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User Journal

Journal Journal: CentOS: a portal OS

This is rapidly becoming my favorite Linux distro.

For BSD, I like FreeBSD 6-series, and with Windows, I'm either recommending Windows 2000 for older machines, or Windows Vista for the new ones, but you have to set Vista up correctly. It's tempermental.

The same thing is true of CentOS, but for different reasons.

CentOS is not the flashiest desktop, and it has the kind of slightly stodgy install that comes of designing for the least specialized use, knowing that people will be plugging your system in under radically different conditions. Ubuntu doesn't do that. Windows does, mostly with hardware support. BSD is pretty good about it too.

You could describe CentOS as a conservative Linux distro, because it doesn't go far beyond being able to consistently replicate known demands. It's not sexy, but it is reliable, and fairly fast even on old hardware.

I've got a couple archaic Dells with this on it heading out to people who would be perfect Asus Eee customers if they were in a buying mood. They're aiming for the 90% of common tasks that can be done with a browser, email client, and simple word processor. An 800 mhz Dell with CentOS, AbiWord and Firefox does what they need.

I'm taking a different approach in that I'm not presenting these systems as software platforms, like Windows machines are. I'm presenting them as portals to the rest of the net and common tasks. They're not primary machines, but handy appliances like blenders or TVs.

We'll see where it goes. Either way, CentOS has earned a place in my repertoire, alongside other distros (and commercial OSs).

User Journal

Journal Journal: Actually, Vista works 1

I'm a Windows XP and FreeBSD user. The only thing I won't use is a Mac, because the Macintosh user community, as a group, behaves like a pretentious snot and I don't want to be associated with it. I think I like Windows XP okay for desktop software, but anything server-ish and most development tasks I prefer to do on the BSD box. Desktop and server really are two completely different worlds.

Today's conventional wisdom, based on more than a year's worth of relentless negative publicity, says Vista is hopelessly broken. In fact, my experience says the exact opposite is true. I proved the point in the first installment of this series, where I restored a sluggish $2500 Sony Vaio notebook to peak performance in a few hours. And I think anyone with a modicum of PC smarts can do the same.

I think he's right. I've now used several Vista machines, and to his assessment, I'd add this: Vista is designed to drive adoption of new hardware and abandoning of the old. This will benefit us all as industry finally adapts to the newer paradigms, including how we're going to really take advantage of multicore chips. But, get yourself a fast machine with 2-4 gb of RAM for Vista.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Is Slashdot "groupthink"? 1

/., et. al., tend to promote "groupthink" which is what Guy was talking about when he disdained digg. (Not to mention the diggers' gaming of the system.

If I were a great writer, I'd have some strong opening line about how wrong this guy is. Instead, I'm going to waffle, and hope that I'm clever enough to keep it entertaining.

Groupthink isn't something confined to any one place, in my view, and it's not something you can legislate out of existence. When you put a site online, people will join its community, and groupthink will result, but not among all people.

Probably most of what gets posted to Slashdot in the comments is junk, and some good things don't get modded up, but that's what happens when moderation is turned over to a community. If they tried to hire moderators to do it, well, who would take that job?

Compared to Digg and other social networking sites, Slashdot is a breath of fresh air for the people who have the wit to write something both informed and constructive. It's not as easy as it sounds, and it's why I don't comment on many topics. I have nothing informative and constructive to say about Hans Reiser's murder conviction, except that I think he should keep developing ReiserFS from jail, and someone else will have said that better.

What I like doing instead to counteract groupthink is to highlight people who have said intelligent things, either by friending them or replying. That helps a community grow. Groupthink will always be with us, and any community needs editors to keep content from turning to the lowest common denominator, but nothing will replace the community members being active in fighting back stagnation of all forms.

These comments are mine alone, but it'd be great if some of you thoughtful people out there (I know you're there) weighed in on this thread. When it's done, I'm sending the URL to the original techblog post and will let the editor there, Dwight Silverman, see what he thinks of it.

User Journal

Journal Journal: It's easy to write readable Perl 2

Perl developers have to try to write good, readable code. *

Although I respect this writer's opinion, I really have to disagree here.

It's easy to write readable Perl code, especially if you come from a C/C++ background, because you are thinking beyond a series of regular expressions.

The Perl code that ends up a nightmare is the result of either a programmer determined to prove he's clever, or a task conceptualized as a series of regular expression filters. Either can be made readable easily, and doing that re-shapes the way the brain makes code.

If you get into the practice of treating Perl like a programming language, and not a scripting language, it starts to make sense to use the un-shortcuts that make it easy to read.

All of the good Perl programmers I know write this way, because it means their code has a longer life when it leaves their hands. We all know that much of what we write will be maintained by others, so it's a matter of courtesy and good business to write it clean.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Blogosphere, transformed (keep your RSS reader ready) 1

Blogs were, around 1996-1999 or so, a rarity because they were mostly personal avatars. I credit Jorn Barger for having taken the blog in a new direction. Robot Wisdom is every part of the news media fused together: news stories, human interest, science and society with an eye for stuff outside the Britney and flag waving that characterizes, for example.

Now, blogs are commonplace, with just about every business having one. I encourage this among my clients. There's no easier way to post information than the short, informal, quasi-journalistic blurbs of a blog.

However, now that there are so many blogs, the aggregators like Slashdot, Digg and social networks are what rule because there are very few blogs with all the information one wants in one place. It used to be that you read four newspapers and distilled the results in conversation; now you read 12 blogs through your RSS aggregator.

How the blogosphere will adapt is going to be interesting. I think that, much as Twitter functions as an aggregator, more blogs will start to exist as link posts where a dozen or more sources are summarized daily with minimal comment. Maybe Twitter and blogging will fuse as the ultimate short information blurb -- a half-paragraph plus link. Whatever the case, it's a change in blogging brought about by the success of blogging itself.

Transformation of the Blog Ecosystem

This morning on the Blog Herald, Jason Kaneshiro, brought up this very topic. When people post an article on a blog these days, the conversations are occurring offsite. The blog link could be submitted to Digg, Mixx, and/or FriendFeed, and conversations may occur around the topic on those sites instead. The original blog post, meanwhile, has 0 comments. Jason asks: "Does this bother you as a blogger? How about as a user?"

The Conversation has Left the Blogosphere

I don't see the problem in this. It's a natural progression, but it irritates bloggers. Just like newspapers were yesterday's big media, today's big media are the massively popular blogs. Adapt or die, I guess, although if we all end up on Twitter I may become ill.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Ultra-Mobile PCs rising

Tech Corner claims the Netbook uses a 900 MHz Celeron processor and would sell for around $400. This contradicts reports that the upcoming Netbooks would be using the Intel Atom Diamondville processor and fall between the $250-$300 price range. However, claims of a June 2008 launch do seem to line up with those same reports.

Is This the Intel Netbook?

$250-$300 is a smart price range, since the Asus Eee is already selling here for $320 street price. But I still don't know if I'd buy one of these fugly, cumbersome Intel boxes.

The Ultra Mobile Personal Computer (UMPC) market is heating up ever since the Asus Eee enhanced the idea of the Palm Foleo (or, for that matter, Alphasmart Dana) and made this nifty, light, clean-looking, phone-like portable with mostly full size keyboard and monitor. Intel's latest, the NetBook, misses the mark.

Setting full steam for failure, this device ignores the basic principle of industrial design: a tool's success can be measured in terms of how easily it adapts to its use. In other words, what do they users want to do that motivates them to buy one product over another? In the case of UMPCs, they want simple, fast, hassle-less access to a few basic applications (web, mail, word processing).

Intel takes another tack, which is to assume that people want a miniaturized laptop. This is a classic mistake made by someone who finds a way to describe what they see others doing, and by doing so, creates a category which has nothing to do with its actual use. We can describe the Asus Eee as a miniature laptop, but that does not describe its actual function, which is more like a portable web/text platform.

Intel misses the boat with NetBook

It's kind of like buying an Apple notebook. Do you want the fugly grey-on-black Dell that's thick, boxy and loaded with crapware, or to pay a few hundred more for a sleek white box that inspires you to think of pleasant things?

Why is it so hard for the corporates (Intel, MSFT, HP, Dell) to figure out this basic principle?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Types of Fake Work

Upper bosses like underlings they can replace. They are more afraid of hot shots and rock stars than they are of incompetents.

As a consequence, they assemble a large tiered leadership structure which by making rigid categories for job roles, ensures everyone has some time when they are not working on anything important.

So people try to make themselves look important, as a way of retaining their jobs, being less bored, and feeling good about their lives and their roles, income and status.

They create fake work, or busywork, that fills the time but achieves nothing toward the end goal, which is either ROI or a great product, depending on whether you're more corporate or open source in mentality.

Fake work:

* Conference calls.
* Meetings where people report status in round-robin fashion.
* Internal emails.
* Client contact.
* Client surveys.
* Spreadsheets.
* Time sheets.
* Team-building exercises.
* All-hands meetings.
* Coffee area chatter.

If you filter out all this junk, there's only a few hours every day where real work needs to be done, and then we can go home and maybe enjoy the great outdoors.

(Inspired by Management Tyrants and Management Realists.)

User Journal

Journal Journal: Technical writers, remember this well

One thing that I return to time and again when explaining technical writing to potential employers is the dangerous concept that people do not sit down and read manuals, for the most part.

We pick up the new gadget, try a few things, talk to other people about it, and try to get some sense of a singular principle which explains how it works. We play with it. When we get stuck, with the boss yelling down our shirts, we dash for the manual and look up a likely keyword or two.

Assuming guaranteed readership

User Journal

Journal Journal: Snopes replies to adware allegations

Seeing the article on how has been serving adware, I wrote in to the site with a question: is this an urban legend?

Here's the Snopes reply:

Thank you for inquiring about the possibility an
advertisement that violates our acceptable advertising guidelines at may have been displaying to
some visitors to our site.

We have temporarily removed from our site *all* advertisements from
the agency that handles the ad in question while we investigate if and
how such an ad was indeed being served to some of our

We don't ever knowingly run adware or malware on our site -- that's
not who we are or who we'd ever want to be.

Urban Legends Reference Pages -->

While it's always nice to get a reply, and they're doing the right thing, I find it hard to believe anyone would look at those ads and not realize that they're up to no good.

I'm also ambivalent about itself. While I think it's funny, it often oversimplifies issues and in some cases is flat-out wrong. There's rarely an attempt to find the fragments of truth in some urban memes, only a smug shooting down that leaves the reader less not more informed.

It remains an excellent resource for true urban legends of the "Bill Gates will give you $100 for this email." No word on whether they've updated the urban legend about waking up on ice with your kidneys cut out.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Desk jobs and getting fat (not phat) 2

At most of the jobs I've worked, the day has been varied because I'm always on the run somewhere for some bit of information or another.

At my current contract gig, they've nailed down interoffice communication (Microsoft Messenger, email, Skype and WikiMedia Wiki) that it's desk-bound time all day.

I was looking in the mirror last night and noticed the equation for the curve of my gut has changed. I am slowly getting wider.

Now, I do keep an exercise regimen, but I think I'm hurting for all the elevators, desk hours, so forth and so on.

Has anyone else run into this problem?

It's possible I might even end up on the Atkins diet, although something tells me they have a very intolerant attitude toward donuts and other good things.

Damn it.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Meta-Social Networking 2

Two things I am too dumb, or too sane, to understand: avatars in Second Life and social networking.

I can understand wanting to have a game character, but people accessorize these like lockers in high school, as if trying to prove their individuality. Isn't their individuality proven by the fact that they're individuals?

Social networking is another puzzler. I like the idea of having lots of friends because "friend" is a positive word, and we all like people, especially those who like us. But are these people really "friends"? It seemed disingenuous to me, so I dropped out of social networking except to keep track of friends I have in real life.

On Slashdot, because amongst the trolls and embittered moron BOFH candidates there are many knowledgeable, smart and often kind people, I had a different idea. I call it "meta-social networking." Instead of trying to claim people as friends, I'm claiming them as friend material because I respect something they said, or did, or at a live Slashdot gathering found them insightful.

I've now been meta-social networking on Slashdot for six months, and my meta-friends list runneth over with people who have distinguished themselves with their brains and personalities and knowledge. I'm proud of this list, because when I go through it, I see people who are using their brains to make technology and humanity better. These aren't the couchbound slackers that make our lives miserable by failing to fix obvious deficiencies. These people represent the kind of people whose company I'd want to seek, the kind of people who bring a sense of hope for humanity.

Here's that meta-social networking list again. Check 'em out. I'm proud of them, even if I only know a few of them.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Intellectual property or Imaginary property? 3

The whole debate over digital rights management (DRM) has morphed into a titanic clash between opposites. On one hand are those who claim that defending intellectual property (IP) is essential for our society to work, and on the other side are those who claim IP is bunk and defend piracy as vigorously as they campaign against DRM.

Open source gets caught in the middle because while its basic premise, free software whose innards anyone can see, is sound, inevitably open source software also includes a certain amount of cloning of proprietary methods. Open source people often as if they're giving away IP, and think others should too. There's some truth in that.

Giving away IP enables people to build a next generation based on what you've done. If you come up with a killer application, like Photoshop, and develop it to maturity, and then someone clones it with an application like GIMPshop, you may be disappointed but no one can argue that you created a new market lead and now there's a need for something to leapfrog it. Of course, this only goes so far, since Photoshop is nearing the point where new features aren't occurring because new graphics technologies aren't.

But, if we make giving away IP mandatory, it could undermine some things we take for granted. For example, open source did not innovate office suites or photoshop-like applications. Would there have been the focus to do so? Similarly, there are few open source equivalents for the high-level development environments favored by programmers. It's possible the profits of these are needed to fuel a big enough entity to address all the details of their production.

Another way of saying this is to ask, If you were dorking around in the lab tonight, and you discovered a new algorithm or chemical formula that could save everyone time and stress, would you release it to the public for free? After all, this is your wealth and retirement we're talking about here. If you release it, you go back to work the next day and every day for the rest of your life. If you patent it... you could end up in a nice house on a nice street with a big bank account, and no job.

I view this as the hard question of IP. Is it true that once we go open source, we've rejected the profit model and should consider ourselves basically communist, or is there middle ground? I like to think of open source as a middle layer in a complex ecosystem in which IP plays a vital role.

User Journal

Journal Journal: "Technical Writing in Transition" republished

I wrote this little piece about where technical writing should go if it wants to stay relevant in a time of increasing bureaucracy, regimentation of language and buzzword-happy managers. Bolg recently published it, so I present to you my nonexistent readers a brief excerpt:

With the transistor revolution of the 1970s, two crucial changes occurred. First, the computer migrated from the machine room to the desktop. Second, high schools got more lenient at the same time users became more acquainted with television media. This new generation were shaped by seeing machines used before understanding the principles behind them, which laid the ground for the interface revolution to follow.

On the heels of those developments, a second computing revolution occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Both the graphical user interface (GUI)-based operating system and the world wide web took existing technologies and put them to new use. This usage redefined the comput from being being a calculating machine to an information browser. This role shift entailed thinking about interface in user-centric contexts and resulted in both these revolutions.

Usage exploded since the layperson could now interact with a computer as they would a video game, vending machine or automated teller. This in turn spurred a network revolution. Since the computer was viewed as an information browser, it needed connections to information, so the network became the computer. These influences caused the computer to become increasingly powerful, standardized and ubiquitous.

The standardization affected technical writing...

You can read the whole thing at Technical Writing in Transition.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Sticks and stones 2

Is it just me, or is there a rise in labeling stuff that offends community pretense as "FUD" or "Troll" or "Flamebait"?

It reminds me of little kids bullying on the one guy whose mom got him a pink lunchbox. It's OK to call him any bad name, but if you say he might have a point, you have joined him in the circle of those who are bad.

If you're serious about open source, or even just about using computers, you get agnostic on this kind of religion. Firefox sucks. IE does as well, but Opera doesn't. Start thinking instead of bleating.

If anything, you empower those who are creating real FUD because they can post a comment "IE does OK with tables" and watch it get modded down, called flamebait or FUD, and followed by angry misspelled messages, and then they can turn to other people and say, "See? I told you these F/OSS people were angry basement dwelling losers who can't tell the difference between a good app and a crap one."

Maybe they're right. I still stick by my lack of religion. If a product is good, I'm going to use it and because I believe in good tools, I won't shut up about it even if you mod me -5, FUD Flametroll.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Office Christmas party? Help a geek out 6

So I'm working at this place which is having a holiday Christmas party. They promise:

5:30-7:30 Cocktail Reception
7:30-9:00 Buffet Dinner
8:00-12am DJ, Dancing and Karaoke
7:30-9:30 Photographs

Does anyone else think this sounds like hell? What should I do?

It's a large corporation with probably 500 people, about a third of whom are developers, and the rest are various and sundry consultants, administrative staff, lawyers, salespeople, therapists and nuns. Actually, I don't know what they all do.

I'm not an antisocial nerd, but I'm also a geek, and I'm passing up on either some quality programming time, or quality family time. Still they tell me this is the way to advance my "career" toward "success" which means that I can afford a big house in the exburbs, and I'll never live near a busy street, raging ghetto, fast-food restaurant or discotheque again. But.. but... my instinct is to flee from this awkward-sounding social disaster.

Can any geeks help?

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