Perspectives of a 2000 computer-year old man


Wow!  I kinda missed August entirely, didn’t I?  Well, I’ve got plenty of good reasons for that, but let’s just say I have a life, pathetic though it may be, and work sucks the life out of me too.  🙂

I was pondering changes recently.  As I sit at the 400 Mhz machine with 128 megs of RAM and listen to a radio station in Dallas (5+ hours away) on my 512kilobits/sec always-on connection to the multinational network of interconnected computing devices (and soda machines and fishcams), I can’t help but think that we’ve come a long damned way in the past 10 years.

When I started using computers, home computers were toys for kids to play with and "real" computers were monsters tended to by elite cadres of geek-priests, never seen by common people.  Now, the government’s definition of a supercomputer includes a PlayStation. We’ve moved so fast that we’ve outstripped the Establishment’s ability to keep up. We’ve got the US Patent Office allowing people to place absurd patents on things as nebulous as "an online database of customer comments" or other bizarre things.

Although many other people have let loose an onslaught of rhetoric regarding our possible future, I’ve been bored, and the only purpose of a personal website is to vent my own useless views on things, so here goes…

I’m listening to the KDGE live RealAudio feed while I’m online, or more accurately while I’m sitting at the computer, since I’m online literally 24/7.  Why am I not listening to a real radio?  Simple: I live in Nowhere, Texas, and there are no decent radio stations.  Sorry, West Texans, it’s true.  This place has 4 radio stations devoted to "best of 70s 80s and 90s", several Christian, Country, and Tejano stations, and not one Classical or Alternative (read NEW music) station to be found.  So, ten years ago when I was here for my early days in the Army, I just dealt with it by listening to CDs I’d brought with me.  Now, I can get those stations that I want, just by jumping on the computer.  In the short-term, people have more power, as broad-band connections grow in popularity, and folks start to use the unusual aspects of having that fat pipe in their homes.  But, I think that in the long-term, local stations may wither to vestigial organs of larger networks of music/talk/etc stations.  Look at what has happened with television as an example.  Do you really care if you’re watching KLST or KABC, or do you pretty much just look for NBC or some other network?  I’m guessing the latter, since the only things that local stations are putting out now are local news programs, where the anchors are just biding time until one of the networks picks them up for the big time.

I have a website (ok, actually several) and so does everyone else it seems.  I’ve even got my own domain name.  "So what?" you ask.  Well, many folks online discuss the promise of one-to-many publishing without the middle-man of a publisher or agent or anyone else.  Well, notice how many hits I’ve got on my main page?  If I were charging a nickel a hit I’d starve.  I don’t think that I’ll be publishing my novel online first, without an editor, publisher, publicist, and all that.  Why?  Well, although I’m a great believer in the Internet as an information resource, we have TOO MUCH STUFF online now.  When I got online, via Fidonet et al, there was a small amount of stuff online.  When the Internet became a household word in 1995, I was there.  I won a t-shirt and CD in a scavenger hunt online.  It used to be possible to know, if not all, most of the content on the Web.  But, with every Tom Dick and Gary having a website, we have information overload.  So, although publishers are, by all accounts, blood-sucking leeches on the backs of creative artistes, we need them or something like them to filter the crap from the possibly interesting.  Maybe, just maybe, in a few years or decades, we’ll have intelligent software that will do the same job, but personalized to each of us.  Don’t hold your breath.

That’s all I can coherently rant about today.  More soon.

Linux, networks, sound and Yahoo!


Yep, it’s been a while. Much has happened in Casa Social, yet very little of importance has changed. I’ve got Linux up, mostly, and playing with new things to break it. 🙂

First off, I’ve got the network and sound problems fixed. I downgraded my sound card to a SoundBlaster AWE-64 from the Live. Linux likes ISA more than PCI, apparently. The network card was replaced with a 3Com card, so Linux was happy with that as well. And, away I go, with Linux Mandrake 6.0, right? Sure, up to a point. I got these new parts from a second machine I bought. Now, I’ve got to configure a home network to test my patience. Always something, right?

At the risk of offending Linux-lovers, the network setup in Win98 for the two machines was less nerve-wracking. Sure, it required near-magic from me, when one machine decided to replace a Sharing DLL with a broken version, but I am more familiar in MS-land, so I found and fixed it. Linux’s networking setup is still mystifying me. Anyone with a love of Samba please take my hand and help me on this.

Since installing Mandrake 6.0 I’ve had the following interesting times: while adding new TrueType fonts (in a manner I thought was correct) I somehow killed the X Font Server, rendering the entire GUI inaccessible.

After re-installing from scratch again, I got the new TTF fonts installed, the network and sound set up, and I was able to print to the other machine, but no shares are established for normal file-sharing. After reading through my two books on Linux management, I gave up and just figured I’ll worry about it when I have more time. My primary error is the NMB not started error on bootup, if anyone has some help for me there.

In other news, Yahoo bought out GeoCities, rendering a once-fine establishment into a corporate mess. When I first started playing on the Web, lo these many years ago, Four11 and Geocities were cool new sites for finding each other and setting out the digital welcome mat. Now, Yahoo has bought both, and made changes for the worst in each.

Four11, for those not familiar, was a personal listing service, allowing people to register their email address for easy finding. This was before AOL got WWW access, so there was much less chaos. 🙂

Before Yahoo bought them, Four11 had a great capability to edit your own listings, to ensure they were up-to-date. Yahoo removed that capability for months, finally re-instating a weaker version of it, which still left too much inaccurate material in your profile. Great upgrade.

Geocities, before Yahoo bought them, had a contest every month that encouraged people to get traffic on their site. Every person that hit your site counted as one raffle ticket in a drawing for a free doodad at the end of the month, usually something like an iMac or some such. Since the buyout, Yahoo killed that as well, I guess since the US$1000/month must have been a drain on their multi-million dollar company.

Also before Yahoo bought Geocities, I could directly click to my counter manager, now I have to click at least twice, reloading what should be the correct page a couple times before it believes me. Whatever.

Further, I have been using Frontpage to update my website, and although not using the FP extensions (evil empire tools that they are), I liked the simple FTP-upload from within the program. Naturally, Yahoo found some way to break that as well. I can upload my pages to Xoom or other sites without a problem, but Geocities now gives me a cryptic 553 error. So, I’ve moved to my own domain, hosted on Freeservers.

A footnote: You’ll notice I don’t put any of those absurd little "dot com" things at the end of names. Amazon was Amazon for two years, and then it became Huh? It all seems a bit artificial, no? Now it’s trendy to have a dot com. Silly crap. Makes as much sense as the information superhighway nonsense that has abated, finally.

That is my screed for the week. Hope you have a great August. I’ve got some great hate-filled passages regarding trust and security in the intelligence field I may share soon…

Linux and Cable modems


So, I’ve got my Linux/Winblows dual-boot box up.  I’ve been playing in Linux, using the Mandrake distribution, and surfing along.  Then, what should happen but the local cable company tells me they’ll be glad to allow me to be a beta-tester of their new service.  Of course, this would be a no-cost setup, with 128kbps access for at least one month before they’ll charge me for it.  What geek would say no?  Not I, that’s for certain. 

So, I headed down and picked up my bag of goodies.  Remarkably, compared to horror stories I’ve heard about cable and DSL service, they set me up good.  I got a relatively well-written instruction packet, which was only a little inaccurate.  They gave me a 6-foot cable and a splitter for the wall, as well as a length of Cat-5 cable to connect to the ethernet card (which I hadn’t bought yet).  Of course, being a true geek, I knew that a splitter would introduce too much noise, so I just got my 20-foot cable out of my closet-o-junk and hooked up my magic black box (it really is black polycarb).  Now, living in the middle of nowhere as I’m forced to by the government, I had all of 3 stores to try for a network card.  Since I actually work during the day, some places are closed by the time a normal person can get to them (gotta love the South).  So, to the one place I knew was open late did I go, intending to buy an Intel EtherExpress card, since it is well-supported in all OS’s and is also thought to be a good card.  At the local store, I find exactly one PCI ethernet card.  Again, as a true geek, I will accept no ISA cards, in case I need more bandwidth someday.  The card, when I peered through the dirty glass case, was in the familiar blue-and-white box I’ve come to associate with Intel Ethernet cards, and so I plunked down my 40 bucks and left a happy camper.

Here’s where it goes awry.  The card was not, actually, an Intel card, but some Taiwanese knockoff named Addtron.  Surprisingly, the driver disk did include Linux drivers, although it was a peculiar exercise getting them installed.  So, now I had my super-fast connection in both Windows and Linux.  All is right with the world, one would think.  Naturally, I can’t leave my system alone for more than a few days.  After hooking up my second printer, I had run out of IRQs.  And, for some reason, my 6-year-old sound card was acting very oddly, and causing random machine lockups.  Since the company was bankrupt, I was unable to get further assistance or new drivers from them.  So, off to the store to buy a Soundblaster Live card.  Being on night shift this month, I got it set up and then left my machine in Windows, since most of my programs are still in that monstrosity.

I’m on vacation now, and felt the overwhelming need to destroy my machine with more crap.  So, noticing that Mandrake has a new CD, version 6, out, I had to try it.  Version 6 includes Linux kernel 2.2.9, instead of the 2.0.36 in the older version I had been using.  The 2.2.x kernels are supposed to be better, faster, and all that rot.  So, away I go, booting into Linux for the first time in a few weeks, and trying to set up my new OS.  Since nothing important had been left on Linux, I simply wiped it and started over, and then the trouble began.

My network card, which included Linux drivers, included them only for 2.0.x kernels, and they oh-so-thoughtfully rejected my plea for the source code so I could rebuild them.  For some reason known only to their upper management, they have a policy against releasing the source code for their drivers.  This makes absolutely no sense to me, since you must actually purchase one of their cards for the driver to be of any use anyway.  So, what would it possibly harm to let me see the source?

Next, I decided to set up my SBLive.  Here’s another pickle.  The SBLive includes, on their website, the drivers needed for Linux.  But (you knew there’d be one, eh?), the drivers are (naturally) only in binary, and will only install on 2.0.36 or 2.2.5, which is at least a month old.  In Linux-land, compiling for one specific patch level is absurd, but there you have it.  No response at all from Creative Labs, which isn’t surprising since they don’t actually have an email address listed on their website.  Now, how the hell is that a good idea?  Faxes are better than email to a technology company?

*SIGH*  So, now I’m off to re-install Linux Mandrake 5.3, with the 2.0.36 kernel.  But, yaknow, if I could get the network card to work, I’m not gonna sweat the soundcard too much.  Mandrake 6 includes a great Windowmanager built into the bootup, too.  Oh, well, it’s not easy being on the bleeding edge of technology.

Geeks are not Killers!


OK, so the whole damned country is going nuts about Littleton.  I don’t want to appear uncaring, but aren’t there larger tragedies that have gotten glossed over more quickly?  And, exactly why do all of the reporters have to mention the two psycho kids’ love of video games, as if that explains everything?  Now, of course, the clueless administrators of our screwed-up school system have gone on a witchhunt to root out any other weirdos that may be harboring homicidal tendencies.  Like, oh, pretty much anyone that I could stand from my high school.

I realize that people want to do something, but they can’t seem to understand that perhaps there is nothing they can do, nor was there anything most people could have done beforehand.  Obviously, there were all kinds of hints that these two kids needed assistance, not the least of which was the bomb-making factory in the garage.  Can you say, “What parents?”

Let me be a voice of common sense and reason in these troubled times.   My friends and I put together an amazingly cynical “underground” newsletter in high school, and very few of us ended up murdering our friends.  I owned a trench coat, I like to wear black (very slimming), and I listen to pretty obnoxious music (at least that’s what some people claim).  So, am I going to go crazy?  Did I murder a bajillion people and leave their bodies to rot in my basement?  Guess not.  So, maybe not everyone who is not a mainstream dork is homicidal.  If you actually look at the real stats, the level of teenage violent crime/murder is actually at a low point.  And, most people find violent games to be cathartic, not training aids. Ever felt like running over that pedestrian that jaywalked in front of you? Go play Carmageddon.  Wish you could design a town, to prove you’re smarter than the town elders?  SimCity.   Ever want to shoot down an airliner? Play any of a jillion flight simulators.   After being in the Army for ten years, and playing a lot of games like Quake and Duke Nukem, etc, my aim has still not improved on the firing range, nor do I have any desire at all to own a firearm.  Do I like blowing up aliens and evil zombies?  Sure.  Do I know the difference between reality and a game?  DUH.

Remember a few years ago when some kids burned their house down and the parents blamed Beavis and Butthead?  If your kids are able to get to matches while still not understanding that poorly drawn cartoons are NOT role models, perhaps the fault lies closer to home.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Linux Redux


Continuing my adventures with Linux…

Well, I went ahead and bought a new video card to fix the video problems in Linux.  Since I hadn’t actually installed anything special in Linux, I wiped it and started over.  I added another 6.4 gig hard drive to my Frankenstein machine while I was at it.

So, I installed the 16meg Riva TNT card (only 78 bucks!), the new HD, partitioned, copied, etc.  This time, when I popped in the Linux CD, everything went smoothly.  Knowing I had to reboot a couple times to get the sound to work helped my headaches stay minimized.  Now, after about a week or so running this dual-boot configuration, I’ve installed StarOffice for Linux, and set up a few other things.  I’m reading Running Linux and attempting to muddle through.  My experience with Unix in Korea helps, but only a little.  🙂

I have about 3 gigs devoted to Linux now, and I’ve got Bootmagic set up to dual boot into either Linux or Win98.  While I was updating things, I set up IE 5.0 on the Win98 side, and I can’t tell much difference from IE 4, except I can actually read stuff in the status bar again.  They made it back to a normal size, instead of giving 3/4 of the space on the status bar to "Internet Zone" information.

Now, I plan to recompile the kernel, play with Afterstep instead of KDE for a while, and otherwise see if I can completely destroy the little free time that I have.




Although I have tried Linux before, it seems to be the month of the Open Source, so I gave it another try recently.  WOW!  What a difference a year makes.  The installation I tried was a CD I burned myself (love those toys) of Linux-Mandrake.   Mandrake is really nothing more than Red Hat 5.2 with the K Desktop Environment thrown into the install program.

So, here’s my experience and impressions so far.  I downloaded the full ISO image of the CD (45 hours, don’t try this without some industrial strength download-resumption software).  Then, after I burned it onto a blank CDR, I ran Partition Magic to clear up some extra partitions.   I created a Linux Ext2 partition (500 megs) and a Linux Swap partition (80 megs).   Prepared, with all my most important data files backed up to a CDRW disk (toys, toys, toys!), I plunged into the install routine with hope and more than a bit of dread.   About 10 months ago, I tried something very similar with Debian (an older version to be fair) and ended up spending much time rebuilding my trashed partition tables and FATs.  This time, though, was very different.

After the CD booted (love those bootable CD’s), it started the Linux-Mandrake-Redhat install routine.  I stepped through the easy-to-follow (for a geek) setup and had myself a working Linux box in no time, with a dual-boot configuration to Win98 (scourge of evil but a necessary evil), and even had KDE running in a crappy 256-color mode.  My modem wasn’t recognized, and my printer would not print.  My sound card made one squawk and stopped.  ARGH!  After many trips to the HOWTO files from the CD, I got everything working, with the exception of my video.  I can SEE everything, but I can’t convince the X server that my video is capable of more than 8-bit color (currently using 16-bit in Win98, with on-the-fly to 24-bit).  And, more maddening, the video gives me little drop-out lines.  Totally undocumented by any other victim/user of Linux that I’ve been able to find with WebFerret, Slashdot, UGeek, or 32bitsOnline.   But, I have an old crappy video card, and that Riva TNT looks awfully nice, especially at $89…

More to follow.

Bad Christians?


Someone complained to me recently about an erstwhile friend who was acting like a self-centered jackass.  In the course of the discussion, the friend was described as "not a very good Christian."  It seemed to me that she wouldn’t have been a very good Buddhist or Taoist, either!

Do Christians have the market on "goodness?"  What one group needs that kind of pressure, to be the world’s goodness guardians?  And, what of everyone else?   Not withstanding your religious beliefs, most of the world is not Christian, and so are they all bad?  To characterize someone as a less-than-perfect Christian is less descriptive than to say "not a very good/nice person," which is what you generally mean to say anyway.  I can only assume that, as a species, we’re more comfortable judging the quality of another’s Christianity, and not the quality of their humanity.

Of course, I could be wrong.  🙂

Near-TV Quality


Why is there a trend toward "convergence" for consumer goods that work just fine the way they are?  Some company (I forget who, ok!) recently announced a java-enabled web-browser/refrigerator!  Who needs the aggravation of rebooting the icemaker?  Is there some overwhelming need to run HTML on everything?   It seems these visionaries probably use Linux or Solaris, and so can’t fathom the problems they’ll encounter on their Windows CE-based information appliances.  BTW, does it seem just too perfect that Microsoft’s latest OS can be abbreviated as Wince?

Another example of convergence gone awry, that I found in my news today…

Snap, the Internet service of NBC and C/Net, will make use of new phone and cable technologies to offer subscribers high-speed delivery of near-TV-quality audio and video over the Internet. The company’s chief executive says, "One reason the Web took off is because people made it easier to find print-based information. We’ll make it easier to find audio and video." Code-named "Cyclone," the new service will also be offered in customized versions by Bell Atlantic, SBC and GTE. (USA Today 19 Jan 99)

Now, can’t we already get ACTUAL-TV-Quality without any kind of download delays, on something I like to call the multimedia appliance of the last generation? I think we all have at least one. And, to archive this high-quality audio and video, we have several media, including a cheap tape-streaming device I’ll refer to as the VCR… I really don’t get it. Does somebody want to get crappy audio and video on a 17-inch or smaller screen, when they can watch on a couch their 30-inch screen with better quality etc.? If I haven’t made my point, check this out:

Holiday Introspection


Thanksgiving has come and gone, and with it the beginning of the "holiday season" in the States.  Of course, this means that it is also the traditional first day of excessive introspection and a review of the previous years of your life, pointing out to yourself what you’ve done wrong.

Why do we, as a general rule, get blotto before we feel comfortable expressing ourselves?  Is this a distinctly Western thing, or is it a universal human trait?   Ah, well…

So, if I had to do everything over again, I’d maybe have grabbed a little tighter to a few prizes that seemed too hard to handle then.  I perhaps may have changed a few things about interpersonal relationships, etc.  But, overall, I’m not starving or in pain, so I guess I’m ok.  How about you?

I Can’t Drive in Texas!


OK, so why is it, ever since I came back from Korea last year, I’ve noticed a disturbing lack of driver manners in this country?  I’ve driven in half the states from Ohio to California, and I’m getting really steamed at the dearth of CLUES in drivers’ minds in the States.  It seems that turn signals are completely optional today, and the drivers in L.A., once aggressively laid back, are now just as uptight as those psychos in Boston.

I realize that your destination is emminently important to you, but try to understand that we all have places to get to, and yours is no more crucial to the existence of the universe than anyone else’s.  If you really needed to get there earlier, you damn sure could have left your house earlier!

Basically, it seems the same rule has come into effect on American roads as the Koreans have been using for years: "I have the right of way."  No matter who you are, be it jaywalking pedestrian, suicidal bicyclist, or psychotic trucker, you have the right of way.  So, enjoy, and try not to kill too many other motorists.

What the Heck! It’s Free!


I’ve rarely found something online that actually lives up to its promises, but here’s one: NetZero.  These guys, who are apparently a subdivision of GTENet, allow you to connect to the Net for free.  Now, I know, nothing’s truly free, right?  So, they have to slap an ad on your screen.  But, with a 17-inch monitor or better, you can pretty easily ignore the little bugger.  If you spend your time like most people, actively doing stuff, then it’s perfect.   Unfortunately, I tend to start lengthy downloads and run off to another room.   So, when it times out on me, I’m stuck with 1/3 of a 5 meg file.  But, I’m not normal, and most folks would probably do great with it.

On the further riff of cool free stuff online, if you want a free email provider that actually let’s you check your mail with POP, instead of just the HTML interface, try out NetAddress.  You can use filters, and collect mail from other accounts, as well as check it on the web or via a normal email program like Eudora or Pegasus.  If you don’t understand anything in this paragraph, move on.   🙂

There’s a plethora of free web services around, and I (obviously) am liking Geocities quite a bit.  The little watermark is a small price to pay for 11 megs of free space.   But, if you need even more web space, and still are too cheap to pay for it, there’s a company offering 50 megs of space, plus an email account, for nada.  So, go check out EasySpace, and see if they fit your needs.  They’re British, so try not to get thrown by those Pound symbols, eh? Addendum:  Easyspace is a little too flaky for me, so I’m back with Geocities…

Well, if NetZero catches on, we could end up with an enormous shift in standards on the Net.  Whatever will we do with our extra money?  Hmmm, there’s that 8x CDRW drive…

Email Idiots


Since I got off on a bit of a rant in my last missive, let me continue in a similar vein.

If you use email or ICQ, use common sense too!  If you don’t
understand how email gets from point-to-point, look it up.  As soon as you understand the current Internet system, you will know that the Bill Gates/Walt Disney emails, purporting to track your email and give you prizes, are completely impossible.   For an in-depth look at these and other common chain letters, go to this wonderful site, Diamond Back’s email Hoax Page.   If that is too much trouble, just take this piece of advice:  Don’t circulate anything that tells you to forward it to everybody you know.  If you really feel that the little boy with liver disease is so poignant you can’t help yourself, STOP.   Then, look up the information on your own, to make sure that the little boy exists, that he wants to be bombarded with postcards or whatever, etc.  I’m betting that nearly every one of these pleas for your compassion are hoaxes.

Now, what, praytell, could be the motivation behind all these email hoaxes?  A perverse sense of power, I suppose.  They are starting to clog up the Net’s mail routers, but not nearly so much as spam.  So, basically, the only thing the email forwardings do is to annoy people and fill their email boxes with junk mail.   If you are connecting on an hourly pay plan, this could begin to add up very quickly, especially since so few people seem to realize they can read their mail without actually being connected to the internet.  But, that’s something for you to figure out on your own.

Rude online Bastards


I have been online for an amazingly long time, compared to most people I know.  A friend recently asked if I’d ever met someone in person that I’d originally met online, and I replied, "Not in about 12 years."  When I first started using a modem to contact strangers, it was a 300 baud modem (when baud still meant bps – techie joke).  That computer was a Commodore 64, and it was new, so that tells you the approximate longevity of my habit cum obsession.   Regardless of how long I’ve been online, I’ve always tended toward the "community" aspect of the BBS’s and later the Internet.  It seems that all too many people are more concerned with being jerks than being welcoming.

A prime example is on the alt.whatever series of newsgroups.  Certainly, those of us who may on occasion flirt with some questionable aspects of life do so out of a curiousity and an utter amazement at the things we can do on a computer.  When I entered the BBS world, lo these many years ago, if I were to make a faux pas in my postings, there would be fifteen people gently reminding me in a private message of the proprieties of that particular pseudo-community.  Of course, even then, you could always count on the 2 or 3 screaming fools that would attack the slightest breach in etiquette, or what they perceived as a breach, anyway.

The way this antisocial behavior was always discouraged on BBS’s was simple: banning.   Since BBS’s were run by an individual on his/her home computer, they were the masters of their domains and could easily control the riffs and the raffs that infest our daily world.  Alas, the same is not true today on Usenet.  Since there is nobody truly in charge of any particular non-moderated group in the Usenet hierarchy, the jerks and psychos have gained the upper hand.  I long for the days that we could assume everyone was at least halfway intelligent and sane, just to have been able to figure out the computer and online systems enough to communicate.  So, I guess, I blame this downfall of good manners online on Steve Case.  If AOL weren’t so damned easy to use, we would have much fewer idiots online.