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:

Who Needs Internet Explorer?!!