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Steve Bogart

News, Pointers & Commentary Archive: April 1998

29 April 1998 "We have a lot in common. We both really care about music, we're both the same age and we're looking to push the envelope. One of these days, we're due for a long chat over a few beers."
--Joe Jackson, on the fact that he and Elvis Costello barely know each other. [USA Today]
Great interview with Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and all-round capital fellow: Wozniak remains the most human technologist I've run across, and I mean that in a good way.
More media attention for Opera, the little browser that can: It rightly points out several of the remaining flaws in Opera but also pegs pretty well the advantages that make people like me not mind too much.
It's a dry name for a Net magazine, but I've been looking over their first issue and like what I see. In particular, check out this fun Carl Steadman column: Note: Their server seems pretty slow. Be patient.
TV Talk: Last night's Frasier was pretty good but not what I was expecting -- all the ads said 'the cat's out of the bag!' and that Niles would ask Daphne out and they would have dinner. Well, they had dinner but Niles did not in fact ask her out and nothing was ever let out of the bag. It was a fine episode in every other respect but flat-out lying in the ads to heighten expectations (hmm, false advertising?) is just wrong. C-.

NYPD Blue was just great last night though. (Did you know Jimmy Smits is leaving? When did this happen? I didn't know until I ran across the note at the top of Alan Sepinwall's fine NYPD Blue page; go there for an explanation and for good episode reviews.) A highlight for me was seeing Darren Burrows, better known to many as Ed Chigliak from Northern Exposure, playing a militia member/perp. The whole episode shone, though: Andy's prostate cancer operation and the beginning of his recovery process (with the excellent and much-missed Sharon Lawrence) were riveting, and the interrogation of the five militia guys was tense enough to keep me glued to the screen the rest of the time. A.

Babylon 5 was pre-empted last night for ... wrestling. Grrrrrrrrr.

28 April 1998 "Drunkenness is temporary suicide."
--Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), British philosopher, mathematician
If a news site which has Intel as an investor finds good news to report about Apple, something must be turning around:
A commercial vendor of Linux is having trouble getting its OS bundled on PCs; they say Microsoft is pressuring one of the top 5 manufacturers not to work with them: I understand they're one of the top 5 PC makers, so they had to be asked for this article, but who in their right mind would want to associate Linux with Packard Bell? <shudder>
27 April 1998 Nope, nothing to say in my little space today. Not even a pithy quote from somebody else.
Now that's darn interesting (for, uh, geeks like me anyway): I've been fairly certain that Unix still has numerous advantages over Windows NT, but lacked any sort of detailed reasons to support that position (being still fairly inexperienced with Unix). Well, check this puppy out: Some particularly biting quotes:
"Any Unix with loadable module support is ... by nature more appropriate for a server environment because almost all configuration changes [such as loading/unloading drivers for SCSI cards, sound cards, network cards] do not require system restarts. Windows NT doesn't even come close. Even insignificant changes to a Windows NT configuration require or request a shutdown and reboot in order to make the changes take effect. Change the IP address of your default gateway and you need to reboot."

"Windows NT is less stable than Unix because it is more vulnerable to clashing shared libraries (DLL conflicts). But it is only left vulnerable in this way because Microsoft likes to overwrite existing system DLLs with its applications (thus secretly 'upgrading' the operating system in ways no competitor would dare to do) to gain unfair leverage against its competition. 'Fixing' the DLL problem is technical simplicity. It simply isn't desirable from Microsoft's perspective."

"The future of Windows NT is threatened less by the superiority of its competition than the inferiority of Windows NT, which results from Microsoft's misplaced priorities...Microsoft's design decisions are driven more by its attempt to protect its desktop monopoly than by technical excellence."

Of course, this makes me drool even more over Rhapsody (Unix heart, Mac face)...
So how long can you wait?: Jesse Berst takes it upon himself to state the obvious -- Microsoft keeps competitors at bay by announcing software months or years before it's ready to ship. What's interesting to me is the detail he provides about the reasons: Plus:
"Even if NT 5.0 were released tomorrow, it would still be 18 months late [I didn't know that -SB]. But it won't show up tomorrow. It won't show up in 1998, Microsoft's coy statements to the contrary. It may not even show up in 1999."

Hold the Windows: You'd think it would be possible in a free-market situation to buy a PC without Windows, right? Why pay for the Windows license if you're going to use an alternate OS like BeOS, Linux, or whatever? Good luck -- three of Inter@ctive Week's staffers tried to and couldn't: Repeat after Bill: This is a level playing field...There is no monopoly...Anti-competitive behavior? Moi?...This is a level playing field...
Goodbye Venture:
24 April 1998 Hefty Hefty! (translation: lots o' stuff today)
Self-promotion: I'm in two concerts this coming week, both with the Chamber Choir of Washington University and both free:
I'm adding another regular stop to my surfing adventures: YMMV, or Your Mileage May Vary by Brett Glass and Isobel Nichols. It's another link-and-comment site, and I find that many of his tastes in links are similar to mine (though where he gets the time to do so much linking & writing I can't imagine). When I get a link from his site I'll credit it (but will endeavor to have my own thing to say about it, of course). Same from here on out with links I get from Jorn Barger's Robot Wisdom WebLog.

If I saw something first, though, no dice. ;)

I'll keep a spot at the bottom of the main page as a key to links from other sources.

This might come in handy for me someday: An example of what a poorly-thought-out wholesale migration to Windows NT can do to an organization:
"The impact of the migration completed to date on the call center's IS budget and management has been profound -- a one-third decrease in performance accompanied by a fifty-percent increase in management costs.

This does not include production time lost because of workstation freezes, transmission drops, or the constant re-booting needed to keep the server operational."

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Some poor clueless fool in the year 2000 presidential campaign is going to spam an inordinate number of people and is going to get his or her tush roasted by angry Net folk. Here's some foreshadowing:
"Barnes [...] defended his right to send mass email as falling under the First Amendment. 'What about the issue of political free speech?' he asked rhetorically. 'What about ability to use the Web to register people to vote?'...

...antispam activists point out that there is one major difference: In snail mail carried through the U.S. Postal Service the sender pays for postage. With email, the recipients and their Internet service providers in effect absorb the cost. And that, they say, makes all the difference."

Wow. Another burst of Microsoft propaganda in the form of an 'advertorial' called 'The Freedom to Innovate'. Somehow that doesn't sound right:
Weekend Reading:
23 April 1998 "Thank God for the starch in that shirt or there'd be nothing holding you upright."
--Frasier, after Niles caves to a demand from Maris yet again
Apple's shareholders meeting had some interesting twists, including the possibility that Quicken may rise again. Read the reports:
One of those stories with figures that make an academic webmaster/editor/database-designer go hmmmm....
If Rhapsody is just going to be for servers, why is NeXT (sorry, I mean Apple) putting so much work into making the interface snazzy and easy? And why is it including QuickTime? Hmmm...good questions from the head of a NeXT-oriented software company:
Perl, Perl, Perl: Every time I read an interview with Larry Wall I get an itch to explore Perl, but so far I haven't found the time, and I'm pretty occupied right now with learning the nifty features of the new Frontier. Someday, though, I will do Perl. It just seems too cool to ignore:
The new Superman movie is running into more difficulties...I'd just like to add my voice to those who think Nicolas Cage is just not someone I will be able to believe as Superman.
22 April 1998 "We are all very dependent on technology that doesn't always work," Gates said in reference to a failed microphone. "I live in a house that has 40 Windows machines that turn the lights on and off. It works most of the time, and brings a certain thrill to simple tasks." -- COMDEX site
...Forty??? Works most of the time?!?
Um, surprise: During Bill Gates' demo of Windows 98, his poor unfortunate demo-giving assistant was faced with a (familiar) Blue Screen of Death. There were some scattered laughs from the crowd and a looooong pause. The assistant started to say 'moving right along...' and I'm not sure but I thought I heard Gates say "Looks ready to ship to me. Who wants a copy?" ;)
More on the Quicken thing: An argument that the standard assumption by software (and hardware) companies -- that people will keep upgrading forever -- doesn't really fit the Mac market. Interesting and recommended. Courtesy of MacNN, I note that on the other side of the aisle Intuit is not supporting Windows NT with their TurboTax product.
I was planning on clearing out a lot of my backlog of links onto the page last night, but 'sleep done overtook me'. Some day soon...
I'm now using Frontier 5 for this site. Only a couple of issues left to fix up and it'll be better than new (from my side anyway).
20 April 1998 I've been chugging large doses of Elvis Costello music lately, especially Spike and Brutal Youth. He says more in one stanza of one verse than some other artists say in an entire song... Recommended.
The Chronicle of Higher Education is tracking a number of suspect Microsoft practices:
This comes under the category of 'too strange for me to process':
Followup to the anti-spammer strike: I usually only visit Usenet a few times a year, so I haven't been following the status of the encroachment of spam on all the newsgroups; my impression, however, has been that there hasn't been quite the horrible increase of spam that was predicted a couple of weeks ago. Now the anti-spammers have declared victory and are going back to work (minus the alt.* groups?). The whole exercise does seem like it might do some good overall, even if it didn't play out exactly as predicted.
After many denials of rumors, Intuit has indeed announced the end of Quicken development for the MacOS.

I can sort of understand it... using myself as an example, I'm getting along fine on a 2-year-old version of Quicken without needing to upgrade it every year. It's done everything I've needed it to do; why should I keep upgrading? But if they've stopped making money off of it (partially because of people like me), why continue development?

MacCentral has an interesting interview with an Intuit spokesperson about it all:

Ironically, I might actually buy Quicken 98 sometime in the next few months, just because it's the 'final', 'finished', 'perfected' version...
Of interest to Wash U alums: Ding, dong, the Marriott witch is dead! Wash U's food service contract has been awarded to a different provider, Bon Appetit: It's nice to see Marriott get a stern reminder that one does have to worry about one's service and food quality even when one has a years-long contract. Hopefully Bon Appetit will be an improvement; they certainly talk a good game.
I'm finally starting to get my feet wet in Frontier 5 (not for this site yet, but soon). I'm liking it a lot better than Frontier 4, even though the beta version I'm running is sometimes crashing on exit...maybe if I drop back to 5.0.2b9...
17 April 1998 "[The BBC] provides relief from the compulsion of local news stations to update the weather and the traffic relentlessly every 10 minutes (I have lost untold hours being informed about the commuting conditions on highways I have never seen)."
--Roger Ebert
Bad Idea: There are Things Computers Are For and Things Computers Are Not For. I think this usage lies firmly in column B:
"First, the program is fed information through online textbooks or other sources. It determines mathematically what words should appear, but is flexible enough to accept words with similar meanings, such as physician and doctor.

Then the professor grades enough essays to provide a good statistical sample, and feeds those results to the computer. Laham said student essays receive the same grade as the human-graded essays to which they are most closely matched."

Yecch! Today grammar checkers still get things wrong because (shhh!) they don't really understand grammar, they're just following some written rules. I'm not going to trust whatever rules these people have programmed in; what if I use a word the computer doesn't know? What if I randomly use the right words but in the wrong places? Are there any bugs in this software? How would we know? How would they know?

If I wanted to cheat on an exam, I'd feel much more comfortable throwing significant words from the lessons into semi-random sentences for the computer to pick up & count. Would it catch that I didn't really know what I was talking about? As a student I would spend more effort trying to figure out what the program will like than I would on writing a really good essay. I don't think I'm alone in that either.

Computers can certainly Be For the interpretation of prose; we'd like them to be able to read and 'understand' things and even act on them. Sure, by all means, rah rah, yes indeedy. I just think they should never be used to evaluate prose in this manner.

Weekend Reading: Have a good weekend...
16 April 1998 "Good Morning Silicon Valley...and can we now drop the word 'beleaguered' from references to Apple Computer?"
--John Murrell, San Jose Mercury News
Look at that: Apple made money for the second quarter in a row with a $55 million profit instead of the 'consensus estimate' of $21 million. It's always interesting to me to track how different publications treat the same story. MacWeek, for instance, presents it pretty plainly: Inter@ctive Week, a non-Apple-focused magazine, was rather more dramatic about it: The best summary I found was from the San Jose Mercury News: MacCentral did a neat thing; during the conference call they had a page for 'live' updates that would update itself every 20 seconds with any new tidbit from the call. It has lots of little things that didn't make it into everyone else's summary articles:
15 April 1998 must hurry. very late.
No time for chatter today; here are the interesting links I've accumulated since Monday:
13 April 1998 "If Bill Gates has his way, you'll no longer have the adventure of finding out what you can do. You'll just wait to find out what the latest program can do."
--Kurt Vonnegut
Author, Author: In recent weeks both Neil Gaiman and Kurt Vonnegut have come to Washington University's campus and spoken at an Assembly Series lecture. I saw Gaiman but not Vonnegut (which was all right because I've seen Vonnegut twice before this). For decent summaries of their respective talks (complete with pithy quotes), let's turn to Student Life, the student-run WU newspaper:
Today's Yeesh: Microsoft, in an attempt to improve its public image, has been taking out full-page ads in popular newspapers & magazines. Sure, fine; it's a free country. Their more dubious plan is to submit pro-Microsoft editorials and fake letters-to-the-editor to publications in states that are looking to sue Microsoft. A large "yeesh" to MS' PR department. And a "plblbthlbph" as well. If you have to pay people to speak up and say nice things about you (under assumed names, even)...
Man bites dog: Almost always, it's a movie or actor or music group or book that inspires one or more people to create a site about it/him/her/them. It's nice to see it work in reverse for once:
A new section makes its debut here today: "Clearing My Cache", where I'll throw in any worthy links I've been keeping around for a while but never found that much to say about. Today's CMC theme: web design issues and good practice (funny, that's a familiar theme):
One relevant design note about this site: For a while now I've been updating the appropriate archive page (in this case, April 1998) at the same time that I update the 'live' page, so (in theory) if someone wished to link to a given day's entry s/he could link straight to the archive page right away instead of having to link to the main page and later have to update the link (or else have a broken link).

This is something I've complained about other sites not doing, so I'm happy to announce that I'm at least following my own advice.

Also, each day has an "anchor" associated with it so an incoming link can jump straight to the right day; View Source to see the syntax.

That's plenty for one day, eh? And I didn't even mention Apple once. (Doh! Just did.)

Next update: Wednesday.

10 April 1998 I'm almost through this particular tunnel, I think; maybe another week until I can get back to normal [he said foolishly].
It's been a San Jose Mercury News week; lots of interesting stories from them.
This is one of the funnier humor spams I've received lately. Luckily, I found it on the Web so I will just point to it rather than pollute your inbox with it...
8 April 1998 Barger's Law of Internet Bandwidth: The more interesting your life becomes, the less you post... and vice versa.
--Jorn Barger of the Robot Wisdom WebLog
Hate to disappoint, but objects are hitting fans and I'm just too beat to filter/post/comment/<verb>.
6 April 1998 "[Literary-minded] men choose Hamlet because every man sees himself as a disinherited monarch. Women choose Alice [in Wonderland] because every woman sees herself as the only reasonable creature among crazy people who think they are disinherited monarchs."
--Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
A cure worse than the disease: The optional anti-spam filter in Outlook 98 keeps out good mail as well as bad and (surprise) you can't customize the filter to correct it. More dysfunctional software from Redmond...
Atlas is shrugging: The people who cancel spam posts from newsgroups are going to quit for a while to see if the increased volume of garbage in newsgroups prompts ISPs and users to look into more aggressive antispam measures once they feel the full extent of the problem. The antispammers estimate that about 80 percent of newsgroup traffic is composed of spam and the messages meant to cancel it. On Wash U's newsgroups I haven't seen much of an increase, though it may be that our network admins have their own anti-spam measures in place. Don't know. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.
Jai Singh flames the phone companies for being so slow to improve the bandwidth of consumers:
About half the time I think Jesse Berst is off his nut; the other half he's spot on. I can't decide which it is this time. He does emphasize the insufficiently-publicized point that Windows NT is seriously overpriced, so I like at least some of it:
3 April 1998 "There is no cannibalism in the British Navy, absolutely none, and when I say none, I mean there is a certain amount."
-- Graham Chapman, "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (seen in a .sig)
Some April Fools items from around the Net (note: some are incredibly geeky):
1 April 1998 "It's amazing what people will believe because they got it over the Internet. Be sure to add fresh batteries to your clue meter come April Fools'."
-- Rob Rosenberger, Computer Virus Myths, quoted in USA Today
Beware any e-mails with alarming or shocking news, today more than usual: And of course, anything you receive that says 'send this to everyone you know' should go either to the trash or to a systems administrator for verification instead of polluting the net further...but you knew that...
A few followups:

The BANG meeting report (from Monday) included the sentence "What was refreshing was the lack of immature, unconscionable, mentally-base male attributes of control, domination, and greed." I just skimmed over it without paying much attention, but a perceptive soul called attention to the male-bashing nature of it:

On a theme somewhat similar to my annoyance with the Salon columnist (also Monday), James Cameron himself flames a critic in public for trashing every movie he reviews (including but not limited to Cameron's oeuvre): I still haven't seen Titanic and don't know if I ever will, but regardless, I like what Cameron had to say here.

And from way back when (mid-February), here's a look at FileMaker, Inc's new logo which has since made its appearance on their web site. Doesn't quite live up to the expectation I had given the fuss they made over it (press releases, etc.).
FM logo

And finally, Intel's brand new notebook chip doesn't match the performance of similar chips from its x86 competitors AMD and Cyrix (according to PC World):

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