2nd Annual Crystal Ball Gazing and Pundit Toss

It’s that time again – actually I’m really really late – for the 2nd Annual Crystal Ball Gazing and Pundit Toss – 2013 edition.

First – lets have the results from last year’s prognostication:

  1. 2012 doomsday – never happened.  I got that one right.
  2. SOPA-PIPA – again never happened.  I got that one wrong (thought it would pass).  That being said – congress is trying to resurrect that one again – pretty much verbatim.
  3. PC still here – but not as vibrant.  I got that basically correct.  You weren’t able to walk into Best Buy and get a high-end gaming system anymore (e.g. like I did in 2011) – and what remained was geared towards your casual users.  However, hobbyists still had options of getting some major gear through online resellers (Newegg and the like).
  4. Cloud computing – it was all the rage throughout 2012, and was the catalyst for various products and services.  However people did see some problems as their data became unavailable during network infrastructure failures – as I predicted.
  5. NASA manned space program – Kaput!  The Russians provided 4 Soyuz missions to the international space station, while the Chinese had one mission that docked with their orbiting laboratory/space station Tiangong-1.  Meanwhile unmanned flights continue unabated – with the USA #3 behind Russia and China.

My personal prediction results:

  1. CPU Cycle Pwnage – NOT!  I never did get that AMD system I wanted.  In the meantime, I did get a shiny new Nexus 7 tablet (the idea being to build software for it) – but then had it, and several other of my electronics stolen from a locked vehicle…  Given replacement costs for various things – repairs to the vehicle and other financial issues – my plans were pretty much dead in the water.  I got this one way wrong.
  2. Uber Blogger – NOT!  While I started off on a solid footing – life/work seemed to suck the time out of my dedication to blogging – and I fell well short of the 52 blog entries desired (only managed to do 8 entries).  Fail Whale!
  3. Doomsday Weight Loss Plan – goal: 100 lbs lost.  Accomplishment: GAINED 5 lbs (after losing a solid 10).  Again, I did not stick with it.
  4. Balance – goal: spend more time in meditation, doing outdoorsy stuff with family, and doing recording….no, no and no.  FAIL.

With that – I had a terrible year predicting my own behavior – but did fairly well predicting the outcome of the larger events.  As a result, I’m going to be a bit more conservative for 2013:

My personal Predictions/Goals for 2013:

  1. Computer and network: going to at least get the ‘hanger queen’ Intel i7 back online with new parts – and set it up to do development as a virtual machine host.  I will also complete building and installing my firewall – that will not only provide better security – but will also handle the buffer bloat problem, and improve my overall network performance.
  2. Development: going to make major progress on my open source project on my personal time.  Given my new job, I don’t expect to be able to announce and release/coordinate by the end of the year – but I anticipate being able to some time next year.
  3. Recording: going to start a voice blog/show on some theme I have as yet to lock down…  Shooting for one show a month for 2013.
  4. Weight loss – I will be active on a daily basis – and will have consistent wieght loss all year (won’t say how much – but will say it will be continuous).
  5. Blogging – I am shooting for writing at least one blog entry a month for 2013.  I did 8 last year – so 12 is a good round number.

Now for the big predictions for 2013:

  1. PC sales will continue to plummet – and hard core gaming will start to be threatened.  Distributors will start to report the unavailability of PC specific resources (motherboards, chipsets, peripherals) – and advancements in the technology of PC CPUs and other core components will stagnate as all efforts focus on tablets and phone form factors.
  2. Linux will go through a ‘dark age’ during 2013 – but this will set the stage for a ‘renaissance’ in 2014 that gives users more of what they want.  On a parallel note: hard core PC gaming will continue to improve under Linux as Windows falls by the wayside, but total numbers of hard core gamers will drop as consoles and casual gaming gains ground.
  3. SOPA – Round 2 – will raise the hackles of freedom loving people – and there will be another ground swell against it.  If passed, in concert with the already modified ‘no jail breaking’ rule from the librarian of the Library of Congress (under DMCA provisions) – the network will be less open to innovation using existing devices.  However, as we all know, the internet has the property of routing around log jams, and this will be no different.  I expect these rulings to impact business interests more than open source in the long run – and will provide opportunities for Kick-starter projects to fill gaps left by proprietary solutions.  We’ll see…
  4. With the death of Aaron Swartz and the backlash of Anonymous – we are already seeing an uptick in zero-day exploitation.  I expect that to continue throughout the year to make 2013 a critical year for network and systems security.

Check back with me at the beginning of 2014 to see how it all turns out.

Google Nexus 7 and a Brave New World

So the fates threw another curve ball my way, and made the magic smoke come out of my SO’s game machine.  As luck would have it (for her) my recent Windows 7 game machine – and more recently a 64 Bit Debian Linux development machine – was identical in make and model, and quickly drafted as a replacement.  After extracting the hard drive, and a 122 mm fan from the hanger-queen – and retrofitting said parts into my old machine – she was back up and running her favorite games on a machine that had much better airflow(overheating had killed the the motherboard).  Love knows no bounds.

Unfortunately for me, this yet again put a kink in my previous new-year’s plans.  Then Google happened.  More precisely the Nexus 7 happened, and this happening which I was not cognizant of in my normal ‘antennae up’ manner – was fortunate in that its timing provided me the leverage needed to modify my plans from doing the sort of development I expected, to presenting an alternative.  So I bought one – the $250 model – that I quickly encased in a faux leather magnetic covering – a la SD Tabletwear Smart  Case for the Nexus 7 – and preceded to learn the ins-and-outs of.  I also managed to get a few books on Android development…and the rest, as they say, is history.   Or more accurately, ‘history in the making’.

In comparison to the iPAD, the Nexus 7 (built by ASUS) is much smaller and lighter than the iPAD.  Reading and using the device is a breeze – easy on the hands and arms in comparison to the iPAD over long periods of time.  The one drawback – 16GB of storage compared to 64GB on the iPAD – is made up by the snappy graphics processing of the integrated NVIDIA CPU/GPU sporting a Quad core CPU and 12 core GPU – and the fact that I found an old iPOD Nano laying around [daughter’s present, 5th generation circa 2009 – never opened – her loss] that I copied my music over to (I can actually walk around now, and listen to my music without having to lug the iPAD around).  The Nexus 7 is dedicated to running apps/games – and I really like the interface that it uses with the Android 4.1 Jellybean OS.

Comparing the two OS’s/interfaces, I would say there are some things better done by Apple, and some better done by Google.  For example, I like the way Apple handles process control – clear and absolute.   Shutting down applications on Android is somewhat labyrinthine  (until you figure out that you can use the settings widget to create a desktop shortcut to the apps control) always leaves me with an uneasy feeling – the question in my mind, ‘did that application really shut down?’  As I later learned, this is a feature of the Android development and runtime system: resources can be defined for an application – and will be run as requested by the app…hence the mysterious application services that mysteriously seem to appear in the process list.  From this perspective, I can see that it isn’t necessarily Android, as much as undisciplined developers.  My own efforts to create applications for Android will test this theory – so more to follow on that on future blogs.  Android does get some things interestingly right – such as interprocess communication, and the layering of applications and interface components such that you can clearly back out of something and return to what you were doing before without necessarily having to jump around so much (the ‘back’ button).

Overall – for my purposes, the Nexus 7 is the perfect form factor and functionality.  I do like the iPAD – but (there is always a but, isn’t there?) I think it is really geared for people who are into media and media creation.  You can’t do development on the iPAD (aside from some sand-boxed interpreters that are very limited – without access to the underlying resources), and external native development for distribution is limited and requires a $99 fee (at the time of this writing).  On the other hand, native applications on the Nexus 7 can be developed and distributed freely – and not only can you develop externally to the device, you can download the AIDE (Android Integrated Development Environment) and do development on the device itself.  Add a bluetooth keyboard, and you have the next best thing to a laptop.

Now remember: your mileage may vary.  Others might argue that the small screen size, the lack of storage space, and wifi-only networking are deal killers.  I don’t have issue with any of that – my old eyes are getting to the point where I have to wear glasses anyway to read any screen smaller than 17″ LCD, I moved the largest part of my stored items – the music – over to a more appropriate/mobile iPOD device, and I have a smartphone which already has mobile telephone data network capability for the rare times I really need it.

Don’t feel bad for my old iPAD – it will live on as a media device associated with my living room TV system (there is an app for that).  And if I get an Apple TV device – it might even have even more life breathed into it as a video streaming device as well.

Would Steve Jobs approve my choices?  Probably not – but time marches on – and I am nothing if not pragmatic, in a Bruce Lee sort of way.  To Steve’s credit, the vision to create this tablet/smartphone ecosystem allowed the Nexus 7 to exist – he made his mark through the company he lead and the products he championed – and the world is better for it imho.

It is certainly a brave new computing world for all of us.

My Quest for Some Sanity

Okay — I’ve not published an article in what seems like ages.  I know – I’m not meeting one of my personal new year’s resolutions/predictions – that I would blog on at least a weekly basis – but (and there is always a but, isn’t there?) the story that was supposed to go here has grown to such proportions that I ended up lost down a rabbit hole.  Now that I’ve climbed out, I realize I will probably have to break that story up into several installments.  Additionally (the second but) I have been busy reorganizing my space to get maximum efficiency/benefit out of the resources I have because, looking at our finances we (when discussing finances I must always use the plural ‘we’ otherwise I get in trouble) determined that I am going to have to make do with the gear that I currently have on hand (that is the other personal goal/prediction that I’m going to be missing at the end of the year).

To that end I’ve been moving furniture, and rearranging cables, and relocating devices.  I’ve also been doing some selective cleanup on the old area that was my last office space — and managed at the same time to open up the space a bit while also bringing my electronic piano keyboard into the office.  It’s now cozy and useful.  In short I’ve achieved some level of sanity, and have more levels to go.  Which brings up a question, are there really levels of sanity?  I imagine they are much like the levels of Hell – certainly related in opposite measure (the more sane you are, the less hellish your existence).  So right now I’m mid level crazy on a caffeine jag.  I do, however have a plan and a budget.

The plan is to actually get stuff done.  To enable the doing – I’ve allowed myself a modest budget.  With it I’ve accumulated a few useful things.

First – I was thinking of getting a USB mixing board…but instead I decided to keep my old analog mixing board, and instead figured out what I needed to do to connect it to my computer more effectively than a mono- 1/4″ Phono Jack to USB cable that I happened to have laying around.  Instead, I got a purpose built stereo RCA In/Out to USB converter with cables to match – so I can jack into the mixing board and output stereo.  Additionally – the output provides a monitor link that I can feed to either speakers or the headphone jack.  Added a 4 port stereo headphones amp and cable to allow my friends and family to listen and participate  in the creativity (music, podcast, whatever).  I’m thinking maybe it would be easier just to podcast this blog…a ‘plog’?  Do people do that?  (I’ve only ever seen video blogs – not dedicated voice blogs before…perhaps it’s an antiblog?)  More to contemplate there.

Secondly – I got a 1 TB USB/Firewire external drive.  This allows me to do more work on the laptop without filling up the disk, and provides a target for backups/time machine.  With this in place I was able to backup my Windows 7 game box’s files – and then wiped it and reloaded with Debian Linux 64 bit.  This lead me through yet another adventure loading various applications on it to regain equivalent+ functionality to what was on the Windows machine (The only simulations I had going on it were Second Life, and Flight Gear – both of which I was able to get going again after a bit of coaxing – loading of 32 bit compatibility libraries and updating to the latest NVidia driver).  I was also able to get Code::Blocks, Blender, Gimp and various development tools loaded as well, including GCC, Python, Make, etc.  I have a few items I’m still trying to get working including a driver for my logitech joystick/keypad and a 3D world development framework.  This Linux machine now becomes my primary software development platform; my Macbook Pro is the video and audio recording/editing and drawing/writing platform.  Finally my ancillary machines will serve other purposes (DNS, Email, Webserver).  As a result of all this rearrangement, I’ll not be building a hypervisor laboratory as I originally intended.  I’m thinking it might be better to focus on the creative aspects more than the administrative aspects at home anyway.  We shall see.

So now I’m feeling saner and with some quiet focus time coming up soon(tm)- I should be able to make headway on my projects this year.  More on the project list in a future post.  Ciao for now.

iPad (3rd Generation) Announced Today!

Okay — I’ll get it over with right now and say, “meh.”  This, you have to understand is from the same person who still owns his original iPad – that I’ve been operating since 3 April 2010 (the earliest the general public had access to them).  I love the fact that I’ve only managed to use about 1/4 of the total 64gb storage space on the thing – even with my complete music collection and a boatload of downloaded books and applications.  I don’t regret going with the WIFI only model (I suspect this saved battery life – and my iPhone serves when I’m out of WIFI range).  There is a lot of life left in this baby – and there isn’t enough reasons for me to switch just yet.

On the other hand, I can see some of the value of the new iPad for some specific use cases that might make others want to consider it:

  • If I were an artist and wanted to draw photorealistic or detailed artwork, or do photo editing the new iPad with it’s Retina high resolution display is a good candidate.  I know doctors did not take up the iPad or iPad2 because the screen did not have the resolution needed to properly interpret medical images.  With the new iPad, perhaps they have the answer to that problem?
  • It’s improved camera makes it a decent candidate also for video blogging – although the form factor is kind of large for that.  My iPhone 4 can do the same in terms of video and pictures, and fits in my pocket.
  • If you opt for the mobile wireless model – you can get the ‘lightening fast’ LTE 4G technology.  Probably nice if you are streaming a movie in high definition to that beautiful screen when out on the road.

But that’s about it.  It is heavier than the iPad2 (to accommodate the 10 hour battery) 1.44 pounds versus 1.33 pounds.  It does have a slightly better CPU.  Overall an incremental upgrade similar to the iPhone 4 to 4S changes.

If you do find the new features worthy of switching from an older iPad, or if you’ve never had an iPad and want the latest and greatest – you can pre-order now from apple.com for delivery on 16 March 2012.

As for me, I’m thinking about getting a Kindle Fire for half the price for my kids, and I will continue to love my original iPad.

Do We Need A New Political Party For The Internet?

The SOPA-PIPA and ACTA debacles are a clear indicator that our elected officials in both the Democratic and Republican parties are not merely ignorant of their civic duties, but corrupt as well.  Clearly the influence of powerful lobbying groups’ dollars resonated more than destroying the keystone of our modern freedom of speech and publication – the internet.

In private discussion with my college political professor back in the day he was of the opinion at the time, after having tried influencing things as an independent, that it was better to work within one or the other political parties – to make the most impact, and if need-be change them from within.  However, after observing several political grass root events in both parties over the years (I’m a registered Republican btw – but very disappointed with the party) – the prospect of working with and attempting to influence the people currently in positions of leadership in either party is distasteful.  I would rather try to argue with a rabid pit-bull – than spend time with these dogmatic people.  When people can’t find common ground there is no way to convince them to compromise on any issue for the greater good.

Instead I am thinking it would be better just to scrap support for either party, and instead form a new party based upon a more moderate/centrist view of things.  Ideally this party should align with the views of the 14 million Americans who are currently awake – with their antenna fully extended and listening.

What would the platform of such a party look like?  Here is my attempt:

Internet Party Platform (IP Platform)

1.  Civic responsibility is everyone’s responsibility; the population must educate themselves and make such education available (e.g. get out the vote, email/phone campaigns) on the issues and watch and respond to threats to our basic liberties.  The response to SOPA-PIPA tells me that this is possible, if not happening already.   “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” – Thomas Jefferson.  We have been silent for too long.

2.  Revolutionary Republicanism – the view that limiting corruption and greed is of utmost importance.  Virtue of our elected leaders must be restored through strict limits on monetary compensation and ‘donations’ from all parties.  Get the influence of money OUT of government.  The population has a right and a duty to remove from office by legally scheduled election and recall election those elected officials who are shown to be abusing their power to the detriment of society.  Make it so only virtuous women and men seek public office in the spirit of ensuring, ” rich and poor, magistrates and subjects, officers and people, masters and servants, the first citizen and the last, are equally subject to the laws”, to quote John Adams.

3.  The internet and the vast majority of people who spend their daily lives inhabiting, growing ‘micro’ economies in, communicating and publishing words, arts and music in, and increasing the public good through – is the heart blood of this country and the world today.  We recognize that the communications and computer technology that makes up the internet is disruptive of the previous business and political order.  We pledge to make this revolutionary transition peaceful and respectful of everyone’s human rights and civil liberties.

4.  We do not apologize to previous generations and interests for change –  “no society can make a perpetual constitution or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation.”  We will fight all attempts to stop useful public progress in the interests of private financial gain in perpetuity.  To that end we will fight to limit the length of time the assignment of monopoly (e.g. copyright)  can be applied – so that real public good within the same generation comes from invention – and America can remain a leader in innovation.

That’s about all I can think of that most people would agree upon.  Anything else would start the pendulum swinging too far right or left.  I also tried to make it general enough to cover most situations that cause the most problems – the 80/20 rule would apply – the idea here being you’ll never be able to clean up everything, but if you focus on the top 20% of issues – you’ll impact 80% of the things that effect people.  Given the core values expressed here – I think taking action on them would have the most good.

Then another thought occurred to me…

Does it even make sense to think in terms of nation-states and political boundaries in a medium that by design contains no such distinctions?  It is a great contradiction.  To ensure the continued unlimited communications medium across the world, you must play the sovereign’s game within the boundaries of the state.  But what’s to stop an association of parties with the same platform from springing up all over the world?  Think about it – helping each other in many nations to focus upon the internet problems that we are all impacted by as a community.  I would argue this is happening already in an adhoc manner – but aside from the reactive Anonymous and Occupy movements – there has not been a consistent platform put forward that is proactive.  What I’ve seen so far is a statement that there is a problem, and a list of 50,000 divergent views on how to fix it.  Maybe we just need to start with some simple values, like these here, and act upon them to get to the variegated state we desire?  Maybe we already are, and I’ve not been paying attention?

To Grok, or not to Grok – That is the Question

I’m still working on the article that is supposed to be here  – so in the interests of providing a more consistent output – I give you this expansion on a brief comment I wrote on another blog regarding how I learn and the epiphany I had when I stopped gazing at my own navel:

When I was young, and by young I mean 39 (LOL), I couldn’t grasp that people just didn’t think the way I do about learning. For me – when I want to learn something, I research everything I can about the subject in books. In fact, I’m fat, dumb, and happy when I have an excellent book on the subject, and a computer at hand to try things out for myself just to see how it really works.  My stint in the military also had a similar pattern, both as a student and as an instructor the method of study was always 1) read the manual, 2) get some hands on to verify your knowledge; as an instructor the pattern was 1) lecture, 2) give the students hands on – the only difference being in an instructor lead course the instructor can critique and show the students proper methods as well as answer questions to help them clarify their knowledge.   As a student, I rarely if ever had to ask questions, or needed the instructor to verify my work – I was an autonomous learner – and could never quite understand why others around me needed help in this way.

One day it started to click for me. It was the day my wife decided to take a C++ programming course. Now, I’ve been trying to get her interested in geeky things – including programming for years – and I gave her reading lists and some of the best books on the subject – things I wish someone had done for me back when I was just getting started.  As much as she tried – she just never got it alone… or especially, it seems when I would try to explain it to her. For her the ideal learning experience is in a formal classroom setting with a emotionally distant teacher she can ask questions without feeling she was being judged, and a solid curriculum with homework and all the rest – the works.  90% of communications is nonverbal – and try as I might, she would detect or think she detected a scolding when I would attempt to explain.  I won’t go into all the reasons she may have come to that impasse.  Suffice to say – she required a different approach than I was capable of giving.

I knew something significant was going on when she started talking to me with excitement about her first project – the archetypical hello world program. When she came home with an ‘A’ in the subject – I knew there was a qualitative difference between the different modes of learning – and those modes are different and unique for every person.  Everyone is capable of learning just about anything – the key is to put them in the right learning environment for them.  When that occurs, they will be more likely to be motivated, and the subject matter will be more accessible to them.

After sulking for several years, I have now come to accept that reality – and by doing so it has helped me communicate with and help others find their best way in spite of my own limitations in this area.

So the upshot of my torturous journey is to tailor education for the students – and today we have more than enough CPU cycles to go around to make that happen technologically at least.  So – how can we do that for the large majority of students who are not autonomous learners?

I need to think about that – and I’ll get back to you.  In the meantime – let me know what you think should be done, both in terms of technology and the practice of teaching, in the comments section below.

SOPA, PIPA and My Internet Story

I was going to blog about the State of the Metaverse in this blog, but instead I chose to postpone that article until a later date due to the impending SOPA Blackout as we come down to the wire on the vote for the SOPA/PIPA bills in Congress.  Instead, I am going to provide my own internet story, because in some ways what I am today is a direct result of my experiences in this medium that is now threatened.

1981 was the beginning of my journey – my junior year in high school – I was failing chemistry class miserably, and decided to transfer to a new class that was being offered: computer programming.  It piqued my interest, and soon I was hooked.  I learned Fortran and Basic on NCR and the Apple ][ machines respectively, but more importantly we also had access to a timeshare system composed of two CRT terminals and a teleprinter (typewriter keyboard built into a printer that itself could serve as a terminal in addition to spewing printed output upon copious and what we would consider grotesque amounts of fan-fold tractor fed printer paper) connected mysteriously via wires through the wall to some minicomputer somewhere else.  It could have been in a closet next door or across town – I never did see that system (I want to say it was VMS based Vax/PDP perhaps?).  Ostensibly this system was to be used to print out the listings of our assigned programs that we carefully transcribed into the CRT terminals and saved in our named accounts and the output, but one day I found a classmate playing a game called ‘Advent’.  Soon I began playing it too – it was one of the first text based dungeon games; inspired by Tolkien novels.  This is when it first hit me that this medium could be a place to explore – not only the file systems and machines it was composed of, but more importantly worlds we could imagine and recreate in software ourselves.  Popular media soon saw the patterns – movies  Tron (1982), Blade Runner (1983), War Games (1983) – and literature – Neuromancer (1984) – gave words and imagery to what we were experiencing and inventing – and became part of the internet lexicon we take for granted today.

In the intervening years between my high school graduation and entry in the university, I continued to program, even as I worked in my first real job, which while not directly related to programming, allowed me to visit foreign lands.  I taught myself  C, Intel 8088 assembler, and gained exposure to different systems including the Commodore Amiga, IBM PC, DOS – and learned the intricacies of modems and modem connection command strings.  I quickly found BBS systems and connected to as many as I could.  In this process of exploration, I stumbled upon the FIDONET – a parallel network that contained discussion threads and messaging systems that was distributed coast to coast through regional nodes that shared with the collective.  The network I found contained a vibrant social milieu where anything was possible and expression and experimentation was tolerated, if not rejoiced.  I also continued to experiment with different virtual experiences – starting with the SubLogic Flight Simulator, Zork series of text based adventures and so on – but these were single player games and the computer was not a viable opponent.

When I joined the university in 1992 as a computer science undergraduate, I was exposed to the internet, Unix and deeper critical thinking on various topics available in newsgroups from a wide range of scholars and students alike.  The internet was in its infancy, and at that time the way to find resources was to use Archie, Gopher, and anonymous FTP to find and retrieve files on the subjects you wanted.  There was also an extensive email system and newsgroup system going at that time.  I felt right at home as this mode contained essentially the same elements I found in FIDONET – but it was ‘always on’ in the computer science lab, just sit down at a console and login – we take for granted today – that wasn’t that common back then.  But there was a buzz about this thing called ‘html’ and the ‘world wide web’ that culminated in the availability of NSF Mosaic – the first graphical http client (web browser), and the term ‘web surfing’ entered the jargon.  By the end of 1993 there were only 623 http sites on the web – and over 1,000,000 systems connected to the internet.  That year WWW traffic would grow 341,634% annually.  I had arrived just at the right time to straddle the old and new access paradigms, and get my fingers into both.  In between all that excitement, I was learning how to program systems, databases, and client-server applications via BSD sockets.  I also loaded my first Linux installation in these years (Slackware! Got Slack?), so I could do my work at home to avoid waiting in line for a console in the lab – and upload it to one of the servers via modem.  Games became more sophisticated and we saw the first multiplayer online games in this decade.

Upon leaving the university, I joined the business world and plied my trade with all the knowledge and experience at my disposal.  The internet and the technologies associated with it became the lingua franca of my career – and most of you lived through and are well aware of the innovations that have followed – with the culmination of the internet spread to mobile platforms, phones, and IP technology beginning to replace the old voice switched network.  The mobile internet is here and growing in size.  These advances and the free flow of information and social coordination that ensued is fueling a sea-change exemplified by the Arab spring,  Occupy Wall Street, and other movements.  I am happy to say I played a small part behind the scenes of those advances.

But in the next few days the Congress will be voting on bills that could endanger all that we have collectively worked for and built – directly affecting my livelihood and the lives of millions of other people who work in the information industries.  In the past, I have been on the fence when it came to open systems, independent artists and I was often at odds with the more militant views of these issues – such as the views of the Free Software Foundation.  With this crisis, it seems powers of greed are rolling back the clock – taking away the progress that we have managed to make in the interim.  I can see now the dangers overly proprietary systems can have, and now, more than ever, will make efforts to find and build open alternatives.

The hope we have is this: we have the power to end this – by boycotting the business entities supporting this, and by pledging ourselves to voting out of Congress all those who supported this when faced with the overwhelming evidence of the technically untenable and ethically questionable support for these bills entails.  Finally we can do something even more important in the long run: take the money you would have spent on an RIAA record album, or an MPAA movie – and seek out independent and self published artists of all types.  If the majority of us did this collectively, we would change the face of the arts and put the money were it really needs to go – into the hands of the artists.

The Past Through Tomorrow

It is the time of year when we all reflect on the previous year, and prepare ourselves for what’s ahead.  Pundits of all shapes and sizes dust off the predictions from the previous year, score their successes, and trundle out another set of SWAGs (Silly Wild-Assed Guesses) for the new year.  I’ve been keeping myself mildly and technologically amused reading Robert X Cringely, Cory Doctorow, and a host  of other pundits, trolls and wannabes sharpen their pens and take aim at and possibly influence the direction of the year to come.

Along those lines I decided to pull out my quiver and let slip a slew of arrows at various topics near and dear to me in the iBatcave First Annual Crystal Ball Gazing and Pundit Toss – Doomsday Edition.

  1. The 2012 doomsday –  Okay – I might as well get the biggie out of the way, will the world descend into an apocalyptic dark age on December 21st?  Anything is possible – take for instance recent computer models that validate the idea of a Mars size body collision with the Earth that made it possible for life and a technological society to form as we know it today.  But given observation and scientific inquiry, the probability is very low for any life altering events of planetary significance – so my predication is many IT workers who take off the month of December will be returning to work the first week of January 2013 – rested and ready for cleaning up after all the panic stricken mobs.  Of course, I’ll be here in the bat-cave with my 2 year supply of MREs, Darkknight comics, and the batcomputer to keep me warm, assuming you can reach me… ^_^
  2. SOPA – The Stop Online Piracy Act – HR 3261, as of this writing in the House Judiciary Committee – is an attempt by ‘big media’ lobbyists to push through a draconian expansion of powers above and beyond the provisions of the DMCA.  Introduced late in the year on October 26th – the proposed law allows the Justice Department to order immediate blockage of accused offshore sites, would put the burden of proof on the accused website to respond in short order to an accuser or trigger an injunction, and has language that isn’t clear – that is particularly troublesome to large hosting sites as well as advocates of the free speech who contend that the internet has become the public square.  Furthermore, the safe harbor provisions put the responsibility of policing it proactively up to the internet network and hosting companies – which would not only place an undue burden/cost on these entities, but has other dangers to privacy and improper manipulation for private interests to the detriment of society.  This would furthermore break or fracture many of the key features of the international internet as Europe and Asia would certainly retaliate upon manipulation of worldwide DNS, security and routing by the United States.  Some core network American service companies (DNS and hosting services) are considering moving offshore to maintain connection with the worldwide network in the event takedown orders impact their customers.
    So far, it seems the lobbyists and Congress are holding all the cards; initial hearings only included the interest groups associated with the lobby – and were criticized for not having the technical knowledge to properly evaluate the effects of their proposals.  A fight is brewing as we speak; however, unless a hail Mary can be pulled off by the ‘freedom coalition’ – I don’t give this much hope.  I think it will be passed, and we’ll be dealing with the consequences for some time.  Let the boycotts begin!
  3. The Personal Computer – The personal computer, and more precisely the general purpose programmable computer, is under pressure from the plethora of mobile devices that have entered the market.  By and large, these new devices are not directly programmable by the user.  As the young population begins to age, the use of small devices will begin to wane – particularly when they hit their 40’s and need reading glasses – but that is 20 years away.  That being said, I don’t think the PC is going anywhere anytime soon – particularly for people who need the extra processing power locally to run complex simulations (RPGs/FPSs/FlightSims), do development, and other more ‘server like’ things in their local network.  People in the past who bought a desktop to browse the web and read email, will be happy with smartphones and tablets instead.  We might see some price fluctuations, as more production time is spent on components for the tablets and phones.  Desktops that are offered in the retail space will have new features to compete (e.g. touchscreen – and we’re already seeing this) – and will likely be optimized for use with cloud based applications.  With the ascendency of console game systems – the high end desktop game system will more and more become a hobbiest tradition – and there may be some growth in businesses that can cater to that market for those without the wherewithal to build their own system, and with little alternatives in the retail space.
  4. Cloud Computing – The Cloud is just another name for ‘thin client’ computing – and we know how that turned out – it has special applications, but isn’t good enough for every application.  As people run into more problems, aunt Suzy unable to download the pictures of your adorable rug rats, or little Jimmy trying to play the latest game – and loses connectivity due to infrastructure failures, then we’ll see this ameliorate a bit.  Right now it is a hot buzz word in the corporate board rooms – as companies look to squeeze whatever savings they can by outsourcing and relocating applications to the cloud.  As a result – I think we’ll still be talking about Cloud Computing when 2013 rolls around.
  5. NASA Manned Space Program – Kaput!  We are going to see the Russians and Chinese make advancements and continue to fly manned missions – while we tag along for the ride.  Seems like a pattern going on here – America outsourcing the work.  It’s going to be awhile before we launch people into orbit again – and it won’t be in 2012.  Commercial ventures will make progress – but in sub orbital arena only.
  6. Automobile Tech – will continue to suck; however Tesla Motors will release their all-electric sedan in 2012, and sales will be groundbreaking.  Google’s fleet of self driving cars will increase to 300 by year end.

These are my personal predictions for the coming year – zero calorie goodness.

  1. Community CPU Cycle Pwnage  – it is safe to say that last year I had the most CPU cycles available on the block in the Batcave – even discounting the Suburban Goddess and Bat Girl’s five systems.  To ensure and maintain my leadership, and bragging rights (and so I don’t have to scrape off my ‘My Gigaflops Pwns U’ bumper sticker) I will be investing in a custom computer build-out based upon an AMD FX series processor.  This system will be my dev/testing system – running VMWare or some other FOSS hypervisor – with various Linux flavors available for testing – and hosting for some development related things (master git/subversion repository etc).  I’ll continue to game out with my Intel i7 based Windows 7 box, and geek out with my Intel Pentium 4  based Linux box, and my collection of Apple paraphernalia  (Intel i7 based Macbook Pro, Core 2 Duo Mac Mini, and original iPad).  If time permits I might tinker around with getting some of my older systems running to pull some weight (if my power bill and the house wiring can stand it).  The real question is – can I successfully marshal the resources by convincing the Suburban Goddess to release the purse strings, to accomplish these goals?  Check back this time next year to find out!
  2. Uber Blogmeister – For the three people that apparently actually read this blog – I know there has been a long (LONG) dry spell, but I am bound and determined to get the blog going this year come hell or high water.  Can I do it at least once a week every week?  If my post count reaches 52 by 2013 we’ll all know the answer.  I also predict that I will have at least 100 readers a day by the end of the year (or world).
  3. Doomsday Weight Loss Plan –  I’ve been having trouble getting into the old bat suit (curse you rubberized kevlar!) so I’ve started a new ‘doomsday’ diet and exercise program to get into prime blogging shape by the end.  If things go badly – at least I’ll have a good looking corpse wrapped in black kevlar goodness.  The doomsday goal is to loose 100 lbs.  We shall see how this goes.
  4. Teetering in the Balance – This last prediction/goal is related to becoming a more well rounded person overall.  I have musical instruments and the means of creating quality recordings; I’m going to play them, get better at it, and make recordings this year.  I’m going to spend time meditating (the time spent sitting on the bus praying the drunk stinky hobo staggering down the aisle doesn’t sit next to you is not meditation).  Finally I’m going to spend more time with my family, outdoors actually doing outdoorsy stuff.   ^=^

Join me January 2013 to find out how well I predicted – provided we’re not all dead or living in a post apocalyptic hell, of course!

iPad Redux

To bring you up to speed from my last article, I did indeed preorder the iPad, and had it delivered by UPS on release day, 3 April 2010.  I ordered the 58GB memory model, and it was wifi only.  I also ordered the rubberized folio cover that Apple was offering at the time.  I immediately started using it – and it has been a constant companion device for me.

The problem I was trying to solve with the iPad was the limitations imposed by Laptops and netbooks when used in a general purpose note taking scenario.  Those limitations included, weight, low battery life, and the costs of task switching.  Using my laptop computer in the past for meetings – I found many times that the effort involved in disconnecting the machine from the wired secure network, moving it to a meeting room and lugging the power adapter and mouse along with it – caused me to defer to paper and pencil more often than not.   My initial reaction with the iPad was that its lightweight and legalpad-like form factor would make me keep it with me more than I ever did with laptops/netbooks – and I wasn’t wrong.  I completely gave up taking laptops or pen/pencil and paper into meetings.  Couple that with solid state flash memory, and long battery life due to limited power consumption when actively using it, and it fit perfectly into my vision of such a device.

Most of the software on it is free, and I have sprung for a few items that were not.   I did buy Numbers and Pages – but I don’t use them that much to have justified the cost (spreadsheets do come in handy from time to time).  I bought SketchBook Pro – and I use that quite a bit more, and I also bought WritePad – and have dabbled a bit with handwriting recognition — basically keeps the carpel-tunnel at bay by allowing me to switch between typing and writing.

Free iPad software I have used the hell out of: CJournal – a system that is a people oriented log and todo list manager,  and iThoughtsHD – a mind mapping system, who’s output files are compatible with ‘FreeMind‘ – which I also have loaded on all of my other workstations.  Others include PCCalc Lite (a scientific calculator), Biorythm (plots biorythms), SSH Terminal – for connecting to my systems remotely via SSH, and a few programming language related items – cbmHandBasic (C64 Basic emulator), Luna (Lua scripting language),  and iSkeme (a Schema implementation).  Having used the software over the past year and 3/4, I’ve more recently come to the conclusion that I need a better means of managing multiple projects and todo lists — the complexity of projects, both personal and work related, caused the CJournal software to show it’s limitations.  As a result I found ‘Get It Done 3.0’ – while free, a more full featured project ‘todo’ list manager than CJournal.  I will continue to use CJournal for what it excels at, logging meetings and phone calls with contacts – but the project management will be done in the new app.

My usage pattern has been split about 2/3 productivity, and 1/3 entertainment.  I have my full music library loaded on it – and I often use it at work with over-ear noise cancellation headphones to bring peace to my cubicle world.  The wifi connectivity is perfect for me – I already have cell phone with a data plan – so I knew if I were really out and about, I would use the phone to find directions or whatever else I would do truely mobile.  The iPad form factor doesn’t lend itself to truely mobile use – which is fine by me.  I really see the iPad as a highly portable laptop replacement for when I’m on the go – in meetings etc – and it has lived up to that perfectly.  While I don’t use it to write novels, I am looking at expanding my repetoire to capture ideas related to larger writing projects when I get the idea – and may not be in front of my workstation or laptop to capture it.

To that end, I’m now experimenting with two writing programs on the iPad that my initial evaluation leads me to believe are best in class: Werdsmith and A Novel Idea.  Werdsmith is designed primarily to capture your words – and even includes a project model keyed to the number of words you expect to write – so it can track your progress.  ‘A Novel Idea’ is more full featured, and is really designed not so much to actually write the whole enchilada, but instead to capture key aspects, such as characters, locations, scenes, and tie them together with a given project (novel).  Right now I’m leaning towards ‘A Novel Idea’ for my purposes – but Werdsmith’s tracking mechanism also makes me take pause.

Another key aspect of the iPad is it’s ability to hold reading and reference material.  This not only serves an entertainment purpose for those times when I have enforced downtime (such as waiting for the bus), but also allows me to keep a library of technical reference documents to have at my fingertips in meetings and other locales where I don’t have access to my workstation.  My younger colleagues tell me they don’t ‘get’ the iPad form factor – since you can do all the same things on the iPhone etc.  My point to them is, ‘wait a few years’.  At some point they are going to get old and need glasses, and reading text on an iPhone for any length of time beyond the length of an SMS message will be downright painful in a font that allows them to actually see it.

So here is my scorecard for the iPad:

  • Overall – B
  • Ease of use  – A
  • End user programmable – D
  • Availability of useful software – A
  • Readability – A
  • Portability/weight – B
  • Battery life – A

I’m so happy now with the iPad, that I didn’t feel the need to upgrade to the iPad2.  My one drawback is the iPad does not have the facilities to do any self contained development/scripting.  The result is spending $100 to gain access to the iPhone/iPad SDK program, and having an external machine capable of doing the development.  It is definitely not a general purpose computer from the user’s perspective.  I’ll talk about that more in a future installment.

Stop the Presses

Yes – Apple modified their website to (finally) provide the delivery date of the iPad (3 April 2010) – and you can pre-order on the 12th of March for either delivery or pickup at your local Apple store.  But while simultaneously exciting and relieving to know the dates now, that is not the reason for today’s article.

The bulk of today’s subject is the effect a truly ubiquitous reading device will have on the traditional print media.  Interestingly enough, while perusing http://slashdot.org I came upon an interesting and well thought out blog on just that:  Books in the Age of iPad gives a very well thought out dive into the subject from someone who’s been making ‘dead tree’ books for some time.

To summarize – the content of traditionally printed material was either ‘formless’ (no formatting changes would alter the presentation or meaning of the work), or ‘definite’ (having a definite layout in relationship to the size and shape of the page and incorporating artistic elements as part of the work).  The author while being deep into the binding and creation of books, is intrigued by the potential for the new tools to basically do away with the kind of books that were never meant to survive a first reading – paperbacks.  Furthermore he sees the potential for the new medium to allow us now, for the first time to do two things really well: publish the kinds of works that thrived in the paperback medium easily and cheaply, and provide new and unanticipated ways of viewing and interacting with the content – even for those works where ‘defined’ content is relevant – not just the words themselves.

Terminology aside, he makes good points – and poses the question, “to what extent will this technology be a game changer over the next few years, and as we go through it, what will the traditional publishing houses look like afterwords?

From my perspective I think this is yet another traditional ‘middle-man’ business (in this case delivering written works of fiction and non-fiction) that will continue to be less and less relevant in a wired world.  Just like the music industry now going through the throes of 99-cent music on the iTunes store, other once highly profitable zero-content main-in-the-middle delivery businesses will have to change their scope and focus, or die.  Rupert Murdock’s thrashing all over the internet (bid to block Google from seeing his sites, to his recent call for BBC to not to have as much news programming because free content is impacting his business).

If I had to look into my crystal ball, I would say this wave is very quickly rising (it is logarithmic – and we are still on the front side of the wave – but it is getting very high and we are very high up on that wave now) – and now is the time to either ride it, get out of the way, or get crushed by it.  That being said, the old dinosaur content distribution entities still have a lot of money in the bank – and some of them seem intent on doing whatever it takes to keep their precious profit margins high.

For the content creators and their fans/customers – I don’t see this as a big deal.  There are so many ways now to reach an audience – either for profit or not – and the iPad just adds another means of doing that.