January 30, 2013

Ballmer Dismisses Dropbox as a 'little startup' With 100 million Users

It's become a sure bet going the other way on anything Ballmer says. The only remaining question is, when does Microsoft throw him under the damn bus?

January 16, 2013

Escalation of the Shadow War: Americans Seized

Only two days ago I noted an NBCNews piece about American forces involved in Mali's shadow war, if only on the periphery. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb figured prominently in that news.

Now 41 people, mostly Algerian nationals but including a half-dozen or so Americans have been taken hostage at a gas plant in neighboring Algeria:

“The al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb group claimed it had captured the workers in retaliation for France’s intervention in Mali, Reuters reported, citing two Mauritania-based news agencies.”

(NBCNews.)

January 14, 2013

Shadow War Steps Into the Light

Richard Engel and Robert Windrem, writing for NBCNews:

“France will send about 1,000 troops and armored vehicles to Mali over the next few days with the support of U.S military and intelligence operations,  upping the ante in its effort to turn back Islamic militants threatening to topple the north African nation’s government, U.S. national security officials told NBC News on Monday.”

Watch this. Watch the militant Islamic world unite behind it. Watch this spin out of control.

Near-live HD Video From Space

This very cool new video capture system is scheduled to fly with the International Space Station by fall, 2013. Yes, near-live video of most of the Earth, on-demand, free.

January 13, 2013

The Power of a Dog

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers. I’m still working through his Sandman comic, a ground-breaker in that genre, and greatly enjoyed his novel Neverwhere, voiced by him for audiobook. He’s an imaginative writer gifted with a warm tone and love for his characters. In Sandman he makes even Death look friendly.

So of course he wrote about the passing of his dog, Cabal, this week, neatly capturing the emotional toll felt by all who have ever owned, lost and mourned four-legged friends. Cabal was just short of ten years old, old enough for a large dog yet not nearly long enough for humans:

I wish dogs lived longer.

He was the best dog in the universe and I’m going to miss him so much.

No matter the joys shared with dogs, we know this day is coming. Neil’s piece illustrates the only way out of the resulting sadness and loss: remembering the joys. A dog will rescue your mind and soul from whatever daily disaster you’ve suffered, and ask only for a meal, a warm bed and a scratch behind the ears in return.

I hope to own a dog or two every day until my last.

Something else stuck out in Neil’s writing: he had never owned a dog, yet took the initiative to stop along a busy highway and rescue Cabal. He’s a good guy.

January 12, 2013

Great Lede

NBCNews:

“A major adult filmmaker sued to block a new Los Angeles County law requiring porn actors to wear condoms, calling it a threat to free expression.”

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Wait …

The name of the new law's ballot initiative: "Measure B."

Ha ha ha ha ha h

Sorry, fell off my chair.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For

The White House web site runs a petition page, where people can seek support for whatever cause suits their fancy. The entries mostly cover the usual political initiatives, but a few oddballs sneak through and gain enough support to require a response.

The threshold for tasking a response is 25,000 signatures. Leave it to Star Wars to meet that.

January 9, 2013

CES: A Complete Waste of Time

So says Brad Reed, writing for Boy Genius Report:

“Las Vegas is a much better place to be in January than Boston, and I’ve typically had fun covering CES in the past. I skipped it this year, however, and after taking a look at all the ‘big’ announcements unveiled by major tech vendors at CES 2013, all I can say is, ‘Thank God I’m stuck freezing in Massachusetts.’

These things don’t go on forever. Anyone remember COMDEX?

This year’s CES attendance numbers might tell an interesting tale.

January 8, 2013

Anniversary of a Fire

The Oatmeal's house burned down, but his broken cat survived. The tale is oddly heartwarming.

January 5, 2013

Why Deep Discounts are the Death of Retail Sales

In a nut, computer manufacturers trained customers to expect dirt cheap prices for Windows-based laptops by selling cheap, under-powered and ultimately unsatisfying "netbooks."

Now that netbooks have thankfully gone the way of the dodo, customers aren't willing to spend the asking price for today's full-featured Windows 8 laptops and tablets.

Paul Thurrott, writing for his Supersite For Windows:

“It’s not pat to say that the Windows PC market went for volume over quality, because it did: Many of those 20 million Windows 7 licenses each month—too many, I think—went to machines that are basically throwaway, plastic crap. Netbooks didn’t just rejuvenate the market just as Windows 7 appeared, they also destroyed it from within: Now consumers expect to pay next to nothing for a Windows PC. Most of them simply refuse to pay for more expensive Windows PCs.”

Thurrott has the numbers to back up his assertions and, as a well-regarded Windows pundit isn't susceptible to the "Microsoft hater" label. Microsoft and Windows PC manufacturers have backed themselves into a retail corner.

This is why Apple never entered the netbook market. They've never made down-scale junk to pump up sales numbers, instead staking out the premium market to great success. Their nearest netbook competitor is the 11-inch MacBook Air, prices for which start at $999. While not as powerfully equipped as their mainline MacBook Pro these machines are fully capable mobile computers, sell very well and garner zero customer dissatisfaction.

Aiming high has its advantages.

Furlongs per Fortnight

Dr. Drang, making an unfamiliar, yet welcome argument in favor of old-school "English" units for measurement:

“I’ll also admit to a fondness for traditional units. They arose organically to meet specific needs. Inches are for things we hold in our hands, feet are for the buildings we live in, and miles are for our towns. There’s a certain rightness to using different units on different scales rather than just sliding a decimal point one way or the other. The metric system was imposed from above by an elite; customary units were crowdsourced.”

The metric system I learned in fifth grade simply didn't stick here in the US, arguably because it wasn't required. And although metric units are commonly used for many products (car parts and the tools to work on them, for example) I suspect nothing short of successful legislation changing product labeling will push Americans to make everyday use of milliliters, grams and kilos. In the mean time we'll get along just fine with the old units, which measure every bit as accurately, if oddly.

January 4, 2013

Bizarre: The Flogsta Scream

Every evening at 10 PM, students in the Flogsta neighborhood of Uppsala, Sweden raise the following ruckus. Inexplicable.

(via kottke.org.)

January 2, 2013

One Good Thing: Optimism

A quick note as we begin a new year.

I’ve been laboring under a cloud these past many weeks. I’m sure the winter season has something to do with it, after all one of the reasons we moved from New England was the creeping dread of a cold landscape devoid of life, magnified by constantly cloud-filled winter skies. At least Virginia winters are sunny. Co-workers I’d rather see permanently receding in my rear-view mirror, constant political-born hatred and sad news of people losing their homes, jobs and loved ones have taken their toll on my psyche this past year.

At the same time, though, I’ve seen glimmers of hope. Our small business just completed its best year ever. Election season ended with an unambiguous result. The US economy continued slowly, steadily chugging along. Unemployment (very) gradually declined. There was ample evidence of the goodness and kindness of ordinary people on display across the country, in the wake of that massacre in Connecticut. And creative, intelligent, learned people continued working on difficult problems in every endeavor despite the hard-of-thinking crowd’s easy and, often, self-serving answers that rarely solve problems.

2013 is about optimism. It’s about hope for better days, which are increasingly coming our way. It’s about putting the petty bullshit behind us and focusing on the work at hand. It’s about finding one good thing to be pleased and thankful about every day.

Put enough of those days together and life doesn’t look so depressing anymore. It’s not, really. It’s just easy to lose sight of that.

Here’s hoping your 2013 is as terrific as mine!

January 1, 2013

Testing John Boehner's Mettle

The agreement voted up by the Senate last night is in peril of amendment by House fiscal scolds. Brian Beutler, writing for TPM News:

“So Boehner has two real options. The first is to put the bill on the floor in a way that allows it to pass unamended, with the help of Democratic votes. There’s little doubt it could pass on a bipartisan basis that way, but if the GOP rebellion is severe enough it will force Boehner to violate the so-called Hastert rule — the GOP standard that legislation lacking support from a majority of the party should not come to the floor for a vote — and put his speakership at risk.

The second is to genuinely amend it, lose all House Democratic support, and attempt to pass it with Republican votes only. If they succeed, as Durbin indicated, it’s dead on arrival in the Senate. The House will have violated the bipartisan compromise the House tasked the Senate with striking, and dragged the country over the cliff. But it’s not even clear that an amended Senate bill could clear the House on the strength of Republican votes alone.”

At least US voters will know who to blame. Remember this moment!