Caveat: Venter

Think about all of the things that make your brain itch. These are mine.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Operating System Stagnation

Let's take a look at Windows for a moment. It began with 1.X, 2.X, and 3.X versions. Then came Windows 95, Windows 98/ME, Windows 2000, and Windows XP. That's seven versions of the consumer product, by my count.

Now, Windows Vista (the upgrade to XP announced in late 2002) has shed key features and will be more than two years late, leaving no shortage of businesses out in the cold on guaranteed upgrade contracts. This, in itself, is not anything terribly interesting, but let's look at the #2 commercial OS.

The Macintosh ran System 1 through System 7 before charting an aggressive course with Copland (that's a long "o," people), which was to be an OS with what would have been a stunning feature set for its time. It was even to have Yellow Box and Blue Box, two distinct hardware compatibility layers that would have allowed the operating system cross-platform compatibility.

Copland, running far behind schedule, was scrapped, and only a few of the GUI features saw the light of day in MacOS 8. Though 8 was a tremendous improvement over 7.5.3, much of that was due to the perception of users who had waited years past the original due date of the upgrade.

Here's the connection: both operating systems had seven clean upgrades. The eighth was the killer and ran into technical difficulties that resulted in dropped features and lost time. This in-between time (the System 7/MacOS 8 trasnitional era) was also the period in which Apple's market share plummeted from the 20% mark to the sub-5% mark.

Now we are seeing a similar effect. After seven versions of the operating system, Windows is dropping features and running years behind schedule.

I can see no reason that, given the differences in the times and the technology, this should happen, but it is there: seven version and trouble. Apple didn't fully recover until it's tenth version. In Apple's case, the change required a complete reworking of the OS because the underlying technology had reached its limits. This may well be part of the problem MS is facing. We'll see with Vista and its next two successors.

Not A Pretty Vista

I just tracked down a PC Magazine piece about Windows Vista, the next-generation OS from Redmond. The details about the features (both ppresent and absent) were incredible. Here's a little preview:

You'll be able to create virtual folders based on a searches (already in Tiger).

You can store metadata with files (in the MacOS since the word "go").

IE7 will have tabbed browsing and RSS support (yeah, I'm down with that while using Safari).

The new graphics system will allow 3D effects and transparencies (stunningly like those in Tiger, though not available on all Vista-capable machines, unlike with Tiger).

It won't crash as much. Well, we've heard that before, and to some extent it has been true. Still, I've never had my system completely hand under any version of OS X, so I remain unimpressed.

There will be a command-line scripting environment. *Yawn* Been there, done that. System-level scripting is not new. In fact, before the effective destruction of the DOS prompt, it was available in Windows. It's rather sad that they have to bring it back, having axed it once before. This new version, though, should be better. Still, it won't make it into the initial 2006 release.

There are more, but after about 30 pages, I had lost track of most of the features. The one I am curious about is the Trusted Computing thing, but I don't want encryption hardware (yes, hardware) bolted onto my machine . . . under ANY operating system.

Despite everything, it looks as if this will indeed be the best version of Windows ever. I'm curious to see it next year, but by then I will be a short bike ride from Redmond, and I know people on the inside who can probably get me early looks.

p.s. No, Anton, this is not the same as saying that Apple can do no wrong. It's not even close. This is, however, evidence of how far behind the curve MS is.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Back To Scratch (Please Comment)

OK, because of longstanding rendering problems with IE, I have returned to my original choice of the "Son of Moto" template. I will, as I indicted, be testing all changes in IE (as a callback to an earlier post, you'll note that the ONLY current-version browser with a problem was made by Microsoft). I may, however, decide to trash 800x600 compatibility. I still need to decide on that.

Here's where I need your feedback, people:

What kind of look works here? The "Son of Moto" look is a little too reminiscent of Father Karras' frock for my taste.

More Dashboard

I thought I would try out DashBlog to see how it worked. I may never again open my browser to post here, assuming this delivers things as well as the usual interface.

Dashboard, Baby! Oh Yeah, and Bridge!

No, I'm not talking about the Blogger "Dashboard" through which I passed on my way to making this post. I'm talking about the Tiger (that's MacOS X 10.4, for those out there with the misfortune not to have experienced it yet) widget execution environment.

To clarify, widgets look like miniature applications—think of the little things like clocks and calculators that have been bundled with every GUI OS for decades—but which are made with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Other technologies, including those that are based on UNIX command-line code and MacOS system-level programs and protocols, as well as anything almost else one might dump into a web page, may also be used, but economies of file size and function are both goals when designing these things.

Widgets, however, unlike web pages, do not (though they may in most cases) execute in a browser. They execute in the Dashboard environment, which users can show and hide with hot keys or activation corners. Yeah, there are over 800 widgets we Tiger users can download via Apple's web site, and a few more kicking around the internet and on private machines. However, that's not the fun part.

Since widgets can be used for almost any little task out there, the possibilities are fairly extensive (if it weren't for copyright issues, I would make a widget of Eno's Oblique Strategies cards, though perhaps I can look into that). Anyone with a little web design background—or willing to take a couple days to learn the basics—can design widgets. In light of that fact, I took my (limited) background and put it to the test.

I have now almost completed my first widget. I wrote the bulk of the code on Sunday, polished it Monday, and am tweaking the interface now. I'm going to need some help with that last part, but I already put out the call. What, you may ask (shyeah, as if I haven't bored the poor Windows and *NIX users yet) did I do? I made a widget to calculate duplicate bridge scores, of course. Yeah, it's useless to most people. Oh well. It was fun. I learned more about bridge scoring. I'm happy. When the interface is finished, we'll see if Apple will host downloads. Fingers crossed.

Apple's site has the Oblique Strategies widget already. See? I have good ideas. Of course, the sad part is that I missed the fact it was there for three weeks, which is longer than I have had Tiger.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Falling In Love For The Xth Time

It's chance, really, that it should be this one, but here it is. I first fell in love with the Macintosh under System 6. I renewed that love of the OS for System 7, System 7.5, MacOS 8, MacOS 9, X, X 10.1, X 10.2, X 10.3, and now 10.4. Yep, I've fallen in love with the beauty of an OS yet again, and it hasn't even been that long since the last time.

Spotlight makes searching my hard drive as easy as searching my iTunes library. Dashboard is both fun and useful (and for the record, I am looking at making a Library-of-Babel style text generator, a globe that will take latitude and longitude to search and provide data on that area, and something else that has slipped my mind for the moment but seemed really cool as I was falling asleep last night). Automator? Oh hell, I haven't even gotten around to that one yet.

I'm a touch miffed that my machine does not appear to support 2-finger scrolling. I suppose I could have checked that out BEFORE uninstalling my copy of iScroll2, but nooOOoo.

Mail? Everything the Six-Million Dollar Man had without the 70s cheese.

Safari? A little zippier, but the built-in RSS and PDF capabilities have brought it in line with such competition as Netscape and Firefox. It remains ahead of IE.

I know, as do any of you using Tiger, that there are many more things to say here, but if I keep telling you all the reasons I am just in awe of this version of the OS, I can't go play with all the reasons I am just in awe of this version of the OS.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Too Much

As those of you who have lived the adjunct life know, working at two or three schools is not much more difficult than working at one. Adjuncts teach the same limited courses everywhere, so the prep tends to be minimal, and the material is already familiar. This does not apply when mixing levels.

I love teaching, so I look for some education work I could perform during the first six-week summer session, when I had no college courses. Right before my second-session courses started up, one of the places to which I had applied offered me a tutoring job. I said that I love teaching, right? I had done SAT prep before, and it was not too bad. This place was willing to pay me on a W-2 instead of the usual (illegal) 1099, and the people who run it are good folks.

I got a Saturday-only schedule to teach an eight-week English class to 8th and 9th graders (three whole students!) and two students for four weeks of private tutoring. The day was 9-5 with an hour for lunch, and the pay was not bad, though at the low end of the scale. No prep, I was told. I would not need to do anything outside of my class time. Dubious, I still took the company at its word. That was a mistake. The one day there was causing more stress and requiring more of my time than my college work. Once the private tutoring was done, I was to lead a pair of reading groups (6/7 and 8/9 for grade levels) that were to last eight weeks. That sounded fantastic—and still does, truth be told—but the time commitment was immense. I would have to prep diverse readings, which I had a free hand in selecting, for two groups each week, and that was just burying me.

I quit after two Saturdays.

The greatest good that came from my quitting involved stepping far out on a limb. One of my students was reading words incorrectly, so I asked him if the letters sometimes seemed out of order. They do. Oh my! Here was a boy getting ready for his junior year in high school, and he may have dyslexia or a similar, quite treatable, reading problem, yet I, someone untrained (and I was clear about this not only with him but with his mother) to diagnose or treat such a problem, was the first to ask whether any problem might exist. I suppose I was emboldened by knowing it was my last day, as sad as it may be to admit that. At least, and this is to the students great credit, he asked what he could do. Now I just hope his mother will follow through.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Staying On Task

In order that it be clear, I will restate simply here what I said indirectly before about the London bombings.

This is NOT justification for invading Tehran or Pyongyang. The people who are responsible for the bombings in London are almost certainly spread out. They are not going to make themselves easy to find. This was the case after 9/11. When the job of finding Osama bin Laden got tough, we shifted targets. That was a mistake.

Now we are hearing rhetoric that is almost verbatim what we heard in late 2001 and early 2002, before prosecuting the war in Afghanistan. I was dubious that it was real then, and the military action in Iraq, passed off as somehow connected to 9/11. I am dubious now. I hope now, as I hoped then, that I am merely expressing a healthy scepticism, as it is known. We'll see. The side benefit of the war in Iraq, combined with dismal recruiting numbers (for many months now the Army has missed goals by at least 40%), is that the United States has not the military reserves to do much of anything anywhere else. Sometimes it can be good to be tired.


I grieve for those injured and killed in the London bombings. I grieve for the families and the friends of those injured and killed in the London bombings. We should "find [the terrorists . . . ] and bring them to justice," if I may use President Bush's statement from Gleneagle.

But this must be different. This must not be the charge we took up in 2002 when Bush said, in the State of the Union Address, "Our nation will continue to be steadfast and patient and persistent in the pursuit of two great objectives. First, we will shut down terrorist camps, disrupt terrorist plans, and bring terrorists to justice. And, second, we must prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States and the world."

At this rate, it may be a good thing for the people of the U.S. and England that Bush is term limited and Blair has already declared that he will not run again. Three and a half years between essentially identical sentiments has produced a red herring mission in Iraq. Who knows? Maybe London will give the world focus on the stated goal of this "war on terror." Then again, I would hate to have my face turn blue while I waited.

I grieve for those injured and killed in the London bombings. I grieve for the families and the friends of those injured and killed in the London bombings. I hope now that at least their suffering can serve a purpose untainted by the politics of Democrats, Republicans, New Labor, or any other political group.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Last week's "Friday dump" included Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's resignation. That such news breaks on Fridays is par for the course, and that O'Connor, whose husband is not in good health, should retire is really no surprise. If we want surprises, we may have to wait for Bush to put a name forward. Still, let's consider a few things that the spin machines have already been throwing out.

From the left:
Bush should take this opportunity to name a jurist who will replace O'Connor ideologically. OK, so "should take this opportunity to" tends to be phrased as "has an opportunity to" and gets coupled with Bush's 2000 campaign pledge (as yet unfulfilled, truth be told) to be "a uniter, not a divider."

Bush has no obligation to appoint anyone of any kind. Heck, he can appoint Martha Stewart if he wants. The problem is that that he has to remember Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution. Before the word "consent" are the words "advice and." If he wants a strict interpretation of "advice and consent of the Senate," he had best remember that the Senate is more than just Republicans.

From the right:
Bush doesn't need to worry about the Democrats, so he may as well appoint a staunch and loyal conservative. Um, no. He won't get a hardliner to a committee vote, much less to the floor of the Senate. Why do I say this? Arlen Specter has even come out with an admonition that the President should consult broadly with the Senate and name a concensus justice. Since Specter runs the Senate Judiciary Committee, he can take any name he wants and refuse to bring it up for vote. It's one thing to be opposed by the opposition party, but when members of one's own party—especially those with the power to stop you dead in your tracks—tell you to behave yourself, you had better listen, Mr. President.

The Senate is divided 55-44-1, though on a hardline candidate, Vermont's independent will almost certainly count as a Democrat. Some observers think that this is going to be easy for Bush. All he needs to do is dash off whomever he wishes, Specter's committee will push it through on a party line vote, and the floor will go from there. Sadly, Fox "News" tried making this case with half of their memory erased.

The Fox people talked about the "Gang of 7" in the Senate—seven Democrats who struck a deal to avoid a filibuster on judicial nominees earlier this year. What they seemto have forgotten was that this was the "Gang of 14" and included seven Republicans. If that cabal holds (and assuming the I becomes a D for these purposes), the Senate will be 48-52 against a hardline candidate—never allowing a vote, yet avoiding the so-called "nuclear option" to remove the filibuster on judicial nominees.

The Senate has the power of the middle, and the President will have to accept that. We won't see another Scalia or Thomas in this appointment. While 41% of Americans want a more conservative justice and 30% want a more liberal justice, 61% of Americans want a justice who will (as O'Connor did) uphold Roe v. Wade. Moderation.

This brings up a red herring we are likely to have visited upon us by the White House: abortion. Will someone, probably on the left, ask how a potential justice will vote on abortion? Probably. It will almot certainly be Kennedy. Does this mean it is a "litmus test" for the candidate? No. It can sway public opinion, perhaps, but almost any major issue can be put in its place. Consider this hypothetical exchange:

Senator: How would you vote on gun control?
Nominee: I fully support any law that allows private citizens access to firearms.

Feel free to change "support" to "oppose." Regardless, the nominee should be trashed. Heck, turn the issue and response to abortion, the death penalty, or anything else that often drives single-issue voters. The simple fact remains that anyone—ANYONE—who is willing to state unequivocally before the Senate how he or she will vote on any issue is not someone that either side should want on the bench. Supreme Court Justices need to possess wisdom and intelligence. Dogma, however, is antithetical to the job description.

And now we come back to our original problem: Whom should Bush appoint? Can so dogmatic a president accept someone who is not dogmatic? Will Bush demonstrate that wisdom is, over the long term, more valuable than a few political points? I hope so. I doubt it.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Airplanes And Ashes

It seems to me I've written something about this before, but perhaps it wasn't here (I won't go back to check). I took my first ride on an airplane before I turned one, and my parents, in moving the family across the Atlantic, made it a big flight, though given my age, not a memorable one.

Over the years, we flew across the Atlantic man times, spending over half a decade in Europe. I can't say whether it was something about me, something about my father's working for Boeing, or something else altogether, but I always loved flying. Flying meant chewing gum and ginger ale. It meant Tic Tacs and that rush of being pressed into the seats as the engines roared for takeoff. It meant the odor of stale ashes and the mint of other people's stale chewing gum stuck into the ash trays.

Yes, I loved those odd odors, too. They meant travel and adventure. They were part of the multitude of signs that we were going somewhere. We might be seeing family I barely knew or returning home to the neighborhood I knew well in England. Airplanes—we flew on more than a couple 747s—were great moving castles in the sky, countries, almost, with their own atmospheres high above in the atmospheres of real countries. It didn't matter that stale cigarette ashes produced an unpleasant odor most times: on airplanes, it blended as part of the magic.

What Month Is It?

I only got a few hour's sleep last night, and just now I had the oddest impression that it was Christmas morning. Walking by the cats' food bowl, and with one nostril feeling a little stuffed up, I caught the scent of something that I decided was pine. It wasn't just any kind of pine, though, but the kind that says it is cut and indoors, slowly dying because water and packets of dissolved food aren't enough for a real tree. And then there was the sound of Sunshine walking, half awake, past a door. I don't know why that makes me think of Christmas, too. But it is July now, and all of this was just an illusion.

Friday, July 01, 2005


As I slog my way through the numbers with relative slowness, I managed my second thousand visitors in about half the time as the first thousand. This time, however, it seems I was visited by someone who already knew I was there. That's much better.

My Stone Tablets

Since there seems to be a great deal of confusion regarding this issue, it will get its own space.

I have never stated that anyone was against the posting of the Ten Commandments on the basis of its being unprotected speech under the First Amendment. Never. Not one time in my life. That said, I oppose the posting of the Ten Commandments on public land, and most notably on those lands used for the administration of justice.

I ask you this: If I were to get the money together to have a 10.5-ton monument built and given to the state of Alabama, would they put it in front of the courthouse? They did with the Ten Commandments, but what about the Code of Hammurabi or law excerpts from the Koran or the Zend Avesta?

You see, the problem with posting the Ten Commandments is not free speech. The problem is exclusion of expression. Remember, if you wish to debate this on freedom of speech grounds, that the Supreme Court has ruled, in effect, that the listener has as much freedom from speech as the speaker has to deliver it.

This means that anyone who does not wish to experience the Ten Commandments simply has to avoid places of religious expression, but jurors, criminals, lawyers, and judges who must go to such a place cannot avoid it. That is unfair. It is not enough to say that these are Ten rules by which people can lead better lives, but that they can be divorced of their religious value. Take out the first four if that's what you want, but "I am the lord thy God" is not a terribly secular start.

We can debate until we are blue in the face which of the founding fathers are Christian and which are deists or agnostics or atheists, but the fact remains that this is a secular nation by definition. We have no national religion, just as we have no national language. Saying that we support freedom of expression with regard to all religions does not make sense if we only support, with our deeds, freedom of expression of one religion (two, since this is from the boook of Exodus).