Jul 04

Underway on Negligible Power

I write from a Starbucks in Japan, on a tiny little Amazon Kindle Fire 7 tablet.  I purchased a ZAGG auto-fit keyboard, which works great.  I am connecting through my iPhone, so that I don’t teach my Fire a bunch of bad habits on wi-fi hotspots.
I will add pictures to this post.
I now have a magnificent mini-office set-up; a peripheral office made up entirely of peripherals.
I husked an old Case Logic CD carrier by taking the CD-page insert out of it.  That was easy — just hinge the “book covers” backwards and wiggle the plastic page roots out of the covers.  Try it, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
This CD case has a medium pocket on front, which was supposed to hold a CD Walkman, but now hosts a power cable and a 1 Amp wall-wart, and a pair of cheap reading glasses.  There’s a smaller pocket on the front which I believe was intended for batteries or a wall-wart for the intended CD Walkman.  That pocket now holds a deck of 3×5 cards and some pens.
With the CD pages removed, the interior is roomy and sized well for the Kindle Fire in its ZAGG keyboard/case, as well as an old Kindle 3G (keyboard) in its own nice case.  Frankly, I prefer the older Kindle for reading straight text.  The battery lasts forever, and while it’s no PaperWhite, the display is certainly optimized for text.
The ZAGG keyboard is straightforward to set up via BlueTooth to the Kindle Fire, which in turn connects via wi-fi to my iPhone, operating as a hot spot.  That guy goes out on the cell phone network, which is miserably insecure of course, but not at the client end.
So with that as my connected terminal, I can still listen to tunes on the phone (or indeed, on the Fire, as now), while using the Kindle 3G for reference.  More to follow.

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Feb 20


has been topsy-turvy around here, including an unexpected reassignment in one of my lines of employment, some crucial deadlines being miracles off of me, and not least, a collapse in my email and hosting.  Long story, basically my fault, but they don’t make it easy.  This site was offline, and all email sent to me beginning 01FEB has simply been dropped, not delivered.  I hope fail notices went out — I have no way to know.

Anyway, going skiing this weekend.  I’ll post pics!

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Mar 08

Outlook, Access, Excel

I have a utility database  that tells me what my inbox looks like.  You see many people asking how to get a count of mails BY SENDER.  It’s the ultimate spam-whacking tool.  This is why places like Gmail don’t support it and never will. They want that spam sitting right where it is, spilling metadata.  The more junk mail sits on your Gmail account, the more they know about you.

Well, long story short, here’s a pivot table of the whole thing.  This is mail received by week, but with an important caveat — this is only what remains after some mail is moved, and some is deleted.  The dip at the end of 2014 is not a reduction in inbound mail, but the result of a cleanup I did in January.  I whacked several thousand e-mails — more than the link to my hosting could keep up with.  I’ll get back to it.


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Dec 22

Today is a Beautiful Day

Today is a beautiful day.

It’s cold and overcast, with a wind that is not actually hostile, although doesn’t seem to like any of us very much. But in my aimless pre-dawn wandering, I crested an overpass on the way to Manassas and was struck by a flare of gaudy salmon pink lancing the cloud cover somewhere over the Atlantic, flooding inland and suffusing a million miles of sky with a fiery underlight. By the time I found a place to take a picture, the world had turned, the glow was gone, and an unknown night had become a tentative day.

I had spent the day before with friends and coworkers at Arlington to pay respects. We took some natural fiber sponges and bottled water to do any upkeep that might be possible. We stood about a couple of the stones, sharing stories by way of introduction and lapsing into completely comfortable silence from time to time.

We met a nice lady, Mrs. Davis, who volunteered to take a picture of us. She had a chair and a thermos and was settled in for the long haul, spending the day with her son, her only child. We cleaned his stone as well, and asked her to tell us about him, and she did. She has nearly ten years invested in a community of similarly-situated moms who spend their days at the cemetery.

When my friend was killed, those of us in country joined a conference call with the wings of his family, and we were just staggered at how his family was so concerned for us. Similarly, the mother of one of the folks we visited (whom I did not directly know) asked military folks to stand for a moment at her own son’s memorial service and gave them a firm bucking. I cannot understand how people find the strength and grace to conduct themselves so richly, so beautifully, at such awful times.

Soon I will return to my own family, and I do so with a humility and gratitude for those who did not have such an opportunity — for both the fallen and for those who must carry on, never finishing, never resting, until some day they may be reunited with those whom they love.

It looks like the sun may come out. If so, I will consider it a blessing. And if it should rain, I will consider that a blessing as well.

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Dec 18

Returning from Afghanistan

It’s been a while.  I’m in the States right now, on the way back home.  I’ve intentionally stayed away from politics and blogging in general while deployed overseas as a mobilized reservist.

I probably won’t have much to say about the current deployment — the previous one was far more interesting.  I was able to accomplish a couple of goals on this one, however, so I’ll be happy to describe some of that.

It’s great to be back.

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Dec 18

Powershell Rocks

I have more to say about this, but I am still learning.  My impression so far is that Windows has really grown up and acquired a shell worthy of the term.  I’ve always been a DOS fan in the Microsoft camp, but at the same time really miss the power of a shel like bash.  Well, Powershell may be thought of as an object-oriented shell with much of the power and philosophy of bash.  Note that a huge difference is that is typical unix shells “everything is a file”, whereas in PowerShell, “everything is an object”.  And yes, that means, methods, properties, and an infrastructure for referring to and invoking them.


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Nov 28

Clicky Badness

I keep reading about things I am supposed to love about Windows 8.  There are no doubt some features which make it not just a version of Windows 7 that only touch-screen-licking children can use.  Powershell version 3 (available for Windows 7) is integrated seamlessly with Windows 8, so this has my attention.  Also, I recall something about the hypervisor (virtualization manager, I guess) being more capable, and something about encryption being beefed up.

So when I search the web for “Windows 8 Business” and get cruft 2.0 like the screenshot below, I get a little frustrated.  I’m a big-picture guy, see, and while I like the details, for me many details problems *go away* if you can attack the big picture.  So the big picture here is this question:  who benefits from this sort of interface?  You click and click and keep clicking just to read an article.  This one is only five items long, so presumably the seven (count ’em) slides in this set are the title page, plus five, plus an ad slide.  And guess what?  You are going to click on the ad slide.

Now I don’t know if this is a click-through ad model, click ad model, or no ad model whatsoever, as I didn’t stick around to find out.  If you cannot or will not put your five points in an article using the English language, I am certainly not motivated to follow you around the web.

An example of web design for morons. Keep clicking, just keep clicking...

Not only has this, the payload of the HTML page as rendered, not delivered me any value, neither has anything else.  This page is a content-free zone.  At the top (not included in this screen grab) is a banner with links to sign in or sign up.  Links to other content-free pages on the same site populate the right hand sidebar, and links to content-free pages on different sites round out the bottom of the page.

Now I don’t wish to be too curmudgeonly toward Windows 8.  All the tiles and swiping just leave me cold.  I think it looks like crap, and I don’t get it.  I like XP just fine, but I understand it is tottering on the edge of functional obsolescence.  I adored Windows 98 SE, and for that matter Dos 6.22 with WfW 3.11, Macintosh System 7.x, and several of the now defunct Ubuntu interfaces.  I don’t care much for Unity or whatever it is called now, and don’t get me started on the hostile Pulse audio subsystem.  I liked Slackware when a 28.8 Sportster was all the rage.  I saw that startup sequence so many times that I remember Patrick Volkerding’s e-mail address, despite never having used it.  So the Windows 8 interface is not to my taste.  But apparently there is a lot of good stuff going on under the hood.  Big, important changes that, if better publicized, would probably help shake off the image of being the latest attemt by the Beast of Redmond to bend us toward its will, in this instance to force us to Converge, Converge, damn you! on to some Nokia-pimping, XP-eclipsing, NSA-friendly iPhone-killer.

Most of us looking at this thing from a business (or at least systems administration) perspective are not amused by sliding tiles and “jam your thumb here to get to a useful interface”.  And in fact, there must be a way to get off of that touch-oriented (and ugly) Metro get-up.  But Microsoft seems none too eager to publicize it, and the website from which I grabbed the above shot will never convince me, because that interface is for idiots.

Sorry this post took so long to type up.  My Wordstar 3.3 is acting up again.


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Nov 22

Mavericks? Free? What is Apple Doing?

OS Tentative

I have my own ideas as to why Apple is releasing the ridiculously-named “Mavericks” operating system update for free. While my favorite proposed reason, that they are the same stupid people who named the thing, just doesn’t withstand scrutiny, I have a couple more ideas.

1. Stick it to legacy. Adoption of the last two upgrades has been poor. Now I haven’t done a shred of research on this and I don’t have any facts to back this up. I can speak only from my own experience and those of people I know, what I read in magazines, on blogs, and so forth. I can’t understand what Apple is doing these days, and I don’t like it. I’m still on 10.6.8 on my MBP and on whatever my original MBA came with. I hardly use either. I can’t stand the new iTunes interface, and I’m still not going to move to iOS 7 any time soon. It’s ugly and flimsy-looking, and I don’t want its “features”. Nobody I know thinks these things are improvements, and while I’m the most curmudgeonly of the bunch, when I mention this Mavericks thing, nobody is interested in “upgrading”.

Now operating system upgrades accomplish more than eye-candy. They make security improvements and bring the system into better interoperability with other components of the ecosystem, and of other systems. Like the web, and the NSA. So there are many reasons that Apple wants us to upgrade without even wanting us to pay for it. It makes their jobs easier, and the NSA’s job easier/harder, depending on what’s under the hood.

For all I know, the recent cosmetic changes to iOS and OS X have just been window-dressing for urgent security changes, and slow adoption has been more than annoying, perhaps even critical for system integrity. I don’t know; I don’t follow Apple tech anymore. It would explain the apparent rudderlessness of the whole thing, which leaves me cold.

2. Stick it to Microsoft. If Apple can sell a prettier (ahem) interface to their hardware for nothing, while Microsoft must charge because that’s all they have, then Apple may be seen as solving on the side what Microsoft struggles to do as a main dish. For various reasons there are fewer problematic virii on the Macintosh side of things, and heaven knows that great creative and industrial things can be accomplished on Apple’s hardware, with Apple’s operating system. So it seems a tremendous thumb in Microsoft’s eye to unilaterally declare war on the notion of selling an operating system. You bought the computer, it should run, right? And not just this quarter, but next quarter as well, after the next upgrade.

3. Stick it to you. Yeah, you knew this was coming. I don’t know the real angle here, but it would have to be something in the license. If they charge you for the OS, then you have rights, however fleeting they may be. But if the OS is just another component, like the space bar, then it really belongs to them and their willingness or unwillingness to fix or replace parts. It’s their operating system, not yours, and you don’t need to know how it works. Say good-bye to some preferences, utilities, applications?

4. Stick it to application developers. I don’t know why they would do this, but assume they need to. This would be facilitated by making the OS a part of the computer as sold as mentioned above, so that when like Microsoft they wish to claim that the browser is an integrated part of the OS, they can make it stick. If the OS is free and merely a component of the system, and security updates are likewise free, then the browser is easily seen as just one more component with a particularly high need for more of these free security updates.

They wouldn’t even be wrong in this. Microsoft in-housed much of the system protection ecosystem by issuing Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE), and I’m glad they did. Once I changed from various products to MSE, I stopped having malware issues on XP and later on 7. Been running it for years, I let it do what it wants, and I just don’t have trouble. So there’s much to commend a monolithic approach to the stack, right up to the applications. Until it breaks, of course, but this is the big gamble they would be taking. Like a jumbo jet with only one gigantic engine, they would be wagering increased reliability against the relentless arithmetic of parts count in complex systems. What’s the right answer? Time will tell.

For now, Apple can get bent. I don’t like the stuff they make these days, I can’t figure it out and I think it looks like washed-out crap. And apple’s thumb in my own eye is getting a bit much — I can’t imagine why they think I want to buy music from somebody called GORILLAZ with crude, hostile cover art, but they’ve been pounding me over the head with it for years.

So Apple can take their monolith and polish it on their own time. Now, I could be wrong. Maybe the whole thing is great. But I’ve been burned by allowing Apple updates to run free, and wound up with systems that chew on battery and wade through processor like Godzilla through the suburbs. So I’ll sit this one out, trying to figure out why this thing is free. Not because free is bad, but because I have resisted recent “improvements” from Apple at any price.

Free is no bargain when I don’t want it to begin with.

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