concerned, try to pass myself off as a Christian in your presence. I share with you the same revulsion from evil. But I do not share your hope, and I continue to struggle against this universe in which children suffer and die.

Camus was, as far as I can tell from his writing, a fairly gracious fellow. The journalism of today, with its shrill air of self-promotive combativeness, would make him as ill as it does you or me. The enduring beauty of his fiction is its lack of sharp lines and divisive shades of character. Something within us responds as readily and even poignantly to "The Stranger" as it does to the noble Dr. Rieux. In our world of today, where crimes of hatred are gaining the force of global and national movements; when the torture and murder of innocents is lightly and even smilingly debated by TV pundits; and where any form of non-belief in the prevailing and accepted groupthink is tantamount to treason and devilry, a voice like that of Albert Camus takes a deeper resonance for those of us who will pause to listen.

His stories, essays, and lectures arise from the understanding that crime or evil does not form in a vacuum; the criminal is not an isolated freak disconnected from his society, his community, or even his government. Camus refused to accept the malicious projections that were cast upon him, and that have been cast onto any who have turned away from the easy solutions that belief and group affiliation offer. He understood, as others before and after him have understood, that the discarding of belief is perhaps the most courageous and progressive step that the human mind and will can make. He offered this understanding not as a new form of belief, but as a practical inner exploration toward reaching a point of human unity. Here is more of what he had to tell those Dominican monks a few years after the end of World War II:

Christians and Communists will tell me that their optimism is based on a longer range, that it is superior to all the rest, and that God or history, according to the individual, is the satisfying end-product of their dialectic. I can indulge in the same reasoning. If Christianity is pessimistic as to man, it is optimistic as to human destiny. Well, I can say that, pessimistic as to human destiny, I am optimistic as to man. And not in the name of a humanism that always seemed to me to fall short, but in the name of an ignorance that tries to negate nothing.

This means that the words 'pessimism' and 'optimism' need to be clearly defined and that, until we can do so, we must pay attention to what unites us rather than to what separates us.


Albert Camus, from "What Unbelievers Expect From Christians". I found these selections in a 1990 anthology called The World Treasury of Modern Religious Thought, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Calling Media and Government Back to Work

When you start wars that are based solely on profit or paranoia, you are going to have My Lai's and Mahmudiya's. In other words, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, and all the other madmen who conceived, planned, and staged this predatory madness are rightly to be considered as accomplices in the crimes of Sgt Paul Cortez, Specialist James Barker, and all their ilk who have tortured, raped, abused, and murdered civilians in Iraq. When soldiers are sent out to battle poorly trained for their mission, badly equipped, and questionably motivated for the jobs they must do, this is what happens. This—on top of all the lies, fabrications, wanton deceit, hateful ignorance of due process and international law, and arrogant incompetence—is grounds for impeachment and subsequent criminal indictment of all who conspired to concoct and prosecute this war, this insane institutional abuse of humanity.


Let's see what else is on the front page of the news...Britney's out of rehab, and Apple has made peace with Cisco over the name of a phone. Front page news: can the mainstream media become a little more petty once in a while, just to help relax us all now and then? But Bob Herbert has seen the reality behind all this:

It’s been obvious for the longest time that the line between news and entertainment has vanished. News is entertainment. And the death of Anna Nicole Smith is more entertaining — for the time being, at least — than the war in Iraq or the plodding machinations of bin Laden and Zawahri.

Obviously, there are some journalists out there who are trying to do their jobs and make a difference in the world of information, just as there are politicians who are also trying to work toward changing government for the better. Yesterday, I paid a visit to the office of one of the latter, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn (who incidentally won her seat in a 90% landslide—now that, Mr. Bush, is political capital).

Rep. Clarke has been kind of know, working in Washington, where her constituents overwhelmingly agreed she should be. Her staff is hurriedly trying to put together a home office for her, even as they take time to meet with people like me, who have no money to offer, no influence to pander, no light of fame to emanate. So maybe it would help if a lot of us could contact our media outlets and clearly tell them: we want to see and hear more about people like Rep. Clarke, and a lot less about Britney's addictions and Steve Jobs' legal pissing contests.

And while we're at it, we might add a message to Hillary and Barack: the election isn't for another 16 months, and Congress is faced with a war and the surge of global terrorism that this same war has incited, along with an entrenched cadre of war criminals and a constitutional crisis. Could you get back to Washington, like now, stop fighting among yourselves, and do the god damned jobs that we elected you to do?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tax the Rich? iPerish the Thought! (and Geek Wednesday)

Let us now praise the ingenuity of the plutocratic oligarch. The marketing acumen of the reigning specimens of this phylum are well known, and you might say that imitators are coming out in "Roves".

Why tax the rich when you can raise sufficient funds to keep the government running by burdening the middle class? Our mayor here in New York has decided that a smooth choreography of city services can raise wampum as fast as you can plow a street and ticket the subsequently trapped vehicles. Another of our urban defenders of the ultra-wealthy is proposing a summonsing blitzkrieg on iPod owners who attempt to cross city streets.

These men are, like the lamps unto their feet in Washington, pioneering the use of manipulation and deceit in freeing the oppressed 1% of wage earners from the burden of taxation as they empty the wallets of the 99% who would only piss away their money on iTunes gift certificates, anyway. We salute you, noble stalwarts of fundraising innovation, defenders of the Corporate Person!

Geek Wednesday

My blog is worth $7,903.56.
How much is your blog worth?

Perhaps inspired by this entrepreneurial aristocracy, I have been wondering if I could sell my blog and make a little cash. It's been around two and a half years, which is fairly long in the tooth for a blog; has lots of original content that someone might like to own; and it's loaded with photography of the prettiest cat in Brooklyn.

So I found a site run by a Technorati geek who used their API to program a blog worth calculator. What drives it is as mysterious to me as a smudge on the forehead one day out of the year (I think that's today, anyway). But there it is: the monetary value of Daily rEv: nearly 8 grand. Damn, I could get a Mac Pro cheese grater tower with multiple hard drives in RAID array, 8GB of RAM, and a 30" display for that! But I'm not budging until the price goes over ten G's.

But it would appear that web properties are not as lucrative as they once might have been. The owner of a free music site is seeking to cash it out, but is finding prospective buyers rather thin.

However, there is still the occasional diamond in the rough of the web that can attract the wealthy like shit draws flies. One such property is the StumbleUpon Firefox extension, which one commentator observes could be appealing to Amazon. It really is an ingenious piece of design and geekery, and yet another reason to go with Firefox as your default web browser. Every time I go and click the "Stumble" button, I find two or three cool things within five minutes. Here's a sample tour:

  • An article about a boss who lets his employees set their hours, determine their salaries and choose their bosses. Oh, and he's making lots of money with a very happy staff.

  • A search applet that limits results to Creative Commons products that you can use for free.

  • Instructions on how to hack a CoinStar machine.

  • A place to find your Myers-Briggs type, if you care.

  • Or maybe you could just try and become a 'Net video icon. Pretty sad, though, when you think of it: a phenomenon that began as a portal for scientists to share information has turned into a TV-wannabee.

    Hardware Update:

  • The rumor mill's ablaze with news of impending new notebooks and sub-notebooks from Apple. But the WWDC, where such announcements are often made, is a long way off.

  • Some Google geeks have done a study of hard drive failures, and come to some surprising conclusions. (Paper lasts longer than bytes).

  • If you're shopping for a laptop, C-Net has a comprehensive review you'll want to check out first.

    Now for our feature of the week, something we've been promising for a while: How to read web stats.

    If you have a blog, website, or even an online photo album that has a hit counter, you've stuck a toe or two into the waters of web metrics. If your site has its own host, then most likely you're given a metrics or analytics applet to inspect at your leisure, to gauge your site's traffic and its sources.

    But what does it all mean? That's where the water gets fairly muddy, even for corporate types who think they know what they're looking at. Here's a rundown of the most common terms you'll find in the world of web metrics—their meaning, and their relative value.

    Hits Don't Mean Shit: The most abused and distorted web statistic out there, a hit is a count of the number of elements or measurable items on a given web page, multiplied by the number of visitors hitting that page. For example, DR's home page has roughly 30 separate "hittable" elements: items that have to register in order for the page to complete its loading to your browser. These include graphics; javascript forms and applets; html elements; media files; and background items. So if 5 people visit this page today, my metrics program will tell me that I've had 30 X 5 = 150 hits! Wow, cool! I had 150 hits in a day! You'd be amazed at how this statistic is used in corporate settings to buttress the lamest arguments and the airiest project plans you could imagine.

    For example, our currents stats here for February reveal that we've had just under 1,500 unique visitors (see below) to DR, and nearly 44,000 hits. Now if I'm really trying to sell this blog (hey, it could happen), which number do you think I'd be tempted to dangle in front of prospective buyers? Yep, 44,000 hits. Would it be accurate, or even ethical, to do so? Come on now, this is business, and I'm still unemployed!

    A True Geek Thinks Unique: The most valuable, accurate, and reliable stat in a web metrics or analytics report is "Unique Visitors" (also known as "unique clickers" in email analytics programs). As mentioned above, DR currently has 1,500 unique visitors this month, which projects to around 2,400 by EOM (which for us is great!). That's the number of individuals who have visited the site's home page. It can't tell you who has read the content, clicked the links or ads (that's covered by other programs that are owned by the respective sites and ad brokers), or what value they've gotten from seeing your stuff. But at least it tells you how many different people have actually seen your work.

    A Room with A Page View: Page views are another animal altogether. This stat tells you the number of total visits to all pages on your site for the given period. A single visitor might open a dozen different pages on your site, and be responsible for 12 page views, not to mention a couple hundred hits—all by himself! Right now, DR has over 17,000 page views for the current month, which reveals that many visitors are looking around a bit.

    But page views are less meaningful to a blog than to a large site with many components (though curiously, ad brokers always ask for page view stats). When I look at the stats for DR, I pay attention to unique visitors first, page views after that, and then I look at the Referrals section, which tells me where traffic is coming from, which search engines people are using to find us, and what browsers they're using to access our content. Another good place to look is under "top referrals" or "top pages"—here you can find out what avenues folks are approaching your site by. For example, roughly 60% of our readers visit us via the atom or RSS route: in other words, they're using newsfeed-type RSS readers to check us out. Those are most likely our most consistent set of visitors, since that's how feeds are used: it's an application or page that you open on a daily basis to check out your favorite content sources.

    There are other stats in a typical metrics report that will clamor for your attention, but they are less important. Total pages (the number of pages on your site that are hit, and how often); total visitors (includes repeat visitors, so that you can guess roughly how often your unique visitors are returning during a given period); error pages (reveals how many pages or page elements failed to load—404—on your site); and tracking stats (shows IP addresses for top visitors).

    One thing you want to do with your web stats is to filter out false positives: for example, I tell my metrics program to ignore all hits from my IP address and the preview and publish pages in Blogger. This way, I'm not getting big numbers that don't mean anything except that I've visited myself a lot! Also, most metrics applications have built-in filters for robots and crawlers: either the kind that come from search engines like Google and Yahoo as they trawl the web, or ubiquitous spammers and spyware robots familiar to all of us from our daily inboxes.

    As with any science, the principle to guide yourself by is an integration of the statistical with the experiential: let your nose tell you what the numbers mean, rather than allowing the stats to lead you by the nose. For a blog like this one, I could easily live with only knowing what the figures are for unique visitors: the rest of the knowledge I get on how we're doing comes from the comments, the trackbacks and links we receive around the web, and the activity that our pages (and now our ads) generally attract.

    A web property is like a book, a piece of music, or any other creative product: it can't be all things to all people. You try to fill a niche, develop a unique voice, and appeal to enough people to have some influence on your subject. For us here, it's not about showing goofy videos or cool pictures: it's about offering perspective on corporate government, fundamentalist ideology, and how these two have become so insidiously intertwined in our era of fear-and-smear, deniability, and warfare-based groupthink; and then revealing at least a glimpse of how each unique visitor to this planetary web can free him and her self from the trap of corporate fundamentalism.

    We'll be back at it tomorrow, unless I get an offer I can't refuse...

  • Tuesday, February 20, 2007

    "A Series of Tubes"

    watch John "I'm a PC" Hodgeman explain the Net Neutrality issue with Jon Stewart

    This Wednesday I'll be meeting with the freshman Rep. from our district in Brooklyn, Yvette Clarke, as a representative of Save the Internet, to discuss Net Neutrality. I'm going because I was asked, and because I think that Net Neutrality ties in with a lot of issues that many may think are more important, such as the war in Iraq, post-Katrina New Orleans, the economy, and global warming.

    One of the reasons why there is such a groundswell of pubic opinion on such crucial issues of our time is that more people are better informed. They are better informed, I would argue, not because of the mainstream media, but because of bloggers and online independent media. Do you think we'd have half the knowledge we have of, for example, NSA wiretapping, the Downing Street Memo, torture in American POW camps, the genocide in Darfur, extreme rendition, the Abramoff / Libby / Foley (etc.) scandals, or the deplorable non-progress in the Gulf Coast if we relied solely on FOX News, Disney, or GE for our information?

    Net Neutrality is therefore a big issue, and one that the Blue Congress needs to lock down and affirm once and for all, before the corporate-fed mass media bury it under pressure from our corporate administration in Washington. If it weren't for the online grassroots movement, big telcom operators would already be preventing you from viewing some of the content you're used to accessing online. Many of the outlets that we link to from DR would be among the restricted or nearly-inaccessible sites if Ted Stevens had been able to hand over the "series of tubes" to the full control of big telcom. These include:

  • IndyMedia, the fearless online radio organization whose headline stories always reach a few layers deeper than the mass media dare to tread.

  • Democracy Now! This is what TV News would look like in a naturally ordered society free of oppression or corporate greed. Amy Goodman is one of the treasures of our nation.

  • The Blogosphere: Check our Blogroll in the sidebar; most of the entries you find there would be either restricted or outright suffocated in the Ted Stevens world of corporate-owned bandwidth. Sure, a few big presences such as Daily Kos,, and Huffington Post—sites with a combination of private funding and advertising revenue—would survive in the era of a big-telcom Internet. But the truly grassroots voices and visions would all be repressed. We would most likely lose the likes of Digby and Juan Cole, Dahr Jamail, and maybe even Eric Alterman. These latter are the people who have been telling us what's really happening in Iraq, Palestine, within the neocon mass media, and providing the insight and perspective that made last November possible.

    So this is why Net Neutrality matters, and why I ask you, no matter your political affiliation (right, left, center, or don't-give-a-damn) to sign the petition, call your legislators, and tell your neighbors why Net Neutrality matters, and why we need a free and open Internet—because it is practically all we have left of what we once knew as democracy.


    Thanks again--and again: I just had a look at the web stats and was stunned. In a short month and with ten days still to go, we've set a record for monthly page views--more than 15,000 through the 18th. As I've said before, Terry and I would probably write and spout on a desert island with no one to listen except the coconuts. But having people like you around sure makes it more fun and fulfilling. Many, many thanks to you all, and if you have advice, criticism, or questions for us, use the Comments link.

  • Monday, February 19, 2007

    Monday with McKenna: You Reap What You Sow

    Ladies and gentlemen, I'm betting that if you had enough eyes or time to read the 30 million or so blogs there are out on the world wide web, you'd never find another offering like what you're getting today from my blogging partner here at DR. I'll just say that Mr. McKenna discovered a parallel in last week's news that reaches a little beyond the pale of weird. Before we find out what that is, first a few site notes:

  • Monkeys at Photoshop: another President's Day, another banner. And yes, the pdf download of Tao of Hogwarts is gone. The book's now for sale (see below). You can blame it all on American Express for slipping me the pink last month. In case you want to register a complaint, their CEO is Mr. Kenneth Chenault, and he makes around $20M a year. At the rate they were paying me, it would take me about 300 years to make that much dough. Or put another way, Amex could afford to keep me and 149 other employees if Mr. Chenault settled for $10M a year instead of $20M. Now tell me there's nothing wrong with corporate America.

  • Another book for sale: Anyway, The Tao of Hogwarts is now for sale. You can click the graphic in yesterday's post or find the link in the sidebar to order a copy of this or any of my other three books. For real, they're pretty good, or else I wouldn't be selling them. By the way, for Geek Wednesday this week we'll have a review of the site that offers this brand of self-publishing, You may be surprised.

  • The petition on Iraq: The form at the top of the sidebar can be completed without leaving the page. If you think it's worth 30 seconds of your time to sign it, I'd encourage you to do so.

    And now, Terry McKenna arrives to climb out on a limb where there may not be any tree...
    And as you lose control
    You'll reap the harvest you have sown.
    And as the fear grows
    The bad blood slows and turns to stone.
    —Roger Waters/Pink Floyd, "Dogs"

    This week’s theme comes from an old saying. Although we are no longer an agricultural people, the phrase about planting retains its currency. Most of us have heard it and probably used it too. Thus, the concept is embedded in our culture. It goes back to the Hebrew Bible, to the Book of Job: “Even as I have seen they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.” The idea may be universal: it certainly exists in Buddhist and Hindu culture – for what else is Karma, but reaping what you sow? Of course, Karma has its own baggage – reincarnation is part of it, but if you focus on the kernel of the idea, you can see the similarity.

    That we look back to old sayings for useful truths is one of this blog’s recurring themes. For how can we move forward unless we allow ourselves to benefit from the ideas and experiences of past? The set of shared ideas and experiences, along with our shared artistic heritage, forms our cultural heritage. By culture, I’m thinking in the broadest terms; much more than ladies in evening gowns at a Kennedy Center gala. More too than our great museums and universities. Our culture does not reside in any one place or even in all of them, but rather in all of us, within our shared consciousness. So our cultural institutions (the museums, concert halls and universities) are but a small part of our culture. Our culture is our comic books and our movies. So yes, it includes Shakespeare but also King Kong and our folk tales. It includes the Bible and Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, but also the shared memory of tricky Dick (Nixon) and the Amazing Mets.

    We reflexively recall elements from our shared culture to help us understand the present. Think of how we understand Iraq. Most of us have never been soldiers, and fewer still have fired a shot in anger, so we look to memorials of soldiering in order to better grasp the soldier’s sacrifice – perhaps we’ve been to Gettysburg, and reflected on Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s 20th Maine, and their bravery at Little Round Top. Maybe we’ve seen Mia Linn’s groundbreaking Viet Nam War National Memorial. Thus we can appreciate the sacrifice of our current day soldiers. On the other hand, despite the sacrifice, the Iraq war turns out to have been an exercise in folly, and our understanding that it is so, and of what to do next, is shaped by the simple admonition used by gamblers not to throw good money after bad. Yes, gambler’s phrases too are part of our cultural heritage.

    So who will we examine this week, in terms of reaping and sowing?

    I picked an unlikely pair of Texans: Anna Nicole Smith (really Vickie Lynn Marshall nee Hogan) and George W Bush (this time examined for his Iran policy). An odd couple at first blush, but maybe not so odd when you think about it. Ms. Smith was a pneumatic concoction of our current day celebrity culture; a dissolute stripper pretending to the glamour of a movie star. That she slurred her words like a drug addict, and that her weight ballooned and fell, did nothing to diminish her peculiar fame.

    Then there is George Bush. A pretend Texan, he was raised there, but to wealthy New England parents. His education was eastern and patrician (Phillips Academy and Yale). He summered in Maine in a family compound (it takes an awful lot of inherited wealth before one gets a family compound – we don’t have one, do you?). So where did this scion of eastern wealth come up with his down home accent? I’ve listened to other Texans, and selected one for demonstration purposes. Writer Mary Karr is no patrician. Raised in a troubled household by a bright but disturbed alcoholic mother, she is a modern poet and memoirist, and she speaks just fine. Listen to her voice on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air program, and then contemplate the fraud which is George Bush’s country manner.

    So what bad seed did Anna Nicole Smith sow? Born to a 16 year old mother and 20 year old father, she was raised by her grandmother and a collection of aunts (the father didn’t stay long). Anna herself dropped out of school with at best an eighth grade education, and moved on to a career in places like Wal-Mart and Red Lobster. She found her calling in stripping. It’s impossible to know what she expected out of her chosen field, but at best, a stripper is a user of men, who is herself used. Embedding in a world of alcoholics and drug users, her early death is no surprise. Her demise is a sad morale tale of misbegotten dreams.

    Unlike Anna Nicole Smith, George Bush arrived at his Iran policy by an act of intention. Yes, he did inherit a long history of bad policy; thus, from Eisenhower, he inherited the legacy of our interference in Iranian affairs (starting with the coup against Mossadegh); from Nixon and Carter, he inherited the legacy of our strong support for the brutal Shah (very similar to Reagan’s support for Iraq’s brutal Saddam Hussein). Also from Reagan came the legacy of our blind eye toward Sunni extremism – we and our Saudi surrogates armed various warriors against the Soviets in Afghanistan; and we encouraged Saudi support for Madrassas around the world, especially in Pakistan.

    But even with such a bad inheritance, George Bush was given a golden opportunity to reverse course. When the September 11, 2001 tragedy happened, alone among Muslim peoples, the Iranians showed widespread and sincere sympathy for our loss. And surprisingly, their government did not suppress their demonstration. Thus we had an ideal opportunity for our president to come back to Iran with a gracious expression of respect and mutuality. But nothing came of it, and by the winter’s State of the Union speech, Bush damned Iran as being part of an axis of evil.

    Who knows what we will reap with Iran. Fortunately, history is still waiting for our final answer, but with George Bush in the White House, it does not look good.

    A final note about the much ballyhooed EFP’s (Explosively Formed Projectiles). These supposed Iran weapons have been described in breathless terms as nearly invincible tank busters, able to shoot hot copper through 2 feet of tank armor. On the other hand, when we are shown pictures of what they have destroyed, mostly we see mere Humvees, not Abrams Tanks. Of course, George Bush is like the boy who cried wolf, so pretty much no one believes him anymore.

  • Sunday, February 18, 2007

    Selling Goods on a Sunday

    Note: That petition at the top of the sidebar can be completed inline, without leaving this page. If you'd like to see an end to this insanity in Iraq (and perhaps more important, an end to the saber-rattling against Iran), then spend the 30 seconds needed to sign that petition. It's for Senator Kerry's Set A Deadline initiative.

    I had thought it would be harmless at worst, and maybe even nice, to give away the pdf of my Tao of Hogwarts book, until such time as a publisher came forward to purchase it from me.

    But it would appear that publishers like famous people, crooks, or literary thugs like Coulter and O'Reilly; and I am none of these things. The problem is, however, that I had put roughly two years of fairly continuous effort into the making of Tao of Hogwarts, and I suspect it's worth every dime of $13 for a 193 page paperback. That's less than 7 cents per page! You'll also find that it has a lot to say about what we've endured these past six years.

    My opinion, of course, doesn't count half as much as does yours. Anyway, I've self-published the book on; I've reviewed a copy of it and am satisfied with the quality of the publication; and I feel it can safely be recommended for purchase. If you'd like to buy a copy, I'd be grateful and I think you'll be pleased overall—just click the graphic of the front cover, above. The link will remain in the sidebar (along with my other three), and you can go back and read excerpts from it, here, here, and here.

    By the way, that graphic on the front cover is from a fractal screen saver app designed by Ben Haller of Stick Software. It's called Fracture, and if you've got a Mac (PPC or Intel, it doesn't matter), I highly recommend it.

    Friday, February 16, 2007

    "I Resolve to be Non-Binding"

    Join Sen. Kerry on setting a deadline

    Like many of you, I was following the House vote today, until a question occurred to me: what the hell exactly is meant by "non-binding"? That led me on an Internet search, which led to this Daily Kos diary post. I'll be asking these kinds of questions of my local members of Congress when they come home for their winter break next week; you're welcome to join me if you like.

    What does it mean to "resolve" something, but not be bound by it? Resolution is a fairly serious matter, I was always taught, and usually implies some degree of "binding". Is Congressional non-binding sort of like the final score of a spring training baseball game—it counts but doesn't really count? And what does it mean that such terminology is taken for granted by citizens to whom these people in Washington are supposedly accountable?

    Friday Reflection: Activism in the Open Source Society

    Our banner quote for this week is from Emerson's 1841 essay "Spiritual Laws". 125 years after his death, Emerson has a lot to teach us about living a decent human life amid a culture of corporatism and fundamentalist government. Here is another paragraph from Spiritual Laws, in which he recommends what I have described as "the open source society":

    We are full of mechanical actions. We must needs intermeddle, and have things in our own way, until the sacrifices and virtues of society are odious. Love should make joy; but our benevolence is unhappy. Our Sunday-schools, and churches, and pauper-societies are yokes to the neck. We pain ourselves to please nobody. There are natural ways of arriving at the same ends at which these aim, but do not arrive. Why should all virtue work in one and the same way? Why should all give dollars? It is very inconvenient to us country folk, and we do not think any good will come of it. We have not dollars; merchants have; let them give them. Farmers will give corn; poets will sing; women will sew; laborers will lend a hand; the children will bring flowers. And why drag this dead weight of a Sunday-school over the whole Christendom? It is natural and beautiful that childhood should inquire, and maturity should teach; but it is time enough to answer questions when they are asked. Do not shut up the young people against their will in a pew, and force the children to ask them questions for an hour against their will.

    Nor should citizens of a supposedly free nation be "shut up against their will." To that end, we have the activist arm of the open source society. Today, United for Peace and Justice is calling for our help in questioning and reversing the "mechanical action" which Emerson so eloquently exposed. UFPJ's recommendations are generally along the lines that we endorsed in Wednesday's post; but deserve restatement:

  • TODAY, call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. You can get the name of your local Reps here. Tell them you want redeployment, not escalation; diplomacy with Iran, not saber-rattling; and an end to funding any escalation of this madness. UFPJ further recommends that you ask your Rep to email you a transcript of his/her's 5-minute statement from the debate.

  • NEXT: sign the online petition or download this pdf petitionthat has been prepared by UFPJ. Print it out and get as many signatures on it as you can. Take it to your local church, tavern, workplace, or wherever you congregate with others, and ask folks to sign. It shouldn't be that hard. Then get it in the hands of your Rep.

  • NEXT: as we mentioned Wednesday, make a real pest of yourself when your Rep comes home for his/her winter break next week. Some of them are planning to hold meetings anyway: here's a list of some. Remind these people how much is riding on their once showing a little backbone to these tyrants: it's the future that's on the line here. Your future, your childrens' future, and the future of people in Iraq, Iran, and America whose lives are hanging in the balance.

  • FINALLY: one month from now, there's another anniversary coming up. UFPJ has already scheduled nationwide protests, marches, and other events to ensure that the 4th anniversary of this war is the last.

  • As UFPJ says, "We are in the midst of a nationwide peace surge." Make yourself a part of it. After all, as Emerson reminds us (in "Self-Reliance"):

    There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

    Thursday, February 15, 2007

    Oil: A Slick of Corruption

    I have a strange feeling that we're not likely to survive as a species on this planet another five or six generations, unless we allow for some ideas and perspectives that we ourselves might have dismissed, some ten or twenty years ago, as "just too strange."

    For a living example of what I'm talking about, click the graphic above and watch the film of this historian/comedian at work. The piece is hosted by our friend Tom over at Current Era.

    Now this picture to the left is the result of a survey I took at a BP site that I reviewed for the Webby Awards. Think of it as the equivalent of those Philip Morris ads that counsel parents on keeping their kids away from cigs: this is one of the monsters of the oil industry teaching us how to reduce our carbon footprint.

    This is why the message that my cat gave us last night is meaningful (for real: she transmits the content, I just type it out and then open a can of tuna). You are surrounded by slick advertising, and the verbal, PR slick is as poisonous and as deadly as the other, Valdez-kind of slick.

    Example: on a day where the EU Parliament released a report that virtually closes the case for impeachment (on both sides of the pond, mind you), the Rove spin machine went into distraction overdrive—once again with the puppet sounding another note of provocation toward Iran. All this on the day after the head of the Joint Chiefs—you know, the military expert—had weighed in with an opposite opinion.

    The mass media, of course, are reporting it all; but as always you have to read everything in order to discern the truth. Buried in the last paragraph of the New York Times' report on the Bush provocation today, is this:

    Mr. Bush has also refused to meet with Iran’s leaders, and he said Wednesday that he did not believe that it would be an effective way of persuading the Iranians to give up their nuclear goals. “This is a world in which people say, ‘Meet! Sit down and meet!’ ” he said. “And my answer is, if it yields results, that’s what I’m interested in.”

    Well, as long as Bush is in office, we'll never find out, will we? It's Karl-22 all over again: we refuse to resort to diplomacy because we know it will never work; and we know it will never work because we say so. But if it ever does work, you can be sure we'll take credit for it somehow.

    Our world today: where Wal-Mart produces ads that tell of "Sam Walton's dream" come true—of a charitable, generous, community-minded empire; where BP with its pockets stuffed with burning lucre says, "let us help you measure your carbon footprint"; and where the Rove machine spins fiction into fact, tragedy into victory, abject failure into Mission Accomplshed.

    Marketing is death.

    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.

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007

    Sleepers, Awake! Wakers, Sleep!

    Ours may be an indolent culture, but let it not be said we do not love our action figures. True, we're raising increasingly obese kids with x-box eyes and cheetoh lips; perhaps it is also true that heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure comprise the silent tsunami of our era here in the land of plenty, where exercise is clambering into the Hummer to go get a Big Mac and a double Slurpee.

    But we adore action, and we are repelled by the merest suggestion that reflection, rest, or—God forgive—meditation may provide more for our lives than our bombs or our armies of occupation or our extreme sports.

    This is one reason why science has been given such short shrift in Busherica: science has a troubling way of undermining all our most cherished assumptions about the inherent value of incessant action. It has demonstrated, time and again, that people who meditate are healthier, saner, and ironically, more active, than folks who cry for action from the couch in the living room or the television studio.

    Now science is showing us something that our ancestors knew well: that sleep at midday is one of the greatest boons to health known to humankind:

    A six-year Greek study found that those who took a 30-minute siesta at least three times a week had a 37% lower risk of heart-related death.

    The researchers took into account ill health, age, and whether people were physically active.

    Experts said napping might help people to relax, reducing their stress levels.

    Now, go and tell your boss that you are nearly 40% less likely to fall ill, and that you can be far more productive if you're allowed to take a nap during the middle of the workday. Once he stops laughing, he'll tell you to go back to your desk and "get something done" (the most common phrase for action in corporate America—note the passive voice).

    After all, how can you be "proactive" when you're sleeping? Where's the value proposition in that? Face it, nothing happens when you're asleep—let's go do a power lunch instead. What'll it be, cheesesteaks or burgers?

    Monday, February 12, 2007

    Monday with McKenna: Our Broken Government

    First of all this week, congratulations to the Dixie Chicks. There is nothing like the inner reward of holding to truth, no matter what you hear around you; and fortunately there are outer rewards as well. It's just that in this culture, they are sometimes delayed.

    Now you won't be hearing much out of us for a while about the contenders for '08—the phenomenon that Stewart has called "the clusterfuck". I tend to agree with Krugman that Edwards has some outstanding ideas that actually have some shape to them, unlike the nebulous Hillary rhetoric that otherwise prevails (incidentally, if you go way back to our January 2006 archives, you'll find a week's worth of posts from Terry that will sound a lot like what Edwards is now proposing, but that's OK—we'll allow that good minds can work in parallel, even if one of them has it out there a year ahead of the other). Meanwhile, Rich's points about Obama's promise are well taken. But it's too early, and right now we're looking the most earnestly for substance not from the '08 pack but from the heretofore pitiful collection of losers on Capitol Hill. They've got at least 8 years of lousy karma to flush away, and it had better happen fast. Perhaps, as Terry McKenna reminds us today, a glance backward will help to push these people out of the ideological mud they've been trapped in for so long. But as Terry adds below, this is no time to hold your breath or gamble the farm on that...

    We have government that won’t govern. Is it poor design or do we just have the wrong players? Sadly, no one will say! In fact, almost no one among the governing elite even acknowledges that our so-called democracy is a failure. Most of our votes are meaningless and our legislatures unresponsive. Failure starts at the local level, but gets more pronounced as you move up the line - bad at the local level, worse at the state level, worse still in Washington.

    A few examples

    In New York State (where I work) this past week, the legislators reneged on a deal with the new governor, Eliot Spitzer. They had promised to select a new State Comptroller (the last one just pleaded guilty to malfeasance) from among a list picked out by a special panel. The panel chose three well qualified auditors but the legislators, seeing none of their own on the list, decided to abandon the quest for a qualified comptroller and instead selected Assemblyman Thomas P. DiNapoli. He has neither auditing nor management experience!

    In my home state of New Jersey, the legislature was supposed to pass property tax reform. Our high property taxes are mostly dedicated to pay for public schools. The expected reform was an increase in state school funding matched with a proportionate decrease in local property taxes. An increase in the state income tax was also expected. What our legislators came up with instead was a plain old tax rebate, and one that goes to renters as well as property owners. Worse still, it starts decreasing for those with incomes above $100,000 – it stops altogether for those who earn more than $250,000. It’s not property tax reform.

    In the national legislature, we have a charade over the Iraq war. Everyone agrees we need to debate the war – even right wing columnist David Brooks of the NY Times. If nothing else, we should start with a discussion about the president’s troop surge. We also need to discuss whether the US can risk leaving precipitately. Most opinion makers believe that if we leave quickly, Iraq will collapse in chaos. Folks like myself say its already mired in chaos so our leaving will do little. Perhaps we can get Iran, Syria and the Saudis to cooperate with a planned division into ethnic spheres of influence. Perhaps not, but if not, why stay! But so far, debate has been postponed by obstructionist Mitch McConnell, who is using legislative maneuvering to prevent anything other than a George Bush rhetorical victory. If not admitting the truth is a victory, then it’s a hollow one.

    Was it always like this? Yes and no. Yes, politicians have been always been outsized egos fighting over turf. But what seems genuinely new today is the manner in which politicians communicate, and here, the changes have been profound.

    Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell should look back to his political forebear, Everett Dirksen. A Republican Senator from Illinois, he was known for his smooth words, but also for his ability to compromise. Here is a famous line that he may never have uttered - “a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money” … the quote may be specious (just check the internet). Still, I believe I saw and heard him say it in a sound byte excerpted on a long ago evening news broadcast. As a man whose party was out of power, Dirksen attempted to steer Republican votes toward progressive policies. He supported many New Deal programs, and was a strong supporter of the Civil Rights bill.

    Forty Years ago, our politicians said what they believed, and based policy on those same beliefs. For example, Kennedy based his defense policy on something that turned out to be incorrect – a perceived “missile gap” between the US and the USSR. He was wrong, but at least he believed what he said, and set his course accordingly. He also was willing to re-shape policy as circumstances changed. Thus he reversed course in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile crisis. After that frightening episode, he realized that the threat of nuclear annihilation was more pressing that an imagined need for an ever bigger nuclear arsenal. Yes, he still thought there was a missile gap, but he decided that the gap was less important than the survival of the World.

    With political speech currently stuck in competing agendas – and this counts for both Democrats and Republicans (think of Hillary Clinton) what do we do now? Damned if I know. I think we are in a real fix. Some of our biggest problems include: an abandoned urban poor, an exploding immigrant population – most of them illegal; then we have a health insurance / health care crisis, and over the next decade, we will have to come up with ever more cash to take care of the elderly and their medical care.

    The Republicans are not ready to solve these problems – except by resorting to free markets; when the democrats speak at all, they stay at the level of platitudes – afraid of asking for compromise from the innumerable interest groups that form their party’s base.

    --T. McKenna

    Friday, February 9, 2007

    A Strange Coincidence (and Friday Reflection)

    Is there a lawyer in the house? Take a look at this video and see if it makes any sense to you.

    Now don't get me wrong, I am positively delighted for Lt. Watada, who is a truly brave young man, because he follows his own truth rather than a pack of lies that his government attempts to force-feed him. I would argue that this young man's behavior in facing this trial shows the same level of courage as would have been demanded of him had he rolled over and gone to Iraq against his conscience and his inner truth.

    Where I smell a rat is the summary declaration of mistrial over the judge's negation of a pre-trial stipulation of fact that he reviewed along with lawyers for the defense and prosecution, and that all three of these parties had already agreed upon. And now, if I'm interpeting the defense lawyer's statement correctly, he's saying there can be no retrial here because you can't have a Brooklyn do-over in a court of law.

    So much for my admittedly poor understanding of the legalities here. Now, for some reality, which I think I'm a little better at discerning: can anyone else smell a massive retreat before what was quickly developing into a PR shit-dinner? Is it possible that this military judge was instructed by his bosses--maybe all the way back up to Uncle Dick and Curious George themselves--to somehow get this trial off the table and out of the media headlights?

    Just a know, mere blogosphere speculation.


    For the Friday Reflection this week, we're presenting a potpourri of sorts (the banner quote is from one of my books, so nothing to get excited about there). There are some really fine social observers and political journalists out there, most of them on the periphery of the mainstream media. Let's hear from a few of them now.

    We begin with one of my favorites, William Rivers Pitt of His latest piece is an examplary display of honesty, modesty, and some damned good writing. He freely admits to having been unhinged by a false, media-fueled bomb scare in Boston, and explains why his fear was so easily roused:

    My fears were inspired by all the stuff I've been trying to telegraph to people for the last several years. This Iraq occupation, I've been arguing since the fall of 2002, will inspire more terrorism. A ten year old girl in Baghdad gets blown sideways out of her kitchen, a mother gets blasted in a sectarian street-battle in Fallujah, a father has menstrual blood smeared on his face in a cement cage in Abu Ghraib by leering US troops looking to humiliate those of his faith, a son gets shot by a US sniper in Najaf ... and the families of those people are going to pick up a gun and volunteer to die that they might kill.

    Next is another writer I've cited many times here, Chris Hedges. He has a new book out with a title that may turn out to be more controversial than Jimmy Carter's. It's called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. If you've read many of the posts I've written here about the threat of fundamentalism, then you won't be surprised to hear that I think Hedges is right on target, especially with this:

    The Christian right has lured tens of millions of Americans, who rightly feel abandoned and betrayed by the political system, from the reality-based world to one of magic -- to fantastic visions of angels and miracles, to a childlike belief that God has a plan for them and Jesus will guide and protect them. This mythological worldview, one that has no use for science or dispassionate, honest intellectual inquiry, one that promises that the loss of jobs and health insurance does not matter, as long as you are right with Jesus, offers a lying world of consistency that addresses the emotional yearnings of desperate followers at the expense of reality. It creates a world where facts become interchangeable with opinions, where lies become true -- the very essence of the totalitarian state. It includes a dark license to kill, to obliterate all those who do not conform to this vision, from Muslims in the Middle East to those at home who refuse to submit to the movement. And it conveniently empowers a rapacious oligarchy whose god is maximum profit at the expense of citizens.

    And finally, with tears leaking onto grizzled cheek, I present what I presume was Molly Ivins' last column. Somewhere in quantum space, she and Ann Richards are kicking up stardust, reminiscing, and reassuring us that this set of tyrants, like all before them, will fall before the will of a free people.

    The war is George Bush's Monica Lewinsky. It is his undoing — the public playing out of his fatal flaws, and the reason his second term will come to naught. It is the product of this president's arrogance and insecurity, as surely as an affair with an intern was the reflection of Bill Clinton's needs and denial. But unlike the last president's foolish affair, which he paid for dearly, we pay for this one. The difference between sex and war is the difference between a mistake even his wife can come to laugh about, and one that is an abiding national tragedy.

    The most recent demonstration of this is the president's proposed federal budget. A budget is a statement of priorities, as well as a guide to allocating limited funds. The priority of the Bush budget is unmistakable. It is to fight George Bush's losing war. It is not just costing us our reputation and prestige in the world, not just costing us in terms of thousands of American lives, lost and maimed. It is costing us our shirts and undermining our goals.

    According to the president's budget proposal, deep cuts are required in healthcare, education, transportation and support for basic human needs to finance the war in Iraq. "Our priority is to protect the American people," President Bush said after a Cabinet meeting this week devoted to the FY 2008 budget.

    Not exactly. Our priority is not to protect the American people, but the Iraqi people. Otherwise, Bush wouldn't be looking to save $100 billion from Medicare and Medicaid, and limit which children are eligible for the Children's Health Insurance Program, in order to come up with the $141 billion that is to be allocated for the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan next year — not to mention the total $623 billion for defense for 12 months.

    Tell the kids who won't get health insurance that your priority is protecting them.

    Tell the seniors who depend on Medicare and will have to pay more for prescription drugs that your priority is protecting them.

    Tell the 1 million poor families who will lose the assistance they're now getting to purchase home heating oil that your priority is protecting them.

    Who does George Bush think he's kidding?

    How dumb does he think we are?

    His priority is covering up his biggest mistake.

    Bill Clinton lied about his mistake.

    But George Bush is doing something even worse. He's robbing every American to pay the price for his.

    Wars are expensive. You want to fight a war and, of course, not raise taxes to pay for it, but the money has to come from somewhere. It's coming from you and me, and going to Iraq. So it's not going to take care of sick kids and seniors, to educate young people, to fix the infrastructure of our own country. It's not going to fight the diseases that kill us. It's not going to local law enforcement, where the cut in federal support is estimated to be 75 percent even as crime is going up. It's going to try to stop the Sunnis and the Shiites from killing each other.

    The Democrats will make a lot of noise about what's wrong with the budget and will probably succeed in resisting some of the cuts. But budgeting is a zero sum game. The end result will still be more debt and less money for services for the American people. The cost of continuing this travesty must be measured not only by what is happening there, but by what is not happening here.

    The tragedy of the Clinton second term was not the Monica Lewinsky nonsense, but what the president might have accomplished had he and the Congress not been distracted and diverted by the mess of impeachment. But at least the country didn't get stuck with the tab. Our politics got destroyed, for a time, but we didn't. Government kept working. The budget was balanced, with a surplus. We didn't go into debt to pay his. George Bush's folly is far more costly because it defines our lives and future, as well as his.