War is Peace….

Freedom is Slavery.

Ignorance is Strength.

Today, George Orwell’s 1984 take on political and social problems and the methods used to enforce the world order could be summed up by three letters: “FUD”.

FUD, or Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, are tactics used to engender distrust and concern among a group of people. Well known in the computer industry, these tactics are now being used in the political industry as a way of distracting the voting public from real issues such as the Economy, International Relations, Military Leadership, Individual Liberties, and the Environment.

It’s also used to win elections.

Thus is born a new website, dedicated to uncovering and reporting the unfair tactics used by today’s politicians against their opponents, and against the American people. Initially conceived as a way to counter such blatant Political FUD as the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, it now focuses on the aftermath of the 2004 United States Presidential Election. Among other things, it will delve into how this election might have been rigged, and the incredibly insidious methods potentially employed.

In the coming days and weeks, please return to follow my personal journey of political discovery.

Thanks for stopping by.

Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox

I was 17 in 1986 when the Boston Red Sox lost to my beloved New York Mets, thanks in part to an errant ball through the wickets of Bill Buckner. I didn’t know much about “The Curse of the Bambino” at the time, I was just thrilled that my team had won its first World Series in those 17 years. Who cared about a 75 year old curse?

My Mets haven’t won a World Series since that ’86 Series. I moved to San Francisco, some seven years ago, and I’ve become a Giants fan, and they haven’t won a World Series I since I moved here (OK, OK, they haven’t won since they moved here either, some fifty-eight years ago.)

Yet these extended streaks are nothing compared to the what Boston fans have had to endure. Since 1918 they haven’t won a World Series.

Until tonight.

Tonight, the Boston Red Sox are champions of the world, eighty-six years since their last championship. Their long-suffering fans can rejoice tonight (and tomorrow night, and the night after that…).

The team was three outs away from elimination in the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. They came back from a three games to none deficient to take the next four games from New York, a feat that had never been done ever in the history of baseball.

And then they faced a St. Louis Cardinals team that was just overmatched and overwhelmed, and beat them four straight.

Never has any team ever won eight games in a row in the post season.

Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox. You played a great pair of series, and you deserve to be Champions.

Cars are expensive.

I lived in New York for over 18 years. In that time, I never needed a car, never even had a license. (This will make perfect sense for anyone who lived in New York, and be a completely foreign concept to just about every one else in the world.)

Just about seven years ago I moved out to San Francisco. For the first five years I managed without a car. Difficult? Sure, but I become very familiar with the San Francisco transit system.

Things started becoming a tad more problematic when I got my current job at Apple. Getting to work was a two-hour walk-train-train-shuttle affair, only to be reversed at the end of every day.

Three months of it, and I’d had enough. After much hang-wringing, I came to a drastic conclusion: I had to move from San Francisco to the Peninsula. It was a soul-wrenching, but ultimately necessary move which eliminated one train, cut an hour from my commute and unfortunately distanced me from my friends.

It wasn’t all terrible: I could still take Cal-Train north on weekends for softball, or a Giants game or hanging with friends who would pick me up, and I was still very familiar with San Francisco’s transit system.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Cal-Train stopped running on weekends.

Suddenly, what had passed for a social life was in danger of being destroyed utterly. With no way of getting to San Francisco on the weekend, I was stuck. Once again I had to do something desperate, and this time, it meant getting a license.

Buying a car was a typical Jasonian task: research research research, then make a decision based on intuition and feel. I ended up with a 2003 Nissan Altima SE, and it’s been fabulous. I only wish I had made the decision to buy a car a long time ago.

Except for one tiny little thing.

Cars are expensive to drive.

I don’t mean the cost of gas, or of regular oil changes (even though both are absurdly expensive).

No. I mean the regular maintenance costs.

Today I took my Altima in for its 30,000 mile “major service” (thirty thousand miles in just under two years: not extreme, but more than I thought I’d drive). I figured it wouldn’t be cheap, but I wasn’t expecting it to be $500.

Yep, five hundred dollars. That came as a bit of a shocker.

I often wonder if the whole “get it checked regularly” isn’t just one big car industry scam, meant to make them all rich.

Now I’m thinking, they better find a whole lot of things wrong with this car, fix it, and make it like new again.

I’m starting to wonder what my car actually costs me. How much money have I spent since I owned it (forget about the cost of purchasing it in the first place). With gas, insurance, car washes, maintenance, and who-knows-what else… gah. I’m starting to plotz just thinking about it.

What could I have done with all that extra money? I could be that much closer to owning a house.

Of course, I wouldn’t be able to leave it, ’cause I wouldn’t have a car….

Taking Control

I’m reading TidBITS, as I do every week, and they mention the desire to have their Take Control series of electronic books get a wider audience. Adam Engst (the publisher) mentioned that there are some 750,000 Macs sold per quarter, with perhaps 50% of those Macs to first-time Mac users.

He also wondered how Take Control might be effectively marketed to those 50%, and my immediate thought was “ship ’em with every Mac. Duh.”

Further consideration led to me consider the fact that Apple has what might be generously considered a skeleton instructional products group, with very little in the way of manuals. If Apple can’t or won’t create those manuals, why not allow someone who wants to do it take control (as it were)?

The fact is, there is already a huge cottage industry around the distinct lack of Apple-generated learning material (if I recall correctly, David Pogue’s The Missing Manual series is something of an all-time best-seller). The problem is people have to go out of their way to buy a third-party manual.

What if Apple shipped a copy of Take Control of Panther with every Mac? Perhaps throw in Take Control of Email With Apple Mail. Maybe even a digital coupon for a free or discounted ebook of the new Mac owner’s choice.

It would be cheaper for Apple than paying a staff of writers, editors and designers; and TidBITS will sell tens of thousands of copies of their ebooks, giving them a huge advance of cash to then create better ebooks. A win-win for everyone.

Jon Stewart on 60 Minutes

Jon Stewart on 60 Minutes. Without question, Stewart is the best journalist on television today. As everyone and their aunt know, his appearance on Crossfire is destined to become a classic of television history, and is on its way to being one of the most downloaded clips on the internet (more than Crossfire‘s normal audience, in fact).

(Haven’t seen it? Seriously? Try iFilm. You won’t be disappointed. Well, unless you believe the media’s doing a bang-up job or think Fox News is unbiased.)

Is there any chance Stewart’s pokes at the media will have any effect? Cause The Fourth Estate to gaze inward for a moment, recognize that they’re puppets, and begin reporting, not retelling?

I’m sure Stewart would have a witty comeback for that suggestion.

Pick a card, any card

forced. tr.v.

1. To compel through pressure or necessity: I forced myself to practice daily. He was forced to take a second job.

2. To gain by the use of force or coercion: She forced a confession from the suspect.

3. To inflict or impose relentlessly: He forced his ideas upon the group.

Why the language lesson, you ask? An associate of mine recently said

“If MS did things that harmed users then the users wouldn’t buy the products. Nobody is forced to buy [their] products; people can and do buy offerings from IBM, Sun, Oracle, Apple. They can choose to run LAMP [Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP] freeware. In some cases they do. In other cases they don’t. People buy products because they meet their needs.”

My associate was rght, of course: Microsoft has never said “if you don’t buy Windows XP we’ll kill your daughter”. (Well, not that I’ve heard, anyway.)

Yet the comment showed a distinct lack of understanding of the word “forced”. Certainly, people and companies can buy what they want: it’s their money. But like a magician who seemingly allows you to choose freely from a deck of cards, while in fact pushing a particular card into your fingers, sometimes having a choice and being able to freely use that choice are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

There are thousands of people who use Microsoft products—specifically Windows—because everyone in their particular universe uses Microsoft products, and to use their freedom of choice would result (they believe) in an inability to operate effectively within that universe. This is one of the main reasons Microsoft continues to hold such a large market-share: people use it because “everyone else uses it”.

To be sure, there are some people who buy Windows and x86-based hardware because it’s the least-expensive system they can get from a brand-name company; or because it successfully meets their current and future needs; or because they genuinely like the OS and the hardware it runs on.

And then there are those who purchased Windows on an x86 machine because all of their clients, friends and business associates were using Windows, and that made it difficult (though not impossible) to buy a machine that, from everything they may have heard or read, was incompatible with Windows.

They may have wanted to do things that are difficult on a Windows machine; they may have wanted hardware or software functionality that doesn’t exist or is expensive on Windows. They may have wanted spiffy-looking hardware that meshed with their decor.

But if doing so would make it hard to interoperate with the machines that exist within their universe, they had to make a different choice.

Was that consumer “forced” to buy a Windows machine?

Let’s rephrase that question with one of the definitions from above.

Was that consumer “compelled through pressure or necessity” to buy a Windows machine?

Without question, I’d have to say, duh! The “pressure” comes from “everyone else is using it” (accurate or not); the “necessity” is from the need to easily interoperate with “everyone” (again, ignoring the possible inaccuracy of the statement).

My associate then questioned why so many people are using Windows if it’s an inferior product, implying that people don’t buy inferior products, or that they don’t stay in the marketplace very long, and that “most people prefer Microsoft software as a computing platform”.

In reality, people make all kinds of decisions having nothing to do with quality. If people could, a whole butt-full of them would prefer to drive a BMW or a Mercedes, but they can’t afford them, so they drive a Kia or a Honda.

They would like to have a new car every year or two, but they can’t, so they drive cars that are 15 years old.

Now, you’re probably saying that if a BMW were cheaper, more people could afford it, but you’d be missing one important point: BMWs cost more because they provide higher quality: they’re better designed, with better parts.

Jetblue, which I have flown and enjoyed, keeps their fares low by not providing food, having fewer planes and a smaller crew than American Airlines. They pay their crew less than American, and have they have less experience.

Jetblue is making money because people are willing to put up with some inconvenience if it sames them a significant amount of money.

It’s a trade-off people have been making forever.

Even with computers.

People often choose their computers based on cost and compatibility: firstly, it’s the cheapest computer they can afford (and damn being able to do certain things with it); and secondly, it’s the seemingly-most-compatible (and damn being able to do things faster/easier).

And then there are those who don’t get to choose their computers at all, like my friends the teachers whose school gave them Dell computers, which Dell gave the school at no cost (that’s “free” for those playing along at home).

In giving away computers, Dell makes it near-impossible for people to make an informed computing choice. By giving away a wintel computer (“WINdows-inTEL”, or machines that have Intel-based chips (generically x86) and ship with Windows OS), it extends the wintel cartel by convicing other people to then purchase a wintel machine to “be compatibile” with their friends, family and business associates.

My friends, who might have otherwise considered a Macintosh because it met some of their needs, rejected Macintosh because Dell gave away computers. They never got the chance to make an informed choice, yet they count among vast army of “Windows users”, making it more difficult for others to make real choice. Now, sure, they could have “chosen” to spend $1000 and get a laptop from Apple, but that’s a Hobson’s choice, “an apparently free choice that offers no real alternative.”

Giving something away will often get people to use that thing, even if it doesn’t meet all of their needs. If Kia gave away their cars, there’d be more Kias on the road. That wouldn’t make Kia a better car.

(The difference, of course, is that driving a Kia doesn’t make it more likely that others in your universe will also drive Kias, because there is no perceived compatibility problem — your friend can drive your Kia as easily as her Beemer.)

And as for “most people prefer[ing]” Microsoft, that implies that, given two machines at the same price, and the same marketshare, and no disadvantage for choosing one over the other, that people would pick Microsoft.

I don’t think there are very many people who would make that choice.

This Is Not Mac OS 9

I recently got into an, uh, discussion with an associate about Mac OS X. The gist was Mac OS X hides “useful” things from people. He was told to try (from the Terminal command-line):

% grep 90210 /usr/share/misc/zipcodes

and enjoy the results. He then tried looking for that file using Finder, and Sherlock, only to get no results. Upon realizing this, he exploded:

“This is where OSX makes me CRAZY, and every little pulsating blob of blue glass on the screen just makes me want to PUNCH ITS FUCKING FACE IN that much more. Where is this file? Why can’t I find it?”

For those of you familar with Unix, you know that the file “zipcodes” is in a directory structure starting at “/usr“; this directory us part of the Unix heritage of Mac OS X, and as such, is hidden from “normal” users.

We went on and on for hours, hashing out the “it’s hidden from me and I don’t like that”, “It’s hidden from you because it’s Unix and you can easily access it anyway” argument.

He was pointed to the Terminal. “Terminal’s no friend of mine,” he retorted. “What, exactly, was wrong with The Finder? All I want to do is locate and open a file.”

Get to know your OS, I told him, directing him to the Go > Go to folder menu in the Finder, where he could enter “/usr/share/misc” and have the folder open.

“I really don’t like the idea that it’s the GUI that’s restricting my access to files,” he exclaimed. I reminded him that Apple made a concious decision to hide the Unix-y part of the OS as much as possible, but gave full access to the system for those who insisted on it.

He claimed Apple was acting as though their user-base was evenly divided “between butterfingered grannies and Unix ninjas” and that Apple was preventing the “average user” from accessing useful information. I pointed out that the vast majority of Apple’s Mac OS X users were anything but “Unix ninjas”, and could care less about the Unix side of things. I also noted that while those some of these files are indeed “useful,” they certaily aren’t “essential”, and still, the Finder will allow you access to them.

I felt that had he been aware of how to access these files, he wouldn’t be complaining that he couldn’t get access to these files; it irks me when people aren’t familiar with their tools and vocally display their ignorance.

Having (admittedly round-about) access to the files wasn’t enough. “What I’d really like to do is poke around inside to see what’s there,” he submitted. “Trust me to tell the difference between user-servicable parts and things I shouldn’t touch. Is there really and any differences from OS 9, where there’s something in my Extensions folder called “N065U Library” which my spidey sense says Don’t Just Trash It?”

So let me say this to everyone out there using Mac OS 9 and looking to move to Mac OS X.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

Over the last two years or so, i’ve heard that complaint a million times, in fact, early on in my OS X career, and occasionally since then, I’ve made that complaint myself.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

It’s a brand new operating system, based on Unix, with much of what made Mac OS 9 one of the easiest user interfaces available for computers. Note that i said “much”, not “all”.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

Much of what is “hidden” in /etc, /usr, and so on are things that either didn’t exist in Mac OS 9 (and are there only as legacy bits because it’s Unix, and thus could be safely ignored by folks who don’t give a whit about Unix), or items that were previously subsumed by things like the System and Finder files. Those files were large, and contained many things that you couldn’t easily get to.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

It’s Mac OS X, and it has its own quirks to get used to. Certainly, it hides some of what’s “under the hood” from 99.99% of the users, but it’s “under the hood”, it’s supposed to be hidden from 99.99% of the users… why should a user care about the Unix bits and all these extra files that they know nothing about? And yet, and yet, Mac OS X allows those who do care to get to the files! How much more flexibility do you need?

That’s what’s wonderful about Mac OS X. For those who don’t care, they can successfully use their machine without being encumbered by thousands of extra files on their system. For those who do care, they can get extra power from their system, at very litle cost, just by changing their expectations a tad and learning a just a bit of Unix.

Mac OS X makes it possible for people to use their machines as they see fit. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you can at least give them options.

Love me, love my virus

Bill Gates, that paragon of love, has suggested that people show their affection for each other this Valentine’s Day by purchasing Microsoft software. Which, thinking about it, makes sense. After all, this is the company whose applications enabled the wonderful “I Love You” virus a couple of years ago. Nothing says “undying love” like wiping out your hard drive.

Of course, considering his audience (developers at a keynote announcing Visual Studio.net), it’s very possible software is exactly what their significant others want. Assuming they have significant others.

And speaking of things that’ll never happen, looks like Microsoft’s push to secure their software is taking its time getting off the ground. Yet another flaw was found, and, in an Alanis Morissette-ish stroke of irony, it was in a software option meant to prevent a common problem: a new version of their Visual C++.Net compiler may be responsible for creating buffer overflows instead of eliminating them.

Of course, Microsoft being the consumer-friendly company it is, immediately halted the release of the product until the flaw could be fixed.

Ha ha! No, of course not. Just having a bit of the fun. What they really did, of course, is attack the company that brought the issue to the public’s attention, insinuating that they did it because a competitor got a Microsoft contract instead.

At least they didn’t outright deny the problem, which can be considered an improvement.

Microsoft, those cuddly teddy-bears, care so much about the public, they’ve requested that people who find security breaches in their software contact Microsoft and give them 30 days before talking about it.

Supposedly in that month, Microsoft will release a fix, and no one will be vulnerable to an attack in the meantime because no one knows the problem exists.

This is what techies call “Security through Obscurity”. Regular folks call it “Sticking your head in the sand”, otherwise known as “la la la I can’t hear you!”.

Any reasonable person knows that by announcing a problem, you give people the opportunity assess their risk and take what they consider to be appropriate action. I’m guessing Microsoft is concerned that “appropriate action” might include wiping your drive and forswearing all things Windows.

Media delays facts about Apple

Apple’s relationship with the mainstream press has always been one of love-to-hate: on the one hand, Apple is the underdog to Microsoft’s homogeny, and a media darling, the company who creates stunningly-designed, easy-to-use computers. On the other, they’re an arrogant, marginalized, ready-to-fold business with a sub-five-percent marketshare, which cares more about form than function; and the press revels in painting Apple in a bad light.

So when Apple announced recently that they were ready to release the next generation of their QuickTime software, which would include MPEG-4 (along with other products based on the new version) and at the same time announced that they would delay shipping QuickTime until they could negotiate better user licenses from the MPEG group, it came as little surprise (but with great frustration) that the press headlined with “Apple delays next version of QuickTime”.

Well, what do you expect from an industry that for years must have though the company’s full name was “beleaguered Apple Computer”?

From the headlines (another example, from the L.A. Times: “Apple Set to Withhold Latest QuickTime”), you’d think there was a technical reason that forced them to delay the release, when in fact it’s because Apple is trying to do the right thing by its customers.

The issue at hand is MPEG-LA (the largest group of MPEG-4 patent holders) wants to charge both the companies making the software using MPEG-4 and the people creating and streaming content using MPEG-4. In other words, they’re double-dipping, wanting their cake and to eat it too….

Apple on the other hand, thinks content providers should be able to use MPEG-4 without paying additional royalties to stream their creations.

The sound you just heard was a massive, collective Duh! from the creative community.

Content providers have no problem paying for software to create their masterpieces, but will balk, rightly, at being asked to pony up two cents for every hour of paid video.

So here we have Apple taking a stance to protect an important part of their customer base (many of whom are media, by-the-way), and instead of being praised to the heavens for doing so, are made to look like incompents for “not getting their software out on time”.

The mainstream media has to start giving Apple some even, unbiased coverage for a change. In this case, a simple “Apple’s newest QuickTime software ready but delayed by licensing concerns” would have sufficed and gotten both important facts out.

(Re-) Covering your Assets

You’ve heard the cliché: there are two types of businesses in this world, those that have lost data, and those that will. When 30 gigs of valuable corporate information pull a Houdini and you don’t have current backups, there is an option besides chaining yourself into a vat of water: a data recovery service.

Below is a brief list of companies that will do their best to resuscitate your drive, and some things to consider next time your disk treats your data like a distant relative. Print it out and stick it next to your computers as a talisman.

Of course, a good backup-and-recovery policy is your best friend in case of drive failure or data loss. Is your policy adequately protecting your information?

Data Recovery Companies

ActionFront/DataRec: www.actionfront.com 800.563.1167

CBL Tech: www.cbltech.com 800.551.3917

Data Recovery Group: www.datarecoverygroup.com 888.462.3282

Disk Doctors: www.diskdoctors.com 800.347.5377

DriveSavers: www.drivesavers.com 800.440.1904

Lazarus: www.lazarus.com 800.341.3282

MDS Disk Service: www.mdsdiskservice.com 909.352.2425

OnTrack: www.ontrack.com 800.872.2599

Things to consider

  1. If your drive whines, clicks or screeches, shut down your machine immediately. These are potential signs of a head crash, maybe the worst type of drive failure around. Disconnect the drive, contact one of the companies on the list, and pray.
  2. Despite what you’ve heard, hitting, tapping or shaking a drive to get it working is not a good idea. Hard drives are delicate creatures, and a sharp blow can break the microscopic alignment among drive elements.
  3. If you accidentally delete files, stop working. The odds of getting your data back are best before you write new information to your drive. Use a file recovery program like Symantec’s Norton Utilities, and save recovered files to a different disk, or you may end up overwriting the very files you’re trying to recover. Ouch.
  4. These companies aren’t cheap. Most offer a free assessment, but you might pay as much as $8,000 to get your data back. Far cheaper is a reliable backup. Start by deciding how much work you’re willing to re-create after a data loss, and back up at least that often (I backup twice a day). You don’t have to get elaborate; even copying to a CD-ROM or another hard drive manually will suffice in a pinch.