2009 and the Decade 2000s: Crappy Old Year!

Well, everyone reading this knows what happened.
Overall, it was a crappy year in a crappy decade, globally.
I had a lot of great times and a few bad times, but I eagerly anticipate 2010!


The Psystar Saga

A lot of buzz has been going around on tech websites about Apple v. Psystar, so I wanted to shed a little light on it too.
The issue is that Apple is accusing the independent company Psystar for putting Mac OS X on non-Apple hardware. Basically, Psystar is officially selling Hackintoshes. Apple is claiming that by doing so, Psystar is committing copyright infringement and violating Apple's EULA for Mac OS X.
There are basically 2 conflicting reports.
If Psystar, as some have been saying, was copying Mac OS X and installing these copies on multiple machines, then (as much as it pains me to say it, in this case, given current copyright law) that's wrong as it infringes on Apple's copyright.
If, on the other hand, as other people are saying, Psystar was purchasing legitimate copies of Mac OS X and installing a single purchased copy on a single machine, why is this wrong? For one thing, this doesn't even infringe on copyright. In fact, recent copyright laws have specifically said that this sort of legitimate installation on other hardware is not infringing on copyright.
That leaves the EULA. The court should then be asking, is such a provision (preventing installation on "unauthorized hardware") even legal? Heck, even Microsoft (traditionally no paragon of open computing) lets people install a copy of Windows on any hardware they want, as long as that is only done once per copy.
Let's see how this whole thing plays out.


Movie Reviews: Mongol, Up

I will be reviewing 2 movies today that I watched recently: "Mongol" and "Up", in that order.

"Mongol" was great. I thought it was a nice touch that all the dialogue was in Mongolian (or so I think). It gives the whole film a more authentic feel; even better is the fact that all of the actors are from that part of the world (i.e. the actors aren't Caucasian with makeup, etc.). I also thought it was interesting how the whole movie focused only on Temujin's (Genghis Khan's given name) early years; these events aren't as well known to Western audiences, so it's a great service to Mongolian history. The film effects were great (it had a sort of old-style color feel), while the action was, well, action-y.

"Up" was also great. Most of the movie was standard Disney/Pixar fare (floating away in a house, landing on a magical island), but the first few minutes really made the movie special, because their more mature content is not typical of a Pixar kids' movie. The movie opens with the elderly protagonist Carl Fredricksen (in his childhood years) meeting and falling in love with a female fellow fan (Ellie) of the famed (but later discredited) explorer Charles Muntz. The next few minutes shows a silent (save for the great instrumental background music) montage of clips from their married life, starting with their marriage and ending with Ellie's death. The scene of Ellie's death is a touching moment in itself (and unusually somber for a Disney film), but what I found more moving and dark was the point of their marriage when, after buying a crib and other assorted items for a newborn baby, the doctor tells Ellie and Carl that Ellie is infertile (the scene is shown, though no words are spoken, but this is very strongly implied). I think what also really made this movie great was Carl going back to the picture of Ellie in remembrance, and then at the end, finally letting go of the house (which, magically, falls right next to the waterfall on the magical island). The rest of the movie wasn't really that special, but the whole movie really came out to be more than the sum of the individual scenes.


Happy Winter Holidays!

I will be going with family and friends to visit a Broadway show and then a friend's house.
I wish you all a very happy, fun, and safe holiday season!


FOLLOW-UP: A Few Loose Ends - 2009 October 2

The original post was on a bunch of different things, but this follow-up will only cover Representative Alan Grayson's ruckus.
A few different news outlets are reporting that Alan Grayson is asking for the arrest and imprisonment of one of his critics.
The issue stems from the fact that while the critic in question maintains (or something like that) a website called "My Congressman is Nuts", the critic is not actually in Alan Grayson's district.
Grayson has asked Eric Holder to jail this critic just because of that (she has misrepresented her district on her personal website).
I would not condone such misrepresentation myself, but what?
He's asking the Attorney General of the US to arrest a critic for a small misrepresentation?
What's more telling (and ironic) is that this same critic calls him out (rightfully so) for acting childish as a Representative in DC.
It's a self-fulfilling prophecy! Shame on you, Grayson!
To be honest, I would be happy (even though he's a Democrat) if he was voted out of office in 2010. I would prefer it be through the Democratic primaries, but if it happens in the general election (i.e. by a Republican), so be it.


Bravo Mozilla!

For Firefox 3.5 is now the most popular web browser globally! Kudos!
It just goes to show that well-developed and well-marketed OSS solutions will work.
'Nuff said.


On Console Games, Corporate Tech Lobbies, and the MPAA

I found 3 articles that piqued my interest, so I wanted to talk about them all in this post. As a result, this post may get rather long, so consider yourself warned. Be patient; it'll be fine.

This article (Ben Hardwidge, bit-tech.net) proposes, counter to the numerous death knells of PC gaming, that console gaming will be the first to die.
I agree with the premise and the numbers. All of the console manufacturers are bleeding money, mainly from their current console divisions. What is most telling is that the best selling console for each month of the last few years has been the PS2 (not the PS3); while the PS3 has been the loser (saleswise) of every month since its introduction (I think).
From my own perspective, I find console gaming not to be very fun unless other people are over. I have a PS2, but again, I only play with other friends. The same goes for these friends who have newer systems like the XBox360 (and XBox Live). PC gaming is simply more conducive to single player gaming than consoles are. That's why I'm not getting a new system of any kind to "keep up"; it'll be a waste.

The next article (Robert Silberman, Economic Times - India Times) deals with Microsoft against copyright infringers.
Microsoft brought its case against 4 infringers to Delhi in order to wield more influence on the decision; it simultaneously harassed the defendants even though they were still innocent.
In response, the Supreme Court of India ruled that Microsoft, having offices in the respective cities of the defendants, had to bring the cases there. Furthermore, the company had to compensate these defendants as well as pay other fines for misconduct.
In an era where more and more politicians are bought off by large companies and Microsoft goes virtually unchallenged in the US, it's nice to see a judge like this stand up against Microsoft.

The final article talks about Hollywood's record revenues for 2009.
I think the article hits the nail on the head in every way.
Despite the repeated whining by the MPAA about the industry being torn to pieces by piracy, the truth is that this myth is being torn to pieces by these numbers.
What's even more outrageous is that an industry executive of some sort tried to spin it in a negative light, calling it the "only" bright spot of the year while trying to maintain the myth of dark times for Hollywood because of piracy.
The last part of the article is right too. While the movie can be downloaded off of the Internet, they aren't really an adequate substitute for a real [possibly at-home, on-TV] theater experience. What downloading the movie then does is expose others to the movie, making them want to watch the real deal in the theater or rent/buy it on DVD. This is also true of music, when music recordings are distributed freely, live concert sales (the big revenue maker for the artist, much bigger than record sales) shoot up.
It basically proves that all the media industries and lobbies are after with copyright is total control over their works, not protection of any kind for the artists.


The Twisted Minds of Media Companies

I call it twisted because you will come to the exact same conclusion.
A lot of online news outlets have been reporting on a proposed WIPO treaty that would allow cross-border sharing of books that are made in formats accessible to blind and other visually-impaired people. This treaty is being opposed by several media lobbies from several companies "on principle"; that is, they oppose it because they believe it fundamentally undermines the "right" principle of always extending copyright terms, limiting the market's options, and taking away as many rights as possible.
This is truly sickening. The media companies and their lobbies have really gotten on the wrong side of the argument here.
The issue is that these companies feel like by allowing cross-border exchange of books and such meant for blind people, copyright restrictions are somehow undermined.
Won't allowing this only increase their market? If Britain had an oversupply of books for the blind and had to burn it (media companies' way) or sell it to blind people in Ireland (proposed treaty's way), wouldn't the latter only increase the market share of the companies?
I think it's truly pathetic to what low levels these companies have fallen. It's just another example of how copyright isn't to protect the original authors (this treaty can only help the authors), it's only to allow the big publishers and such to progressively take more rights away in the name of the "authors".
Since when were these "rights" (which are just rights to take away readers' rights) of "authors" (really just the big publishers) greater than the rights of blind people to read? Wouldn't this sort of action be illegal under the US ADA (1990)?
Good grief. These actions are so maddeningly inane and childish that I don't even know what to say anymore.


FOLLOW-UP: Thank you, Microsoft

Thank you even more, Microsoft.
Not only has Microsoft recognized the GPL violations in the code for its Windows 7 USB/DVD manager, it has even fixed them (Emil Protalinski, Ars Technica) by releasing them under the GPL.
Not only does this mean that Microsoft actually care about OSS (even a little bit), it cares enough that it thinks the GPL will withstand the tests of the courts.
Thank you some more, Microsoft, for de facto legitimizing the GPL.


Why "Cure" an Asset?

A new article (Chris Tachibana, MSNBC) has investigated into tech companies hiring medium- to high-functioning people with autism/Asperger's Syndrome. These people do stuff like assembly, data entry, and other computer tasks. It's better than the current grocery store job they may have, and it's perfectly suited to their skill set: they are able and willing to do long, repetitive tasks quickly, and they can catch mistakes far easier than other people.
In short, these companies see an asset rather than a liability in these people's conditions.
It's something a lot of more vocal autism advocates (most of them autistics themselves) are trying to convince people of; such people have long thought of autism as a liability and a mental illness, while such autism advocates have argued that autism is an asset and simply a different mental makeup no better or worse than the "standard" brain (i.e. autism is not an "illness").
Many months ago, there was an article in Wired magazine about this topic: higher-functioning autistics (autism is a spectrum condition, after all) who have become much more vocal about how they are treated because of advances like the Internet, portable computers, and tools like webcams and text-to-speech synthesizers.
On the contrary, many other autism advocacy groups like Autism Speaks advocate a "cure" for autism, calling it a "preventable tragedy".
Now, I understand that there are still many low-functioning autistics who cannot do anything without assistance and cannot communicate at all even with the help of technology do not fall in the category of autistics I am talking about in the context of working at tech companies.
My other problems with the organization Autism Speaks are numerous. For one, it seems to regard every autistic person from the outset as a lost cause after birth, explaining the need for a "cure" to end "preventable tragedies". As shown from the autistics working at tech companies, the autistic vlogger/advocate Amanda Baggs, and the mid-level autistic neuroscientist-advocate Michelle Dawson (who has more than 1 paper to her name concerning the diagnosis of autism and the testing of autistics' intelligence), this is patently absurd. Furthermore, the people being hired by these companies are as low as the lower-middle end of the autistic spectrum, so these people aren't just those rare autistic savants.
Also, Autism Speaks seems to solely focus on childhood autism (to the detriment of adult autistics) and speaks of a supposed "autism pandemic". The problem with this reasoning is that while autism may have increased slightly in proportion to the population over the decades, as the diagnoses of autism have only come about in the last few decades (previously, autistics were likely labeled "mute" and sent to insane asylums), the diagnosis of autism in children has exploded as a result. The only pandemic is in the diagnosis, and to add to this, a few parents are now saying that their children who were previously diagnosed as autistic were actually misdiagnosed. Due to parental fears of autism, this has probably been a driving factor for overdiagnosis of autism.
Finally, why does Autism Speaks want to "cure" an asset? I'll leave that to you, the readers.


Athletes as Role Models?

This is a question that often comes up in classrooms, but has more recently (and publicly) come up in news services in light of the Tiger Woods accident+affair incident. The questions are whether athletes are acceptable role models and whether it is fair to scrutinize their private failings like we do politicians.
I disagree with both (positive) assertions.
In short, Tiger Woods mysteriously crashed his SUV in the middle of the night and, while explaining this away, admitted to an extramarital affair.
The following is of course biased by who I am, for those of you who know me and have seen me. I won't get into that.
I don't think athletes should be held in the popular media as role models for our children.
Now, some of you are saying, "But who will kids look up to now? Their gonna look up to athletes no matter what."
I don't.
They don't have to either.
I think half the problem is that we live in a culture that values physical stature, strength, and beauty above all else. Unless the kids have some natural or early acquired physical talent, why should this be imposed on them? In many Asian cultures (even today), the braniacs and top researchers, rather than the top athletes, are revered. Obviously, those countries recognize that sports broadcasts are entertainment for the general public, while the researchers, academics, and other "nerds" are the ones advancing society (except for the few great athletes who do choose to make a highly positive contribution to the community).
For goodness' sake, I look up to Stephen Hawking. Well, maybe that's just me, but I do know of plenty of people who looked up to such academics rather than athletes as role models. It's fine if a kid looks up to an athlete, but why must the media push it on everyone?
I also disagree with the idea that athletes should be scrutinized as closely as Tiger Woods was for his failings.
I'm OK with it happening to politicians. They are public citizens.
Tiger Woods is a private citizen. He is entitled to his privacy, unless things other people he has communicated with (i.e. his lover) leak out at that person's discretion.
That said, the press was really overzealous in getting him to talk. Considering all of the more serious events (bombing in Russia, etc.) that have happened recently, it's safe to say that the media is dysfunctional (that's why I'm here :P (just kidding)).
Folks, it is only in the best interests of the media (to report on personal failings as they come) for people to look up to athletes as role models.

Microsoft is Now a Legal Monopoly in Germany

As it seems, the German government is setting up a hotline for (Windows) computer users' malware issues.
This. Is. Bad.
In a continent (the EU) that is wary of monopolies and has taking strict measures against Microsoft to reduce their monopoly status (e.g. make a "browser ballot" in a Windows installation to allow users to choose their preferred browser(s) (and the order must be random (i.e. IE cannot be the top choice each time))), this is a huge, terrible reversal.
Many posts talking about this describe this as just a subsidy for Microsoft to produce shoddy code and not improve upon it (as the government will cover that cost, essentially).
That's not the biggest problem.
Let me be clear: the German government is basically legalizing Microsoft's monopoly.
Now there will be almost no incentive to get products other than those of Microsoft, as the government will always help the users and Microsoft will reap the (larger) profits (and no longer bear the burden of fixing code).
Why, oh Germany, why?
If you happen to live in Germany, tell your elected officials to repeal this bill.
Microsoft has for the longest time been a de facto monopoly, but never in my memory have I heard of this sort of official government support for Microsoft's monopoly. This basically flies in the face of everything free-market.
Please, stop the madness.


Autofailblog: Lexuses Unintentionally Accelerating

This isn't "ha-ha"-funny like the pictures on Failblog; in fact, it is rather depressing, but the word needs to be spread.
For the last few months (or maybe longer), vehicles sold under the Toyota and Lexus nameplates have suffered improper installation of floormats. This may not sound like a big deal at first, except that they are on the driver's side. This means that they can often latch on to the accelerator and press it down, causing the vehicle to accelerate uncontrollably (i.e. the brakes won't do anything). Quite a few Toyota and Lexus owners have died from these occurrence.
However, the following is truly tragic.
It seems like one person, 3 days before he died from this occurrence, noticed it in his car and reported it to his dealership. However, his problem got lost on the way to upper management. No one really did anything about it. I think he owned a Lexus ES 350 (midsize sedan), while the dealers threw in floormats from the Lexus LS 570 (fullsize SUV) improperly on top of the existing floormats. That's 3 strikes: wrong floor mats, wrong placement, and placement on top of existing floormats, further increasing the possibility of unintended acceleration.
For this, he died, 3 days later.
If you or your family owns a Lexus or Toyota, please have it checked out thoroughly (and nag them about it if necessary - they are supposed to be the world-class dealers after all!) if that has not already been done. If you or people you know are planning to buy a Toyota or Lexus, please do not do so for a while. The model years date back to 1997, so it's a pretty extensive set of cases.
Toyota and Lexus are not infallible. For all that, Audi had a similar issue ("unintended acceleration") in the 1980s which ruined their reputation for about 15 years (i.e. until then, sales never rose to pre-issue levels). Here, they are quite fallible. Spread the word!
[UPDATE: It seems like the NHTSA is deciding on whether to recall recent (2006-2007) Toyota Corollas and Matrixes (not "Matrices") due to a large number of complaints about unintended stalling. It's yet another reason not to buy a Toyota (for a while now, at least).]


Linux in "Mainstream" Tech Articles

[Thanks to blogger Glyn Moody for quoting the WSJ article about open development.]
Yes, Linux gets a lot of good press in, well, the OSS media. That's only to be expected. However, things get a lot more mixed in the mainstream tech media. These outlets are for laypeople and thus basically only focus on Microsoft products and their implementations.
For example, this article (Jason Notte, TheStreet) talks about netbooks versus laptops. When it talks about how far netbooks have come, it refers to Linux in a disparaging way, calling the original Linux-equipped netbooks "toys".
Now, it is more likely that the netbooks themselves (in terms of the hardware) were toys. However, it is entirely possible that this site was calling Linux a "toy" OS.
This is patently absurd, but I won't list all the reasons (servers, Internet, phones, media) why. That's for another day. I will say that there still are a significant number of (new) netbooks sold with Linux, and their sellers do admit that the return rate for their netbooks does not vary with the OS selection.
Again, the bias against Linux is a bit more debatable based on the wording.
This article, from the WSJ, however, is a lot more obviously against open development. The article does not explicitly take a side, as it is a news piece rather than an opinion piece, but the article's word choice makes it clear what the opinion of the WSJ editors on this is.
To summarize, a company making a robotic brain called the Arduino is open-sourcing the hardware with no restrictions and putting up the processes and specs on the Internet.
Yes, the article may also use the word "peculiar" (when referring to the open-source business) because it really is peculiar to the average reader, but it's probably also because the model runs directly counter to the closed nature of the WSJ's (and News Corp's) own business model.
Furthermore, rather than simply call derivatives of the original work "copies" or some other neutral work, the article calls them "knock-offs". This connotes illegality of copying (despite surrounding words maintaining the legality of this, which is true) and inferiority of the copy no matter what. It suggests that imitators can never possibly innovate past the capability of the original innovator.
Of course, the original founder makes note of his first-mover advantage, saying that when imitators are spreading copies of his products, he is already at work for the next generation of hardware. This is great and it shows that he is willing to continually innovate rather than be lazy and take a monopoly to continue to profit; he also genuinely cares about letting others collaborate in the process, enough so that he open-sourced the hardware anyway.
Maybe I'm just overreacting to the natural curiosity and skepticism at the open-source business model by those unfamiliar with it, but these were just my initial thoughts on the subject matter anyway.


Recommendation Communication Issues

I'm starting to have doubts about the coach of our school's Science Bowl team, of which I am a member.
For one thing, she doesn't really seem to be that enthusiastic about us practicing. She has, for whatever reason, started ending practices at 3:15pm (rather than the 3:45pm typical of the last 2 years). She probably has a lot on her plate, but she never says so when asked to explain this change.
Yesterday there was supposed to be a practice. The day before that, I told her that myself and another student would be doing the Continental Math League, so we would be about half an hour late. She was agreeable with this and promised to continue practice. However, by the time we got there (exactly when we said we would), no one was inside the room, which was locked. When I asked her about it this morning, she did say that the other students were a bit impatient and decided to go ahead and leave for their other clubs. However, when I reminded her about myself and the other student coming late, she said that 2 days before (when I first mentioned it) I never mentioned the other student coming/being late.
Wait, what?
I've asked her to write me a recommendation for the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at UMBC. She kindly agreed to do so. She sent the recommendation out a day before the deadline for postmarking it, which is fine. Oddly, though, it got sent to my house rather than to the university. Yesterday, I told her about it, so she said to bring the material in a new envelope without my address (added as a supplement) so that she could resend it.
Today, when I brought it to her, she was irked that I took out the material from the original envelope and put it in the new one. She decided to break the seal just to make sure I hadn't tampered with the recommendation letter, then resealed it with tape.
For one thing, what would I have to gain from even reading (much less modifying) the letter? (She said, "I hope you enjoyed what you read." Wait, what?)
For another, she basically totally contradicted what she had said the previous day.
It seems that she has some rather serious communication issues (both on the speaking and listening ends), or maybe she isn't really thinking about what she says to me or what I say to her.


FOLLOW-UP: How-To: Make a Multiboot Live USB Stick

In the post "How-To: Make a Multiboot Live USB Stick", there are major enough errors to fix and changes to be made that I have made this a separate follow-up post.
The hardware is the same. However, the OSs in question have changed.
The smaller change is the removal of PartedMagic from the multiboot combination. I did not want to have to deal with extended partitions, and I figure that on-the-fly creations of live CDs for people in need (to keep) would be more effective anyway.
The larger change is the removal of PCLinuxOS 2009.2. As it seems, PCLinuxOS (as well as its parent distribution, Mandriva) refuses to work on a multiboot live USB (though it will work fine as the sole live OS on a USB stick). After installing more OSs, PCLinuxOS will give an error message that looks like, "This is not a bootable floppy. [emphasis is mine] Please try again."
Basically, your USB stick is apparently now a floppy disk according to PCLinuxOS. I knew then that sticking to that OS would not work.
I searched long and hard for a good KDE-based distribution that would turn on new users and work very well, and I came upon Sabayon Linux.

The following will be a sort of mini-review of Sabayon 5 KDE, the version I installed live to the USB stick.
Sabayon is based on Gentoo Linux, which requires users to compile the source packages frequently (at least once per use). This is not for the faint of heart, but many people enjoy it for the same reason that many car enthusiasts like manual transmissions (which are slowly fading away). This used to be a defining feature in many Linux distributions but has since been basically done away with, so Gentoo has kept it to please the users and to retain the super-bleeding-edge status of the OS.
Sabayon does not require this; it is thus more like a conventional Linux distribution, but it still retains the bleeding-edge codebase of Gentoo. This means that there are a lot of new cool and heavily tested features, making for a great OS experience.
Sabayon 5 KDE comes with a plethora of amazing applications. First, unlike many KDE distributions, Sabayon comes with Firefox and OpenOffice.Org (instead of Konqueror and KOffice) by default and integrates both applications very nicely. Second, it offers a great selection of games, and it even has real game demos like those for World of Goo, and it supports games like America's Army and Wolfenstein. Finally, it is built for media centers. It has a lot of powerful applications like XBMC to manage even the most complex media centers. The final statement (about media centers) is from my reading, not from my experience (as I don't operate a PC media center).
In addition to this, Sabayon 5 KDE implements KDE 4.3 in the best way that I've seen yet. It actually comes with the Desktop folder applet out of the box so as not to confuse new users. The Plasma panel actually works stably without crashing, as do the Plasma widgets too. Finally, the other KDE applications seem to work as intended without a hitch. The whole desktop experience really looks polished and stable, something that I can't say about other implementations of KDE 4.3.
The biggest downside to Sabayon 5 KDE is the relatively demanding set of system requirements. Even the newest (non-purposefully tiny, as in TinyCore or DSLinux) Linux distributions can support computers over 8 years old without sacrificing performance or the features that make them ahead of the (non-Linux) pack. Sabayon 5 KDE doesn't have as much of an advantage, as it requires at least 512 MB of RAM and 10 GB of hard drive space (along with a decent graphics card) to be installed and run well. Furthermore, the boot time is rather long even after installation.

This resumes the talk about the multiboot live USB. Again, this must be done in a Linux system. The partitioning scheme should be two 1 GB and one 2.6 GB ext3 partitions (for the OSs) and one 3.3 GB FAT32 partition (for storage). One can do this in GParted as described in the original post.
Successively install (and test, as described in the original post) Linux Mint 7 "Gloria" Xfce and Sabayon 5 KDE into, respectively, the 1.0 GB partition and the 2.6 GB partition through UNetBootin as described in the previous post.
After these have been tested and are determined to work, download to the desktop the Fedora 11 "Leonidas" GNOME ISO image. Burn the image to a CD but do not do anything to the original image (on the desktop) otherwise. That step is crucial!
Boot into the Fedora 11 live CD, and after logging in, go to "Add/Remove Programs" and search for, check, and apply "livecd-tools" or something like that. After that is all done, open a terminal window and navigate (through commands like "cd" and "ls -l") to the folder (on the original Linux desktop) where the ISO image is.
After this navigation, type into the (still-open) terminal the command

su -c "livecd-iso-to-disk /dev/live /dev/USBDEVICENAME"

where "USBDEVICENAME" is the name of the device and partition (e.g. "sdf2"). To confirm the partition number, type into the terminal (before typing the previous command)

su -c "fdisk -l"

Congratulations, you have successfully made a tri-boot live USB drive with room to spare for storage!

Ro-ger and San-ia, Sittin' In a Tree

Before I get into the real material of this post, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate 50 blog posts. How am I doing so far? Is there anything else you want me to talk about? What are your general comments? Make all suggestions as comments for this post.

A bunch of news agencies have reported that a national Swiss initiative to ban minarets has passed. (A minaret is a spire-like structure on a mosque.)
For those of you who don't remember from civics class, an initiative is a law written by citizens and put to a vote with a certain number of signatures (in Switzerland, 100000) collected. A referendum is a law created by the legislature and put to a popular vote.
This is truly sad.
I almost always support expressions of near-direct democracy like initiatives and referenda. They are good ways of keeping people involved with the laws that may soon affect their lives.
However, this is really sad. The large number of people who voted for the initiative couldn't give a single reason why they did; it wasn't because of aesthetics, air traffic issues, or other utilitarian problems.
It was just simple bigotry.
Oh, and the title? Note that Roger Federer is a Swiss tennis player, while Sania Mirza is a Muslim Indian tennis player. With their international fame, both would do well to raise awareness of and combat this situation.
[UPDATE: Wow, how could I have missed that one after going over it so thoroughly? This "initiative" (as I originally thought) is actually a referendum introduced by the legislature. Sorry about that!]


Apple Likes Windows 2000?

There's a new ad from Apple on TV. It's another one in the "Get a Mac"/"I'm a Mac\and I'm a PC" ad series.
This one has PC excitedly telling Mac about the upcoming (then) release of Windows 7, saying it won't have any of the problems of Vista. Mac says he's heard this before, and the ad cycles backwards in time with PC giving the same reassurance for the release of Vista vs. XP, XP vs. Me, Me vs. 98, 98 vs. 95, and 95 vs. 2. Then, the ad finally goes back to the present with PC reassuring Mac that this time he means it.
Yes, they also skipped Windows 3.X, but I'm not so concerned about that.
What does strike me as odd is their omission of Windows 2000.
Most likely the omission was due to time constraints on the ad. However, one could argue that Apple genuinely thought of Windows 2000 as a good OS and not a joke (vs. Mac OS/OS X).
Windows 2000, in my opinion, is one of the most stable, secure, and fast versions of Windows I've ever used. XP pales with respect to stability and security, Vista with respect to security and speed, and 7 with respect to speed.
Despite Windows 2000 not being open-source, I think it is still one of the best OSs Microsoft has ever released, and it is quite good on its own as well. Apple recognizes this, so maybe their omission of this OS in the ad was a conscientious decision with respect to this.

Murdoch's Folly

Rupert Murdoch, founder and owner of News Corp (which has holdings like The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post), has decided that he wants to remove all of his holdings' websites from Google's search indices.
He has a valid point in doing so, in that Google reaps all the profit by displaying for free excerpts from the websites in question while raking in money from the associated advertising. News Corp gets next to nothing from this.
However, the next step in this is highly questionable.
Microsoft has decided that it cannot compete with Google's search service in a traditional manner, so now it is paying website owners like News Corp to move their results from Google to Bing.
This sort of bribing is questionable anyway, but I doubt it will work.
The problem with Murdoch's (and Steve Ballmer's) reasoning is that they are assuming that the exit of one or a few websites from Google's search engine will have a permanent impact on Google's revenues and profits. This is not true, as once these companies leave Google's indices, other websites (and/or their owners) will quickly fill the temporary void, so News Corp will be the only loser in this. Yes, Bing will profit from additional entrants into the search indices, but their indices aren't anywhere close to Google's in terms of size and relevance.
The only way this could work to actually bring down Google is if News Corp persuades the majority of news companies providing content online to leave Google for Bing. Then only will the void become permanent due to a dearth of new sites to take their places and then only will Google start to really lose money.
If this is really what Murdoch and Ballmer intend to do to take down Google (i.e. make all media sites and not just News Corp leave Google search for Bing), then that is quite ambitious and will take a lot of work to do. Until then, I feel like Murdoch is just venting publicly over lost revenue (as if he isn't getting enough already).


When Contextual Advertising Goes Too Far

I like context advertisements. Yes, it means that the site in question reads what you read or write to provide you the correct ad, but sometimes it can actually be helpful; also, usually, context-aware ads are simple text-based ones that don't really affect the reading or writing of whatever it is anyway.
The place where I see it most is GMail. The thought of Google reading what I read or write in my email makes me queasy, but I can turn it off anyway and sometimes it is actually helpful.
It seems like the eVite website has taken to the same thing. However, this time they have gone too far.
Many friends I know of are going to a girl's sweet 16 party tonight; this girl shall be referred to as 'A'.
My parents' friend, whom we shall call 'Ms. R', was in charge of collecting all the gifts from all of the family friends to give to 'A'.
As it seems, in all of the eVites, a message was embedded inside that led to a site accepting donations to the American Cancer Society (ACS) as a gift. This was initially thought to be at the request of 'A' and her parents, as many teenagers are extremely magnanimous and/or touched in some way by causes like funding cancer, so they do request gifts like donations to a favorite charity or something similar instead of traditional physical or monetary gifts to themselves.
'Ms. R' then requested that, rather than people giving online directly, these guests give a particular amount to her to be enclosed in a big check directed to the ACS. This was a very wise move and full of foresight, though 'Ms. R' did not know it. She also then decided to ask those who were giving gifts to split the money to be given half for 'A' and half for the ACS; each total sum would be written as a separate total check (respectively, for 'A' and for the ACS).
This went on for a few days/weeks before the event (which is today (as of this writing)).
A few days ago (again, as of this writing), another family friend ('Ms. K') had the inkling that maybe the ACS donation link was an embedded ad rather than an actual request. A few phone calls to the parents of 'A' confirmed this. This is not meant to diminish the magnanimity of 'A'; rather, that was simply not her original intention.
Thankfully, with people giving towards the check rather than donating online, the check just had to be written towards 'A' rather than to the ACS, so now all of the money is going to 'A' as was originally intended.
Please do not take this to mean that I am against the good work of the ACS. Rather, I think the party at fault here is the eVite website; given that some people put in the invitation that the person in question would like all donations to go to the charity but also that the website hosts ads from the charity, the website should take a bit more care in differentiating the ads from the actual requests. There was no box around the link with the caption "ADVERTISEMENT", and it was smack-dab in the middle of the invitation.
Please, eVite website, don't confuse us like that next time.
For those readers who do know who 'A', 'Ms. R', and 'Ms. K' are, I know you know who they are as well, so if you wish to comment, please don't reveal their identities.


Happy Thanksgiving

I will be spending time with family and friends with no homework! Woot!
Have a wonderful, fun, food-filled Thanksgiving!


Doug Hoffman Has Conceded (Again)

In New York's 23rd House district election this year, Democrat Bill Owens beat Conservative Doug Hoffman (after Republican Dede Scozzafava dropped out). Hoffman initially conceded.
I read in this week's Newsweek that Hoffman revoked his concession on Fox News, claiming a stolen election perpetrated by "liberals", "ACORN", and others.
For one thing, I have never heard of someone doing this.
For another, this is an incredibly childish move by a politician. Truly, it is juvenile to keep the race going.
In any case, when Bill Owens's lead surpassed the number of uncounted absentee ballots (or something like that, making it impossible for Hoffman to win), Hoffman suggested at conceding again when he chose not to call for a recount.
Thank God that's over.


Windows 7 Was NOT My Idea

That said, Windows 7 is a vast improvement over Vista, though that's practically damning it with faint praise.
Recently, Microsoft has been broadcasting a series of advertisements for Windows 7 which have made me cringe. These ads continue the portrayal of Windows as ordinary users (as opposed to the "snooty/elitist" Mac users) (which I'm fine with), but then the closing line is, "...and Windows 7 was my idea."
How could Microsoft be saying this with a straight face?
Windows 7, like all previous versions of Windows and like almost all other Microsoft software, is closed-source (proprietary). This means that a bunch of developers create the software basically behind closed doors; even after releasing the software to the public, users cannot get access to the underlying code.
One can't even properly customize their Windows 7 system; one deals with what one gets.
I guess one could say Windows 7 was "their" idea if that means that Microsoft actually listened to customers about what was wrong with Vista in order to make 7 better, which is true and good.
By contrast, *nix's its derivatives, BSD and GNU/Linux, are free and open-source pieces of software. This means that anyone can view, modify, or redistribute the underlying code for the software, and if the user thinks that their change is a major one which can benefit the entire software userbase, they can send the suggestion to the original/current main developers of the project, and this will most likely be incorporated either as a bugfix or as part of a future release. The process is a very collaborative one, and the end result is often of higher quality than those of closed-door operations.
Really, Linux was my idea.

Review: KDE 4.3

The desktop environment (DE) that I've been using since I started using Linux is GNOME. Currently, with Linux Mint 7, I'm using GNOME 2.26. I really like GNOME for its simplicity, its lightness on RAM, its great collection of applications, its customizability, and its stability.
However, I took one look at some screenshots of the newly released KDE 4.3 (really, 4.3.2) and I was instantly smitten. I decided to try it out, so after configuring the proper repositories (the Ubuntu/Kubuntu 9.04 repositories don't have KDE 4.3, only KDE 4.2.2), I went ahead and installed it.
First, let's have some history (or, at least, what I remember off the top of my head; you can verify this information in Wikipedia by looking up the articles on "KDE" and "GNOME"). KDE was actually the first DE for the GNU/Linux project. It started around 1996 alongside the development of the Qt libraries. However, around 1999, issues arose over KDE using the non-GPL Qt libraries, so a group of KDE and Qt developers left and started GNOME and the GTK+ libraries.
Now comes the actual review on my 2004 Sony VAIO desktop with a 2.8 GHz Intel Pentium 4 HT (single core) processor, 1 GB RAM, and ATI Radeon 9200 graphics card.
My first impression after booting up and logging in (I haven't bothered to change the login screen from the default Mint 7 "Dew" theme to something more KDE-like) is that KDE takes a bit longer to load than GNOME; it almost takes as long as Windows XP on my computer. This may be because of KDE's higher level of polish and greater number of features, but in any case it is slightly but noticeably slower than GNOME.
Next, I played around with the Desktop a bit. The first startling revelation is that the contents of the Desktop aren't shown on the desktop; one must either open the Desktop folder in one's favorite file manager (more on that later) or create a nice snazzy Plasmoid (yes, that's the name for widgets in KDE 4's new Plasma desktop manager). The Plasmoids themselves are quite nice looking and functional, though the weather Plasmoid is rather lacking in information (it doesn't even have a forecast!). The way to access Desktop icons without opening the folder is to create a Lancelot Part Plasmoid and drag and drop the Desktop folder into the Plasmoid; this will create a permanent housing for the Desktop folder's contents. However, clicking on any file or folder in the Plasmoid will reopen the file manager rather than create a new Plasmoid.
I was intrigued by the new "Social Desktop" Plasmoid (one of the more talked-about features in KDE 4.3) until I found out that this did not mean that I could use Facebook from the Desktop without opening a browser. The "Social Desktop" is its own service (for KDE 4.3 users), while the Facebook Plasmoid itself doesn't work. That's a moderately large letdown right there.
The menu works very nicely; the layout is slightly different from the default MintMenu, but it is intuitive enough.
One quirk I found is with the virtual desktop management. For some reason, even if one switches to a different virtual desktop, windows in other virtual desktops remain on the panel. It doesn't seem buggy, but GNOME actually keeps applications minimized to a panel in a certain virtual desktop in that virtual desktop when the virtual desktop is switched. This greatly reduces the clutter on the panel.
One bug I did find was when KDE's panel (formerly Kicker) crashed on me twice on the same day. This is seriously buggy behavior and frankly unacceptable. I have never had a problem even close to this in GNOME.
One thing I like about GNOME is that it integrates Qt (KDE libraries)-based applications very nicely. Sadly, the reverse (KDE integrating GTK+ (GNOME libraries)-based applications) is not so true. Yes, GTK+ applications still work in KDE, but when running, they look like one is running Windows 95. It's a big disappointment aesthetically, considering GNOME completely carries over the Qt-look from Qt-based applications when running in GNOME.
This extends to even non-GTK+-based applications like Firefox and OpenOffice.Org. It's especially bad in OO.O as all of the icons turn into boxes of text, hiding half of the menu bars due to the long boxes of text. KDE probably wants one to use the native KOffice, even though this isn't even installed by default with KDE 4.3. Even worse, KOffice has much worse feature, font, and cross-product/file type compatibility support than OO.O. This is probably also why GNOME doesn't force AbiWord and Gnumeric on users by default except on lower-end distributions (and even then, AbiWord and Gnumeric have much better support for features and cross-software compatibility than KWord and KSpread). This isn't as much of an issue in Firefox, but GNOME integrates Firefox much better than KDE does. KDE probably wants one to use the native Konqueror browser (though it doesn't even come with KDE 4.3 by default), but GNOME doesn't usually require the native Epiphany browser like this; furthermore, versus Firefox, in terms of customizability and proper rendering of pages, Konqueror is on par with Internet Explorer 5 - it just isn't there.
One very bright spot is the selection of games (not real games, just diversions a la "Solitaire"). The selection of games is much nicer in KDE than in GNOME, and I would definitely play those just to keep myself busy for a few minutes when not doing something else.
The other, more important, bright spot is the file manager Dolphin. Nautilus (GNOME's file manager), take note. Dolphin has a lot more support for different types of viewing, like Mac OS X Finder-style split-pane viewing combined with tabbed viewing. It has a preview pane which allows one to really see a big (not tiny) preview of the document in question before opening it.
I will be keeping KDE 4.3 on my computer, but after spending a week with it, I'm ready to go back to GNOME. There are simply too many compatibility issues with non-Qt-based applications to continue with KDE, and the speed and stability isn't really what I'm used to from a Linux system. That said, I will still use Dolphin and all of the neat KDE games (in GNOME), but I will wait to truly switch to KDE.

Reflection: Is the National Honors Society still about Honor?

After talking with a few friends and fellow students, I think I have fully (in my mind) fleshed out an opinion on our school's chapter of the National Honors Society. This, however, will solely focus on the recent cookie dough sale.
[Note]: Some of the things in this post may strike you as too controversial or offensive, and for that, I sincerely apologize. Though I have many grievances against the organization, (a) its core intentions are good and (b) it's not worth leaving when I only have a few months of school left so I am staying in the organization.
Furthermore, I want to say to those NHS officers who may be reading this that this is in no way meant as an attack on your person or character. This is meant to just be my thoughts about the organization as a whole, and if you find this offensive, I sincerely apologize. [/Note]
Other people in this organization (who also don't like the organization's current modus operandi) have said that the current state of affairs has only been true for the last year or 2. Before, the NHS was much more dedicated to actual community service, though they did not participate in as many events overall. Fundraising was not a priority.
Now, members must sell (under the threat of revocation of membership or other penalty) 4 tubs of cookie dough at $15.00 each (for those NHS graduates reading this, they raised the price by $1/tub). This is true for the fall and spring cookie dough sales. The fall one is understandable as the proceeds go to helping villages in Kenya. The spring one, though: do we really need that much money to continue operating? Or is Ms. Cresham just wasting a lot of money on who-knows-what?
Furthermore, why must members sell 4 tubs of cookie dough? I think it's perfectly fair to ask 15 hours of service each year towards NHS. This is the kind of service the organization should focus on. By contrast, selling requires people to want to buy cookie dough; this also requires finding buyers.
I know this may seem a little odd or offensive, but I just can't help but notice a cultural difference in selling cookie dough. Almost all of the "big sellers" that Ms. Cresham touts are Caucasian; props to them for their great sales. Yet, almost all of the people who complain about not being able to sell cookie dough are not Caucasian. From my own experience, cookie dough is not a hot seller with Indian families; yes, families might buy a tub, but it will last a very long time. By contrast, families here will buy a lot because they can finish that much by the time the next cookie dough sale comes around. My emphasis is not on how much one can eat but on how much a Caucasian American family vs. an immigrant Asian family actually wants the food. That said, I'm not trying to disparage Indian people - quite the opposite: maybe the NHS should try selling dough used for making samosas. Even then, though, there's a lot more emphasis (as far as I've seen) on cooking fresh food from scratch in Indian families (and presumably other Asian families as well), whereas here, families are a lot more receptive to premade foods like cookie dough. Even my cousin who bakes often makes her own dough; she doesn't use stuff like premade cookie dough.
Another thing to point out, as Ms. Cresham herself points out at the beginning of this cookie dough sale, is that the people who sell crazy amounts of dough do so because their parents have huge connections. This is perfectly fine with me; that said, not everyone is so well connected to people who would be so willing to fund an enterprise like the NHS.
Because of the issues of ethnicity (and the resulting affinity or revulsion towards premade cookie dough) and business connections (and the resulting success or failure to sell large amounts of cookie dough), why must students sell 4 tubs of dough? Many of the people who I talked to who were complaining about this minimum genuinely could not sell 4 tubs - they had to buy some (or all) themselves, and then they have to finish those tubs (without being able to cook them as no one in the house knows how); I was also in the position of having to buy a tub of cookie dough for myself (though the stuff is actually good, so this reason is only partially true to the argument).
I think it's fine that the organization is doing the cookie dough sale; I just think forcing members to sell a minimum number of tubs is too fraught with problems. I think the NHS should mandate members to participate in other activities for hours. I'm fine with them requiring members to do the Miniwalk (though I'm still not OK with the mandatory $15 for the (invariably oversized) shirt and donation). More such actual service requirements would be much greater appreciated (at least from my end).


Sarah Palin is Right - For Once and Once Only

I don't like Sarah Palin.
It's obvious that she wants to spread misinformation about current government policies for her own benefit. In fact, facts themselves are nuisances to her.
Thankfully she's not VP.
That said, Newsweek this week had a cover story on her and why she's bad for the GOP; while this in itself was not bad, Sarah Palin called the cover picture of her (stolen from some celebrity magazine or some such thing) sexist.
I totally agree.
It's obvious Newsweek wanted to provoke a visceral negative reaction, so they used the picture they did. Even editor-in-chief John Meacham had no excuse other than that they tried to use the "most interesting picture" possible.
Seriously, this level of sexism is too much, and it has got to stop. Newsweek does already have journalistic credibility; they lost a fair amount of it for this one picture, which they didn't need to use in the first place.


I Won't Be in Chicago

because that city is rigged.
There seem to be over 1500 security cameras in Chicago.
Why so many?
I can understand a bunch of traffic cameras, but this seems like overkill.
In general, I'm pretty wary of this level of government monitoring of citizens; I'd hate to be in the UK (especially London), where this sort of camera system is prevalent and everyone must have an ID card on them at all times.
Now, one might say that they have nothing to hide so they have no problem with these actions.
What if something previously legal becomes illegal? What if I do something that's legal but not fully accepted by society at large? What if for whatever reason the police has a grudge against me? What if I just want my privacy?
This sort of monitoring is ridiculous, and it can only stop with an outcry from affected citizens.
Otherwise, get used to some more Big Brother.


Firefox Den Einai Xenos!

(Poor translation on Google Translate: Firefox Is No Stranger!)
Apparently, to IBM, it is.
To summarize, it seems like someone applying for a job to fix/manage Linux servers through an Indian contractor has been fired for using Linux and/or Firefox.
It is not surprising that a Linux project manager at IBM (whom he had to contact to notify completion of an online competency test made by VISA) should not know what Linux is when told that this may be a reason why the page for the test isn't rendering at all.
"What's this [Foxfire] thing?" (The braces indicate emphasis which was not originally present.)
Are you serious?
Are you telling me that in this day and age where Firefox has 25% market share of web browsers and has crossed 50% in many countries (mostly in Europe), there are still people, much less technology company project managers (specializing in Linux, no less), who don't know what Firefox is?
This is, to say the least, ridiculous.
The story gets better.
After trying to get around the problem through IE4Linux and messing around with the user agent strings in Firefox, this person calls tech support. Rather than actually give him help, tech support takes note of who he is, confirms the identity with the IBM Linux project manager, and relays the information upwards. The person is fired for "refusing to use Windows and Internet Explorer".
Linux has a long ways to go before it can truly supplant Windows; it is not surprising (but sad) that a refusal to use Windows can be harmful.
A refusal to use IE? Can that still be bad in this day and age?
What if he used a Mac and was using Safari? Would he still have been rejected? If not, it's a clear prejudiced bias against Linux. If so, the project manager has been living under a rock.
What really finishes the story is the irony of the whole thing, as IBM supposedly "supports Linux".
Tech support really needs a massive overhaul at every company. Ignorance like this just can't go on.


Thank You, Microsoft

Could I really be saying this?
Yes, I am.
Microsoft has finally owned up to a GPL violation - a recent one involving its USB/DVD manager in Windows 7.
They did not give any excuses or fibbing about how the GPL technically may not apply to them or any of that. They simply said that it should not have happened but did because of sloppy review of code contracted out.
Props to Microsoft for some much-needed honesty.


What Will Stop the MPAA?

This is really unfortunate (Kathie Dickerson, Coshocton Tribune).
This is the kind of overzealous copyright enforcement I am worried will become a common occurrence in the future; it's why I don't support copyrights in general.
To summarize, the MPAA (movie making industry lobby) has shut down an entire town's wifi because of a single illegally downloaded movie.
I don't support such illegal downloads. I also don't support the myriad restrictions on movie files, but I don't support illegally downloading a movie for free if a fee is charged. People will pay a fee if they feel like the product is worth it. Those that don't but still acquire the movie are stealing; it is in fact the same as eating an apple that isn't yours (though that's where the idea-property analogy ends).
Yet, why should an entire town have to suffer for a single isolated online theft? Should a national grocery store chain (by analogy with the MPAA's nationwide presence) close down one of its stores just because the store owner realizes that a single item has been taken (say, a candy next to the check-out counter) without being paid for? That would be ruinous for the townspeople.
Please, if you find yourself in a situation like this, ask the MPAA, RIAA, or whatever to stop.
This story has also been reported on BoingBoing and Slashdot; you can read more there.


Microsoft's Ball-mer-zheimer's Disease

I just combined "Ballzheimer's" Disease (The Daily Show) with Steve Ballmer to make a crude but semi-accurate description of Microsoft's latest patent move (PJ from Groklaw).
To summarize, Microsoft has basically patented "su"/"sudo" (the superuser (root) command in *nix) through creation of a "su"-GUI. In essence, it has tried to patent "su"/"sudo" itself.
To me, this is one of the more extreme examples of Microsoft's protection of its software through patents, but it certainly is typical of its general behavior.
I think the Free Software Foundation and/or GNU project should sue Microsoft for violating a (presumably) GPL'ed piece of code. Microsoft should be able to use it as long as the resulting software is just as free as the original software. That said, given Microsoft's recent history of GPL violations, I don't expect that to be a deterrent.
It's a sad day for the technology community when "su"/"sudo" (a tool created in the 1970s (!)) becomes patented.


How-To: Make a Multiboot Live USB Stick

This is something that I wanted to do for a while to show those interested what Linux is like on the fly. However, I only finished this yesterday.
The USB stick in question is an 8 GB Sandisk Cruzer Micro.
The distributions used are PCLinuxOS 2009.2 (KDE), Fedora 11 (GNOME), Linux Mint 7 (Xfce), and the latest version of PartedMagic. These are the only distributions I've successfully put on a multiboot live USB stick, so I'll only talk about how to create this step.
In terms of setup before the actual live USB creation process, a few steps must be taken. As far as I know, due to Windows only recognizing FAT and NTFS partitions, the steps I used will only work on Linux. My preferred partition editor is GParted. Also, if you don't have UNetBootin, get it beforehand. Finally, make sure that your computer has a CD-RW drive and that you have spare empty CD-R/CD-RWs.
The first distribution to add is PCLinuxOS.
If there are any existing partitions, remove and replace them with a single FAT32 primary partition covering the entire disk.
Next, download the PCLinuxOS 2009.2 KDE ISO image from the Internet and burn the image to (not on) the CD-R/CD-RW. (If, after this step, the disk is ejected, reinsert it but close any autorun dialogs.)
Next restart the computer and (if necessary, reconfigure the BIOS to) boot from the live CD (that is, the CD with the PCLinuxOS image on it).
After that is all done, go to the PCLinuxOS main menu and click on "Make Live USB". Please make sure that the correct USB stick is being written to (you can check this as root in Terminal through the command "fdisk -l" and determining which USB stick with its free space correctly corresponds to your stick, if you know what I mean).
Restart the computer and, after modifying the BIOS to boot from the USB stick, make sure that the live USB works properly.
If it does, it is time to move on. (Revert the BIOS to boot from the hard disk drive.) If not, make sure that you followed all of the steps listed here in the given order.
To prepare for the remaining distributions, in GParted, trim the primary FAT32 partition with PCLinuxOS on it until there is about 100-150 MB of free space left on that partition. Fill the remaining unallocated space with an extended partition. Finally, fill this extended partition with 2 logical FAT32 partitions of size 850 MB (each), another logical FAT32 partition of size 400 MB, and a logical FAT32 partition that takes up the remainder of the extended partition.
The second, third, and fourth distributions are Fedora, Linux Mint, and PartedMagic. Download all of these respective ISO images from the Internet, and use UNetBootin and the "Disk Image" feature to write the images to the partitions. The Fedora and Linux Mint images should go separately in each of the 850 MB partitions, while the PartedMagic image should go in the 400 MB partition. UNetBootin recognizes partitions by disk drive name and number rather than by size, so to verify which partition is which, as root in Terminal type in "fdisk -l" to know which partition to write to in UNetBootin. After each write, verify that the live USB image works properly by booting from the USB. Each time a new image is written by UNetBootin to a partition, that partition is automatically flagged as bootable.
These steps will not allow you to select from all of the distributions which one to boot from (i.e. from a giant GRUB menu list upon booting). You much change which distribution to boot from manually in GParted by modifying the "boot" flag.
If you followed all of these steps and it all works, you should be good to go! If not, please leave a comment!


Comparison Test: Linux Mint 7, Windows XP, Fedora 11

Edmunds.com's InsideLine has a very nice method of formatting comparison tests of cars, so I will try to emulate that for this comparison test of OSs.
The contenders are Linux Mint 7 "Gloria", Windows 5.1 "XP SP3" (yes, 5.1 is the technical designation of version XP SP3), and Fedora Linux 11 "Leonidas".
Linux Mint and Windows are booting from my Sony VAIO desktop's HDD, while Fedora is booting as a live USB from my Sandisk Cruzer Micro 8 GB USB stick.

3rd place - Windows 5.1 "XP SP3"
While this is the dominant OS in the marketplace, it just doesn't seem to be up to the snuff of the other OSs. The aesthetics, while subjective, look cartoony, and that's the least of its worries. Though its support for commercial games and other productivity/graphics/other software is very good, it requires too many auxiliary pieces of software (i.e. antivirus, etc.) to run stably, and it is far slower than the other 2 OSs. Any peripherals need extra installation of drivers, and any other codecs need to be installed (separately) afterwards.
2nd place - Fedora Linux 11 "Leonidas"
This is one of the heavyweights of Linux distributions. Based on the commercial (but still free software) Red Hat, hardware support out of the box is excellent without needing to install 3rd-party drivers. Codec support is somewhat spotty but is easily remedied through one or two command. While support for commercial software is somewhat spotty, it is easily remedied through Wine or other similar software or through use of alternatives. The mix of software out of the box is excellent, though aesthetics, while subjective, look too utilitarian and old-school.
1st place - Linux Mint 7 "Gloria"
This is a nice up-and-coming distribution. Based almost completely off of Ubuntu 9.04 "Jaunty Jackalope", hardware support out of the box is decent, but codec support is excellent out of the box. The aesthetics, while subjective, look very polished and professional (while subdued), and the mix of software provided out of the box definitely fills the niche of the average user. That said, commercial software support is spotty at best, though it does not require auxiliary software to run properly. This OS boots and runs extremely quickly and allows for much customization easily.
Speed (20%)
Tie - Linux Mint and Fedora
Both seem to boot in under 30 seconds and have everything else running by then. Also, slowdowns in one program do not affect other programs or OS operation. They both simply leave Windows in the dust, even though Fedora was disadvantaged by booting from a Live USB. Furthermore, neither Linux distribution needs to restart after installing new hardware or software, seriously improving productivity versus Windows.

Aesthetics (5%)
Winner - Linux Mint
Loser - Fedora
Linux Mint's interface is extremely polished and easy to use. By contrast, while Fedora's serves the purpose easily, it is not much to look at (in my opinion). Windows falls somewhere in the middle.

Commercial Software Support (10%)
Winner - Windows
As the OS of choice for the vast majority of PC users, Windows support for commercial software simply leaves the other two OSs in the dust. While this is being (slightly) remedied through Wine or virtualization, due to the closed-source nature of this software, support will never be as good in Linux until developers start to take notice of it.

Out-of-the-box Software Support (10%)
Winner - Linux Mint
Loser - Windows
Simply put, both of these OSs have far better out-of-the-box software mixes than Windows. That said, Linux Mint has the fully-featured OpenOffice.Org right out of the box, while Fedora only provides AbiWord (and not the accompanying Gnumeric). Still, Windows' Microsoft Works isn't up to snuff with these pieces of software, and both distributions have more and easier-to-use system utilities than Windows.

Out-of-the-box Hardware Support (20%)
Winner - Fedora
Loser - Windows
Fedora provides out-of-the-box support for my peripherals, even my webcam, without the need to install proprietary drivers. Linux Mint does this too but for some reason cannot seem to register my mic properly. Windows, on the other hand, needs 3rd-party driver support for any peripheral to work.

Stability/Security (25%)
Tie - Linux Mint and Fedora
Put simply, Windows will die without antivirus or antispyware protection. This is partly due to the horribly designed user permissions system. By contrast, both Linux distributions need one to manually activate a virus for it to work; furthermore, more market share for Linux will not lead to increasing incidences of viruses on either system.

Customizability (10%)
Winner - Linux Mint
Loser - Windows
With Linux Mint, custom themes and other software can easily be downloaded from an online source and installed with the click of a button; they can also easily be reverted as well. Fedora isn't as great as some extra work needs to be done to get the customizations to take effect. By contrast, Windows practically can't be customized (meaningfully) at all.

1st place - 2 points
2nd place - 1 point
3rd place - 0 point
Tie (1st place) - 2 points each
Tie (2nd place) - 1 point each

Final Scores:
Linux Mint - 1.7
Fedora - 1.6
Windows - 0.7

Though it may seem like Linux Mint mathematically won, in any case, both Linux distributions blew Windows out of the water, but I felt more satisfied using Fedora anyway.
This is not very scientific at all and should not be taken too seriously.


I Knew it was a Scam

Confirming my suspicions all along, Disney has offered refunds for its product Baby Einstein, which is about as close as it has gotten to admitting that the product is a scam (Mira Jacob, Shine).
Ever since it came out, I figured it wouldn't work.
For quite a few years now, researchers on child brain development have held that more varied and engaging external stimuli (things your sensory organs can detect (i.e. sight, sound, etc.)) lead to better brain development of a child and a better-functioning intellect later on.
Most of these tests were done on mice in different environments, one populated with colorful toys and one practically bare. These mice's intelligence were then tested through timing their completion of a maze, among other things.
Disney took this to mean that videos with lots of varied sights (colorful toys, etc.) and sounds (Mozart, etc.) would turn these babies into little "Einsteins".
As far as I know, the problem is that the interaction, to be meaningful, must be physical; that is, the children should be actually seeing and hearing real objects and possibly touching or teething them. Just watching a video screen doesn't have any similar effect; all that does is decrease attention span.
Of course, Baby Einstein isn't the only product guilty of this kind of marketing; LeapFrog is as well. They used to market genuinely educational family games many years ago, but now, with a reputation for making good educational toys, they are just basically marketing Game Boys under a different name; in fact, in some of their TV ads, they say, "and since it's educational, your parents are bound to get you one," unabashedly banking on their brand name to sell decidedly non-educational toys.
I'm glad that this offer has occurred but am still puzzled as to how many otherwise smart parents managed to fall for this.


Let's Clear a Few Things Up

A comment by one of my friends (if you are reading this, you know who you are) today gave me the idea of this post.
Let's clear a few things up about Linux.
First and foremost, Linux is open-source. (Squabble with me about the terminology if you'd like, but that's for another day.) This means that anyone can view and do anything (modify, distribute, etc.) with the source code and program freely and legally.
Next, most, though not all, Linux distributions are free of charge. This means that they are available online for free download (and legally so).
Finally, Linux is an operating system. It is not a Windows-based program (and yes, I have heard people call it that).


What's Next, Singing in the Bathroom?

Seriously, copyright protection is getting way out of hand.
As it seems, a lady working at a supermarket has gotten fined by Scotland's version of the RIAA for singing popular tunes in the store.
How could this happen?
Furthermore, this occurred after a similar warning from that organization that playing songs from the radio would require paying royalties to the artists.
Haven't we gotten over the first part already? The radio station already pays for the performance, so asking for payment from listeners sounds like double-dipping. It's not right.
Thus, the radio removal should never have occurred.
That aside, who has the gall to fine someone for singing informally?
The performance itself is different and doesn't infringe upon the original label, as the worker's voice is different and does not have the benefit of accompanying instruments.
In fact, shouldn't the worker, if anything, be demanding royalties from others who listen as part of a "public performance"?
It's the most ridiculous thing I've heard so far. Thankfully, this seems to only have been the work of a new and/or overzealous worker at the PRS (the organization in question), and the organization has profusely apologized for the misunderstanding. It's obvious that they're trying to save face, but at least they didn't press the case, acting like total buffoons in the process.
What's next, suing for singing in the bathroom?


But Won't it hurt Librarians?

I remember having a conversation with the school media center specialists about a month ago.
The topic? Copyright law and intellectual property. (I didn't think of posting it until now.)
Basically, our school's librarians are in favor of keeping the current copyright status quo and ardently defend intellectual property.
It makes sense (initially) that one's ideas are property and that taking them is tantamount to stealing - until one reads some history.
Only for the past few years have ideas been treated like physical property. Before, the Founding Fathers, among other scholars and officials, clearly made the distinction between intellectual and physical property. Who's always been trying to destroy that distinction and is pretty much succeeding now? Big media (news, recording, movie, publishing) companies and their lobbies.
So what was the librarian's argument?
Intellectual property is a vital incentive for authors to further produce creative works.
I agreed with this in general, but said that a more reasonable time period would be appreciated (the original 14 years as specified in the Copyright Act of 1790 instead of the current life + 95 years).
She said that my opinion would change if I had a family and made creative works, saying that I would be much more willing to support my family then.
I didn't say this to her, but seriously?
Supporting my family is one thing, but I think that maintaining exclusive rights to works up to 95 years past my lifetime is akin to stealing.
Yes, I'd be stealing money and rights to ideas from a deserving public, giving these to grandchildren and beyond who probably will barely know me and won't create many of their own works due to these protection laws.
Furthermore, I've recently read (online) of countless authors who go so far as to encourage their readers to pirate their books.
Right now, publishing companies are claiming (with little official or corporate resistance) such broad intellectual property rights (especially with ebooks) that libraries are being threatened (because soon they won't be able to open up ebooks for limited-time use by the public due to exclusive rights held by the publishers).
So why are the school librarians supporting a position that is detrimental to their jobs?

As an aside, I also wanted to discuss a dispute that came up in my English class. One of my classmates handed out CDs to every student; these CDs were (identical (to each other)) playlists (by this classmate) of existing copyrighted songs by different artists. My teacher refused one out of fear of a copyright lawsuit. He said that while making 1 or 2 copies for personal use qualifies as fair use, making 30 copies starts to infringe on the copyrights and is almost commercial in nature. My argument was that as long as the enterprise is strictly noncommercial, a CD containing a playlist generated by the creator but containing other copyrighted songs is a derivative work and is protected under fair use regardless of the number of copies distributed (as long as none of them are first-sold). I looked this up online and got vague or irrelevant answers.
Does anyone else have an opinion or piece of evidence one way or the other with respect to this?


Another Case of "Microsoft the Valiant Bloody Hero"

Journalists (original article reported by Diane Bartz, Reuters) aren't doing their jobs.
Some are good in areas like politics, the economy, and other stuff, but technology seems to be an area where all outside journalists do a poor job.
Why do I say this?
Just to summarize, a new report from Symantec has shown an increase cybercrime through use of disguised malware (as antimalware programs).
Not once does this report mention that this likely only affects Windows users.
Granted, Linux and BSD users are practically invisible to other computer users, but Mac users are pretty visible (especially through recent ad campaigns from Apple).
Why can't they add this little clarification?
That's because it ties into the next question: isn't anyone suspicious that the report on cybercrime is sponsored by Symantec, a company that deals almost exclusively with antimalware programs for charge?
I think that Symantec is using this as a platform to sell their products; "cybercrime is on the rise, so you should buy Norton security programs from Symantec!"
If they mentioned that Mac and Linux/BSD users are virtually immune to these attacks, people would take a second look at these OSs that don't require extra software just to keep the system secure to usable levels. Guess what that means? Symantec would basically go out of business.
This is far from the first instance of bad journalism in failing to mention that small but still significant portions of the computer-using population are immune to these attacks. That said, it's one of the worse (but not the worst) article of its kind that I've seen; in fact, there is not one mention of even the word "Windows" (in reference to the OS(s) at risk).
Come on, journalists. Can't you actually do some proper investigation again?


Reflection: Raffle Fundraiser

I'd like to do a little retrospective about the Robotics Club and it's most recent fundraiser - the raffle sale with prizes consisting of Chipotle gift cards.
Overall, we made $114, but the gift cards cost $50 in total. $64 in profits is certainly more than what I was expecting.
I want to thank everyone who helped out with this and bought tickets. You've all been amazing. Again, thank you.
That said, there were quite a few things that went wrong.
First, our advertising campaign was not timely. Part of this is my fault, as I did not create and post the fliers in a timely manner (I did it on the schoolday before the first day of sales). Also, some of the fliers could have been posted in strategically better locations. Furthermore, the video could have been made and submitted to the TV studio in a more timely manner. To those whom it may concern, please do not wait until the last second for making and submitting a video for the morning announcements!
Second, we really overestimated the number of people who like Chipotle. This was based off of an unscientific appraisal of classmates' preferences. Next time, we should either sell baked goods, fried rice, or samosas.
Third, the box was mishandled. Next time, there should always be someone attending the table.
Fourth, the tickets were mishandled. Everyone should know exactly what to do when distributing goods and collecting money.
Fifth, we are the Robotics Club. I am not ashamed of this, but this club doesn't exactly inspire the same kinds of contributions from outsiders as does the National Honors Society.
Sixth, the fundraiser itself was a week long. On the one hand, it may have helped bring in more money overall, but on the other hand, there were a lot of multiple requests for others to buy tickets. This probably ticked a lot of people off.
Seventh, the entire after-school thing was mishandled. The first day, this was my fault in that I didn't show up soon enough. The next 2 days, however, made me mad. I had booked the entire week for all those times and it was OK. On Tuesday, however, the Happy-happy-joy-joy-sunshine club shows up; on Wednesday, it's the Fried Rice sale. If there really is a conflict, can't the administrators notify the later group properly? Also, isn't robotics more important to the academic advancement of this school than happy-joy-sunshine or whatever?
Let's all keep this in mind for the next fundraiser.
Anything I missed?


128-bit Windows

A few Linux blogs (e.g. Linux in Exile, Linux Today Blog, etc.) are decrying the new proposal for 128-bit Windows.
Now, I'm no Microsoft fan, but I repeat:
It seems to me that these Linux bloggers (who I do otherwise respect) are hating on it just because they didn't develop it but Microsoft is.
Now, it may also be because given Microsoft's history of making all of their software as closed/proprietary as possible, this new 128-bit proposal will result in a more proprietary FAT128 format, among other things.
That makes sense.
Otherwise, what's the big deal?
Isn't the point of Linux, free software, and other open things to innovate upon other people's already good work?
This seems to me like not a legitimate case of Microsoft hate but just pure jealousy.
Just this time, please stop.


FOLLOW-UP: Is the National Honors Society still about Honor[insert suffix here]?

I intended to include a promise at the end of the original post about the certainty of a follow-up. I forgot to include that line, but here it is anyway.
I am staying in NHS. I asked the coordinator (in a strictly nonconfrontational way) my questions and got satisfactory answers.
First, the membership fee is nothing new. Apparently, the membership fee and the second (spring) Cookie Dough sale are needed to cover operating costs, and even then, we barely keep any of the money.
Second, there is no requirement to actually bring a friend to the Mini-Walk. The only requirement is that said friend pay the same fee to participate. Bringing a friend is just strongly encouraged, but there is no punishment (explicit or otherwise) for not doing this.
Next, I got the impression that the coordinator and the professional liaison only wanted focus on money rather than the actual target of charity. This is because the target actually isn't specific. The first (fall) Cookie Dough sales will go through KenyaConnect (as it always has) to go to villages in Kenya. Last year, they could give specifics because conditions were alright to commit to specific projects (i.e. school chairs and tables, water tanks, gates and fences). This year, with the drought and famine (for the last 8 months) in Kenya, it is still unclear to even KenyaConnect as to how exactly the money will be allocated. That's why the focus was more on actually raising the money itself.
Finally, I did not get a chance to ask about Windows on used computers, but I plan to later on.
Also, some other things that the NHS does is help out with the Children's Inn at NIH, various senior nursing homes, and other things.
This all is enough to convince me that the NHS is a (mostly) charitable fundraising organization, and that's enough to make me stay.

Obama: Nobel Peace Laureate?

Yes folks, the Nobel Peace Prize committee has awarded President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize (Karl Ritter and Matt Moore, AP).
It's a strange choice, if you ask me.
I like President Obama, and while there are certainly a lot of things he could be doing better, I think he's going in the right general direction.
That said, what has Obama done to deserve this? The nomination was sent in less than a month into his presidency!
Though Obama has taken a lot of steps to try to make the world a better place, such as reductions in nuclear weapons and calls for settlement freezes and peace treaties between Israel and the Palestinian territories, the people he has called on around the world to work with him have not reciprocated. Russia has put pressure on the US on the nuclear issue, Israel refuses to freeze settlements, and China is threatening the US with economic harm if it meets with one of the most recognizable messengers of peace in the world - the Dalaï Lama.
Some of the people who have supported the prize, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have done so in the hopes that it would encourage further peace-building.
Shouldn't the Peace Prize be given to people who have already done a plethora of work towards global peace rather than be an encouragement for such actions?
Furthermore, there's a lot of domestic opposition to his attempts to further the cause of peace, arguing that he is an appeaser (he is to the Israelis on the issues of settlement freezes (versus his own previous tough stance) and to the Chinese on meeting with the Dalaï Lama, but otherwise, he is only an appeaser when compared to the super-hard-line Bush).
So why did he get the prize again? I'm sure that there were plenty more people who have already done a lot of work to further the cause of global peace.


Is the National Honors Society still about Honor[insert suffix here]?

Today there was a National Honors Society meeting in our school after school.
NHS is supposed to be an organization dedicated to (from the website) "Scholarship, Service, Leadership, and Character".
(From the website,) Members must be morally upright, set an example for peers, and perform service for the betterment of the community without regard to money.
Yet this is not what I saw on display at today's meeting. All I saw was talk about money, moolah, and more bucks.
For one, this is the first year that the NHS at our school has instituted a $10 membership fee. Why? Have operating costs skyrocketed so much that fundraisers explicitly for the club (i.e. the Spring Cookie Dough sale) can't cover them? If so, that's understandable. If not, I'm wondering if NHS is any longer about service, charity, or being non-profit.
While the next thing is nothing new, I am still puzzled as to why the coordinator and executive board members require those participating in the Mini-Walk for the homeless to bring another non-member student and that those non-member students should also pay fees.
First of all, what's wrong with just bringing a friend who doesn't want to go to the Walkathon in DC? It's great to encourage friends to also come to the Walkathon, but I think mandating friends to come for this is going a bit too far.
Second, why must a non-member friend come too? Again, encouraging people to bring friends and donate to the homeless is great, but a lot of people I know who are going are already in NHS. What's wrong with walking with them?
While all of the funds go to the actual Walkathon, I am still suspicious about this sort of authoritarian attitude towards this event. It's supposed to be fun, but it's starting to look less like that now.
Next, the attitude displayed by the coordinator and by the professional liaison for fundraising was a bit disappointing. Rather than focus on the target of the fundraising (i.e. Kenyan schools and villages), the focus was just on the fundraising itself and the prizes. Why?
The only other beef I have is with the computer drive in that the computers have Windows on them. My problem is that they are quickly going to break down, and the recipients of these computers will have very little skills to fix them and will probably have to pay exorbitant prices to computer professionals to have the job done. This, of course, is only based upon what I know about the program; I'm unsure of all of the details, so this is a story for another day. This is just a preliminary thought (i.e. about the old computers).
Thus, it seems to me that the NHS is being motivated more by profit than by actual community benefit. It's making me doubt the philosophy behind the organization.
I'm planning to get all of these questions answered tomorrow before giving the checks for NHS fees and for the Mini-Walk. If the answers are satisfactory, I'll stay. If not, sayonara, NHS!

Another New Vaccine, Another Scare

(main article by Mike Stobbe, AP)
Now with the swine flu vaccine being administered in large numbers, according to this Associated Press poll, about 1/3 of parents of toddlers and school-age children oppose vaccinating their children.
Why is that problematic/troubling?
For one thing, there is an effect with vaccines such that if a large majority (but not necessarily the entirety) of the population is vaccinated, the disease is contained enough that those who don't get vaccinated won't get the disease.
This fails to be true when numbers as large as 1/3 of school-age children are not vaccinated. Now, many more people can get and spread the disease because fewer people are being vaccinated.

"Jackie Shea of Newtown, Conn., the mother of a 5-year-old boy named Emmett, says the vaccine is too new and too untested."
That is a fair concern, as this is a new disease. Though it has been established that swine flu more adversely affects kids around Emmett's age as well as the elderly, the vaccine itself may still show side effects not-yet-known now later on.

But, "We're talking about putting an unknown into him. I can't do that."
Apparently this lady has no idea how a vaccine works.
A vaccine is a shot of weakened or dead viruses into the bloodstream. The idea is that these viruses are not harmful, so the immune system can form the proper cells to combat this virus (when it does show up for real) without any other effects (i.e. actually falling sick).
Yes, swine flu is a new disease, but as it is a virus, this is pretty much the only way to prevent actually falling sick from swine flu, which would be detrimental to younger kids' health.
Furthermore, kids spread it easier than other people due to not being trained in proper hygiene techniques earlier on (among other things), so why doesn't this lady want her child to be protected?

"Basically, the swine flu is the flu. I'm not overly excited about it," said Julie Uehlein, a Tullahoma, Tenn., mother who is against swine flu vaccinations for her 8-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.

"My concerns about the vaccine are what are the long-term effects," she added.

The swine flu is not the flu. A regular flu shot will not protect one from swine flu, as they are different viruses!
That said, the concern about long-term effects is a valid one, but that is only if these children have been vaccinated before (seasonal flu shots, MMR, etc.) and have shown adverse reactions to these vaccines.

This following series of statements, however, is most troubling.

Fears that the preservative or something in vaccines themselves can lead to autism remain entrenched in some quarters — despite no evidence from the most rigorous scientific studies.

Some autism advocacy groups echo parents' concerns about swine flu vaccine, and also argue it's a bad idea to spend so much time and money on the new flu.

"We're flipping out over swine flu, but it's only affected a few thousand people. Why isn't somebody freaking out about the autism epidemic?" said Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association.

Well, the first sentence says most of it. Even the mainstream media is sick of hearing about the so-called "connection" between thimerosal-preserved vaccines and autism.
Next, why is it a bad idea to spend time and money on flu vaccination efforts? It's saving lives!
Furthermore, while it is true that in the USA, people haven't been affected that much, with increasing global travel, viruses that could once have been contained cannot anymore. Also, how is autism an epidemic? I've read essays by actual autistic people, and while they do need help to live, they don't want to be cured. Then again, the topic of neurodiversity (what autistic people want to call differences in actual brain function) is one for another day.
More to the point, the problem with "freaking out about the autism epidemic" is that about the same percentage of the population has had autism. It's just that before autism became mainstream knowledge, doctors called it other things and put patients in mental institutions, so such conditions were rarely heard of. Now, with widespread knowledge of autism, in many cases doctors are misdiagnosing another set of conditions as autism. It is entirely possible that some mental conditions that exhibit some symptoms of autism are being labeled "autism" due to lack of a more accurate designation.
Yes, autistic people do need care, but why should that take precedence over protecting people's lives?

I want to end with a short discussion I read in another article dealing with vaccines and autism (when not as many studies were done about the link (or lack thereof)). One lady interviewed there said that she would not be vaccinating her children because it would be introducing foreign substances into the body when the body can naturally fight and get rid of these viruses.
Lady, that's exactly how a vaccine works!
Furthermore, do you not know your history? The overwhelming majority of Native Americans were wiped out because of disease carried by European colonists. They had no prior immunity, so their immune systems and bodies succumbed to these new disease. Lady, your children are the immune equivalent of these Native Americans!

(UPDATE: I heard on the news just now what the term is when the majority of the population is immunized, protecting the not-immunized. It's called herd immunity. Thus, what I was trying to say was that herd immunity is lost when large numbers of the population (i.e. 1/3 of it) chooses not to get vaccinated in the face of a new disease.)