Archive for the ‘My humble opinion’ Category

Kindle madness

Monday, June 8th, 2009

I’m just going to say it for the record. The Amazon Kindle goes on my list of one of the greatest tech toys I’ve ever gotten. I’ve had mine for about a month now and it’s been absolutely fantastic. The page looks so much like text printed on a page that I’ve been able to read books left and right. This comes at such a good time too because I’ve been running around too much to sit and read an actual book. I have tried to set a goal for myself of reading 40 books a year. Last year was my first year and I conquered my goal.  That may have had to do with the fact that I had a broken leg for a month and a half so all I did was read books during that time. This year however, has been a challenge due to the fact that I’ve been moving around a lot. All the driving has me a little out of the flow of reading.

The Kindle solved all of these problem. First, I carry it everywhere just like my mp3 player. I started to count audiobooks into this equation late last year therefore I really enjoyed putting audiobooks on my mp3 player. The Kindle solved that too with it’s very listenable text-to-speech (TTS). I had written a script in Linux to grab PDF’s off my server, convert them to text and feed them into the program Festival (a TTS program) for this purpose but now I don’t need to (or so I thought but read on). The Kindle proved very easy to listen to and not too robotic. I had a collection of PDF books on my server that I used Calibre to convert to .mobi format instead of the proprietary .azw format of the Kindle.

Then it all fell apart. Amazon was sued by the audiobook companies. They have overhead. They pay people to read the books for their audio versions. Who was I to get a book and think I could have my personal robot read it to me? How obsurd.  I jest because I was really pissed that Amazon just caved in instead of giving them a fight. So, somehow Amazon decided to turn off the feature for your Kindle to read most books to you unless it gets authorization from the publisher. I found the book I bought recently did not have that authorization and since it was originally published two years ago I doubt they’d try to find out if they could get it. So, I’m kind of screwed there.

Scrreeecch! Hit the brakes! You thought I gave up there? Please… There are tools to convert and rip .azw files. Calibre won’t do it and neither will Stanza but they tell you to find 3rd party programs. That’s a slick way of saying, “Hey if you can find it out there I won’t look. Once you’re finished bring it back to me and I’ll handle the rest.” So, off to find these 3rd parties. I will let you know what I find. Especially if I can come up with a command line program to do it. That way I’ll have the files converted and ready for my Kindle seconds after it notices it’s plugged in. The script will copy new .azw’s convert them and put them back as .mobi files.

The love of tech continues.

Linux doesn’t need “Grunt theory”

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

 I was getting my Linux podcast listening in and listened to the Linux Outlaws and it brought me to my subject.

First a little background on my thinking. I am a consultant that works for various companies, in many industries using many operating systems and hardware. So, I try to come in and understand the business so I can serve them best. I have a cousin who is a low level filing clerk that totally subscribes to what I call “Grunt theory.” Grunt theory is a mindset that I’ve coined as people who think the company is always some massive evil thing that’s always treating them wrong. Don’t get me wrong. In most cases this is kind of true but you have to have a more discerning eye. Every company would go under if it would follow the grunt theory which would make them give everyone more money, more vacation days, very little employee discipline and not fire employees that hurt the bottom line. This is business people. Businesses are here to make money.

Ok, now that said, I get kind of upset when I find Linux enthusiasts falling into “Grunt theory” thinking. Microsoft and Apple are companies that are here to make money. That’s what they do. Now, I am all for opening people’s eyes to the vast amount of options that are available from open source alternatives. I seem to be able to bring a little Linux into every company I work with when they realize they can get great performance and features for free (or with little investment if I can get them to donate). The thing that keeps bothering me is people that rely on constant Microsoft bashing on non-technical areas. I’ve even got to give Apple credit for the Mac vs. PC commercials focusing on real issues and making very good attacks on them.

As a community, let’s stick to the issues. Don’t join the bandwagon and try to get community street cred by just aimlessly bashing because honestly, that’s the same thing Microsoft is doing. They can make aimless claims on Linux and because of their market share people listen. I have Linux running on everything all over my house but as I was typing, just now, I realized that I would be a serious hypocrite because I’m typing this on a Microsoft keyboard on one of my computers that runs Windows. I am seriously hoping for the day that Linux’s market share at least rivals Apple’s OSX because I wouldn’t even have this machine running so much if I could get Photoshop on Linux but I’m patient.

Nothing new here people. It’s just a tool.

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I was at a PTA-like meeting last night at one of my sons schools with my wife (it’s actually like a class but that’s a whole other story). Next thing you know we were talking about “Things that get in the way of our children’s success.” Of course sooner or later subjects like Myspace, instant messaging and porn come up. It soon became quite a hot topic when some parents believed children should never have computers in their rooms.

I have a lot of thoughts on this subject being a young curious kid myself. However, no sooner had I thought about all the things I could say before my wife redirects the crowds attention to me explaining how our kids don’t have this problem. In short I explained to the class that a computer in the room is like having a whole bookshelf full of books because of all you can learn and that with some small tweeks you can provide some amount of safety. However, if I had wanted to spend more time on the subject I would have taken a different tact to address a more pessimistic mother.

After the class seemed appeased with the fact that they can provide a good amount of internet safety, one pessimistic mother had something to add. “Children will always find a way around whatever you do.” I didn’t respond however I was at first insulted by her defeatist attitude before I realized that the core of the problem was elsewhere. The child.

I tell companies this all the time as well as families: “The computer is a tool just like a hammer is.” That’s it! It may be slicker looking, made of plastic and metal and have lights but it’s just a tool. A hammer can be used to build a house or kill someone. It all depends on the operator of that tool. In the context of the class, I could have provided security on the level of the CIA on that computer however, just like with a hammer, if you want to do something malicious there are hammers laying around all over town.

“There is no new thing under the sun” is a verse from Ecclesiastes 1:9 (which I searched for on the internet). It holds true for all the things we talked about in class that people who watch the news all the time need to realize. Our world is no worse than 2000 years ago when Jesus was here and people felt it was the end of times. People afraid of homosexuals in office don’t realize that most of the Greek and Roman senates were openly gay back then. Murder and mutilation were paraded in the streets. Rape happened often. The world hasn’t changed it’s just newer and faster tools.

The cycle continues you just need to focus on the operators not the tools.

Is it really China attacking us?

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

I a thought just brought itself together to me yesterday that I had to throw out there. During the Olympics I was talking to my kids about China and how we find that they attack American servers so much. I personally have tried to track down IP addresses on servers I’ve run and even at my home in the past and traced them down to a Chinese IPs before I even knew about all the attacks.

Fast forward to the night before last. I was watching a James Bond movie called “Tomorrow Never Dies.” The movie’s plot in short was a plot by a media magnet billionaire (obviously Ted Turner) making the news so his magazines, TV, and newspapers could report it first. So, he used a stealth ship and park it near the Chinese ships and attack the British and vice versa.

So, in my preparation to write this post I was listening to a podcast called Linux Outlaws and found out that John C. Dvorak or the Twit network also came up with this conclusion. What if it’s someone else attacking us by attacking Chinese servers and routing through them? In my own history I have found that a server that I had control of but wasn’t supposed to really touch was compromised many years ago. The thing is, during the forensics process of this I found out that the attackers were from Germany and using my server to attack the company 3COM (who also notified me of the attack). Dvorak seems to think it is the Russians attacking US computers but I haven’t thought too much about the “who” just the “not who.”

Just a side thought. Tomorrow Never Dies was made in 1997. Somebody else was watching and coming up with this idea. Plus, we know that the Chinese servers aren’t totally without holes. The whole drama about the Chinese gymnists being too young really broke after an american IT security guy hacked (well not really hacked but run with me) into Chinese search engine servers cache files, got data, and used Google to translate the pages. From that he found that all the references to a gymnast meet just last year where the girls were 13 and now they’re 16 by the time of the Olympics. Right…

An it’s your fault world

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Today I had a very interesting moment. I have a vacuum cleaner at home that has stopped working. Relenting to pressure from my kids who didn’t want to sweep our living room and my wife I decided to go ahead and fix it. Upon openning it I found all kinds of particles stuck and other things that I cleaned but when I found that the belt inside was broke I knew that that was the real problem so I took off the broken belt and went to the vacuum repair shop. He asked me what kind of vacuum I had and when I stumbled and stammered my words he just figured let me go ahead and look at the old one (which I wanted him to do in the first place). He gave me a band for $2 and I was off to the house.

Moments after putting the piece back together I vacuumed the floor with great results but the smell of burned rubber. I openned the vacuum again and the roller with the brushes was broken and parts were melted.

Fast forward to today. I take the vacuum back and after a brief discussion I come to find out that the repair guy didn’t stock these kinds of parts for my vacuum and his suppliers didn’t stock my model. The causes could have been varied but when one of them was a belt being too small. The same belt that he sold me for $2 could end up costing me a lot more. It wasn’t even a scam because he didn’t even work on my vacuum type. I was torn in how I should respond.

In my line of work I fix people’s computers all day everyday. The one thing that I have a big problem with is people blaming me for a possible problem. I take my reputation very seriously. What almost 99% of the problem wasn’t from anything I did and I know before I come back. I do come back because I am one that takes responsibility. However, we live in an “it’s your fault” world. I definitely understand that there is the remote situation where you may have forgotten something but I would have liked the repair man to admit the possibility to his guilt in giving me the wrong size and look for solutions with his supplier. Alas, he didn’t and I was stuck with a broken part and no ideas where to go.

Are you this guy/girl? One of the main things I go over with my children is reliability and responsibility. Your life and your work are all due to decisions you’ve made somewhere down the line. Everything is because you made it that way so take responsibility. However, responsibility without action is just playing another blame game but with yourself.

My goal everyday is to make this world a little better to live in. If just a couple people read this and decide I’m going to fix some of the things I’ve caused then maybe it will spread and form this utopia that we all dream of.

Let the blame game end with you. No excuses. Just action.

Who are you going to believe?

Monday, June 9th, 2008

I recently heard this analogy and I was so excited about it because I always want to tell people something like this. On the financial podcast “The Moneyworks” the financial planner that hosts the show did a segment that warned people against following the advice of the guy you know or friend that knows about this stuff. His analogy was: “Who are you going to trust if you want to learn golf. The guy that works at the golf shop or Tiger Woods? Tiger is a professional that does this for a living!”

I get so upset with this sometimes. I remember one time when I went over the house of a friend of the family once. The lady had a computer issue and called me over. Just before I arrived her cousin arrived. The cousin was a know it all lady whose focus today was computers.  My initial thought was to battle for supremacy in computer knowledge with her but I didn’t. I let the person decide. Who are you going to listen to? A person that does this for a living and that people hold accountable for millions of dollars of equipment and revenue or a secretary on the ground flour of Joe Blow’s discount Inc.?  The way I figure it follow their advice now if you want. You will be back to me or (if you can’t swallow your pride) you will wander from random computer person to random computer person and then take on the belief that this stuff is just too hard anyway.

Luckily the lady in the aforementioned store patronized her cousin till she left and then said, “I could tell by your face she was all wrong from the start. Let’s get started.” Wise choice. If you don’t want to get a computer guy like me to solve your problem the next best choice has ended up being the tech people at Fry’s Electronics, Best Buy, Circuit City, etc. This is not always a bad choice and I will recommend it sometimes. However, just like with the financial consultant, even if you know someone doing this but they aren’t in your city and can actually do it, pay them a little something for some quick advice over the phone. I can diagnose most things over the phone without even seeing you in person. If you don’t you will go in there like sending my mom to a mechanic. They could tell her anything and get some commissions off the sales.

Save gas… Use the Internet

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

I was watching CNBC and came to a huge revelation. The gas price increase really sucks! Now seriously everyone knows that. However, there are so many factors that really effect the common person. For example: Fishermen pay for the gas on the boats that they use to get fish even though they don’t own the ship. Take into account that now the price of gas has doubled since last year and the market price of scallops has stayed the same. Fishermen lose money thus spend less, etc., etc.

I don’t mean to gloat but I’ve been saving quite a bit on gas and here’s how. I stay at home. Yep, that’s basically it. Let me fill in some of the details for you though. I am a consultant and have found that it is very cost effective for me and my clients to do most of the work I do remotely. With tools like Virtual Network Computing (VNC), Secure SHell (SSH), Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), and Virtual Private Networking (VPN) you can sit on the couch and telecommute to success. If you’re an employer then you should really look into using these at your office.

The other part of the save on gas equation is good for the economy but will hurt brick and mortar companies a bit. I live on Amazon and companies like New Egg. I used to be an avid Borders guy and just loved going there to look at new books but now I’m adopting a habit that may never change. I’m finding used books on Amazon that are like new (or actually new as far as I can tell) for under $1 plus shipping. Did you get that? Five dollars total for a book that goes for $30+. That’s putting money in my gas tank till I can afford that electric Telsa sports car.

I believe I will look into making some more of these tips that I use and go into a little more detail on some of the acronyms and how they can save you a little money.

Should I read or should I let you do it?

Monday, May 5th, 2008

I found myself feeling like a little bit of an outsider listening to the latest TWIT podcasts. They seem to read so much and I feel like I don’t read that much. I look at myself and say, “You really need to pick up your pace, these people are so much better than you because they read.” Well, this thought was very short lived. I guess I should get a book on confidence and self-esteem (problem solved I just ordered one). I’m constantly reading. I read because of something my Great grandmother told me when I was young about the bible. She said (and I paraphrase), “Anybody can come and tell people anything about their faith because most of them don’t read it for themselves.” Absolutely brilliant.

Due to this and reading a blog post once about a guy that was saying that he reads nearly 60 books a year, my bookshelves are huge and overflowing. In the car I even listen to audiobooks instead of the radio. His point really touched me. He felt that if you read nearly 20 books on any subject you could pretty much be considered an expert on that subject. I partially agree because I feel like a mixture of practice and usage with some subjects truly make you an expert.

I don’t want to let someone else always tell me second hand. I understand that that is exactly what a book is but a lot of times I just take it for granted that the person that is writing the book is pretty good at his/her subject. I have since done websites for authors and found that you also need to look at their publisher too because good publishers tend to weed out some of the rift raft but there’s good to be learned from the rift raft. Corwin Press, for one, is like a blog mentality for authors. It’s pretty easy to get published it seems. Maybe you’ll see a book coming from me soon.  I just have to figure out what I want to talk about.

I like where Amazon is taking this with the Kindle. I love this idea because you can just download your books in digital format. My only problem with this is getting used books. I have learned to order used books for as cheap as $1 on Amazon. After paying $400 for the Kindle sometimes I might want to load it up with cheap books. However, it seems that buying in digital format can cost me more even though I’m saving the environment. Audible.com isn’t helping much there either. Well, I guess, I’ll just stick with my way for now.

Oh, and for all of you like me… I found the source of my insecurity. I don’t read fiction and it seems that all the people that I listen to do. Don’t feel like an outsider. Read what you want as long as you read. Start with my blog.

Communist design

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

I was recently watching TV and there was a Mac vs. PC commercial on. The commercial was a therapy session where the therapist was telling PC that it “Wasn’t his fault.” Mac explained that due to the fact the Windows tries to make itself available  to so many types of hardware and Mac only makes it’s computers from specific hardware that Mac approves that Windows can’t help but have problems. This has long been Mac’s policy but it really made me think about that concept that I want to explore a little bit more. I call it “Communist design.”

I refer to it as communist design because it reminds me of the Russian automobile industry of the 80’s.  During the cold war communist Russia only allowed their people certain choices. The government decided what it thought you needed and gave you choices in colors of basically black or white. Now, granted, if Apple was the government of cold war Russia then they would still have less choices but have been really stylish ones.

The good part about this is that Apple really knows their hardware like the back of their hand before they build anything on that platform. It allows them to integrate all the parts together well without worry of a quirk (for the most part). This is a good idea in one way of thinking but has its flaws to me. First, what I like about it is that Apple has it’s people focused in order to knock out a problem.

The problem with this concept is that part that troubles me the most. Totalitarian decision making. Steve Jobs need only have a beef with one company, say Nvidia, and decide not to use any of their cards. This really stops the user from having all the choices he wants. This is one of the problems with Linux on the desktop but only for a short while as the drivers are soon developed as the product becomes more mature. This also hurts Apple for the discerning user due to the fact that Macs are always more expensive than their counterparts.

Apple I’ve got your solution so give me the credit (and a check). Put more eyes on the problem because they’d love to help. The way you do this is by contributing to the BSD and Linux effort to your benefit (as well as theirs). Stick to the design that makes you so famous. People love the look and feel of a Mac. However, throw your hardware guys into the open source driver development arena. They get and give with their code. This allows Macs to be able to take on more devices internally and Unix variants to do the same. Why do this? Even if Mac doesn’t like Linux their core is developed by using the Mach kernel that comes from BSD (Linux’s cousin). Helping your cousin ends up helping you at the same time it hurts your enemy (Windows).

Is privacy gone in Australia? Who’s next?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

In a recent article on Ars Technica the government of Australia was trying to run a bill through it’s Parliament to allow for the monitoring of business’ email and telecommunications transactions. The bill would amend it’s Telecommunications act and make it legal for the government to fill in the gap that companies IT departments leave by not tracking the problems themselves. In the United States and in Australia, it is generally accepted practice for companies to monitor all incoming and outgoing traffic including email. You’re using their computers so they want to make sure there is no corporate espionage or possible harassment suits in their future. In Australia, they feel that a telecommunications (especially email or botnet) breach is how cyber-terrorists are going to take down the country.

With that said, let me just say, “That’s a load of crap.”  As a consultant and past IT director I know from experience when companies really care about monitoring. I had a CEO once tell me, “I know not to mess with you [the IT guy]. I’m sure you know where all the bones are buried.” Now I must admit. There is a certain amount of power that can be misused being the IT guy. I could definitely look into what everyone is doing and have the company’s blessing IF I find something juicy that they need to stick it to the person of choice that is doing some sort of offense. According to almost every company’s IT policy I would be required to report the offense to Human Resources, corporate level staff, or sometimes the board of directors. That’s why I was never really a big fan of spying on people in this way. You’d start off looking for the bad guy and next you’d find yourself reading IM’s between two coworkers. Next thing you know you’re looking at them funny at lunch and noticing them go into the janitor’s closet or leaving at the same time.

This is the fundamental problem with monitoring. Drawing the line when you’ve been given the power. Even though I don’t believe the political rhetoric that they are trying to sell for a second even if it was true it would open the flood gates for irresponsibility. Why would the government need to protect companies from treats they didn’t see coming. If they were going to do that then they would also need to have advisors on the boards of some companies to save them from collapse from their own stupid decisions. Could you imagine if there was an advisor on the board of the movie industry when George Lucas was told he could keep the rights to Star Wars when he was making it? It’s one of the biggest business mistakes in history seeing as how the movie industry is going down but George Lucas is a billionaire from brand marketing Star Wars. Wouldn’t a company’s demise be important? Yes, but that’s not why they are in it.

In a recent movie called “The Bank Job” a true story is told about a person holding incriminating photos of British royalty and using them as leverage against arrest. The British government in turn hires some thugs to rob a bank’s safe deposit boxes to get the paperwork. This was in 1971 so you know it’s going on all over the world today. Australia’s law would just make it legal for the government to cut out the middle man and rob the bank themselves. If it turns out to work for them maybe your government (whatever country you’re in) will be next.