Dec 26, 2006

In August 2002, I said that then-recent changes to the Windows XP EULA were a declaration that your computer belonged to Microsoft.

It always takes more time to implement these things than initially thought, but the dream of having corporations own your computer lives on now in Vista. This paper documents some of the work that has gone into making Vista "safe" for "protected" content, and made it clear how whenever there was a conflict between the interests of the media companies and your interests, you lost.

I don't talk about this very often as this strikes me as the sort of thing that ranting on about is actively counterproductive. But I would continue to encourage you to become familiar enough with Linux or MacOSX or another OS that you are not stuck with Microsoft, if computing is at all an important aspect of your life. (Although I'd expect MacOSX to go down the same road sooner or later, so that may not be the best choice.) As I take a rather pragmatic view of this issue, I think even having a Linux system for "normal use" and a Windows XP system (separate machines or dual-boot, whichever) for games is fine. I have a Windows XP locked up in a VMWare virtual machine, for instance, because I need to test things in Internet Explorer. It's not about eliminating Microsoft per se, it's about not being completely beholden to them.

Power-user Configuration Files Should Be Programs
Dec 22, 2006

Every program of any complexity needs to be configured. The traditional answer is to put this in some sort of text file, or something else that is fundamentally static data that must be read in and parsed. (That is, for the purposes of this discussion the Windows Registry is a static text file.)

If you are programming in a language that can take a program in at run-time, like Python, Ruby, or Perl, and you are targeting an advanced audience, the configuration file should actually be a program. In the degenerate case, the programming language can easily look like a configuration file, but then, if you need the full power of programming, it's sitting right there.

Update Dec. 24th: Similar thoughts w.r.t. build tools. I think declaration-based systems tend towards "demoware"; any arbitrary task can be made to look good in the demo of a declarative system, but it seems inevitable that before you can even blink, you need a scripting language. And ultimately, as with ant vs. rake, it's simpler just to pull in the full scripting language that to fall prey to Greenspun's Tenth Rule in your "simpler" declarative language.

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Dec 22, 2006

My laptop hard drive is dying.

This may be a world first: My laptop hard drive is dying almost immediately after a full backup.

Most hard drives die immediately before their first full backup.

I've noticed that the quality of hard drives as measured by how long they last has been steadily going down. Having a hard drive last two years is almost a notable event now. But I think they've been getting better about somewhat gracefully failing; while I almost never see a drive last more than a year and a half, it's also been a long time since I heard anybody say their hard drive just died with no warning at all. (I'm sure it happens but it seems to happen less often.)

One of the lessons I've learned: Once you see the warning signs, backup everything and get off the drive as quickly as possible. Don't wait for it to finish dying. Failure is inevitable and there's really no point in trying to hobble along with a failing drive for very long. The worst case scenario is that it lasts just long enough for you to get lazy about your backups again.

I always appreciate the periodic reminders by various webloggers to back up, so here's my reminder to you: Back up!

No Thin Clients Anytime Soon
Dec 20, 2006
Google is quickly coming to realize that they're not in the services business at all. All of their various services -- news, maps, mail etc -- are just thinly veiled attempts to collect, store and control data. Of course, even search itself falls under this paradigm. Search is, after all, the final form of managing data. And now, with Google Base, Google has has made it very clear that they don't intend to be the world's search engine, they intend to be world's database. In this endeavor Google is unique only in their ambition. Every other "web 2.0" company operates on this same innate desire to control user's data. This is my primary concern about the entire Web 2.0 phenomenom: all of these companies intend to build walled gardens around various important sets of data and then expose tiny bits of the data through strictly controlled, proprietary APIs. - Google and the Tyranny of Data

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Why Digital TV Won't Kill Discs Soon
Dec 15, 2006

It has been theorized that digital TV and downloadable video will rapidly destroy the DVD market, to the extent everyone has broadband. I don't think this is going to happen as rapidly as people thing, because even ignoring some of the other economic advantages of physical media (like the sense of ownership), the economics of the bits that make up the video are different for discs and broadcasting/downloading in some important ways, resulting in a quality advantage for the discs.

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