Thursday, November 22, 2007

Chage of Course in Life

I have not written anything on this blog since July. It's not that I did not want to, it's that I have not had time. See, in July, I got a letter of acceptance from the University of Kansas (Go Jayhawks!) to join their Molecular Biology PhD. program. I will hopefully have my PhD in 5 or 6 years.... and I could not turn down the opportunity. However, this 180 degree turn in my life has also meant quitting my job (best decision ever, and best feeling ever when I told my boss that I was quitting because I was getting my PhD.), moving to Kansas City, and starting school. Unlike a job, where you work 9am to 5pm and then leave your work in the office, I cannot do that anymore. Unlike in undergrad, school is no longer only attending classes. I wake up at 5am, go to class, I teach three undergrad lab sections, and I work in a lab doing my research. The little free time I have in between those I have to attend meetings and departmental seminars. I get home at 6 or 7pm, and I have to study. I have not been able to update this blog because I do not have a life outside school anymore.... and I love it. Going back to school was the best decision I could have ever made. I am being challenged intellectually every single day, and I missed that at work.
So I am going to change the direction of this blog. Even though I don't manage a network anymore, I still toy around with my computers, but just for fun, not professionally anymore. So trust me, I will still talk tech, I like computers way too much. What I mean is that I am going to start talking more about science, about critical thinking (the title of the blog IS ThinkThick, isn't it?), about common sense, that seems to be less common lately. I cannot promise that I will write every week, like I used to, I can't but at least I will try to be more consistent than I have been for the last 5 months....

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Car Show

I went to Lions' Club Car Show today... Pretty cool - here are some of the pictures that I took.

Lions Club Car Show

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Why Most Businesses Still Use Windows.

On paper, Linux seems to be the ideal workstation operating system for the corporate environment: highly configurable, free, secure, easily deployed in a network, extremely stable.... So why are medium and small businesses, the backbone of the US economy, not switching over to Linux?

I have my own theories, working as an IT manager for a small company myself.

The points I make below are just my opinion, but I do not think I am very far off from what small and medium business owners are thinking.

1. Windows has been the standard for a while.
The standard in business is still Windows. Staying with the proven standard is safe. Risks can break companies and as many owners of small companies will tell you, "if it isn't broken, don't touch it"

2. Microsoft Office.
Microsoft Office is the standard for office suites. Unfortunately, Microsoft does not make Office for Linux. Open Office et al. are good for the basics, but not good enough. Yes, you can virtualize, and yes, you can run thin clients, but it is not the same as running natively (and you still need at least 1 copy of Windows running on the network). Plus virtualization or thin clients require an additional layer of software IT has to deal with.

3. Apparent steep learning curve to switch to Linux.
As easy as Linux windows environments have become, they are still different that Windows. Switching to a different environment, however user friendly the new environment may be, still involves a learning curve. Learning curves involve less productivity for a period of time. You do the math.

4. Starting from scratch effect.
It is very difficult for companies, especially smaller companies with fewer resources, to start from scratch. Starting from scratch implies time spent offline, and offline time is never good. Yes, the IT department can set up workstation and server virtualization for testing, and deploy workstations via clone images, and reduce offline time to a minimum, but try convincing the owner you are sure that will be no glitches during the switch. Again, their "If it isn't broken..." mantra applies.

5. Commercial software.
Small companies depend on commercial software. Chances are, the commercial software they use, call it Adobe Acrobat, or AutoCAD for example, will not run on Linux, even using wine to port. IBM, an adamant defender of Linux did not port Lotus Notes onto Linux until last year.
On the other side of the spectrum you have companies that have customized software that has not been/cannot be ported to Linux. Case example the company I work for. We use a customized version of Think3's ThinkDesign CAD program. We've invested a lot of money on this program, but we cannot port the program to Linux. In this case, it is impossible for us to deploy Linux, at least for the department that utilizes ThinkDesign.

6. External (liable) support for software.
Again the software issue. Yes, I know there are very good Linux native counterparts to Windows only software. however, a lot of them do not come with paid 24/7 support. Payed support is like a safety net for companies. If the IT department cannot fix a problem, they can always call the software manufacturer, who the company pays to FIX (written in capital letters) the software. The software manufacturer is then liable if it cannot fix the issue and causes data loss/down time to the company. Although very helpful, Forums are not equal to payed support.

7. Ignorance. This one is self explanatory. Linux is still unknown, uncharted territory if you may, and businesses tend to be very conservative.

8. Chain reaction.
"Our customers use Windows, so we HAVE to use Windows". I like to call this a the "chain reaction effect". Information might be "lost in translation" of we do not run the same systems that our customers or our suppliers use. If our big customers switched to Linux, we'd switch to Linux.
Again the standards problem.

9. Higher cost of IT
Windows networks administrators are very easy to come by. Kick a rock and you'll find 500 underneath. Linux network administrators are harder to come by, and more expensive. Owners do not like more expensive.

10. Security.
Expensive commercial antivirus give business owners a sense of security. Owners still want the perceived safety of an expensive antivirus, even on Linux.... so owners reason that "why go through the effort of switching to Linux if Windows with an antivirus is equally safe?".

Like I said at the beginning, these are just some theories, from personal experience, and thus they need not apply to all businesses.

Again from personal experience, I am also going to guess that because employees are used to working with Windows at work, and get all of their training on Windows, they are more comfortable using Windows at home, and will have a preference towards Windows over other operating systems.

My Thoughts After Feeling the Digg Effect

My last post caused quite a stir yesterday. I am not used to causing such an upheaval, it was fun. I have to admit that I secretly hoped that would happen, on a smaller scale, for the sake of discussion.
The post was originally intended for people who had heard about Linux as being the better OS (which I personally think it is), and are not necessarily as computer literate as most of the people that read the post are. As a network (Windows) administrator myself, I like to think as the least common denominator. It might offend some people, but you'd be surprised at how many people do not know how to "copy and paste". I've seen it happen several times where individuals were told by Linux fans how great Linux was, installed a distro (usually Ubuntu) on their computer, and found that either some of their hardware stopped working, they expected a beryl/compiz desktop that wasn't there, or were not aware that their windows software would not work in Linux, even with wine, because they hadn't been told. Yes, I know that there is great support for Linux on the Internet, but you'd be surprised at how many people do not know how to look for it. Also, a lot of people are used to taking their computers to get repaired/fixed when there is a problem and lo and behold, a lot of computer repair shops do not know anything about Linux.

One thing I noticed and no one pointed out is that I had "BSD" mistyped as "BDS" (I was horrified and fixed the typo). Where are the BSD fans out there?

Another point, and this I kind of did it on purpose, is I purposefully used "Linux" instead of "GNU/Linux" (the correct name for the operating system) to see what would happen. I was surprised that no one from the Free Software Foundation pointed that out.

I was pleased to see that there were very little if any "Fuck you Windows is the best"/'Well fuck you more, Windows sucks" comment threads. Most comments were very constructive.

I might stir shit up some more posting on the advantages of Windows over Linux...

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Confessions of a Linux Fan: 10 Things You Might Want To Know Before Switching Over To Linux

Linux fans (myself included) love to argue to Windows users how much better the Linuxes are than Microsoft Windows. Now don't get me wrong, I am not posting this to disprove that Linuxes, BSD's, or any of the *nixes are better than Windows, they really are. However (and there's always a however) we tend to be very selective on what we tell you when it comes to the minor details. Take this as a confession, as an admission of those details you might not necessarily like about Linux.

1. The basic installation of most mainstream Linux distributions is very easy, but a first time user might run into trouble when trying to depart from the defaults.

Some Linux distributions have Live Cd's, others have very user-friendly GUIs. However you might find that sometimes the Live CD installer, or the pretty GUI does not work because the installer does not have the right graphics drivers. In that case, you either need to find an alternate installation CD, or change the options at the boot screen. We don't tell you that this might happen because 90% of the time, the installer will work fine out of the box.

2. If you want a proper Linux installation, you are going to have to mess around with the partition table.

I see a partition table, and I know how to read it, for a new user, it might as well be written in [name exotic language of your choice here]. Yes, there are tutorials out there, but if you miss a step, for example forget to flag the /boot partition for booting, you might find yourself with a Linux install that does not want to boot up. We forget to tell you this because most installers either create a partition table for you, or just install everything into one partition, and Linux will still work either way, and chances are you will not be able to tell the difference.

3. You will have to learn how to use the command line.

Regardless of how GUIfied Linuxes have become, a lot of operations still require the command line, so you better be ready to learn how to use it. Besides, in the strange occurrence of a system crash, chances are it will revert to a stable command line interface. We don't tell you this because we, hardcore Linux users, *love* the command line, and the power of the command line is one of the major appeals of Linux. We truly believe everyone should love the command line as much as we do.

4. All those pretty effects of wobbly windows and cube desktops require some work from the user.

In most distributions, you will need to install Beryl/Compiz/Compiz Fusion in order to get those effects. Ubuntu Feisty comes with a slightly-watered-down version of Compiz, with wobbly windows, transparencies and a cubed desktop. For burning window plugins, active corners, etc, you will need to install Bery/Compiz Fusion... which will require some command line and some configuration. I believe the next version of Ubuntu (Gutsy Gibbon) will indeed come with Comiz-Fusion.

5. Yes, more hardware works with Linux than with Windows. No, not all hardware works 100% like it's supposed to.

This is specially true with some mainstream peripheral manufacturers. They have the bizarre notion that Linux users do not need/use peripherals so they do not publish drivers for Linux. Luckily we have a huge base of very capable programmers that are willing to reverse engineer drivers to make the peripherals work with Linux. Unfortunately, because they are not the manufacturer's drivers, the hardware might not work 100% as intended all the time. Infamous for this is Logitech, to name one.

6. If you need/want to install a package not included in the repositories, or install from source, you might need to do some research.

Because Linux is very modular, not all dependencies and libraries are installed by default. If you install an application from the repositories, the install application will automatically figure out the dependencies that need to be met. If you are installing an individual package, or from source, you might need to do some research or read installation instructions and READMEs and install the required dependencies prior to installing the application.
7. Most mainstream software manufacturers forget about Linux.

You will not find Photoshop for Linux, you will not find Microsoft Office for Linux, you will not find iTunes for Linux. This is especially true for the gaming industry, which has completely overpassed Linux. This is a blessing in disguise however. Once again, Linux developers/knights in shining armor have developed native programs, most of them open source and free (as in beer and free as in speech), to substitute their commercial cousins. Once again, some are better, some offer the same functionalities, and others are just mediocre. Luckily, we also have Wine, and its commercial cousins, Cedega and Crossover Office, which offer a port to a lot of Windows programs. This solution, however, will require in most instances, some work (read command line) from the user.

8. Linux is not for the meek of heart.

Linux is about being free; about having options. There are literally thousands of options for every single aspect of Linux, beginning with your distribution of choice. When you've picked out a distribution, you will want to choose window manager (Gnome, KDE, XFCE, Fluxbox....). Once you have that, you will want to customize your desktop theme: wallpaper, icons, window border shape, color and size, panels, launchers.... Last but not least, you will have tons of options for every program (for internet browsing for example, you might want Firefox, or SwiftFox, or Opera, or Konqueror, or even have command line/text based web browsers). Basically, if you are an undecided person, you will be overwhelmed with choices.
9. Linux is almost entirely virus/trojan/spyware free, but you will still need some kind of protection.

Protection for Linux usually means a firewall, either installed in your computer, or in a router/hardware firewall. This, of course, implies a little bit more work for the user.

10. Linux assumes that you are an intelligent person.

As such, it assumes that if you log in as administrator, you know what you are doing. You can do a lot of damage as administrator. You can literally screw the whole darn system with a single mistyped command on the command line. Luckily, for the most part, you will be logged in as a lowly user.
Assuming that you are intelligent also implies that you can customize everything, and if you break something while customizing the system to your needs, you will know how to fix it, or be willing to work hard and learn how to fix it.

As a final thought, i guess what we, the Linux fans, do not tell you is that for the most part "Linux is for power users, and Windows is for n00bs" (I've seen this posted somewhere). So think about what I've posted, and if you are not willing to "geek" around a little, Linux is not for you.

WTF? Creationist Silliness Brought To a New Level

I am not even going to comment on these videos. Creationists are desperate to come up with something that will disprove evolution, and they use their stupid pseudo-science logic crap as ULTIMATE EVIDENCE THAT EVOLUTION IS A FRAUD. Give me a break....

Do I see Kirk Cameron laughing at this guy?

OBVIOUSLY... That a fucking ant doesn't pop out of my peanut butter every time I open a jar disproves evolution WITHOUT A SHADOW OF A DOUBT.

All I have to say is:

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Improve your iPod Experience with RockBox

If like me, you have an older generation iPod (I am the proud owner of a 2 year old 4 Gb iPod Mini), by now you are probably bored with the bland and boring minimalistic approach of Apple iPod software. Or maybe you are just tired of being tied down to iTunes. In any case, I found myself using my iPod less and less. I stopped using it for months at a time and did not really miss it.

Then one day I came across an blog post about this mp3 player firmware replacement called RockBox. I thought to myself "What the hell, I already have an old iPod that I do not use anyways... it might just be cool to try this out...."

The installation was very simple (you just download a boot loader and the compressed RockBox software, copy the .rockbox directory in your ipod, and run the bootloader), it takes about 10 seconds (if that), and if you don't like it, you can go back to Apple software by clicking and holding the "Menu" and "Select" buttons for a few seconds (the screen will blink, apple logo pops up, and BAM! you have Steve Jobs running your iPod once again).

Honestly, RockBox is the best thing that ever happened to my iPodding experience. Not only does this open source firmware add a gazillion new functions to my old iPod, it's also made using it fun again. I have to admit that I am a Linux fan. I love the beauty of the Linuxes' structured chaos. RockBox brings the familiarity of this chaos that I like to call freedom to my iPod experience. The best part: I am no longer tied to iTunes. I can just drag and drop songs and podcasts into my iPod and RockBox is in charge of organizing them. I also have more control over my audio experience. Not only do I have the equalizer that my Apple-firmware iPod never had, I have options I'd never heard of, like stereo width... (what the hell is stereo width??). It also shows the volume level in decibels, which is kind of nice.

Since RockBox is a fully customizable firmware, it could not not exist without its pluggins. And there are plugging for everything. I have pong, I have an oscilloscope,
I can even play Doom! To be honest, some of the pluggins are very useless, like the "fire" plugging that pops a flame on your screen, but you do have the ability to remove them if you don't like them... so it would not be fair if I'd complain about them.

There are a few things I you do have to get used to though. First, there are no "stable" releases of RockBox. You can download a different (sometimes improved) version of the firmware daily. This means that some things that worked in one version break in the next. I have to admit that I've experienced very few bugs though, none that would undermine my good experience with my new toy. Second, if you like Apple's minimalistic approach, you are not going to like RockBox. Like I said earlier, RockBox shares with Linux the chaotic structure, with pluggins and options galore (I have a friggin' oscilloscope in my iPod!!). Then there is the lack of consistency with the click wheel. Until you've played with RockBox for a while, you don't exactly know how to work the click-wheel, since there is very little consistency of button use from screen to screen, and no consistency whatsoever from pluggin to pluggin. Finally, if you bought songs from iTunes store, you are in for a big disappointment: RockBox does not play Apple's proprietary audio compression file type.

To wrap things up, just mention that RockBox infused new life on an iPod I paid good money for but had eventually stopped using out of boredom.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

My Top 3 CGI Animation Shorts in Youtube

Youtube holds millions of amateur and not so amateur videos and short films. There are very few however, that really stand out. Here are my 3 favorite animation shorts on Youtube. I rated them according to originality, plot, and animation quality.

Third Place: Gopher Broke - Blur Studios

Very well made short about a gopher conniving how to get food from a farmer's truck. Flawless CGI animation, and great use of music to set the mood. The main character, the gopher, is instantaneously likeable. I did find, however, that the plot reminded me of the classic "Coyote and Roadrunner" gags, always funny, but not very original.

Second Place: Kiwi! - Madyeti47

If the "Gopher" short lacked originality, Kiwi! is nothing but original. This wonderful animation piece was the Masters Thesis for animator Dony (Madyeti47 in Youtube). The effects are very minimalistic, very little detail or textures. Regardless, you immediately grow attached to the likeable little kiwi bird (flightless bird native to New Zealand), and wonder until the end of the short what he really is up to. I really, really like the way Dony uses the music, imperceptibly changing the mood of the viewer midway through the short.

First Place: Here Come the Chub Chubs - Sony Pictures

Amazing animation short played right before Men in Black II, in 2002. The aliens in this short are brightly colored, have weird caricaturesque shapes and funny voices, ideal traits for CGI characters. It is not set on Earth, but everyone can relate to the poor little clumsy bus-boy who just wants to sing and be left alone by his bully boss. It has the right amount of funny, right amount of plot and character development, a hint towards Star Wars fans, and an unexpected ending.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Chicken and the Egg

A friend of mine just sent me this. . .

A chicken and an egg are lying in bed.  The chicken is
sitting up against the headboard smoking a cigarette
with a very satisfied smile on its face.

The egg, looking a bit p!ssed off, grabs the sheet,
rolls over, and says, "Well, I guess we finally
answered THAT question."

Monday, July 2, 2007

Life Hack: How To Survive Rush Hour Commute

If you live in a city and have a 9 to 5 job, you know what I mean when I say that commuting in traffic is one of the most frustrating daily routines. A few years of having to drive in traffic almost daily, and I've found myself developing a few tricks that ease the pain of the hours wasted stuck in traffic.

1. Find alternate routes.

If you are reading this post, that means you have access to a computer. Use Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, Live Maps, or Mapquest, and find 2 or 3 alternate routes (highway and otherwise). These can be lifesavers if there is an accident or roadwork on your main route. I also like to find alternates that fork off my main route for unexpected emergencies (accidents blocking all lanes, for example) in my main route.

2. Leave home earlier.
You can save yourself a lot of aggravation if you leave home a few minutes earlier. Usually I leave home so I can get to work half an hour to an hour early. This saves me the stress of the morning rush hour, I'm not worried about getting to work late, and I have some alone time at my desk, where I can have breakfast while reading a the news, or have some good extra quality work time with no one in the office to bother me.

3. Find patterns in the traffic schedule.
Usually rush hours happens in bursts, as employees leave their offices at different times (usually between 4 pm and 5 pm). For example, in my case I have found that I can avoid street traffic before getting in the highway if I leave the office between 4:20pm and 4:40 pm (remember I get to the office earlier, so I can clock out earlier) or between 5:35pm and 5:45pm.

4. Keep an afternoon snack in the car.
Even worse than getting stuck in traffic: getting stuck in traffic and being hungry. A power bar or snack bar is usually good, they are easy to open and easy to handle and eat while you are driving.

5. Know yourself and know your needs.
In my case, this ties in with number 4. I know that I get angry and pissy when I am hungry and tired, so I get a small snack and a caffeinated soda for the ride.

6. Drive comfortably.
If during winter, take your coat off. If in summer, turn the air conditioning on. Take your wallet out of your back pocket. Turn your radio on to your favourite music station / talk station. Basically, if you are going to sit in the car for a good chunk of time, why not be as comfortable as possible?

7. Your car sound system is your friend.
Turn on the radio and listen to your favourite music or talk shows, or listen to your favorite CD's. Personally, I like talk radio or listening to my favourite podcasts that I burn on CD (Mysterious Universe and Skeptics' Guide to the Universe). The more you're entertained, the faster time will seem to go by.

8. Be courteous to your fellow drivers.
Following these simple rules of the road will save you and others aggravation, and prevent accidents:
  • If you're driving on the right lane, let cars on the entry ramp merge.
  • Use your turn signals, they're no just for decoration.
  • If you'd rather drive slow, do not sit on the left lane and let cars pass you on the right.
  • If at night, dawn, dusk or bad weather, turn on your lights.
  • Keep a safe distance. One of my worst pet peeves is when people ride my ass on the highway.
  • Do not stop to look at accidents, specially if they are on the other side of the road, it slows everyone down and you can cause an accident yourself!
  • Follow directions are read road signs. Nothing more aggravating than having to let into your lane the idiot that did not realize in time that the left lane is closed to roadwork.

9. Middle lanes are faster.
The left lane is full of idiots that slow down to catch their exit. The right lane is full of idiots that do not know how to merge.

10. Avoid driving behind large semis.
Driving behind large trucks is not only dangerous because they cannot see what's behind them, but it also increases the uncomfortable feeling of being boxed in.

11. Look around.
If you like to people watch, traffic is a grate opportunity to observe the most varied bunch of people in the wild. If you like cars, like I do... well... you are surrounded by cars. Just remember, you still need to pay attention to the road.

12. Avoid breaking.
I like to play a little game when in heavy traffic: I see how long I can be without having to use the brakes. It requires a careful balance of traffic movement pattern observation, speed (slow), and giving myself enough space between my car and the car in front of me. Not only is it entertaining (better than nothing), it also saves you money on brake pads.

So these are my 12 tips and tricks for surviving in rush hour traffic. I hope some of these help you as much as they help me.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Do You Believe Extraterrestrials Are Visiting Us?

What seems like a long time ago, I used to believe in UFOs, extraterrestrials, conspiracy theories... And then, right after those infamous videos of alien autopsies that were proven to be hoaxes, I became a skeptic....

However, after reading this article this weekend I began to wonder... Could this really be true? Do governments really know that aliens from outer space are visiting us and they are not telling us?

And then I read this. The transcript of an interview with a reptilian being, whose underground society predates us, and is warning us of horrible, horrible disasters. This is a hoax, right? If this race of "dinosaur humanoids" exists, we would have figured out by now... right?

I do believe that there are intelligent beings out there. The Universe is unimaginably immense, and it is ludicrous for us to believe that the Earth is the only living planet, let alone humans the only [vaguely] intelligent species.

I am mostly skeptical about these visitors from outer space, but I wonder, how many people truly believe that there are races of more highly advance civilizations visiting us?

I am posting this question, out of curiosity, to see how many people do believe in extraterrestrial beings visiting Earth. I may be surprised at the numbers.... then again, maybe not.

I've set up a poll to see how many people do believe:

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Why Marijuana Should be Legalized

Contrary to popular belief, marijuana was not made illegal in the US because it was considered a dangerous drug. Marijuana was made illegal in the United States for population control of Mexican and Black minorities in the 1930.

With a mix of racism, irrational fear and ignorance, legislators between the decades of 1910's-1930's sought ways to control minorities, afraid that they would one day overthrow the white government. According to Harry J. Asslinger, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, marijuana should be outlawed because of "...its effect on the degenerate races." and because "[marijuana] makes darkies think they're as good as white men."
Finally, after a series of congressional hearings in the 1930's, irrational fear won over science and marijuana was made illegal in 1937.

Fast forward to 2007, and marijuana is still very much illegal. Scientific evidence is mounting showing marijuana is not only harmless, but even beneficial. However, the US government is still going strong with its expensive "War on Drugs".

Here are my two cents on why marijuana should be legalized:

Medical reasons.
Medical studies of THC and Cannabinol (here's a good example) show marijuana can be used from nausea prevention and pain relief in chemotherapy patients to glaucoma. Legalization would most certainly lead to further scientific investigation

Save the money spent on the war on drugs and put it to better use.
Say education? Spending just a portion of the $20 billion spent on the much applauded albeit useless “war on drugs” (mostly war on marijuana) on education would improve the chances of younger generations to become more successful in life and decrease the chance of them falling prey of more dangerous drugs (meth comes to mind).

Control the market = reduce crime.

Dealing illegal drugs is very lucrative. Drug dealers form empires around illegal drugs, and they will stop at nothing to keep their money making empires. Legalize the drugs, prices drop, and drug empires hurt.

Stop Americans from subsidizing Middle-Eastern terrorists.

One way Islamic fundamentalists fund their organizations is through drugs. If the government controls the market, it can control where the drugs come from.

Replace extremists in the hearts of Middle-Eastern/South American rural farmers.

Instead of telling poor farmers in Afghanistan that they cannot grow hemp, buy all of their crops before Al-Qaeda does. Farmers will love America and hate Al-Qaeda. Isn’t that what we want?

Get rid of the coolness factor.

If marijuana were not illegal, would it be perceived as a cool recreational drug as it is now?

Eliminate the stigma of using marijuana…

… and chances are that more individuals will stick to marijuana instead of more dangerous drugs such as crack cocaine or methamphetamine. Eliminating the stigma on marijuana will also reduce the stigma of using other drugs, making it easier for individuals with a drug addiction to come out and seek help.

And finally…

Tax the product.
Taxing marijuana would open a brand new source of revenue for the government. Revenue that they could very well use in say….education?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Lies Lies Lies!!

Now that Michael Moore is once again causing a stir with his new "documentary" Sicko, people once again start taking sides and publish information about him and about his dubious editing room ethics. I got this email from a buddy at work this morning:

As Michael Moore is coming out with a new one...Sicko...(where, I suppose, he will expose the failure of the American Health Care System because of the simplicity of black/white greedy corporate masterminds and the political stooges/lackeys that support them), and I felt that I should look around at some of his other work. I came across this on the IMDB and thought is was worth passing along. Keep in mind, I have no more supporting information for this than I suspect Moore has for his own movies but I thought it smacked of a good, well laid out set of arguments. My favorite line is "Ultimately, Moore's BFC (Bowling for Columbine) illustrates exactly what it condemns. Moore argues that media 1) distorts reality and 2) hypes fear of other Americans because 3) fear is good for a fast buck. How ironic, because Moore distorts reality, hypes fear of other Americans ("are we a nation of gun nuts, or just nuts?") and made several million fast bucks doing so" I guess the ultimate acceptance or condemnation of his work falls around this argument: If Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction. I think that we must all also assume that Bush truly believes he did the right thing in starting the war, therefore Bush believes he lied for the common good. AND Moore lies like the devil himself, twisting all arguments to suit his own ends (even to the point of editing multiple speeches together to make people say what they never did). But, we all must also assume that Moore believes that he is doing so for some kind of common good. THEREFORE Either they are both evil or are both fighting for a common good where the ends do justify the means. To support either one is to support the other. Take your pick.

-------------------------------------------------------- "BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE" EXAMPLES:
1. Heston's "I have only five words for you...cold, dead hands"
statement was meant to look like it was aimed at the weeping victims. Moore then inserts an interlude - THIS PART IS VITAL! He cannot go directly to Heston's real speech because it wasn't even at the same date as what he's portraying. He separated the two segments with a visual distraction. Heston's "cold, dead hands" speech was not given at Denver after Columbine. It was given a year later in Charlotte, North Carolina and was actually referring to a present that Heston was given at a meeting.
2. Another edit deletes Heston's announcement about scaling back the convention's events (what you don't know is actually during the speech, Heston mentions that BECAUSE OF COLUMBINE, all events scheduled will be cancelled). He goes on to say "as you know, we've cancelled the festivities, the fellowship we normally enjoy at our annual gatherings." But Moore cuts this part out and goes to Heston's response to the mayor which was "I said to the Mayor: As Americans were free to travel wherever we want in our broad land. Don't come here? Were already here!" Moore actually puts an edit right in the middle of the first sentence and another at the end. Here's what Heston really said, which was a reference to his own WWII vet status: "I said to the mayor, well, my reply to the mayor is 'I volunteered for the war they wanted me to attend when I was 18 years old. Since then. Ive run small errands for my country from Nigeria to Vietnam. I know many of you here in this room could say the same thing.'" Moore cuts it after "I said to the mayor" and attaches a sentence from the end of the next paragraph: "As Americans, were free to travel wherever we want in our broad land". Moore hides this deletion by cutting to footage of protesters and a photo of the Mayor before going back and showing Heston. But the viewer thinks he's hearing Heston in a continuous audio stream. It's also important to note that every single scene involving Heston was edited in some way to sway the truth. ---the cartoon presents wrong historical dates as well as just pure lies. The NRA actually had many black people as members so that they could try to ATTACK and get rid of the KKK. (In case you didn't see the movie, Moore ties a connection to the NRA and the KKK as organizations working together, when in fact one was trying to abolish the other.) That is a HUGE difference. ---NRA was founded by Union officials in the north, the KKK was founded by confederate officials in the south. ---Moore goes to the Lockheed Martin manufacturing facility near Columbine and makes it sound like it creates WMD (loosely and sloppily connecting it to the columbine tragedy ) when in reality, that facility makes rockets for LAUNCHING SATELLITES. This explains why when he interviews McCollum and when asked "What's the difference between THAT mass destruction and Columbine's", McCollum acts somewhat confused since they don't make WMD. Yet, to the viewer and his lack of knowledge of what is going on, he sees it as McCollum being ignorant. ---Moore makes the killer from columbine's family look like they are innocent and puts the blame elsewhere. If one was to research that family, they will see that the family has had many criminal records and the kid was raised in a violent household. The violence did not originate from outside of the household, but within. ---Even the beginning scene is fabricated. The Gun control act of 1968 tightly restricts gun transfers between residents of different states. Moore was currently a resident of NY during the taping and therefore could not have purchased that gun unless he got a permit there before. The permit is issued approximately 3-6 months. This means that Moore either waited there for 3-6 months to get his permit and then shot the scene after his permit was issued, or somehow lied and was able to make his purchase (which is considered a felony). When asked about this, Moore denies spending 3-6 months there previous to the filming. So it was either completely fabricated, or Moore committed a felony. Also, in a later interview with the people who worked at the bank (in the movie "Michael Moore Hates America"), they revealed Moore's fabrication in the scene. They also mentioned that he made it sound like the Bank carried guns in their "vault". What Moore actually did was edit the scene when he asks about the guns in the vault. What the woman's actually response was "we have about 300 of them in our vault 300 miles away." The Bank only carried 1 (UNLOADED) gun there, the same one that Moore took out with him. ---Moore makes Heston sound like a racist. (Moore will do anything to bring down the people who he hates.) In fact, Heston actually was friends with and worked with Martin Luther King himself in the early '60s, becoming involved in boycotts and marches regarding the civil rights movement. Being that the viewer is an uneducated teenager, he probably is not aware of this. OK, and consider this. Ultimately, Moore's BFC illustrates exactly what it condemns. Moore argues that media 1) distorts reality and 2) hypes fear of other Americans because 3) fear is good for a fast buck. How ironic, because Moore distorts reality, hypes fear of other Americans ("are we a nation of gun nuts, or just nuts?") and made several million fast bucks doing so. "ROGER AND ME" Harlan Jacobson was editor of "Film Comment" magazine and had done some digging of the subject of Moore's accusations. When he landed an interview with Moore (note: interview with Moore are very difficult because when he gets asked questions pertaining to his legitimacy, he gets very offensive and starts ranting on yelling at the interviewer, never actually answering the initial question, claiming that the interviewer was paid by a right wing activist, in conspiracy to "get" him.)
"When did Auto World open?"
Moore: Autoworld opened July 4 1984

"And when did it close?"

Moore: January 6, 1985

"The Hyatt?"
Moore: The Hyatt opened in 1982.
"The Pavilion?"
Moore: December of 1985.
All seems fairly innocuous until you realize that the big layoffs that decimated Flint occurred in May and December 1986 - at least A YEAR AFTER many of the above events Moore described as the city's "responses" to the crisis. In case that doesn't make sense in your little brains, just like Bowling for Columbine, the major thesis of Moore's documentary was based on fabrications and his own invented timelime. Moore's interview with Jacobson quickly went downhill after this. More truths were revealed: Ronald Reagan's visit had been in 1980, as a candidate rather than a president, and the cash register was actually stolen two days before. The televangelist had been brought to town in 1982. Moore's feeble justification: "I didn't say it was done happened during the same decade..." Moore admit later: "Okay, so you can say that the chronology skips around a bit...This movie is about essentially what happened to this town during the everything that happened, happened." FEHRENHEIT 911: EXAMPLES: Watch "Fehrenhype 911", read the "59 deceits of F911" because I don't feel like typing anymore lies and those sum it up pretty well. And consider this, if there are 59 deceits, that's about 60, and the movie is 122 minutes. Let's round that down to 120, now what would that mean kids? It would mean that there is a lie/fabrication/deceit every 2 minutes. That's pretty deceitful for calling a movie a "documentary" and having stupid hopeful teenagers believe every second of it.

Blah Blah Blah Michael Moore is bad blah blah a liar....

So this is what I think: Michael Moore's success is a child of the times we live in, where shock and awe sells and the public takes whatever they hear or see in the media as face value, not bothering to do the research or take it in with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, 99% of the population (well...maybe 95%, I still have some faith in society) believe anything media networks (and individuals such as Michael Moore) publish or release. Well... here's a reality check: media corporations are here to make money, if that means distorting the news, then they will do so... and of course they are not going to tell you that they are lying. Politicians simply jump on the bandwagon of whomever's lies are better and the crowd believes more. I am sick and tired of both sides arguing that the other side is lying to the people... THEY ARE BOTH LYING!!! WE JUST PICK THE SIDE THAT LIES THE BEST.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cracker Gabriel (Possibly?) Spoils Harry Potter 7

Warning: Possible spoiler for the upcoming Harry Potter 7:

I do not know if I want to believe this, but Gabriel (cracker) seems to have hacked into the publisher's servers and gotten a copy of Harry Potter 7. I do not know if he managed to get a copy of the novel, but he seems to have read it and summarizes the plot. I am not going to publish what Gabriel has posted, out of respect for J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter novel series (I'm a big fan). Here's the link to Gabriel's website. Do not click the link if you do not want to know what (possibly) happens in Harry Potter 7 before the book is published.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hack How You Study: Web 2.0 Style

In the past couple of years computer technology has become more mobile than ever before. The line between online and offline life is fading. Lighter, faster laptops, ubiquitous high speed wifi, web applications have made online life portable. Portability of the computing environment brings new tools to the classroom environment that we would have only dreamed of a few years ago. Far from distracting, as critics claim, these new tools allow for a more holistic approach to studying. Long gone are the days where the only tools of the trade were your pen, notebook, and class textbook. Here are a few of my personal favorite hacks to improve studying, web 2.0 style:

1. Create your own custom note paper with the Cornell Note Paper Generator. If you do not have a laptop, or computers are not allowed in class (distraction), this is the next best thing. The Cornell note taking method divides the page into 3 sections: a left column for cues or questions, a lower fourth for summarizing the notes, and the rest for notes. Even if you don't want to use the Cornell method, I suggest you use this if you want to become more organized. The engine allows you to customize your note paper with name, date, class. It even allows to you choose between ruled paper, blank paper, and graph paper (you get to pick how many squares per inch!).

2. Rewriting or retyping your notes is a great way to review what you've done in class. If hours of retyping serves a higher purpose, even better. Enter mynoteIT. This is one of the coolest, most complete online study hacking tools out there. It goes far beyond any other online note-taking web applications. that I've tried. Not only does it allow you to type your notes online, it allows you to upload note files in a variety of formats, and organizes everything into classes (that you can archive once they are done). It also has a spot to enter assignments, set up your schedule, and a calendar. But the coolest part is that it allows you, true to the web 2.0 spirit, to join groups, search forums, share and exchange notes with your classmates, and access your notes from anywhere, including your cell phone. If I sound excited about this web application, it's because I am.

3. Upload your homework/projects/papers to Google Documents. This Google application allows you to keep your assignments available everywhere and anywhere, so no more forgetting your paper at home. Google Docs' most powerful feature, however, is document sharing. Ideal for group presentations and papers, it allows a group of people to collaborate simultaneously on a document from different locations, and best of all, tracking each person's edits. You can even publish your paper online to prove to your professor that you really did finish your paper!

4. Create your own wiki. Re-typing or re-writing your notes helps refresh what you learned in class. An even better way to file what you've learned in your long term memory is connecting new information with old, researching what you've learned (Google, of course), and relating what you've learned to previous lessons or classes. What better way to do this than to create your own wiki! This is the most difficult tool to set up. It does require a bit of time and a bit of computer know-how. Mediawiki is my wiki software of choice, I've tried others, but Mediawiki is simple, to the point, very configurable, and very easy to use. I host my wiki on an intranet web server at home. No one outside my home network can access it. There are other, more portable possibilities. You can use WOS portable a portable web server that you can set up in a USB stick (haven't tried it myself), or you can publish your wiki on the web using a free web host to access it from anywhere. However you chose to set it up, you will find it to be one of the best study tools you'll find. Links between pieces of information on the screen will translate on to connections between pieces of information on the brain.

5. Finally, this one's an oldie with a tech twist. Podcast your class. Students have been tape-recording lessons ever since minimally portable tape recorders were available. We are audio-visual beings, we remember by seeing and hearing. Now we are in the 21st century and we no longer use tapes, but this is still a very powerful tool. If your professor allows (please ask), record the class, create an mp3 (or ogg) of the lesson, and replay it when studying. Inflections in the professor's voice, and time spent on topics might give you a hint as to what the exam questions are going to be. There are a bunch of free sound editing tools (one example is Audacity), and tape-less digital audio recorders that you can plug to a USB to grab files are not too pricey.

Monday, June 18, 2007

10 Favorite Windows Admin Tools

Let's face it, we live in a Windows/Microsoft world. As much as the online community likes to bash Microsoft and their products, they still retain the lion's share of the Operating System business. For most medium and small businesses, at least in the U.S. Windows is their operating system of choice, both as servers and workstations. Capitalizing on this monopoly, there is a vast array of software (free and commercial) meant to expand windows network administration capabilities. A lot of these applications are actually useful, most of them, however, not so much. Having a bit of experience managing Windows Networks, I found these to be my top ten choices (not in necessarily in this order):

1. Process Explorer: Process Explorer, developed by Sysinternals (who later on was bought by no other than Microsoft) is a very useful expansion of the Windows Task Manager. Among the things I love about this application the most are its versatility, customizability and simplicity. It's versatile because not only does it show you what processes are running in your computer, it tracks dependencies, dynamic libraries, and footprint of the processes among other things. It's also extremely customizable. It allows for a large array of running and viewing options, which makes finding your rogue process of choice easier than with other process explorers, including the built in Windows Task Manager. Finally, the Process Explorer is so simple that there is no need for installation, it's a single executable file that can be carried in a handy dandy USB stick.

2. Cygwin: What can I say about Cygwin that hasn't been said already. Cygwin is essentially a port of the Linux command line environment to Windows. It blurs the Windows and Linux Universes to the point where you can run DOS and Bash commands on the same virtual console. For those not familiar with the Linux shell (Bash) it is one of the most powerful computing tools out there.

3. Python/Visual Basic/Shell scripting: OK, fine, this is not an application, but knowing Python, Visual Basic, and shell scripting has saved me hours in automated tasks that would have otherwise taken too long and killed too many braincells to perform manually.

4. UltraVNC: The best VNC Server/Client out there, period. If tried most of them, including RealVNC, TightVNC, or Remote Administrator. UltraVNC I found is the fastest, most complete, and easiest to use of the lot. They even have a standalone client and a standalone server that do not need to be installed. The Java web client has also come in handy a couple of times.

5. Partition Magic/Gparted: Gparted is not technically a Windows application, but it saved my life when a user's hard drive started to fail and I had to copy its content onto a new hard drive. Partition magic is Gparted's commercial counterpart, and although it does offer a couple more tools, I like gparted better. Besides, I like the possibility of running Gparted from a live CD, and not need to install an additional application.

6. Ultra-Edit: Best text editor ever. It will open almost anything you throw at it.

7. PsExec/BeyondExec: Really nifty couple of programs. PsExec was developed by sysinternals, which, like I mentioned earlier, was bought by Microsoft. BeyondExec is based on PsExec. PsExec/BeyondExec. The best way to describe these two applications is they are SSH's lesser cousins. They allow you interact with a remote system via console, send commands and run processes. Beyond Exec has a few more utilities than PsExec has, including an interactive SSH-like DOS prompt, but I have found it to be slightly less robust than PsExec. I personally use both, depending on whether I need to send a single command or if I need to run a full DOS prompt.

8. Angry IP: I first found Angry IP Scanner while looking for a tool that would help me track down a static IP conflict in the network. Angry IP will ping IP addresses in the range that you determine. It can also be configured to scan NetBIOS information, DNS, logged in users and ports! Used properly you can determine IP/DNS conflicts, which IP addresses are in use and which ones are dead, get a list of logged in users, MAC address, or ports open in a particular server or workstation! The best part about this application is that it's another standalone that you can carry in your trusted USB drive.

9. OpenVPN: A fast, powerful, easy to use and install, platform independent virtual private network server and client. Best of all, it's open source, which means it is free (as in speech AND beer)! Now someone needs to figure out how to make it a portable client....

10. VMware Server: I want to mention VMware as a pose to other virtualization tools like Qemu or Parallels, because I've found that, regardless if VMware is not the fastest virtualization tool, regardless if its a closed source application, I have found it to be the most reliable and stable virtualization software out there, ideal both to deploy virtual servers on the fly, or sandboxing when testing new/unstable software.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A couple of linux tips for newbies

Being a GNU/Linux newbie, having only switched completely to Ubuntu GNU/Linux from Windows about a year and a half ago, I am still trying to figure out what works and what doesn't for me, and how I can fix it. Ubuntu is my distro of choice, not necessarily because it's an easier distro, but because I like the Debian way of doing things, I like bleeding edge, and I like being backed up by the huge Ubuntu community. Having said that, most of these tips are from the point of view of a Debian/Ubuntu user, however, they can be applied to other distros:

1. Backup Script. It's usually good to backup at least your /home directory every once in a while. However, backing up manually can be a pain, and most of the scripts I found out there where too complex for what I needed, so I wrote my own:

compress(){ #compress backed up files
tar cvvf $backup_path/backup$(date %d%m%G).tar $HOME
exit 0

if [ -d $backup_path/backup ]
mkdir $backup_path/backup

exit 0

What I'm doing with this script is backing up my home directory and saving it as a compressed file with the name "backup[daymonthyear].tar"
I suggest you not save the backup files in the same hard drive as the original; if the hard drive fails you might be in trouble. You should mount to an external hard drive or a file server. If you want to get more detailed and run backups from only on a list of files, you can substitute the compress function for:

tar cvvf $backup_path/backup$(date %d%m%G).tar -l file.list
exit 0

where the list of files is in a text file called "file.list" (remember: one file path per line and be careful with white spaces).

2. One thing that I miss when I use the command line is not being able to undo mistaken deletions. In Windows, or Using the Desktop manager ( I use GNOME), when I delete something, it goes to the "trash" folder, where I can go to retrieve it if i deleted it by mistake. When I use the rm command in the command line, whatever is gone, is gone for good. That's why I use a nice little trick: I use a "trash" function in my .bashrc file instead of "rm" when what to get rid of a file, but I am not sure if I am going to need it later. The trash directory (.Trash) is hidden in your home directory, so you just need a command that will move unwanted files and directories to the .Trash directory:

trash() { mv "$@" /home/$USER/.Trash;}

I call my function "trash" so when I call it I just type "trash [filename]" on the command line. Notice that I actually use the move command instead of the remove command, to move my files to the .Trash directory. Notice also that I use the $USER system variable instead of the actual home folder name - it's slightly more elegant since I can run this function under any username and the system will recognize what home directory to look for. Also, I'm lazy and my username is longer than the variable name. This function also allows me to attach move options as well as pointing to the file that I want to "trash". Copy this function to your .bashrc (in your /home directory). and you have yourself a new "delete" command!!

Who Needs Internet Explorer?!!