Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A new year is born

My dear friends;

We are now a week past the winter solstice, and a week farther into the birth of the new year. The days are, once again, growing longer, and the darkness is slowly, slowly, fading.

I ride tonight, with the dogs, so it is not really a ride for me - altho I do get a bit of exercise. The dogs, on the other hand, get a pretty good workout. Klinger is younger, Sara the elder, but Sara loves to run; which helps to equalize the effort. But, Sara is also far shorter than Klinger. Klinger has the body of the German Short-haired pointer that was almost certainly one parent. This means he has a deep chest (space for the lungs), combined with long legs, and a relatively light build. All of which, added to the youthful vigor, mean lots of energy for running.

He definitely has the hunting genes. If I had started training him for it when he was 6-10 months old, he would have gotten the pointing thing going. He did that alert freeze status quite naturally, but we encouraged him to chase the squirrels at the bird feeder, and eventually his instinct to take a point broke. Ever since, I've had to worry about training him NOT to chase wildlife when we are out walking or running.

His training is proceeding quite well, and he exhibits a great deal of control when he knows I'm paying attention. All of which is good, you know. Can't have him jetting about, scaring people, or being rude by going on land where he isn't wanted. Or running in front of cars. Etc.

He's not a huge dog - he's probably 65 pounds now, but he has a large enough look that he makes people cautious when he gets excited. Let's take a look at him for a second - German short-haired pointers and Labs are about the same height. Klinger has a blond Lab's coloration, and we've speculated that the "other" parent was a Lab. Of the two breeds, though, Labs are broader in the chest, and generally heavier in build. Klinger has the lighter build, with the Lab color.

Sara is also true to her roots. I believe that her parents were a Bassett hound, and a blue-tick hound. She has some blue-tick coloration, with a modified Bassett conformation. Meaning she looks like an oversized beagle. Given that neither breed - Bassetts or blue-ticks - are known for being trainable (rather they are known for NOT being trainable), she fits that expectation to a T. She is no more trainable than a stump. She is NOT dumb - she is actually quite smart, and I would guess she is smarter than Klinger. But, she will not train, unless you offer food as a reward, and if she thinks something else is important or interesting, fuggedaboudit. She likes food, sniffing, running, and food, in that order. She is a sweet dog, but does have a tendency to go Alpha at times.

So, when I take them out running, Sara has to go on lead. She will drag me, and the bike, just as fast as I can go to keep up (on this city bike), but only for the first half mile. Then she still will run, but only keeps up, for the next half mile. After that, she would rather walk and sniff, and riding with her is a PIA. Klinger could run flat-out for at least 3 miles, and if we worked it, surely farther. But, we don't get that chance. After the first mile I am stopping, walking, encouraging Sara to run, and sometimes succeeding.

I'm on my city-bike, a mountain bike with comfort refinements, but also much heavier, and with different gearing than a road bike. This means that I do actually get some exercise, just from powering this heavier machine up to speed quickly, to keep up with the dogs, or to get over a little rise in the road.

So the three of us are out there, running along. What a sight we must be! We left the house about ten or fifteen minutes before sundown. We make our way along, me watching for icy spots, the dogs watching for critters or smells to get excited about.

It is a fine evening. We are riding an out-and-back, all on the same road, out and then back on the same route. With the snow and ice, it is difficult to vary this. About a third of the way out, we are facing into the sun as it sinks below the tree line. I'm glad when it finally goes below the trees, since it is quite blinding, being directly in my eyes, but this also means it will be getting colder.

Colder - well, that is relative, isn't it? But today is the perhaps the first truly cold day of this winter. We are down to about 15' Fahrenheit (-9 or 10 C); which is about where I start saying it is really and truly cold. Alone, that temp is not that bad, but we also have 20-30 mph (32-45 Kph) winds. This puts the wind chill at somewhere below 0' F (-17 C). So, I'm actually somewhat worried about frostbite. We're in the range it could happen - ears, nose, cheeks. Fingers and toes could be a consideration - if we aren't properly covered.

Of course, the dogs don't seem to be bothered in the least. But, they do have nice fur coats, and they are getting good exercise. I yell at Sara to keep running, when she wants to stop and sniff, and sniff, and sniff. I'm getting badly chilled, because I am dressed for staying warm with exercise, and I'm not getting the exercise! My fingers are getting cold, stiff, and numb.

The moon has risen already. It is not full, but it is close. It will be clear tonight, and the moonlight is bright.

After we are home, and the dogs have had dinner, they are eager to go outside, into the fenced backyard. They immediately start barking. I grab my flashlight, and shining it across the street, I see why they are excited, as a fox is trotting across the field there. He is quickly gone, and the dogs are just as quickly quiet, although they look hopefully for another sighting of what they must consider to be "exciting"!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My last Linux post, bicycling with the dogs

I believe this will be the last Linux post - or at least the last Linux post classified under discovery. I have gotten to the point where I feel somewhat familiar with it. I've settled on a "distro" that feels comfortable - openSuSE. My server is still running Ubuntu, and I like that choice well enough, as well. I could go on at length - and I have, as you've seen in the past! Linux has been fun, and it continues to be my primary desktop. It is far more secure than Windows, and Microsoft keeps getting more onerous with the anti-piracy bit, and richer, by the day. You wouldn't think the two might be connected in some way, would you?

It is a cold day, today. So far, this winter has been very mild - I'm sure it would be positively balmy if I compared it to Moscow this year! But, that is typical Massachusetts - mild one year, bitter-cold the next. I took the dogs out riding (I'll have to explain this) - and we went what has lately been "the usual" - about 2.25 or 2.5 miles on the roads. They wanted to keep going when we got back, but I was FREEZING. It it wasn't for the hassle of riding with Sara, I would have gone out again, but it is just too much trouble keeping tabs on her.

Here's the scoop on 'running the dogs', and 'taking the dogs for a ride', and why Sara is problematic. We used to take them around the neighboring land preserve for a walk. But I don't often care for taking the dogs for a walk, mostly because the dogs are trying to walk us, not the other way around. Sometime last year I started getting the city/mountain bike out, and riding the walk, so that the dogs had to run.

You'll need to know who the dogs are at this point. Sara we got back in Georgia, a pound mutt, a cross between (I guess) a blue-tick hound and a bassett hound. She looks like an oversized beagle. Her behavior has always been hound-like, meaning she never took to training, but loved to eat and to run. She mostly used the running part to run away when she got the opportunity. Of course she always came back - 4 or 5 hours later, but in today's world, that's not the point. A loose dog is considered a rude dog. She tends to act Alpha with female dogs, and at meal times. Given how little training other people in the family were willing to do, or knew how to do, this meant a friendly, but poorly trained dog, who pretty much did what she wanted. Had to keep her fenced in and on a leash when she wasn't fenced. Sara would be about 7 or 8 years old now.

Since Coco died in California, my wife has insisted that Sara was lonely. My personal belief is that Sara wasn't lonely even a little bit, and she was enjoying being the pet queen of the household very thoroughly. But you can't tell people stuff they don't want to hear - so a couple years back, we went looking for another dog.

Something very good happened when we found a dog in a rescue operation. Not only did we find a dog we all agreed should be amenable to us, but the rescue operation pushed my wife into some free sample dog-training lessons with the dog. Haleluja, now she was getting SOME idea of what you have to do to have well-mannered dogs. Unfortunately, she also quickly assumed that she knew more than I did. LOL. That all worked out, but that last part took some months. My wife got 3 training sessions, which got things started. I started working along with, and within a month, I was the only one doing any training activity.

But the new dog - whom we decided to name "Klinger" (think MASH) - was doing very well. Within a couple of months, I had 100% compliance on important commands - come, sit, stay. Heel was, hmm, ok. A "stay" could be maintained out-of-sight, but not for long. Until we got to distractions. New people, new dogs, critters like chipmunks, or the worst - deer. With distractions, I got 10% compliance, with deer, it was zero. Oh, he would comply fully, after he had investigated the distraction. So, this was cause for much consternation. Especially since one of my objectives is being able to walk with the dog off-lead. I hate having a dog trying to drag me all over timbuktu when we are walking. If they are off-lead, they can sniff happily, and I can walk.

Sara will probably never reach that. She has never even been trained to properly "come", or "sit".

Ok, now you know all that - last year I started running the dogs by riding my city/mountain bike with them. You realize that when a dog is on lead, this can easily lead to a crash. So, initially, I only took one out at a time. I wasn't about to try it with two. And, we went about a mile and a quarter or a half. The dogs loved it. But they always wanted to run together. I had let Klinger off-lead when walking. Not I let him do this while I was riding. We were mostly successful - except the distraction business. But he would come back within 5 or 10 minutes at the worst.

Eventually, I started doing the ride with Klinger off-lead, and Sara on. With a little care, I could handle that. The dogs LOVED this. But, Sara is DANGEROUS to me, since I'm holding on to her leash, when I'd rather have my hands on the handlebars! She's taken off, and pulled me down, a few times. I've gotten some road rash, and I'm still living, hehe. Being on lead, with me having to hold the lead, she has considerable control over one of my steering hands. One time she took off in the wrong direction, and pulled me with. The bike went down almost right away, but somehow I managed to keep my feet under me. And, I managed to step through the falling bike, and continued to keep my feet under me for several yards. When I came to a stop, I was still standing! Whew. I still had scabs on my elbow from the previous time!

To make a long story short - I invested in a good radio collar for Klinger. That was an excellent investment. I was very reluctant, due to the social pressure saying that this is "cruelty". But I tried it on myself first, and now? I think the people saying a radio collar is cruel don't know what they are talking about. You could use it in a cruel fashion, but you can also use it so that it is a long-distance leash. And, it works. Klinger and I are still working on the deer thing, but he behaves marvelously well. I can take him on the street, and I know that when I say "sit", he will, so I can keep him safe from the cars. We haven't seen the deer when we've been riding for the last month. But, I think he will listen, and obey, when next we meet them. We got over people and chipmunks with very little problems, and strange dogs, too, for the most part. If I'm not there, he still runs out in the street to greet them, but at least if I am there, I can stop him from doing this.

So, I get my bike out, and the dogs go crazy. They love to go running. We ran for 2.5 miles today, with the temp about 15' Fahrenheit, and it was windy and miserable cold. And, they wanted to keep going. I was freezing my hands off. My nose and cheeks weren't doing so well, either! Sara slows down after the first mile - she's got short legs, ya know, so I don't get so much riding or fun after that. But, it's still good, we all have fun!


Friday, November 13, 2009

Linux philosophix!

I've been playing with Linux since the beginning of the year. I've been playing harder the last 6 months. I've gotten things to work, but I haven't felt comfortable, so I've kept messing about, trying to find out what it will take to get me comfortable with Linux. I think, to some degree, I won't be quite comfortable until I have the same degree of familiarity that I do with Windows. I recently wrote the following bit on a Linux forum. Thought I might share it. I've actually been writing quite frequently lately, little bits for a daily journal, about my linux experience.

In wandering the various Linux forums, in search of answers, I ran across an interesting Latin quote. I looked the translation up, and viola, I was inspired. Basically, the "free software" advocates have picked up on the quote as a motto for sharing software, as in free software. It struck me that their motto actually could be taken to justify something quite different from "free" software.

"Omnis enim res, quae dando non deficit, dum habetur et non datur, nondum habetur, quomodo habenda est."
English translation:
"For if a thing is not diminished by being shared with others, it is not rightly owned if it is only owned and not shared."
. . .
This quote can be found in Book I, Chapter 1 "De doctrina christiana" "Corpus Christianorum", "Series latina", Vol. 32, p. 6, lines 10-11. Written 397 AD by Saint Augustinus.
It originally referred to the principle of giving and sharing preached by Jesus but fits almost perfectly on the philosophy of Free Software where one can share without losing.

--from the Free Software Foundation (of Europe) website

**************** The post ********************

I had to LOL on reading the latin quote, attributed to Augustine of Hippo (Aurelius Augustinus). I love it. Not only does it apparently fit the free software philosophy - but it fits the "pay for" software too! The why hinges on this: "if a thing is not diminished by being shared" (and I'll stick with the English translation given, I'll give you no tricks in translation from the original). In the spirit of economics and the market, if a man can build something that someone else is willing to buy, then he can rightfully claim that sale, and make the profit. That, dear readers, is the foundation of the marketplace itself. If, by virtue of being bigger and stronger, another man grabs that product, or the profit, then the marketplace has been subverted, and we have entered the realms of politics and crime. This is the foundation of the anti-trust lawsuit against Microsoft!

But, returning to the concept of sharing, and diminishment. In the first thought, when a man builds something special, and is able to derive a monetary profit from same, then the profit can be regarded as a de facto part of that something. If in sharing that something, he diminishes the profit, then the something is thereby diminished. This, by the way, is Microsoft's argument about "lost profit" from pirated software, which is a rich source for a discussion of "what" does diminish mean, and "when" is it applicable! However, the loss of profit issue is akin to any workman's tools, or an artist's productions. When the workman's tools are in use by others - he cannot use them to make his daily living. When the artist or artisan creates a product that is co-opted by sharing, he also is unable to then make a profit from it, since the possession of it is no longer in his hands!

My thought, then, is that Augustine's quote is not so applicable as some people might think. It is, however, a surprising tool for realizing that a balance must be reached, between free and non-free software.
~~~~~~~~~~~~End of original post~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I've gotten a couple of comments. One said:
That premise has something very far-stretched. Would you say that bread is part of the baker, or that meal is part of the oven?

Not far-stretched at all. At some point in my earlier years, I recall reading a classical Greek discussion of what a man needed when he created a community - somebody to make shoes, somebody to bake the bread, etc. So, even back then, when Plato was discussing perfect community structures, the concept of task-specialization was old. When a baker produces bread, the first benefit comes to the baker. Whether that benefit is the safety of his life, or a more direct financial profit matters not. The point is that the baker does derive a benefit, and can derive benefits other than just the eating of the bread. While these benefits are not specifically part of the physical structure of the bread, obviously, they very decidedly are a direct result of the bread being made, and are thus, in this fashion, part of the bread. They don't exist without each other - unless you just got conned (hey dude, I've got some really great bread today, dude, give me some bucks, I'll be right back!).

Now, let's see if anybody gets to the deep end of this pool. Sometimes - and this is one of the arguments for no patents on software - a product is so essential to a society, that it is held to be an infrastructure. The importance of this is that it might then receive a special status in that culture. A modern example is our highway system. We taxpayers pay to support it, not the users. A 19th century example in the US would be railroads. Another example, Ma Bell was granted a monopoly on the premise that everybody would have the service available. Same thing.

Patents extend the time when a maker can derive monopoly profit, and may, in some instances, slow development by competitors that directly uses the same "something" we've gotten the patent on. Competitors are still free to develop alternatives. In some industries, that sort of competition can lead to exorbitant pricing - perfect example is the pharmaceutical industry. You have whole pharma companies who will ditch a product as soon as the patents wear out. They only seek products that are saleable in that monopoly profit zone, due to the high profit. And we, the consumer, either get the shaft, or get the benefit, depending on who you talk to. Sometimes patenting can lead to a stronger competition. I believe the only thing that can be said for sure, is that patenting, IF there is a market, will yield a higher sales price.

This is why, sometimes, society chooses to diminish the ability of an artisan to derive profit from his making. At some point, the society can make a judgement, and say "x" amount of profit is enough. While there have been cultures who methodically redistributed wealth (potlatch culture is one), I can't think of much we do today that really fits this definition. One current example I can think of is software pirating. There is a certain argument there that these companies are SO profitable, that they can, and should, be giving more benefit to the consumer. Laws against windfall profiteering would be another example.

Now, consider this question - is an OS a natural monopoly? In other words, will the market continually trend to a situation where a single OS is completely dominant, and where there is very little competition? Our current market is NOT quite there, but it is very close. Microsoft doesn't completely control the price they charge, but they are very very close. Should we consider the OS market as an infrastructure, and support it via our community money supply (taxes)? I believe Spain and Brazil are doing something like this. China seems to be delving into this idea as well.

Oops - sorry, I got to rambling on a little, ya? It's a complex business. Imo, the best answer is the one that will deliver the most benefit for the most end-users.

And that was the end of the post - at least so far. I thought I would get mightily flamed on this forum for these ideas, as many free software believers are quite aggressive about the whole business, but I haven't yet. It's probably not because they agree, more likely because my writing was just plain boring to them - too many words, too much verbal thought involved. [Posters in these forums are usually techies, and as such, are less verbal.] There is always tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And now, for something completely different:

And now, for something completely different: as a slight deflection of the subject here, I will offer the following.

After a few years of having received almost no new humor, recently I have received an unusually high amount of humorous correspondence. I decided I will send this back out - but at a more controlled rate, offering a little more even distribution of one of god's gifts to man: laughter.

You must know this - I am a fan of dialects. Having grown up moving around our country, I learned very early to mimic and then adopt the local patois. This has also come in handy when learning foreign languages. I recently was referred to a quick-learn school for Chinese, and after reviewing the initial, introductory, material, I have to agree that it is absolutely brilliant. I don't think I have ever run across a method that offers the same insight! I have copied a bit of the introductory material here, for your enjoyment. You really should read these out loud, for the full impact of the brilliance of these quick translations.

English - Chinese
that's not right - sum ting wong
are you harbouring a fugitive - hu yu hai ding
see me asap -kum hia
stupid man - dum gai
small horse - tai ni po ni
did you go to the beach - wai yu so tan
i bumped the coffee table - ai bang mai ni
i think you need a face lift - chin tu fat
it's very dark in here - wai so dim
i thought you were on a diet - wai yu mun ching
this is a tow away zone - no pah king
our meeting is scheduled for next week - wai yu kum nao
staying out of sight - lei ying lo
he's cleaning his automobile - wa shing ka
your body odour is offensive - yu stin ki pu
great - fa kin su pah
give it to me baby - suk mai dong
who's been eating all the pies - yo fat wan ka


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

1969 - the crux of time

It's not really a map of us who were of that time (1969), but when you consider the influences that we had - and what eventually turned out - this is very interesting, and more than a little entertaining.


411 – Lit Map of Frisco

I went to the site for just this map link, but ended up staying for over an hour, due to the eclectic and interesting maps!


Monday, August 24, 2009

Scribbling the Cat - a personal insight to war, and to Africa

Mon Aug 24

I wanted to share this review with my friends. It was written more formally, for posting on an online review, but I decided on a much shorter version there. However, Scribbling the Cat is a remarkable book. The author, Alexandra Fuller, captures vividly the impact of war on its warriors. She gets the warriors to tell us things I've known, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone who has been through war talk about. Read the excerpts I've got here, and see if you don't agree that Fuller has managed to capture something bigger.

The personal story that serves as the vehicle for this insight is an unremarkable story - but very real. The ending, was to my mind, unsatisfying, but absolutely out of real life. There is no great protagonist, and there is no catharsis. The last chapters are anti-climactic when a classic would just be reaching a fever-pitch of interest.

But, the insights into the psyche of war, and into the people and life of Africa rank with the best descriptions of war ever written. "A Red Badge of Courage", and Hemingway come to mind. What the author catches about war is not so much what was done, but what the people felt about it, and in this, she is quite remarkable. Her writings contain many vignettes, some of which also offer snippets of deep insight into why modern Africa is what it is, politically and culturally.

Corwin Linson, in "My Stephen Crane" quotes Crane as saying,before he wrote the classic "A Red Badge of Courage": "I wonder that some of those fellows don't tell how they felt in those scraps. They spout enough of what they did, but they're as emotionless as rocks". Fuller, in "Scribbling the Cat", notes that people who fought in war will seldom talk about it. We see this same phenomenon in veterans of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Now, she has gotten them to talk about it, captured what some warriors feel, why they feel that way, and done it in a way that is universal. These stories could be from Vietnam, Korea, WW1, the French Revolution, Napoleon in Russia, or ancient Greece.

One passage illustrates this: when asked if he regrets being part of his war, her subject responds: "Not like you'd expect . . .My whole life would have been different if it hadn't been for the war so . . .In some ways, the war years were the best of my life. Those boys that I fought with -- there were four of us in a troop, that's it . . .man, I knew them better than I knew myself. You walk into the shateen with three strangers and a month later you walk out with ous" (sic: men) "that you've had to trust with your life and who have trusted you with their lives and you know them so well. You've seen them shit themselves with fright, you've cried with them, you've laughed a lot. . ." "Always, forever after" . . ."you will not forget them."

He continues "We were all in it together, it didn't matter where you came from. . . ."Unless you've licked the arse end of the world with a man, you can't know what it's like to have that kind of relationship with someone. It's closer than family."

When you think of this, this goes back all the way to the classical Greek civilization, and therefore it must be even deeper - back to the beginning of man. The classical Greeks made great warriors in part because they made the warriors INTO family. The men who fought together in that time were intentionally lovers, to increase the binding of them as a unit.

Later in the book, Fuller captures the part of luck in war, in three sentences, from the same man. "I think I've used up all the luck I'm ever going to have against land mines. I've gone over three and I'm not dead yet. Four might be the unlucky number." And, in that small paragraph, I can also taste the fear that would come if this man were to face land mines again.

Real life comes to hit afterwards - the same man houses one of his army mates who is in hard times, only to discover him, later, with his wife, in an affair. Who he becomes later in life is also molded by the death of his son - but these events only worked the metal smelted in the war.

The book is primarily about white Africans, but black Africans are not slighted or ignored. Rather, she talks about the reality of who and what they are. "Places have their own peculiar smells . . ." and here "it was the smell of Africans, which is soil-on-skin, sun-on-skin, wood smoke, and the tinny smell of fresh sweat . . . It is not a romantic smell. It is not the smell of free people, living as they would choose. Rather, it is the smell of people who labor, strain, and toil for every drop of sustenance their body receives from the earth. . . It is the smell of people who are alive only because they are cunning, ingenious, and endlessly resourceful. In theory they are 'peasants'. In practice they are brilliantly versed in the skill of surviving. "
The author's father "once said to me, 'When the world goes up and we're back to square one, I'd bet my money on these buggers surviving. Your bally Wall Street fundi would last about half a day'."

Through Fuller's vignettes and vivid descriptive phrasings, we learn more about what it feels like to be in war, and why things fall out the way they do. While it is not as clear to me, I also felt that I finished reading, having some understanding of the "why" of the mess Africa is in.

The book is a quick read, and I highly recommend it. It is not a classic, but it has bits that are.

The Linux Experience

I'm writing this from a Linux desktop. You won't know this, but I've been trying to get a Linux box running for something like 8 or 9 years now. I've only had partial success, at best, in the past. There was always some issue that made the effort still a "project", and it would get retired to the closet when I ran out of time. Now I have got two boxes running daily, and I almost have everything exactly as I would on my Windows machine - or better. I've tried out 5 or 6 "distros" (Linux slang for the distribution package, eg. Red Hat, Suse, Ubuntu, etc.) on the way to getting here. And, of course, I've got some opinions, as always!

All distros are not equal. The big distro names from the past have gotten somewhat left behind in the current Linux competition. Not entirely, but there is a definite competion to see who's best (which can only bring good things), and they have a little catching up to do. Hardware detection and installation guidelines, a weakness in past years, has finally gotten to the point where the common end-user can probably "just make it work".

Let me regress a bit, and discuss our modern software world. The common desktop end-user has basically three choices today for operating systems: Mac, Windows, and Linux. Since the 1990's it's been Mac and Windows, with Linux coming along behind DRDOS and OS2. Mac has always had the philosophy that they'll make the hardware and software work for you. They did that, and well. They also charged you for it. Windows came in the market at a far, far lower price point, with the philosophy of just make it good enough. Simple demand curve analysis tells us that Windows would have a far larger market share - and they did. Mac/Apple has made a few half-hearted attempts to break into the lower market end, but Windows had the inertia. DRDOS and OS2 faced the same problem (market inertia). Linux then enters the market at an even lower price point - free. Can't beat that? Well, it turns out you could.

Windows marketing has slowly introduced technical upgrades, catching up to technical superiority in Mac, OS2, and Linux. But still, mostly making it "just good enough". Windows has spread the learning curve out over years - the end-user has come a long way in sophistication since 1994. And, they've paid for the priviledge, but not upfront, like Macs, rather the "death of a thousand cuts" with planned obsolescence.

I always wondered why Linux didn't do better than they did. Simple demand curve, right? They should have 90% of the market! A major reason it didn't take over more market share was simply because, for the common end-user, it didn't work. Not saying it couldn't work - it didn't work. Linux has been the "cowboy frontier" of the OS world. Linux has consistently been behind the curve on ease of installation. Mac had that out of the gate, first time, every time. Microsoft had it, in a "just good enough" sense. It would work, sometimes you'd have to fix it, but mostly it worked, and mostly you could do it yourself. For Linux you had to have a friend - a sort of regression of the dominant market player's advantage - and a definite disadvantage.

The competitive bar has constantly gone up as we've moved along. The Internet, CD's, DVD's, lans, routers, firewalls, Palm devices, Bluetooth, USB, and all have kept moving. In some of these areas, Linux had a natural advantage, but it wasn't utilized clearly for the average Joe end-user. Linux had to run faster to catch up - and I think they have finally done it. Even two years ago this wasn't quite true. But today, I've two machines up and running, and got them that way by myself, with only online searches for help. Linux is still going to be better if you have someone knowledgable about, preferably very close. But, I think it has turned the corner. I think today we can say it is ready for the desktop.

One of the standards I had is simply this: I had to be able to do EVERYTHING I did daily on my Windows machines on my Linux machine. That includes software, security, and hardware. I want to be able to take my thumb drive to work, work on my notes and files, bring them home, and synchronize my home files from the work I did that day, so I can seamlessly work on the same stuff. Windows might never have taken over from DOS, if the DOS programs had had the sense to work together seamlessly. Today, this means I have to be able to work on my Office documents (Word, Excel, and Powerpoint), encrypt a virtual disk for my financial data, and have my encrypted diary, password and account data. I have software that does that all very well for me, and that needs to continue to be true. All my hardware needed to be recognized, and functional, or at least functional with a minimum of fuss.

There were two distros that I tried that accomplished this painlessly, and I'm told there is another just as good. I speak of Ubuntu, openmamba, and Mint Linux. Along the way, I also tried Oracle "Unbreakable" Linux (basically a rebrand of Red Hat/Fedora), Fedora 10 and 11, Mepis, Vector Linux, and Debian. I didn't try Suse this time, so I can't speak about that distro.

Earlier this year, the Oracle distro gave me the best installation I had ever had to date. Things worked, mostly, with some issues. But, when it came time to get updates? It was pay your way only. Not my market, sorry. However, Oracle is just a re-branded Fedora/Red Hat, so I tried Fedora (the inheritor of the Red Hat mantle) 10. Fedora 10 installed nicely, but had some video issues and wouldn't get my wifi card working. Otherwise, it seemed pretty smooth sailing, but when Fedora 10 tried to upgrade itself to 11 everything locked up. Instant failure. Too many issues, moving on.

At that point I got Ubuntu running on one of the machines I'm working on (there are two). And, it "Just Worked". Out of all the distros I tried, Ubuntu was one of two that "just worked". But, I don't like some things about Ubuntu. They have this brown color theme - not my taste. Then there is the free / non-free software philosophy business. In the past, when I tried Ubuntu, it installed very cleanly, but Ubuntu has been pretty religious about the free software bit, which, in the past, was a complete turn-off, since it prevented me from doing daily internet stuff (no Java, no YouTube!) without major manual surgery. Today they have lightened up about this, and offer built-in options to take advantage of simple things like Java, Flash, and various online "movie/tv" video players. You have to know how to find those options, tho. This installation is running today. It does work, but it still has a motherboard issue, and I don't think it got my wifi, but it has a hard-wired connection. I have a workaround for the motherboard issue, since fixing it would probably mean hours and hours and hours of time. This installation worked approximately as well as a Windows installation.

I wanted to try a "lighter" (speedier) distro for the machine I meant to be a server. I tried Vector Linux in 2006 or 7, and it installed as well as anything else I tried then. So I tried it again. The installation was even better. However, for users who don't just have a standard setup, there can be issues in Vector, and having an issue in Vector usually means working on the command line, and in plain text configuration files. I frequently had to do significant research on what was creating an issue, and possible resolutions. Then I had to take the time to try the possible resolutions. I have to reserve my recommendations for Vector to experienced players only, no newbs. After spending many hours trying to fix a few issues in Vector, and still having two outstanding issues (workarounds only, at that point), when I hit another issue it was finally a fail. Reformat and reboot.

By now I had heard people recommend Mepis, openmamba, and Mint Linux. Mint Linux is based on Ubuntu, and therefore the installation should work as well. However, they don't do the free software restrictions, and claim to get stuff like Java and Flash working out of the box. I didn't use them, but if you are reading this, you might want to know.

For whatever reason, I decided to try Mepis first. That was a complete bust, as it wouldn't even install.

Next, I tried openmamba. Openmamba was every bit as good in the installation as Ubuntu, and also gave me all the glitz - Java, Flash, Microsoft movie codecs, etc. However, after getting everything running, I saw that, this might be a distribution that may be in trouble, and headed for the "abandoned" category. They are an Italian distro, the forum postings (your first line of defense in the Help arena) are mostly in Italian (and sparsely posted, not a good sign), their repositories (the update directories) for software are (at least in some instances) dated. On top of that, one of the major reasons I tried them was because I had read that one of their goals was to be able to use other distro's software package repositories. That would give you a fantastic selection of software. But, it was too good to be true. Each distro has its own repositories, because each distro does things internally slightly differently. I tried to update a critical program - but their repository only had a very old version (~2 yrs). I really liked openmamba, but there were those issues! The next problem I came across was then big enough for a fail rating.

And, I went back to Debian. I figured if I couldn't get it to work, it would be Mint next. But, with my newly gained knowledge, I got Debian up and running with little more effort than a normal Windows installation would be to the same level of productivity. I've met my objectives, so it's time to get back to work!

For the Complete Noob: Mint Linux (based on what other's tell me), and Ubuntu.
For the semi-literate Noob: Ubuntu and openmamba - because you might have to resolve issues, depending on your usage.

For semi-literate geek wannabes: Debian, Fedora (some knowledge of partitioning, Linux directory and configuration structures is useful, as is a willingness to work with it just a little)
For junior grade geeks or better: Vector, Debian (some knowledge of partitioning, good knowledge of Linux directory and configuration structures is useful, basic command line usage, file and directory permissions, user and group management. Both give you lots of freedom to build your OS environment.).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Observations of Russia

The Moscow Times posted this op-ed article. It's the first time I've read somebody summing up what the political situation is in Russia, and doing it (imho) intelligently. 

Putin's Golden Age http://www.moscowtimes.ru/article/1016/42/380831.htm

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sports drug cheating.

Sports drug cheating. What is the answer? Baseball is now getting socked with scandal after scandal, each revelation seemingly tumbling on the heels of the last. Quite a few responsible commentators have come out in favor of letting the druggers do their thing, but under medical controls. The point being that then everything will be in the open, and all doping will be transparent. I've even thought about favoring this answer myself - until I heard a commentator making exactly this case recently. As he talked, I realized, in one those flashes of rationality, that this simply would never stop cheating. It would not work. It is a very simple economic truth that drives this realization. Even if you make drug use transparent, it will never be truly so, because there is a very distinct payoff to cheating. 

The reason this is currently true is because there is always a health cost to using drugs to enhance performance. Drug use today is far less dangerous than the last generation of popular performance drugs (speed, coke, and barbituates), but is still extremely dangerous. "Roid rage" is real. It has killed athletes and their families, and has ruined lives. The East German athletes who were part of the generation their state used these drugs on report long-term issues. Then you have blood enhancers: EPO, blood transfusions, etc. Not as dangerous as steroids, but still with risks. Asthma drugs, etc, etc. They all have side effects and dangers. It is this danger - the health cost - that drives the economic payoff of cheating, because it means that some athletes will always be more willing to risk drugs than others. 

Now, we think: "let's clear the air, make the playing field even. Everybody is allowed to do drugs, but they must submit to examination, and must admit to what they do." Everybody will know. Sounds wonderful. It would never work. Once the playing field was "even", you would still have some athletes using drugs that were more willing to take health risks than others. If all the drug doers were open and transparent, the guy who came in second without the drugs will just come in second with the drugs. Those athletes have to do more drugs to win. And, if they tell, then the field will level again. It wouldn't pay them to be transparent, to tell all, simply because everyone else would simply up their dose, too, until you reached the point where people were openly dieing as a result of doing the drugs. We don't have to scoff, and say this could never be, because we KNOW that this has already happened with ephedrine. 

It's that simple. Cheating pays. If you want to stop cheating, you have to make the risk so high that athletes are not willing to take the risk. That is the only answer, even if it is not very satisfactory. 

And now, on the "light" side, the world's best optical illusions! 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cats guard Russian museum!

You will enjoy this one! Titles in English, speech in Russian. Meows in universal language. 


Friday, May 8, 2009

The right makes a left turn

Judge Richard Posner has a new book. The architect of Reagan, right wing, libertarian economics has turned a new leaf in the face of reality. Thank heaven.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Amaaaazing art! Trompe L'oiel!

The link is an absolutely amazing modern trompe l'oiel work. Tell me it ain't fun!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Two fun map pages

Got these from The Map Room - a mapping blog. Both are great fun!

Last month, the Las Vegas Sun reported on an unusual study in which researchers attempted to map the distribution of the seven deadly sins. Researchers primarily looked at Nevada, which for some unexplained reason is associated with sin, but the maps they put together for the U.S. as a whole are far more interesting, particularly the maps showing standard deviations from the mean. They arrived at these maps by finding a statistical stand-in for each sin: envy is represented by thefts, wrath by violent crime, lust by the rate of sexually transmitted diseases, gluttony by the number of fast food restaurants per capita, and so on, with pride as the aggregate of the other six. The Sun calls it "a precision party trick" "rigorous mapping of ridiculous data." More fun than useful. Via Catholicgauze.


Yanko Tsvektov's sharp-tongued map of Europe, Where I Live, was created in response to last winter's gas shortages triggered by the spat between Russia and Ukraine. Via Boing Boing.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Word pictures of the bicycle racing life

Bicycling - the real scoop. Here is a link to two little first-person stories about bicycling. If you are a bicyclist, they will touch your heart. If you are not a bicyclist, you will learn more about the sport from these two short short pieces than I would have thought possible. Enjoy.

http://www.velonews.com/article/89862 and http://www.velonews.com/article/89586/michael-barry-s-diary---the-road-to-san-remo

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cavendish - cycling's new king?

Mark Cavendish just won the Milan-San Remo in absolutely dominant sprint style. We've seen some young and impressive cyclists come up, thinking they might be among the next royalty. You may remember Voelckler, and his year in yellow at the TdF? Or Contador two years ago? Cavendish is sprinting right to the top. Last Saturday he showed us he was more than a one year phenom, winning the Milan-San Remo in a style so dominant it is crushing the opponents!
See http://www.velonews.com/article/89477
This was a classics race - one we really didn't expect him to win. A couple of sharp climbs usually weed out the less-experienced and pure sprinters. However, Cav is now getting coaching from the greatest sprinter of all time - Zabel. Erik Zabel has now officially retired, and now he is sharing his experience and knowledge with young Cavendish. It paid off.
Cav's humility and genuinely nice demeanor make him popular with the press, and with the fans. As a Brit, Americans still relate to his stardom. Lance's return to racing this year will also get the American audience. That audience will get to see Mark Cavendish. I think we are seeing a star who may well be as big a star as Lance.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Employment map

An absolutely wonderful map link shared by a friend:

Particularly check out the change over the last year. Note that the manufacturing filter and the housing boom, generally, do not coincide. Also, areas of no change seem to be predominantly rural. Exception is Wyoming, but the cities in Wyoming are so far isolated from anywhere else, they might as well be rural! I think the rural areas that have seen little change would likely be generally more self-sufficient, and be net exporters of human capital. Some, like West Virginia, might even get a boost, as tourism might increase from neighboring states, as people in those states stick closer to home.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

More winter!

Got this comment from my sister in upper Michigan: You bet we got fun LOL. You'll appreciate this pic. Howard was coming home from work Friday afternoon. He made it through the first couple of drifts, but not this one. Yes - that's our driveway. Yee-ha. We decided to leave it there, stay in for the night (I was already there for the day of course), and had a snowed in party. Kids pitched tents in the living room, we watched movies.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Winter strikes again

Wow. Another 12 inches of fine powder snow, beautiful and virgin. More temps down to 11 F. Hooaa. And this is March! What a winter!

I've kinda been watching the weather in Moscow too, just out of curiousity. I noticed a couple of months back it seemed like we were doing about the same, temp-wise, all along! So I downloaded some temperatures for this winter, and made the graphs you see here. Guess what? We win - we were colder than Moscow! But Michigan's upper peninsula was colder still! And, you can see quite vividly that we had the most variation here. We were, on average, colder, but quite a few days were MUCH warmer.

Just this past weekend, it was springlike, and the windows and doors went open. Fresh air flowed through the buildings and houses. The snow melted, and melted, and melted, leaving heaps in the parking lots and roadsides, looking like piles of dead bodies at night, and plain old dirty heaps in the daylight.

So I cut and split a fair amount of the pine left in our yard by last fall's ice storm over the weekend. Now, all that is covered, again, in a pure white carpet of fine, powdery snow. Ain't we got fun?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

There is some positive news!

Well, we've gotten a little positive Russia/US relations news this week. This is a bit:
http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-02-12-voa37.cfm. For those of you who haven't heard, Russia has offered assistance to the US for Afghanistan.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Intermediate Technology - for real

Those of you who know my heart will know that this site really tickled my interest:
http://www.kk.org/streetuse/. What fun! He calls it "How people really use technology". It is "intermediate technology" in real life. Check out the Chinese generator-mobile. A few years back, WSJ had a story about ppl building such vehicles in India as well.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Close to the Ends of the Earth"

On an NPR newscast this morning they had a crew beginning a trip down I-75. The point is to cover people's response to the current economic conditions. It just so happens that they were broadcasting from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I-75 starts. For those of you who don't know, many of my family reside in what they call the U.P. (you p).

They interviewed a lady, I loved how she described the UP: "We're close to the end of the earth here, you can see it from here". Loved it, had to laugh! Some Canadians know better in fact, but in feeling, sitting out there on the edge of Lake Superior? She hit it!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What else? Obama

“Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred,” he said. “Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”

A great quote. First time since Carter a President has essentially lectured the American people to tell them that we need to buckle down and bite the bullet. And Carter's speech was VERY unpopular. The amazing thing, he said all that, and yet still managed to leave the audience with the taste of hope and opportunity. Remember what Teddy White said about what makes great Presidents? He summed it up in 1 word - opportunity. The greats had a vision of opportunity. 

It was a great inauguration, and I'm sure you've heard all about it!

Also see http://news.yahoo.com/s/politico/20090121/pl_politico/17707  for a sober look at the Presidential retoric. Now the rubber meets the road, and we will see. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More comments from my friends, and media attitudes

Another comment from a Russian friend.
"Regarding Ukraine, I do not want to argue with you, because I understand you trust your mass-media better than me. You think that we all are under pressure of Russian "Soviet Propaganda". ) ) I just want to tell you that you should not trust Uschenko at all. They certainly steal oil and try to show themselves to advantage. We know that USA support every country that is against Russia. If you are here now, I am sure you would agree with me, because you would know the situation from inside."

Actually, I do tend to agree. The media coverage, in the US, regarding Russia, generally seems to me to be biased and negative towards Russia. I believe the common attitude is to assume that the Ukrainians are right and the Russian government are being bullies. However, since I've been following events over the last couple of years, I would have to say that it seems to me that everybody is willing to piss on each other. Stop and think about this, and it isn't that surprising. It is only a little over 15 years since the Soviet collapsed, and not even 5 since Ukraine's Orange revolution. It is surprising to me that Russia has done as well as it has in the last decade. For a comparison, take a look at Poland. How many years has that been? Almost 20 since they installed a non-communist government. And how many times have they had a hard time keeping it going? Not so many years, and quite a few times. Solidarity, and Lech Walensa are no longer even on the political scene. Yet Poland has a much stronger history of being an independent country, unlike the Ukraine. And Poland has a stronger economic infrastructure than Ukraine. So, it is no surprise to me that there are difficulties and arguments.

At any rate, I hope they figure it all out, do so peacefully and to the satisfaction of their people.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A response to Russia vs Ukraine

I got a response from a Russian friend on the Ukraine and Russian gas dealings. Very cogent.

This is what I’ve read in RU net about Russia/Ukraine gas confusion.

* Ukraine owes Russia $2B for the gas delivered in 2008 and did not pay on time, but it certainly would, that is not the issue.

* Ukraine and Russia do not have agreement signed for gas delivery to Ukraine in 2009, while EU transit contract is ongoing.

* Political situation in Ukraine is ridiculous, there is confrontation between its President Juschenko and Prime Minister Timoshenko. Their battles are well-known, and now they are even more embittered as they are preparing for the next year election.

So, why gas? Gas is a big chunk of money when it goes to in-house distribution. Especially in current economic situation when Ukraines ’ metallurgical (leading) industry went deeply down.

In 2006 the same conflict was resolved by establishing a new agent company RosUkrEnergo which was between Russian supplier Gasprom and Ukraine distributor Naftagas. The biggest stakeholder of RosUkrEnergo from Russian side is Gasprom (50%), the biggest stakeholder from Ukrainian side is Dmytro Firtash – Ukranian citizen linked to President Juschenko

What happens now is that, yes, Russia offered $450 per 1000 m3 of gas to RosUkrEnergo, which is close to the going market rates, as Putin does not want to support anti Russian politics of President Juschenko. RosUkrEnergo refused to accept this. At the same time Gasprom made direct offer $250 per 1000 m3 of gas to Naftagas, which representative is Prime Minister Timoshenko, and she was ready to show up in Moscow on the 31st of December to sign the contract, but Juschenko banned the flight saying that Timoshenko is acting out of her responsibility. So, as I can see, this entire situation is just to put down President Juschenko.

What happened later was bizarre that Russian cutoff stopped all deliveries to Austria , the Czech Republic and Slovakia , following a halt in supplies to the Balkans and cuts to other countries. The shutdown came as the continent suffered temperatures as low as minus 27 degrees Celsius (minus 16 Fahrenheit)! That makes Russia look like unreliable supplier, destroys reputation of Gasprom and makes its business plans to participate in EU gas distribution system a pipe dream.

As long as Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the interruption of gas supplies through Ukraine to Europe , that is no more business, that is politics. And very stupid, I would say. But, if it is not politics and governments of two countries are involved in fraud on the gas deals, that is a crime, which is abound on the Post-Soviet space.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

South Korea - speaking of repression, and mob-baiting

And, speaking of repression, if you haven't heard about this:
then it is worth a read. If the article is gone due to time elapsed, search for "South Korea, Minerva, economic blogger forecast". You should come up with something.

The reason this struck me was that this is a major world democracy, acting pretty autocratically. After writing what I have about Russia becoming more autocratic, this pops up in the news.

And, on the other hand, if you read the article referred above, you will note that S Korea also has previously arrested people spreading some rather malicious rumors on the internet. I've certainly seen instances, and ugly ones, of mob-baiting, and I find it reprehensible. Shucks, we've had severe examples (and refined) of mob-baiting in the American presidential campaigns! But when it takes on tones of violence, it crosses a line.

Somehow, tho, I don't think a forecast of economic hardship has tones of violence.

Ukraine vs Russia, the gas confrontation

Some things to share on the Ukraine/EU gas shutoff by Russia.
* US media was mostly telling us only that Russia's reasoning was that Ukraine had "stolen" gas, a pretty unbelievable accusation that makes Russia look like a bully. It was finally mentioned that Russia was asking for Ukraine to pay the going market rates, not the deeply discounted rates they have been paying. I'm sure it is more complicated than all that, but asking to get paid the going market rate is not unreasonable.
* This conflict has been brewing for years, and is, to my knowledge, basically unchanged.
* The Ukraine and Georgia both sit on major oil and gas transportation routes for Russian oil and gas. A situation very likely to lead to conflict when the neighbors are generally unfriendly, as these three are. This has been obvious enough that US media forecast the conflict years ago.

Does this excuse Russia political brinkmanship? I don't think so, but it does make it look less menacing. Putin is playing for the long run, that much is obvious. That his long run doesn't include a strongly democratic government also seems obvious. My hope is that it doesn't become more overtly autocratic. So far what I see doesn't compare to the autocratic excesses of the 20th century (early 20th Fascism, National Socialism, and Communist excesses. Late 20th Latin & South America, Southeast Asia, Africa). I do see some evidence of repression, but it is of a low level. More akin to Jim Crow.

Comments and questions welcome. I can easily imagine some spirited responses to this post from some of my friends.

Once again, I believe the best indicator will be the level of economic opportunity available to the majority of the populace. The worsening economy will hamper that, but so long as economic pursuit is permitted, things will eventually come around.


A new snow came last night. The weather of this last week had everything icy and slick- thawing and then refreezing. The snow was well crusted over yesterday. I went for a walk, and quite a bit of it was crusty enough to walk on. But, it was an icy, slick crust. And, it often broke through underneath me, making it difficult to make progress.

I took the dogs, with Sara on leash, and letting Klinger run loose, once we reached the park area. I can trust Klinger to come, although he is young, and still a little exciteable.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Massachusetts weather

The winter weather in Massachusetts is, without a doubt, highly variable. And that description takes all the color out of going from weather that has snow like upper Michigan, to temperatures colder than where I was working in Siberia, to ice storms like the mid-south (U.S.), changing to temperatures more like winter temperatures where we used to live in central coastal California! We've just had a week of temperatures with several nights going down to 7-9 (-14 to -13 C). The daytime temps only got to the high teens (-9 to -7 C). It finally broke, and temps came back up to closer to freezing, in the mid-20's, which felt positively warm by comparison.

We started the winter with a significant ice storm, unusual in this area. Many trees were down, electricity failed, roads were treacherous. Fortunately, the ice started melting the very next day, although it took about a week with temperatures going above freezing during the day to get rid of most of the ice. What a mess that left behind! Limbs down all over.
A week or so later, the temperatures sank below freezing, and we got snow. In very close order, two major snowstorms came through, leaving close to 2 feet (60cm) of snow behind. That lasted a week or two, and then the weather turned warmer again. Temperatures rose above freezing, reaching as high as 50 or 60 one day (12 or 15C)!

Immediately following that warm spell, which had cleared the roads and the roofs nicely, the cold returned, this time with strength! Accompanied by snow and high winds, the temperatures dropped until it was colder here than in Kurgan, near were I worked in Siberia! For several days the temps went down to 7-9, (-14 to -12C), and days only got to the high teens (-9 to -7C)! There wasn't as much snow this time, but enough to cover the ground. Slowly the temps rose back to the mid 20's and 30's.

The nice thing about the cold temps is that I can actually get my cold weather gear - like my Russian hats - out and wear them! The Russian hats are just too warm when the temp is closer to freezing. My fur hat is too warm above about 15 (-9C), the sheephide is too warm above about 20 (-7C). It got cold enough to wear my down coat, too.

It's just amazing, though. I've never lived anywhere else that was so highly changeable! Kind of nice, in a way. Get a spot of winter, take a break. Get another spot of winter, take a break!