Google vs. China

Is anyone else following this story?

Google has redirected google.cn to point at their Hong Kong servers which far less restrictions on search results. I am not clear on the law differences between Hong Kong and Mainland China but apparently this was a major slap in the face to China. The Chinese are pissed. The Chinese retooled the Great Firewall of China to post-filter the results coming from google.com.hk.

This has major business implications for American businesses in China. I have to admire Google’s stance. But I have no idea where this is going to go. The Chinese aren’t going to appreciate the big, fat middle finger and Google is going to lose buckets of money. It looks like a lose-lose proposition to me.

We’ll see.

How To Destroy Physical Evidence

How to destroy physical evidence: Eat the drive.

In a bold and bizarre attempt to destroy evidence seized during a federal raid, a New York City man grabbed a flash drive and swallowed the data storage device while in the custody of Secret Service agents, records show. Florin Necula ingested the Kingston flash drive shortly after his January 21 arrest outside a bank in Queens, according to U.S. District Court filings.

Maybe there’s a rule for getting away with the evidence by ingesting it in the new Leverage RPG. Although the hospital trip and having it manually removed from one’s GI tract is a little harsh — unless the data is that awesome.

Stuff on My Droid

I have owned the Droid for a few weeks now and it is conforming to my lifestyle. A few apps have stayed on, a few apps have bit the dust, and a few I like very much. Here’s today’s Quick Roundup of Droid Toys ™ that do not include “phone,” “calendar,” or “email”:

1. Remember the Milk. I finally signed up, and paid the $25/year fee to, Remember the Milk. So should you: easy to use task lists, multiple lists, and shared lists. The free mobile Droid app integration complete with running task list widget on the main page is fantastic. Double click, click the box next to complete, and it automatically syncs with the website. It’s especially powerful with shared lists.

2. Google Listen. I am fairly meh on podcast software because I use iTunes and my iPod and the original version of Google Listen was a horrible piece of dreck. But the new, upgraded version is very nice and very powerful. It has good search features, list management, subscription management, download only on wifi, automatic stream, and manage Listen subscriptions through Google Reader.

3. Seesmic. I haven’t tried any other Twitter clients on the Droid but Seesmic has features I want: twitpic integration, maintains my “last read” point so I can easily find my place and scroll through an hour or two of tweets, easy reply, easy retweet, and easy private messages.

4. Google Maps and Google Navigator. Google Map support is, unsurprisingly, spectacular on the Droid. Google Navigator is a bit strange to use in car mode but it is a better GPS than my tom tom in a pinch.

5. Weight Journal. For $0.99, it will chart your weight! It sounds stupid but knowledge is power and the ability to watch one’s weight allows one to moderate one’s daily intake of calories accordingly. And as soon as I started using it I saw a very small but steady decline in my weight…

6. Pandora radio. Pandora just got an update that improved it considerably because before it was dropping the connection constantly. I am still not certain why it insists on playing all Beatles songs on my Radiohead station but it has found some interesting music for me.

7. Netcounter. It tells me how much bandwidth I am consuming. That’s it. It’s a handy metric to have.

8. ConnectBot. Yes! An SSH shell on my Droid! Sure I have to use the pull out keyboard for it but it is an honest to freaking god full color term on the Droid in itty bitty teeny weeny type. AWESOME.

9. ShopSavvy. Open it up, scan in an item, get prices and reviews. I have used it on games that looked dubious and came back with nothing but poor reviews.  It has already saved me money.

10. WeatherBug. Don’t leave home without it. It gives me a constant update on the temperature outside.

Stuff I have that I like and will keep but don’t use so much:

– ElJay, an LJ client.
– Yelp!
– Flickster
– Evernote
– Facebook client
– Google Goggles

All good, recommended apps. I’m just not hitting them as hard as my above top-10.

Fear Inc.

A very nice essay about US Fear culture from TomDispatch called Fear Inc. It is a nice analysis of the 9/11 that never ends, the US fear culture, and who profits.

Newsweek is running a similar sentiment. Maybe the news media has gotten their teeth on a newer, and more interesting, story: how we have all been spent into bankruptcy by make-believe fear mongering.

Droid In Practice

The droid has gone on the road and so far it is overwhelmingly successful:

– Google Maps showed me that traffic was special and stupid in downtown Silver Spring because no one has ever heard of plows or salt. It’s too close to DC for sanity.

– The dock works great and now my droid has a continuous source of power to slurp. It is not intrusive or obnoxious and only took a moment to get used to.

– Pandora radio streams fine without skips or jumps over the 3G in normal/low bit setting with no noticable loss of quality but I am a little nervous about usage stats even though I have an all you can eat/unlimited package. I have a perfectly functional iPod so I will move back so I can listen to Radiohead albums* but having it as an option is nice. Also, the Radiohead Pandora station keeps thinking I want to listen to Beatles songs which is slightly odd.

– Twitter works fine in the dock. I have managed to finagle a twitter display on my droid when it is sitting in the dock.

Overall, the droid continues to perform As Advertised ™. I have not have a crash or a hang. I haven’t had any issues with it at all which surprises me because all Technological Toys ought to suck. I’m not sure what to do with one that doesn’t.

Now, I have had apps hang but I have Advanced TasKiller which just kill -9’s an app and allows me to restart it without any major issues.

* Really, do I listen to anything else?**
** Yes, but my play rates on Radiohead are disgustingly high.

Paranoid Android

For the last year I have been limping along with a Blackberry Storm. At the time, it was the best that Verizon had to offer in smartphones. But even with several OS updates it had serious problems:

* After the last OS update the phone was covered in Java errors.
* Only a small number of apps could be launched at a time and they stayed resident in memory until the phone crashed, about once every 18 hours.
* The camera did not work. Period.
* Gmail was POP3, not IMAP, so my mail account and phone did not stay in sync.
* It only downloaded apps to resident memory meaning only a very small number of apps could be downloaded and updating/patching an app meant more memory and a whole phone reboot.
* A very small number of apps actually worked and simple apps like Weatherbug crashed the phone.
* It was exceptionally difficult to use a dialpad during calls so doing simple things like navigating a phone tree was nearly impossible.

But it made calls, ran Google Maps, got twitter, and got my email, so in general it was okay although I had taken to call it “my fucking Blackberry.” Complete with very plasticky phone casing that did not survive bumps or drops well, it was not holding up. It was an exceptionally beta product.

Eric decided for Valentine’s Day to get me a new phone. It came down to Motorola Droid or the Palm Pre because on the East Coast it is either Verizon or Pain*. I ended up rejecting the Palm Pre for several reasons:

* I am not convinced Palm, as a company, will be around tomorrow, let alone in 2 years when it is time to get a new phone.
* The Palm Pre has even less app support than the Blackberry Storm.
* I have a Palm Tungsten and it drives me crazy to the point where I have abandoned it except for Quicken.
* My mom has a Droid.

The last one was a surprisingly important reason to get a Droid. We went over to the Verizon store which has turned into DROIDTOPIA and the sales guy wanted to ensure that it was “the right phone for me.” He was confused when I told him I wanted a phone that could get my email, get sports scores (March Madness yo) and make calls and how hard it is to get all three but I had read on the Internets that the Droid did this. The Palm Pre and the Blackberry Storm2 were relegated to sad little back corners of the store covered in cobwebs and forgotten, unloved. Thus I got a Droid.

Funny thing is, I love this stupid little device. I have a great and expansive love for Motorola hardware because it feels big and heavy and powerful and it never, ever breaks. Our Motorola-made phones live long after their expected lifetime — Eric has my RAZR3 and it’s still perfectly fine. But that’s not really it. The droid:

* Gets my mail via IMAP so my account stays in sync;
* Gets sports scores;
* Makes phone calls.

It’s the holy grail device! It does the three things I ask of it! It does a bunch of other things to, like ssh out to a shell and give me a full color xterm in itty bitty but very usable type. Get on WiFi at home. Present an awesome version of Google Maps with automatic traffic overlays**. Sure I had it launch some of the bling apps like Flickster because why not. I’m using:

– Seesmic
– Gmail
– Google Maps
– Google Star Maps***
– Connectbot
– Weatherbug
– Yelp
– Evernote
– Facebook

Of course, for me, the big win was when I hooked it via USB cable to my Ubuntu 9.10 HP Mini netbook, dragged a movie over to it and it played flawlessly. From Ubuntu! Once it has dropbox it will be awesome.

Sure I’m sad that I cannot have an iPhone but this seems like the next best thing. Maybe now I will be a little less annoyed at my array of gadgets.

I feel sort of bad. I spent my entire life criticizing Microsoft-heads for their unquestioning Microsoft-worship of All Things Microsoft and here I am pumping money into Google. Maybe I am still futily wanting a monorail out of it.

* Of course if the iPhone was on Verizon it’s no choice at all.
** The Storm gave me this, too, but it would often crash the Storm.
*** If you do backyard astronomy this app seriously rules.

Why I Broke Up With Firefox

I had a long love-affair with Firefox.

I never liked Internet Explorer at all. It was too dowdy. Not flashy enough. Dull. Feature-free. Lacking in essentials like tabs (which it eventually received.) Tired and corporate. Firefox, which sprang from Netscape like Athena springing from the head of Zeus, was hot and sexy and fast. It rendered pages at speed. It introduced blessed, glorious plugins like AdBlock and No-Script and Firebug. It was the first with tabs — how did we live before tabs?

But Firefox had a hidden addiction, an actual disease. It was addicted to memory. At first it was a fun high and then slowly it would consume all the resources on a machine. Soon the high wasn’t for fun, it was just to maintain — I had to use Firefox because it was better than the alternatives but it kept crashing my machine. Eventually I could have three tabs max open if I wanted to do anything else. And woe be if I needed a browser and a memory or CPU-intensive application open simultaneously!

Firefox was stripped of all but essential plugins but yet it still brought my machine to its knees. And I was full of woe, because I like to use my machine for things other than the browser. We will not speak of the unspeakable slowness of Firefox upon the Netbook, for it was embarrassing.

Then came along Chrome with a whole new set of web browsing guts.

Sure she was a little unsteady at first. Crashed. Didn’t render things right. But then she got flying straight and I could open 20 tabs without it breaking a sweat. Chrome didn’t have plugins and, on the Mac, didn’t have a bookmark manager, but it still rendered pages at lightning speed without crashing my machine. “My,” I thought, “maybe this Chrome thing has something to it.”

And then the updates came out. A bookmark manager. Plugins. Adblock. Stability. It can open a whole raft of things at once. A dozen tabs takes as much memory as 1 tab open in Firefox. If one tab went haywire with javascript closing it did not bring down the whole browser or the whole box. And it is fast. So very fast.

I sucked up my pride and, after many years, I broke up with Firefox and switched to my primary browser to be Chrome. It runs on the Mac! It runs on the Ubuntu Netbook! Acceptably fast! Amazing!

I feel a little dirty. But it is time to move on.

As for Internet Explorer, she’s been looking okay with her new incarnation but she still lacks plugins, she’s slow, and she’s a closed universe. She’s still very corporate and likes to wear a suit but she’s rapidly becoming the ultimate also-ran.

More Snowmageddon and Facebook

It is 10am just south of Baltimore, MD and the snow is coming down horizontal. Snow typically does not fall horizontally. I cannot see the neighbor’s house out the window. The news says we are going to get about 6-8 more hours of this. The trees around my house seem okay but I can see a few trees down across the street. The winds have picked up — I have heard reports of 40mph to 60mph in the region. I don’t know how many more inches we’ve received but the huge snow piles look all eerie and soft.

This storm is worse than the last storm. The last storm the snow came down in huge mounds. This storm comes with ice and sleet and winds. The snow has swallowed up the world.

Since I am a winter storm shut in I have spent some quality time with Facebook. I got the new UI update and, as far as I can tell, it breaks the service. What I want from a social networking feed is:

– People’s status and pithy comments
– Links
– Pictures

I also want it in the order it was posted with no cares for “most popular” or “most linked.” Very simple. This seems impossible for the Facebook UI team to deliver unless one is willing to go through convoluted steps to configure the thing and even then the configurations don’t take. I spent time combing through the help files last night but I could not find a satisfying way to set up what I want and thus it is a complete UI FAIL. Facebook Lite seems to deliver that up “sort of.” It is better than the main screen. I don’t understand the algorithms and the interface with the three columns is ridiculously cluttered. It just is not very good for what I want, need or desire.

I basically want a LiveJournal friends page. I want to see:

– People’s posts
– In the order they were posted
– With the ability to filter into groups

That’s all! Anything else is noise. There’s a reason why things like RSS feeds and Twitter work: filtered, updated, in the order they were posted. Simple!

I’m objecting to the Facebook Dictatorship. I do not like my information presented to me in the way Facebook decrees regardless of my desires. I prefer my information in a more democratic style where I can pick and choose and order the way I wish and see what I would like without the need for overwhelming reams of javascript. I prefer my Internet a genteel anarchy full of LOL Cats, not walled off communities with a psychotic HOA who keeps moving the trees around and telling me we can only park in most popular first order.

Maybe I’m too old for Facebook. Or maybe I am fleeing the Orwellian universe of Facebook for a simpler world. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

(You can Facebook me if you’re desperate but I do not link back to people I don’t know. You’re better off with my twitter, a service I rather do like. Yes, well, shameless plugs.)

Interesting Microsoft Op-Ed

I hate being sick. I don’t write when I’m this sick. I don’t do anything except read and watch the Style Channel mindlessly — and the Style Channel doesn’t even show clothes anymore. In this morning’s reading I came across a very interesting Op-Ed in the NY Times by Dick Brass, the ex-VP of Microsoft called Microsoft’ Creative Destruction:

As they marvel at Apple’s new iPad tablet computer, the technorati seem to be focusing on where this leaves Amazon’s popular e-book business. But the much more important question is why Microsoft, America’s most famous and prosperous technology company, no longer brings us the future, whether it’s tablet computers like the iPad, e-books like Amazon’s Kindle, smartphones like the BlackBerry and iPhone, search engines like Google, digital music systems like iPod and iTunes or popular Web services like Facebook and Twitter…..

…… The company’s chief executive, Steve Ballmer, has continued to deliver huge profits. They totaled well over $100 billion in the past 10 years alone and help sustain the economies of Seattle, Washington State and the nation as a whole. Its founder, Bill Gates, is not only the most generous philanthropist in history, but has also inspired thousands of his employees to give generously themselves. No one in his right mind should wish Microsoft failure.

And yet it is failing, even as it reports record earnings. As the fellow who tried (and largely failed) to make tablet PCs and e-books happen at Microsoft a decade ago, I could say this is because the company placed too much faith in people like me. But the decline is so broad and so striking that it would be presumptuous of me to take responsibility for it.

Sitting here watching Eric play Mass Effect 2 reminds me that the Xbox360 is likely Microsoft’s most popular product. You cannot say that Windows 7 is “popular” the way people go out of their way to buy Xboxes. Windows 7 is a “grudging upgrade.” No one thinks Office is “popular” the way the new iPad will be popular. It is necessary — and slowly being overtaken by other, cheaper, less bloated applications. (I like Abiword but I know I’m an island.)

Read the whole editorial. It’s fascinating. I have been watching the Microsoft in my life slowly disappear and now it is condensed only in the Xbox360 and vestigial Office apps. Like a shark, in technology, you either keep moving or die, and when the business people get involved in the technology decisions and people start guarding territory with knives, what you end up with is a dead shark.

Ending the Moon Program

If you have not heard, we are no longer going to go to the Moon. Ever. The Obama Administration has decided to cede space sciences to the BRIC countries and embraced a fantasy of outsourcing space flight to private corporations.

I know NASA is a Byzantine mess. I know NASA is extremely expensive and years of research goes on without anything to show for it. I know the country is in a fiscal hole. But I also know all that money goes to keeping a very specific dream alive. It’s a carrot. All those kids who dream today of being astronauts will never be astronauts. Screw those kids who want to go into planetary science or space science or astronautical engineering or material sciences or even computer science. No kid today going into the Air Force will ever fly a launch vehicle.

China is talking about a man on the moon in 2020. India too. Americans? So much for the great US of A. So much for the campaign promises of supporting science. That whole line about not being second best in the State of the Union was noise.

The crazy thing is that I find myself pulling for the Republicans on this one. Space stuff is like my version of DADT. No space? Fine. No donations to the DNC this year, either.

I don’t know. I don’t know the politics of Constellation. I just know that, in my daughter’s lifetime, she will see someone else’s flag fly on the Moon.

Bonus Content: A whole list of cool tech that will never see space.