On mild Internet addiction

sparkling flashes! huge excitement! rushing cables! neon lights! dazzling screens! blue glow! futuristic highway! SUPERFAST BROADBAND

Since I’ve hooked the superfast broadband directly to my house I no longer needed to wait for YouTube videos to buffer, and so have since squandered my leisure time on frivolity and nonsense (and reading all that civilised political discourse out there).

When I lived in South Africa the agony of waiting for online multimedia content to load over the crippled Internet infrastructure of the time was so unbearable that I actually spent my time writing and posting things on this blog. I mean, I was still using a dial-up modem in 2006! The screechy tweeting staccato of a 56k modem. Urgh. Continue reading “On mild Internet addiction”

Ebooks and Project Gutenberg

ebook readerJohannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, which is generally considered a Good Thing—unless you are one of those heathens who proudly proclaim that, “I never even read my Matric set work!” followed by a sort of guttural grunting sound.

Another Good Thing is the public domain. People who know me know that I’m not even slightly impressed with this Intellectual Imaginery Property concept. One cannot own ideas. One cannot steal ideas. If concepts were not allowed to flow freely from one individual to another, we’d still be living in caves and still not too sure about how to cook food, let alone hunt it or cultivate it. Corporate copyright and patent jackasses—get over yourselves! The media wants to be free,  ideas want to free, and you guys have got a little tube of silicon gel trying to plug a massive crack in the wall of the world’s largest dam. Good luck with that.

Project Gutenberg is yet another of those Good Things. That’s three now, and if you’ve been paying attention you might realise that I haven’t just been sprouting off random facts and opinions. I actually have a point.

Project Gutenberg ensures that books and other written works that have entered the public domain remain there, and are easily accessible. Getting a copy of some obscure, 100-year-old, out of print book was a challenge before Project Gutenberg. Now you just search and download the ebook, available in a bunch of formats, suitable for your PC, dedicated ebook reader, or cell phone. There are also audio versions of some books, if you’d prefer (but I haven’t checked any of those out).

So I’ve started reading books on my phone. There are a lot of public domain books out there, and I’ve got some catching up to do on the Classics. Never been that interested in them before, but now that I’ve managed to intertwine them into new technology, they seem suddenly fresh and inspiring to me.

I started with Flatland: a romance of many dimensions and War of the Worlds. I’ve also sought out ebooks that aren’t encumbered by that silly DRM nonsense, but aren’t necessarily free. Places to look for that sort of thing are Smashwords and Book View Cafe.

I admit I haven’t paid anyone for an ebook yet—but I probably will in the not too distant future. Even though I haven’t forked out any legal tender for ebooks, I felt bad about being a total freeloader on the system. Project Gutenberg is a project, right? I correctly guess that that meant one could volunteer to do something towards the project.

I’ve started proof-reading a couple of pages a day over at Project Gutenberg’s Distributed Proof-readers site. Essentially, I check scanned pages for Optical Character Recognition (OCR) errors, and make corrections to the text that the computer guessed the scanned pages contained. I like to think of it as noble work, but honestly it’s rather dull. Perhaps I should join a club?

Image credit: Edans “Sony eBook Reader – II”

Microsoft — Now writing satire

It certainly seems that Microsoft are moving into the scathing humour industry when one looks at this press release entitled “Microsoft Brings Holiday Cheer on a Budget to Hispanic Families With Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007 Language Pack in Spanish.”

Honestly, that really is the headline. Holiday Cheer on a Budget! With Microsoft Products! Now in Spanish!

It’s either satire, or Microsoft are using their system administrators to write press releases.

An excerpt if you can’t be bothered to click through and read the article yourself:

“With the current economic situation in the U.S., families are looking for ways to save money and still celebrate the holidays,” said Fred Studer, general manager of U.S. Information Worker Business Group at Microsoft. “This alliance with the Boyle Heights Technology Youth Center will give us the opportunity to interact with Hispanic families and show them how to prepare inexpensive and creative holiday solutions for their homes, using easy technology tools from Microsoft Office 2007.”

What the hell is a “holiday solution”? Microsoft, you are trying to market Office 2007 Home and Student editions to Hispanic families in the US. I understand Hispanics to be typically working class people. I’m not sure they want a “holiday solution.” I’m not sure anyone does. A term like that completely pollutes the concept of a holiday. I don’t want to be laying on a beach on a tropical island somewhere, thinking myself clever to have solved my holiday problem (or is that work problem) with such a cunning holiday solution.

Certainly, I’m taking liberty with the disconnect between what America thinks a holiday is, and what the rest of the English-speaking world thinks it is. Microsoft’s Fred Studer isn’t suggesting anyone develop a creative vacation solution. But let’s look at some of the things Office 2007 offers to simplify the holiday season:

The Microsoft Office 2007 system and the Office 2007 Language Pack — Spanish offer a great deal of tools to help simplify the holiday season, with special templates and features that allow families to create fun projects such as these:

  • Personally made holiday cards, family calendars, gift tags and decorations using Office Word 2007
  • Holiday budget management using Microsoft Office Excel 2007 templates
  • Dazzling presentations for a posada gathering using Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007
  • Holiday recipe organization using Office Word 2007 templates

Aside from everything that the Microsoft Office 2007 system and the Office 2007 Language Pack — Spanish offer this holiday season, the software also is the perfect gift for every student and parent.

Are those bullet points what Fred means by “holiday solutions”? Aren’t hand-made cards more beautiful? Isn’t Excel 2007 a little overpowered for a holiday budget? PowerPoint is a problem — not a solution to anything. I wasn’t aware holiday recipes needed to be organised. I’m rather glad that’s been cleared up for me.

SagCAD: The briefest of reviews

SagCAD Does it save?

I’m looking for CAD software on Linux, and I came across SagCAD. The only value I derived from my interaction with the software was the above dialogue box. The software is horribly unintuitive and crashed when I tried to open some of my existing dxf files.

It took me 15 minutes before I figured out how to draw a line, and I’m usually quite good at unravelling mystifying user interfaces.

In conclusion — leave SagCAD alone. Use QCAD instead.

Edit: The manual is in Japanese, but they’ve helpfully provided a machine-translated English version. Hilarious. Here is an extract to whet your appetite:

< Note > The active layer (the current layer) it inserts the data which is inserted. Because of that, it is becoming one layer it becomes the figure in the layer of here and there, confused.

Edit again: I promise not to edit this post again, but this is too good to pass up. The original message asking “does it save” has been superseded by this from the SagCAD manual:

It is undo

Search

When you search for search, what does your internet search engine search for?

Google is undeniably the market leader in internet search. Surely every search engine, when prompted with this query should return Google as the first hit on the list? Surely, if the search service you ask has the user’s best interests at heart (those are your best interests), this is what would happen?

With the possible exception of Google, that is. By entering your search for search into Google, you obviously already know about them. To serve their users optimally, they should tell them about other search engines.

I decided to test my hypothesis — search engines have their users’ best interests at heart — by checking whether they tell me about Google. More importantly, Google had to be the first hit (after sponsored ads, if any).

Method

Starting with Google, enter the search term “search engine” in the search dialogue box. My starting point was Google.co.za

The first hit on the page (that was not a sponsored link or advert) should be followed. Assuming the link takes one to a search engine site, the term “search engine” is entered into the newly discovered search engine’s dialogue box.

Repeat the above steps until a stable pattern emerges, or until one is returned to the starting point (in my case, Google.co.za), or until a site is returned that has no search input box.

Results

Google.co.za -> Search Result
-> Altavista.com -> Search Result
-> Search.com -> Search Result
-> Altavista.com -> Search Result
-> Search.com -> Search Result

Stable pattern established.

Conclusion

WTF? Search.com is a meta-search engine, so it just spat out Google’s search result. I suppose, arguably, arriving at Search.com is arriving at Google + others. But Altavista? Who uses Altavista these days? I can hardly believe it still exists, so what’s going on here?

Addendum

Repeating the experiment, but searching for “search” instead yields this:

Google.co.za -> Search Result
-> Yahoo.com -> Search Result
-> Google.com

Hooray! My faith in the intertubes is restored.