Archive for October, 2006

First impressions with Vista

October 11, 2006 Comments off

In one of my offices I have a test-bed computer, which is currently loaded with Microsoft Windows Vista RC-1.  Naturally by the time we got round to loading RC-1 Microsoft has released RC-2, which is supposedly the final, nearly-complete, “We really mean it this time” release candidate for their new operating system.  Now the RC-2 download has been closed, which is Microsoft’s way of snatching away the pretty thing and sneering; “Psych!”

There are little graphic changes just to mess with conventions.  For example, have a look at the new “folder” icon at right.  What was the purpose of redesigning the “folder” icon? 

By most reports, however, there isn’t a ton of difference between RC-1 and RC-2; mostly stability tweaks.  Here are my impressions to date:

  • Microsoft programmers and designers have better eyesight than I do.  I’ve had to knock down the resolution and tweak the interface in a number of ways so I could see what the hell I was doing.

  • I was delighted to see that user profiles are now kept in a folder called “users” on the root drive.  This makes for much shorter paths, which is a plus given that Windows will allow you to create a path that is too long for it to manage.
  • It broke one of my favorite applications, XnView.  Installing the new version seemed to fix it
  • When you go to install anything (or anything tries to install itself) a very Linux-esque dialogue box comes up with some very clear wording to the effect that a) “I trust this application, please install it”, or b) “I don’t know this application, please cancel the installation.”  Then you have to put in an Administrative password to continue with installation if you select the first option.  This little change alone will vastly improve the security of Vista.
    (I would show you a screen-shot of that dialog, but neither XnView or the new Windows screen-capture applet were able to capture it.  Pressing ‘Print Screen’ wouldn’t capture it, either.  It steals focus from all other applications, and no other business gets done until you give it an answer.)
    I have not tried installing SQL or any large Java apps yet like OpenOffice, but will report back when I do.

  • Everything is “photographic” including the silly “Gadgets” sidebar full of useless crap taking up a large portion of your screen.  The interface really wants to compete with the content for your attention.  News flash, Microsoft, I use a computer to work with content!  Damn, I don’t think they’re listening.
  • Pursuant to that, their “Aero” glass, whatever 3-D whoop-de-do interface (which will now require 128mb minimum video ram) didn’t do anything but make it harder to spot the active window.  Luckily one of my standard tweaks is to border the active window with two pixels of 255+128+0 orange to make it stand out.
  • One thing is the same as always, though.  Good ‘ol ‘Notepad’ is still a crappy text editor.  No true wrap, no line numbers, no tabs, no macros – unchanged since Windows 3.0.  Fortunately Notepad++ seems as happy under Vista as it is under XP.
  • The web browser ‘Internet Explorer 7’ appears as deeply woven into the operating system as ever, which is just as bad an idea as ever. There are even some extra ActiveX control permissions for non-admin users, which hardly brightens my day.  IE7 has some rudimentary tabbing functions, RSS-grabbicity, and multiple home pages inspired by Firefox, which is a good thing.

The machine is a Dell Optiplex 270 with 1gb RAM and a 128mb video card – nothing great but it runs OK and the installation on a blank hard drive was easy.  There are a few differences in where common things are, including the Computer Management console but nothing you won’t be able to figure out after a minute or two if you are used to administrating XP.

So far my summation is that Vista is trying really, really hard to impress you with what The Simpsons’ ‘Sideshow Bob’ would describe as “Bright lights and shiny things.”  And now that you’ve read my impressions, here are Information Week’s impressions on RC-2.

Categories: Geeky, Software

Typewriter story from a reader

October 9, 2006 1 comment

Over a year ago, I wrote a post about a typewriter I found, and darned if (just in time for Halloween) reader Don Jones didn’t send me a (presumably fictional, but who knows?) story about his haunted typewriter in response!  He has a new blog on WordPress (good choice), which has the very promising title of My Short Stories so we may be seeing more stories from him.

Blogging, you never know what will turn up.  Turns out his typewriter has a pretty decent set of personal values…

Categories: Blogging, Geeky


October 8, 2006 4 comments

I’m having a snack of MrsDoF’s homemade applesauce with a dollop of whipped cream and a hot cup of vanilla almond tea alongside. 

If this makes you think of applesauce like you get out of a jar, or a can, you have my sympathy… but MrsDoF takes her annual applesauce VERY seriously.  It’s cooked on our stove, got little chunks of apple in it, and it is not too sweet, and what sweetness there is, is cane sugar, not beet sugar.  And I forget what kind of apples they are but you can bet MrsDoF knows.  Mmmmmmm…….  :-P

Categories: Personal

France careening toward smoking ban

October 8, 2006 6 comments

If you call a friend in Paris next year, and they seem even more rude than usual, it may not be their fault.  France – the whole country – is banning all outdoor smoking.  Said the Prime Minister:

“We started on the basis of a simple observation – two figures: 60,000 deaths a year in our country linked directly to tobacco consumption and 5,000 deaths linked to passive smoking.

“That makes more than 13 deaths a day. It is an unacceptable reality in our country in terms of public health,” he said.

I’ll say it’s more than 13 deaths a day; try dividing 65,000 by 365.  It leads one to be a bit skeptical of their figures.  But undeniably cigarettes are dangerous; people know this, still smoke anyway, and resent messages from the nanny state to make them stop.

The transition isn’t likely to go smoothly.  A friend of mine who visited France a couple years ago described it this way: “Everything was really expensive, the food was great, the cities were beautiful, all the women looked like models, and everybody smokes.”

There’s a Saturday Night Live routine in there somewhere…

Categories: Geeky, Safety & Health

The worst thing that can happen to our country

October 8, 2006 4 comments

Keith Olbermann:

Yesterday at a fundraiser for an Arizona Congressman, Mr. Bush claimed, quote, “177 of the opposition party said ‘You know, we don’t think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists.”

The hell they did. 177 Democrats opposed the President’s seizure of another part of the Constitution.

Not even the White House press office could actually name a single Democrat who had ever said the government shouldn’t be listening to the conversations of terrorists.

President Bush hears… what he wants.
- Crooks And Liars, Keith Olbermann commentary

As I have said before, the president and many of his followers seem to have lost track of who our enemies are.  In the current campaign he is waging open war on our constitution and those who defend it.  He behaves as if he has forgotten his inaugural oath, to say nothing of our true enemies.

Our Constitution is America’s place on the ‘Periodic Table’ of nations; it differentiates us from the also-ran nations who have yet to discover freedom.  Checks on power defend not only the people from their leaders, but leaders from themselves.  No one in Congress is against listening in on terrorists’ conversations – no one.  But the demand for the removal of any judicial supervision from that effort, and the attack on anyone who calls for such supervision, should raise a warning flag, as should the weakening of such a fundamental limitation on govenrment power as Habeas Corpus.

Olberman goes on to quote Gen. Tommy Franks:

General Franks said some of the most profound words of this generation. He spoke of “the worst thing that can happen” to this country:

First, quoting, a “massive casualty-producing event somewhere in the Western World — it may be in the United States of America.”

Then, the general continued, “the western world, the free world, loses what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we’ve seen for a couple of hundred years, in this grand experiment that we call democracy.”

It was this super-patriotic warrior’s fear that we would lose that most cherished liberty, because of another attack, one — again quoting General Franks — “that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass-casualty-producing event. Which, in fact, then begins to potentially unravel the fabric of our Constitution.”

Al Queda is not the only danger to this country.  In losing contact with our principles we risk achieving Al Queda’s goal.  It is a basic conservative principle that government power is dangerous and needs both limitation, and supervision to ensure it stays within those limitations.  It is conservatives first who should be saying; “Just a minute, Mr. President…”  But so often it is the Democrats who must act as true conservatives when the role is abandoned by those who wear the mantle of conservatism.

Categories: Politics

West, North, East, but not South

October 6, 2006 6 comments

I walked up and down the East side of the road, waiting for the sun to rise and listening to the humming noise from the telephone pole next to me.  Putting my hands on it I could feel it vibrating as if a diesel engine were running in the ground just beneath its foundation.  All the poles were doing this; the cold wires contract to become like titanic guitar strings, vibrating with the energy pouring out to farmhouses and grain silos, and back into the ground.  I held my camera in my armpit, trying to keep the battery warm.


…and stood shivering as the first rays finally swept across the fields like a painter’s brush to the West:



And then South, straight up the road where two farm houses balanced across the hilltop from each other like square dancers, sharply outlined in the new sunlight.  Raising my camera the sixth time, I pressed the button to zoom and…


…just before the screen went black.

This is one reason why WeeDram uses purely mechanical cameras with film, which holds a latent image waiting for the bath of chemicals to awaken the picture to view.

Oh well, I guess it’s no different from running out of film, or discovering only later that the diaphram leaves have begun to stick, so all the pictures are overexposed.  At very least I’ll darn well charge the battery before going out the next time.

Categories: Personal

Driving away the cloud

October 5, 2006 2 comments

I am on vacation this week, indulging in various pleasures of the body and mind. 

Yesterday I went driving on progressively smaller roads around the county, reveling in the beautiful connection between Earth’s angle of axis and the seasonal rhythm of life. 

For as long as it pleased me,  I motored slowly down one-lane gravel, my 39-year-old car like a tiny blue motorboat in an illimitable sea of harvest-ready soybeans and corn.

This morning it was cold and rainy, so I holed up in a coffee shop, consuming large amounts of a popular neurostimulant and wading into Edward Tufte’s Beautiful Evidence.  In the first three chapters, Tufte throws brilliant light on data mapping integration with images, on an elegant new type of data graph called ‘sparklines’, and the use of links and causal arrows in diagrams. 

Tufte’s language is as fine as his graphics: “Velocity squared is like shipping and handling: it will get you every time.”

He collects historical examples of finely integrated presentation, including original first editions from Newton and Galileo, who threw open the foundational distinction between science and myth:

What was observed by us in the third place is the nature or matter of the Milky Way itself, which, with the aid of the spyglass, may be observed so well that all the disputes that for so many generations have vexed philosophers are destroyed by visible certainty, and we are liberated from wordy arguents.  For the Galaxy is nothing else than a congeries of innumerable stars distributed in clusters.  To whatever region you direct your spyglass, an immense number of stars immediately offer themselves to view, of which very many appear rather large and very conspicuous but the multitude of small ones is truly unfathomable.

And since that milky luster, like whitish clouds, is seen not only in the Milky Way, but dispersed through the ether, many similarly colored patches shine weakly; if you direct a glass to any of them, you will meet with a dense crowd of stars.
- Gallileo Galilei, Sidereus Nuncius, translated by Albert Van Helden

And this:

[the Moon is] not smooth, even, and perfectly spherical, as the great crowd of philosophers have believed about this and other heavenly bodies, but, on the contrary, [is] uneven, rough, and crowded with depressions and bulges.  And it is like the face of the Earth itself, which is marked here and there with chains of mountains and depths of valleys.

And this from Edmund Halley…

The things that so often vexed the minds of the ancient philosophers
And fruitlessly disturb the schools with noisy debate
We see right before our eyes, since mathematics drives away the cloud.



Categories: Personal

Vast liberal conspiracy

October 5, 2006 11 comments

The Chicago Tribune interviewed Dennis Hastert by phone yesterday:

When asked about a groundswell of discontent among the GOP’s conservative base over his handling of the issue, Hastert said in the phone interview: “I think the base has to realize after a while, who knew about it? Who knew what, when? When the base finds out who’s feeding this monster, they’re not going to be happy. The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by [liberal activist] George Soros.”
- Chicago Tribune: Hastert vows to hold on (registration required)

Right.  Liberals made the Republican leadership keep Foley on as co-chair of the Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus for years after everybody knew he couldn’t be trusted around young men.  Pages were being warned to stay away from him in 1995.

And making George Soros out to be the bogie-man is icing on the ironic cake.  One rich liberal – a self-made man – and you have some kind of illicit conspiracy.  But I can see what they’re worried about.  It isn’t like there are any rich Republicans with media power.

No, I won’t lose any sleep if the Republican monopoly on power ends soon.  It’s a bad idea for one party to be in control of everything.  You could end up with record deficits, or a pointless war, or even erosion of personal liberties.  I’m just sayin’ it could happen…

Categories: Politics

Mud volcano

October 5, 2006 1 comment

This is a new one on me – a mud volcano: Java villages drown in mud lake.  Picture 130,000 m3/day of hot mud spewing out of a crack in the Earth, with “no sign of stopping”.

One enterprising villager has begun making bricks from the mud. 

It is not much of a living; no-one has bought many of his bricks yet, he says, but the mud is there, it is free and he has got to do something.

Of course, the Indonesian government plans to route the mud into the sea, thus causing a marine life catastrophe and ruining the livelihood of countless fishermen, but it’s the only thing they could think of.  I wonder about the mineral composition of the mud.  There’s enough there to consider large-scale commercial application if it contains anything valuable. 

Categories: Nature, observations

Microsoft gets tough - no more mr. nice guy

October 4, 2006 9 comments

Thinking of pirating a copy of Windows Vista?  Think again.  The fearsome security experts in Redmond will be laying in a smackdown no hacker will ever be able to break:

Microsoft has fired the first salvo in this war on pirates—according to The Associated Press, the Redmond crew will be taking “much harsher steps to curtail piracy” than in years past. First, the company will “deny access” to some of the “most anticipated features,” including Windows Aero, the new GUI. Then, Vista will start issuing ransom demands (we’re not kidding about this part), demanding that a legitimate copy be bought within 30 days, or else. What would such consequences entail? How about limiting Web access to an hour at a time? Further, what about not being able to open documents from the desktop or “run other programs such as Outlook e-mail software” ? However, the article goes on to say: “Microsoft said it won’t stop a computer running pirated Vista software from working completely, and it will continue to deliver critical security updates.”
- Engadget: Microsoft will cripple PCs running pirated copies of Vista

By “ever”, of course, I mean “it will be hacked in about four hours” after the first hackers check out the new protections.  There will be legitimate users seeking out the hacked versions after the OS de-registers itself for some reason.

As for disabling “the most anticipated features” on a Vista PC, be still my heart.  I’ve seen ‘Aero’ and it’s eye-candy for kids with much better eyesight than I have.  Unable to use Outlook?  Oh, no!  I’ll have to suffer along with Thunderbird or Evolution!  The horror.

Or I could run XP, or buy a Mac, or run Linux, or get a hacked version of Vista.  The only danger is choking from laughter the first time they hit me with a “ransom demand”.

Categories: Geeky, Software