Is It East Versus West, Or Man Against Man?

You look like you could use some Survivor.

Have a great weekend.

Fair Play For All

At work, I usually listen to an Internet radio stream from here or there (or even here), but sometimes I have a hankerin’ to play my own mp3s that I’ve downloaded from my collection at home or brought in my some other means.  I don’t like iTunes or Windows Media Player, so it’s been something of an experimental journey to find a good alternative player.

I messed around for a while with Jajuk, a java-based, cross-platform media player.  It wasn’t bad, but there were certain aspects of the GUI that I wasn’t very font of.  Often, if I just wanted to listen to one specific album at a time, VLC did the job very effectively.  But there were a few ‘CDs’ on which it was having trouble reading the tags.  I didn’t have the time or interest to try to solve that problem.

I revisited Songbird instead.  I’ve had it installed as a means of testing the ‘subscription’ functionality of our podcast.  While the ‘bird still doesn’t seem to handle that feed the right way, the current 1.0.x version has come a long way from when the project was first announced (in Internet time, approximately a thousand years ago).  I built a small “library” from the tunes I have on this harddrive, and one of the coolest things about the software (like any Gecko-based product) is the extensibility that you can get through plugins and add-ons.  There seems to be a large and continually expanding array of options that you can tack on to your Songbird player; they’ve come on a lot faster than I expected.  If you’re so inclined, give it a look.  If I can get a “album shuffle” plugin, I would consider switching from Amarok at home…

K, I’m going to go back to listening to this record that I produced, back when I was a record producer

Newspaper Delivery by COMPUTER???!?!?!?

Kyle stumbled onto this fantastic (and ancient) piece of TV news from KRON in San Francisco, circa 1981.  It talks about those days in the distant “future” when newspapers will be delivered to “home computers” by the magic of the telephone! I think my favorite tag in the story is when they are interviewing user “Richard Halloran: Owns Home Computer”

Here is a link to the post from whence it came.

So Far, So OK

A big part of my “productivity scheduling” was to choose to significantly limit the amount of random computer BS time that I would allot myself at home.  I probably screw around on the Internet plenty while I’m at work, so I’ve put just about an hour and a half to be on the computer for Internetting and/or random tweaking and looking at… stuff.

It’s amazing how much more focused my surfing is, even this first morning.  Oh yeah, did I mention that?  My allotted Internet time is first thing when I get up (5:15, or later if I choose to waste the time in bed) until 6:40, when I absolutely have to start getting ready for work.

I think sticking to the schedule will be easy enough for the rest of the weekdays, but I also have to come up with a plan for weekend days.  And after a weekend, I’m hoping I’ll be able to slide right back in on Monday.

Meanwhile, though, I really want to know when Ubuntu is going to update Amarok to version 2 in the repository, so I only have about 45 minutes to figure that out… later!

Here's To Productivity

To say that many of my days since I started working a job 8-5 have been mired in senseless, random bullshit would be an understatement (there was a lot of that BEFORE working 8-5, too, but when you don’t have that job, it opens up like 33-45% of your day).  I have tried (and failed) at numerous methods of better managing the little time leftover.  I might have finally stumbled onto a new system that I hope will work.  It involves following a careful daily plan of operation, from which you leave only a VERY little room for deviation.  I’ll give it a shot and see how it goes.

To that end, I have to leave the computer now and use the rest of this hour to be engaged in activities related to dining.  See you bright and early tomorrow…

Windows 7 & the Growth of Linux

Lifehacker had a post on this topic today.  It’s a relatively geeky group that follows that blog, so the comment traffic was understandably dense and heated.  I haven’t had a chance to read through all the commentary, but it raised an interesting thought for me, as I now consider myself an experienced Ubuntu user, and I’m also participating in the Windows 7 beta…

There seems to be some effort on the part of Microsoft to shore up several of their OS’s shortcomings over the last 10 years or so with this newest release.  A few of the features that are being added and more development going in to certain aspects of the software that have been lacking is a big step in the right direction.

I was brought back to the reason I actively switched over to Ubuntu, though: in Linux land, you are a participant in a community of users and developers sharing ideas and helping each other make things work (if I sound like some goddamned hippie socialist, stay tuned…).  With Windows, you pretty much always have (and probably always will) had an easier out-of-the-box experience, and considering the market share that the operating system commands in the developed world, there’s no reason to think that will change any time soon.

However, there are certain ways that even paying customers are made to feel like they’re being punished in Windows (DRM and Genuine Windows validation are my favorites), and that’s not the case for Linux.  I switched because I don’t want to pay a license fee for a piece of software I can get by without.  That is the MARKET working at its best, Commies!  The growth of computing in the developing/third world during this century is one way that I could see Linux “winning” in the long run.  If Microsoft fails at either marketing themselves in these developing areas, or if their product simply proves to be too costly, Linux will eat up that market share, and quickly.

But even then, what is “winning” in this context?  In my mind, the existence of multiple platforms and competing products is what leads to the best consumer experience.  Do you think there would be an Internet Explorer 7 or a Google Chrome if there hadn’t been Mozilla and Firefox?  Of course not.  Same goes for the new Windows.  Being pushed to innovation by your competitors is what American capitalism is all about.

Will a new and improved Windows OS make Linux shrivel up and go away?  Unlikely; the latter has far too passionate a group of enthusiasts working on this software because they ENJOY IT as much as any other reason.  A better and easier Windows might stifle the interest in Linux for some, but that reciprocal challenge is how software development should work.

Still Don't Get It

I grant you that a big part of the ease of my annual tax preparation is that I:

  • am single,
  • make barely any money,
  • don’t own a home,
  • or have any dependents.

However, it seems like the FREAK OUT level in general here in America is huge when income tax filing time rolls around.  Personally, I’ve never had a problem either completing all the necessary forms or walking through the free-to-use online filing options conveniently linked through the IRS’s website.

Is the mere spectre of the Internal Revenue Service itself enough to make average citizens whip themselves into a panic?  Do most people just assume that filing their taxes is too hard, or perhaps not worth the individual effort?  I can appreciate some level-headed confusion about how to maximize one’s refund, or the desire to call in some backup (in the form of a pay-for-use software product, a paid tax preparer or accountant) when it begins to get complex, but what I can’t fathom is the apparent crippling terror.

Maybe this is just because I grew up always seeing my mom complete her tax return at home, by herself, for all the times that I made any tax-related observation.  Probably also helps that as soon as we kids got jobs, Mom had us get on the phone for the easy-as-pie, 10-minute “Telefile” option that existed at the time.  It goes a long way to removing tax-intimidation when your initial contact with the process was 100% painless (and they sent you a check, to boot!!).

Anyway, I caught this link via Lifehacker, saying that ANYONE can now e-file for free (there used to be a income-limit), and reading through the comments on the post makes me shrug with confusion.  I just don’t lose any sleep over it, and I am happily awaiting my refund as we speak (finished filing last Thursday).

Gut Reactions

Jen and I went to Mayfair to watch a couple Best Picture nominees today.  I will have more to say about everything when I get to my final “Oscars Preview” post, but for the time being, these were my initial thoughts:

  • Slumdog Millionaire – Nice movie.  Well-directed.  Interesting for Americans to see for the sake of some exposure to India, but that’s probably most unique thing about it.
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Long movie.  Very, very long movie.  There’s a decent payoff in the last 30+ minutes, but I don’t think the build-up was worth it.  13 nominations?  Seriously?

Now I am very tired, and I am going to sleep.

A Microcosm of Our Energy Future?

I caught part of an episode of NOVA (almost completely by accident) this afternoon.  It was called “The Big Energy Gamble” and it focused on the state of California’s initiatives to move away from fossil fuels and generate a third of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.  I always like that PBS programming tends to be fairly even-handed, and what I saw of the show did a good job of balancing the positives and negatives of this plan.

And, since we live in the future, you and I can both watch the show in its entirety via the PBS website.  Take a look if you have the chance and interest…

Earth Moving To the Back Burner Again?

Apologies to those of you who also read the podcast blog for this dual-post; thought this was apropos for both…

In podcast #7, we touched on the so-called “green movement” and how it seems to be moving beyond the realm of partisanship. Today’s Dot Earth column from Andrew Revkin and the New York Times shows some numbers that beg to differ. The column is a good jumping-off point to read up on some recent stories on this topic. Revkin cites a Rasmussen Reports poll that said:

Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Democrats blame global warming on human activity, compared to 21% percent of Republicans. Two-thirds of GOP voters (67%) see long-term planetary trends as the cause versus 23% of Democrats.

With the price of gas down to levels we haven’t seen since 2006 and the global economy reeling, will we shove our collective head into the sand once again when it comes to climate change? Can we afford to? The new president doesn’t seem to think so…

firing from the hip since 2002