Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Coming of the iPhone

I finally got an iPhone 3G in August, and after some initial difficulties getting rid of my previous Blackberry service (entirely procedural, nothing technical) I have connectivity with my employer's mail system and all is good. I'm finding the phone much better than the Blackberry (it was a Pearl): the call quality is better and the screen easier to read. And of course the applications available for the iPhone make it so much more than just a phone.

When I got it, the first thing I wanted to sort out was my old "Portable databases" problem. How to move three simple databases (Fiction, Non-fictions and DVDs) off my Palm Pilot and onto the iPhone. Answer: CSV Touch, from Ozymandias Software. This app takes a comma delimited file, and presents it as a database. I had some initial problems, mostly to do with cleaning up the data files. Exporting out of my old HanDbase application produced a CSV file, but it had some blank lines, no end of file marker and all the line endings were CTRL-M (sure sign of something with a nasty DOS heritage). However, one of the many joys of Mac OS X is a terminal window, and access to the vi and sed editors. A few minutes of work to sort out the file formats, and the data imported cleanly. The databases work fine, and I have been able to ditch HanDbase.

Next, portable passwords. I've used the old Cryptinfo Palm application from NormSoft for many years, but I've been moving to 1Password on my Mac, and behold, the lovely people from Agile Web Solutions have released an iPhone app of their product. Again, some tooing and froing to get data off the Palm and into the new repository, but no real dramas.

What else is on the Palm Pilot? Well, a lot of word processing documents that I use for reference and various notes and aides memoir. Answer: DataCase from Veiosoft. DataCase has taken all my old Word docs, and PDFs of things like the Handbook for Justices of the Peace in New South Wales (which I need rapid access to routinely), and works like a charm.

By the time I had moved that lot, the Palm Pilot was almost unnecessary. A subnet calculator and a Checklist app were really all I lacked, and there are lots of those in the App Store. OK, I have a copy Bejewelled on the Palm Pilot, and the game is available in the App store, but I'm afraid I refused to shell out $12.99 for another copy of an application that I already have licensed on Palm and Mac.

I've also loaded Stanza, the ebook reader, which is fantastic, and some wonderful person has created an app to allow you to view the Roads and Traffic Authority's web cams on the iPhone. The is a jewel beyond price, as anyone who has to navigate Sydney's all too easily gridlocked roads will tell you. Measures, a unit conversion app, helps me convert imperial measurements to metric (essential when all American equipment is specified in inches and everything local is specified in centimeters).

The Palm Pilot has been relegated to running Solitaire and Bejewelled, which is just as well, because I think its screen is beginning to fail.

So I no longer have to carry the Palm Pilot, which has allowed me to reorganize my handbag. The Palm Lifedrive is a chunky object, and I don't miss its added bulk one bit. I'm not a small-handbag person at the best of times: my notion of the bare essentials takes up quite a lot of space, and I'm always looking for ways to rationalize, minimize and organize my handbag. I hate not being able to lay my hand instantly on whatever I want - keys, purse, glasses, whatever - and I hate bags that are nothing more than a sack on a strap. Everything gets tangled up at the bottom, and there is nothing more pathetic than a woman removing articles from her bag one after the other in the search for the one thing she can't find.

And then there is the "changing handbags" issue: if you are not very careful, you miss transferring something from bag A to bag B, and trouble follows. If you have bags with a lot of pockets, it's easy to miss something. Like your house keys. Or your security pass.

Enter the Borne Naked handbag liner, answer to a maiden's prayer. A clear plastic liner with multiple pockets, it keeps the contents of my bag clean, organized and accessible. I can change bags in seconds, and be sure I haven't missed anything. The liner is very well made, all edges bound neatly, with a good quality zip. Guys note: it doesn't look girly, and would work well in a brief case, too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dear America - what did you just do?

Before I begin, I should probably declare my personal position: I was raised a Baptist, and was baptized into my church as an adult, by my own conviction and choice. While the ensuing years have soured me on organized religion in almost any form, I am still indelibly marked by those formative experiences. I have read the bible in its entirety (King James version), and I used to be a Sunday School teacher. Politically, I lean right, and normally vote the straight conservative ticket.

However, I tend to the view that most people would do well to mind their own business, that abortion is a matter of personal choice (anyone who doubts this has never had to work in a clinical environment that cared for babies who had drawn the very shortest of genetic straws), and that as long as the gay community pays their taxes and doesn't trouble their neighbours, they should enjoy the same rights and liberties as the rest of us. Please don't bother me with "but the Bible says" arguments. The Bible, while a remarkable book, was not written in English. While large sections of it are translated in very similar ways by all denominations, many areas are distinctly vague. If you want to explore this, go get a copy of the Bible as used by the Catholic church (I would suggest the Knox translation), and compare it to the King James translation, or the New English Bible. All translations were made by people who sincerely believed that they were doing an accurate job. But still the subtle shading and variations are marked. Therefore, anyone who uses "the Bible says" as an excuse to turn off their brain is an idiot in my book. There's nothing in any version of the Bible that says "you are absolved of responsibility for the outcome of your choices if you just sign here".

Unfortunately, some people seem to have read such a statement, and to have failed to read the injunction about removing the beam from one's own eye before trying to help one's brother. Most of these people seem to be on the extreme far right of the political spectrum, and many of them are of limited education. The two almost go hand in hand. The result seems to be a person who thinks that if they make enough fuss about other people's perceived sins, their own will be less noticeable to God. In consequence they spend an inordinate amount of time and effort trying trying to regulate other people's behaviour.

Back in June, I blogged a rather grumpy item about the Presidential election. At the time I wrote that piece, the situation to my eye looked dire. I assumed that Hilary Clinton would get the Democratic nomination, and that the electoral process would then devolve into an ugly gutter fight, with innuendo, insult and accusation the ammunition of choice. This is not meant as a criticism of Hilary Clinton or John McCain, but it is a criticism of their respective supporters: that is the way they appeared to be heading to me. Hilary Clinton's supporters seemed illogically partisan in many ways, determined to support her either because she was female, or because they felt that she was in some odd way entitled to the presidency, because it was "her turn". John McCain's supporters have, regrettably, demonstrated their sound grasp of the ancient legal advice "when you have no case, abuse the plaintiff". Faced with an electorate rightly dissatisfied with the performance of the Republicans in government, the best they could come up with was feeble attempts to link their opposition with anti-American activists.

But, to my astonishment, Barack Obama got the Democratic nomination. There was a good deal of silly nittering from people who "loved Hilary". Please: the electoral process is not about fair goes, anyone's turn, or affection for someone you have not met personally. Hilary Clinton gave it her best shot, and lost. She then got herself sorted out, and weighed back in for the good of her country and her party. Certainly an element of self interest may have inspired that position, but she has done her job in a thoroughly professional manner (and a sight better than her husband in some cases).

Meanwhile, the McCain camp was completely losing the plot. Sarah Palin appeared on the stage, and I couldn't help feeling that I knew her. My hackles rose. I've never met the woman, but I know the type. It took me while to work it out, but I recognized her in the end: she's the girl in school who never did any work, because she was focused on being popular. Blessed with a good brain, good looks, and personal charm, she skated through school with the least possible study, and the help of more diligent "friends" who let her copy their work.

I've met a couple of women like this, and they drive me to distraction: they've taken the short cuts wherever they can, trading on their looks and charm to substitute for knowledge and hard work. Few of them make it through tertiary education, because that is a much tougher playing field than high school. But they tend to bob up in low level clerical and "people skills" roles if given a chance: they bring nothing to their positions but enough math to make change, a tendency to take reality TV seriously, and an approach to life based on scheming and manipulation, because it is all they have. My question here has to be not so much "how did Sarah Palin get onto the Republican ticket?" as "how did this ignoramus get elected governor of anywhere?". Good heavens, she's never even completed a college education. If the Republican party seriously expects her to stand in 2012, they should hire a couple of remedial tutors now, and try to fill in the vast gaps in her education. There's a long way to go, people, better start soon.

Sarah Palin seems to have had a negative effect on most voters: for every one who was comforted by the notion that she was "one of us", there were at least two who didn't want "one of us" running the store in an emergency. I think most people have the wits to realize that running a country is difficult, complicated work, and that the people who are entrusted with the task should have appropriate skills and knowledge. We want our leaders to be better than we are: this is why we are so unforgiving when they prove to be merely human after all. The choice of Sarah Palin was utterly disastrous for John McCain's campaign, not only because it called his personal judgement into question, but because Mrs Palin acted like a magnet for every extreme right wing nut job in the Republican movement. She drew them together, in large and noisy blobs, and gave the rest of the electorate a good look at the really unattractive face of intolerance, ignorance and vulgarity found in people who want the calendar reset to about 1910, if not earlier. Sensible, educated, moderate Republicans probably out number these loons by at least 5 to 1, but the people who made the most noise at various events where Sarah Palin was speaking seemed to be the type who represent everything the electorate and the world in general has had more than enough of in the last eight years.

Unfortunately, these people seem to have a disproportionate influence in the Republican Party. Thought and logic seem to have been overwhelmed by a cabal which is more interested in ideology than in outcomes. Any deviation from the "correct" ideology is seen as evil, even when adherence to the ideology is producing unwanted results. The ideology that demands that children be taught abstinence only sex education is a case in point: it does not work. Places where this ideology is implemented have a higher rate of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases than places where proper birth control is taught. But still the proponents of abstinence based sex education insist that their way is right. I believe that this is known as the "Tinkerbell Fallacy" in some circles: you know, the bit in Disney's 'Peter Pan' where the audience is asked to clap if they really believe in fairies, and bring Tinkerbell back to life? There seems to be tendency in some people (regardless of politics) to think that if they believe in an ideology hard enough, it will work. In the last few years, the American government seems to have been less and less interested in outcomes, and more and more interested in ideology. They have disconnected cause and effect in their minds. The results speak for themselves.

I have to say, I did not initially think that Barack Obama stood a snow flake's chance in hell of winning the presidency. It just seemed too improbable that America would elect a leftward leaning, conspicuously educated and literate person who was not of strictly Anglo Saxon heritage in preference to a conservative, white, ex-military type. Surely an electorate that returned George W. Bush for a second term would not contemplate any candidate so radically different.

I missed the point: the Obama campaign team was working, and had been working for months, to change the electorate. They were working on motivating people to register as voters, and getting them sufficiently engaged that they would turn out and vote. I haven't seen any detailed reporting, but I would bet that if you did an analysis of the people who voted in the last election and the people who voted at this one, you would find that this year's voters were overall younger and better educated. They were more likely to relate to a man aged 47 than to a man who has already clocked up his "three score years and ten". They were less likely to consider a man's racial origins to be relevant to his ability to govern. And they were more likely to get their news from the Internet than from the conventional media.

The Obama campaign used technology, and used it brilliantly, to reach and engage a very wide audience. There is an interesting post about this over at, an interview with Silona Bonewald. She makes some interesting observations: "I think the thing that's most significant actually about Barack is that it's not so much the always knowing the newest on the technology, but he's smart enough to let a lot of us do our thing, you know, get out of the way kind of thing. That's what speaks really well about him. I watch him doing that not just in the technical arena but in a lot of others -- like how all of the issues were done. I know that he has a troop of experts that basically helped write each one of those sections on the website.

There's a lot of input that he gets in from a lot of different groups. He's definitely got this huge mass of experts that he taps into on a regular basis, not just technical, which impresses me highly."

I seem to recall that some of the generally accepted qualities of a good leader are the ability to inspire others, to recruit talented people to their team, and to delegate effectively. Anecdotal evidence indicates that Barack Obama can do this. I think that is what the world at large finds so inspiring: not just the man, but the team work. There is this amazing sense of a nation pulling together, in a way that we have not seen America do convincingly in a very long time.

The election was called just after 3PM Sydney time. I had gone up to the Optus campus in North Ryde for a meeting. I arrived early, sat down in reception which was busy as always, and caught up with the email that I had received in the half our it took to get there from the city. Optus' reception has a couple a large TV screens tuned to Sky News, and the count was Obama 207. Never having watched the count before, I had no idea how long it was going to take, so I went to the reception person to locate the person I was meeting. When I turned back to the screen it said "President-elect Barack Obama". People were standing around, gazing at the screens, and we all tried to decide what, if anything, this meant to us.

The next day I heard the counter staff in the post office talking about Barack Obama's election. I don't believe that the world at large has ever been so interested and engaged in an American election. I think this stems from two sources: first, we are all heartily sick of the way America (the country, as expressed by its government) has been behaving in the last few years (Guantanamo Bay, warrantless wire tapping, TSA goons at airports, etc, etc, etc); second, the Obama machine has done its work so well that we can't help but be engaged. The Obama campaign has reached us all - I've even seen Obama '08 stickers on local vehicles.

So what happens now? Will Barack Obama make a good president? Only time will tell: he may get to the Oval Office and be crushed by the load. He may do something really dumb, and shatter people's trust in him with one stroke. He may turn out to be merely mediocre in the long run. Or he may be able to harness the talents that made his campaign so effective, and turn them to the service of the country. If the ability to recruit good people and let them get on with their jobs can be carried into government, great things become possible.

But whatever happens, Barack Obama has changed America in very significant ways already: the next electoral campaign will probably make even more use of technology than the last one. And the electorate is likely to remain engaged in a way they have never been before: it will be harder, may be impossible, for government to conceal its doings from the voters.

If we are lucky, the Republican Party will take a look at how it got to where it is, and find its way back to a more central position. Every country needs a viable opposition party.

America now has the opportunity to hang out the "Under New Management" sign, and wash its collective hands of some of the mistakes of the last few years. There will inevitably be people who want to see America fail, or who want to see Barack Obama fail. There will always be bigots, people who hate any sort of change, and common or garden sore losers. Hopefully those people can read the words of Mike Huckabee, and at least give the new government a chance before they condemn it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Restoration of Service

And that absurdly long break was caused by me taking on too many things, both in serial and parallel, and getting so busy that only essential commitments got met. I have seen several comments come in, and apologize for not responding sooner. I have one more project to get off my list, and then things should settle back to normal. I'm in the throes of getting my garage fitted out: an electrician has been here half the day, doing prep work with the wiring. The installation team should arrive on Monday, to put in new wall panelling, ceilings, and storage fittings. Right now the contents of my garage are stacked in my family room and dining room. My cats wander among the piles sniffing at things, puzzled by the disorder. But soon all will be neat and tidy, and I shall be able to focus on other things. My new iPhone, the apps I am using, improvements in the desktop apps I have written about before. The Wii Fit. Many things to blog about.

Back soon



Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tuesday in Melbourne

Morning: Melbourne Aquarium

Lunch: Southbank, Bistro Vite

Afternoon: Fitzroy Gardens

Dinner: Vue de Monde for a stupendous 10 course degustation menu:
  • Bisque with tartare of jamon and poached quail's egg in lettuce leaf
  • Mushroom risotto with shaved West Australian truffles
  • Salmon, presented smoked, mousse and as "salmon jerky", with German caviar
  • Soup (prepared at the table as an infusion done in a 1950's style coffee maker, using stock, herbs and mirepoix), poured over tartare of King Fish covered in a veil of buffalo mozzarella cheese
  • Carpaccio of fois gras with baby pear and fennel
  • Slow cooked pork belly with a pork rillette pancake and stuffed baby apple, dried green apple strip and apple puree
  • Medallion of New Zealand venison with a mille feuille of saffron mousseline and leg meat
  • Goat's cheese served a curd and ice cream, with rose petal and rose jelly
  • Frozen golden kiwi fruit "lollipops" dipped in mint jelly and served with raspberry jelly (we think)
  • Smoked Valrhona chocolate cigar

And matched wines. I need to walk a lot for the next few days.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Doll's House, Web 2.0

When I was a little girl, I had a doll's house. This was a long time ago, the late 1960's I suppose, so the doll's house was not the sort of plastic arrangement that 21st century little girls have. It was made of wood, probably by someone with a turn for woodwork, rather coming from a factory. The walls were covered with pieces of wall paper, and I had a collection of pieces of furniture for it (some of which I still have in a storage box somewhere). Around the same time my brother and I had a big box of Lego blocks and menageries of plastic animals. There weren't many human figures, and I was never really a doll-positive child, but we enjoyed constructing complex buildings and getting everything "just so" (I'm going somewhere with this, trust me).

Roll forward to the mid-1980's, and I was living in Canberra and working for the National Library of Australia (as a librarian). Canberra, the capital city of Australia is a rather odd artificial city, laid out by the American architect Walter Burley Griffin. Canberra is an interesting place to navigate: the shortest distance between two points is very seldom a straight line by road. Anyway, the years I was there, Canberra had (apart from a lot of politicians) a miniature village village called Cockington Green, which still appears to thrive.

Whence springs the human desire to model the real world in toys and miniatures? The precise, to-scale construction of objects, buildings and people seems to be a recurring human activity. It's even made it to the Internet.

Back in late May, one of my colleagues had the happy notion that my employer should develop a presence on Second Life. He secured the approval of the marketing department (the money to do this had to come from somewhere), and then made his way to my area of the company offices, where the hands-on technical types reside, seeking someone to do the work necessary to realize his plan. The first person he tried declined the opportunity firmly, and I wandered into the vicinity just in time to catch the end of the rejection, and to say something like "what is it that you want done?" And in short, I agreed to do it. At this point I had no interest in Second Life - I was aware of it, I had looked at it over the shoulder of someone who already participated. I knew that IBM, Cisco, Sun and various other vendor organisations had "presence" in the virtual world. I figured that I was as well placed as anyone to get the thing going - I've played Dungeons and Dragon and similar FRPs for more that 2 decades, and I've designed everything from exhibitions for the National Library to pieces of needlework, jewelry and a significant part of the house my husband and I built. And Second Life has been implemented by a business which wants to make a profit from a user community many of whom do not have a strong technical background: I was prepared to bet that it would be s straight forward exercise, from a technical perspective.

Second Life has occupied a good deal of my spare time over the last couple of months (my manager agreed to me taking on the project on the condition that it did not delay billing work), hence the sudden cessation in blogging activities. However, I am on leave now, in Melbourne for a few days, with only my little Asus Eee PC and a Huawei modem to connect to the Internet. I haven't even attempted to install Second Life, though I believe it will work on this platform. I am supposed to be on leave, and my husband is likely to become grumpy if I appear to be working.

So, a few observations about the experience. The initial brief was to purchase a piece of virtual land, and "erect" a building, and get to the point where a few simple things could be demonstrated to the person providing the funding, so that she could decide if she wanted to proceed.

My first mistake was in not registering for a premium account for my first avatar immediately: I delayed a few days, while I experimented with the system and did background reading. Because I have been doing this on behalf of my employer, and I need to be able to put the costs through with my expenses, it was necessary to acquire land outright, rather than by rental (the last thing I need is a recurring cost on my Amex card). My initial intention was to purchase land through the Second Life Linden dollar auction site. However, to do this, an avatar has to be 14 days old (I imagine that this is to cut down on the number of users who dabble, and then never log on again, and also to cut down on fraud and money laundering). I did not notice that stricture (it's buried in the Auction FAQs), and consequently it was about three weeks before I could really get started. And in the end a suitable piece of land came up on the in-world land sales, and I bought that, 1024 square meters of PG rated land in Yucca, with a water view. I wanted PG land, to avoid the possibility of exposing project sponsors or other management types to some of things one can encounter in Mature rated areas, which might get the project killed stone dead on the spot.

So I got my piece of land, leveled it, got hold of a pre-built low prim beach house (which I think I picked up on Orientation Island), modified some of its textures, so it looked more like an office building, added some signage with my employer's logo, and installed a mock up of a plasma TV that could play one of our parent company's commercials. A reception desk, a couple of chairs and tables, and it was fit to demonstrate. And the demo was well received, but the project sponsor wanted to see some more interactivity.

Now as anyone who has built anything in Second Life knows, on small parcels of land, you run out of prims really fast. Every object requires at last one prim, complex objects require a lot, and you never seem to have enough to do all that you want.

So I deleted the office building, and started again (I'd learned a fair amount about building by now), and I constructed something a bit more fanciful, but prim-efficient. Then I set out to demonstrate the bells and whistles that you can build into Second Life: a waving Australian flag, revolving sign, sliding doors (with sound effects), email to and from the real world, automated Notecard distribution, and so on, and so forth. I installed scripted teleportation stands, for moving between the levels of my new building. I tinkered with the textures, so that I could put vertical blinds on some windows.

And just when I thought I had it all done, someone bought up all the land around my parcel, altered the land levels and deleted some of the features that I had been relying on for background, so I had to shuffle things around. I finally got it to the point where I could make a little movie of it just before I went on leave, and I have left the movie with the person who started all this. I'll see what he wants to do next when I get back.

Now I have to say that I don't intend to stay in Second Life. I have a very busy first life, and my second life is currently as a first level ranger in a newish D&D campaign. So Second Life is really my third life. But I have found the experience interesting - I have spent almost no time interacting with other avatars - but it is possible to spend hours trying to get a door handle to look just right, to get the fabric on a chair to look believable, or to get the walls of a garden properly aligned. The more time I spend on it, the more it reminds me of the old doll's house.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Dear America

For the first time in my life I am paying attention to your electoral antics (I'm sorry, there is no better word). In years past you have done what ever it is you have done, and I have taken note at the end of the procedure, when you have vomited onto the world stage a creature that no lady in her right mind would admit into her living room, and declared the thing President. Your last few excursions have been so uniformly catastrophic in their outcome that one rather dreads what may come next.

I have spoken to American educated people, in the hope of understanding what it is that you are trying to achieve, but to no avail. Some years ago, in California, I asked someone to explained to me what "GOP" meant, and got a blank look (Google, fortunately, explained). You people have been blessed with democracy, but I do not think that you understand it. You certainly do not understand the intent of the men who framed your constitution and laws, and perhaps that is just as well. I have had it explained to me that what your current system is intended to provide is a system of "check and balances" (this sounded like a lecture in basic high school political theory). So let us look at your system....

You conduct an enormously expensive circus, which occupies people and resources for months. The candidates in this farce attempt to demonstrate their patriotism (whatever that means), religious conviction (for whatever value that may have), purity, honour and general all-round worthiness. At the end of this disgusting freak show, you appoint the most convincing freak to the highest office that your country recognizes. And the rest of us are lumbered with your choice. This is becoming less important as you flush your culture and all its achievements into the cloaca of ignorance and isolationism that your popular press portrays as "news", but it is still annoying.

What you seem to have failed to understand is the underlying purpose of the democratic process: change. It does not matter whether the current encumbent overlord is liberal, labour, tory, new labour, democrat or republican, or any of the other flavours espoused by the political machines that battle in the electoral arena. What matters is change: that no idea become the only idea, because most people can't encompass complex enough ideas to be useful in the real world.

In most cases the people who put themselves forward for election mean well. They genuinely believe that they have something to offer the electorate, and that they are better suited to hold authority than their rivals. And most of them are genuine and honest in their beliefs: very few human beings are capable of doing something that they know to be wrong in the face of that wrongness. They will try to rationalize their actions and positions as "right", and in the best interests of the electorate. Some of them may have to lie to themselves and their advisors to achieve this intellectual flexibility, but they can do it, and feel entirely worthy and justified in their actions.

So it is that all the candidates for your next election firmly believe that they, and they alone, can safely guide America into the future. And if this is the case, then by logical corollary, all of their opponents must be evil.

People, wake up and smell the tribal warfare: the world is now much more confusing than it was when we had to deal with a few thousand people and their needs. You now have to deal with millions, and their needs and wants are a widespread, contradictory minefield: you cannot please them all, So just because you and your candidate do not get your own way, it does not mean that you have been sabotaged, or that you have been treated unfairly: you are dealing with a large enough statistical sample that the math of "the wisdom of crowds", and the ebb and flow of rumour and innuendo come into play. Individuals are predictable, but the response of crowds varies with the weather, air pressure, and what they saw last on the news. Forget logic.

The critcal thing, the only thing that democracy achieves consistently (if properly practiced, such as not in Zimbabwe) is change. No set of ideas can hold sway for too long, which is good. Most professional politicians have ideas formed by study groups and committees and theory: they lack the perspective of the human being trying to buy a loaf of bread. Democracy cranks them through fast enough that any idea gets a chance, and the really stupid ones get aborted promptly. It takes any newly elected functionary at least 6 months to figure out the functional structure (which is never what it appears to be on paper), and another 6 months to learn to play it usefully. If you are too thick to acknowledge the structure in the first place, you will never be a player: the machinery will encase you up in a bubble, and keep you harmlessly occupied until you are flushed out with the trash at the end of your term. I used to be a public servant, I've seen this done.

Much of what I have read in your popular press recently is down right silly, and would certainly result in defamation proceedings under normal circumstances. Mrs Clinton is prepared to destroy the Democratic Party to get her own way. Mr Obama is accused of everything from being a Muslim to committing murder (the accusers seem uncertain which troubles them more). Mr McCain is at death's door.

For pity's sake people, stop and think. Unless you know the candidates personally, how can you claim to know what is in their hearts or minds? And why do you assume the best about your preferred candidate and the worst about everyone else? Have you never heard of positive confirmation bias? Scientific American had a nice article on that a while back, you should read it. And think about why you believe what you believe.

Try and look at the candidates as human beings: flawed, capable of error, perhaps no better than you or me. But look at their commitment: what a strain these last months must have been, and how tired they all must be. Certainly ambition must be one of the things that drives them, but I doubt it can be the only thing. They all believe that they can make America, and by extension, the world a better place.

So try to separate yourself from tribal loyalties, and look at the big picture. No angels, no demons, just people. Which one is strong enough to stand four years of one of the toughest jobs imaginable, and which can do the most good. Given where 8 years of the Bush administration has taken you, you could elect a stray dog and get a better result.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Back on track

OK, so my disease wasn't whooping cough (yay!), I have what the medical profession is pleased to call post-virus asthma. My doctor has prescribed Ventolin, which seems to help. I've been frantically busy for the last few weeks, working on a long report on two factor authentication for a bank. However, the backlog fog is now clearing, and normal service will resume.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dreadful Lurgy

I've been as sick as the proverbial dog since the beginning of April. I started with the usual sore throat that presages a cold or flu, but it didn't seem to be severe, so I ignored it (well, I got some Strepsils and some Codral), and went on with my normal activities. I tried to work from home for a few days, to minimize the chances that I would contaminate my co-workers. And then I flew down to Melbourne, for a vendor conference (where the hotel air conditioning didn't help my respiratory system one bit), and generally tried to pretend that I wasn't ill. I'm really not good with sickness, it annoys me, it bores me. I don't want to be involved and, despite a good working background in medicine, I subconsciously believe that if I ignore it, it will go away. This has put me in hospital before now, but fortunately I now have a husband, who takes care of me. His position - which can only be described as enlightened self-interest - was articulated as "if anything happens to you, I'm screwed. Go see the doctor." Steve works 70-80 hours most weeks, sometimes more. I run the house, mostly by subcontracting the work I can't deal with, and things function pretty well. Steve is never bothered with laundry, gardening or "handy man" duties. He very rarely needs to assist with house cleaning (he may have to change a litter tray for the boys on occasion, or empty the dishwasher), he is not obliged to help with the grocery shopping, and he cooks when he feels like it (he likes to cook, but it is his call). I should note here that he makes me a cup of coffee every morning, before he goes to work, and he packs his own lunch every day: few men do as much.

But if I fall off my twig, he doesn't know how things work. I think he has met our housekeeper, but he probably couldn't name the agency that supplies her. He has no idea how the gardening and general maintenance get done. He doesn't know how to contact the cat nanny, who cares for the boys when we are away. I have explained Internet Banking to him, but that was about four years ago, and he may not remember. So he really needs me, to keep things going. I've lived with "staff" all my life, so organizing the little army doesn't bother me: my mother taught me how, long ago. I have a housekeeper, a landscape gardener, a cat nanny, a cabinet maker, a plumber, an electrician and a general handy man, all regular suppliers of services that I need. They know me, they know the house, they know I pay their bills promptly, everybody's happy.

So I went to the doctor, at about the three week mark, and she told me to go home and rest for a couple of days (which I sort of did, you can't ignore phone calls and email). But things were not much improved by last Thursday, so I went again, and this time got the new, keen, young GP, who has recently joined the practice that I use. She is testing me for Whooping Cough! I said "but I was vaccinated years ago", and she said "Oh, that wears off after about 12 years". Nobody ever told me that adults could contract Whooping Cough! I get the results Monday.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

What to do when you can't actually help

Many of you will have seen the news that the author Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's disease. The news was posted on the Discworld News site last December, in Terry's inimitable style. If you have never read one of Terry's books, I urge you go to your nearest bookstore, and rectify the situation. I'd suggest that you start with "The Colour of Magic", but they are all hilarious. With the state of the world today, anything that generates a genuine laugh should be cherished: I've read most of Terry Pratchett's books, and they have given me hours of enjoyment, cheered me up when I was down, and reminded me that there are many intelligent, useful people in the world (there are days when I have doubts).

However, good things can come from bad: Terry has made a large donation to the Alzheimer's Trust, and they have gained a vocal advocate. Research into Alzheimer's disease is not well funded, and it is a condition that many of us will have to deal with in the future, either because we contract it ourselves, or because someone we know contracts it: the incidence of the condition is rising. Increased funding for research will give us all a better chance in the future, and with that in mind, I've decided to make a donation to Alzheimer's Australia. If you've ever read and enjoyed a Terry Pratchett book (or even if you just dislike the thought of losing your mind) I'd like to ask you to make a donation to your local Alzheimer's support organisation or trust.

I decided to count the number of Terry Pratchett books in the house (39, and I know I am behind on his newer works, so say 40) and I'm going to donate one dollar per book per month. I can afford it, and I'm going to feel like a complete idiot if I get this thing in 10 years time (I'm about 10 years younger than Terry), and I have to look back and know that I didn't do something when I had the chance. It may take decades to find a cure, and research has to be funded, so let's all do what we can. If you can afford it, please donate: every little helps.

I'm also adding a social bookmarking button to this page. I don't normally do this, because I figure that people will submit links to Reddit/Digg/Furl/delicious or whatever as the mood takes them, and it's not my business to push. However, this is a special case: PLEASE Link, Bookmark or Share this post: the Add This button is on the left.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Small, but perfectly formed....

Sorry for the long silence, I've been in a training course, which has another week to run. Back to normal (such as that ever is) in about 10 days, assuming I pass the exam.

A couple of weeks back I picked up an Asus Eee laptop on the way home from work. If you haven't seen this nice little gadget yet, I urge you to check it out at your first opportunity. I've bought the 4G model, which has a 7 inch (diagonal measurement) screen, 512MB of RAM and a 4GB solid state hard drive. Plus 3 USB ports, and SD card slot, modem port, ethernet port, built in wireless networking, a webcam and built in speakers. All of that, and it weighs 920 grams. The power supply is quite small, like the plug on a phone charger (I was expecting a big power brick, to compensate for the small form factor of the machine, so I was pleasantly surprised). The machine comes with a black nylon slip case, and I got a thin lens cleaning cloth from my optometrist, to use as a screen protector when the machine is closed. I've bought a Pacsafe Metrosafe 200 bag, which I can use when I only want to carry the Eee: it will fit in the same bag as my MacBook Pro, but it tends to rattle around if it's in there on it own. And my whole purpose for buying such a small machine was to minimize the amount of stuff that I carry around with me.

The Eee ships with Xandros, a fork of the Debian linux distro, and out of the box is configured in "Easy Mode", which presents a set of brightly coloured icons for basic tasks. This is probably good if the machine is going to be handed to an end user, but not much use for anyone technically literate, who wants to add more software or get at a command line, so the first thing to do is to reconfigure the machine into "Advanced Mode". The instructions are on the eeeuser wiki and the result is a full desktop (KDE).

I plugged in my Huawei E220 modem, and got it working in seconds (much easier than it was on my Mac!). I've installed the Opera web browser - Firefox comes pre-installed, but I've been meaning to try Opera seriously, and it's supposed to be a better choice for small screens.

But left in "Easy Mode", this computer would be perfectly usable by anyone with basic keyboard skills and the ability to drive a browser. It's Linux, without the hard parts. Linux for your grandmother. And this appears to be worrying some people, such as Mike Abary from Sony, who told cNet "If (the Eee PC from) Asus starts to do well, we are all in trouble. That's just a race to the bottom". I think he's right to be worried: you can load Windows XP onto an Eee (this seems a daft idea to me, but it can be done), but Microsoft seems hell-bent on terminating XP on June 30th, in the face gross customer dissatisfaction with Vista, a petition for the continued availability of XP and against the advice of the analysts. The game is changing as they watch, and Microsoft isn't ready for it.

All big companies tend to get blinded by their own success, and they forget that the purpose of their marketing department is to convince the consumers, not to act as some sort of reality distortion field for their management. Someone from Microsoft really should review the history of Novell, which in about 1994-95 was the undisputed king of the hill, with a huge install base. Novell fell from power effectively in a matter of months, because their management (among many other stupid mistakes) assumed that a huge install base made them invincible. I was still working in technical support at the time: when I joined that team, there were about 30 people on the tech support team, 4 of whom could support Unix, while everyone did Netware support. I can remember being told by one of the Netware engineers that there was no point in working with Unix, because it was doomed: Netware was too big to be beaten. Within a year, Netware was no longer cool, and I was teaching Unix skills to my colleagues. Nothing, I repeat nothing, is forever in IT. When the life expectancy of a mobile phone is under a year (how many in your bottom drawer), when desktop machines are written off after about 3 years (less, if you're a gamer), change can come very quickly.

As more apps become available over the web, the need to have a big powerful machine on the desk diminishes. Have you seen these?

SlideRocket presentation software

Aviary image editing

GetDropBox storage and synchronization

Clarizen project management

and of course Google apps, Google docs, etc, etc. OK, the idea of trusting someone I've never met with my data, with no SLA's and no notion of what their security posture might be is worrying. But these things will mature: my employer sells customers access to a big shared HDS SAN to store their data, and many commercial vendors have some sort of "by the gigabyte" storage offering, run on who-knows-what hardware. SLAs and commercial arrangements are in place, and everyone is happy.

As applications move onto the web, and virtualization drags traditional desktops back into the data centre, the age of the "thin client" may well be upon us - Wyse, Sun, HP, IBM and many others all have offerings in that space, and they are well received at corporate level, by CIOs and CEOs tired of constant hardware upgrade costs and software licensing agreements with a price tag the size of the national debt of a small country. More and more gamers are moving to dedicated consoles, instead of PCs, and the demands of computer games have driven the direction of the PC hardware industry for many years. If you no longer run games on your PC, what do you still use it for, and how much hardware do you really need to complete those tasks? If you can do everything you want to using a web browser and services delivered over the Internet, you probably don't need much at all. Perhaps just enough to fit in your handbag?

I think "the race to the bottom" has already started.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Only Mac in the Office

My boss is a sensible and understanding man, and a week or so back he gave me permission to stop using my company-issue Windows XP laptop, and move all my working activities to my MacBook Pro. I have the only Mac in the office: every other computer runs some sort of Windows. We have Exchange and Sharepoint, and all those other applications that make you wonder why so much "technological progress" produces such a sad result: slow, ugly and inefficient. Of course, I used to work for Sun, where we had much better email systems, so I am biased. However, I see occasional questions in the press questions about whether a Mac can work effectively in an office environment, and I'm here to tell you: it can.

Now the IT department has not gone out of their way to help me (for which I don't blame them: I've done that job, and if you once modify your systems to suit one user, you set a precedent that makes it hard to refuse other changes, and the next thing you know, you have unstable systems and major administration headaches). They haven't blocked my access, and my VMware Fusion virtual Windows XP machine can authenticate to the network, and I can access everything I need, either natively through Mac OS X, or through the Windows VM. My biggest problem is that I have to remember when to hit CTRL-c to copy, and when to hit CMD-c. I have so far resisted the temptation to remap anything, because this really isn't a big issue, and I don't want to program myself, by establishing a habit, in such a way that I have trouble with a normal keyboard layout on either system.

So what does this get me? Well first, I don't have to waste time waiting for the Windows machine to boot and login every morning (we have to lock our machines up at night, for security reasons). Why does Windows take so long to start up? And it's alleged "sleep function" never seems to work properly, so you have to boot up from cold anyway, and even when the thing gets to the login prompt, it'll take a few more minutes to complete login tasks. Every Windows machine I have ever had or used demonstrates this behaviour, regardless of manufacturer, and in most cases the configuration of the machine seems to make little difference. It's not the hardware, it's the operating system: how can anything that slow be considered normal? I can take my Mac out of my bag, and have it running in seconds. I'm guessing that it saves me a good half hour every day, just in time I don't have to spend waiting for Windows to start or stop, run it virus checkers, and do all the other things that it does so slowly. Of course, I should be grateful: it might be Vista. I've seen that, and I'm sorry: life is too short to use bad software.

I also have access to all my favourite tools - EagleFiler, Curio, DevonThink, Omnigraffle. I am happy, and happy people are more productive.

And the really big bonus: I am no longer exposed to Microsoft's well-developed ability to devastate a system with a single poorly tested patch. I've had experiences in the past where I have loaded Microsoft's recommended patches onto a system, and suffered serious problems as a result. And Windows suffers badly from "bit rot": the longer you use it, the worse it performs. Eventually, you have to do a reinstall to clean up the mess. But if you run Windows in a virtual machine, you can avoid all this pain. For example....

This morning, I ran Microsoft Update on the Windows XP. So far, it seems OK. But if it develops a problem, I have a simple and quick way out: Time Machine. My Time Machine backups have a copy of the VM pre-patching. If I need to, I can delete the "live" VM, and pull a known-good, working copy from backup in minutes. No time wasting reinstalls: I can roll back any time I like.

To make this as painless as possible, it is VITAL that you do not store working files (Word documents, spreadsheets, anything) inside the VM. All "data" files should be stored in a shared directory in the Mac's "real" file system: treat it as you would a shared drive on a network. Store nothing on the local machine (in this case, the VM): keep everything in the share. Then if the VM dies, you still have your data.
Standards Compatible Browsers

You may have noticed some fiddling about with the layout of this blog recently, without any new content appearing. The lack of new content is a by product of me being very busy at the moment, and the fiddling with the layout is by product of someone I know complaining that my blog didn't display properly in Internet Explorer.

Now to be perfectly honest, I don't think that anyone who would voluntarily use Internet Explorer would find much of interest in this blog. If you are trapped in a place where there is a mandatory standard operating environment which includes IE, then you have my deepest sympathies, but most people have a choice. Why anyone would choose IE, other than ignorance that there were alternatives, or just being too lazy to install something else, is incomprehensible to me. IE is a nasty piece of software. It is slow, it is insecure, and compared with the features offered in other browsers, it is roughly comparable to a Trabant.

I can't be bothered wasting any more time on this: I have worked out why my friend was having a problem (a combination of the defects in IE and a Windows security product) and I am not interested in messing with the layout of my blog to accommodate such foolishness. The foulness of IE is explained very clearly here, and I have nothing of significance to add. How to deal with the problem is explained by Stephen Fry here; there are other ways, but that will get you started. If you want to compare how different browsers render a web page, Browsershots is for you.

Seriously, the only thing IE is fit for is running Microsoft's vile "Windows Update". If you or your employer run a web site that is only tested for Internet Explorer, you might want to give some thought to the many people who use something else, and the business you may be losing if your site is not standards compliant.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Technology Refresh

Greetings! I blog to you today from my brand new 20" iMac. I've spent the last couple of weekends moving my digital life onto this machine, and having a general tidy up and consolidate. The old Dell, with its plethora of cables, is in a temporary location in the family room: I still need it to read a few old zip drive cartridges, and when I'm sure I've got them all, I can decommission the machine, and send it to charity. I've also installed a 1.5TB Western Digital My Book Pro II, to act as a Time Machine disk for the iMac, and to provide some shared storage. I'm consolidating all my small external hard drives (to my shame, there are 4 of these of differing sizes, and 4 copies of some files), and cleaning up files going back to 1996. My desk is now much less cluttered - that Dell was a messy thing, cables everywhere - and a pleasant sense of order is developing.

One of the things that always worries me about decommissioning a machine is the chance that I will either omit to archive some data, or that I will loose access data because it is in some old or proprietary format. This has happened to me before - I have a CD that contains my old Lotus Notes mail box from a job I had about 12 years ago: I can no longer read that data, because the I no longer own a machine that runs the old Notes client. I junked it a couple of years back, knowing that I was losing access to the data.

But this time, I've used VMware to insure myself against possible problems. I've converted the entire operating system on the old Dell to a virtual machine, and loaded it onto the Mac, where I can used VMware Fusion to access it. I downloaded the VMware Converter (which is free) and installed it on a Windows XP machine, did the P2V, copied the files it created onto the Mac, installed the VMware tools, and it works fine. And Windows 2000 starts a whole lot faster on the Mac than it did on the Dell!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Domestic Thrift

This post has nothing to do with computers or software. It was triggered by an incident in my house last week, when a visitor dropped a drinking glass on the kitchen floor. Now my kitchen floor is concrete, sealed with paving paint. I've lived with this floor for over a decade, and I hate it: it's cold, hard on the feet and unforgiving to dropped objects. I believe that there was a fad a while back for polished concrete floors: trust me on this one, the only place where concrete floors are good is warehouses and car parks. In homes, they're horrible. My new vinyl floor should be installed in the next week or so, but right now I still have the horrid concrete. And someone dropped a glass on it. And the glass bounced. The visitor said "I thought for sure that would break", and I wound up explaining how to purchase durable plates and glasses cheaply. She seemed impressed, so I thought I would pass the idea to a wider audience. I don't mind spending money, but I'd prefer to spend it on books and gadgets rather than china. And if you're on a tight budget, this is a tip that will definitely help you.

Did you ever wonder where bars and restaurants buy their crockery and tableware? I don't mean the Michelin starred establishments, who can afford Villeroy & Boch and Wedgeweood. I mean your favourite bistro, the bar you go to on a Friday night after work. Places where plates and glasses have a hard life, with a lot of handling and trips through the dish washer. The answer is that they mostly buy from specialist catering suppliers, and if you can locate one of these places, they're generally quite happy to sell to anyone who walks in off the street.

Catering suppliers tend to be big warehouses, and they don't sell 24 piece dinner services that include a milk jug and sugar bowl that no one will ever use (like the sets you see in department stores). Catering suppliers sell everything loose. So you can buy 1 plate, if that is all you need. Or three glasses. There's almost no packaging, usually just a bit of wrapping paper. Most of the glasses they sell will be toughened glass (like the one my visitor dropped), and rugged enough to survive in a busy bar. But everything they sell is still "nice enough" to be put on the table in a restaurant. The china tends to be plain white, in simple designs, and if you come back next year and need another plate, they will still have the same design. So if you are a poor student, and you only need one plate and one cup, you can buy them now, and then in a year or two when you can afford more, you can add to your collection.

And catering suppliers keep things that you never see in department stores: proper tapas dishes; those little round dishes that restaurants use to serve a pat of butter (these are really handy if you are doing a big buffet); serving platters in several sizes. OK, not every home needs a salad washer with a 20 kilo capacity, but if you need a really big saucepan, or a bulk supply of serviettes or cocktail sticks, a catering supplier will be cheaper than a department store.

I patronize the Hospitality Store in Camperdown (which only helps you if you live in Sydney, but there will be something similar in most cities).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It works!

Yesterday I started to uncable my 9900F scanner, with the intention of hauling it upstairs, so I could connect it to the old PC that I keep on the gallery. The scanner sits on top of an Ikea PC desk that has a sort of string bag arrangement at the back, to keep cables tidy. I fished the scanner's power supply out of the bag, and noticed the original USB cable that shipped with the scanner. So I thought, "let's have one last go at getting this thing going under Fusion", extracted the cable, resumed the VM, and plugged in the scanner. Viola! The VM of XP recognized the scanner immediately. I went "What the...?", put a greeting card that was handy on the platen and did a test scan. It worked. I unplugged the USB cable: it is completely unremarkable. I tried one of the USB cables that I was working with over the weekend, and it worked, as well! I do not understand how or why, but the scanner now appears to work perfectly under a VMware Fusion VM of Windows XP on top of Leopard.

I hate transient faults: they were one of the nightmares of my life when I still worked in technical support. If something suddenly starts working, and you don't know why, when it stops working again, you still have no idea how to fix it. I should have my new iMac by the weekend, and I plan to conduct some tests to see if I can reproduce the original fault. However, right now, it works. So I don't have to replace my scanner any time soon - I would like one that works natively under Leopard, but I can now wait until the various manufacturers sort themselves out (which they seem to be very slow to do. It looks as though they all updated their printer drivers for 10.5, and sort of overlooked scanners). I should point out that I require a flat bed scanner: many of the documents that I need to scan are old and fragile, and not suitable for running through a page feed. So until someone brings out a decent, reliable, flat bed scanner that is supported under Leopard, I shall wait. As Robert Heinlein wrote, "Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow if tomorrow might improve the odds".

And if you've got a scanner that won't work under Leopard, a license of Fusion may be a cheap way to keep it going until updated drivers are available.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


There can be few things quite so irritating as reading the morning paper, and finding that one of the more popular actors of the day has apparently borrowed your hairstyle. I don't wear my hair quite that long, and my white forelock isn't quite that large, but mine is a family thing - my brother has it, too. Mr Depp's forelock is makeup for a character, and not a very nice one at that. The film opens next week: I wait to see if anyone I know is foolish enough to comment.

I sat the Juniper Networks Certified Internet Associate exam (JNO-341) last week, and passed (100%, all the study paid off), so I can think about something other than routers for a while.

What I'm thinking about at the moment is which Mac to buy next. To be honest, the MacWorld announcements were not all I was hoping for: I love the look of the MacBook Air, but the spec is just too low for me. I bought a MacBook Pro last year (I'm using it now), and I can't justify spending such a large amount of money for a machine with a slower processor and half the RAM. If I was still working for Sun (thank God I'm not!), with a lot of travel for work, I'd probably be more enthused by the thought of an ultra lightweight Mac. But I only carry my laptop bag from the house to the car, and from the car park to the office; if I need to carry a lot of additional tools or equipment, I have a laptop bag with wheels. So, much as I desire to possess those slim, shiny curves, I have to decline at this point. So I think my next purchase had better be an iMac, to replace my ancient Dell PC.

The Dell is definitely on its last legs: still running Windows 2000, getting very slow, and I think the hard disk is going to fail soon. So I'm going to replace it with an iMac, and run VMware Fusion for access to other operating systems. But the one problem that I cannot get past is my scanner - a Canoscan 9900F. Canon evidently don't intend to update the drivers: they will only support Leopard on a range of their newer models, and I can't get the drivers to install in my VM of Windows XP. So I suppose I shall have to buy a new scanner. Somehow I don't think I shall be buying another Canon!

I believe that Adobe are releasing or have released their new Mac product, but I don't think I shall be buying it. I've come across Pixelmator, which seems to do everything that I want to do at a bargain price. Furthermore, right now you can get Pixelmator and a bundle of other goodies from MacHeist, for the princely sum of $US49, 25% of which goes to charity. The bundle includes 12 applications, but it's only available for about 6 more days, so don't delay.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Back to work - 2008

Apologies for the lack of posting - I've been on leave, with family visiting from interstate, and disappearing into one's study to blog is not really acceptable hostess behaviour. But my visitors have gone back home, and I went back to work this morning, so normal service will be restored as soon as I get my backlog caught up a bit. I'm guessing that a few of you are also just getting back to "normal", because comments started up again a few days ago, and I owe a few of you a response. I'm going to respond here, rather than in the comments section, because (I'm pleased to say) some of my older posts are still finding an audience, and generating comments; but not everyone wants to dredge through old comment threads to follow conversations, so let's chat here.

There is a question from Sherman, about PDA/PIM software on the Mac: he's looking for "the ultimate", and I have to say that I'm not finding more than "mediocre". In my experience, integration between PDA/PIM devices and Mac OS X is poor; I've dwelt on this problem, and I think I understand why it is so. Many of the currently shipping PDA's run some sort of Microsoft operating system. They are designed to play well with other Microsoft software, and I imagine that most Mac developers react to them by recoiling in horror and disgust. Microsoft has that section of the market well sewn up, so there is no incentive for developers from the Mac camp to waste their time writing software for that platform. Palm, on the other hand, runs Palm OS. You would think that would be a better platform for Mac integration: no Microsoft to compete with, or to mess with underlying document formats and cause things to break. Trouble is, Palm has been looking less and less clever for a few years now, and if they have a direction it looks like "down" to me. Project cancellations, product confusion, failure to deal with the rise of Blackberry. I see fewer and fewer Palm Pilots in meetings, and more and more competing products. Developers have to eat: if the target market is not big enough, they are not going to expend their efforts on writing code for it.

And the reported trends for countries like Japan are falling PC sales and rising mobile phone sales. Demand is for the small, portable, integrated gadget that does it all, from browsing the web to reading your mail and playing music. There are problems with that, particularly for the corporate user: companies like "end-point control", for security's sake. My Blackberry is administered from a central server, with settings pushed down to the handset. I cannot install any application I wish. This is quite reasonable - the company owns the phone, it has access to the company network, they have both a right and an obligation to secure the device appropriately (anyone interested in an extended diatribe on end-point security, drop me a line).

So is all doom and gloom on the PDA front? Perhaps not: check this prediction from Andy Ihnatko, at (you may have to scroll down a bit). He's gazing into his crystal ball and seeing a whole new kind of device. I can't judge how well tuned his crystal ball is, but I like his thinking: here's hoping he's right! I can't imagine that Steve Jobs will announce such a device next week - I'm hanging out for the the rumoured sub-notebook - but perhaps later in the year? There's no denying that we are moving into the always-online, instant-access era (many of us are already there), but I think the trend has further to go - perhaps not to the SciFi predictions of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Oath of Fealty (there's no company in existence whose kit I would trust inside my brain!) - but further than we are now.

I see a comment from Dana, who found Delicious Library disappointing, because the barcode scanning would not work. I also had problems with this initially, until I figured out what was wrong. To get a good shot of a barcode, the camera (built in or external iSight) needs very good light. This is particularly true if the background colour is not plain white, or if the code is faded. I have a powerful halogen lamp above my desk, and if I want to scan things into DL, I turn it on and make sure that the area around the camera is really well illuminated. I find this helps enormously. I do agree that Delicious Library has room to improve, but version 2 is just around the corner, and the previews are getting good press. Here's hoping!

Finally, there is a comment from Michael Bywater, who must have recently found my posts from last May, about the Art of Storing Things. First, thank you for your kind words - my university lecturers would be pleased that their efforts were not wasted. I'm glad you found the post useful. I do agree with you that every student should get at least a basic grounding in classification and information retrieval theory: these are becoming critical life skills, not something that should be confined to knowledge management consultants and librarians. If you have ever had the experience of having to use to locate something for someone else, you will know how hard this is for some people. I used to get asked to do this a lot while I still worked for Sun Microsystems: I was told when I joined that about 1 in 5 machines on the Sun network were web servers (and I believe that number may have been pessimistic, and 1 in 3 more likely). The amount of information is huge, and often difficult to navigate. Colleagues would turn up at my desk, and ask something such as "I know there is a document that describes this procedure, can you find it for me?", and I would do a couple of searches, and find whatever it was, and the other person would go "I've been looking for that for hours!"

Perhaps what I need to do is write something on how to search, and how to relate the way things are stored to various search strategies - let me think about that.

Anyway, my husband just got home, so I must end here for today. A Happy 2008 to you all, and culturally appropriate seasonal greetings.


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