Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Much ado about nothing :)

After the first Apple announcement of this year had nothing surprising or exciting, the one from today was totally pathetic - I simply can't stop wondering how much 'bribe money' the media is getting from SteveJ ... or maybe the media is just incredibly dumb :)
Anyway the 'big news' were a new mini (intel-based, yet more expensive), iPod Hi-Fi (which is pretty much a dock with integrated speakers with the usual inflated Apple price tag) ... and a leather case for the iPod ... yeah, right, quite amazing :))

Features still matter ...

This will be a short post related to WHY FEATURES DON'T MATTER ANYMORE: THE NEW LAWS OF DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY - while most of the ideas from there are generally right, there is one major point missing from that post - the idea is that we are now moving from a world of 'technology for the elites' to a 'world of mass-technology' and in this world maybe 80-90% of the people will be (temporarily) better with the 'less is more' rule, but the rest of maybe 10-20% percent (but which might represent more than 50% in the business/scientific area) will still be able to use more complex stuff with better results - so the world where we are all stupid users of a technology nobody can any longer understand remains for the moment located on Trantor ... inside the Science-Fiction books :)
And if you are wondering why 'less is more' will not be forever true you can just look back - a century ago (or maybe two) a world where most people could read was just fantasy and the 'less is more' advocates were very happy with 80-90% of the people being on the 'less' side ...

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Why I am not cool with Apple ...

There was one link 'flying high' in the morning that prompted this post - you can take a look at:
Thomas Hawk's Digital Connection: iTunes, One Billion Suckers Served
(and you can also see some even more direct critics

While the links above are generally right they do not express a very important point - the reason why I raise my voice against Apple (and the MacIdiots that support them) has little to do with how popular iTunes can be (and to be honest that success is not entirely without merit) - the main reason is that Apple and RIAA are the single worst combination to make the choices for our future digital life - NO OTHER combination could be worse, even the 'eternal villain' Micro$oft looks good when compared with those two !!! I will not insist on RIAA but Apple has the longest record of anti-competitive behaviour and their ENTIRE BUSINESS MODEL is based on LOCKING consumers into their stuff !!! (and if you believe that's only 'good american business model' then you are probably not aware it's the same business model as a heroin dealer).

The major problem right now is that the market is structured in such a monopolistic way that only very few alternatives can survive at the same time - so instead of some people having a choice to go with iTunes while others choosing a more open alternative (like
mindawn.com - their legal FLAC downloads are AMAZING, only problem is that in order to survive on the long term they would need to have at least 1000 times more titles) - in a (very) few years there will be either only two alternatives (probably Apple and M$) or just one and no choice at all :(

So yes, in the end I would very much like that the choices for my digital future will NOT be made by people TOO DUMB TO USE A MOUSE WITH TWO BUTTONS!!!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Compression and stuff ...

OK, some posts ago I have mentioned that I do not like StuffIt and some people asked why not and what can be used instead ...

The reason is quite very simple - archives and especially compressed archives should always be something with an 'open format' (do you really want to be forced to pay a tax in 10 or 20 years time just to be able to open your old documents???) - and generally anything that totally locks you into a closed and proprietary format is a VERY BAD THING - especially when you have OPEN and FREE alternatives !!!

So what do I suggest instead ?

Well, as a general purpose interchange-oriented compressed archive format nothing can beat the old ZIP format !!! In case you do not know all major operating systems have default support for that format (open-source since 'forever' :) , Windows since XP, OSX since 10.3 - the 'Create archive' in Finder is using precisely that ZIP format!!!)
By far the most important advantage is not the fact it is an open format (it is), is the fact that ANYBODY can probably open such a ZIP file on pretty much any computer platform that is even barely alive. The open part also pretty much gurantees that 10 or 20 years from now you will still be able to do just that!!!
A major project that was doing a great job with that is
Info-ZIP - that code is behind many other programs and on that site you can find free programs (command-line and some GUI, with source code and for pretty much any computer platform around) to ZIP and UnZIP !!!
The only minor drawback is the 'compression ratio' - it is good for most normal files but not the greatest ... so here comes the alternative ...

For the best compression ratio (one that even makes StuffIt look pathetic) you should use
7z / sevenzip - it is a program that can pack/unpack 7z, ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2 and TAR and can unpack RAR, CAB, ARJ, LZH, CHM, Z, CPIO, RPM and DEB, it is also open and source-code is available!!!
The Windows/Windows64 version also contains a very nice mini-filemanager - you can even configure that one in the Commander-style so it certainly is one of the greatest free programs that you can get !!! For the moment the OSX and Linux versions are 'command-line only' but there are extra free programs that can add a friendly user-interface on that and I am convinced that it's only a matter of time until a better UI will become available !

So now you know it - there is no reason to use that pathetic sit/sitx format!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

OSX security myth ... busted :))

Just a very short post this time - after the recent trojan and then the bluetooth OSX attack now two new (but closely related) problems have emerged - first of all Safari is starting to show the same security holes as IE or eventually things seem to extend to the general execution model itself so that certain problems can also appear even if using Firefox ... things are moving so fast that I can't even feel proud that ... I'VE TOLD YOU SO :)) (last two paragraphs)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Why cartoons are important !

OK, this post will not be about technical subjects, this time it's about the 'Muhammad cartoons' - and why the western civilization should NOT be apologetic at all on that matter ...
Things are quite simple - around here there are MANY people (including myself) that share a common belief in science and logic - you could call it our religion but for us that term is probably NOT the best choice :)
Part of our beliefs - which after a very long struggle have become part of our freedoms - is that everybody is entitled to his own opinions as long as it is not enforced on the others - so to make the story short - we have our rights to mock religious fundamentalists - and that covers both the christian (even if the mocked guy is the president of US) and the islamic ones - so while the rioting mobs might have got a point if the cartoons were published by us in their newspapers we don't give a sh*t on such protest over OUR media and OUR freedoms!
A special message should also go to the 'apologetic current' from around here - maybe some of the christian fundamentalists would just love a world in which religion can enforce censorship at any moment but that is not going to happen - so you can also get lost !

Friday, February 17, 2006

Another cool rescue tool ...

One very cool rescue tool that usually gets mentioned generally only at some point between 'late' and 'too late' is SpinRite - I have seen it first running on an old 286 PC quite a long time ago and yet a few versions and many, many years later the program is still here and can still 'save the day' (in some conditions).

What the program does is quite complex - apparently the current v6 still has inside the code to low-level format MFM/ESDI hard-drives - but I think that such disks are no longer produced since at least ten years ago - but on top of those original features that made it famous between old-time geeks SpinRite v6 can do two other things - in can 'refresh' the data written on your HDD (and in the process discover small parts of the disk that might be in danger of failing) or if the drive is already dying it can help recovering all or at least some of the data from that failing area and then eventually let the modern IDE drives relocate it to some other place !!!

The program is quite friendly - actually I would have liked a lot more advanced options for instance to test the surface with more than two patterns (a previous version was using 256 patterns or so, but that was a little overkill) and most important of all - I would like some way to control on what level of errors things get too dangerous plus an option to only try for a more limited amount of time to read certain bad sectors and just go ahead and relocate them - recently I have seen one case where it was 'locked' on a single sector for almost 8 hours - which is great if you had something very valuable there, but if you already have a backup it might be much nicer to quickly relocate that sector (and eventually some around it) and simply continue using that drive for non-important storage !!!

The only real drawback of the program is the price - at around 90 US$ it will be well-spent money for a company or anything business oriented but for a home user it might sometimes be cheaper to get a new HDD for a similar price ...

If you are on a very tight budget you might eventually look at some open-source projects - dd_recover and ddrecover (not the same thing), dd_rhelp (smart frontend for dd_recover), safecopy, recoverdm, cdrdao ... some of them can be added as a very small (670k) optional MyDSL packet and also KNOPPIX does have them - so booting from that live CD might be an alternative!!!

It is also nice how compact SpinRite is - in a world where most programs will come on a CD SpinRite can actually entirely fit on a 1.44 MB (freedos bootable) floppy !!!

Even nicer than a FDD might be some USB stick (or in my case the old shuffle) - if you already have a boot manager/loader like GRUB you will only need to add on the USB drive the 1.44 MB SPINRITE.IMG file (the 'image' of the boot floppy) and a 20k memdisk helper (which is part of the
SYSLINUX project - another very cool project related to booting computers in more or less exotic ways) and then place a few GRUB commands like:

title SpinRite6
root (hd0,0)
kernel /memdisk
initrd /SpinRite.img

and you will be able to boot to another great tool from your USB drive !!!

Obviously you will only be able to boot on a PC - so far it seems that ON PURPOSE the latest G4 notebooks from Apple can not boot from USB (while older G3 models could do that just fine) - as with most other Apple stupid choices the technical information is quite limited but I will still keep an eye on it ...

Thursday, February 16, 2006

More on Apple predictions - and not only mine :)

I will start with a very dumb article from Dvorak - he obviously is another person pissed by the constant Apple hype and in some way he is ridiculing those fans to the extreme - the problem is that the subtle fun (I liked the final part - "Luckily, Apple has a master showman, Steve Jobs. He'll announce that now everything can run on a Mac. He'll say that the switch to Windows gives Apple the best of both worlds. He'll say this is not your daddy's Windows...") is totally lost on the average Apple fan ... and also unlike the ONLY other important prediction that he got right (the x86 Apple switch - being 4-5x times slower on the notebooks could no longer be hidden even by a master spinner like SteveJ) this one does not have a serious base !!!

I was keeping the best part last - if you read the
last two paragraphs I posted on February 9 and then you take a look at THIS you will see that some things can move very fast :)) Maybe even too fast for my own prediction - now Apple really has to hurry with that antivirus and antispyware programs !!!

However while that first OSX trojan is quite pathetic it does something very important - it 'signals' the fact that 'hunting season' on overconfident Apple fans is now officially open - and things might be very dangerous during hunting season since
both the president and the vicepresident might be Apple users :))

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Interesting free stuff ...

First of all - an amazing small OSX program that makes Spotlight look pathetic - I am speaking about Quicksilver - and if Micro$oft has ANY brains left they will buy those guys and get it as standard inside Vista !!! (and also keep the OSX version just to have SteveJ bite his fingernails :) )

Another small promising OSX program might be
Jumpcut - it is a free clipboard extender. You might also want to look at iTerm (opensource OSX terminal) and eventually coconutBattery (to find out how many times your battery was recharged and how well is it still working).

I managed to also take a look at build 75 of KisMac (interesting and very friendly) and Adium had a new build also (and Google is your friend ...)

Objective C looks ... very interesting ... but the main problem seems to be the total lack of any future outside OSX ... (don't get me wrong, for 'real things' C++ is a few degrees of magnitude better but Objective C might have been far more interesting than C# ... the only problem is that C# DOES have a future!)

Finally something that is 'free' but on a totally different style - OSX 10.4.4 was 'patched' once again - see
here and here ... and is quite funny that smart people will be able to run OSX and XP on their 'ultracheap beige box' LONG BEFORE those rich people 'milked' by Apple will be able to see XP on their non-standard x86 machines :) ... when you have a company with the main target to create monopolies (and ways to lock customers in) you should start wondering if paying for their overpriced stuff would be smart ... or rather dumb !!!

Friday, February 10, 2006

The cult of the Apple :)

One very funny / interesting story - apparently things are not always so bright in the Apple world - not to mention the afterglow :)

The guy apparently did not know the first Apple theorem - the Apple products are very much "all or nothing" type - meaning that if it works you might be happy, but if anything at all disturbs the Apple karma then it will certainly be more of a nightmare :(

There are very strong reasons for that:

- in the first place, Apple products are designed primarily for not so bright people without any computer experience whatsoever - any attempt to think in a different way, any extra experience or knowledge that you might have will only make things worse since you will depart from the original target of the product;

- Apple products are of the worst non-standard and monopolistic type - since their target audience are mostly people that not only have no clue on the value of standards and interoperability but more important - they are proud on being so !!!
That in itself is not always visible when things go well, but certainly can't be missed when something goes wrong - not very unlikely a car with totally non-standard tires - you might never even notice that ... until the day you must replace them, and on that day it will cost you :)

- if possible NEVER pay for a product that locks you in a world with absolutely no alternative - while I have never paid for my Shuffle I would have NEVER even think about keeping it without
the open-source iPod Shuffle database builder !!!

- do not try to reason with Apple fans - it's NOT about logic, it's about passion ... the passion to finally feel 'smart' and yet 'different' at the same time :)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Apple revelation !

If you have read some of my previous posts you might have noted that I was constantly amazed at the totally illogical activism of the Mac enthusiast - I could not understand how so many things that should have been so obvious to any remotely competent user were actually ignored, denied, misrepresented and so on…

But recently just after responding to such a comment on an older post ”I finally got it” … and it was quite an eye-opener :)

You see, in the PC world there are almost 100 times more people than in the Apple world and many, many levels of knowledge - generally if your grandmother calls you when she has problems with her email she certainly looks at you as her on-hand-expert for that problem, but the called grandson like the vast majority of people always know quite a number of other people that have a much higher knowledge in a certain computer matter or another, so while a LOT of people are proud of their experience I would dare saying that probably 90% of the PC users think of themselves as just that - a normal user - and they generally have the tendency of listening to what other users and especially the people they regard as experts say about a thing or another, and the tendency of learning more and more to constantly rise on the knowledge ladder ...

However, from what I can see in the Apple world at least half of the users think of themselves as experts - but since they also want to be modest they might use the term 'power user' - so you actually have a world where almost everybody ALREADY IS an expert !!!

That is generally a very nice thing - it shows that people are reasonably happy with that computer technology - and honestly speaking for many people that is a huge achievement in itself !

However overconfidence always can generate problems - think of the (drunk?) drivers that believe that they can make a steep turn at 200 mph without any form of safety belt :)

In the computer world things will be a lot less dramatic - by far the most annoying result is the constant hype around everything that Apple does :) Another unpleasant result is that in a world with so many 'happy power users' any form of 'outside improvement' has only little chances - and generally not even the the best ideas will survive on the long term since Apple might 'borrow' them for their next update cycle... (and also any form of major improvement of the users knowledge - if they already are experts why should they learn anything new :) )
That Apple world might also be a 'monopolistic dictatorship' - the only 'higher expert' in a world full of 'power users' is Apple itself - which becomes a supreme authority that dictates pretty much everything and in the process is taking a consistent cut from all the other members of the world :)

A very interesting danger when having so many overconfident users is on the security side - and that is even more dangerous in a 'monoculture' (in which most people use pretty much the same hardware and software both from the same unique provider)! So far the main reason why no major security problems have been seen was that the current generation of hackers were more interested in making easy money from the vastly larger world of Windows ... but that might soon change ...

I can not take credit for being the first with such warnings - just yesterday The Register was running an article from Security Focus on that - but I will make another prediction that I consider funnier - just months (if not days) after the first widespread OSX exploits will start (or even after only modest trojans or spyware vectors will become widely known), the same company that was always claiming that OSX is perfectly and totally safe 'as it is' and that no extra helper program is needed will launch an antivirus service - either something separate and rather expensive (but with a 'totally unique experience and service' :) ), or something a little less pushy linked to the existing .mac tax - but even that will be no innovation :))

Monday, February 06, 2006

Spyware everywhere ?

Well, after recently installing (on an older machine owned by a friend) the latest Winamp (in order to minimize the risks after the extremely embarrassing Winamp CRITICAL SYSTEM VULNERABILITY ) , I have noted that the software firewall from that computer (an old and free tiny personal firewall that is no longer available but still works on older machines with windows 2000) was saying things like:
'Winamp' from your computer wants to connect to waweb-ntc0l-0.winamp.com [], port 80
Another example of programs spying on their users ? Maybe not 100% that, but close - all the normal Winamp online stuff was actually disabled but somewhere hidden deep (probably on purpose) into General preferences -> Media library -> Online media tab ->Modify preferences button there is a setting called "Look for new Online Media Channels on exit" that seems to be enabled by default :(

That type of setting and the far more common one that is "checking for updates" are nothing new - most authors are probably curious on how often and by how many people their programs are used and for a free program that is not such a huge problem if you have a simple way to stop it (in Winamp case there is a way, but definitely it is NOT obvious).

Maybe more disturbing is when large monopolies with a bad track record are using very similar ways to log information about when you are starting (or stopping) their pre-installed programs and in the process also bother you with popup dialogs on how you should give them even more money just to upgrade to the latest (lame) version (even if you have just paid for the product 1 month ago) - no, this is not about M$ - I am speaking of Apple here and mostly about the iLife stuff - but obviously since their typical customer generally has no clue on privacy and security that remains a problem mostly ignored by the media and the general public :(

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Dashboard things on an Apple notebook

After my initial contacts with Apple OSX from my 12'' iBook (described in the first, second and third special posts) not a huge amount of surprises have remained to be discovered but there are a few other things that might be worth mentioning for any other newcomer to the Apple world.

One first observation on the pre-installed applications - there are quite a few, some of them might be of some use for most people (like the Dictionary/Thesaurus or the Calculator, maybe AppleWorks or Stickies ... but mostly for beginners), some might like parts or all of the iApplications (but I am not one of them - iTunes and iCal are usable and probably nice but you can never know when they will spy on you - in case you do not know Apple can probably build a very precise log of when each Apple user has started each iApplication, how many times per day, at what hour more often and so on) and there are some other which are there only for the "feel good" reason - how many people have ever used GarageBand for something real ? (but of course that people will feel good about their artistic side so ...)

Two other programs that everybody will probably need to install - one I certainly like - Adobe Acrobat Reader - the other I HATE but there is not much that I can do - StuffIt Expander - just another company that has somehow managed to impose a standard tax on stupidity :(

One interesting thing is the (new) Spotlight - while normally on a system with a better and more effective design I would have no need for it I was not able to stop it when I made my first steps on the iBook so I left it there for a future research - and while at times I certainly can hear the HDD working in the background (and sometimes even slowing me down) I have discovered that for a keyboard lover it might actually be the next best thing after a console or file manager with a command line - most often if you remember the name of a certain program it is much faster on a notebook to press COMMAND+SPACE , then a few letters from the program (or document) name, a few times on DOWN and then ENTER !!! But it remains to be seen if the tradeoffs are worth it on the long term so I am still researching that ...

Finally a few words on the Dashboard - the TYPICAL expression of the Apple philosophy - but you will have to read to the end to find out which is that :)

I admit that I liked the look of it - and I have placed quite a few nice widgets on my dashboard - but in the end:
a) it is simply an idea mostly stolen from Konfabulator (with only small changes so that it might be difficult to sue);
b) it can also be considered a virtual desktop manager for less brilliant people (you know, the same people that can not handle TWO mouse buttons);
c) the memory usage is HUGE and the benefits are rather minor most of the time.

So in the end something just like all Apple stuff - nice for the eyes but shallow and in the end mostly useless :(