Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Netbook Distraction

I'm a bit perplexed by the whole 'netbook' thing (sorry Psion). A nine to 12 inch screen, compact keyboard -or worse, rearranged keyboard, and if it comes with Windows XP you get limited functionality. At the very least, the Dell Mini 9 below comes with Ubuntu 
This eeePC below is running Ubuntu. You can get a good idea of how small it is

I just don't get the whole netbook thing. Ever since the first Windows CE Handheld computers came out (mine first was the Casio Cassiopia), I had one. I got pretty good at three finger typing, and wrote an entire operations manual on one. 

When the HP version came out, I was in HPC heaven. The keyboard was a great improvement:

But those handhelds were compact, easy to carry around. I could keep mine in my pocket, or a little belt pouch. My Toy, as it came to be known, was always with me. These netbook things are almost big enough to be a regular laptop. Big enough to be just slighly too big to be portable.

I think people see the price tags on these things (usually under $400, and some close to $200), and think they can get by just fine with it. Some people like them, some return them -Linux or not.

Besides price, I think the other thing people like about these netbooks is battery life. I have a P3 Acer Travelmate with Ubuntu 8.04 LTS on it. I consider that my 'netbook' because it has a 4 hour battery life. My 2.8 Ghz HP is more powerful, but with the battery hold a 40 minute charge at best, it's more a desktop replacement. The travelmate is pretty light and thin enough, and the HP is heavy and bulky. Guess which one I use more?

As laptops come down in price, increase in battery life, and cellphones like the G1 and the iPhone increase functionality, these netbooks are not going to last.

Monday, January 05, 2009

2009 Predictions

Let's start with the Tech Predictions:
  • Linux will just slightly overtake Mac OSX- Many people are choosing to keep their existing hardware. At the same time, many geeks are promoting Linux -especially Ubuntu- to help keep malware off the average users system. By the end of this year, Linux will just barely, even arguable, beat OSX.
  • Steve Jobs will quit Apple, sort of- He will leave his current position, but will remain on the board. This will cause a slight dip in Apple shares. But, when the announcement comes, so will a significant technology from Apple. Within less than 3 days, Apple shares will recover and increase slightly.
  • OSX will have a significant security problem. 
  • Oracle will buy or form some sort of partnership with Red Hat. The shares of both will rise.
  • There will be a major security breach in the credit industry. One or more of the credit data sources will be greatly compromised. 
  • Windows 7, if it comes out this year, will be a hit. Like Windows XP, there will probably be fewer choices, maybe even just one version. It will be the cheapest version of Windows so far. 

National Predictions

I think most of us realize things are not going to be that good in the USA for awhile. It's easy to predict that mortgages will fail, foreclosures will happen, jobs will be lost, etc. I'll let the financial people deal with those. My national predictions will have to do with trends I see that we don't hear much about.
  • The publishing industry as we know it will falter- We're already seeing agents taking fewer submissions, and most don't even take fiction submissions at all anymore. Like Realtors, some have even changed jobs. One of the major brick-and-mortar stores, Borders and Barnes and Noble, or both, will go belly-up.
  • The discussion of the legalization of marijuana will greatly increase -anytime there is a downturn in the economy, there is an increase in crime and drug/alcohol use. As long as drugs are illegal, more crimes will be drug related, and they will be violent crimes.  Usually the talk of crime in an economic downturn is toward gun control. I don't think the Obama administration is going to touch that discussion. The legalization of marijuana will be dicussed as a possible measure to prevent violent drug crime.
  • More people will began to suspect the 'bailout' money is not going toward any bailout for the businesses, banks, or people. 
  • The security breech to the credit system will start a major change in the credit structure.
  • China will start to speak up on some of the problems in the middle east and Islamic terrorists. Their problems with internal Islamic terrorism will become a major topic of discussion in the US.
  • The US and Mexico will enter into talks on a major economic transition between the two countries.
  • Toward the end of the year, a few people will find out where all the bailout money is actually going.
So, those are my predictions. At the end of the year, I'll review this post and see what came to pass.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Now is the time

Now is the time,
Now is the best time,
Now is the best time of your life!
Life is a prize,
Live every minute
Open your eyes and watch how you win it

Yesterday's mem'ries may sparkle and gleam,
Tomorrow is still but a dream
Right here and now,
You've got it made,
The world's forward marching and you're in the parade!

Now is the time,
Now is the best time,
Be it a time of joy or strife,
There's so much to cheer for,
Be glad you're here for it's the best time of your life!

Sorry. Got a bit carried away with pre-1994 Carousel of Progress song lyrics.

While it may not seem like the best time to many, for 30 and younger there will be a lot of new opportunities ahead. I highly agree with consumer advocate Clark Howard; hard times and economic strife tend to push the creative flow and innovative abilities of Americans. If we can adapt to the changes to come, we can be in the best times of our lives.

Now, on with the show.

This post is about Now is the time for Free and Open Source Software. I know that's been said many times, and many people are saying that now. I'll give my reasons why now is the time, and how it can happen.
  • The popularity and use of Open Source solutions is gaining momentum in the non-geek market. OpenOffice.org is probably the primary path.
  • Most people did not know there were alternatives to Windows or OSX. With very usable Linux distro's out, even the almost-but-not-quite geek types are installing Ubuntu, Fedora, and OpenSuSE for people.
  • Windows XP isn't exactly easy to install, or re-install. Ubuntu is very easy to install from a LiveCD.
  • Windows Vista's horrible public reception. Whether or not it really deserved the bad publicity, it did happen. Apple's marketing campain against Vista worked. Vista itself was a turn-off, even for many geeks.
  • Windows XP, while it's still preferred by most consumers, is pretty much a sponge for malware. XP gets infected within three months. The scareware popups can get a new machine infected in one day.
There are two paths that can will bring Linux to the forefront

Re-Install XP and install Ubuntu for a Dual Boot Machine
IT people, in their spare time, will do a complete reinstallation for a very low price. The standard price for this service is $50. Don't over pay Geek Squad, so they can buy more VW Beetles and helicopters. Once a system has been compromised, it can't be trusted. Anti-virus and anti-spyware programs can tell you if you've been infected. Some malware can't be detected. If your machine is just getting too slow, it's time to do a reinstall.

When I do a reinstall for someone, I also setup a Dual Boot with Ubuntu. With StartUp-Manager (SUM) on Ubuntu, the preferred OS can be set to default boot. If I setup a computer for somone prone to malware infestation (porn sites, gambling sites, travel sites, and hair care sites), I make Ubuntu the default boot OS. I'll teach them how to use Ubuntu if needed, but most people take to it quickly -even without my help. I encourage them to use Ubuntu whenever they're surfing the internet, and to use Windows ONLY when they are doing something that just isn't available on Linux: Some sites that require Internet Explorer, people who use Quicken or another Windows only financial product, or they use other software that won't work on Linux. Some students need software for school that only works on Windows.

Over time, most of those people use Ubuntu far more than Windows. There are the occasional few that have difficulty with any change, and will stick to Windows only, and will need a reinstall every three to six months. I need to meet more of those people.

Trickle-Up tech
For the past thirty years, we've been in a trickle down economy. It has been argued that we need to move to (or back to) a trickle up economy. Linux has a chance to be a part of trickle up.

As a Free Geek volunteer, I know know how many thousands, if not millions, of usable computers are sitting unused in closets, attics, and garages. Most often, there was nothing wrong with those computer other than a malware problem. Or the person got a newer, faster system, and never bother to get rid of the older one. Getting hold of those computer, installing Linux on them, and giving them out to people who can't afford a new computer is part of what Free Geek is about. Those computers can be used by millions of people.

Small businesses can take advantage on second tier market too. The can greatly lower that IT and tech costs, and possible improve their security and up-time in the process.

Vendors Will Notice
As more computers are being used with Linux installed, hardware and software vendors will have to take notice. They already make hardware and software for Mac and OSX, and that is only a little more than 5% of the market. If we can get Linux to even 10%, vendors will have to respond.

While I prefer my OS to be Free and Open Source Software, I don't really care if a program I use is free or open source. If a program is good enough, like a movie or book, I don't mind pay for it at all. I'd feel a bit more secure with an Open Source package, but I'm not opposed to closed source programs. I'm GREATLY OPPOSED to closed source systems and programs being used in government -especially education and law enforcement. Let just say when it comes to that, my opposition borders on the extreme.

This can be done. Other than vacuuming lots of dust from older computers, it wouldn't really take much effort.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Personal Responsibility

"Whatever happened to Personal Responsibility"? This is a term and question that gets thrown around a lot these days. People who accuse others of abdicating personal responsibility seem to avoid looking at their own life, and examining their own abdications.

So what did happen to Personal Responsibility?

In one word: CONVENIENCE. We now actually have a choice in the matter.

Physics and Personal Responsibility
One hundred years ago -or even just eighty years ago- we had no choice in personal responsibility. Just getting through daily life was a struggle. Very few, only the super rich, had a choice in how they went about daily life. I'm not talking about he major life decisions here. I mean simply tasks of living; waking up, getting to work, getting food, acquiring clothing, all that stuff. Those tasks are so freaking simply for us today, we don't give them much thought or consideration.

Modern conveniences have made life much easier. The clothes washer, dishwasher, microwave oven are examples of things in our home that make life easier. One hundred years ago, when we didn't have those things, getting those tasks done -washing clothes, washing dishes, cooking meals- required much more labor.

For example, in the USA we can go to the supermarket, pickup some chicken, get the shake n' bake pack, a box of rice, and have dinner done very quickly. To be absolutely convenient -we can go through drive through and pick it up. Sometimes buying food that way is actually cheaper!

In other parts of the world, if you want chicken for dinner, you get it two ways; go out in the backyard and catch one, or buy one at the street market. In both these instances, the chicken is still alive. Before you can cook chicken, you have to kill it. Cut it's head off, gut and pluck it, skin it if you like it that way, then cook it. Rice can be a wee bit easier to get, but not much.

In the modern world, especially in the USA, we've become addicted to convenience. The conservation of energy -and conservation of momentum- are laws of physics that greatly apply to all areas of life. Basically, an object as rest will tend to say at rest, unless an outside force is place on it. In the past, daily life was that outside force. Any organism will produce as little energy as possible to get a task done. This is a universal in all living organisms. We will produce only the required energy to get a task done. If we have the option to produce less energy, that is exactly what will happen. Every animal, every creature follows that law.

Ron Paul made an excellent point about health care: "We don't have a health care problem in America. We have a health problem." He is right. Humans are not made to move a little as we do. Our bodies are adapted for locomotion, for movement. But our cars do our moving for us. Our buses, planes, elevators, escalators. I'm convinced part of the rash of anxiety issues in our society is directly related to our lack of movement. That speculation probably comes from my observation of the effect in dogs. Just watch The Dog Whisperer, and you'll see what I mean.

In today's world, especially in the USA, you actually have to make a concerted effort to produce more energy than is required. This goes against the law of Conservation of Energy. We actually have go against the laws of nature and animal instinct to produce more effort than we have to! We actually have to try to lose excess body weight!! We actually have to go out of our way to walk more, bike to work, take the stairs, or almost any other daily movement decision.

This addiction to convenience extends to all areas of modern life. You see it in our daily impatience. I speculate that people were much more patient, out of necessity, before one hundred years ago. Because we have the ability to produce almost-instant results, we expect it. We live with convenience so much so, that we sometimes forget there is another choice. We actually forget to 'take personal responsibility'. The use of convenience is the abdication of Personal Responsibility. You've done it. You know you have. We all have, simply because the convenience is there.

Trial Lawyer, and Personal Responsibility
I've said it before, and I'll say it again:
"Trial Lawyers are the cause of idiocy in America!"

It works like this:
Part of what's kept us alive as humans are critical thinking skills. Living off the land creates very well developed critical thinking skills -everything you do is critical. In today's world, you don't have to think anymore. Someone else has done it for you.

Someone stands too close to Niagara falls, and falls in. That's a completely natural event. No violence, just poor judgement skills. But, the Trial Lawyer was on his visit to Niagara too. Rushed over and immediately assumed representation, and made the surviving family wealthy. The Niagara park was sue beyond wits end, and new policies and procedures where put in place -along with taller rails. Since then, no one has gone over the falls.

Now, that story is fake, of course, but it kind of makes the point. People don't get to exercise the critical thinking skills of, "Don't get so friggin near that drop." Now imagine something like that, put in place everywhere you go. Our society does not get to exercise critical thinking skills. The necessary external force (from the law of conservation of momentum) is simply not there for us anymore. Natural selection simply isn't happening.

All because of trial lawyers.

In the Discovery Channel movie, "Alien Planet", biologist and animal behaviorist discussed the concept that the predatory instinct enables intelligence. No, I'm not talking about the lawyers. I'm talking about us. Our predatory instinct drives us to observe, plan, consider options, and take risks. Like muscle, that ability must be utilized and practiced, or it atrophies. We are no longer, as a society, using our predatory instinct or critical thinking skills because we aren't force to do so. The external forces that push us to use those skills are far less, to be virtually non-existent.

Now, the problem gets worse. We're currently in our second or third generation of people who haven't needed to use critical thinking skills. How can we expect someone to learn and use critical thinking skills if the necessary environment does not exist? How can we expect these people to teach their children those skills? How can we expect teachers who grew up in that environment to teach what they have never learned? Is it their fault they haven't acquired critical thinking skills? Remember the laws of the conversation of energy and momentum? People who expect personal responsibility to just arise out of nowhere in our society are doing the same as expecting a Dolphin to just flop up on land, and suddenly start walking. A Dolphin is able to use its innate abilities in the water, but not on land.

Until we live in a society where we have no choice but to learn and practice critical thinking skills, Personal Responsibility will not occur. To expect Personal Responsibility to be learned or practiced in an environment where it's not required, is futile. When the option exists where we don't have to use it, we won't. When we have to produce more effort, when we are forced to make more critical decisions, Personal Responsibility is the natural result of that environment.

Social Responsibility
The problem is compounded further by our current practice of Social Responsibility.

We're at such a population density that what happens in one part of the world has ripple effect, and we're all affected. Even small decisions can have a world wide impact. "A Computer on Every Desktop" started off as a small idea. That idea has literally changed the face of the earth.

When people are at a point where they cannot or will not take care of themselves, that effects us all. 'Cannot' and 'will not' are two very different occurrences, but the social effects are the same. If that occurrence increases, the effects can be disastrous. We are one of the few animals that have the ability to be altruistic. I've witness dogs and dolphins doing so, but for the same reasons we do; what benefits the pack (or society) benefits me.

We have a desire, even responsibility, to help our fellow man. We even do it with the knowledge that doing so helps ourselves. But has that intent created a society that produces sicker people, with less intelligence? Have the lawyers that got the big business to do our thinking for us created a society leading towards Idiocracy?

When you make a purchase, do you consider the entire chain that created that item? Take a stick of gum:
  • Where did the raw materials come from? How are those workers treated?
  • Where did the packaging materials come from? How are those chemicals going to affect the area?
  • How did the transportation of that item affect us? Is the truck driver paid well enough? How is that transportation decision affecting us all?
  • Do the ingredients in the gum compromise your health? Are you even aware if they do?
Entire books can and have been written on the chain of effect. But, to make a conscious decision, you have to be aware of the effects. Then again, who has time for that? It's far more convenient to just grab the stick of gum, and let others make those decisions for us. As consumers, we make social compromises everyday, especially where convenience is concerned. Those compromises also affect our Personal Responsibility.

We're not going to be able to wipe the social slate over, and start clean. That's impractical. It's also impractical to promote the idea of "going back to" anything. We don't travel back in time, yet. Our human experience is always forward in time. But how can we create a social environment the enables and increases critical thinking skills? How can we create a health system that helps created stronger, more disease resistant humans? Is it our social responsibility to produce a society that actually challenges, and even probably endangers, our posterity to make sure they retain and increase critical thinking skills?

As for me - I'm going to keep being a Personal Energy Conservationist.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ginny Agility

Ginny and I practicing agility. Actually, Ginny is the agile one:

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Nice Little Laptop

I recently acquired an Acer TravelMate 260 (really a 261xc) laptop. It's a Pentium III, came with 256 MB ram, and a 30 GB 4200rpm hard drive. The battery was shot. It didn't work at all. As I usually do when I acquire a piece of equipment, I did a few searches on it to find out what the perks and quirks were. There was some good news - it was reported to have a 4 hour battery life.

I installed Xubuntu on it. It worked okay, but not to the level of what I thought Xubuntu should give me. Speed wasn't very good at all. I wiped Xubuntu, and installed stock Ubuntu, just to see what would happen. Weirdly enough, stock Ubuntu ran faster. Much faster. I'm not sure what didn't work with Xubuntu, but I'm glad Ubuntu worked well. I'm now encouraged to make stock Ubuntu the regular Free Geek Central Florida install, no matter what the machine (except a Pentium II -those get UbuntuLite).

Battery life has always been more important that speed for me. I'm not a gamer, and if I was I'd use a desktop for my gaming. I use my laptop for internet, writing, and various wireless security practices. This laptop actually matched my needs better than my current laptop.

I purchased a faster 80 GB 5400 RPM, added 512 MB ram to it, and reinstalled Ubuntu. Processor throttling is there, not heavy command line work to get that going. Suspend and Hybernate just work. And, the battery life is crazy good. I've been on it for 3 hours, and yet to have it drop below 60%.

The computer has only two issues:
  1. Occasionally, I have to eject and push the battery back in for the computer to start -without being plugged in. Not a big issue at all.
  2. Full screen Youtube videos are choppy and jitter. Regular boxsize work fine. DVD's play good too. Just large screen Flash isn't that good. Might be because of the 8 MB video ram.