Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Must-Listen Interview about the Future of Software and other things...

I spotted an interesting post about an interview done with Eben Moglen, the general counsel for the Free Software Foundation. The title of the post was interesting enough, "The inevitability of free software", however I've written before about how smart and passionate Eben Moglen is, and after listening to an mp3 of the interview, I have to say I was not disappointed.

While the interview was fascinating from start to finish, his views on the future of the software industry were a lot less rosey and idealistic than I was expecting. Of course he contends that the old models of proprietary software manufacture (like Microsoft) will die out, but he also predicts a landscape of freely available software being produced by millions (if not billions) young people the world over, not a relatively small group of high-minded rich programmers in the US destined for early retirement. The high-level, money making task it seems is not in the software production and design, but in the 'editing' of the newly commoditized software landscape. That is, taking the raw materials and forming practical and palatable solutions for corporate and consumer consumption. Adding value is the thing. He illustrates it with IBM. He says they are well on their way. They are commoditizing all the software they can and concentrating on their high margin/ high-value added items instead.

There has long been discussion about how free software developers are supposed to make money. Maybe they're not. I remember an interview on TLLTS where Richard Stallman is  confronted with this question. And if I remember correctly, I think he said the same thing.. 'maybe they're not'.

And while this undoubtedly won't sit well with many free software developers (or software developers in general), it may be the inevitable truth in the long run. Does the western world have some divine right to software technology production? Perhaps it (the western world) just has to move on to something else - something further up the chain.

I've been mulling over a prospective blog post in a similar vein for a month or two now. Maybe traditional journalists will go the way of the Dodo Bird. Maybe free software programmers are not supposed to make money doing it. As technology develops, certain careers fall by the wayside. What about secretaries? What about professional photographers? What about professional graphic designers? Are any of these things sacred? Maybe not. Maybe those people have to find other ways to make a living in the future. Time passes, things change, and being a stubborn optimist, I think we, as a whole, move forward. But I digress... that post is still simmering.. ;)

One final fascinating thing in the interview was Moglen's distinction between functional and non-functional digitial goods. Functional meaning things like  data collections, algorithmic systems, blueprints, software and the like which can be judged on their functionality. Whereas non-functional digital goods are things like music, art, movies, literary works etc. whose evaluation is subjective in nature. He proposes that  the quality of functional commodities improves when no-one is excluded from producing it (eg. free and open-source software) so rights restrictions on these things inherently limits quality. However he states that non-functional digital good (music, art etc.) will not necessarily be better or worse depending on how they are limited in terms of rights - so whether or not these rights are limited makes little difference.

Now I'll stop pretending to know all of the intricacies of these issues. Do yourself a favour and listen to it. It's the most interesting 45 minutes I've spent in a long while.

Blogged with Flock

Is Google Reader really slow to refresh feeds?

Anybody have any idea why my blog posts are taking so long to show up in Google Reader? It took about 5 hours yesterday for a couple of my posts to show up. This morning for instance I made a couple of hours ago. It shows up in Bloglines, but still nothing in Google Reader.

And also, I think that posts I make on Wordpress (at come into GReader a lot quicker too. You'd think that since Blogger and Greader are both Google, they'd have them working well together.

I'd be interested in hearing from other Google Reader users. How long do you have to wait until your posts show up in GReader?

Blogged with Flock

Another question about customizing XP...

Okay. So it's almost 6 years since Windows XP first shipped. And you mean to tell me that no one has developed a free utility to customize the desktop right-click context menu?

Using Openbox has spoiled me. I thought for sure something would be out there for use on my XP machine here at work. I'd even do a registry hack. There are fixes for modifying the context menu on files and folders, but not on the desktop as far as I can tell. Please someone... tell me I'm wrong. Show me the way...

Blogged with Flock

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Young Engineers

This was very very cool and not what I expected....

Nice Idea - For more funny movies, click here

Blogged with Flock

Here's a menu entry you don't see every day..

I've been playing around with Foxit for a couple of days as my default PDF reader tool on my XP machine at work. It's got a little self-advertisement up on the top right touting additional features of the paid versions (I assume). Wonder of wonders, but there is actually a simple checkbox in the view menu to get rid of it. Nice! Check out the screenshot below:

sshot_adtoggle.png picture by rfq

Blogged with Flock

Mystery System Tray Icon - anybody recognize it?

Anybody know what this icon is in my system tray? When I hover over it, it only displays that it's downloading updates (10%) but the percentage never changes. Left-clicking or right-clicking on the icon does absolutely nothing. I've opened up Windows Task Manager to see what it might be, but I can't spot anything too suspicious. It looks like a shield but I uninstalled McAfee months ago and also recently uninstalled the horribly bloated Adobe Reader 8.1 (Foxit Baby!).

Anybody recognize this tray icon? What the hell is it, and how can I get rid of it?

mysteryicon.jpg picture by rfq

Blogged with Flock

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Are you trying to illustrate some important world changing idea? Or just want to show the world you're the next xkcd or the next Hugh Macleod?

Check out Sketchcast.

BTW - man do I miss not having my Wacom Tablet at work. ;)

[via Drawn!]

Blogged with Flock

Microsoft, Apple and the inevitability of openness

Tom Raftery thinks that Microsoft will Open Source Windows (or die!). While I agree with Tom that open source is a better model in a lot of ways, I'm not sure if any of them appeal to Redmond.

I don't think Microsoft will ever open-source Windows. Not because it wouldn't make for a faster moving, better product, but it forces Microsoft to lose something they hold quite dearly... control. Interestingly, Apple has banked on 'control' even more heavily and are reaping rewards from it (for now anyway).

Tom writes about the benefits of open source:

"With open source development, you are getting the “Wisdom of Crowds” -
the more people involved in the development, the better the end-result"

There are a *lot* of people who would disagree with that statement, although I'm not necessarily one of them. One of the problems with open source development is the scattering of resources and lack of focus. In my opinion it is a good thing to have a BDFL (benevolent dictator for life) type of arrangement within an open source project. Design by committee doesn't always work too well when it comes to making a better product for the consumer. You need to have someone with focus (like Mr. Jobs at Apple), but without all the pomp and circumstance.

It is interesting to watch the Apple model. They try to lock you in at
every step. And while that keeps me away from Apple, I have to say, it
makes things work a lot smoother for them. They design software for
their device and nothing else. They have a focused design philosophy
which is envied by a lot of people. Is it always the best design? Not
in my opinion. But it does make for consistency.

One point Tom makes that I've always felt is more powerful than a lot of people realize is:

"In open source projects the code is written by people who self-select for jobs they have an interest/skillset in"

You have people who are doing things because they enjoy them. They're specialists by default. Imagine having your workplace filled by people who all want to be there. Who all want to make the best stuff they can. This is what can make for a better product. It also makes for stubborn people who won't just give up. That is why open-source is not going away any time soon.

I think the growth of the open-source philosophy is inevitable. Apple can try as it might to produce finely designed and overpriced products that lock you into their system. Microsoft can keep heading down the road to forced upgrades that nobody really wants or needs. There is simply nothing compelling to me about either company's products. But still open-source marches on. And not just on the Linux front. Look at Google. Look at OpenOffice. Look at Firefox. Look at Flickr. It ain't going away, and it ain't slowing down. And neither Redmond, nor Cupertino can stop it.

While I don't think Microsoft will open-source their OS, they had better wake up and do something soon before they become even more irrelevant.

Blogged with Flock

Monday, September 24, 2007

For Gnome fans trapped in XP

For the last month or so, I've been running Openbox on my Ubuntu Feisty home system. I like the simplicity and speed of it. It takes a little more manual work to customize it, but then again you end up with a system that works the way you want it. It's like taking a standard desktop environment like Gnome and removing (or hiding) all the bits that are not important to what it is you do every day. Eliminate the fluff, so to speak. I run a very sharp and slick looking Murrina-type theme on it. I don't bounce around between a lot of different themes, but I have to say that the Murrina style themes are definitely my favourite.

Anyway, at work I'm stuck on XP-Pro. I do have Virtualbox installed to run a virtual environment that is pretty much the same as my Linux box at home (Openbox on Fiesty etc.). And for probably a year now, I've ran a Gnome theme in XP on my work box to at least make it a little more homey ;).

Today however, I came across WinGNOME-XP on deviantART which is a project that aims to provide various resources to allow users to experience a consistent Gnome-type desktop environment on Windows XP. I'll sign up for that!

Of course the project is just getting organized, so there are only a couple of things available so far. One neat utility is the Tango Patcher which will replace or revise your system resources to provide icon themes based on various Linux projects (basic Tango, Tangerine, Suse Industrial Theme, Gnome 2.0 theme..). I ran it on my system and it seemed to work fine - although like any utilities of this type, it's caveat emptor.

I also downloaded and installed the MurrinaFancyClearlooks theme which finally got my windows controls looking somewhat like my home box.

It ain't perfect, but at least I can now be somewhat happy with the look and feel of the XP box I have to spend all day with. Here's what it looks like now:

Blogged with Flock

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Flock revisited... nearing my happy place.

As a follow-on to the comments for my previous post, I was not having any luck finding a blogging tool for Linux that would allow me to upload photos to my blog (curs-ed Blogger API!). So I decided to give Flock another shot. I knew they had updated their release a few months back and thought I'd check it out again. I first checked it out quickly on my XP box at work. The early beta version of Flock that I had tried when it first came out seemed to be crippled when I tried to use it from work (proxy, naughty proxy). But this time out I was very pleasantly surprised to see the blogging and Flickr aspects working smoothly. Now, the question was, how was the Linux version....

Naturally I'm extremely impatient when it comes to things like this, so having Feisty installed here at work on Virtualbox is a very nice thing. I booted up the VM, downloaded the Flock setup package for Linux and got down to work... Following their dead simple instructions for Linux installation in the FAQ, it was up and running in about 2 minutes. Very very smooth. Very slick. Granted, this is my first official post using it, but it does seem to run every bit as well on Feisty in a VM as it does on native XP-pro.

The compromise it seems is that to get photos into my post (no Flock can't directly upload files to Blogger either), I'll have to use Flickr. The bonus is that Flickr is so nicely integrated into the Flock browser that it becomes very very painless for me to do that. Normally I'd have to be switching back and forth between Flickr and Blogger to coordinate things. With Flock it appears to be very simple. The photos appear in a bar along the top of my browser, I right click the one I want and up it pops in a very slick and simple blog post editor.

The blog post editor itself allows me to do tagging (very important - since gmail-ing posts in doesn't allow tagging), edit the source, preview the post and of course insert links, lists, and does indentation. All very basic, but all very slick. I can easily right click the images that I've inserted from Flickr and change the image title, alt-text and alignment. Also wonderful is that I can just drag and resize the images. I can also save drafts of posts. Not sure yet where those are kept (online or locally).

Keep in mind that I'm saying all this before actually hitting the publish button. It could all go very very wrong....

But for those on Linux (or Windows or Mac) posting to other platforms like Wordpress or whatever, you might find the latest Flock browser to be very useful indeed. It might be a little too feature-rich for when you just want to do some quick and dirty web browsing, but I have to say, it's significantly improved from when I first tried it out.

Expect more spouting off about Flock on Linux if things go well.

Blogged with Flock

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wysiwyg Blogging Tools for Linux... Suggestions?

Upon reading Earl Moore's recent photo posting, I commented to him that I liked the layout of the post and asked him if he did it all manually. While it was not a fully automatic solution, he mentioned that he used Ecto to do the post. And that of course, got me thinking....

I've never thought of using a dedicated blogging tool. Normally I either compose my posts in Gmail and email them in, enter them right in Blogger's online editor, or when I'm feeling all manly, I get bareknuckled and compose them using html in gVim. But my recent experience with Jottit and it's dual paned wysiwyg html editor made me think that a nice wysiwyg blogging tool would be of great use to me.

My fingers danced across the keyboard asking the great Google oracle to show me all the wonderful free and open-source blogging clients for Linux... pfft! Turns out it is very very slim pickin's when it comes to wysiwyg blogging tools for Linux.

There's BloGTK, but it hasn't been updated since 2005 (might give it a try), and Drivel, which seems simple enough but is not wysiwyg. There's also Bleezer - which is cross-platform because it's java-based (I'm not a big java app fan) but supposedly it doesn't support image-uploading to the new Blogger, which is a deal-breaker for me. And there's not much else. Maybe Linux developers feel comfortable enouigh sprinkling html tags here and there that it just isn't a priority.

I dare say that wysiwyg blogging tools for Linux are second only to quality consumer video editing applications for Linux in scarcity. ;)

Mind you, I could get off my duff and put my rudimentary knowledge of python to some good use. Yeah sure.. that's just what I need - some other blind alley to wander off into....

Any Linux users out there had any luck with wysiwyg blogging tools?

A very cool low-tech site - and it's Post 500!!

Bill Westerman's utilware site is cool. There is no RSS feed. The layout is simple, clean and interesting. The site is different than a lot of others because while it's modern and unique, he hasn't used any flash (I think). It's navigation is kind of book-like in that you can flip through page by page if you like, or refer to his table of contents - and it's in a horizontal layout. There is nothing 'below the fold', since there is no 'fold'.

He's got some interesting writing there on a variety of tech-bent topics. He's developed a GSD (Getting Shit Done) methodology which is 'brutally simple' and 'doesn't require a lot of forethought or planning'. Right up my alley. Lately he's into pen and paper, something I can definitely relate to.

Anyway, it would be nice to have him in my RSS reader, but then again, I'd miss the wonderful-ness of his site if he had a feed. It's definitely worth a visit.

On another, unrelated note, this is my 500th post here on Renaissance Man. I was thinking of doing up a full-on well thought out meaty post on some heady topic, and then realized this would break with tradition! :) - and likely jarr my few regular readers.

In any case, if you are one of my few regular readers, a truly heartfelt thanks for your patronage and be happy in the fact that there's simply nowhere for this blog to go but up! :)


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Watch out you Yanks!

Today, for the first time in over 30 years, the Canadian Dollar became on-par with the US Dollar.

Co-worker asks ' Does that mean I can pay the US price for books at Chapters now? '

Heh... yeah sure. Right after our gas prices fall 20% to come in line for what they're paying at US pumps. ;)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Google Docs does Online Presentations - but no OpenOffice Impress support yet...

Tom Raftery notes that Google Docs now does online presentations. Sadly, right now, those brandishing Keynote or OpenOffice Impress presentations (.odp files) are out of luck as far as importing existing files.

I'm back teaching a college course part-time right now, and the way I've done it for the last few years is to use a Powerpoint presentation for the lecture (it's what they run on their media machines - no getting around it at the moment) and also provide printed handouts at the beginning of each class so they don't spend their time copying down notes.

But maybe this could provide an alternative means for students to get the notes. I could publish these for online viewing. Or better yet, start a free blog with links to each week's presentation viewable online using Google Docs. I've wanted to do this in the past but didn't like the idea of hosting pdf files or ppt files for download.

Also noteworthy is that they give you the option of downloading a zip file of the presentation. This file actually contains an html file and all the folders and media files so that you can view it in your browser locally (offline).

Because there doesn't seem to be a way to export the file to ppt, odp or anything editable at the moment, I'll likely end up using it just to make versions for online viewing.

To check out the simplicity of the online viewer, you can check out my Week 1 presentation right here. Be careful you don't fall asleep watching it - the first week is almost always a snoozer.

Anybody got any bright ideas on how to make use of Google's new Online Presentations?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Jottit - a potentially useful web app. Finally!

I no longer Twitter, tweet or whatever it's called these days.
Me no Jaiku.
No hablo el Facebook. (except to read the odd personal message from long lost high-school acquaintances).
Pownce (Tell me again.. why?)

But Jottit does seem to be (potentially) fun and useful. From what I can tell:

- editable pages with static addresses
- simple simple simple
- two pane text editor is fricking brilliant!! Blogger(tm) - Are you paying attention!??!
- public or private
- editing history - wiki style note-taking anyone?
- simple simple simple
- web 2.0 gradient-free
- simple simple simple!
- NOT built upon a requirement to socially network! Aaargh.. thank you!

Jotit seems potentially useful. How novel. :)

Click here to visit my baby-steppin' Jottit page.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Now there's something you don't read about every day...

Tom Raftery is using his Vista laptop more than his MacBook Pro. He supposes that the ClearType font rendering is making screen reading easier on his eyes.

The tech blogging space seems so pro-Mac / anti-Vista these days. Talk about walking around with a bullseye on your back. ;)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Google Reader finally gets search, Humber College gets Google Apps and I'm looking to ditch Powerpoint

Google Reader finally get's a search box!  Hooray!! I think that this is definitely a big deal. It will change the way I use GReader. No more going to Google's blog search or to Technorati to find posts I need to recall. It's about fricking time! :)

I start teaching again this Saturday (materials and methods of construction to architectural technologists) at Humber College. Turns out Humber has now moved to Google Apps (check it out here).

Now if only I could get away from using Powerpoint to do my weekly lectures. Sure, I do most of the setup work using OpenOffice, but I always have to double-check formatting and stuff with Powerpoint since that is what's installed on the college machines we use for presentations. You don't want to learn from someone who has fonts running off the side of the screen do you? :)

Incidentally, if you want to see a presentation ninja in action, you really should check this out (via Chris Brogan).

Opera 9.5 - Gmail Render Problem - maybe a deal-breaker?

As I posted a day or so ago, I'm now trying out the Opera 9.5 Alpha3 browser both at home and at work. The performance improvement over Firefox is noticeable for me on both Linux and XP. However I am having what might be a deal-breaker type of problem with Gmail.

Opera seems to have problems rendering the Gmail Quick Contacts display on the left hand side correctly. It only shows my name and the status drop down box, and even then, it appears cut off. I cannot see anyone else in the quick contacts display and therefore cannot launch a Gchat window for anyone in that list either. Not good.

I've figured out how to run user javascripts (ie. Greasemonkey Gmail skins) on Opera for the Gmail page, but haven't found anything that will fix the problem. I've also read about a tip to use the F12->Edit Site Preferences->Network->Mask as Firefox, but this hasn't helped either.

Anyone know of a way to fix the problem or at least provide a decent workaround?

This is definitely a deal-breaker for me. I  have Gmail up all day long and use the quick contacts list intermittently. Not having it, is a royal pain. While the exact rendering error is slightly different between XP and Linux systems, the error appears on both systems.

And I know that it is more than likely because Google hasn't implemented CSS exactly to the standards either. Opera is very standards compliant and that makes for render errors when CSS coders don't follow them correctly. Too bad the error is happening on what is probably one of the most important sites to me.

It ain't all bad news. Opera seems to just blow away Firefox in handling the recently revised Digg commenting system - it's much snappier. The FF developers should find out what Opera is doing in that respect and copy copy copy. ;)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Microsoft and OOXML - another battle to add to the list

I've been doing a little reading tonight on Microsoft's attempt to fast-track approval for it's OOXML (Office Open XML) standard by the ISO. Just trying to wade through all the anti-Microsoft rhetoric and educate myself on the issue.

Mary Jo Foley writes about Why Microsoft deserved to lose the OOXML standards vote. She does a good job of clarifying the issue for me - the proverbial layperson:

In spite of the rhetoric on both sides, Microsoft wants OOXML to gain ISO standardization so that it won’t lose out on government contracts that require “open,” standards-based products. Microsoft’s competitors don’t want Microsoft to obtain ISO standardization because they see this loss as a chance for them to finally lessen Microsoft’s 90-plus-percent market share in the desktop-productivity suite business.

I've also read a lot of comments about how Microsoft's current specification is in quite dodgy shape technically speaking. Many people are of the opinion that the standard was rushed and that it was not written with interoperability in mind at all. For some more technical criticism of MS's proposal, some people are pointing to the Danish complaint's listing (pdf document).

Now this was only a vote on fast-tracking approval of OOXML. Microsoft needed 2/3 of the votes and only received 17 out of 32 votes. But it's not necessarily the end of the story. MS can get another vote in March after it addresses technical questions posed by some of the voters. It may very well win that one. And only adding to the political drama is Microsoft's apparently unethical lobbying tactics.

With Microsoft owning so much of the commercial market share in office apps, you might doubt the importance of such an ISO standard. But then again, Redmond seems to be going to great lengths to have it go their way.

It will be interesting if they lose out in the end. They're already embattled with Google on several fronts, watching Apple hit home run after home run, trying to get to grips with an increasingly open-source world, battling Linux on the server side, and finding a few manufacturers now offering pre-installed Linux systems on the desktop...

Geez, I'm almost starting to feel bad for them...

Nahhhh. ;)

PC Envy

Kent Newsome just bought a new (and quiet) toy. Of course, I'm immediately jealous. :)

I've been pondering for the past month or so about what my next system purchase will be. I'm torn between a laptop or a desktop machine. The Dell XPS M1330 has caught my eye - no pedestrian Inspirons for this tough guy! ;) But buddy at work got a nice XPS 710 desktop system a while back and I have to say, when you pair that up with a Dell 24" LCD monitor, it's pretty damn nice too.

My current machine is still plenty usable. It's a P4-3GHz, and with running Openbox on Feisty, I'm very happy with the speed. It's very capable for most of the stuff I do. Of course extra processing power (even in the M1330 I suppose) would do me fine for encoding all those damn screencasts too. :)

So right now I'm torn between a laptop and a desktop. The laptop makes infinitely more common sense to me. And I'm not looking for a desktop replacement style laptop either. I like the 13.3" screen because I'm interested in a light, portable and capable device. We have a 17" HP laptop at work and it's a behemoth. Completely at odds with what I'm looking for (the guys at work say I'm nuts).

Another problem? I've been out of the computer buying market for quite some time and haven't paid enough attention. A T5300 or T7200 processor means almost nothing to me. And worse still, I've never owned a laptop so I'm at a loss as to what to really look for technically. One thing is for sure, it's gotta be a Dell - family discount y'know. :)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Opera 9.5 Alpha out: Very Nice - Time to Switch?

Web browser underdog Opera 9.50 Alpha 3 is up and available.

I've always liked Opera and actually used it quite a bit back in the v6 and v7 days. I've tended to use it off and on over the years. I've been playing with the latest alpha of 9.5 today after reading several Digg comments about it's rendering speed.

After visiting most of my normal sites, I have to say, it does feel very snappy. And to tell you the truth, I have not been overly impressed with Firefox since v2 debuted. It's been relatively crashy and not all that stable and quick as of late. So many times recently I've noticed that when I start Firefox, it tells me of an abnormal termination and gives me the option of returning where I left off, even though I don't remember it closing abnormally.

I think it's high time to give Opera a serious go. I'm not big on FF plugins (although the It's All Text add on is something I'd like to find an Opera equivalent for - anybody know of one?), and maybe Mozilla's developers have become a little too big for their britches. There's nothing like a little competition to light the fire.

Right now I'm just testing it out on XP here at work, but I think I'll load it up on Linux at home and make it my default browser for a little while.

Screencast 35 now glitch-free and up on YouTube

I finally got around to fixing the glitchy video by re-encoding my screencast episode 35. I also managed to upload it to YouTube although with it being over 10 minutes long, I once again had to split it up into part 1 and part 2.

The workflow was still by no means painless. There are a few things I still need to streamline, but definitely mencoder is the way to go for me.