Sunday, July 12, 2009

Circular Patterns Make Me Dizzy

I want to know who is in charge of naming operating systems these days.

Let's say you are a brilliant, young, (hopefully young--because if you think you can write an operating system, you are painfully naive) and naive computer programmer, and you decide you want to write your very own operating system from the ground up. Or maybe just the kernel up. Actually, you are going to use a kernel that's already out there and just build up from that.

Let's also say that you aren't just a hacker who thrives on weird-sounding names like Ubuntu, Debian, RedHat, or Fedora. Let's say that you are a multi-billion dollar corporation who has the resources to actually make a project like this work. What do you call the product?

Before we answer that, let's ask a couple of other questions that might be more important. For example, we might want to know:

1. What this new OS is going to do that others don't.
2. What won't it do that others already do?
3. How is it going to compete with Microsoft Windows and the Mac OS X?
4. How will it stack up in terms of security?
5. How are human interface design questions answered?
6. What kind of file systems will it support?
7. What are the technologies involved?

Neglecting to answer these questions before launching a project would be really stupid. And I'm sure that Google thinks it's answered those questions, at least internally. But it hasn't said anything to me recently, which kind of pisses me off.

But some of the questions have been answered. Namely 1, 2, and 7.

Answer Key:

1. Nothing
2. A hell of a lot
3. It uses a Linux kernel.

Another, perhaps more relevant, question that might be popping into the minds of normal people is this: will it do what I want it to do? Well, we don't know that yet, and that's a big part of the problem with announcing a product that appears to be just getting started.

But the concept is clear. Google's new OS is said to be a "web-OS." In other words, it takes a perfectly functional computer and turns it into a dumb-terminal or thin-client, depending on how much it lets you (yes, lets you!) store on the local machine.

According to what I've read, there is no desktop--only the web browser. And because the web browser being used is Google's Chrome browser, it decided--apparently in an attempt to create as much confusion as Microsoft's pricing structure (is that how you're going to compete with MS? Confusion?)--to call the OS, "Chrome."

What would I call it? I don't know. Maybe something along the lines of Lazy POS, Crack OSmoker, Intarwebz 1.0, or MDOS (short for Marketing Disaster Operating System).

In real terms, it sounds like a huge step backwards in technology. We tried this dumb-terminal computing before in the 60s and 70s. We didn't like it.

So companies like Apple and IBM pioneered more powerful personal computers. Today, my MacBook can run circles around the mainframes of the 60s with both legs behind its ears . . . at a tiny fraction of the cost. Compared to netbooks of various flavors, the MacBook is expensive. But my MacBook can run circles around those too.

While Google says that Chrome (the OS, not the browser) is aimed initially at netbooks, it also claims there will be a desktop version at some point. That's even better. Why in the name of horny dragonflies would I want to cripple my desktop with a net OS? Because it's cheaper?! I can buy a cheap piece of junk from Dell for a few hundred bucks, and it actually has a real operating system on it.

You know--the kind of operating system that lets me store files, open files, change files, upload pics, movies, and pr0n, and get work done when I don't have access to the internet.

I can even have them cripple it with Windows if I want.

Why, Google? Why?


How, Google, How?

The circularity of it astounds me. It's like someone at Google suddenly woke up and said, "Hey guys! You know how bell bottoms and wide ties are back in style again? Let's make computers do nothing but what they used to do in the 70s!!!! OMG! AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

But the problem is that computers (outside of the feature-phone market . . . curse you, LG) aren't just fashion. They are the things that help people like you and me get work done. Also, bell bottoms were only really back in style for a year or so before people realized how stupid they look. Again.

No one I know of wants a computer with limited capabilities. People want computers with the most functionality they can get for the lowest price. There's some room for people like Apple, but that doesn't change the formula--it simply expands the definition of function.

Why Google is writing its own Linux distro that provides extremely limited functionality is directly to how they are planning to make money from it.

That's also a mystery because Google intends to sell it for the whopping low price of nothing. That's right, it's free. Just like the Android operating system for cell phones that been amazingly, astoundingly, unprecedentedly, brain-punchingly (thanks, Mal!) unsuccessful.

Why? Because--as people have shown over and over again--no one wants stuff just because it's free. People want stuff because it does what they want. Free stuff that doesn't cut it is very quickly discarded and very easy to justify discarding. The fact that people pay money for something makes it more difficult to get rid of. If you didn't pay for it, there's nothing wrong with painting a George W. Bush face on it and punting it into the dumpster down the street.

If you can't make money off something, why bother to spend the enormous amounts of money on the R&D to create it? Just because you have money to burn? Just because you want the Linux distro notch on your bedpost? How in the name of sea urchins do you justify this?

Quick recap: Make a shitty product that no one wants and give it to people while costing the company millions of dollars every year.

I really want to meet the person who pitched this to the executive team. And I really, really, really want to know why that person has a job and I don't.

And I really, super-especially want to know why the executive who approved the project still has a job.

This is pure idiocy from a borderline-monopoly who thinks it can do no wrong.

Unless . . .

Google thinks it can make money because the OS is contained in a web browser window. Every time you want to open a file, you get an ad for OpenOffice; every time you want to save a file, you get an ad for a backup solution; every time you want to copy a text-string, you get an ad for Xerox; etc., etc.

If that's the way things work, I can see it being a cash-cow. But I don't really see that as happening. If you're at all like me, you draw a line when it comes to ads. I can ignore them when I'm checking my gmail. I can ignore them when I'm looking for something online.

But I refuse to allow them onto my personal space. Not because I can't ignore them; I can. Because I want my space, dammit.

The clear problem with a Google Chrome-powered laptop is that it isn't yours. Your data isn't yours, your music and pics and pr0n aren't yours. Everything you want on your computer belongs to Google.

My generation won't accept that, except on one condition: it's free or very close to it.

I've ranted about the software problems, let's talk about the hardware involved. Google is going to have to convince hardware companies to make some serious changes in the way they build computers. For example, a Google Chrome-powered netbook doesn't need a hard drive. Just a small flash drive that's only big enough to hold the OS. Again, we've been there before. We called it ROM in the 70s.

But while sacrificing the HDD, you have to upgrade the network card to 802.11N, so I don't really think that's a cost savings. Yeah, you don't have to pay the Windows tax, but that's not really a significant factor in a 300-dollar netbook.

The only way I see this working is if Google sinks an enormous amount of money into subsidizing the cost of the netbook, forcing ads down your throat, and making money off said ads.

That could work. If Google can arrange the OS so that it constantly pumps ads but in a way that remains useable, and then also brings the cost of a netbook down to around 25 bucks, I would keep one in every room of my house. Probably in my underwear too, just in case.

If that's not the business model, I don't know what is. Google isn't creating an iPhone here, or even an iPod or iTunes. Those financial ecosystems work because Apple makes products that--admittedly--have fewer features than other phones, music players, and MP3 apps, but it does those features really well, and (this is the most important point) CHARGES A LOT OF MONEY FOR THEM. Except for iTunes, which is essentially a pipe that allows Apple to make money off other people's content. But still. It's a model that makes sense.

For this to work, Google has to have substantial market share very quickly to appeal to potential advertisers. Without that, this goes nowhere, and no one is going to buy a Chrome-based netbook when they can get Windows for the same or close to the same price.

Also, I just saw two dragonflies getting it on. It was very strange looking. A third tried to join in, but the two were so busy that the other one left. I almost stepped on them because that's how I always thought I'd want to go out: in the middle of getting my freak on. But then I realized that I actually want to go out just after I get done getting my freak on. Then I got bored and smoked a smoke.

Sex is weird. It always looks so bizarre when you see it on the Discovery channel. I think this is why the pr0n industry makes so much money. I have no doubt that I look like an absolute fool when I have sex. The pr0n people make it look less weird.

Monday, July 06, 2009

It's Official:

There is something out there on the intarwebz that is more disgusting than two girls, one cup.

I saw it about an hour ago, and it makes me want to hit puppies, go clubbing with baby seals, waterboard starving kids in Africa, and nuke Alaska.

That's right. I'm talking about Sarah Palin's resignation speech.

She has the unfathomable ability to make me kind of-sort of not think George W. Bush is the biggest fucktard in the history of retarded fucktards.

Aside from her total butchery of the English language (which is a point I'll get to momentarily), she has the audacity to have yet another totally pointless press conference.

Note to Sarah: the election is over. You are not running for anything anymore. Except maybe the 2012 presidential spot. But I don't believe that the GOP (btw, random tangent here: GOP stands for Grand Old Party. I know that no one under 30 gets that, but seriously, how the fuck are you going to appeal to the masses with that as your moniker? Or are you just not going to try?) will let you do that because you are the most incapable human being to ever be elected to any office.

Given the attention she's already gotten, I don't think I can say much that's new here.

But let's look for a second at the content of the speech.

I once spent a warm morning in Houston at Rice University for my older brother's commencement. The elder of the two Bush disasters that someone elected spoke at the ceremony. It was pretty fun from my vantage. I got to see all kinds of professors roll their eyes and nod off to sleep as much as possible because––oh! did I mention this? Rice U insists on having the ceremony outside.

Outdoors, Houston, Texas. It all amounts to miserable heat and mosquitos. Bad mosquitos. I haven't yet gotten a chance to quantitatively compare the hugeness and irritatingness of the mosquitos in Houston v. the mosquitos in Bemidji. But a very anecdotal assessment tells me that they are about the same. Not impressed, MN.

Getting back to everything that's wrong with Sarah Palin, let's start here:

Bush 41. He stood there and recapped the SNL/Dana Carvey skit that had already been aired. Thousand points of Light, Stay the Course, No new Taxes, Read my Lips (no, that's not Lisa Lipps. She's much more interesting.)

But in his own (what I am going to call disgusting) oeuvre, it made a certain sense. He wasn't just saying things that had no meaning, or had no underlying substrate that couldn't be isomorphically mapped onto a meaningful analogue. What he was saying made a certain amount of sense if given a high enough level of meaning.

I don't really want to dwell too much on where exactly that level of meaning engages us because I suspect that it's at too low a level to have any pertinence.

He was, on some level, able to get some people to envision themselves as something other than themselves. Something positive. That's the power of imagery that, for example, 43 doesn't have. That's the power of imagery that Sarah Palin doesn't have.

But her lack is much worse than either of the Bushes. (We're going to pretend that there's no pun there because I said so.)

There are multiple levels of processing information, and let's face it: understanding language is the processing of data. Let's call the lower level the syntactic level. And since we're assigning levels, let's call the higher level the semantic level.

Obviously, Bush 43 has no clue about the syntactic understanding of language. 41 at least had that. But 41 also had something else: he at least had a slightly higher level of semantic understanding than his son.

He was able to say things that were evocative of higher levels of meaning even if he was rather pedantic about them. 43, on the other hand, missed out on every possible instance of that higher meaning.

Sarah Palin takes a bit from both: She misses out on any syntactic meaning, and simultaneously parrots 41 with repetitions of things that sound like semantic statements, but ultimately have no meaning of either kind because she has no ability to frame anything in a meaningful context.

In other words, she's a linguistic idiot. She's a dolt.

And she's an incoherent dolt: the first person in recent history to make Dan Quale look smrt.

So. Why am I writing about this? The media is all over it. We've all been painfully exposed to what an complete fool she is. Why write about it now?

Maybe it's because I can't resist beating up the retarded girl who lives down the street. Maybe it's because someone needs to tell people how completely retarded she is. Maybe it's because I'm just mean-spirited.

But mostly, I think it's because I take Sarah Palin seriously and as an insult. Maybe it's because I'm a member of a cooperative society and that some other members have decided that she can govern. And they elected her. And they are a part of the country I live in.

I don't know about you (oh you sweet 4 readers that I have), but when I think of Sarah Palin, I feel like someone I don't know, that I don't normally care about, that I wouldn't in a million years allow to represent me . . . has forced a representative down my unpatriotic throat. That really pisses me off.

I don't want anyone in this world or that world or the third world or the next world thinking that I would ever participate in a social contract that allowed a total fucking idiot like Sarah Palin to get elected to do anything.

Maybe I'm not so pissed at Alaska after all. Maybe I just want to eat a bullet for being a U.S. Citizen.

I'm embarrassed. Even more so than I was over 8 years of 43.

Here's an addendum that I hope to keep brief:

Law is written in language. There are both syntactic and semantic meanings that we have to deal with. But law deals with both. This is the whole idea behind a strict constructionist v. a more intuition-driven idea of the constitution.

What did the individual words mean at the time? What was the intent of the framers? What was the higher-level of meaning?

This issue of language and context is at the heart of how we form our political opinions and how we ultimately elect our representatives. Part of that is that we trust that our representatives at least understand what the linguistic issues are, and at least attempt to deal with them in a reasonable way.

This promise of trust is what is so disturbing about 43 and Palin. There's a total disregard for any semblance of decent understanding of the language of the law. We need fewer politicians and more linguists.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Laws, Damn Laws, and Statistics

This post goes out to my number one fan, Mallory. She is my hall of fame.

A lot of really popular bloggers take great pains to generalize the woman of current infatuation in case she, at some point, is no longer the object of affection.

I am a better blogger because I don't do that. Also because I'm not planning on ever being infatuated with anyone besides her. Getting to the point, I have requested that all three of my readers (Yes. It's official. I have three readers!) suggest topics for me to write about.

One more thing in Mallory's favor is that she was the first to send in a topic request: bumble bees. Especially the ones that shouldn't be physically able to fly.

It turns out that this myth is untrue. Big surprise, right? Aren't most myths eventually shown to be untrue? Like religion? Oh wait. People still believe in that.

Here's the synopsis: Given the physics of a bumble bee's mass compared to the size of its wings and the rate at which they are observed to flap, no bumble bee ought to be able to fly. It's science, dammit. It's even physics, which is a real science, unlike number theory or the multiplication of infinities.

This sounds really good, right? We observe reality and use science to describe what we see. It's perfectly normal, and it's always right, because that's what the scientific method does. It makes you right.

So we have these laws that tell us that bumble bees can't fly. For additional proof, I will point out that the Bumble Bee character didn't fly in either of the transformers movies. Even Michael Bay knows that bumble bees don't fly. He doesn't know that Bumble Bee was a yellow VW bug from the 60s (and not a late model Camero with racing stripes, you fucking corporate shill), but he knows that he doesn't fly.

So what that means is that both science and Hollywood know that bumble bees can't fly, even with amazing CGI. The laws of physics and the damn laws of blockbuster moviemaking are solid here.

No one is arguing with that. Except maybe me. Because I have statistics on my side.

I am quite sure that I have seen bumble bees fly. I would give it an r-squared of at least 95%. That's a hefty power level for those of you who don't dig on stats. It's good enough for J.D. Power & Associates, The Nielsen Company, and Forrester.

If I ever saw a bumble bee that couldn't fly, I wouldn't call it a bee. I would step on it without fear of it stinging me. It would lose its bee-ness if it couldn't fly. That's a part of what being a bee is. It can fly.

Without getting into too much weirdness, I want to talk for a moment about "thing-ness". This is normally a subject that only philosophers deal with, and I'm no philosopher. But it really wants to be talked about. What is the defining characteristic of an object that presents itself as a member of a class? Or is there one? Are their many that combine to represent a class-member?

Where do you define what a tree is as opposed to a weed? They both have leaves, bark, need water, engage in that oh-so-sensuous photosynthesis. One could be smaller, but relative to what? (I just rhymed photosynthesis.)

How do you define a tree-ness? (It's not an accident that "tree-ness" rhymes with "bee-ness" because I'm that smart, and I think before I write.)

What is the essential threshold that makes you identify something as a tree rather than a weed?

I won't claim to have seen a representative sample of all bumble bees. But my thought is that part of the definition of "bumble bee" is that you are either a yellow VW bug from the 60s or you can fly. I have been stung by enough flying bumble bees to make me feel like it's a representative sample.

But upon close inspection it seems that all this is an argument in favor of stats over science. It's not.

It just turned out that the science was wrong. The models that said that bumble bees can't fly were based on a fixed-wing scenario. It turns out that a bumble bee's wings are not rigid. Which anyone who's been stung by and subsequently killed a bumble bee could tell you.

There's what's called a leading-edge vortex created by the flexible nature of a bumble bee's wings, and that is what allows them to fly.

My analysis: bumble bees can fly. Thank you for coming up with an explanation, Science.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Everyone Else Is Doing It. Why Can't I?

Aside from the obvious Cranberries reference (and if you don't know who they are, don't talk to me), I am going to try and care about Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett.


I don't care about either of them. People are trying to tell me that Mike defined my generation. And Farrah defined hotness. Or something.

Am I the only person who just barely made being born before the 80s who doesn't give a shit about either of them? Really?

Jackson pre-dated and possibly helped to invent pop-schlock. Farrah pre-dated Pam Anderson. But Farrah had the good sense to not fuck Tommie Lee. Or if she did, she had the good sense to not let it get filmed on a cheap-ass camcorder.

Does anyone really care about Thriller or Charlie's Angels anymore? No.

No one really gives a shit about these people other than the fact that some hack news rag told you to care about them.

These people were as worthless as the shit they sold as gold. If you ever liked anything they did you are sucking the life out of our society.

Go home and die.

Things I want to know #4

What would happen if North Korea and Pakistan got together for some bump-bump and had a kid?

What would we get?


No. Not the inbred southern U.S. state. I mean the crazy eastern european republic.

A Very Incomplete List of Things That Make Me Say Fuck

Labor Day. Who the fuck celebrates labor by taking a day off?

People who have sex changes so that they can be homosexuals. WTF? You're a guy, and you dig chicks. Now you want to be a girl who digs chicks? I don't get it.

Near Beer. WTF? Cheap crappy beer sucks. Why in the name of Vishnu's 6th arm would you want to drink crappy beer with no alcohol in it?

Michael Bay. Do I really need to explain this? Stanley Kubrick didn't get an oscar until after he died, and that was a cheap lifetime achievement award. Transformers 2 is making more money than God's cock. Fuck. Our society is screwed. (Full disclosure: I actually saw Transformers 2 in a theater. Oh, the power of love.)

Hobby Gardeners: really? You are going to grow 3 plants and call it a garden? Let me guess: you are an environmentalist. Fuck.

Dell. Fuck you, Dell. You ruined an entire market, you filthy piece of fuck.

People with summer houses in Bemidji, MN. Just because you are handicrapped doesn't mean you have to drive like it. Fuck.

Composers. Again, need I explain? Perhaps I do. It works like this: you sucked as a performer, but you like music. Ergo, composer! 30 years ago, you would've gone into theory or musicology. Now it's composition. You are what violists were 200 years ago. And now. You spew a disgusting stream of compositional shit onto a page of staff paper and call it art. Fuck you.

People who believe in God. I really don't need to explain this. Fuck.

Kids. See above.

Running or any other physical activity that doesn't involve fucking.

My First Annual Top Ten List

Top Ten Things That Don't Make Me Say "Fuck" Except When I Don't Have Them:

1. Alcohol

1. Cigarettes

1. Mallory

July 4 Comedy Extravaganza

Well, it's independence day again, and there's one topic that makes me feel so patriotic (and funny!) that I get a little weepy: abortion. Yes. The slaughter of innocent globs of cells, the blood, the terroristic crime against humanity reminds me so much of our struggle against the British for our right to self-determination, and eventually our penumbral right to privacy and the legal ability to crush a fetus and vacuum its brains out with a Kirby.

I realize that this is a touchy subject for some people. Actually, it's touchy for just about everyone. Which I don't get. If you have a penis, you don't get an opinion about abortion. Period. Actually, you don't get those either. But I digress . . . .

The problem with the pro-life side of things is that they can't seem to distinguish between what's moral and what's legal. It's as if they can't simply believe what they want and abide by it. Here's a hint: if you think something is wrong, don't do it.

But that's not good enough. The pro-life peeps want some sort of legal validation for their beliefs. They want the government to reflect their religio-pseudo-scientific ideology. There's a word for that. We call those people terrorists. And we hunt them down and kill them, their families, their friends, their children, and we have a righteous anger against all things theocratic.

These people worry me because of their total inability to do or not do anything that the government tells them to not do or do. They are the best argument against the legalization of drugs. I'm afraid that if we, as a society, ever actually legalized drugs, all the right-wing fundamentalist Christian types would shoot speedballs and suddenly fail to act like decent human beings just because the government said it was okay to do so.

Never mind what Jesus would do.

Question for pro-life people: if murder were legal, would you whack your neighbor?

Actually, don't answer that. I don't want to be an accessory before the fact.

I would understand the concern if doctors were walking around trying to abort people––if it were a threat like, well, murder. But it's not. No one is going to sneak into your house tomorrow night and abort your dog or that waste-of-flesh teenage assclown of a son you have (btw, he's smoking weed and banging little Cindy McRottenCrotch down the street).

In short, dear pro-life readers, grow a pair. You don't need the government's validation, nor do you need the approval of the rest of society. Like anything else, abortion can be a sin if that's what God says. But it doesn't have to be a crime.

So you, gentle reader, have probably got me pegged as a staunch pro-choice advocate. If so, you weren't paying attention. I already said that anyone with a penis doesn't get a say in what happens in uteruses across the country.

In the interest of being fair and balanced, I will lay out the problems with the pro-death people.

They seem to have an equal and opposite anti-ideology ideology. It's as though they want everyone to go out and get knocked up and have an abortion just to make a point to the pro-life hacks. They too want to force the government to line up with their own vision of morality. If I were a woman, I would probably go do this just to piss off the right-wing yokels who think that Jesus was a blond-haired, blue-eyed white dude.

But (see cheap dick jokes above), I am not a woman, so I don't really think I can participate in this.

Like our illusory two-party political system, the pro-life and pro-choice movements have more in common than either wants to admit. They are, for lack of a better turn of phrase, strange bedfellows.

The pro-death people have what they see as an expanded view of morality that wants people to be able to do pretty much whatever they want--within certain tightly-controlled government constraints. The difference between the two camps isn't conceptual, it's only technical.

The problems with pro-death politics are the same as those with pro-life politics. The pro-death-ers want legal validation for their moral systems. The very slight difference is that pro-death people actually do smoke pot even though it's illegal.

Fundamentally, both groups are anti-American. Both groups epically fail to recognize the fundamental difference between morality and legality. Both groups assert that the government is the determining factor of the former, and that the later is a sign of the former. How confusing was that?

This is July 4th. This is the day that we celebrate the victory of our own terrorism over a kludgy, overbearing monarchy that had the audacity to insist that we line up with her socio-moral-political system. (sorry, brits. but you really were asking for it.)

Maybe today is a good day to quit begging for validation from a distant, corrupt, abusive daddy-government and look at ourselves and what we really believe and act on that.

Maybe today is a good day to think for ourselves and decide that the government is there not to enforce ideology or morality, but to let us do as we please so long as we don't go around raping each other.

Happy 4th, everyone!