Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Happy Kwanzaa-mas-kah

OK, I have to say it. I'm sick to death of all the whining, bitching and complaining from the thin-skinned, politically-correct cry babies who would limit (or BAN, if possible) the term "Merry Christmas."

I mean, really, people. There are much bigger things (like bitching about the 10 commandment statues outside court houses or the word "God" in the pledge of allegiance, or the pledge of allegiance itself!) to bitch and moan about.

If you really want to strip out the meaning of Christmas - then follow someone who's already tried: the Grinch. Granted, he's fictional - but he had the same goals - to wipe out Christmas and all it stands for.

It's not about snow. I live in California and have to "visit" snow above 5,000 feet. But, nonetheless, Christmas will still come.

It's not about presents. There are loads of poor and homeless families that cannot exchange gifts - yet Christmas will still be here.

It's not about Santa. St. Nicholas the modern day home invader - even if you take him out of the equation, you'll still have Christmas.

It's not about consumerism. It's not about getting together with family. It's not about fancy meals. It's not about stockings "hung with care." It's not about decorative lighting. It's not about singing carols.

It's not about any of that. In fact, you can take that all away - and Christmas would still come.

Christmas is about Christ.

Period. The end.

THAT is the reason for Christmas - He is the reason for the season. He is THE Gift. Whether you believe it or not, accept it or not doesn't change that fact.

Even the Grinch found it out in the end: "...Christmas came. It came just the same..."

So whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or nothing at all, I want to extend tidings of gladness, joy and safety to you and your family this season.

God Bless!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

MiniRant: Microsoft = Zero Day Threat

So I got yet ANOTHER email warning and news stories about yet ANOTHER zero day bug/threat/malware/trojan/virus for a Microsoft Office application.

This time it was MS Word, a few days ago it was Excel, a few days before that it was Word again, a few days before that it was for XP, etc, etc.

The only good news is that I don't use MS Office any more! For those of you who have been following along - you'll know that I dumped the Office POS for Open Office. So far - LOVING IT. It does everything that I need, in a similar way to the way Office does it.

I've also dumped Outlook for Thunderbird and Google Calendar.

Now I won't lie - it did take some getting used to - and for the first week I wanted to just go back to the old stuff - because I had been using it on an off for the past 9 years and I knew them very well (and the keyboard shortcuts).

BUT - I have hung in there - and now I know the keyboard shortcuts for Open Office stuff (and Thunderbird) as well. Sure, there are things that are different, and I "wish" Thunderbird would allow me to insert the signature on a message-by-message basis (for example).

BUT - I don't EVER have to worry about any "Zero Day Exploits" for Office!

Now if I could only say the same about Windows XP.....

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Mac OS: The Microsoft Redheaded Bastard Stepchild

So.... if you have Office on Mac OS - you won't be able to read Office 2007 files until April/May 2007.


BUT - If you have newer hardware (Macintel) you can always run Vista and Office 2007 on Mac OS via Parallels... DOH!

The Mac translators are due about the same time as the rest of the world translators (mid 2007) - so HOT TIP: If you or your company is on the bleeding edge and is using Office 2007 DO NOT save data in the 2007 format - use the "compatible" setting if you plan on sharing your document with outside people.

Who probably won't be upgrading any time soon. Or ever.

On a completely different note - because I'm using OpenOffice now - they just announced that they WILL support the new 2007 Office XML format (or Novell will develop it)... so in about the same time as the rest of the world has translators - one would assume that OpenOffice will have the same native capabilities.

Did I mention OpenOffice is free? Did I also menti0n I'm using it - and liking it very much? Hint, hint..

THIS JUST IN (from eWeek): "Microsoft has issued a zero-day attack alert for its ubiquitous Word application. The unpatched flaw can be exploited when a user simply opens a maliciously rigged Word document, and there are no pre-patch workarounds available, Microsoft warns."

Ummmmmm..... cool. I'm really, really glad I'm using Open Office instead of MS Office!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Digital Native

As I'm sitting here this morning writing this entry, my 6 year old son, Brennan, is at my side. He's kicking the bejezus out of some Nick Jr. character called "Wubbzy" on an old laptop.

His personal best score is 1153. Not too bad considering my best score is 659 - and also considering that the only "controls" on this game are the right and left arrow keys and the space key.

That brings me to my point - he is so comfortable with technology (he can launch the browser and type in the URL himself) that I wonder how his life will be different from mine - in terms of education.

I'm 42 - so when I was a kid we had to learn how to deal with the card catalog and something called the "Dewy Decimal System." Now they can just search for books on a terminal. They still have to physically FIND the book but the days of kids (like me) randomly re-arranging the little cards are over.

I was luckier than most kids - my parents bought the latest "Encyclopedia Britannica" to further our education at home rather than having to go to the public library. The 26 volume tome was (and is) an analog version of basic life. Whenever I had to do a report or find out how something worked - I would hit the encyclopedia and find out.

Now kids hit Google.

The difference is - the encyclopedia is compiled by dedicated professionals and fact-checks. Like a dictionary. Very unlike Wikipedia where people can just make stuff up and people take it at face value.

I also had to create great lists of books and periodicals that contained some mention of my research subject, only to find the library didn't have that issue, or someone had it somewhere in the library, or it was in the pile to be re-shelved. I became and expert at microfiche and was forced to use critical reasoning to pull together and synthesize my thoughts into a coherent central paper.

Will my kids just copy/paste the top 3 links in the search results?

Thought for today: My school presentation certainly never contained 3-D images, multimedia and a link to my MySpace page!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

This Just In: Vista Affected by Malware on Launch!

It was reported by Computerworld that although Microsoft Vista is finally shipping TODAY (the business version, at least) - and it's SUPPOSED to be tons more secure than XP, etc.

There are already 3 reported viruses that can attack Vista if people are using a web-based email client and open an infected attachment.


You'd think people would try that in testing... NOPE.


Remember folks - Vista + Office 2007 = ROAD TO HELL!

Technology Can SUCK

Sorry for the long delay in posting stuff - but I've JUST ABOUT got my computer back from HELL. It's seriously taken me the better part of two WEEKS to get this thing back to a usable state.

Why, Bob? What happened? Flood? Fire? Groupies attacking?


Windows SP2.

Not kidding.

I had Windows SP1 installed (and fully patched, don't worry!) - and everything was just fine. Then I was downloading some updated software - and it REQUIRED SP2. Since SP1 was not supported after October 15, 2006, I decided to just download SP2 and go for it.

HUGE f**cking mistake!

After downloading and installing SP2 - everything went nuts. I couldn't connect to SQL Server anymore, Oracle was complaining, Outlook was crashing, etc. etc. etc.

So, I figured that I'd just uninstall it, and forget it.

Yeah, right.

You have guessed the story... oh, sure, it "let" me uninstall it. I restarted (going to "Shut down" - and then restarting just to make sure the registry settings were fully written) - and everything was still completely hosed. Hosed to the point where I couldn't get stuff done. I mean Outlook said it can't read my 3 .pst files (at over 2GB EACH!).

So, I "bit the bullet" and backed everything up to a local drive (I use the GREAT FREE service Mozy for off site backup also), and then I completely wiped the drive and re-installed XP.

So that after it was completely installed (2.5 hours later) - it said on the launch screen that there was 2 copies of XP on there - and which one did I want to boot into! Remember: WIPED the drive, and re-installed XP.

This didn't bode well.

THEN, to add insult to injury, I couldn't find my Office XP disk - so the activation code didn't take - so Outlook wouldn't even start up! NO EMAIL! NO CALENDAR! NO HISTORY of email (for the past 4 years)!

I was (and still am) so ABSOLUTELY F**CKING PISSED OFF that I decided to use Thunderbird and Google Calendar and OpenOffice.



Going open source.

Who knew?

I even found a way to get all my old email into Thunderbird (import into Outlook Express and then import directly into Thunderbird). The calendar stuff is lost, and most of my contacts, but it's not THAT big of a deal.

I'll keep you updated on my thrust into the soft innards of OpenOffice (so far, so good!).

Thought for the day: VISTA and Office 2007 = the paved road to HELL.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sun vs Microsoft - Open This, Baby!

So... Sun finally pulled the trigger and open-sourced Java. Wow. Only 6 months after Scott McNealy stepped down. From other reports I've read - the 6 month hold up was due to the legal team (140 lawyers!!) going through all 6 MILLION lines of Java source code to see who they need to get licenses from (and who to buy-off) so it would be legal for them to open-source the lot.

I must say - I didn't think I'd live to see the day Java was set free. GOOD JOB, Sun!

In fact, Sun is rumored to be looking to open-source their OpenSolaris operating system as well! Wow. Really amazing stuff.

Speaking of proprietary and never going open-source no matter what... what (if anything) should Microsoft do to counter the move?

What if they come up with a Java-like language to compete with Java?

Oops, they already did that with C#.

So... we know that there's no way they will open up THEIR operating system, nor their Office cash-cow, nor their Xbox OS, nor VB....

Hmmmmm.... I know, what about the .Net Framework? Hey, that would be a good idea. Then, people could choose to run with it and port it to other platforms (already happening with the Mono Project) and have other developers help them out.

Whadda' ya' think - will it happen? No chance in hell. Microsoft would lose control, and they wouldn't be able to "embrace and extend anything" - definitely not their business model!

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Irrelevant Operating System

I read with with great interest the other day that Windows is dead, Mac OS is irrelevant and Linux doesn't matter.

Or they are if you believe all the hype over "Web 2.0" and "social" applications. The argument goes something like this: As more and more applications leverage technologies like AJAX and become more robust and easier to use, the browser is becoming the new operating system.

The prophets have decreed that the future will be the utopia of "lightweight" computing. No more nasty individual PC's with either own data stores that don't get backed up. No more viruses, worms and spyware (because the user won't be able to download anything - and "won't need to").

We'll "get to" have devices that allow an "always on" Internet connection, will store all of our preferences and actual software on a central server (so we "get to" use any computer anywhere and still have all of our files & applications), and all the "software" we'll ever need will be delivered inside a web browser.

Sure, and mokeys might fly out of my ass.

These Web 2.0 sites - are all basically the same: they all enable "communities" to share (or hide) their content and applications, have some kind of "collaboration" tool set and have varying degrees of AJAX in their interface.

On the web. With an Internet connection. In a browser.

I don't know about your experience - but most of the browser applications I've used just simply suck. There are a couple of laser-focused applications that do a good job (Zimbra for email, Google Maps, etc.) - but most of the applications are nothing more than a "Hello World" demo that don't even provide the functionality of the most basic offline applications.

Let's pretend that applications get better. Let's even pretend they were as robust as "regular" applications. What about offline editing? What about plane travel productivity? What about power and/or service outages? What about clever virus writers taking down a whole data center with hundreds (or thousands or millions) of people's data on it?

To a certain degree I agree that Windows does suck, the Mac is "cute" and Linux is an OS only a geek could love. There are times I would trade any of my computers for a stick of gum. BUT, a 100% web browser application world?

I'd rather use paper and pen.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Adware & Spyware & Viruses - Oh My!

I used to be the clueless type of computer user that doesn't do backups and doesn't use anti-virus/anti-spyware software.

Until I had to.

I had this one infection when SOMEONE, who will remain nameless (OK, it was my own damn fault!), was using my computer at home and they clicked a scammer link in an email. The next day I had pop-up menus galore, and weird "freezes." That was back in the "old days" when the pond-scum virus writers let you know you were infected. Nowadays, they don't. They could be after your bank details (key loggers) or to use your machine as a zombie in a DDoS attack.

I use a couple of different virus packages. First and foremost McAfee VirusScan. It has been very good at stopping the nasties and it's very inexpensive. And, because I'm a bit paranoid, I also use the most excellent AVG Free edition that is constantly updated and can scan emails as well as doing daily scans (the McAfee one is more flexible on scheduling).

Adware and Spyware are a whole separate deal and you need software that protects you against both.

There are actually underground sites that act like "help wanted" exchanges for crooks and virus/worm/trojan writers. Apparently, your computer is worth about $.50 to $2.50. How long will it take you to rid your computer of the scourge crap? The national average is between 3 and 12 hours - depending on your technical ability.

The best offense in this case is a good defense. You should have a virus protector, and you should also have those products scan for spyware and adware. If you want extra protection, you can also use a product like NoAdware to scan for spyware (free!), and to immunize yourself for the future.

Most of all - you need to ACT. TODAY. Download these tools and let them run over night or over the weekend - and DISCONNECT your computer from the Internet until you're sure you're safe! These people are not fooling around - you shouldn't either!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Moving Can Suck

I'm not a huge fan of moving. When I was younger, I would move about every 4 years or so. When I was single, it was more about packing a friends truck with the 8 items I owned. The only thing that took more than 3 seconds to "pack" was my bed - and even then I didn't have a "proper" bed frame until I'd been married for two years.

As I got older, and after I got married, we've still managed to move SOMETHING every 3 or 4 years - be it our household or our business. In between, of course, we've helped countless friends and relatives move as well... still, I'm not a huge fan of moving.

Moving can be exciting ("...ooooh, look, there goes that ________ into a million pieces..."), physically demanding ("...damn, even muscles that I didn't know I had hurt!"), and a treasure hunt (" THAT's where that damn ________ is!") all at the same time.

I've done it all when it comes to moving - from scouring dumpsters for boxes, to hiring "pack and move" people to do the whole thing. Here's a tip - if you can afford it - then HIRE PEOPLE TO DO THE MOVING, but NOT the packing.

If you do have to move yourself - here's another tip: don't start drinking until ALL the boxes are in your new place (garage counts).

Tip #2: Don't have "just one beer" with lunch - you'll be asleep before you know it.

Even if you can "pop" for someone to do the moving - don't have them pack. NO ONE cares for your useless junk as much as you do. If you want most things in tact after the move - and you don't like filling out 10,000 page claim forms - pack the stuff yourself.

Tip #3: The general rule of packing 2 boxes a day - complete crap. Grab some old newspaper, a 12 pack, packing tape, 3 friends and pack the hell out of everything 48-72 hours in advance, and stay in a hotel until moving day.

Final Tip: Get a dumpster, and throw out 50% of your junk. For the other 50%, as you go from room to room make 3 piles: Keep, Trash, Donate. For everything you put in the "Keep" pile that isn't clothing or dishes, etc. put an "Expiration Date" on there that is 2 years in the future. When you get to your new place, put those boxes in the garage or closet with the "Exipration Date" facing you. If you haven't opened the box by the expiration date, then chances are really good you can just toss the box.

This technique has allowed me to park two cars in my garage in the last two places I've lived. It's worth it just for that!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Introducing the ZunePod

OK, so unless you've been under a rock somewhere - you know that Microsoft is about to launch it's own answer to the iPod - called "Zune." It will have an online music store (very original!), where you can download music and videos (yawn!) to a handheld device that's basically identical to a 30GB iPod, at a price basically identical to the 30GB iPod (99 cents more).

To be sure, there are some "cooler" features in Zune: FM Radio, wireless networking (for beaming songs to you friends) and a bigger screen (3 inches versus 2.5). You can get more details from people with nothing more than free time on their hands at Wikipedia.

I'm going to leave the audio and video geeks to debate over which one is better (I don't really care), and the marketplace will also decide which one lives and which one dies - but what I want to talk about is Microsoft's tactics.

It's like Steve Ballmer is Baron Bomburst commanding kidnapped clueless scientists to duplicate Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. And, it's doing with the typical 1990's mantra "embrace and extend" - which in Microsoftland means "copy and kill the inventor."

They did it with DOS. They did it with Windows (copy of then-popular Mac OS). They did it with Excel (remember VisiCalc?). They did it with Explorer. They did it with XBox. They are TRYING to do it with C# (identical to Java), and now they are trying to do it with Zune.

We can only hope and pray that Apple doesn't get cocky and drop the ball (again).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Hacking The Vote

Now that we're only a few days away from the mid-term elections here in the US, I've been thinking about the voting process - and the effects of technology - and what it could mean for the upcoming election.

Then I found out about a documentary that HBO is going to air called "Hacking Democracy" - that takes a look at Diebold (the manufacturer of the majority of e-voting machines). From some of the reviews on the net (I haven't seen it myself) - I take it that it's not a very... ummm... flattering story.

That brings up another point: There is no standardized "platform" for voting. There are a bunch of companies and they all have their own security, software, and hardware. They all market to different states and even counties.

Who the hell is going to do on-site tech support for technically challenged voters? If you've ever voted (and those of you over 18 in the US had BETTER vote!) - you know that most of the volunteers in polling places are older than dirt and have the tech savvy of a 3 year old. It's the blind leading the blind.

Whenever you have crappy technology (the Diebold voting system was hacked with a $100 card from the Internet in 60 seconds), a lack of adequate tech support, lack of standards, no accountability, and a tight race - that can mean only one thing.

Lawyers. Lots of em.

Even though the election is on Tuesday, I predict that 90% of all the races won't be decided for a couple of weeks until all the lawyers are done with their cluster f***king.

In the end it will come down to a judge to decide who wins a race, and not the people that are supposed to be represented - and that sucks.

Thought for today: If you're a geek and your local voting place is all-electronic - take the day off and help out!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

IBM in Smack Down With Microsoft

IBM has announced that it's going to release a tool that will help people use SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) products easily. Oh yeah, and they're also working with their partner, Mainstay, to make a tool to convert from Visual Basic 6 to Java.

No, really, they did!

IBM. "Big Blue." The mainframe guys. You know - Lotus Notes, first personal computer - those guys.

Sounds like they're going into the "easy" realm? SOA for the rest of us? Ummmm... dunno, it's not out yet (due by end of 2006 - or so they say). BUT, if the name is any indication of the "easy" part - it's NOT going to be easy: the name is "Lotus Expeditor".

Really. Not Kidding.

A) Lotus = dead spreadsheet that they tried to turn into a "platform" in the early 90's - before something we like to call "the Internet"

B) ex‧pe‧dit‧erspan>  Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[ek-spi-dahy-ter
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