Thursday, February 09, 2006

Stella Award is no award at all

I've been getting the Stella Award email from a number of sources. It leads off with the following:
Time once again to review the winners of the Annual "Stella Awards." The Stella Awards are named after 81 year-old Stella Liebeck who spilled hot coffee on herself and successfully sued McDonald's (in NM). That case inspired the Stella Awards for the most frivolous, ridiculous, successful lawsuits in the United States.
The problem is that the 2006 winners are the same as the 2004 winners and the 2003 winners. This is from the first page of Google results. If you'd like to see what really happened, you can read about the Stella Liebeck case here. You'll find that yes, she was awarded money, but nothing close to $2.7 million in punitive damages, and that all she wanted from McDonald's to begin with was $20,000 to cover medical expenses.

Moral of the story: Don't eat at McDonalds because it will make you fat, leading to diabetes and heart disease. And don't drink the coffee because it's too hot for human consumption.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Eclipse 3.2 M5 due Feb 17

Eclipse 3.2 M5 is now in the final stretch before its scheduled release on Friday, February 17th. Here is a list of bugs to be fixed for 3.2 M5. I have no idea what new features may be delivered for this specific drop.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

It was 30 years ago today...

It's that time of the year when the infamous Bill Gates letter is pulled out and dusted off. So let's read this letter and take a moment's pause to think about the man and his company, Microsoft.
February 3, 1976

An Open Letter to Hobbyists

To me, the most critical thing in the hobby market right now is the lack of good software courses, books and software itself. Without good software and an owner who understands programming, a hobby computer is wasted. Will quality software be written for the hobby market?[1]

Almost a year ago, Paul Allen and myself, expecting the hobby market to expand, hired Monte Davidoff and delivered Altair BASIC. Though the initial work took only two months, the three of us have spent most of the last year documenting, improving and adding features to BASIC. Now we have 4K, 8K, EXTENDED, ROM and DISK BASIC. The value of the computer time we have used exceeds $40,000.[2]

The feedback we have gotten from the hundreds of people who say they are using BASIC has all been positive. Two surprising things are apparent, however. 1) Most of these "users" never bought BASIC (less than 10% of all Altair owners have bought BASIC), and 2) The amount of royalties we have received from sales to hobbyists makes the time spent of Altair BASIC worth less than $2 an hour.

Why is this? As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid?

Is this fair? One thing you don't do be stealing software is get back at MITS for some problem you hay have had.[3] MITS doesn't make money selling software. The royalty paid to us, the manual, the tape and the overhead make it a break-even operation. One thing you do do is prevent good software from being written. Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? What hobbyist can put 3-man years into programming, finding all the bugs, documenting his product and distribute it for free? The fact is, no one besides us has invested a lot of money into hobby software. We have written 6800 BASIC, and are writing 8080 APL and 6800 APL, but there is very little incentive to make this software available to hobbyists. Most directly, the thing you do is theft.

What about the guys who re-sell Altair BASIC, aren't they making money on hobby software? Yes, but those who have been reported to us my lose in the end. They are the ones who give hobbyists a bad name, and should be kicked out of any club meeting they show up at.

I would appreciate letters from any one who wants to pay up, or has a suggestion or comment. Just write me at 1180 Alvarado SE, #114, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87108. Nothing would please me more than being able to hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software.

Bill Gates
General Partner, Micro-Soft
  1. From Wikipedia:
    "In December 1975, Dick Whipple and John Arnold created an interpreter for the language that required only 3K of RAM. Bob and Dennis decided to publish this version and corrections to the original design documents in a newsletter dedicated to Tiny BASIC, which they called "Dr. Dobb's Journal of Tiny BASIC Calisthenics and Orthodontia". The newsletter's title was changed to Dr. Dobb's Journal of Computer Calisthenics & Orthodontia for the second issue. In the 1976 issues several versions of Tiny BASIC, including design descriptions and full source code, were published."

    From Wikipedia:
    "Forth is a procedural, stack-oriented, reflective programming language and programming environment. It was initially developed by Chuck Moore at the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory in the early 1970s, formalized as a programming language in 1977, and standardized by ANSI in 1994. It features both interactive execution of commands (making it suitable as a shell for systems that lack a more formal operating system), as well as the ability to compile sequences of commands for later execution. Some Forth versions (especially early ones) compile threaded code, but many implementations today generate optimized machine code like other language compilers.

    Forth is so named because Moore considered it appropriate for fourth-generation computers (i.e. microcomputers), and the system on which he developed it was limited to five-letter filenames."

  2. From "Gates", by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, 1994 edition:
    page 92: "And wasn't the $40,000 of computer time Gates mentioned a gross exaggeration? In fact, noted the editor of the Micro-8 Newsletter, 'rumors have been circulating thru the hobby computer community that imply that developement [sic] of the BASIC referred to in Bill Gates's letter was done on a Harvard University computer provided at least in part by government funds and that there was some question as to the propriety if not the legality of selling the results.'"

  3. From "Gates", by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, 1994 edition:
    page 92: "Nobody, of course, wanted to condone piracy, but counterarguments suddenly seemed to be flying around like evils from Pandora's box. Wasn't the MITS official policy of requiring you to sign some sort of legal document just to get a copy of BASIC - something the hobbyists were unaware was a contractual demand from Gates and Allen - needlessly draconian? And how dare anyone connected with MITS complain about unethical practices, given the company's track record of what Micro-8 Computer User Group Newsletter termed 'misleading advertising and failure to deliver mail order products as advertised in a reasonable time.'"
Personal Background

I was 22 in 1976. Four years out of high school, two years out of Ga. Tech and two years into becoming An Artist. It was one year before the release of the original "Star Wars" movie. I remember seeing the Altair in Popular Electronics and thinking that 1) it was too expensive for a struggling artist like me to afford, and 2) it was junk (the Intel 8080 was brain-dead), because I knew what Real Computers looked like through my exposure to an IBM 360 at Fernback Science Center in Atlanta and a Univac 1108 at Ga. Tech. Through those machines I learned to use two Real Computer Languages: APL and FORTRAN.

Final Thoughts

First, let's get some perspective. Microsoft is now the worlds largest software producer. For the quarter ending December 2005, their revenue was US$11.8 billion, while their net income is US$3.6 billion. Microsoft's current market cap as of Friday, February 3rd, 2005 is US$293.15 billion. What software company comes even close? To begin to give you a comparison, Redhat's current market cap from the same date is US$5.06 billion. Redhat's market capitalization is two orders of magnitude less than Microsoft. And Redhat is the most profitable of the true open source companies by far (and I'm deliberately ignoring IBM because IBM is still heavily proprietary).

Bill Gates and Co. have won. They sealed their victory 11 years ago with the release of Windows 95. It might be fun or therapeutic to point to Bill Gates's 1976 letter and rant about his behavior then, but face it: Bill Gates built a business from scratch and followed his instincts until both his business and he himself are the richest entities in the US, if not the world. I've had a ring-side seat to this circus from 1976 on, and I'm aware of all the players and what they did and didn't do.

Face it. Bill Gates Won. Now get over it.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Empire tightens its grip, Part 2

Pay-to-play on the Internet is coming.
Verizon, Comcast, Bell South and other communications giants are developing strategies that would track and store information on our every move in cyberspace in a vast data-collection and marketing system, the scope of which could rival the National Security Agency. According to white papers now being circulated in the cable, telephone and telecommunications industries, those with the deepest pockets--corporations, special-interest groups and major advertisers--would get preferred treatment. Content from these providers would have first priority on our computer and television screens, while information seen as undesirable, such as peer-to-peer communications, could be relegated to a slow lane or simply shut out.

Under the plans they are considering, all of us--from content providers to individual users--would pay more to surf online, stream videos or even send e-mail. Industry planners are mulling new subscription plans that would further limit the online experience, establishing "platinum," "gold" and "silver" levels of Internet access that would set limits on the number of downloads, media streams or even e-mail messages that could be sent or received.
This change in policy will also have a profound effect on open and free software. Right now you can go anywhere in the world and download full operating systems on ISOs for Linux and BSD, as well as free applications such as Firefox. The only distributions that will survive will be those that have big backing (SuSE and Redhat, for example), that charge for the download, or some combination thereof. Oh. And I'll bet Microsoft is behind this initiative as well. Not only would it put a crimp on open and free software but it would help their on-line properties to generate even more revenue.

The Empire tightens its grip

You have to admire the balls that Microsoft has when it makes a statement like this:
"We don't want this technology to be available to every hobbyist. We need to keep the number of licensees down to a manageable number. We charge a license fee to keep the number of people we have to deal with down to a level we can handle."
What is Amir Majidimehr, Corporate VP at Microsoft's Windows Digital Media Division, talking about? Microsoft's version of Digital Rights Management.

It's interesting how history repeats itself. High licensing and developer fees were what caused the Unix vendors to falter and fail in the late 80s, because Microsoft was standing right there offering the same essential functionality with nearly zero cost of entry compared to Unix. The high cost of developing for the Microsoft environment has reached levels only seen in the heyday of Unix. It's a tax on innovation, a tax that many can't afford to pay. Right now Linux stands on the side lines offering the same essential functionality with nearly zero cost of entry, and that won't change. The only thing stopping Linux from truly taking off is the ongoing furious FUD fight in the SCOG vs IBM lawsuit, in which Microsoft has, at least indirectly, helped finance.

If we let Microsoft monopolize content control and delivery to the same extent they have the desktop, then we'll pay ever higher fees for everything from listening to music to watching movies. And in the process provide yet another cash platform for Microsoft to use in its attacks on other emerging technologies and future markets. How does it feel to be paying for the chains that limit your freedoms?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

NetBeans 5 Final is released

The final release of NetBeans 5 is here. I've downloaded and installed it under SuSE Linux and Windows XP. I can't find anything that changed between RC1 and Final, which is a Good Thing. Now is the time to dig in and start working with NB5. Features I find compelling:
  • Matisse. This editor has shaped up to be one of the best visual UI designers for Java. I'm sure there are better tools you can buy. But for a free downloadable tool it works quite well for the kind of layouts I work with. The very fast way it switches back and forth between layout and code is also very nice.
  • Emacs key bindings. They are good for an IDE, but incomplete. What is missing are key codes for creating split screen views and toggling (at the keyboard) between views. But it's open source, and who knows. Maybe I can add that feature myself.
  • Better module development support. My own attempt at creating a module was labor intensive and error prone. And that was with help from Sun itself. I need to dig in now and see how strong the tools have become for extending the platform.
With release 5, NetBeans has now become a serious alternative to Eclipse. Eclipse isn't standing still, however. The Eclipse development team has released a bug fix for the current version (3.1.2) and is working on its next version, 3.2. What's more, Eclipse has a large community working on extensions to the base IDE. If Sun is serious about NetBeans, then the next step in evolving NetBeans will have to be the growth of the same kind of community that Eclipse boasts. Only time will tell. But I believe that NetBeans 5 is an excellent foundation on which to build the future.

Dell makes a MacIntelitosh

Yep. Dell has a new notebook for sale: the Inspiron E1705. And I don't think it's an accident that it looks like Apple's aluminum-colored iBooks and PowerBooks. It's a Core Duo machine with a 17" screen that looks like it's designed to go head-to-head with the Apple MacBook Pro. Some quick comparisons:
  • The screen of the E1705 is 17", while the MacBook Pro is 15.4". Advantage: Dell.
  • The MacBook Pro's Core Duo processor tops out at 1.83 GHz. The E1705 starts there and tops out at 2.16 GHz. With the Core Duo, those seemingly small jumps in clock speed actually do matter. Advantage: Dell.
  • The high-end E1705 comes with an nVidea GeForce Go 7800 video card with 256MB of video memory. The MacBook comes with an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 with 256MB of video memory. Advantage: Dell.
  • The hard drive on the MacBook tops out at 120MB while the hard drive on the E1705 tops out at 100MB. However, the Dell drive tops out at 7200RPM while the Apple drive only spins up to 5400RPM. Advantage: even.
  • The E1705 comes with six USB 2.0 ports and an IEEE 1394 port. The MacBook comes with just two USB 2.0 ports and an IEEE 1394 port. Advantage: Dell.
  • Both laptops support up to 2GB of dual-channel memory. Advantage: even.
  • The MacBook ships with Mac OS X. The E1705 ships with Windows XP Home, Windows XP Media, or Windows XP Pro. Advantage: depends on your techno-religious affiliation.
  • Depending on how you set it up, the Dell can match the MacBook on functionality at a lower price, or you can beef up the processor and other features for the same money you'd spend on the lesser MacBook. Advantage: Dell.
Apple fired the first shot across Dell's bow with the January MacBook. Now Dell (along with Gateway, HP and others) are firing back. It is especially interesting how Dell is positioning its most powerful configuration as a "multi-media powerhouse" and shipping it loaded with Windows XP Media Center. Microsoft has really been getting a lot of penetration in the market over the past three months with Media Center. I think Dell's part of Microsoft's success story in that area. It will be interesting to see market share for Apple in January 2007. And I don't think it's going to be as great as Jobs wishes.

Narcissic navel gazing

When I look at the zero comments I get I go and google for blogbeebe, just to see what shows up. This morning I got seven pages of search results. As I rummage through the results I see I'm now on two fairly sophisticated site tracking systems that seem to look at everything I do on this blog. The first, BlogShares, has a price on my blog of $183 (as of the date of this post). Who'd of thought it would be worth that much? Then there's PubSub, which has a nice professional set of diagrams and graphs that show my blog is - well, a zero. It looks like it's counting inlinks and outlinks, and it shows them as all zero. Which is odd, since I usually link to at least something in every post. But I must not be linking to Anything Important.

The rest of the links concern an odd mix of Java and celebrities. I can understand the Java links. The celebrity links surprise me. Apparently even mentioning an actor or actress is grounds for tracking. I write far more about Java and other technologies than I ever did about movies I've seen, which is where I mention the names of actors and actresses (the celebrities).

Looks like all my 'writing' is food just for the web bots. I certainly don't get much in the way of comments. Especially after turning on comment validation killed the comment spam.

Intellectual popcorn

I love good, witty, and sarcastic writing in the morning. It's wonderful. (from "No Opinions? No Problem" on Wired News)
Events are taking place. Disturbing events. World-shaking events. Fortunes are at stake. Countries are at stake. The survival of the most adorable life forms on the planet are at stake. Blogs and news sites across the web host message boards yearning for your commentary.

You owe it to everyone to let them know what you think, and by extension what they should think. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people fail to register.

You may be impaired by -- among other things -- the lack of an actual opinion on the subject at hand. That's OK, opinions are filthy, malodorous things that tend to fall apart under close examination. What you need is something that appears to be an opinion without actually requiring defense, justification or rational thought.

While you're wasting time considering context and relevant factors, lesser minds are beating you to the Submit button. This simple guide to posting on message boards requires no more contemplation than is necessary to microwave popcorn.

I wish I could write this creatively.