Hey Elon: never mind Mars for now. Put us in a car first!

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, vows in this clip to put humans on Mars within 20 years. I’d love to know why this is his priority, given that Tesla has never had a profitable quarter and has sold less than a thousand cars. They recalled ~460 of them due to a backup 12v wire design flaw which caused a short and possibly a fire. They just started down the dark side of litigious behaviour, the evil temptation to which SCO succumbed when they decided to spuriously sue everyone and their dogs over Linux. And they really need to finish their plant in LA and start getting cars out the door for a low enough price that they start turning a real profitt.

Don’t get me wrong. I love any spunky little startup that plans on making it big riding the green wave into the future. But announcing pie-in-the-sky plans like this do nothing for any of their current projects and they simply act as hype generators outside the scope of what’s reasonable to expect from them.

First impressions on the iPhone 4

Yes, that’s right ladies and gentlemen, I’ve gone over to the dark side. I now own a piece of Apple tech. Okay, it’s not my first, where I got donated an old eMac to play with a while back (the ones that blow capacitors out all the time — meaning it was a time bomb anyway). But don’t worry, I won’t be sucking Steve Jobs’ ween any time soon. My choice for hardware upgrade for work was between yet another shitty Blackberry, or an iPhone — and given that one can do VPN and one can’t, my choice was obvious. The fact that I had to pay for my hardware upgrade, making it technically *my* phone, just on work’s data plan, means I did directly contribute to Apple’s bottom line personally. But we’ll let that fact slide for the time being.

The Retina display is very nice, though it’s certainly not all it’s cracked up to be in one respect — giving the extra pixels to the phone’s display smooths edges and does in fact make “pixellation” completely disappear, but it does not in any way add to the amount of information you can see on the screen at a time. I’ve found myself very regularly holding the phone disquietingly close to my face, to the point where Jodi told me once not to arch my head so far forward lest I give myself some sort of neck injury. It’s certainly brighter than my old Blackberry Curve 8320. I can tell mostly because when heading to bed, I often use my phone as a flashlight after having turned out all the other lights in the house.

The big killer app is VPN access, as I said earlier. Apparently you can connect a Blackberry to a VPN, but as far as I can tell, only in situations where it’s associated with a Blackberry Enterprise Server. We don’t have one at our workplace, using BIS exclusively, so I’ve never had the option of connecting my older BBs to VPN. Besides, without some way to connect to a server either via SSH or RDP, it would be useless to connect it anyway. That said, the iPhone works splendidly with our VPN solution. I’ve already installed five or six free RDP and VNC apps and gotten connected to my work desktop over 3G, and it’s surprisingly responsive. I can already tell though that, as I expected prior to obtaining this piece of tech kit, the onscreen keyboard is going to take some getting used to. If I can’t find an SSH app to connect to some of my servers, I’ll have to use puTTY on my work Windows box, and I will likely go blind between trying to see what’s going on in the SSH window and getting used to the keyboard that’s simply laid out differently than my muscle memory expects. In landscape mode, the keyboard is way wider spaced than I am used to, and in portrait mode, very slightly smaller-spaced. But not by much. Just enough that sometimes when I try to hit L, I hit backspace instead. SSH will be a real bitch on this phone. I shouldn’t complain though — at least now I’m capable of doing it at all! Meaning no longer will I be expected to dash home to get to my laptop in order to put out a fire when I’m out somewhere. Now I just lose points with my friends and colleagues as I put out those same fires from my phone while ignoring them!

The mail app that comes stock with iOS 4 is absolute crap compared even to older Blackberry tech, e.g. the 7250 I had strapped to my hip for three years prior to my last upgrade. The only good thing it’s got going for it is the ability to connect to Exchange, meaning I can set up my personal Gmail with push capability. It can’t “mark all as read” though, nor can it be filtered as to what comes to the phone. And the worst part is, you can’t set the return address to something other than the default for the account, meaning I can’t set my work domain’s email address and check the external server I have my work forwarded to, without exposing to the people to whom I email that external mail server’s domain. I’ve downloaded a third-party app that appears to have those capabilities and more, by the name of ibisMail, though it cost $3.99. I’m not used to paying for software if it’s not a video game, honestly. Being a Linux guy, I’m used to being the beneficiary of other geeks’ largesse in releasing their software under the GPL. I don’t know that I’ll adjust to that particular paradigm.

My cat, and my legs. Combining the two traditional first picture paradigms into one shot thats the picture equivalent of Hello World.

The camera functions are exceptional for a phone — easily better than any legitimate phone I’ve ever bought. Now, granted, I’m no Ben Zvan, but still. The cost for the hardware upgrade is probably slightly less than the last camera I bought, and you can’t exactly connect to an RDP server with a camera. The front-facing camera is slightly grainy in house lights at night, but I haven’t tried out Skype with it yet to see how it works. If Skype can even do it — I suspect Apple’s keeping the camera functions locked down for Facetime users only. Oh well. We’ll see how it works. This IS just a first impression post after all, right?

Compared to the Blackberry 8320, the iPhone 4 is leaps and bounds ahead in terms of usability. But that’s like saying a sandwich is leaps and bounds ahead in nutritional value to a slightly slimy rock. It’s simply not a fair comparison to make.

How Thunderbird’s Lightning color scheme under Ubuntu pissed me off (and how to fix it)

This is a bit of a UI complaint, moreso than a coding one. Fair cop. Most programmers aren’t designers, and most programmers have a mistaken idea that all programmers can do design.

Mozilla Thunderbird is an excellent e-mail client, though with the advent of very good webmail clients, the e-mail client is slowly moving into the cloud and becoming a thing of the past. In the business world, though, e-mail clients are still a virtual necessity — not the least reason being that people have press-ganged the venerable e-mail technology to do just about every business function, from meeting invitations to calendar management to file transfer and even instant messaging. The e-mail client has become your personal information manager, with notes, to-do lists, address books that go well beyond the simple “name and e-mail address” functionality they began with. They have become the central repository for shared business contacts with remote address directories like LDAP and Active Directory (a Microsoft LDAP extension). And the ability to synchronize your handheld personal information manager (née: cellular phone) has become a virtual necessity for businesses today.

I have been using Thunderbird in defiance of the corporate de facto standard of Microsoft Outlook for the five years I’ve been with this company. With the addition of the Lightning calendar extension, which can do meeting requests and accept invitations in a manner compatible with Microsoft Outlook, nobody’s known the difference. So I get to keep my Linux desktop, and I won’t even get forced into installing MS Office under WINE. Win-win for all involved — company doesn’t have to shell out the extra $500 for MS Office Pro, and I don’t have to subject myself to that inferior proprietary software. (What auto junkie wants to buy a car with the hood welded shut?)

However, there was one minor issue after I changed my laptop’s desktop theme. I made the sin of daring to change something unrelated, and suddenly Thunderbird’s to-do list became completely unusable — it was displaying all my tasks in light-gray-on-white. After playing around with some of the other themes available under Ubuntu 10.10’s stock set, I realized what was going on — the to-do tasks were being displayed using the application menu’s font color, rather than the window’s font color. You know, that application menu that says “File, Edit, View” — that one. Not exactly the most intuitive color choice in the world, given that the window background is not usually the background a menu item is rendered against — the menus have their own background color, so themes won’t make menus unreadable accidentally.

Under Windows, those colors probably can’t ever be different. In Linux, under Gnome at least, they most assuredly can. My system menus were configured under the Shiki-Human color theme to match the title bar, so that the application proper starts below where the menus were. It is quite aesthetically pleasing — all the OS bits are dark, and the main application is light, meaning you can focus on one or the other but not both at the same time all that easily.

So, despite tasks being very obviously not menus, Lightning decided to set the rendering for them to something that, in most of the dark-based themes in my collection, would be completely unreadable — nearly invisible in fact — on a white background. This is not a choice the UI designers had to make, in any respect. The fact that the menu color is usually only rendered against the menu background color in themes, means it may never have been tested for contrast against the window background color, or it could intentionally be very close to the window background color. It is not a set of colors that were ever supposed to render against themselves.

Granted, I’m happy that Lightning has switched to using system colors at all — in its earliest versions, all the colors were hard-coded, so no matter what Thunderbird theme or system theme you configured, you’d end up with the same unskinnable (and rather ugly) user interface. So kudos for picking system-based colors at all. However, guys, you definitely picked the wrong ones in this case.

So how to fix it? Luckily, that’s pretty simple, actually!

[Read more...]

Off That by Baba Brinkman

The so-called Rationalist’s Anthem. I could get behind it.

It’s a Jay-Z rap rip-off, but like the song says, it’s evolution, right?

Hat tip to Atheist Media Blog and, of course, Baba Brinkman. He also has a rap album about evolution that you can stream from his site, though I can’t get the blasted thing to play under Linux. Sigh.

Gwibber Ascendant

I love Twitter entirely too much. You get tiny snippets of insight into other people’s minds. You get a great big meme factory where new hashtags are born and die every minute. And you get instant or delayed communication with anyone else on the service, depending on your intent — sometimes you can talk to no-one in particular, and someone will probably answer regardless. I honestly had no idea how enthralled I would have become with what I thought was a trite and passing fad, where I can usually find some nugget of wisdom or bright shiny smile to turn a day 180 when it’s going otherwise horribly.

And since I’m a Linux guy, I’ve been naturally drawn to the Linux-based Twitter clients… repeatedly, as it turns out, because I’ve been burned by them before. But the beautiful thing about open-source software is that it’s always improving incrementally. Sometimes the increments are pretty damned huge, at that. As with Gwibber’s latest incarnation, packaged with the Ubuntu Lucid Lynx beta that I installed on my work laptop a few days ago and integrated into the indicator applet, huge doesn’t begin to describe it.

Finally I have a Linux-based Twitter client that is attractive, functional, notifies me on @-replies and DMs, and can connect to Facebook and (when at work and Facebook is inaccessible) fail on it gracefully without forcing me to remove the connection from my accounts list. I no longer have to rely on Adobe AIR and TweetDeck (the memory hog), or Twhirl (which is sorely lacking in functions). Since it’s programmed in Python, and the source is readily available, I could tweak it to my liking if I so choose, without even recompiling it. It’s not a memory hog, it supports multiple columns like TweetDeck (a feature I JUST discovered!), and it’s not eating up all my processor cycles or API calls doing, for what I use Twitter for, approximately nothing. And did I mention it’s attractive as hell with the default Human theme?

Not that Twitter’s the most productive use of my time, certainly. I mean, if you look in the screenshot, everyone’s favorite mechanical reptile is live-tweeting shaving his head. And it’s like a giant link aggregator where everyone gets to submit links to everyone else’s feeds. And you should know, you probably clicked a link in my Twitter timeline to get here. Roughly 70% of my traffic comes from it.

What a strange service Twitter is, when you think about it — blogging in 140 chars or less. But doesn’t it put a smile on your face now and again?

You can probably check the newest Gwibber out prior to the Lucid launch if you’re feeling daring, or try out one of their older versions from your distro’s repositories. Their PPA is right here. Not sure what you’ll have to do to get it working on other distros, as I honestly haven’t played with anything but Ubuntu in over two years, but I’m sure it’s possible.

Kino and Stilgar

I’ve been trying to figure out Kino: a movie editor for Linux. It’s a bit hard to get used to, but here is a quick little video of Stilgar exploring around my wedding stuff on the table. At the very least we figured out how to get music to play over the video.

Isn’t he teh cutes? :)

I’ve got some clips of my drive to work back when the leaves were starting to change, I think I’m going to work on that one today.

An ebook reader I’m actually lusting after

b-and-n-nook-press

After being recently turned off of the Kindle by Amazon’s fast-and-loose copyright policies, I thought I’d have given up on ebook lust entirely. Then along came the Nook, by Barnes and Noble. Two screens, an SD slot, PDF support, LENDING SUPPORT (ye gads! How novel, being able to temporarily give a book to someone else!) that supports both PC and Mac, and built off of Android no less, on top of not being an ass-ugly tablet with a ridiculous user interface, has rekindled (pun intended) my interest. I’d make it a top priority getting Linux support, naturally, but with the device being Android-based to begin with, I don’t know how much work I’d have to put into it, honestly.

There’s a whole lot more on Engadget. The $259 USD price is a wee bit steep at the moment, and I don’t have a lot of occasion to read as during my transits I’m usually in the drivers’ seat and I generally have too much to do at work or at home to read. I still have a mountain of books to slog through, if only I could bring myself to go to bed early enough to get a good hour or two in of reading before sleepy time hits. Maybe an ebook reader might encourage me to do so, as I always have to avoid rustling the pages in order to not annoy the crap out of Jodi who’s usually in bed well before I am.

The only real problem that I can foresee is, the free wifi access is limited to the Barnes and Noble stores, so the idea of using it as a personal Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by coupling Wikipedia and Google Maps becomes much less possible, unfortunately.

Whaddaya think, anyone want to buy me one?

Office politics suck. At least I come out no worse on this one.

For the past year or so, I’ve been acting as Freelance Network Dude at my work. Given that I have no special training in networking, that I’d been trusted with it is amazing, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. Despite the fact that I don’t seem to have done any damage, and I’ve saved the day on a number of occasions, it seems my tenure in that role is nearly at an end. The second in command to my boss, our network architect (who I will refer to as Lieutenant Dan for no other reason than because that’s just what sprung to mind just now), has seemingly perpetually had more on his plate than he can handle, and while I was taking on what responsibilities I could when I could, the powers-that-be (e.g. the VP acting as my boss’ boss) saw fit to hire for him a lackey.

No, it wasn’t me they hired for this role. I’m not bitter about that at all, though by rights I should be at least a bit miffed for not even being asked. However, I’m fully aware I don’t have the training the powers-that-be were looking for. The fact that they were looking for a specific set of skills and they were looking to specifically alleviate certain strains that were showing in Lieutenant Dan’s workload, meant they had to tailor their hire to what they saw was needed.

My boss, however, is pretty awesome. He saw fit to try to move me sideways into a different elevated position that would keep me from feeling like I’d just been kicked back down into the ranks of the lowly on-site hardware technician. The boss was extremely up-front about what was happening behind the scenes after I specifically correctly divined the reason he was asking me to move sideways, due to the overlap this new hire caused, and he even intimated it will come with a raise (assuming his boss approves it). He’s also made overtures in the past about cross-training someone at my site to act as hardware technician so I can work on higher-end stuff, and he’s been consistently impressed (by my reckoning) with my problem-solving skills so he regularly tasks me with odd side-projects that I just love to tackle. So, with the massive re-formatting of the entire company’s ActiveDirectory structure, bringing it all under the same domain across multiple sites, he’s putting me in charge of the administration and maintenance of that AD domain.

This is a huge responsibility, and, though it’s not nearly as esoteric or fun as networking or Linux administration, it’ll keep me relevant despite the new lackey-hiring so I’m more than willing to do what needs doing. Aside from the fact that a lackey of my own as hardware technician would be instrumental in freeing up my time for more administrative concerns, I’m not terribly worried about the security of my job despite the fact that this lateral move might rattle others. It’s a dog-eat-dog world and I’m not much of a dog-eater. I’m just glad the boss seems to be looking out for my best interests.

SCO to Darl: “You’re FIRED!”

Ars Technica reports a bit of news for which I cannot but help a measure of schadenfreude: Darl McBride, architect of the “sue Linux” strategy that’s put SCO in the crapper and destroyed its international reputation, has been ousted as CEO. And yet, the zombie shambles ever onward, continuing the present litigations even though they’ve reorganized half a dozen times already and still haven’t managed to settle all their debts or close all their outstanding grievances.

Even after SCO’s deception was exposed and the company effectively lost its case, Darl McBride continued to insist that the company has evidence of System V code in Linux. No such evidence has been presented and McBride’s argument directly contradicts testimony given by other SCO executives. McBride’s stubborn detachment from reality has made him a subject of ridicule in the Linux community.

The SEC filing indicates that SCO COO Jeff Hunsaker and CFO Ken Nielsen will assume the responsibility of managing SCO in collaboration with the trustee. The company does not intend to name a new CEO. Additional details of the restructuring plan are said to be forthcoming, but the company says that it has undertaken several cost-cutting measures including a “a modest reduction in SCO’s workforce” and the sale of additional assets.

In a statement issued by SCO’s new leadership, the company indicates that it plans to continue its litigation efforts and will move forward with the appeals process. The company also says that it plans to continue supporting its UNIX products. This potentially indicates that SCO has given up on trying to unload its UnixWare assets, a plan that has fallen through several times now as various proposed deals have evaporated.

PJ at Groklaw will have to hold off on putting on her red dress a little while longer.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the command line

(I was going to title this “Power Overwhelming”, but the blog wouldn’t let me, said I must construct additional pylons.)

I’d like to point you to a series of posts over at Greg Laden’s about the command line. Every OS has one, and they are of varying degrees of power and usefulness, but in every case, the very idea of a black screen filled with nothing but a wall of white text gives “grandma” users the heebie-jeebies. If you don’t know how to deal with a command line, if you are afraid of typing something into a terminal, then you are missing out on most of the best parts of computer use.

Go read now:

Part 1: The Command Line in Linux, Mac OSX and Windows
Part 2: May the force (of the command line) be with you
Part 3: Underlying Power