Saturday, November 26, 2005

Pandemonium Has an Apple Store...

And it's always Black Friday.

Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering. - Job 26.6

Yes, I have been through the fire and witnessed the writhing mass of a tormented humanity in Pandemonium. It was a winding road that led me there, but I will share it with you brethren (and sistern), if you dare to follow my trail.

As everyone knows, the Gates of Hell are just off Fourth Avenue, right past Dick's Last Resort, but if you want to get to Pandemonium; you'll need to take the Miramar Road exit West off Interstate 805.

The Indigent Girlfriend's brother (Bill) was down for Thanksgiving and went with me to buy some parts for a computer I was rebuilding. So, we went out to my usual hole-in-the-wall asian suppliers and picked up what I needed (Motherboard, CPU, and RAM). It was on the drive back that Bill began telling me about a problem he was having with his Apple iBook. It seems that his iBook G4 would lock-up when recording his gigs (he's a musician). It would also freeze and "stutter" when applying reverb or EQ to multiple tracks using Digital Performer. Since I don't know anything about audio or Apple computers, all that sounded as foreign to me as it did to you. So it was with a great deal of confidence that I told him he needed more memory (RAM) in his iBook.

That's how we ended up in front of the Apple Store at the University Towne Center mall in La Jolla. Looking through the doors, I could only see a writhing mass of people. My mind was already troubled by what Apple Computer could possibly be selling that would attract such a crowd. Even if all nine Apple users in San Diego were in there at the time, who were all these other folks? No matter, I extended my right-arm in front of me, turned my flat-palm vertical, raised it above my head, and began hacking a path through the milling masses of lost souls. Reaching the counter at the back with little injury to ourselves, I asked for a 1GB memory module to upgrade an iBook G4. The clerk checked stock on the computer, gave me a quick "no problem" and went through a back door to the stock room. Bill and I exchanged triumphant grins. Hell, I was thinking we could probably get these "Apple Geniuses" (yes, that's what they're called) to install the memory for us, sparing me the deed of having to open it up myself. I was quite at ease and feeling fine.

That's why I was caught so off-guard when the clerk returned, slapped the boxed memory on the counter and said, "This is 500 dollars."

It took a moment to realize that my heart had stopped beating. My vision blurred and the world lurched under my feet. I knew there was something I should be doing, but I couldn't remember what it was. I was drifting in a dream, standing at the counter of an Apple Computer store in 1988, when the clerk sets a 20MB hard drive on the counter and says, "That'll be 600 bucks". No wait, I am sitting at a desk across from a Farmers Insurance broker who's saying, "Comprehensive coverage for a 19 year old driving a 280Z will be $176 per month." I can faintly hear gagging noises as the real estate agent tells me, "...and this is a great entry level home at just $550,000." What is that buzzing? Is someone calling my name? Is that you Lord?

I opened my eyes to Bill shaking me by the shoulders, mouthing the word that must be my name, calling me back. That's when I remembered what it was I should be doing. My lungs burned as I sucked in my first breath in what must have been minutes. As the last few bright spots cleared from my vision, I saw Bill (for whom money is no object) looking at me as if to say, "Well, should we get it?"

In my head, I was thinking, "Sure, why not. In fact, why don't we ALL just start dropping LSD, having promiscuous group sex in the rain-soaked mud pits of Woodstock, and paying $500 for 1GB memory modules until the fabric of society, commerce, and decency is lost forever!" After declining the purchase, it was with no small amount of desperate panic that I began hacking a path back through the crowd of masochists.

We eventually ended up at Fry's Electronics where we picked up the 1GB memory module for $135 with a $15 mail-in rebate. The serpentine checkout line winding all the way back through the unkempt shelves of the warehouse store was like a little taste of Heaven by comparison. The added memory had its desired effect and all was well. We had looked upon the end of times, waded into the heart of chaos, and walked out again mostly unharmed, if not untouched.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

From all of us here, we hope you have a happy and gluttonous Thanksgiving. But we must be remember the mountains (both real and metaphoric) that our fathers have successfully climbed for us to have successive Thanksgivings and dwell on those who today are working so hard to bring "a new birth of freedom" to so many around the world. No better a person to speak on this than President Lincoln, who had to steady a nation on the brink of destruction. This destruction was more than just the division of the Union, but would also result in the continuation of the evil institution of slavery:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln

We as a nation have so much to be thankful for. On the top of that list is our men and women fighting for an ideal not foreign to the American tradition, but something all of our fathers have fought for before. So as we enjoy our Thanksgiving today, let us take a moment to remember those before us and the many who labor for us today.

Computer Problems?

Eugene Volokh is having problems with his Dell computer, and your Indigent Blogger is here to give you the low down on the break down at Dell. I immediately guessed at the nature of the problems Mr. Volokh would have with Dell by the description of his problem in the first paragraph of his post.

I have a simple problem: The hard drive for my Dell notebook crashed after my computer was out of warranty. I bought a new hard drive, but now I need a boot disk for the Microsoft XP Professional operating system that I originally bought loaded onto my computer. I suspect this happens very often; there ought to be a standard procedure for it.

That is a relatively simple problem but not for the Dell support folks thanks to the cost-saving decision to exclude the original media for the Windows operating system.

I'm talking about the CD that could be used to reinstall Windows (or whatever) on your Dell computer from scratch. This is precisely what you would need if your hard drive crashed or if you upgraded to a bigger hard drive. What Dell provides to its home-user customers instead is a "Disaster Recovery" CD. Dell is right about one thing, the entire concept of the way that recovery CD works is a disaster. Dell makes a mirror image of the operating system as it is before the end-user gets their hands on it, and stores that image on a separate partition of the hard drive. If you own a Dell personal computer (that has not been "re-imaged" through your own corporate IT personnel), you'll be able to see this magical recovery partition by typing compmgmt.msc in the Start-Run command box and selecting Disk Management from the Storage folder. You should see a list of logical "volumes" at the top right, and the physical disk they reside on in the bottom right.

That "recovery partition" is important because it works in conjunction with the recovery CD. The recovery CD "restores" the operating system on a Dell computer back to factory condition by erasing EVERYTHING on the user's partition and reinstalling the "mirror image" from the hidden recovery partition. Since Mr. Volokh replaced his original hard drive, there was no magical recovery partition rendering the recovery CD (and the canned support script walking him through it) absolutely useless. So, Mr. Volokh would need to purchase a new Windows XP CD for two reasons; 1) Dell provides a "Disaster Recovery" CD rather the actual media for the operating system, and 2) the Disaster Recovery CD does not recover from disasters involving the hard drive where the hidden recovery partition is located.

I talked to the person; and finally, finally got a chance to buy a new copy of Windows XP Pro (the software that they knew I had bought with my original system) for a $100 discount off their $309 standard price.

Here we have one of the greatest computer crimes of our time. Most Dell computers sold for home users do not come with the "Professional" edition of Windows XP. The Professional edition is an option for which Mr. Volokh probably paid extra at the time of his original purchase. However, he still received no media for his operating system with his original system. Dell then has the balls to charge him $209 to replace the media he should've received when he purchased his system.

Readers of The Indigent Blogger, brace yourselves! You can purchase an OEM version of Windows XP Professional (the same thing Mr. Volokh just purchased) for $75 from eDirectSoftware. Yeah, bookmark that link! And yes, it is legal software. Yes, I have done business with them on many occassions. No, I am not affiliated with eDirectSoftware in any way. There's even a bonus for Dell users because the OEM media that eDirectSoftware ships to you is currently imprinted with the Dell logo.

How is that possibly legal you ask? Here's an explanation that I wrote for my small circle of customers:

You have an OEM license of Microsoft Windows XP Professional. The sticker affixed to the outside of your computer has your Product Key, which is your proof of ownership and represents your legal license. Do not permit others to use your product key! Using your product key to activate Windows installations on other computers is illegal and could jeopardize your ability to receive free offers, critical updates, and upgrade pricing for new operating systems from Microsoft.

You are permitted to make one backup copy of your media to be used in the event of damage or loss to your original OEM software media. If you purchased your computer from The Indigent Blogger after September 2004, you should be able to simply insert a blank CD-R disc into your CD-ROM drive and type 'makexpcd' at any command prompt. This will create a backup copy of your Windows XP OEM installation media.

The Indigent Blogger cannot replace or repair lost or damaged installation media. In the event that your original hologram CD is lost or damaged, and your hard drive data is lost or damaged, and you don't have a backup installation CD, you may need to purchase a completely new version of Windows XP Professional. Under no circumstances will The Indigent Blogger provide replacement media.

So, the license to use Microsoft software is really tied to those convoluted product keys you have to type in when you install it for the first time. The truth is that you can use ANY media for the same license type of the same product to re-install or add components to an existing installation as long as you have the unique product key. For example, the product key on the "Windows XP Professional OEM Version" sticker affixed to the outside of Mr. Volokh's laptop could be used to install Windows XP Pro (OEM) from the media he will receive from Dell. In fact, he could buy a new OEM version from eDirectSoftware and and install it using the product key on the sticker affixed to his computer years ago when Dell shipped it from their factory.

What will not work is mixing edition or license type. When you buy Windows XP (Home or Professional) off the shelf at a retail store, that is a "Retail" license. The license purchased with most computers or from places like eDirectSoftware is an "OEM" license. There are subtle differences that I will not get into here. Let's say you buy five copies of Windows XP Professional OEM Version from eDirectSoftware and four of the CDs are crushed during shipping. You can absolutely use the one remaining CD to install the operating system on five computers as long as you use one each of the five product keys (received with the media) when prompted during installation. However, if all five CDs were damaged during shipping, you could not use the product keys received with the OEM media to install from the "Retail" CD your wife bought you for Christmas last year. In that case, you would enter the OEM product key and it would be rejected by the retail installation CD.

I realize this is rough reading for any day, let alone Thanksgiving Day, but I thought I would shed some light on how Dell (and most other OEMs) handle your operating system licensing and media and offer some tips on how to protect yourself against their poor practices. I also hope this clarifies how much more important those little stickers and product keys are than the actual CD that comes with your software purchase.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Evolution v. Board of Education

When discussing the topic of evolution, I would like to avoid the debate over which is right or which is wrong, although I'd like to point out evolution and creationism are simply two sides of the same coin. Evolution states things are always changing and creationism means things can pop out of thin air and be changed instantly. If either is true, permanance is nonexistent.

Two weeks ago the Dover school board elected eight new faces, all of which want to end the previous decision to read a statement on Intelligent Design to biology students.

President Bush, as we know, is for teaching Intelligent Design in the classroom. Lee Harris over at Tech Central Station has a piece about Bush's comments. Here is a portion of it:

Would Darwin have objected to President Bush's seemingly paradoxical comment that both sides in the evolution debate "should be properly taught"? Well that might depend on whether he was permitted to hear the president's justification of his position, namely that both sides should be taught "so people can understand what the debate is about," and the president's further statement: "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is 'yes.'"

With those conditions, the answer, I am confident, is: No, Darwin would not have objected. Indeed, he would have welcomed such debate. Debate is what he, like all great thinkers, lived for.

Darwin would have welcomed such debate because he was keenly aware that the problems he had raised were not capable of being resolved into trivial facts to be memorized like the names of the state capitals or the rules of the multiplication tables. He knew that his theory probed the ultimate questions, and that such ultimate questions could never be given a definitive solution to be taught by rote, and to be memorized by parrots.

What an insult to Darwin's intellectual genius to think that his theory is as obvious as two plus two equal four, or as innocuous as the facts contained in an almanac! Anyone who thinks Darwin's theory is obvious clearly hasn't a clue about its brilliance or its
originality.

So this time Bush got it right, and the critics that are pouncing on his statement are getting it mostly wrong. There is no harm in teaching children to discuss and debate the ultimate questions -- indeed, the greatest danger is that we may raise a generation that is never challenged to think about such questions at all. If an
open-ended debate about evolution stirs up the kids, then, for heaven's sake, let the stirring begin.

Darwin grew up believing in Adam and Eve -- proof that it makes little difference with what opinion we start out with, since all that ultimately matters are the convictions that we discover for ourselves.

I agree 100% with President Bush, Lee Harris and all of those who wish to have Intelligent Design/Creationism mentioned in school. My objections begins where they wish to discuss Intelligent Design and Creationism. Clearly, since neither Intelligent Design or Creationism has any kind of scientific grounding, they should not be discussed by a science teacher. The current assault on science by fundamentalists of all stripes is deplorable. Science has its place in formal education, but that does not mean it holds all the answers to the universe. All this leads me to asking a pertinent question: Why would any conservative Christian want an evolutionist (possibly a non-Christian or an atheist) teaching creation?

Creationism is a tenant of Judeo-Christian teaching. God made Man, therefore we are God's creation living according to his will. But how does any of this concern a biology class? Explaining what the natural order of the world is the goal of the physical sciences (although, that was not its original intent). But explaining how it all started or why it works so perfectly and naturally is the job of others.

The best article I have read about this debate can also be found at Tech Central Station. Frederick Turner writes:

The controversy over intelligent design and evolution is, like many current quarrels, largely artificial, a proxy fight between atheists and biblical literalists over the existence and nature of a divine authority and the desirability of state authority as a replacement for it. Many people not warped in attitude by the exacerbations of the conflict see no contradiction between the idea that the universe, life, and human beings evolved according to natural processes, and the idea that a divine being or beings can be credited with the existence of everything, having set those natural processes going in the first place. The big question is whether nature can give us a moral law that is robust enough to serve a modern democratic free enterprise society -- if it can, that moral law would be acceptable both to believers, who would see it as God's natural revelation, and to unbelievers, who could trust its metaphysical impartiality.

This debate, Creationism/ID vs. Evolution is irrelevant to the truly important questions: What is justice? What is virtuous behavior? What, if any, is the universal moral code? Without asking these questions, what is the point of a formal education?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Les Rues de Feu (The Streets of Fire)

Special thanks to The Indigent Blogger for inviting me to participate on Vagabondia. I hope you find my writing interesting, but more importantly I hope you find it thought provoking.

The past few days I find myself intrigued with the events going on in France. I don't watch much network news on television or read the New York Times, so I don't know how the mainstream media is covering these events. But gauging by the conversations I have with people, I don't suspect it is getting as much coverage as a Hurricane Katrina or 2000 deaths in Iraq. You can always tell what the big stories are by listening to what people are talking about, and right now people aren't talking about Paris burning. It is getting coverage, but not interest. And I get the impression that when the riots end, they will be forgotten within two days.

I'm curious why this isn't foremost on our minds. Although I was in grade school at the time, I vividly remember the LA riots because they led the headlines for weeks. It was a sexy story of injustice and racism. It was an abuse of power. It was black America versus white America. It was David versus Goliath. The media eats up stories like this. America eats up stories like this. So what gives with the Paris riots?

I must admit, at first glance there is an urge to snicker at our French friends. They claim to be much more enlightened and cultured than us. So to see them struggle with racial issues is kind of like seeing the perfect married couple next door throwing the pots and pans at each other. But before we go having a good laugh at the expense of our dear "allies", we should keep in mind that we may be looking at glimpse of America 30 years from now.

For years now Muslims have been flooding into Europe, and in particular France. I have seen estimates that millions of Muslims have moved to France in the past decade. And France has welcomed them with open arms. France believes that trying to accept Muslims will result in understanding by both sides. They believe this understanding will lead to peace and stability, something all Europeans crave ever since World War II. That is their goal.

But here in America we have different goals. While we also seek peace and stability, ultimately the average American first seeks prosperity. Let's face it, what kinds are sacrifices are you being forced to endure in order to support the war effort? Unless you are in the military, not much. There is no gasoline rationing. No calls to recycle rubber and tin. The average American has not been affected at all by this war. Back during the election the polls indicated the economy was equally important as the war. The average American cares about having a good job, a nice house, a nice car, taking nice vacations, and having lots of Christmas presents under the tree. That's what's important to us.

As America grows in prosperity, the gap between the rich and poor is growing in step. As more Americans get out of poverty and enter the middle class, a vacuum is created at the bottom of the job chain. Middle class Americans don't want to take the $5/hr jobs that Walmart and McDonalds offer. They don't want to break their backs mowing lawns and cleaning toilets. But many immigrants are willing to do those jobs because they still represent a better life than having no job back home.

Like Muslims flooding into France, America is experiencing a wave of immigration from Latin America. Official estimates say millions of people live and work in this country illegally. These immigrants, also known as "guest workers" as politicians have taken to calling them, are willing to take the bottom of the barrel jobs most middle class American workers aren't willing to do. And they don't complain one bit because they are just happy to be in this country and supporting their families.

While these immigrants are thankful for the opportunities America gives them, I suspect the next generation will be a different story. What this generation views as opportunity, the next generation will view as oppression. Those born in this country will begin to ask themselves why they are sweeping floors and digging ditches for less than minimum wage and no health insurance while their white peers work in air conditioned offices making ten times what they do. While their parents look at white America and see people who need services, the next generation will only see people who seek to shut them out of the American dream. They will ask themselves why schools in their neighborhoods don't have the resources that schools in white neighborhoods do. Multiculturalism will soon breed a sense of injustice. And when that happens the streets of Paris will come to America. Viva la France.

Keep Alive 08NOV2005

I've been pretty busy lately, but I want to try and post something instead of letting the blog go dormant again. While things are slow here, Check out the excellent posts at Every Opinion and the Deep Freeze. Speaking of the Deep Freeze, Mike is the newest vagabond, here at Vagabondia. Expect to see some thought-provoking posts from him in the future. Also, in response to the two questions in this post at the Deep Freeze, the first answer is No. Madonna stopped being sexy to me when I graduated junior high. And the last answer; I would call the paramedics to get the woman the medical attention she obviously needs.

My thought for the day is concerning an item I read about NBC and CBS. No, I actually have something nice to say about them. Of course, it doesn't involve their so-called news departments, not directly anyway.

CBS and NBC have announced deals to offer replays of prime-time programs for 99 cents per episode, shifting television toward a sales model that gained popularity with downloaded music. - AP

In the years before the Indigent Girlfriend came to San Diego in 1999, I would disable the television part of my cable service, only keeping the broadband Internet service. During football season, I would only buy the television service blocks necessary to watch NFL football games. This would include FOX, CBS, ABC, and the fly in the ointment, ESPN. Getting the Sunday night games on ESPN required me to buy the extended cable service, in addition to the basic cable service. Well, what I actually wanted to do is pay for the programming I actually watched instead of paying $80 per month for 40 channels of info-mercials, 20 channels of shopping networks, and another 20 channels of actual programming that was at all interesting to me.

Now, this announcement is progress, but it doesn't quite get us where I want to be. I like the idea of being able to view streaming content and download previous shows over the Internet or a digital television service, but I don't like the requirement of being a full subcriber to a satellite television service. In other words, some of those one and two dollar downloads will be in addition to the outrageous subscription services I'm already paying.