Archive for November, 2007

Windows XP Resource Kit Tools

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Being a big corporation means anytime you go to sit down, you sit on your hand, because the heavily centralized structure hasn’t gotten around to moving it yet. It also means you rename key packages to have names other than what people use to find them, baffling your users.

Windows XP Resource Kit Tools

These Windows XP Resource Kit Tools are also known as Windows Support Tools. Although they’re not installed on Windows XP by default, they are built into Vista, because these little gadgets make the most of some simple administrator tasks that can really slow you down. Even if you’re not an administrator, they can make your life easier, even just with simple tools like RoboCopy.

More common task crushers are here. I hope it makes your day easier.

After the Asus Eee, Amazon’s Kindle

Monday, November 19th, 2007

The revolution in task-centric, user-centric portable computing continues. From its early days, with the Toshiba T-1000 and Radio Shack Model 1000, coming into the modern time with the AlphaSmart Dana and Palm Foleo, finally blending subnotebook and PDA with the Asus Eee, now maturing for its latest plateau with the Amazon Kindle, portable computing has been a war between those who want portable computers and those who want portable computing devices optimized for information retrieval, perusal and authoring.

As we’re no strangers to the enjoyment of etexts around here, it’s hard not to be a little excited, even if the endless gadgetization of humanity is in itself a bad sign. I have no plans to run out and buy a Kindle, not in the least because I am aware that all of these gadgets just end up as landfill. Most of my resistance, however, is that I like printed books for their superior interface. There is no messing about with plastics, electricity and wireless internet. You can read a book anywhere, even after society’s apocalyptic end when we’ll all be hunkered down in radioactive caves trying to evade the mutant hybrid Wolf-Lizard people.

The name “Kindle” makes me thinking of someone lighting the kindling to burn all the books. Very Fahrenheit 451 and makes me want to hate it before I even see it. – A TechBlog reader in By the Bayou

Asus micro-laptop brings Linux to desktop

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

In terms of price, performance, and features the Asus Eee PC hits the trifecta and could be a game-changer in the mobile market. Thanks to its combination of Intel hardware and a non-bloated Linux install, reviewers found that Asus’s little laptop performs just as well as much larger and more expensive Windows notebooks.

The device does support Windows XP, but Linux seems to be the OS of choice of reviewers for performance and ease-of-use reasons. In this respect, Microsoft has well and truly blown it, because this device is poised to introduce a few million Best Buy shoppers to a pleasantly usable, non-embedded Linux distro.^

Linux is far from perfect (BSD is more fun and more stable, especially in a server environment). Windows is not only good, but getting better. However, there are also many advantages to Linux. Among other things, it encourages people to buy white boxes instead of Macs, Dells and HPs.

For some years people have wondered when Linux would make inroads to desktop computing. After all, it is free. However, it doesn’t work on all hardware, and often takes hours of tedious work to make simple changes to the operating system. Also, it does not have the broad software base that Windows has.

What has made Windows predominant is the convergence of several factors: it’s cheap, because most people burn a CD-R from a friend. It works very intuitively, more so than the Mac, although you won’t see this mentioned in the computer media. It is backward compatible with a giant library of software. Simple changes occur quickly, and the operating system gives a lot of power to its users, even if more than they should have sometimes.

The recent rash of viruses, trojans and other Windows problems gave Microsoft a chance to step up to the plate. Their response was to hurry Vista along, because they do not believe that the older versions of Windows can be safe and still support marketing objectives, like pushing ActiveX and BHOs and other Microsofty standards on the rest of us. In the meantime, Apple is selling more machines, but the pretentious, smug and combative users have made more than one ex-user flee in disgust.

Wal-Mart just began selling its $200 PC which uses a relatively non-bloated Linux installation called gOS and online apps from Google. The future of Linux, like that of Intel competitor AMD, is in being cheaper or free and starting out on the lower-end machines. It’s interesting that the machine to do this might be both lower-end and luxury, in that it gives its users the cheap, durable, uncomplicated laptop users have always said they have wanted.

The last time this happened, around 1988, was when Toshiba brought out the T-1000 laptop. It had no hard drive. It had an ugly, simple screen and a squishy, simple keyboard. But it sold for about $700 discount or used, could take a few hours of battery charge, and if you used shareware word processors and telecommunications software, could do everything a $2500 laptop could do and often could do it longer.

Toshiba promptly forgot these lessons, and maybe Asus will as well, but the users have yet again spoken: they want technology that’s durable, cheap, simple and doesn’t get in the way, and if Windows and HP don’t offer it, they’ll rush to whatever savvy marketer rises up with all the dunces in confederacy against him/her and offers it.

The Endless Coffee Pot

Monday, November 5th, 2007

One of the reasons I find life inspiring is the endless variation of humanity, at least among those who think. They’re like little chaos engines out of control, but they’re making the kind of chaos that breeds new futures, not the kind of chaos that is simply disorder, like an old garage stuffed with junk too useless for anyone to sort through.

Some of these chaotic humans recently invented an Endless Coffee Pot as part of their senior thesis in electrical engineering. They designed, built, and programmed (in C++) a microcontroller-assisted coffee pot that loads itself with coffee, drains out stale coffee, throws out coffee grounds, and maintains a constant temperature. It has an LCD display and would very easily make a vending machine.

According to their paper on the topic, the endless coffee pot (ECP) requires little or no user interaction. “The user would enter the current time, start time, interval of operation and stop time. The other tasks that would require user maintenance would be the loading of coffee pouches into the dispenser and unloading used pouches from the waste receptacle.”

The paper goes on to give us technical specs and a project description. “The core component of the entire product is a ‘run-of-the-mill’ Proctor Silex coffee maker [1] which performs the basic brewing process. The brain of the product is Mini-Max/51C-2 8051 microcontroller board manufactured by BiPOM Electronics [2] and interfaces with all sensors, pumps, and motors through the Custom-Built Integration Board (CBIB). ”

Humanity keeps delighting me with its chaos, and the ECP surely qualifies. Some chaos is like lively thoughts on no particular topic, but other chaos is like the mental checklists I do at the end of the night before I fall asleep. These are laundry lists with no order, and so each item no matter how small seems the most important until thinking about it exhausts me, and I drop into the lively chaos of dreams.

Tom Wolfe on Television

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

I discovered Tom Wolfe later in my reading career, mainly because the first book of his I picked up, The Electric Kool-Ade Acid Test, annoyed me stylistically so much I resolved never to read any of his terrible prose again. I still feel he often overwrites, but that he gets the concepts and characters correct, and so is more profound than many who are better at stringing together sentences. In this he reminds me of William Gibson and Michael Crichton, both of whom often write bready text that discusses the underlying and invisible issues of the day that most people don’t know how to tackle.

If you’re going to read Wolfe, in my view, the book to read is A Man in Full, which is about heroism as an alternative to the ethic of convenience that makes people think they’re succeeding and escaping the errors of our time, but really lays the fertile seeds for future misery.

But reading was the sort of thing you did in idle hours if you didn’t want to go out and play. I just read constantly. I’m sure if I was that age today, I would be watching as much television as anybody else, but it’s a huge advantage if you ever start writing.

I began to notice, when I was working on magazines years later, I kept looking over my shoulder for the new talent that would be coming along which would be competition for those of us who had reached the ripe age of 37 or 38, and it wasn’t there. It just never got there. And part of it is that today, I think, so many talented writers want to go into television, or they want to go into movie writing. Those are the hot industries. But without that reading, I don’t think anybody’s ever going to turn out to be much of a writer.

Now my daughter Alexandra, who’s 24 now, she went to a very tough all-girls school here in New York. And that school is so hard, she watched exactly one hour of television a week. Not because my wife and I said, “You can’t go near that set.” We never said that. She would watch Beverly Hills 90210. That was the only thing she ever watched on television. She read and read. And now– you don’t mind a father bragging a little, do you? So today she’s 24 and she’s got a book contract. She’s worked on two newspapers. She worked on the New York Observer, a weekly here in New York, and she was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and a publishing house approached her and gave her this book contract. And I think it’s partly because she read, she read, she read, she read, she read. It got to the point where she didn’t care about television.^

I refuse to own a television, but like his daughter, I don’t even face the issue. There’s too many other activities on which I would rather spend my irreplaceable time than watching television. Every time I do watch a movie or TV, I end up sitting there afterwards with a slight depression, because I gave hours of my life to someone else’s (badly expressed) dream and it made me no richer.