August 28, 2003

Low down O/S blues

Well, I guess some things are simply not meant to be. I bought a book with the Publisher's Edition of Red Hat Linux 9.0, went through all the preparation steps, and installed Linux. Everything seemed to go fine, until the installer started installing packages to my hard drive. Suddenly, I was faced with "This version of Red Hat Linux is not compatible with your system" and then the installer exited. Thinking that maybe my 2.1 Gigabytes of free space was too small, I ran the installer again and this time let Red Hat have the entire 4 Gigabyte hard drive. No go. Same error message, same unexpected end to a flawless installation procedure.

On the plus side, by following the instructions in the book to the letter and reading the installation README files and other documentation, everything right up to the last moment went flawlessly. Because I attempted to let Red Hat have the entire disk, I was left with an empty hard drive, but fortunately I had backed up all my critical data files, so I didn't lose anything important. Also, the Hewlett Packard O/S recovery disks are the simplest things in the world to use. Basically, you drop the disk in the drive fire up the computer and answer "yes" a few times. It completely erases anything currently existing, of course, but since there was nothing on the hard disk this was not a problem.

So now I'm back to sloughing my way through Windows' merciless dialog boxes within dialog boxes in order to accomplish the simplest tasks. I was really looking forward to finally being able to jump from virtual console to virtual console firing off obscure acronyms from the command line whenever I needed to get something done. Theoretically I could do something similar by opening a DOS window, but the modern DOS commands are not documented at all, so there is no way to find out which commands still work and which ones have vanished into the mists of O/S obsolesence. I could attempt some trial and error, but I've fogotten half the commands I used to use instinctively. I did discover they still have the DOS text editor "Edit", which is a far better tool than the "vim" text editor that comes with Linux. "Edit" lacks the power and flexibility of "Emacs" and it's built-in LISP programming language, but everything in life is a trade off.

All is not lost, however. I installed the Java 2 SDK, and I am looking forward to spending the next few months studying Java while I save up my nickels and dimes until I have enough to either buy a computer that comes with Linux pre-installed, or buy one that is certain to be Linux compatible. I have also installed Quincy 99, a C++ IDE based on the Intel compatible version of the GNU Gcc compiler, so if I get bored with Java I can study C++ and have two programming languages under my belt when I finally get a chance to work with Linux.

I know, I seem a bit obssessed. I guess I am. Perhaps a little history is in order.

My first computer was an 80286 with an EGA monitor and a whopping 20 megabyte hard disk. It came with DOS 3.0 and I quickly learned to love it! Then, just when I finally got comfortable with DOS and installed my very first C compiler, my world turned upside down. Next thing I know I'm staring at a screen full of blue windows every time I try to do something more difficult than save a file. Under Windows 3.1 I discovered that half the commands I'd been using every day no longer functioned reliably. My C compiler refused to compile, my lovely batch files that greeted me and responded to my every whim no longer worked at all, and on top of everything else, SimLife refused to run. My second computer was a 486DX2-66 and I hated it!

It's been all downhill ever since. When I first heard about Linux in 1990 or so I felt saved, but Linux did not support my hardware. Worst of all, the installation routines of the day were cryptic and for my limited intellect, completely undecipherable. Red Hat Linux 7.3 finally started looking like something I could at least install, but at the time my hardware was inadequate. Finally, just this past summer, it appeared my hardware capacity and Red Hat's new installation package has reached a point of new-age equinamity. Alas, it was close but not close enough.

Still, things are finally at the point where I might one day realistically have the opportunity to return to my first love: command lines and batch files. I am completely sold on the philosophy of Open Source software and I long for the day when I can upload my very own software creations for the world's perusal. No, they will not be great nor will they be memorable, but that's okay; they will be the best I can build, and that's got to count for something.

August 22, 2003

One more reason to break the trend

First read this:
Microsoft Weighs Automatic Updates

Now I am no conspiracy theorist, but it seems to me that this takes us one step closer to Big Brother. Granted, the conditions are extreme, however, I cannot help but wonder who has the time, resources, and experience to create the kind of successful viruses we have seen since the beginning of the year. Whoever is responsible for SoBig.F, Blaster, and so on, must be intimately familiar with Microsoft products, and especially with those product's powerful undocumented features. I can only think of one organization that harbors people with that kind of knowledge and experience, and it certainly isn't King Mongkut's School of Technology.

A friend once sent me a joke about exposing a Windows CD to flame and reading the words:
One O/S to rule them all, One O/S to find them, One O/S to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Suddenly it's not so funny.

Penguins, Lawyers, and the Future of Computing

It all started in the mid-eighties. Computers leapt from cute gadgets that did nothing to the heart of home entertainment, education, and mortgage management. In the midst of the upheaval, a graduate student in Finland wondered why multitasking processors were still burdened with a single tasking operating system and decided to do something about it. In the frigid north a Penguin came forth and set out to conquer the world. Linux was born.

Now, a lifetime later, Linux is a major operating system capable of being used on everything from portable phones to supercomputers. Desktops and laptops are both available with Linux pre-installed and ready to run. Corporations like Sun and IBM depend on it both to run their own systems and to keep their customer's systems running smoothly. Not bad for a "free" operating system anyone can have by purchasing a $20 book with a couple CDs glued in the back. My own search for freedom from the domination of all things Microsoft began here: Linux Game Development.

Sadly, the site has not been updated in a year. More ominous yet, a retailer of Linux games, LokiSoft, appears to have gone out of business a couple years ago. The downside of "free" is that no one makes any money, and without money, no one stays in business.

So what brings my meandering mind into this neighborhood on this sunny summer day? This: The Penguin's Progress.

One pro-Linux solutions provider decided that the only way they could survive would be to assert the kind of control over Linux that Microsoft has asserted over Windows. In order to bring this "free" operating system under their control, they acquired all the patents connected with Unix, which Linux is very loosely based on, and for their first legal action took on the biggest player in the Linux world: they sued IBM.

Humor is always the forte of the scorned, and one Linux supporter has "waxed Shakespearean" in a most literary account of the recent "mud"slinging: Blind, Furry, and Signifying Nothing.

Insane fool that I am, I figure there is only one way to resolve this crisis in the computer world. Yesterday I ordered half a dozen books about Linux, two of which include Red Hat 9. By the end of the month I will be running Linux on my clunky HP Pavillion, by the end of the year I will have a brand-new Linux-based Sony Vaio from Emperor Linux. There is nothing I love more than an underdog with nothing to lose and everything to gain. IBM is certain to defeat SCO in their ill-conceived attempt to dominate the free world. Linux will never be as popular or as easy to use as Windows, which makes it the perfect operating system for crazy non-conformists like myself.

The only way to be free is to break the chains that bind you. The only way to break the chains of social conformity is to be lunatic enough to dream of being different.

Open Source world here I come!

Something tells me no one will notice.

August 10, 2003

Where do we go from here?

Reality confuses me. I guess I am just not smart enough for the modern world. Right now I am watching an NHK special featuring colorized film footage from WWII. I'm not paying close enough attention to understand the narration, but the footage itself is dramatic in ways that defy description. I wish they would broadcast this kind of thing during the day instead of daylight television's endless cooking programs or hour after hour of middle-aged actors in failing careers wandering from train station to train station looking for unique restaurants and businesses.

On the other hand, there are no more late night sex shows. Once upon a time in Japan, after 11:00 at night half the local channels offered reviews of adult films, talk shows with half-naked women decorating the background, or even "interviews" with topless dancers, porn stars, and "soapland" girls proudly displaying their finest wares while they discussed the habits of their patrons. More often than not the shows were silly rather than sexy, but at least they were a change from endless shows recounting the virtues of ramen.

What confuses me is not that these shows once existed, but that they have vanished. I enjoyed the late night shows. Sometimes they were arousing, but mostly the silliness of it all made sex seem like a nice, harmless pastime for consenting adults. The lack of these shows, and their replacement with golf lessons, extra news broadcasts, and gossip programs, puts sex into the kind of "dirty little secret" closet that American media works so hard to keep it in.

At the same time, cable companies in Japan have introduced three different adult channels. One of these specializes in rape videos, extreme s/m videos, and bondage flicks that often end in gang rape. This is beginning to look like popularization of the worst forms of pornography. By saying "worst", of course, I'm offering a moral judgement that many people will disagree with. This also confuses me. Where is the entertainment value in watching a young woman be brutalized? Why do people find rape and extreme s/m an appealing fantasy? I can understand sexual fantasy, naturally. I have a few of my own favorite fantasies, and I have seen a number of erotic and pornographic movies that were entertaining, arousing, and featured consenting adults enjoying sex together. I am not opposed to pornography simply because it features people having sex. As a matter of fact, if you're not in the mood to watch it, pornography gets very boring very quickly. I do not, however, support the dehumanization of female performers simply because they're female.

So where do I draw the line? I personally draw it at anything which features one person humiliating another. Our modern world has mostly abandoned slavery and blood-bound class societies because these forms of social organization did more harm than good. Nonetheless, attitudes of elistism run through every aspect of our modern world. The simultaneous abandonment of soft pornography on late-night Japanese television with the popularization of a cable channel devoted to rape (not to mention the increasing frequency of date rape) tells me that elitism is rearing its ugly head once again. Sweeping sex under the carpet won't make it go away, it will only encourage the idea that sex is something dirty, and once that assumption has been made, then sex becomes another valid avenue for the dehumanization of one group of people by another.

Encouraging soft porn might raise eyebrows and cause some people to turn away in disgust, but if sex cannot be discussed freely and openly, then we pave the way for something far worse: self-righteous intolerance.

Oh, and one last note. I do not think opening our world to soft pornography automatically removes romance. Quite the contrary. A good erotic program will find ways to appeal to both men and women.

August 03, 2003

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum

For once the critics were right. "Pirates of the Carribbean" is a rolicking good jaunt through the Carribbean with a ghost ship manned by an undead crew, a stone crypt of cursed gold, the most entertaining pirate captain since "Cutthroat Island", and enough special effects to thrill the most jaded audience. Scenes and characters from the Disney ride are recreated with eerie authenticity, to the point that future historians may well find themselves arguing over which came first.

If you can only make it to one movie this summer, see Pirates.