Monthly Archives: October 2011

Hello from the Future!

Apple may have captured the world’s attention with the iPad, and Amazon has crammed thousands of books in a package weighing 8.5 ounces, but Microsoft gets the award for grandest future vision.  And they seem to have all the elements in place to pull it off.

Microsoft Surface is amazing, and I really want one.  Though at $7,500 I’m not likely to replace my kitchen table anytime soon.  Still, it would totally make board game night awesome.

Omnitouch can make anything into a computing surface – though I’m pretty sure my cats would get annoyed if I used them as a keyboard.

And yet, despite all this great technology, we still don’t have flying cars.

Long winded

The data center is, quite possibly, the best place in the world to fart.

Racks of computers, routers, and switches require lots of fans to cool.  Lots of fans means lots of noise!  So, unless you’re letting rip one of those earth-shattering bombers, nobody should hear you.  Lots of computers generate lots of heat, which means data centers need to be cooled, and chillers circulate air constantly.  Your flatulence is safely cycled out within seconds, and no one ever need know.

Amazon Loves You!

It’s never been easier for author’s to get their work out.  With the rise of e-books and Amazon’s Kindle, publication is only a few clicks away!  Amazon is even targeting authors, establishing contracts for direct publishing that cut out editors and agents.  They’re offering Neilson Book Scan Sales data for free, something most publishing houses only include with royalty statements.  Amazon does this, because they love you.

Except that they don’t.

Amazon is a retailer first, and cares less about your writing career than the publishers and agents who currently ignore you. They care about sales.  Signing authors to contracts is simply a way for Amazon to cut out the publishing industry that’s keeping them from higher profits.  The Kindle is, and always will be, about chaining the customer to a retail ecosystem Amazon controls – just as iPhones and iPads are chained to iTunes.  This gives Amazon far too much power in my mind, and makes possible one-click censorship generated in a board room when somebody’s e-published book about abortion or religion or politics or some other touchy subject draws bad press Amazon doesn’t want.  That hasn’t happened yet, but the absence of an event doesn’t define reality.  Nobody’s stolen my supply of prized bacon-flavored ice-cream, but I’m still keeping my doors locked.  When profit and art clash, art loses, and Amazon has already shown their willingness to yank content when it suits them.

Also worth considering is the signal-to-noise ratio.  Self-publishing an e-book is so mind-numbingly easy my cat can do it.  Far too much crap gets dumped on Amazon as it is, and while it’s up to the author to generate interest, drawing attention to your brilliant (and grammatically correct) book becomes no easier than shouting for attention at a rock concert.  The unwashed masses prefer the ease of bestseller lists which no e-book has yet to achieve.  I’m sure there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to the contrary, but there’s just as much anecdotal evidence that bacon-flavored ice-cream is the best thing in the world, and I still can’t get my wife to try it.

Don’t get me wrong, you can have my Kindle when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.  With the upcoming Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire, Amazon has hit a great price point for user adoption, and the more Kindle’s they sell the bigger the audience for published work.  I’m a big fan of e-publishing and the future for writers is full of possibilities.  I’m just not quite convinced we need to let Amazon run the show.


There’s an offshoot of Buddhism that believes people are reincarnated as animals if they’re cruel, and insects if they’re particularly evil.  I’d like to think when I drive down the road, I’m killing tiny pieces of Hitler with my windshield.

Prepare to meet your DOOM!

The Mayans – the D-list movie stars of ancient civilizations.  Largely ignored, eclipsed by Aztecs, often mistaken for Aztecs, the Mayans were mathematically brilliant and enigmatic.  Perhaps that’s why the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21st, 2012 has captured so much press.  Global attention spans are fleeting – like trying to teach a puppy to pee only on newspaper.  Things are exciting!  Until they’re not, and then global attention spans pee wherever they want.  Last year the world was absolutely infected with the predicted end of the Mayan calendar, right up to the Hollywood adaptation of a surprisingly awful and yet amusingly entertaining disaster movie, 2012.  And this year, nothing.

Once we’ve all woken up from our New Year’s hangover in 2012, I predict the media will be yet again bombarded with gloom and doom of the kind not seen since the Y2K disaster that never was.  We’re already overloaded with books, iPhone apps, web sites – disaster predictions are everywhere.  Here’s a brief list, and why they’re stupid:

Some nutjobs claim the Mayans were predicting solar storms.  The sun tends to spit out radiation every few years, and solar radiation disrupts electronics.  A solar storm in 1989 actually brought down the Canadian power grid for a few hours (take THAT, Canada!).  The last big burst was in August.  Did you notice?  Neither did I.  According to NASA, the folks who actually know about this stuff, the next big solar storm isn’t going to happen until 2013 or 2014.  While it’s true electronics are sensitive, and a really massive solar storm, something like a sun-fart, would knock out satellites and disrupt power, that’s hardly a catastrophe.  Power grids will come back on.  At worst, unshielded satellites may be dead, and launching more will be expensive.  We may have to go through a few years without GPS, and that is a disaster.

Other nutjobs believe the Mayan calendar corresponds to solar variations, in particular, the galactic conjunction (which sounds like a venereal disease).  The galactic conjunction occurs when the earth’s orbit and our sun align with the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.  That the Mayans predicted this isn’t really so amazing, considering their calendar was based on movement of the sun and moon.  Mayans were great astronomers.  You have to remember, these people didn’t have television, so they had to do something with their time.  That the calendar ends during a conjunction is no mystery.  But there’s another subclass of solar nutjob who thinks the Mayans were predicting when all the planets in our own solar system will align, creating a massive gravity well!  First, there is no full planetary alignment in 2012.  Second, even if all the planets did align, they can’t overpower the largest mass in our solar system, the sun.  Only the IRS wields such power, and they’re not likely to audit the sun.  Or are they…

Next up is the earth-axis shift.  The magnetic poles like to move around, and the earth wobbles.  The nutjobs say the earth’s magnetic poles will shift on December 21st 2012, throwing the equator along the poles and creating global earthquakes and tidal waves.  A suddenly shifting magnetic pole would be bad, but it isn’t going to happen.  Virtually every planetary scientist with actual  credentials – not degrees purchased from the Internet or non-existent countries – agrees that the earth’s poles aren’t likely to shift, and even if they did it’d be a slow, gradual change over hundreds of years.  A disaster spanning hundreds of years doesn’t seem like a disaster… and I don’t think people can scream that long.

There are plenty more wacky ideas, including invasions of insects and the mighty Cthulu rising from the sea.  I would’t start hoarding shotguns and canned food just yet.  The Mayan calendar ends on December 21st, 2012, but the Mayans never said there’d be a disaster.  Their calendar was broken up in to eras, and the end of one era doesn’t mean the end of the world.  They were no more likely to plan the next era than we are to start printing calendars for 2025.

And finally, probably the biggest point to make, the Mayan calendar may not really end on December 21st 2012 anyway.  The growing consensus from archaeologists is that the original calculations used to convert the Mayan calendar to the Gregorian calendar are wrong.  Re-calculating puts the Mayan calendar end date 50-100 years off the mark, which means Hollywood will be making a sequel disaster movie: 2112, the revenge.


Viruses rarely discriminate.  The only prejudice most malicious software harbors is a penchant for processing.  If it runs, it infects.  Always.  For the sake of brevity, I’m not going to expound on the differences between a virus, trojan, bug, zombie, or any of the countless ways malicious code can get into your gear.

I’ve been in far too many discussions with Mac users claiming Macs are immune, or Linux users claiming nobody writes viruses for Linux, or Windows users who say Virus software isn’t needed if you’re careful.  Art is subjective, software isn’t, and the plain truth about code is that it infects.  While there are still a few instances of college kids hacking away code for relatively benign purposes – like turning everyone’s computer clock back six months, or setting home pages to gay porn sites just for laughs – the truth is malicious software is big business.  Infected PC’s send billions of spam messages every day without their users ever knowing they were even infected.  And if you’re in the business of writing malicious code, you target the biggest install base – Windows-based PC’s.

But big install targets aren’t the only targets.  Macs are just as susceptible to infection as PC’s, but being a lower percentage of the PC market, there simply aren’t as many people targeting Macs because there’s less return on that programming investment.  The more popular Macs become, the more that will change.

Do yourself a favor and don’t be a fool.  Your computer use habits only matter if you never connect to the internet, never read e-mail, and have no means of installing software – which probably means you’re using a calculator.

How to kill your company

I’m not sure what’s infected businesses lately, but there seems to be a surge of mind-numbingly retarded executives making mind-numbingly retarded decisions.

First we have HP, which seems intent on removing itself from the Fortune-100 list.  The past year has been filled with blunders like failure to capitalize on the Palm buyout (which they paid too much for) with a tablet that was too expensive and poor competition for the iPad.  Killing it and dumping inventory in a fire sale seemed more like the kind of thing a stubborn 5-year old would do when told their toys are inferior.  The HP tablet wasn’t that bad.  Then there’s the PC-spin-off fiasco which caused stocks to take a nose-dive and the stockholders to can Leo Apotheker because they were tired of his crap.  Let’s hope the new CEO can do better – she’s only the third in 11 months.

After buying Sun in 2009, Oracle began screwing over MySQL users because Larry Ellison just doesn’t understand open software.  He’s too busy suing his neighbors over their trees.  That hasn’t stopped him from making some questionable decisions that’ve infuriated the Oracle user community.  Quadrupling the cost of MySQL support, and adding a host of new commercial extensions doesn’t bode well for the open software database platform.

But that’s not as bad as Netflix.  For a company that changed the rental industry with DVDs-by-mail, they don’t seem to understand their core business.  First was a severing of streaming and DVD contracts, effectively doubling the cost of subscriptions for most users.  Stocks took a nose dive.  Then CEO Reed Hastings announced spinning off DVD rentals into a new company called Quickster.  That move would’ve forced DVD and streaming customers to maintain two separate log-ins, accounts, and queue lists.  After a serious beating from customers and stocks, the split is being cancelled and Quickster is no more.  Nothing tells the world you don’t know what you’re doing like reversing big publicly announced decisions.  Quick tip Reed: try discussing business moves with other people before announcing them.

Just don’t ask Oracle or HP.

You can have my iPad when you pry it from my cold, dead hands

I have never been a fan of Macs.  That confession, especially after the death of Steve Jobs, may label me as a heretic.  I’m willing to risk burning at the stake.  What turns me off isn’t so much the hardware (they use standard PC parts, if a bit overpriced), or the software (it’s Unix, after all).  It’s the people.  Most (and by most I mean nearly all) Mac users are rabid cultists intent on making the world see their wisdom.  Arguing which is superior, PC or Mac, is like arguing which is the better pet, dogs or cats (cats, obviously), or the better soda, pepsi vs. coke (coke wins).  Computers are tools, and I’d no more hold an argument in favor of my PC than I would my cordles drill (it’s a DeWalt and it’s awesome).

Even though I will likely never buy a Mac, I still love my iPad.  Apple didn’t invent the tablet or the touch operating system, didn’t invent the integrated processor, didn’t invent the downloadable software store, but they did bring these things together in a tight, easy-to-use package.  The iPad/iPhone ecosystem is so user friendly my cats can use it (though they haven’t figured out swipe-to-unlock yet).

Using an iPad brings back that excitement I felt the first time I used my commodore 64 as a kid.  It won’t replace my PC or my laptop, but that’s not what it was intended for.  The iPad brought the internet to the couch and the bed and the bathroom (don’t try to tell me you don’t use your iPad when you’re doing number two – I won’t believe you). 

Steve Jobs will be remembered for more than bringing the web into the potty.  While I applaud his drive and determination, his ability to redefine an industry and yank Apple from the brink of failure, the man was not the pure genius and embodiment of perfection Apple-fans will undoubtedly praise him as.  The iPad, for all its brilliance, suffers from stifling and distinctly un-American censorship; if Apple doesn’t like your app, it doesn’t go on the marketplace.  Everything from gay-related apps and political cartoons to software from competitors gets the axe.  And let’s not mention the sweatshops all that gear is manufactured in, places that sound like something from a dystopian science fiction novel.  And maybe it’s too soon to mention the fact that Jobs never donated to charity despite his 7-billion net worth (unless, that is, he did so anonymously… which seems unlikely given his personality).  The man was a visionary, sure, and shaped a global industry.  But he wasn’t a saint.