“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” -- Carl Sagan

Category: technology (page 6 of 6)

An Interview

Seth Godin on blogging — Seth Godin, Blogger: An Interview.

Also, the Press This! on WordPress has now made me a thousand times more annoying than ever before.

GoogleOS Will Save the World!

I heard on the Interwebs through a series of tubes that GoogleOS based on Google Chrome is coming out in 2010! It will not only cause the collapse of Microsoft, but it will solve world hunger, put a man on Mars, get everyone to dress well, fix the economy, give us all universal health care AND look good! Also, it will be awesome.

I am a happy consumer of many a Google service, especially the fine search engine. I’ve been using it since it had a Stanford URL and remember, distinctly, evangelizing it when people went “Google what?” while heading off to Altavista. I have Gmail! I use Google Reader! I sometimes use Google Docs.

But the world is littered with Microsoft Killers. Linux has been THE Microsoft Killer any day now since 1994. I am still waiting. MacOS, which I love unto death, has a tiny market share compare to Windows. Solaris is not a desktop consumer OS despite several incarnations of Solaris on the Desktop.

And lo, yesterday, the Interwebs was rife with the coming of the great Google Messiah. A little digging turns up that it’s not a new operating system at all, it’s just yet another Linux variant that uses Chrome as a window manager designed to run on netbooks because we don’t have enough Linux variants with different window managers yet. Theoretically it will have better security (it will) and privacy (yes) but this is from riding on top of Linux which is naturally more secure and private than Windows. I am positive it will be great for netbooks. (Full disclosure: I have an HP Mini that runs Ubuntu.) It will be a pretty well-designed window manager. Lots of people will love it. It may even push Windows XP out of the default install netbook space, or lower its market share. But this is not going to get “Google to beat Microsoft” and I am not convinced Microsoft even cares about the netbook space.

Reality is a harsh mistress. Android isn’t beating the iPhone or Blackberry, and GoogleOS won’t destroy Microsoft in some David vs. Goliath — or, to the point, Goliath vs. Goliath — technical showdown.

So huzzah for another Linux distro! May it be like all the rest.

There was a nice rant at Naked Capitalism that is very much worth a read.

The Revolution Will Be Twittered

It’s funny, watching a stodgy old regime lose power. The more power they lose, the more hard-line the regime in power becomes. The further they are willing to go. The more atrocities they are willing to commit. But, like Gordon Brown said this morning in response to the Supreme Leader’s sermon blaming the Iranian problems on Britain, there won’t be another Rwanda, there won’t be another massacre hidden in the dark. You can bring out the guns. You can bring out the tanks. But the Revolution will be Twittered and everyone will know. Instantly.

Like everyone else, I have been staring at the net trying to follow the little drips and drabs of information coming out of Iran. No one knows where this is going to go, or how it is going to end up. An election was stolen in the most hamfisted, 19th century manner and who knows how many elections until now have, themselves, been rigged. No national election can ever go forward there now, not ever again, not without people knowing absolutely that the system is rigged (unlike here where everyone just thinks it.) One thinks, at least they could have looked up on Wikipedia ways to steal an election before staging one so brazenly but this is a regime who is anti-technology, anti-modernity, and is sticking its heels in the ground and refusing to move forward into the 21st century. It was a poor attempt at a coup to change a nominal republic into a military junta with the veneer of a theocracy to make the pill go down easier.

In normal times, before The Internets, the regime could make a polite fiction of the electoral system and murder anyone who disagreed. But in a society full of cellphones with cameras, no atrocity goes without showing up on YouTube. Everyone who is subscribed to the right channels knows instantly. Polite fictions become ugly truths fast.

What has entertained me, as I insert myself into the story, is the cat and mouse game between the attempts to cut off communication to the global community and the clear and obvious leaks of information getting out. The world is full of groups quietly getting around their government’s oppressive filters to get to the outside. There was an entertaining op-ed piece from Nick Kristof in the NYTimes yesterday about how the Iranians are flooding servers set up exclusively for the Falun Gong. The Chinese are trying to keep the servers up, but there is a huge difference between 12 Chinese dissidents sending a few emails and 400,000 Iranians twittering. The servers don’t have capacity.

How do we, as a Free Society who wants to encourage Democracy, set up the equivalent of a Free Internet for those who need to get out? How do we ensure that people who need encrypted email and encrypted connections can get out to news and services on the outside? Information needs to get out, so how to make it happen? What to do? (If I had a server, I would have put up a proxy box by now…)

As of this morning, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s speech, which boiled down to “we hate foreigners who are doing this to us and my candidate won and if you don’t like it, my goons will beat you up,” was what was predicted he would say. In the face of cities full of protesters and rioters, and having to cling to a poor decision to save face or else admit his complacency in the coup, he could do no other. And now the protesters will be back in the streets. More twitter proxy servers than ever are out there up and humming and it will escalate. My fear is that this will all end in Tiananmen Square Redeux, that the hard-liners will have no choice but to make it clear this was a military coup and the republic part of “Islamic Republic” will be forever over, but that will be twittered and on Youtube, too, in all its glory. Where it will then be run on cable news…

And where that goes, no one knows. Welcome to the 21st century. We have beanies with propellers.

Some Kindle Thoughts

Eric is trying to persuade me that the Amazon Kindle is not the end of the Codex as we know it or the end of human civilization.  He bought me a book to read, a collection of highly goofy essays called “Things I Learned from Women who Dumped Me,” and conned me into reading it.  I’m 70% done with the book, but I figured I could post a little commentary now.

– Reading off the Kindle does not give me headaches.  If I try to read a long piece on a computer screen, I get throbbing headaches, but I did not have this issue with the Kindle.

– It is light and easy to hold and easy to flip pages.  Eventually hitting the next page button doesn’t feel any different than turning a page.

– The raft of buttons at the bottom means I can prop it up on my chest and see it clearly.  This is, oddly, a major plus.

– Clicking it on and being at the page I left off is really nice — no lost bookmarks or fumbling around with pages or having to skim pages to figure out where I left off.

– The controls aren’t bad.  Takes a bit to get used to it, but not bad.

– Nice and light.  Weighs much less than a paperback.

However, not knowing what page I am on in relation to the book is a bit weird.  I finally realized the bottom bar is the chapter marks.  I also find going to the Table of Contents to be really kludgy.

My verdict on it is that reading a book off the Kindle feels very much like listening to an audio book off Audible, except reading it instead of listening to it.  It will not work for dense histories or reference books or art books or anything that really requires tons of focus.  It’s pretty much great for the newest Christopher Moore novel or an Elmore Leonard novel or a history book by Sarah Vowell but I shy away from anything serious, dense, or requiring an index or lists of citations.

In my mind, I’d treat the Kindle more like an Audible subscription.  These are books you don’t really need to keep but they’re nice to sort of breeze through with 1/2 of the attention and half the brain.  It’s great for read once, toss away paperbacks.  I like it in an it’s okay to read outside sort of thing, but it’s not going to be parting me from my books or book collections any time soon.


One of Katie’s very first words was “Moon.”  She’s been fascinated with the moon, and now Jupiter, Saturn, Venus and Mars, since she could point up at the sky and point out that there were holes up there through which light passes.  We figured she was old enough to understand basic instructions, so we were bad and bought her a present.

We bought Katie her very first piece of serious scientific equipment, the Orion SkyQuest XT4.5 Dobsonian telescope. It’s an interesting scope because Orion advertises it as their starter/kids pack to get kids started.  It costs just as much as a crappy refractor from the Mall but it’s a real scope that can do real scope-like things. And sure, she’s only 4, but one cannot be too little to have a telescope!

Here’s what we have learned in the whole 6 hours from owning this scope:

– It is an awesome scope for the price.  The scope is only $200.  Because a Dob is just a light bucket, Dobs are cheap.  They have high mirrors – cost ratios.  The one doesn’t have any electronics, but it is exceptionally well built, sturdy, and all the gears work like they have been greased with butter.

– It was easy to lift, easy to set up, and took about 5 minutes to get going and shooting things.

– Even without the mirrors properly aligned, I took it out, put it on the driveway, got it pointed at the Moon (in daylight!) and let Katie see the Moon through the eyepiece.  This was a moment of extreme excitement.  It wasn’t even a full Moon, or in the dark, or with one of our high-quality eyepieces.

– If I had this Dob, even without electronics, when I was a kid I would still be in the backyard.

– This is seriously making me consider one of the big Dobs with all the electronics and gears. We have a Mak-Cass and it is awesome but it is mostly for planetary viewing.  The big Dobs will get you the best Hercules Globular Cluster you’ve ever seen where you can make out about 10,000 stars.

If you have a little kid and you want to get out and look at the planets and the Moon and some real easy to find deep field objects, this is a hell of a piece of starter equipment.  It’s a ton of telescope for the price, and it’s good for Mom and Dad, too.

Review: Blackberry Storm

I am not a gadget nerd.  In fact, I am oddly gadget adverse — unless it works out of the box and works easily, I will put the gadget down and never pick it back up again.  This is odd considering what I do for a living but there it is: I generally don’t do gadgets because they have terrible UI design and they annoy me.  I love my iPod, I put up with my Palm Tungsten because I need a checkbook, and everything else gets on my nerves.

I have, up until now, avoided the Blackberry addiction.  What I wanted originally out of a phone was a phone that made phone calls.  Then I wanted a phone that made phone calls and got me football scores when I could not be watching football.  But as my parents, and my entire family, moved off into gadgetland and away from actual phone calls, simply having a phone that made phone calls became more and more challenging.  Over Christmas, I had weird arguments with my Mom because I couldn’t get to my regular email until 8pm at night and there was Mass Panic.

Something generally needed to be done, so I gave in and got a Blackberry.  And, because I will carry it for the next two years, I got the Latest and Greatest, the Storm.  Keep in mind that I don’t have an iPhone, so I am not comparing it to any Apple devices. It has also been updated to the newest service packs.


– It does what I want it to do!  It gets my mail!  It runs twitterberry!  It will get me into Facebook if I am feeling masocist.  It generally gets on the net and grabs news and my feedreader!  Google mobile apps are a real lifesaver and I became very happy after I discovered the LJ mobile interface.

– I have been very happy with the Gmail support.  It deals with my email flawlessly.  It is not difficult to send or respond to mail, and it has really nice Gmail — Contact book integration. It doesn’t crash and support for reading email is very smooth and very clear.  Considering that Gmail with push mail integration was my #1 feature request, this makes me quite happy.

– Google Talk is very good.  It will run multiple conversations at once and thread them. It will alert when someone has responded so you don’t need to stare at the Blackberry.

– The web browser works well in landscape mode with zoom.  I found I could read Washington Post, NY Times, CNN, etc. without any real problems.

– I can type about 30 words/minute when the keyboard is in QWERTY landscape mode.  This is actually very good — and I like that it lights up the letter it thinks I want under my fingers before I push it.  Granted I type normally at around 90 words/minute, but this is really so much better than the terrible SMS I was stuck with before.

– The contact book and calendaring systems are very powerful, which is expected from a Blackberry.

– I actually like the size.  It is smaller than I expected and very thin.  It fits in my hand comfortably.

– Post a full day of use, it was down 1/2 a battery.  This is, of course, after the service packs were applied.  Before that, it drained 1/4th the battery in an hour of use.  Apply the patches!


– The tilt sensor is a little bit quirky.  Sometimes it doesn’t respond, and sometimes it tilts when you don’t want it to.  I get that it’s like that for all these sorts of devices.

– It gets confused where you want to click sometimes.  You have to click away and click back where you want before it will respond to the click.

– When typing on the QWERTY keyboard, sometimes it pops up and suggests some strange characters.  I’m not sure how to turn that off, but I really don’t need anything outside the main ANSI set.

– I couldn’t… figure out… how to make a phone call.  And it’s a phone!  Nominally!  I did figure it out, but then I had to navigate a voice mail system, and I got lost trying to get the button pad up.  Not the most intuitive interface in the universe.

– When using the browser, it likes to zoom in/zoom out when what you really want to do is scroll.  I’m sure that’s easily controllable, but I’m not sure how.

– Twitterberry has a deeply goofy interface.

– You do have to really press on the screen to get it to do anything, and I worry about two years of wear and tear on the device.  I can see that breaking.


– The interace for setting an alarm is terrible.  Just terrible.

– The screen gets gunky fast.  As in, a half an hour of use fast.  I found micro-fiber cloths clean it pretty well, but it desperately needs a cover.  It has to have a cover.

– The lock button is in an awful place and it is not obvious in the least.

– The “say a command” button gets pushed every time I try to put it back in its little case.  Gah.

Overall, I can see how people get hooked on these devices.  Just being able to get my email without being plunked in front of a computer is a fantastic thing indeed.  In general, using it is a real positive experience.  It does occasionally do some inexplicably strange things on me, but in general I have walked through everything I want it to do (read RSS feeds, leave a comment on LJ, get twitter, read my mail, launch google talk, send an SMS, organize contacts) and it does all of this pretty well.

If you have an iPhone, don’t bother.  But if you have Verizon and you’re eyeing one yeah, go ahead and get it.

Whitehouse.gov and other stories

whitehouse.gov went off the air at around 11:45am this morning and came back up at noon. Other than now it has blogs, twitter feeds, RSS feeds, hosting for videos, and eventually the forums from change.gov. (I have already requested my username for the forums so I can complain about technology issues.)

But the big thing is this: the site is now indexable by regular search engines.

Under Bush, no web sites attached to the White House could be indexed by anything. There were 2400 exclusion rules to keep all index engines out which have now been lifted. I’m not sure why I feel this is such a momentous event, since it is just a web site. Clearly the tech team came in, unplugged the ancient Windows 2000 server running the old website, slapped in the new machine, turned it on, got all the systems booted, and were good to go. But it feels like, the first major event of the brand new Inauguration was to welcome the Administrative Branch to the 21st Century by sticking it online.

Obama vs. George Bush’s Computers

I read this morning on Politico (sorry, I misplaced the link) that the Obama staffers have been informed that they are no longer allowed to use IM.  Obama himself won his fight of Treasury Department vs. Blackberry (although they are making him move to one of the Blackberries approved by the NSA and armored for in theater combat which, as a security nerd, I find totally cool but everyone else finds abhorrent) but now they cannot use IM.  For reasons that absolutely are beyond me, they apparently don’t have Microsoft Communicator IM server hooked up internally to their Outlook server, likely because no one knew they could do that.

But it’s worse than that.  Apparently, leaking out of the White House through disgusted Obama staffers, is that the machines themselves have not been upgraded since Bill Clinton left office.  The machines are largely running Windows 2000 and pre-2000 OSes that Microsoft no longer supports.

This actually explains an awful lot about the Bush Administration.  At their core, they were anti-science, anti-engineering, anti-technology, anti-21st century.  A complete Faith-based Administration.  They hated smart people, and smart people use computers, so they hated computers, too.  Thus the entire system is running on a creaky edifice.

I am looking forward to reports over the next month of the Obama people vs. the White House tech staffers and the new mandates for upgrades.  I can understand why, perhaps, they don’t let people get on external AIM but really, this is a new world and for god’s sake, let these people have their internal IM.  And yes I know there are issues with the Presidential Records Act but that is why the White House has lawyers.  It collects logs!  Automatically!  Sheesh.

Frankly, when I read this factoid this morning I laughed and laughed.  I look forward to battles over hardware acquisition and upgrades to *gasp* Windows XP.  The next few months are going to be delightful from a pure technology perspective.

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