Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Oops, I said it again

Over the Easter weekend I engaged someone in conversation that once again created an assumption that my dislike for Microsoft was based upon an evangelism for the Linux operating system. So Michael, allow me to immediately put that misconception to rest. Do I dislike Microsoft's Windows operating system? Yes, I do. Okay, I admit it. I'll go as far to say, though, that I actually like some of it in concept (just not in implementation). However, that is not the reason I dislike Microsoft and the state of computer technology as they are today.

My gripe, religion, evangelism, and so on is not about the operating system wars, it's about choice. Under Bill Gates' reign, Microsoft used its financial influence to manipulate the playing field so that people would need to go to them for, well, just about any computing application. I don't really care how many charitable causes Bill is now contributing to -- the ends do not justify the means. When you fuck-over the computer industry by making open standards and a new communications media proprietary, no amount of charitable contributions can undo that action. Sorry Bill -- You and your company still feel that it should own the computing (and Internet) experience and I don't feel that is morally right. Some Microsoft proponents would say that if Microsoft didn't do it, then someone else would. That's probably correct, and if they did I would be sitting here saying the same thing about them. It's wrong no matter who does the bidding.

The reason I continue to be so incredibly pissed-off about this is because, as a community, we've allowed this to happen. Residential Internet providers almost unanimously require that it's customers use Microsoft Windows (and maybe limited support for the Macintosh). Business-class providers are not far behind. If it were just a matter of software support, I'd say, "Okay, fine." It isn't though - I remember being on DSL and SBC's sign-up screen wouldn't even work without using Internet Explorer. If I call Time Warner RoadRunner technical support for an Internet connectivity related problem, their national technical support will effectively refuse to talk to me unless I do the same test commands under Windows. Computer companies and software manufacturers have been bullied into exclusive relationships with Microsoft under the threat that Microsoft wouldn't provide them with advance information about Windows -- information that was necessary to write drivers for computer hardware or programming interfaces that would allow software development. Saying that these were all business decisions necessary for Microsoft to be profitable doesn't justify the damage that has been done.

It doesn't really stop there either: Microsoft's actions have created a template for other companies to follow. As I have repeatedly stated here and elsewhere, Adobe is doing similar things to the Web with Flash technology. Now that Flash has become ubiquitous in so many web sites, Adobe essentially controls how people experience the web and, more importantly, what hardware and operating system they use for that experience. What stops them from putting something unrelated into the Flash player that we don't like, thus forcing us to accept that in order to continue accessing web sites? Large corporations now massively control
access to the Internet, as indicated previously, and can dictate how we access the Internet, what services we can provide, and are talking about controlling who we actually can communicate with (see "net neutrality"). These are just two examples of the kind of manipulation that has evolved.

This can be expressed as Murphy's Golden Rule: Whoever has the gold makes the rules. It's nothing new, but many of the people who were Internet pioneers (like myself) back when it was just emerging as a non-military, non-academic media had a utopian view that the Internet would remain an untainted media.

So, Michael, this is my gripe. My jabs at Windows as an operating system are little bits of OS evangelism, but I really can see that there may be some value in Windows (not much, but some). Personally, I like the Windows graphical interface (GUI) far better than the one on the Mac. My dislike for Microsoft as a company though goes straight to its core (and isn't just due to a distaste for the Windows OS internals and the building of an OS on top of a GUI instead of the opposite). Microsoft has done serious damage to the computer industry and the Internet that they will never recover from in the current socio-political environment. I don't have the answer on how to fix this nor even a way that it could have been prevented. I can be disappointed and saddened by what greed effectively did to an otherwise open environment.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bark Bark Bark Bark

For the second time recently I read a news article regarding a person charged with animal cruelty because they tried to or successfully poisoned or otherwise harmed someone's dog.

This entry is not to advocate such behavior. See that word "not?" Yes, I thought you did.

However, I am going to explain that behavior, because no matter what article I've read, it always makes the person involved seem like a chronic complainer or nutjob who went off the deep end.

To you dog owners out there: NOT EVERYONE LIKES TO HEAR YOUR DOG BARK! Just like people who have adjusted to perfumes, there are people who are either not aware of, not home for, or simply don't care whether their's or their neighbor's dog is barking. However, there are people who do. There is no excuse for your dog to be outside barking repeatedly. It is annoying, at least to some people, is simply unnecessary, and is mistreating the dog. A properly trained dog who is cared for and given the proper attention will not be outside barking. Plain and simple. Just like with children, if you don't have the time and/or resources to properly train and give time to your dog, then don't get a dog! Dogs are pack animals that want to be around members of their pack (that means inside the house, because that's where you are).

Sound travels. Dog barking does as well - several houses away. While you are at work, there are people in the neighborhood who are home because they work from home, are on vacation, are out sick, or for some reason you don't need to know about. So if you go off and leave your dog out in the yard when you're not home, and that dog barks all day, you are going to be bothering someone.

So here are some of the excuses from dog owners about this, and my response:
  1. Comment: "My dog's barking keeps intruders away."
    Response: So does my alarm system, and you don't hear the siren blasting on and off all day. If you do, there are laws that require me to promptly fix it. A dog that barks constantly or at anyone who is passing by your house is not a crime deterrent. Just like car alarms that go off when the wind blows, people start to see the barking as an annoyance and anyone casing your house will know that.
  2. Comment: "Dogs bark."
    Response: So? Animals and people do lots of things that are considered annoyances in certain contexts. Dogs do not bark instinctively just to hear themselves bark. Like any other behavior, there is a reason why this is happening, and you may be disappointed to know that the reason may possibly be that you are not giving that domesticated dog a suitable living environment.
  3. Comment: "Well, the cats in the neighborhood yowl and spray/shit all over everything."
    Response: Two wrongs do not make a right. Domestic cats do not belong running around outdoors unsupervised either. If a cat is yowling or spraying it is either trying to assert its territory, or it is in heat because it was not spayed/neutered. Cats are frequently the target of abuse as well, and just as dog owners should be responsible so too should cat owners. In all cases, animal owners are responsible for cleaning up after their pets. Cats usually poop in places where there's loose dirt (not in the lawn, usually) - like the garden. Stray cats can create a bit of a problem, admittedly, but that doesn't justify irresponsible dog ownership.
  4. Comment: "My next door neighbors don't care if my dog barks."
    Response: If you live in suburban America, then it doesn't really matter. While your immediate neighbors may not care, everyone lives close enough together where you will most certainly be bothering someone, even someone several houses away. Again, dogs that frequently bark are not happy dogs. You are both irritating at least one of your neighbors and neglecting the dog. Your next door neighbors cannot justify your actions.
  5. Comment: "Why don't you just soundproof your home?"
    Response: That is actually a good idea, but one that is not trivial to do. Barking seems to be among those types of sounds that penetrate all but the best of windows and doors. You're talking about tens of thousands of dollars in renovation costs that may or may not actually be effective. It still doesn't allow the neighbors to peacefully use their yard, and still isn't being a responsible pet owner.
To add insult to injury, in most cities if someone is having a problem with a barking dog and an unresponsive neighbor, they must bring the neighbor into court. Even though the barking can be considered a code violation, the burden is on the person with the trouble to both prove there is a problem and then file suit against the person. The legal system is already overburdened, and it's no wonder that judges hear these complaints and want them out of the courtroom as soon as possible.

So while "vigilante justice" is not right (especially when it involves animal cruelty), the dog owners and the legal system itself drives people to desperate measures. Except for the real honest-to-goodness nutjobs who just hate animals, I seriously doubt that the people in the news stories who poisoned/harmed their neighbor's dog set out to do that. So while I do believe that those people must take responsibility for their action, I do also believe that the dog owner also assumes some of that responsibility as well. It is their lack of responsibility to be a good pet owner that created the problem to begin with.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Another Year Older

Another year older this week, not sure whether wiser or not.

Since it seems my friends are are reading this, let me say once again, "Thanks," for the great dinner we had at Buca di Beppo on Monday. We use the anniversary of my birth as an excuse to go there every March, and it's always a fun time. As always, the wait-staff did a great job of keeping us fed. The only thing I was disappointed about was the garlic bread with cheese: It got smaller, and didn't seem to have quite the same quality as before.

I found the photo on the right and thought it was appropriate to my feelings about being around little kids. I've heard a lot about kids lately, and while I always wish the best for my friends who have (or are about to have) their own children, I really haven't wavered any from my feeling about not having ones of my own someday. Like the cat in the picture, within the confines of my patience I can tolerate the little tykes but it isn't something I enjoy and it does test that patience. I've heard all the details of the 9 months of pregnancy and the gory details following that over and over again. The whole thing has gotten old. While some may consider my life a little lacking on the "exciting" front, "kid talk" isn't going to make it any more so.

Another thing I've been pondering while soul-searching the past couple of weeks is the question, "If I decided to leave my career as a network/system admin + manager, what would I do?" The reality of having to do what I'm doing now for another 20 years is rather deflating. Think Sugarland's, "Something More." So I started looking what it would take to become a licensed electrician, since it's something I kind of like doing, I seem to do a good job with it, and I could actually pay the bills doing it. Like many other people, trying to make the career change at this phase of my life is neither simple nor practical. To become an electrician, it takes a few years of full-time apprenticeship under the direction of a licensed electrician to gain the required experience to obtain a license of one's own. If you're starting out just out of high school, then this is practical - but the fact is that as an electrician's apprentice, I wouldn't make enough money to pay the bills. So for now, the best I can do is to tough it out, try to keep a positive outlook about what I currently do, and realize that there is an end to all of this and to be careful what I wish for. Unfortunately, that isn't making it any easier to drag myself out of bed in the morning and bring myself into work.

The other soul-searching has been in making a serious effort to understand what I really want out of a romantic relationship, and what I could do to get there. So I went back to my comments in December ("Soulmate") and that actually created more questions than answers. So Tristin actually helped to clarify that "what I could do" and in the process helped better define the "what I really want" part. I believe I am finally beginning to understand what people mean when they say, "It will happen when you're not looking for it to happen." The problem is that phrase is an oversimplification of a more complex set of emotions. If you're really looking, as in you're really wanting something to happen, then you tend to to see possibilities in every "available" person you meet. While keeping yourself open to possibilities is a good thing, assuming that every available person may be the right one is a disappointment waiting to happen. I thought I was rather clever in searching all the people in match.com for people who matched well with me. Tristin spent about an hour and a half looking at everyone in that search and one-by-one rightfully eliminating people I would have considered to have potential. Then, found one person who somehow never even appeared in any of my searches that really did have some potential. Tristin isn't an expert on matchmaking or relationships. She is a friend who is asking the tough question, "Are any of these women someone who I think he would get along with, and who is looking for the same things he is?" When you're out there looking hard for someone you're not asking this question -- you're really asking, "Is there any way this person and I could get into a romantic relationship?" The answer to that question is almost always, "Yes." However, there are very few of these relationships that will stand the test of time, if they ever get off the ground. So for everyone (you know who you are) who are discouraged, keep this in mind. It really is better to be out of a relationship than to be in a bad one.
(now, if match.com would only approve the new profile that Tristin helped me write...)

Finally, the last few weeks has been littered with some notable oddities: For starters, the price of gasoline has solidly been in excess of $3/gallon (about $3.15 right now). I remember when gas stations had to make ad-hoc changes to their price signs because they weren't designed to display prices of more than $1/gallon. Now I see the same thing for a "3" in the first digit. The second thing is that yesterday the temperature was 95 degrees. Yes, you read that right - 95 degrees in the middle of March. It's going to be a very hot and dry summer. A few days ago I washed down the outside part of my air conditioner at home and did some preventive maintenance. That was a good idea (although getting a new one would probably be a better idea).

So that's all. I leave you all with one final picture from icanhascheezburger.com:

Sunday, March 9, 2008

It All Stinks - Part II

Procter & Gamble (now P&G) company just messed with my shampoo for the last time. Like so much other stuff, they decided to increase the volume of the perfume in Head & Shoulders and change the scent so it smells like some fruity chemical. The last thing I need is for my head to smell like a fruity chemical, and to have the bathroom smell is just unnecessary. Goodbye Head & Shoulders.

So I embarked on a journey to find a shampoo without fragrance. That is a lot more difficult than it sounds. I did an online search and there were few choices, and none of them were sold through a local supermarket. I did check out the supermarket shampoo aisles, and that was intimidating at best. They had stuff to put in your hair to do just about everything except clean hair without fragrance. Even the so-called "all natural" and "organic" shampoos had some kind of fragrance. I had an idea - Whole Foods Market. Bingo. J/A/S/O/N organic fragrance-free shampoo. Interestingly enough, J/A/S/O/N's website doesn't show that they offer this product. However, it is exactly what it says. The only odor is a mild one that comes from its ingredients, and doesn't persist.

So in my online journey, I verified what I've been saying - more and more stuff is coming with more and more stink. Whether my reactions to them are a form of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) or a result of my being a rebel who never signed-onto the ever-increasing amount of fragrance in everything is a big question. To me its no wonder that more and more people are complaining of headaches, bronchitis, and other respiratory ailments. These strong fragrances are yet another way that people are being over-stimulated to the point of adjusting to these smells as though they are "normal." Is it a good idea to change the concept of normal for things to have a strong smell, even if it needs to be added artificially?

It also begs a bigger question: Is this state of needing a constant odor, sound, taste, and sight stimulus a good thing or a bad thing? I admit to being highly sensitive in all my senses. To be over-stimulated can actually be irritating, and for me it is. For others, it isn't. While people who have become accustomed to the new "normal" level of stimulation do not become irritated by the stimulus (fragrance, for example), is this constant stimulus from all these artificially-added stimuli causing long-term harm to our health? While that question may never be answered scientifically, I feel that there is less appreciation for the many sights, sounds, and smells in a natural environment as a result of where we are now. At what point to we lose so much of that appreciation that nobody cares about nature anymore?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Five Years

I almost entirely missed a major milestone in my life: It has been 5 years since I moved into my current house -- February 12, 2003. Despite all the issues, it almost seems like yesterday.

A lot has happened in the past 5 years. A lot has stayed the same.

It is tempting to write a review of the milestones that have happened over the past 5 years. I'm resisting the temptation.

The funny thing is that over the last 5 years, almost everyone who lived around me when I first moved-in are gone and new neighbors have taken their place. Many people would say that's a bad thing, and I admit I was afraid each time the "for sale" sign went up. Somehow, though, I must have acquired enough good karma to have been graced with a great set of new neighbors. What's even better is that all these folks look like they're planning to stay around a while.

So like my current job, which has been the longest I have ever worked in one place, this house has been the longest I have ever lived anywhere (except where I grew-up).