Sunday, 31 August, 2003

Manufactured diamonds

How many things change when $15,000 gem-quality diamond can be had for $200?  People have been trying (and literally dying) for almost 200 years to manufacture diamonds.  They've finally succeeded.  This has some interesting consequences to the traditional diamond industry, and has resulted in a flurry of new technologies for detecting the difference between natural and manufactured diamonds.  I think this will be effective in the short term, but I suspect De Beers' lock on the world diamond market is nearing its end.

More important than gem stones, though, are the implications for the semiconductor industry.  Diamond is the best semiconductor material known and can run at much higher temperatures than can silicon.  It's not used currently because it's been impossible (or prohibitively expensive) to create high-quality diamond wafer.  But with this new technology, that could change very quickly.  Imagine, I'll have more and higher-quality diamonds in my computers than my wife has in her jewelry.

Saturday, 30 August, 2003

More on public computers

One more thought on the public computers idea from yesterday.  This is a move that Microsoft would have a very difficult time countering.  Their whole business model is based on licensing software on a per-computer basis.  The XP licensing scheme stores information about the machine on which it's installed, and will force you to re-register if the hardware changes.  Unless they came up with a thumb drive that had a built-in license key of some kind (and imagine what privacy advocates would have to say about that!), it'd be impossible to use Windows in this manner.  That's assuming you could get any version of Windows to auto-detect hardware and boot into a usable system without having to install onto the hard drive.  I'm sure Microsoft could cobble something together, but I doubt you could do it with any existing version of Windows right out of the box.

Just a thought.

Friday, 29 August, 2003

Knoppix

Knoppix is a Linux distribution designed to be used from CD.  With a Knoppix CD in hand, you can run Linux from CD on any supported PC that can boot from the CD drive.  If you want to save your work, you'll have to mount a drive or store it to an external device (USB thumb drive, diskette, CD-RW, etc.).  Knoppix comes in handy for a number of things:  booting failed systems for troubleshooting, demonstrating Linux without having to install it, or quickly booting any system for use as a quick network test.

The last was especially useful to me this week.  I was setting up a test server on its own little network and needed to test the DHCP server.  My test client was a 400 MHz Dell that had XP running, but I didn't have a user ID and password to log into the box.  Rather than reinstall Windows on the box, I booted Knoppix.  Three minutes and I was ready to test.

The coolest thing about Knoppix (and I hinted about this last week when I mentioned Damn Small Linux) is the possibility of putting it on one of those thumb drives.  A 1 gigabyte thumb drive goes for about $320.  A full Knoppix distribution will eat up about 700 MB, leaving you 300 MB for data.  For most of us, 300 MB is more than enough to hold our current work.  You can carry your working software and your data on your key chain, and use any modern computer as a workstation.  Forget wireless hotspots in hotels and coffee shops.  Imagine instead public computers with no hard drives, CDs, diskettes, or other data storage devices; just a USB port and a connection to the Internet.  Walk up, plug in your thumb drive, and you're working.

The biggest problem with doing something like this is that it's just a gimmick unless those computers are ubiquitous.  I guess that's how wireless got started, though.  Just a few hot spots at first, slowly building until even McDonald's is selling wireless access with their Big Macs.

I've examined 8 different Linux distributions over the past week, and I've been quite impressed with how much more polished they've become in the past couple of years.  Sure, some are still hard for a non-techie to install (Debian and Slackware, for example), but others like Lycoris and Red Hat are just as easy as—maybe easier than—Windows.  When you factor in the added complexity of installing additional Windows applications, the Linux distributions are easier.  That is, when you've finished installing Red Hat, Lycoris, SuSE, or one of the other major desktop distributions, you're done.  The office productivity software and most everything else is there.  Once you install Windows, you still need to install Office and any other applications you need.  I'll be charitable to Windows here and call installation a draw.

In almost all respects, there is Linux-based software available for all of the basic home and office uses.  The most important missing piece—and this might turn out to be the killer app for Linux—is a personal financial management package.  GnuCash exists, but as I mentioned in an earlier entry (see August 12), the project is in trouble.  And, quite honestly, people expect a certain amount of accountability from the software that's keeping their books.  Whether or not it's true, people feel better with the thought that Intuit stands behind Quicken. They're not going to get that warm fuzzy feeling for a bunch of hackers who work on GunCash in their spare time.  I would expect Intuit to come out with a Linux version of Quicken in the next 2 years.  If they don't, somebody will come out with something to fill that space.

The other relatively recent innovation that's impressed me is the emergence of CD-based distributions.  Knoppix in particular has really opened my eyes to some interesting possibilities.  More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, 26 August, 2003

Irresponsible spam black hole

I sent email to one of my clients today and promptly got a message back from their email server telling me that my message was rejected because our IP address is being blocked, and to check the relays.osirusoft.com website (purposely not linked) for details.

It turns out that Joe Jared, operator of relays.osirusoft.com and a very aggressive (to put it mildly) anti-spammer, decided yesterday to discontinue his service.  Rather than do something reasonable like just shut down the server or remove all entries from his blocking list, he decided to mark every IP address as a spammer domain so that people would get the message that he's no longer offering the service.  This affected a huge number of mail servers because over-zealous systems administrators had been relying on that list as their primary or only weapon against spam.  Never mind that there are some well documented cases of the operators of this and similar lists behaving quite irresponsibly.

Yet another argument against using filtering to fight the spam problem.  If you think a client-side filter is subject to false positives, imagine what happens when a legitimate ISP is blocked by one of these filters because one person has a personal score to settle.

Monday, 25 August, 2003

Who's at fault for fat?

This AP article does a pretty good job of summing up the two major camps in the debate over who is at fault for America's obesity problem.  As the article states:

The left's view is that the food industry and advertisers are big bullies that practically force-feed people with gimmicks and high-calorie treats.  They say Ronald McDonald is the cousin of Joe Camel.

The right's argument has been dubbed:  You're fat, your fault.  They say people can make their own choices about food and exercise.

In the left's view, we're all at the mercy of "Big Food."  Their argument implies that people are sheep, powerless to resist the barrage of advertising for Big Macs, Hostess Ding Dongs, and Kellogg's Pop Tarts.  We're like moths drawn to the flame of high-fat, high-calorie foods promoted by beautiful people, and spurred on by gimmicks like  million-dollar giveaways.  Our children are mindless puppets, unable to resist Ronald McDonald, free toys, and in-restaurant playgrounds.  Parents' voices cannot be heard over the television; the sight of their good examples blocked by billboards.  Toucan Sam, Tony the Tiger, the Lucky Charms leprechaun, and the Trix rabbit are evil influences; heirs to Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man.

What a load of crap.

Sunday, 24 August, 2003

Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics

Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics is a fun read.

Saturday, 23 August, 2003

A new computer

I had hoped to wait another month or so before upgrading computers, but I needed to re-task my big desktop test server (a Celeron 666).  So on my way home from work yesterday I stopped by Fry's and picked up a new machine.  This is a Shuttle SK41G (no link available to specs on Shuttle's Web site).  Small as it is (11-1/2 inches deep, 8 inches wide, and 7 inches tall), it's surprisingly roomy inside, and the cables are well laid out.  There's room for a hard drive, diskette (or second hard drive), and a DVD.  Documentation is surprisingly good, and I was able to get everything installed with a minimum of fuss.

The motherboard has everything:  diskette, IDE, video controllers, 2 serial ports, infrared comm port, AV and S-VIdeo, 2 USB connectors, 2 1394 connectors, and built-in 10/100 Ethernet.  The front panel has speaker, microphone, USB, and 1394 connectors, which makes it very convenient when hooking things up.  There is one AGP slot and one PCI slot, but I don't know what I'd need to hook up.  Maybe a second Ethernet card if I'm going to use it as a router.

This machine will eventually be my home file/print server, so it doesn't need a whole lot of horsepower.  I put in 512 MB of RAM and an AMD Athlon XP 1800.  Windows reports that it's running at 1.150 GHz.  It was the slowest processor I could get at Fry's.  I scavenged the DVD from my other system (it only needs the CD), and paid a whopping $13.00 for a diskette drive.  The hard drive is a new Maxtor 120 GB unit that, once I get the $30 mail-in rebate, will have cost me less than $80.  I don't know what I'll do with all that space, but the drive was cheaper than the 80 GB units, and only a few dollars more than a 60 GB.  All told, the system was less than $600.

I'm happy with the size of the box, but a little disappointed that it's not a little quieter.  Sitting on my desk, it's as loud as the Dell that's sitting on the floor.  I know that it'll be a bit quieter once I get this one on the floor, but I was hoping for a little less noise.  Still, I'm very happy with the size and the way it looks.  I have Windows 2000 Server on a 60 GB partition.  Until I get the other system (it'll be 3 GHz or faster with at least 1 GB of RAM), I'll use the other half of the drive for installing and playing with different Linux distributions.

Damn, this is fun!

Friday, 22 August, 2003

Lycoris Desktop/LX

I downloaded the beta version of Lycoris Desktop/LX, burned the image to a CD, and installed on a spare partition of my hard drive here.  Lycoris (formerly Redmond Linux) is a Linux distribution, based on Corel, that the developers have modified so that it looks and feels more like Windows.  Lycoris is unlike any other distribution that I've tried.  Previously I've used Red Hat and SuSE, and have built my own system from scratch following the instructions on the Linux From Scratch site.

What's so different?  When I booted the machine with the Lycoris CD, the setup program automatically started, detected my hardware, and walked me through a handful of very simple screens on which I confirmed the keyboard, mouse, and video hardware, selected DHCP, and created a user account.  It automatically detected the unpartitioned space on my hard drive and began installing.  No package selection screens or other stuff to complicate the installation.  After 20 minutes of copying files (during which I tinkered with the solitaire program that they so kindly provided), I created a rescue diskette and rebooted the system.

Lycoris installs the GRUB boot loader, which on startup let me choose between Windows 2000 and the new Lycoris installation.  My only gripe here is that GRUB placed Lycoris as the first boot choice, and it gives me only 5 seconds to choose Windows 2000 before automatically booting Linux.  I'll need to change the default to Windows 2000, and set the delay to a more reasonable 20 seconds or so. 

OS boot time is comparable to Windows 2000, and when the system comes up I'm presented with a graphical login screen.  Lycoris installs the KDE desktop, an office productivity suite, Mozilla Web browser and email client, and a host of multimedia tools.  Some games and system utilities round out the installed applications.  The default UI settings are very nice and, unsurprisingly, very Windows-like.  Unlike other distributions I've tried in the past, everything that I've tried so far has worked as expected and I haven't had to futz with any settings.  I'll want to adjust the mouse sensitivity and make a few cosmetic changes to the desktop appearance, but those are minor.  A bigger problem is the speed.  I expected the UI to be a bit more responsive on my 700 MHz Pentium 3.  Mozilla and KWord take a long time to start, and video performance is a bit sluggish.  I hope they fix that before they release the next version.

I'll have to use the system for real work before I can say for sure that I like it, but my initial impression is quite favorable.  Installation was painless, and the distribution appears to have everything that a casual home computer user would want for a starting system.  It's still Linux, and I'm free to download and install any other packages that I want.  Desktop Linux has come a long way in the past three years.  I might just be on the verge of recommending it as a serious option to Windows.

Thursday, 21 August, 2003

Damn Small Linux

I downloaded a Linux distribution today called Damn Small Linux.  At just over 48 megabytes, this Knoppix-based distribution fits on one of those little business card-sized CDs.  It's designed to boot from CD and operate without touching a hard drive, using a RAM disk instead.  It's also possible to modify the distribution slightly to fit it on a USB memory stick.  With a 128 MB USB memory stick, you could carry your OS and a good bit of your work around in your pocket, and use it to boot almost any computer.  Carry the OS and the data, and borrow a machine wherever you are.  Now that is portability.

The other (or perhaps the primary) use of Damn Small Linux is as a diagnostic or troubleshooting tool.  With it, you can boot a crashed system, mount the hard drive volume, and explore to find out why the system isn't working.  I burned a CD and added it to my little toolbox.  I know this one will come in handy.

Tuesday, 19 August, 2003

A built-in HTML editor

I've long lamented the lack of a WYSIWYG HTML editor that I could include as a component in a program, and decided today to do something about it.  I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't have to look far.  The darned thing's been right under my nose for years.  The Microsoft Web Browser ActiveX control, installed with Internet Explorer versions 4.0 and later, has editing capabilities.  With just a few lines of C# code, I was able to create a program that will load an HTML file and allow me to edit and save the result.  Granted, making a good editor will take a bit more time, but all the important stuff is there.

I'll eventually write up an article about it.  If you're interested in exploring before I get around to posting my article, a good place to start is this sample chapter from the book Component-Based Development with C#.

Monday, 18 August, 2003

Contemplating computer upgrades

It's time I upgraded computers at the house.  My primary machine here is a 700 MHz Pentium 3 with 512 MB of RAM.  This was just a few steps under "top of the line" when I bought it 3 years ago.  It's a good machine, this old Dell, but it's starting to bog down.  Plus, it's big and noisy.  I'm getting tired of listening to it, and the other machine, my home-build Celeron 666 is even noisier.  Finally, this 21" monitor, nice as it is, just takes up too much real estate on my desk.

I'm trying to decide now whether to build my own or buy.  I've been very pleased with the size and silence of the Dell Optiplex SX270 with the ultra small chassis.  I've had one on my desk (a test server) at the office for over a month now, and the only way I can tell that it's on is to look at the lights.  It's quiet.  Top of the line goes for $1,800 or so, which is pretty darned good as far as I'm concerned.

But I'm also looking at the shoebox-sized Shuttle cases I can pick up at Fry's.  They come with the motherboard already installed, although I do have to add processor, RAM, and peripherals.  Still, a couple of those and an external DVD burner can probably be had for $2,500—maybe even including a new flat panel monitor.  The only problem is that I don't know how much noise the things make.  Fry's is not the ideal place to gauge machine noise.  If you have experience with the Shuttle cases, or know of other small quiet computers I should consider, please drop me a note.  I'm hoping to upgrade before Christmas.

Sunday, 17 August, 2003

SCO versus Linux

I've avoided mentioning the SCO versus Linux thing here, but several people have asked what I think.  I'll repeat here what I said in an email at the end of May:

I read that SCO/Linux thing with humor.  From where I sit it looks like the last gasp of a dying company, wasting its last few dollars on the futile hope of extorting some cash from IBM.  I suspect that they first tried to strong-arm IBM into settling, and then weren't smart enough to back down when IBM said no.  I don't have any evidence to back it up—just experience in seeing how these types of things have played out before.  I won't be at all surprised if  SCO/Caldera/whatever (hasn't the company had a half dozen names in as many years?) ceases to exist in less than 12 months.

Since then, I've read nothing that makes me question that opinion.  To the contrary, the recent news that SCO's executives have been dumping their stock makes me start to wonder if this move was calculated to bring about a short-term increase in the stock price.  Whatever the case, it's been an entertaining sideshow.

Thursday, 14 August, 2003

Ghost

In the final stages of my project at work, I had to test an ActiveX control on 16 different platforms ranging from Windows 98 with IE 5.0 to Windows Server 2003 with the latest version of IE.  It's not possible to try testing with every possible combination of Windows and IE with different service pack versions and critical updates, so we limited testing to standard versions with the latest service packs.  Believe me, installing these different versions is a painful process, and I wasn't about to go through that more than once.

Enter Ghost.  What a superb program.  I'd create a Windows/IE platform, re-boot the machine with the Ghost startup disk, and make a full image copy of the hard drive to our Ghost server.  When it came time to do the testing, it took only a few minutes to reboot a machine, locate the proper image on the server, and copy it down.  If you're doing platform testing, get Ghost.  If your time is worth anything at all, you'll easily justify the cost.

Wednesday, 13 August, 2003

Model Airplane Crosses Atlantic

A group of model airplane enthusiasts flew a model across the Atlantic.  The Spirit of Butts Farm, 11 pounds when it took off from Newfoundland, landed in Ireland 38-1/2 hours later after flying almost 1,900 miles.  The airplane was launched by human control, and then controlled automatically by computer in response to radio telemetry until it reached the Irish coast where it once again came under human control.  Unmanned transatlantic flight for the masses.  This is very cool.  And scary.

Tuesday, 12 August, 2003

GnuCash is having trouble

The GnuCash project is having a hard time.  GnuCash is personal accounting software on the order of Quicken.  It's "free software" for Linux, BSD, Mac OS X, and traditional Unixes.

It's no surprise to me that the project has fallen on hard times.  It seems they lost a large portion of their developer base when a couple of companies that were paying developers to work on it went under.  It's difficult to find volunteers to work on projects that aren't terribly interesting to developers.  The most successful Open Source software projects are those in which the developers are the users.  Things like compilers and operating systems, email packages, Web servers, and other systems software get lots of attention from developers because developers understand and use those things.  But a personal financial package?  There are relatively few developers who use any but the most rudimentary features of such a program, and even fewer who understand the concepts of double-entry accounting and user reporting.  The project is suffering from poor management and an explosive growth in size–almost 290,000 lines of code.  Advanced features are partially implemented and poorly (if at all) documented.  Reporting, a very important feature of such a program, is difficult to extend.  Read the document—the project's a mess. 

It's been said that open source software is superior to proprietary software because if the primary developers disappear the code is still there and others can continue the work.  That's true, provided that others are able and willing.  In the case of GnuCash, those aren't valid assumptions.  In order for a project of this size and complexity to be continued after the demise of the primary developers, the code itself and the documentation have to be complete, accurate, and up to date.

What's it all mean?  That open source isn't a magic bullet.  Large open source projects suffer from the same problems that plague large proprietary projects.  Perhaps more in some cases because there is less control over the developers on an open source project.

Sunday, 10 August, 2003

Searching for blogging software

I've been wanting to change the format of this diary, but I'm having trouble finding a blogging program that'll do all the things that I want.  I've even considered moving to one of the services like Blogger or blog*spot, but I like having control over the Web site here and being able to post pictures, movies, etc.  But maintaining the diary in FrontPage is difficult, and I'm not able to post entries when I'm away unless I have my laptop and an Internet connection.  I've looked at CityDesk, which is a fine program and well worth the $350, but it doesn't have a Web piece.  I'd still need to have my laptop with me in order to post entries.  The BlogX project on GotDotNet looks like it might be promising, but it's still a bit too primitive for my taste.  Plus, if I'm going to change then I want to get a few more features, blog indexing chiefly among them.  CityDesk has keywords that you can use to create topic categories, but I'm looking for something that'll generate an index of all entries.

If you've found some blogging software that you think is really great, please drop me a line and tell me about it.  It doesn't matter much to me whether the server piece runs on Windows or Linux, but I'm partial to a Windows-based client piece.

Friday, 08 August, 2003

Politics.  Blech!

All joking aside, the California recall election is yet another example of the fractious politics that have become all too common recently.  This was building for most of Clinton's Presidency, and has become almost unbearable since the 2002 election.  As much as I like to think I'm realistic about politics and especially politicians, I have to admit that I've been terribly naive.

It comes as no secret to anybody who knows me or who has been reading this journal for any length of time that I lean more toward what is considered "conservative."  I'm a big believer in personal responsibility, self-reliance, fiscal conservatism, smaller and less intrusive government, and many of the "traditional values" that are identified as conservative.  My political views are more in line with the original Libertarian party, before  the anarchists took over and turned it into a radical fringe movement.  In any case, I always thought that the Republicans more closely identified with the kind of governance that I desired.  I see now that I was horribly wrong.  How so?  I'll cite three examples.

  • Impeaching President Clinton.  Okay, the guy was a slimeball and a liar.  I knew that even before he insulted my intelligence by saying "I didn't inhale."  But trying to throw him out of office because he lied about having sex with an intern in the Oval Office was stupid.
  • The Texas redistricting fiasco.  Yes, we have to draw new district lines in order to accommodate the Representatives we acquired in the last census.  But by drawing wildly unrealistic districts in a transparent attempt to hijack the vote, Republicans have given Democrats no choice but to abstain from voting.  Here the Republican leadership is playing a game of "it's my ball so I set the rules," and then they wonder why the other kids don't want to participate.  Worse, they're trying to get the cops to make the Democrats play.
  • The California recall election.  Blaming California's fiscal problems on the Governor shows a remarkable lack of understanding.  I know very little about Gray Davis, but I understand that he was held in reasonably high regard until the energy shortage problems two years ago.  My read on that one is that he was just unlucky enough to be sitting in the hot seat when years of failed policy (coupled with "deregulation", a misnomer if I ever heard one) and a pretty sharp recession caught up with the state's budget.  The conservative Republicans behind the recall vote jumped at the opportunity to make a bad situation worse by bringing up this whole recall thing.  This move wasn't calculated to put a conservative Republican in the Governor's chair, but rather to remove the Democratic Governor and thereby make the Democrats look bad.  I have little doubt that Governor Davis' remaining time in Sacramento is quite limited, but I have my doubts as to who will end up looking bad when the dust settles.

In all three cases and in many others over the last 10 years, conservative Republicans have acted in the best interest of the party rather than in the best interest of the people who they're supposed to be representing.  In addition, when they do sit down to work on legislation, they play the same games that Democrats play but to a different audience.  Where are the fiscal responsibility, self reliance, and limited government that is supposedly identified with conservatism?  All I see are "family values" proposals that do nothing but pit one vocal minority against another and polarize the electorate.  Maybe I'm just now beginning to see clearly.  Maybe politics in this country has always been characterized by two groups of people spending the majority of their time arguing like little kids over who gets the biggest piece of my pie.

All things considered, I'm disgusted by the whole stinking mess.

Thursday, 07 August, 2003

Who wants to be a Governor?

I'm afraid to watch the late-night talk shows or other comedy television.  I just know they're all milking this California recall thing for all its worth.  "Vote for me if you want to live."  "The Governator."  I knew California was weird, but this one, to borrow a term from Senator Feinstein, is a carnival.  Where else but California could you find the following running for Governor?

  • a smut magazine publisher
  • the biggest and smallest actors in Hollywood
  • a former baseball commissioner
  • a student government wanna-be
  • a sexpot/stripper
  • a software engineer (who's raising money by selling merchandise on the Web, including some thong underwear with her name on it)
  • a guy whose platform seems to consist of "legalize ferrets"
  • the Lieutenant Governor
  • more than 200 other assorted wackos, crazies, and clueless idiots

I'll just sit back and watch the show.  This is gonna be fun!

Wednesday, 06 August, 2003

Media Player CD Identification Problems

I borrowed a CD called "One Hit Wonders" from a co-worker this morning, and was surprised to see that Microsoft Media Player mis-identified it.  Media Player insisted that the CD was an album by The Buggles called "The Age of Plastic."  Granted, the CD does contain The Buggles' one and only hit, "Video Killed the Radio Star," but the number of tracks on the two CDs are different, as are the track lengths.  I don't know what service Media Player is using to identify these CDs, but seeing this error doesn't give me a warm fuzzy.

Tuesday, 05 August, 2003

Laptop:  One Month Later

I've had the new laptop (see July 17) for four weeks now, and I can't imagine how I got anything done without it.  For example, when I was doing my initial testing on Windows 98, I needed to have my development machine handy so I could make changes to the program.  Without the laptop, I'd have to make the changes at my desk, walk across the building to the testing lab, copy the program, and run the test.  With the laptop and a wireless connection, I was able to sit down in the testing lab and just work.  I saved myself hours of time and a lot of walking. 

Converting from the desktop to the laptop was no trouble at all, mostly because they gave it to me with all the development tools already installed.  Well, that and I've become pretty good at placing program data files where I can find them (rather than were the program usually wants them) so that switching machines usually involves installing programs, changing default file locations, and copying one big directory.

With the addition of the USB mouse (see July 30), and the Microsoft Natural keyboard, the laptop is just as easy to use as the desktop, and the display is much sharper.  I tried to use the 19" monitor from my desktop machine, but the laptop's screen is much crisper and more readable at 1600x1200 resolution.  Also on July 30 I mentioned the lack of the context menu key on the laptop.  It's there, just in the wrong (to me) place.  The key is up above the function keys.  Inconvenient, but still useful.  I'm grateful that Catapult decided to get the laptops for us consultants rather than replace the desktop machines.

Tuesday, 05 August, 2003

A Delay with the Carpet

We were supposed to get carpet in the new office room yesterday, but the installers showed up with the wrong carpet.  We were supposed to get carpet that's 15 feet wide so that it could be installed in the room as a single piece without seams.  We ended up with 12' goods, though, so Debra had to trek back to Home Depot and raise a stink.  The carpet's re-ordered now and should be in next week.  If all goes well, we'll have carpet on the 15th.

Monday, 04 August, 2003

Novell Purchases Ximian

My morning scan of Slashdot today produced an interesting tidbitNovell has purchased Ximian.  Yes, the company behind the Mono project and many of the recent innovations in the GNOME project is now a division of Novell, a company whose business strategy over the past 15 years or so can be summed up as:  "Buy Microsoft's competitors and run them into the ground."

Say goodbye to Mono and GNOME.  They'll be around, sure, but what you see today is what you'll get in 5 years.  What I want to know is how Microsoft has gotten away with secretly funding Novell all these years 

Sunday, 03 August, 2003

Benefits of Unicode Strings

An unsung benefit of programming for Microsoft .NET is that all strings are Unicode.  I didn't realize just how much of a benefit this is until recently.  I'm in the middle of a Delphi project that has to be "global ready," which means (among other things) that all the strings have to be localizable.  This is a giant pain.  Writing a localizable application in Delphi requires that I use three different string types (PChar, String, and WideString), and continually convert from one string type to another.  The problem is similar in C and C++.

With .NET, every string is Unicode and all functions that handle strings assume that the strings are Unicode.  One string type.  No conversions.  Life is good.

Saturday, 02 August, 2003

New Office Furniture

With the carpet going into the new office (yes, the forever garage renovation really is nearing completion), Debra and I decided to go looking for furniture.  Currently our office furniture consists of a couple of 6-foot banquet tables and a hodge-podge of file cabinets and book cases that we've acquired over the past 8 years.  The new office is approximately 20' long by 15' wide.  There's enough space to put two desks and credenzas, a file cabinet, office supply cabinet, and 8 or 9 book cases.  We'll even have some space left in the middle where we can put a couple of chairs.  We're more than doubling our useable space.  We have enough room left over in the renovation budget that we can afford to buy all new furniture.  As long as it's not too expensive.

And, oh boy can office furniture be expensive!  We've looked at some really nice stuff that'd run us $10,000 all told—way more than we want to spend.  There's some middle-of-the-road stuff that looks really nice but isn't at all functional (imagine, a computer desk that doesn't have a cord hole in the top), and some surprisingly inexpensive furniture that looks reasonably nice (especially for a home office) and is well-designed.  If you're looking for home office furniture, be sure to check Eurway.  We haven't decided 100% on buying from them, but they're the leading contender right now, and for a helluva lot less than $10,000.  My only concern is their book cases.  Their 85" case has only 5 shelves, which doesn't give me any more useable shelf space than does a cheap 72" unit from Office Max.  But the shelves on the Eurway unit are fully adjustable in 1" increments, meaning that if I can buy additional shelves I can turn that 5-shelf book case into a 9-shelf book case—almost doubling the number of books I can place on it.  With 8 of those in the office, we'll have space for all the books that are currently in the bedroom and the office, and have some shelf space left over.

Friday, 01 August, 2003

Rewrite the Protocol

I've been saying for a couple of years now that the only way we'll be able to get a handle on the spam problem is by making a fundamental change to the email protocols.  And for most of those two years, I've been inundated by messages from people saying that it's not possible, that it'd cause too much upheaval, that any system could be broken anyway, and that I must be some kind of communist because I don't believe that people sending email have some right to anonymity.  Not one of those messages, and none of the garbage I've seen regurgitated on Slashdot and other public forums have given any evidence of why this isn't possible.  It's all a bunch of reactionary scribbling by people who engage their fingers on the keyboard before they engage their brains.

Finally, about three years too late, knowledgeable people are beginning to poke their heads up out of the sand and step out from behind their proposed legislation, and saying what many of us have known for years: it's time to rewrite the protocol.