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Michel.Evanchik.Net

Nothing Really to Say

October 2nd, 2007

Nope, nothing much to say here.  I’m moderating a debate on the Ivy League’s superiority tomorrow.  Freya is sleeping, having just finished her first gym class at the Central Queens YMHA.  Jack is in pre-school.  Monica is working.  So I’m enjoying a brief respite on a beautiful and sunny Fall afternoon.  I’m being careful, as I write this, not to enter into any consequential thoughtful discursions, because this really is just a time-wasting, space-eating, making-sure-I-have-a-blog-entry-everyday type of post.

Think of this as small talk.  I had a nice few words exchanged with the grocer on the lovely weather, empty phrases uttered on a benign topic for the pleasure of hearing each other speak.  Sports is one topic that one can also discuss universally, although misplaced fanatical passions often ruin a chance for pleasant and polite conversation.  The weather used to be another safe topic for pleasant small talk, a topic universally experienced but so beyond our control that it was safely discussed.  But now the environmental obsessions of our current age have made the simple weather a topic of controversy, best avoided like politics or religion.

I like my socks.  Alas, they were probably made in a third-world sweatshop.  I’m not sure what I’ll have for lunch.  Alas, the thought of food makes me consider my growing waistline.  I need to get a haircut.  That’s pretty safe to mention.  I think I’ll get it cut short, and I’ll shave my beard myself.

The weather really is beautiful,  even if the Polar ice cap is irretrievably melting.

Better luck next year, Mets.  Let’s go Yankees!

Surge On

October 1st, 2007

Here’s a pretty fun video lampooning the “surge” strategy in Iraq.

Back From Vacation

September 29th, 2007

So I unplugged myself from cyberspace and went upstate for a week, visiting the Adirondacks State Park and Saratoga Springs, as well as Albany’s Pine Bush.

It was great. I feel rejuvenated. I was away from the hustle and bustle of New York City. I didn’t have the clarion calls of doom echoing in my head from constant Internet news flashes. It was nice and peaceful and life at a little slower pace. But now I’m back and the misery of the urban existence continues.

Who am I kidding? The vacation wasn’t an idyllic, carefree romp, but life itself, equally exhilarating and exasperating. But it was nice to be away from the noise and the hustle and bustle, and to see more trees and less people. It was nice not to be distracted by newspapers and email and surfing the web. But the food was only fair, and the finding suitable and affordable accommodations was unsatisfactory. The kids were a handful, as always, but I was glad to have them commune with nature.

Now I’m back to the rat race. I guess I missed the cheese.

Technology Envy

September 24th, 2007

I want some new toys.

I want a Nokia N800 Internet tablet, because it fits in my pocket, and so that I can conveniently surf the web anywhere in the house, or when I go out and there is a Wifi connection nearby.  I prefer the Nokia N800 to the new Ipod Touch because the Nokia is more configurable, extensible, and has a better screen.  Also, it can run Flash and Java, which is important to me.  All these points were well explained in a comparative review posted on another blog.

I want a 15″ Macbook Pro, because I am typing this on my wife’s Macbook, away from my desk and on the bed, and it is a darned nice computer.

I want a One Laptop per Child (OLPC) notebook computer, because it’s small (luggably small, but not pocketable) and durable and can have it’s power hand-generated.  I couldn’t give two farts for the poor kids it is meant to benefit, but I’m considering getting a couple for my kids too, because the thing looks like it can take a beating.  OLPC will be selling them to the general public to finance giving them to the poor, and I’m going to be sorely tempted to pick up a few, even doing so incidentally helps the wretched.

For clarity’s sake, this blog posting is most emphatically not a lobbying attempt to persuade my wife what to get me for my birthday (October 15th, mark your calendars!), because however much I love toys, I love saving money more.  Spending money, particularly money I don’t have, on expenses that can be avoided, causes me actual physical pain.

So the Macbook is definitely out, but perhaps the Nokia Internet tablet and the OLPC are doable.  I’ll just cut down on the takeout meals for a few months.

Popular Mechanics Debunks Hurricane Katrina Myths

September 23rd, 2007

Controversy is always best assailed with facts. In an excellent article from 2006, Popular Mechanics did just that with the Hurricane Katrina disaster. If you are interested in this sordid episode in American history, you should read this article. Mistakes were made, but they were not the ones usually cited to the public. Those allegations usually cited often have little truth behind them. The most galling part to this partisan blogger, is that after reading the article, it is harder to make George Bush and FEMA director Michael Brown out as the boogie men they are usually portrayed as. Popular Mechanics’ approach is comprehensive and well-written.

Don’t take my word for it. Read the excellent article.

Why I Hate the Wordpress Editor

September 23rd, 2007

I mean, copulating Infernos, why is it that my self-hosted Wordpress blog can’t easily post an embedded Youtube video? The version of Tiny MCE that comes with Wordpress loves to mangle my formatting of code, if you save directly from the code part of the editor, you are fine. If you ever slip into the visual portion of the editor again, even to later edit a posted piece, it mangles the tags and rearranges them and the formatting and reeks havoc with the entire post, breaking enough stuff so that the entire site’s layout gets schtupped. Even turning off the visual editor does not solve the problem

And I’m using a nice default installation of Wordpress with few plugins activated, using the default Kubrick frame, with few alterations, none of them at a logic level.

It’s not just embedding video that is a bear. Even embedded images can cause aggravation, never quite aligning right.

For me, the greatest aggravation is that the “code” section of the editor is not really the final code. Coding like tags for <p> and <br /> get magically transmogrified or created on a level inaccessible and invisible to the user. When I want to see the code, I want to see it complete an unexpurgated. I don’t want the editor protecting me from my deprecated tags and non-strict XHTML. I’m an adult. It’s my blog. I can handle it.
So why don’t I hack it myself, or use a plug-in? I have found Wordpress plugins to be generally of beta quality, with lots of niggling problems and an incompleted feel to them. I am not a hacker. I don’t know the code well enough, and to learn it and then implement a solution takes more time than kludging together a makeshift solution, and the small aggravation of slight imperfection in formatting annoy me less than the trouble of fixing them would.

The Wordpress user forums are fine, but I have found, especially with the constant updating of the code, that answers are often out of date, and even then they are rarely ideal solutions. Getting one’s own questions answered is hit and miss.

A content management system (CMS), meant to satisfy a wide and diverse user base, is a difficult beast to wrangle. Wordpress is the best I have come across, for my purposes. But it still annoys me.

Giraffe Fighting

September 23rd, 2007

Just when you think you’ve seen everything, here is a video of two giraffes fighting. It’s a bit like the last rounds of a heavyweight fight, only the giraffes use their heads as fists, swinging them at each other’s bodies, while they stay close, leaning up against one another.

Amazing.

A Short Illustrated History of Sex and Violence

September 20th, 2007

Here’s a brilliant illustration presenting a history of sex and violence throughout time. I believe the artist is Milo Manara. It’s a big horizontal tableau, sort of like the Bayeux Tapestry, and very entertaining. It is also very graphic in its portrayal, so don’t let kids or Baptists see it. Click on the link below to see it in all of its lewd glory:

Enjoy.

Eating the Competition’s Lunch

September 19th, 2007

Where is the next great computer computer company?  Where once was Lotus came Microsoft, where once was AOL came Yahoo, where Yahoo was came Google.

Joel Sposky just posted a long essay on software obsolescence and transitions.  IBM’s balky introduction of a Lotus-branded version of OpenOffice called Symphonys is his starting point.  He tracks the demise of the venerable spreadsheet Lotus 1-2-3 and the subsequent rise of Microsoft’s Excel. While Lotus concentrated on coding efficiency to make their programs work well for the current generation of computers, Microsoft concentrated on adding features and just waited the six months for the computer hardware capabilities to catch up.  Joel sees a parallel in today’s browser-based market for AJAX applications, where network bandwidth and processing power still matter a lot.  Sposky sees the demise of Google’s Mail as imminent.  A smaller, more innovative company will build a software development kit (SDK) that supplants Google’s internally developed code in efficiency, and most importantly, portability and interoperability with other web-based applications.

I find Sposky’s analysis, while knowledgeable and erudite, to be misguided.  Firstly, AJAX applications like Google Mail might be very high profile, but unlike Lotus’s 1-2-3, they contribute little to Google’s bottom line.  Google serves ads , and that’s how they make their money, and they have always been open with their application programming interfaces (APIs) in this regard.  An API isn’t an SDK, but WTFDYC (what the fudge do you care), they can serve the same purpose for developers.  An API is really more important than an SDK anyway, as computing is more service-based, rather than product-based as in Lotus 1-2-3’s heyday.

Google’s true strength is not in it’s little AJAX doodads like Google Mail. It’s search algorithms are improvable with clever work by a competent team Mumbai programmers.  It’s true strength lies in it’s massive server farms, that allow it to serve the planet’s search needs, and it’s ability to store an easily accessible, frequently updated indexed database of the Internet’s content.

So until someone manages to set-up server farms to rival Google’s, with their massive parallel operations, I don’t think Google has much to worry about.   It would take billions to catch up to Google’s server farm supremacy,  which might be already rivalled by Yahoo or Amazon.  These are Google’s true competitors.  Yahoo has been trying to gain back the prominence that Google poached from it, becoming a sort of universal AOL, while Amazon has dipped its toes into search and web applications.  It’s worth noting that Microsoft’s entry into the service based world has been pretty flat.  They have the advantage of their installed base of server software to build on, but the various Unix flavors are superior to them, in numbers and quality.  Microsoft is a desktop software company.  They are also still the best on the desktop.  (Sorry folks, Apple is a boutique hardware company.)

If you really want to talk about obsolesence, talk about the aforementioned AOL.  The stupid company bought into its own public relations baloney and thought they were more than a bunch of convenient phone numbers with modems at the end.  But they didn’t own the phone lines that kept the whole thing together.  Once  the phone and cable companies, got their act together they ate AOL’s lunch.  The service part of what AOL provided was provided for free, and with better quality, by Yahoo.  Then Yahoo, bought their own hype and thought that they were the destination rather than a waypoint and so Google, doing a better job of indexing, ate Yahoo’s  lunch.  The Internet is all about connectiong little people like me together.  When company’s think they are more important than the little people they connect, then they fail, as the little people go to the new companies that let them be themselves.

Cue the munchkins.

Huh?

September 19th, 2007

Wait.  So let me get this straight.   No matter how many half-formed ideas I have, if I don’t write them down, nothing happens here.  I can’t just click on this site a few times and stuff will magically appear like on the other sites I visit?  I have to do something?

Dang, this Internet is hard work.