Friday, July 30, 2010

The more I know people

Ruby, sit (Color)Orlando Diary

There's an interesting article on Ars Technica that discuses about what separates us from other animals and makes us uniquely human. Attributes cited in the past include our use of tools, our use of language, and our domestication of animals and farming. Now, it looks like there's another, more fundamental attribute, that just so happens to underpin and tie all of this together: our "animal connection".

According to this new theory our connection with animals started nearly three million years ago, when we first invented stone tools and used them to hunt other animals. We had to learn about animals to effectively hunt them, and we also had to learn about the other animals that were our competition, the other carnivores. It was that understanding that helped the next stage, the domestication of animals (tied with farming). Our understanding of animals also  provided inspiration for our first use of symbology (such as the Palaeolithic cave paintings). Ancient civilizations (especially Egyptian) incorporated animals as part of their culture and religion.

It carries forward today, with billions spent in this country just on pets, and the billions tied up in factory farms raising beef, pork, and poultry. In my house alone we have five animals, two Labs and three cats.

In spite of this affinity for animals, we also visit sadistic cruelty on them, just for the pleasure of watching them suffer and die. Dog fighting, as but one example, is the most visible; Micheal Vick, former Atlanta Falcons quarterback, was convicted in 2007 on animal cruelty charges and sentenced to two years in federal prison. It was the brutality of the action coupled with his public stature as a professional football player that drew attention to this particular case. Unfortunately it isn't the only one, and it hasn't stopped.

It is our connection with animals that underpins both the best and worst part of our natures.

As the saying goes, "The more I know people, the more I like my dog."

Equipment Used
Olympus E-P2, M.Zuiko 17mm f/2.8.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Burying the world around us

More exercisingOrlando Diary

Call me a tree-hugging, left-leaning enviro-kook, whatever will make you feel superior. Starting with this post I'm going to add a new tag and subject; the environment. It'll start with what I shocking about Orlando, and then add links to articles about the Bigger Picture around the world.

Living in Florida since 1984, I've seen too much change; whole swathes of the land mowed down and covered with massive development (parking lots, shopping centers, highways, subdivisions...), all in the name of economic growth and progress.

The photo on the right was taken while out walking to a sub shop close to where I work. It was lunch time. What caught my eye was the contrast of the billboard standing about the trees, trees which had been trimmed to give full exposure to the billboard, with it's admonition to eat less and exercise more, standing over a street full of supersized vehicles with just one driver/vehicle, who probably never gave the billboard and its message a second through.

And it was on a hot day, with the temperatures in the mid-90's and the heat rising up and giving a turbulent shimmer to everything at a distance (zoom in on the photo by selecting the largest size and pixel peep it for a bit to see what I'm talking about). And that's just this one scene, on University near UCF.

And then there's the wider world.

  • First the Gulf oil disaster. Mighty oil-eating microbes help clean up the Gulf. "So where did the oil go? ... Some of the oil has sunk into the sediments on the ocean floor. Researchers say that’s where the spill could do the most damage. But according to a report in Wednesday’s New York Times, "federal scientists [have determined] the oil [is] primarily sitting in the water column and not on the sea floor."

    Yes. Microbes eating up the oil. Makes you wonder what is going to happen to the rest of the microbial environment. Will we wind up with some kind of killer bloom like red tides? Only time will tell.
  • Europe is suffering another massive heat wave. Bikinis in Moscow: Europe wilts in heat wave. "A heat wave across much of Europe also is causing crops to wither, forest fires to ignite and roads to melt, while refrigerators and fans are buckling in the searing sun... U.S. climate scientists said Thursday that June was a record-setting month in the temperature department, keeping the planet on a course for a hot year.

    Worldwide, the average temperature in June was 61.1 degrees F (16.2 C) — 1.22 degrees F (0.68 C) warmer than average for the month of June, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington. This year has had the warmest average temperature for the January-June period on record — 57.5 F (12.2 C).

    Russia's worst droughts in a century have destroyed almost 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of crops in central and European areas, authorities said. A state of emergency has been declared in 18 Russian provinces, where fire has engulfed more than 26,000 hectares (64,000 acres) of forest."
  • Global warming signs unmistakable: report. "A new report by 300 scientists has flagged the past decade as the hottest on record and compiled 10 "unmistakable" indicators that the world is getting warmer.

    But the scientists mostly stayed away from discussions about the cause.

    The 2009 State of the Climate report released Wednesday by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration combines data on temperatures, humidity, sea levels, sea ice, glaciers and spring snow cover going back to 1940 or 1850, depending on the type of data."

    Yes. Play it safe. Don't upset anyone with the complete truth.
  • The Food Chain's Weak Link: Tiny Ocean Plants Dying. "Microscopic plants in the ocean, called phytoplankton, are among the most important creatures on Earth and produce half of the planet's oxygen. But they are in trouble. A new study finds that since 1950, the amount of phytoplankton in the ocean's surface waters — the basis of the ocean's food web — has declined by 40 percent."
  • Inventing The Fish: Science And The Collapse Of Ecologies. "Tuna then are both real thing and a metaphor. Literally they are one of the last big public supplies of wild fish left in the world. Metaphorically they are the terminus of an idea: that the ocean is an endless resource where new fish can always be found. In the years to come we can treat tuna as a mile marker as we zoom past on our way towards annihilating the wild ocean or as a stop sign that compels us to turn back and radically reconsider."
  • Study: Solar power is cheaper than nuclear. "The report is significant not only because it shows solar to be a cheaper source of energy than nuclear. The results are also important because, despite the Senate’s failure to pass a climate and energy bill this year, taxpayers now bear the burden of putting carbon into the atmosphere through a variety of hidden charges – or externalities, as economists call them. Fossil fuels currently account for 70 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. annually. (Nuclear generates 20 percent.)

    Having dropped below nuclear power, solar power is now one of the least expensive energy sources in America."

As the weeks progress, more to come.

Equipment Used

Olympus E-P2, Digital Zuiko 40-150mm f/4-5.6 w/MMF-2

So long, OpenSolaris

I'm on record (see "OpenSolaris is here to stay" from May 2008) as saying that OpenSolaris was here to stay, and even thrive, as an open alternative to Linux. Unfortunately, some two years later, it now looks like history is ready to prove me wrong.

I really wanted OpenSolaris to succeed. Up until 2007 I was a pretty happy proponent of Linux, preaching its benefits and the joy of using various distributions such as openSUSE, Ubuntu, and Mandriva. But some time around the middle to latter part of 2007, Linux's overall quality began to decline; updates to distributions released in the early part of 2007 (openSUSE 10.2, Ubuntu 7.04) were suffering breakages in various packages and the loss of certain capabilities. I became less enchanted with my distributions of choice. Then I stumbled onto OpenSolaris, specifically the Project Indiana Developer Preview, which I wrote about.

Later in 2007 I ran a mini-comparison between openSUSE 10.3, Ubuntu 7.10, Fedora 8, and the same Project Indiana Developer Preview by booting all four on two seperate Gateway notebooks. While openSUSE 10.3 came away as the best of the four under those circumstances, it was surprising to me that OpenSolaris actually booted to a full GUI with wireless networking on a Gateway M680 notebook. Fedora 8, it should be noted, failed to boot on either Gateway notebook in that test.

Finally, in 2008, when my annoyance was greatest with Linux, I booted the LiveCD of OpenSolaris 2008.5. I was able to boot the LiveCD on my two home machines and my most current work notebook, a Gateway M685. In hindsight OpenSolaris 2008.5 was a remarkable achievement, more than I appreciated at the time; it integrated the heart of Solaris with a then-current Gnome desktop. And all the various drivers, including the video card drivers, Just Worked. Buoyed by those good experiences, and watching OpenSolaris improve release after release, I wrote "OpenSolaris is here to stay".

I wrote it in response to an article published by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, "OpenSolaris Arrives just to Die." Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols rattled off a series of fatal flaws with OpenSolaris, the most notable being:
Still, all that said, I think OpenSolaris could survive, and possibly even thrive, if it wasn’t for one sad, simple fact. Sun may not have the IP (intellectual property) rights to open-source Solaris in the first place. (emphasis mine)
I said it then, and I say it now: bullshit. Sun had as much right to Unix IP ownership as anyone else, including SCO, which as time and circumstance proved, Novell had not transfered ownership of its Unix IP to Caldera/The SCO Group.

All of this who-owns-what is moot now. It wasn't Linux that killed OpenSolaris or Novell asserting its Unix IP over Sun; it was Oracle's indifference after it purchased Sun that has killed OpenSolaris. To be sure, there's talk of forking OpenSolaris, and the rather remote possibility that Oracle will finally decide to support OpenSolaris. I don't know; I'm no mind-reader and certainly no seer. But if we loose OpenSolaris, we'll loose one of the best non-Linux open distributions on the market today, and that won't be good for anyone.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Apple: Too successful to really care anymore

Apple's been in the news lately, starting earlier this year with it's loss of an iPhone 4 prototype in a bar, through the release of the iPhone 4, the iPad, Antennagate and finally the latest story; the librarian of Congress rules that it's OK to jailbreak your iPhone (and just about any other device you purchase).

Before we go wallowing about in our Schadenfreude over Apple's apparent missteps, let's all take a moment to reflect upon the following important fact concerning Apple: in July 2010 Apple reported fiscal third quarter net income of $3.25 billion, or $3.51 a share, on revenue of $15.7 billion. Woah!

No matter how much Apple is disliked in certain quarters, or how disenfranchised you may feel over not being able to do with your iToy as you see fit (and I raise my hand to signify my displeasure), Apple is so popular right now they can't make product fast enough to satisfy demand, especially in the portable device market, especially with their iPhone 4 and iPad devices. And Apple is on track for an even bigger blowout forth quarter and fiscal year.

Kind of makes your moaning and groaning about Apple seem a bit irrelevant, doesn't it?

Just one final comment. Being able to legally jailbreak your iDevice doesn't make it any easier. If anything, it will motivate Apple to double down and create firmware updates that make it even more difficult in the future, and I'd bet serious money that Apple will release new hardware that locks their devices down even further. This is what Jobs has wanted all along, stretching back to the physically locked-up nature of the Mac Classic. Oh, by the way, the decision to sanction jailbreaking is good for the next two years. At that time this decision will be revisited and it could be rescinded. Enjoy your new-found legality while you can.

Of course the argument to grumps like me is to not buy Apple, but to buy something else, something equivalent. So I await, with morbid interest, the release of tablets later this year running some version of Android. I have my doubts about Android and it's ability to compete effectively against iOS-based devices from Apple. In the mean time, my money stays firmly in my pocket.


I didn't catch this earlier. Times Newsline (who are they?) posted an article "Antennagate Aftermath: 57 Percent Customers Likely To Do Away With iPhone 4." The article is poorly written and does not contain a link to the Opinium Research... er, research, cited in the article. I would accept this article with copious amounts of salt.

Update 2

Found this while slumming through /. "Digital Copywrongs" does a good job of disabusing the joyous celebration of folks like the Electronic Freedom Foundation by pointedly reminding everyone that no matter the color of this particular lipstick, the DMCA was and continues to be a particularly ugly pig.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ten Reasons to Ignore Ten Reasons to Dump Windows and Use Linux

There is a tradition amongst the hard-core Linux aficionados to extol Linux's various virtues as a list of 10 or more reasons to substitute (as in "dump") an existing Windows installation with Linux. There's no reason to point them all out; a simple Google search ("10 reasons to use Linux") will provide you with such lists stretching back through the years, as well as hours of entertainment.

One very recent list caught my eye over the weekend, published by PCWorld. Their article, "Ten Reasons to Dump Windows and Use Linux", seems to have hit a nerve with me. Normally I just ignore such journalistic pap, since the majority of it comes courtesy of one ill-informed blog or another (such as this one). But in this instance a "real" publication put some time and journalistic "credibility" into this list, which places it in front of a wider audience than the typical blog poist (again, such as this one).

So let's consider all ten points, starting with the first in this list:
1. Commercial Support

In the past, businesses used the lack of commercial support as the main reason for staying with Windows. Red Hat, Novell and Canonical, the "big three" commercial Linux providers, have put this fear to rest. Each of these companies offers 24x7x365 support for your mission-critical applications and business services.
Of the "big three" listed, there's actually a "big two" and a third tag-along. The big two are Red Hat followed by Novell. Ubuntu is a much smaller player and a relative newcomer to market, compared to Red Hat and Novell. Red Hat is the longest-running Linux distributor of the three, and has been since it was founded in 1993. Red Hat is one of the very few pure-play Linux distributors that makes money, quarter after quarter, and year after year. Red Hat is also the largest pure-play Linux distributor.

Novell is actually the oldest company, having started in the PC networking world with Novell Netware. Novell attempted to diversify into the Unix market, first via Univel in 1991 as a joint venture with AT&T's USL, then when it purchased USL (Unix System Laboratories) outright from AT&T in 1993. Novell's foray into real Unix was limited at best; Novell continued to expand and innovate within the Netware product line until 2003, when it acquired Ximian and SuSE; the former eventually produced and released Mono, the port of C# to Linux, and the latter gave it a fully developed Linux distribution.

In the last seven years Novell has released a series of products based on these initial acquisitions, most notably Mono, SLED (Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop) and SLES (Suse Linux Enterprise Server). In 2006 Novell entered into a joint patent agreement with Microsoft, which ostensibly was meant to improve interoperability between Suse Linux Enterprise specifically and Microsoft's own Windows workstation and server products. This agreement generated considerable negative press in the Linux geek community, which, depending on your point of view is (or isn't) important. The geek fires over the agreement have pretty much died down (except in certain odd quarters).

Ubuntu is the youngest of the three; the distribution itself was initially released in October 2004, long after Red Hat was founded, and long after the initial release of SuSE (version 1 was released in 1994). Ubuntu is based on one of the oldest Linux distributions, Debian, itself first released in 1993. The problem with Ubuntu is that, while it can trace its roots to Debian, it injects considerable material of its own, and it bases it's releases on Debian's more experimental release branch. Ubuntu has also generated considerable controversy over its six-month release cycle, primarily over the breakage of various applications and features between releases.

If there is a fundamental difference between Ubuntu and its rivals Red Hat and Novell, it's that Red Hat and Novell have a true enterprise Linux offering with expected enterprise support, while Ubuntu's long-term support (referred to as LTS) releases are a simple promotion of their regular six-month releases.

For point 1, if you're considering Linux, either as a full replacement or as a supplement integrated into an existing Windows installation, then your best bet is to consider Red Hat or Novell. For my money, the only real choice is Red Hat Enterprise Linux (or RHEL), simply because Red Hat has been consistently profitable and growing; Novell has struggled to grow its Linux business while its Netware business has slowly faded, and Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has yet to have a single profitable quarter.

Now the second point:
2. .NET Support

Businesses that have standardized on Microsoft technology, specifically their .NET web technology, can rely on Linux for support of those same .NET applications. Novell owns and supports the Mono project that maintains .NET compatibility. One of the Mono project’s goals is to provide businesses the ability to make a choice and to resist vendor lock-in. Additionally, the Mono project offers Visual Studio plugins so that .NET developers can easily transfer Windows-based .NET applications without changing their familiar development tools. Why would Novell and others put forth the effort to create a .NET environment for Linux? For real .NET application stability, Linux is a better choice than Windows.
As was pointed out here, .NET support on Linux should be considered most carefully. Microsoft has been consistently advancing and updating the .NET framework since it's release in February 2002. Mono itself was first officially released in 2004. The current release of the .NET framework is version 4. As of April 2010, Mono's official release is 2.6.4. What does this mean with regards to supporting Microsoft's .NET?

According to the Wikipedia Mono page:
This version provides the core API of the .NET Framework as well as support for Visual Basic.NET and C# versions 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0. LINQ to objects and XML is part of the distribution, but not LINQ to SQL. C# 3.0 is now the default mode of operation for the C# compiler. Windows Forms 2.0 is also now supported. Support for C# 4.0 is feature complete (as of December 2009) but not yet released in a stable version.

Implementation of .NET Framework 3.0 (i.e. WPF) is under development under an experimental Mono subproject called "Olive", but the availability of a Mono framework supporting .NET 3.0 is not yet planned.

The Mono project has also created a VB.NET compiler as well as a runtime designed for running VB.NET applications. It is currently being developed by Rolf Bjarne Kvinge.
 It should also be noted that Mono includes an open-source implementation of Silverlight, called Moonlight. Moonlight is claimed to implement all Silverlight 2.0 and some Silverlight 3.0 APIs.

Regardless of what features and APIs are available with Mono, one of the biggest flaws of the current Mono implementation is within its garbage collector. As was pointed out here and on the Wikipedia Mono page:
However, the current conservative garbage collector (the "Boehm-Demers-Weiser Conservative Garbage Collector") has significant limitations compared to commercial garbage collected runtimes like the Java Virtual Machine or the .NET framework's runtime. The conservative collector can exhibit memory leaks that make it unsuitable for long-running server applications. As of July 2009, development of a modern garbage collector called "Simple Generational GC" (SGen-GC) is under way, but a date for incorporation into a production release has yet to be set. (emphasis mine)
Mono might be suitable for client-side experimentation, but its suitability as a total replacement for .NET on Windows server is questionable at best. Any business of any size would do well to think long and hard before choosing to move line-of-business applications written in C# to Mono on Linux (or to Mono on any platform, including Windows and Mac OS X).

The third point, Unix uptimes, is something of a straw man argument. Servers have to be carefully provisioned and configured to maintain the highest levels of availability (and thus uptime). All current modern operating systems, including Windows, can be so tailored as to provide equivalent levels of availability on individual platforms. Furthermore, techniques such as clustering and virtualization, which all modern operating systems support, further enhance availability and uptime. Arguing uptime superiority has thus become moot.

Point 4, concerning security, is another straw man argument. Concentrating specifically on the server-side use of Windows, Windows Server 2003 and later have made considerable strides in overall security. When properly installed and configured, contemporary versions or Windows Server are as secure as any version of Linux or Unix, and somewhat better than Mac OS X. The bane of good security on any server are the applications you install, and in this instance both Windows and Linux have very bad examples.

One of the biggest uses for servers is as web platform. It's unfortunate that too many beginning users install web server packages on both Windows  and Linux without properly configuring and hardening the installation, inviting breaches of security on both platforms. When properly installed and configured, Windows security is as good as Linux security, and both are quite good. Whether both are as strong as Unix is debatable, but for many applications both are more than good enough.

The fifth point, about transferable skills, is laughable and insulting. First is the attitude that Windows admins only know the GUI. There are any number of contemporary books devoted to nothing but the Windows command line, full of non-trivial and extensive examples for managing Windows servers. The single most powerful implementation of the Windows command line is the PowerShell. Introduced in 2006, it is fully integrated with the .NET framework, and provides easy automation of local and remote system management. The capabilities of the PowerShell will match any combination of Linux shell and scripting language. The idea that the seasoned Windows admin is ignorant of the Windows CLI and PowerShell exposes the ignorance of the author in making such a claim, especially in 2010.

Point 6 gives me considerable trouble:
6. Commodity hardware

Business owners will like the fact that their “out-of-date” systems will still run Linux and run it well. Fortunately for Linux adopters, there’s no hardware upgrade madness that follows every new version of the software that’s released. Linux runs on x86 32-bit and 64-bit architectures. If your system runs Windows, it will run Linux.
There is no guarantee that "out-of-date" hardware will run Linux in the manner that business owners expect their systems to run. There is a reason why systems are retired and made "out-of-date"; newer systems are produced by the vendors, and business needs change and grow over time. No system lasts forever, and when it has reached end-of-life, that system is removed and decommissioned from regular business service. Furthermore, contemporary commercial Linux distributions are as demanding of system resources as Windows, and perhaps even more so. If you find you must use "out-of-date" hardware for some business task, then your choices are limited to older releases of community-supported distributions, with all that that implies.

Point 7 also give me considerable trouble:
7. Linux is free

You may have heard that Linux is free. It is. Linux is free of charge and it is free in the sense that it is also free of patents and other restrictions that make it unwieldy for creative business owners who wish to edit and enhance the source code. This ability to innovate with Linux has helped create companies like Google, who have taken that ability and converted it into big business. Linux is free, as in freedom.
Linux is not free, especially commercial versions from Red Hat and Novell. If you're a business that wants peace of mind with your back-room systems, then you will purchase support from Red Hat or Novell to make sure that you're concentrating on your core business, instead of supporting back-room systems. The point that Google was indeed able to innovate on top of Linux by making significant changes to Linux, especially at the kernel level, is a valid point for the use of Linux and against Microsoft in that particular context. Microsoft's overly competitive behavior in the marketplace must carefully considered when looking for a software platform on which to build an idea. While the source to Linux (kernel, libraries, and applications) are essentially open and reasonably free to change, Windows source code can only be obtained from Microsoft with considerable portions under NDA. Again, this sounds terrible on the surface, but Microsoft's attitude towards their source is clear and up front, and is no different than other major vendors, such as Oracle. While freedom is bandied about rather glibly in this point, freedom includes the ability to partner with Microsoft, and to make the decisions necessary (or not) to be successful at it. And to go back to Google, keep in mind that Google has an extensive engineering staff devoted to the development and support of Linux, something that the regular small to medium sized business will not have.

Points 8 and 9 can be lumped together, because they underscore the same basic capability, and that's support. The devil is in the details. If you want 24x7 support where there's someone you can depend on at the end of a phone or an email, then you're going to buy such support from the major OS vendors. You won't get free comprehensive support. If you don't want to deal with Microsoft directly, there are sufficient partners who can provide the level of tailored help you need. The same holds true for Red Hat and Novell; both have built extensive partner networks every bit as strong as Microsoft's. Once again, reliable support is a wash as long as you stick with a reputable Linux vendor, just as you would expect by sticking with Windows.

Finally, point 10 on the list just makes me want grab the author and shake them until their head rattles:
10. Regular Updates

Are you tired of waiting for a Windows service pack every 18 months? Are you also tired of the difficulty in upgrading your Windows systems every few years because there’s no clear upgrade path? (Ubuntu Linux offers new, improved versions every six months) and long-term support (LTS) versions every two years. Every Linux distribution offers regular updates of its packages and sources several times per year and security fixes as needed. You can leave any upgrade angst in your officially licensed copy of Windows because it's easy to upgrade and update Linux. And, the best part? No reboot required. (emphasis mine)
The reason I want to shake the author until his head rattles is that the six month upgrade cycle requires a full upgrade of the existing operating system, with many instances of breakage along the way in features and applications between releases. This is a "feature" of the enthusiast distributions, of which Ubuntu is the most notable. Real businesses who demand high levels of availability at the lowest TCO possible will pick a commercial variant that does not upgrade every six months. As an example Red Hat upgrades are more finely grained (we're using RHEL 5.5 in our lab), a version that was officially released in March of 2007. The biggest feature of RHEL (as well as Novell) is the adherence to a specific kernel release, in this case 2.6.18 for RHEL 5. This does not mean that the RHEL 5 kernel has remained static and stagnant since its release; security fixes and important feature upgrades are back-ported from the existing kernel tree to Red Hat's on 2.6.18 kernel tree and released in a timely fashion. This also includes application-level fixes and releases. Sensationalism aside, Microsoft is every bit as diligent about releasing fixes as Red Hat and Novell, and all three are indistinguishable; they have to be, as they're competing for the same type of customers.

The final point of point 10 concerns reboots. Regardless of the OS, you should have a process in place for how those updates are applied to systems in your business. Usually, best practice dictates that updates are applied to a test system (or in this day, a test virtual machine), then tested with important applications to make sure that nothing has changed unexpectedly/is broken. This includes restarts to make sure that the system will start up as expected with the changes applied. Once you're reasonably satisfied with the testing, the real systems are upgraded in an orderly fashion, keeping a weather eye on any unintended consequences that my crop up, in case those changes need to be rolled back out. In all but the simplest of scenarios restarting/not restarting a system is the least of your worries, and you will restart them if the updates are extensive enough and involve the kernel.

The upshot of all this? You should only choose to use Linux if there is a very good business case for incorporating Linux into your business and you fully understand the caveats involved with switching. Only you can make that ultimate, and hopefully informed, decision. Naively switching without fully understand the consequences is a recipe for disaster, and a good way to tarnish the reputations of yourself, your company, and Linux.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The state of my world

Losing My Religion
Orlando Diary

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

KJV, Genesis 1, verses 26-28

Since April 22nd I have been watching with a a growing sense of horror as Transocean's Deepwater Horizon exploded, sank, and left a well spewing millions of barrels of raw crude into the Gulf. The disaster has been a constant part of CNN, with a live link to the spewing well place on CNN's front page since late April. It's just been within the last 72 hours that BP finally placed a cap on the blown well. While the flow of oil has stopped for the moment, many of the scientists were confused and concerned over the lower-than-expected well head pressure they found. Some feared that there was a leak elsewhere, while others speculated that so much oil had been released since the April explosion that the pressure was lower than expected. Either case is nothing to be relieved over; both indicate ongoing environment damage in the Gulf for years, if not decades, to come.

This isn't the first time we've had a well explosion in US coastal waters. I'm old enough to remember the Santa Barbara blowout and oil spill, and the subsequent environmental disaster. The amount of environmental damage Santa Barbara caused led to a ban on offshore drilling in California waters and helped kick-start the Environmental Protection Agency. Compared to the Gulf spill, it was minute, with an estimated spill of only 100,000 gallons. Then there was the Pemex-operated Ixtoc I offshore well in Mexico's Campeche Bay that blew out 10 years later in 1979. For nine months the Ixtoc I spilled over 3.5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf before it was finally stopped. As bad as the Deepwateer Horizon may be, the Ixtoc I may still have the dubious honor of being the largest disaster in the Gulf.

But these disasters aren't limited to our waters. During the first Gulf War in 1991, Iraqi forces opened and spilled over 12 million barrels of oil as well as igniting many of the wells in a horrific scorched-earth policy that blights the region to this day. It's been reported that Nigeria, from which we get 40% of our oil, spills more oil into the Niger Delta every year than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez.

Add to that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which has grown to twice the size of Texas, and you wonder what part of the admonition in Genesis "replenish the earth" we don't get as a species. Even if you're an atheist, the idea of being better stewards of the earth is an idea that transcends religion.

And then there's the ongoing destruction of habitat much closer to home. I end with these few, brief images of a much larger destruction, all in the name of progress.

Debris in a Retention Pond

Industrial Lots FOR SALE

New Turnpike Signage

Two former streams on stripped land

Continued Wetland Development

Road Kill

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Another gear review on Matthew's Reviews

I'm on a roll here. Another review, this time reviewing the 40-150mm kit zoom + MMF-2 adapter on micro four-thirds. While I fell in love with the 17mm, I'm not so happy with the zoom combination, especially the adapter. Read the review, I know you want to.

New gear review is up

I've published a modest review of the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm micro four-thirds pancake lens on Matthew's Reviews. Take a look and let me know what you think. And while you're there, read the rest of Matthew's reviews. They're quite good.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dealing with Life

Orlando Diary

Sometimes, when you're engaged in some fora flamewar frenzy over which brand or model of camera/lens/whatever is superior to all others, you tend to forget why you bought your gear in the first place: to photograph life around you.

Rush Hour Homeward Bound

When you photograph life around you, you take what life gives you. All too often we obsess over what we believe to be important to creating the "perfect" photograph; perfect exposure, focus, sharpness, and perfection in the subject chosen. So why not just point and shoot, and let serendipity play an important part. Sometimes you wind up with a photograph that fails in all these areas yet is satisfying in whole, and captures an illuminating moment of your life.

Falling through the safety net

Sometimes life shows you real people, in awkward circumstances neither you nor they wish you were a part of. But then there you are, working your way through an awkward situation to find a resolution. Sometimes it ends happily, sometimes it doesn't. More often it ends in ambiguity.

The injured bird

Fallen Angel

Road Kill

Our existence is parasitic and destructive to all other life around us. Creatures far smaller and weaker, and far more beautiful, suffer and die due to our indifference and cruelty. These acts and their terrible results are all too often ignored while we seek to fill our lives with our own twisted definition of beauty.

Loving wife, mother, Nana

For all our striving and insatiable desire to consume, death awaits us all.

Equipment Used

First image: Olympus E-P2 and Zuiko Digital 40-150mm Mk II w/MMF-2 adapter
Second image: Olympus E-P2 and M.Zuiko 17mm
Third image: Olympus E-P2 and M.Zuiko 17mm
Forth image: Olympus E-P2 and M.Zuiko 17mm
Fifth image: Olympus E-P2 and Zuiko Digital 9-18mm w/MMF-1 adapter
Last image: Olympus E-P2 and M.Zuiko 17mm

Whither FourThirds?

Over the last few days (and more generally since early December 2009), rumors have been running rife across that infinite echo chamber known as the Internet that Olympus was just a hairs-breadth away from completely abandoning regular FourThirds and moving whole-sale over to MicroFourThirds. And it has gotten louder over time to the point that nearly everybody, from rumor sites to fora, keep repeating this claim incessantly. Why is everybody making such wildly adamant claims?

First, there's the current state of the market for 4/3rds cameras vs µ4/3rds cameras. Panasonic, Olympus' initial 4/3rds partner, has introduced a slew of µ4/3rds models since the standard's initial announcement in 2008. Olympus itself has introduced its third µ4/3rds model, the E-PL1. By all accounts both Olympus and Panasonic can't make them fast enough. Micro 4/3rds is so popular in the Japanese market that according to the latest statistics out of that market mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (which includes Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony) now account for 30% of new camera sales. That's a pretty remarkable statistic for a camera category that didn't exist just two years ago. Then there's the fact that Panasonic hasn't introduce a regular 4/3rds model since the Lumix DMC-L10 in August 2007. Olympus is the only manufacturer of regular 4/3rd cameras in the market, and they haven't announced nor introduced any new models since the E-620 in June 2009, a full year ago. Olympus has been silent about new 4/3rd offerings ever since, instead concentrating on release µ4/3rd bodies and lenses.

Secondly, there's Olympus' own history playing against it. Olympus made the major misstep of dropping the Olympus OM series of film cameras. First introduced in 1973 with the OM-1, Olympus released four professional variants and a matching and expansive lens collection that came to an end in 1987 with the release of the OM-101. What killed the OM series was autofocus. Olympus had built the perfect small mechanical SLR with matching lenses by stripping out everything that wasn't absolutely needed. This left a system that was marvelously small and tight, while in the process painting Olympus into a technological corner. There was no room in either the body or the lenses to provide autofocus capabilities. The best that Olympus could provide was focus assist, which made its first appearance in the OM-30, and required a specially built zoom lens to fully function. Olympus would continue to support the OM-3 and OM-4 up through the early 2000s, but they never introduced another "exchangeable lens" camera after 1987. Instead Olympus concentrated on smaller integrated cameras, both film and digital, for the next 15 years. Olympus wouldn't introduce another interchangeable lens camera until 2003 with the digital 4/3rds E-1.

Canon faced the same challenge that Olympus did, and took a different route. Up until 1987 Canon used a breach-lock mount for its bodies and lenses. First introduced in 1971 with the F1, the FD mount was the Canon mount until 1987 (the same year Olympus introduced its last interchangeable lens film camera) with the  EF (or Electro Focus) lens mount. Canon was the first major manufacturer to introduce an autofocus system in which the focus motor was in the lens itself. The other major manufacturer, Nikon, seeing what had ensued with Canon, made the decision not to radically change its mount, but instead adopted an inferior mechanical linkage for autofocus in its first autofocus cameras by placing the focus motor in the body and sticking the linkage out through the bayonet mount (and I know this because I purchased the N90 with the Nikkor AF 35-70 zoom lens, a purchase I would come to regret). While the Nikon decision allowed any F-mount lens to be used on the body, the early Nikon autofocus cameras left an awful lot to be desired.

Canon took considerable heat for changing mounts, but Canon eventually overcame that obstacle and went on to cement its position as a powerhouse in the SLR, and then DSLR markets. What is significant in Canon's case is that Canon had overlapping camera lines that used both mounts. Thus, when the last breach-lock mount camera (the T-90) came to an end in 1990, Canon had the EOS camera line with the EF mount ready and able to carry the Canon standard forward. The two lines overlapped one another for three years, allowing a reasonable crossover from old to new. Nikon eventually overcame its first attempt at autofocus and it has also prospered. But Olympus...

Olympus introduced a series of integrated cameras, first in film and later in digital form, producing highly praised cameras such as the Camedia C8080 and the E-10 and E-20 all-in-one cameras. But Olympus' abandonment of the OM series of cameras left a lingering and very sour taste in a lot of photographer's mouths, pro and amateur alike. That's one of the reasons Olympus was looked upon with suspicion in certain quarters with the initial release of 4/3rds, and it's the reason for the rampant rumors about 4/3rds demise. The rumormongers see current conditions and Olympus' own history playing against 4/3rds.

It all sounds wonderfully grim, and Olympus' critics are rubbing their hands with sadistic glee over what they see as another major Olympus failure in the making. The only problem with this delightfully grim prediction is that it's wrong. Olympus knows it can't just drop regular 4/3rds. They are painfully aware of the repercussions of another mount abandonment. If Olympus were to abandon 4/3rds then they might as well pull out of the entire camera market, because the repercussions of a second major mount abandonment would fatally taint every other camera product they would try to sell going forward.

Instead, I strongly believe that Olympus will merge the 4/3rds and µ4/3rds lines into a single series of cameras based on µ4/3rds. Why? Consider Canon, Nikon, and Sony. They have two interchangeable lens camera categories, one based on APS-C sized sensors, and a higher (and more expensive) category based on 35mm film sized sensors. But they all have the same respective mount between the two categories. Olympus (and only Olympus) has the opposite; two different mounts sharing the exact same sensor. It takes a lot more effort (i.e. time, money, and marketing) to support two different mounts (regardless of how backward compatible the newer one may be with the older) with different lenses than two different sensors using the same mount and lenses.

Olympus and Panasonic have already started down the path of convergence with the initial 4/3rds-to-µ4/3rds adapters that allow older 4/3rds lenses to operate on newer µ4/3rds bodies. I have two such adapters (the MMF-1 and MMF-2) that allow me to use my 12-60mm, 50-200mm, 9-18mm, 50mm, 40-150mm Mk II, and Sigma 30mm regular 4/3rds lenses on my E-P2. These lenses are slower to autofocus on the E-P2 than M.Zuiko lenses, but they do autofocus, and they make stunningly good images. Olympus is fully aware that it needs to enhance contrast detect autofocus (CDAF) performance, and there is at least one patent extant that shows a 4/3rds-to-µ4/3rds adapter with a built-in mirror and phase detect autofocus (PDAF) sensors in the adapter to provide the same autofocus speed as if mounted on an older regular 4/3rds camera.

I believe that Olympus is working hard to merge its two interchangeable lens lines into one, based exclusively around µ4/3rds. They will provide a seamless transition with existing 4/3rds-mount lenses. It's going to take time (I estimate 24 months), but we will see the road-map for this transition starting with Photokina this fall.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

iOS4 on an iPod Touch 2nd generation isn't such a great match

I upgraded my iPod Touch 2G to the latest software out of Cupertino about two days after it was announced. I'd tried to install after the official release date, reasoning it was better to wait to avoid the rush. I shouldn't have bothered. It took nearly six (yes, six) hours to backup, update, and restore my Touch. This is with the latest iTunes on a Dell Latitude D630 with Windows XP SP3 and 4GB of DRAM (of which Windows only sees 3.5GB). And we're talking a dual-core T7700 running at 2.4GHz. With nVidia graphics. It's no barn-burner, but it's no netbook slouch either.

After spending the good part of the day waiting for my Touch to upgrade, I was finally treated to the wonderfully crippled iOS4 user experience. I got old and busted hardware, so no multitasking and no fancy wallpapers (even though I could select one in preferences) for me.

The only new feature I seemed to get was the transparent doc at the bottom (bit deal) and the equivalent of folders, which I call collections. You can see them on the bottom row in the screenshot to the right.

The collection feature allowed me to grab all my extra apps that were spilling over to other pages and put them all on the first page. That's where I ran into one of the peculiarities of collections; you're limited to a maximum of twelve items. Try to add that unlucky 13th, and it won't drop in, just back onto the "desktop". Oh well. Supreme Leader Steve Jobs was wise enough to know IDidn'tNeedThatCapabilityAnyway(tm).

I discovered that dragging apps into containers wasn't always easy. Sometimes you'd get lucky and you'd hit the container on the first attempt. Other times iOS4 made the random assumption you actually wanted to just reorganize the apps, throwing the existing arrangement all over the screen. Fortunately I only needed four containers for all my extra apps, so it didn't take long to get everything contained and sorted out.

My next complaint has to do with the lack of stability in Mobile Safari. I've been treated to one of the crashiest versions of Mobile Safari to date. I don't spend that much time messing with my Touch, but I can guarantee that it won't take me long to find some site somewhere that will crash Safari back to the desktop. And there's no particular rhyme or reason (i.e. I can't seem to repeat it). Sites that work just fine will up and kill Safari. Then I'll restart Safari, and it will browse the site like nothing happened.

My biggest complaint is performance. The latest version of the software isn't slow so much as it's choppy. Tasks will take seconds to complete, then the next five to ten minutes of operations will execute at normal speed. Choppiness seems to take place when coming up out of simple sleep mode (i.e. the screen is off you press the power or home keys to bring up the "slide to unlock" screen). iPhone OS 3 (and version 2 when I first bought the device) was never this way. It was always smooth as silk in operation.

It's good I didn't have to pay for this upgrade like I had to pay for iPhone OS 3, or I'd be a little steamed about wasted money. As it is I'm seriously thinking of downgrading back to the last version of OS 3 installed on my Touch and just leaving well enough alone for the rest of the device's life. The experience was better. And the new crippled features I can quite live without.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How much is camera gear supposed to cost?

E-P2 w/17mm mounted
Orlando Diary

This isn't a review of camera gear, so much as a personal editorial. I intend to review the M.Zuiko 17mm on Matthew's Reviews in the very near future. For now, I just wanted to write some editorial content about the cost of camera gear, something that might not be appropriate on Matthew's blog.

For personal as well as financial reasons, I've always been something of a cheapskate. I can dress that up by saying I believe in the power of value buying, but it all comes down being "a person who is reluctant to spend money."

And why shouldn't I be reluctant to spend money, especially on today's digital gear? The pace of development is so rapid in digital photography that your new shiny is obsolete even before you purchase it for use. That's because by the time your future piece of gear hits the market, the manufacturers have at least one, and possible two, new generations right behind it, driven by what was learned to manufacture the camera du jour, coupled with advances in the materials that go into a camera body and by changing consumer tastes. With that crucible constantly churning, you'll see product introductions and announcements every six months down at the low end (point-and-shoot up to entry level digital SLRs) to every 12 months for mid-range DSLRs, up to years between announcements for the flagship models.

The real interesting development takes place in the mid-tier models in both the P&S as well as mid-range DSLRs. The price bracket for both overlap considerably, but the price for interesting cameras in both camps extends from roughly $500 up to $1500. Anything less than $500 and you run the risk of purchasing a fashion statement more than a camera in the P&S category, or else somebody's end-of-life dump in the entry-level DSLR category. No, this is a range for cameras that have been introduced or are in the middle of the product life.

This also ignores used gear. I know a lot of people who swear by used gear, since you can find some real bargains. And I know just as many who swear at used gear, for the simple reason that when you buy used (not refurbished), you buy as-is, with no warranty. If it breaks, then you're pretty much on your own getting it repaired. Refurbished, depending on the manufacturer, will usually give you the same warranty as a new item, but at a lower cost to get it off the books. Refurbished items are usually returns from initial owners who bought it, found it they didn't like it for some reason, and returned it within the selling store's return policy. You'll find an awful lot of refurbished gear after Christmas. And you have to be really on the ball to find those refurbished deals.

So I'm talking about gear that is just introduced or is in the middle of its product life cycle that can be purchased just about anywhere at any time, depending on your time, taste, and budget. That covers an awful lot of gear.

I started my "real" photography life buying used. I got my first 35mm camera (Yashica GSN) and my first and last 6x6 camera (Mamiya c330 pro-f) through my dad in the early 1970's. My dad worked for Delta (Atlanta) with a group of draftsmen who were pretty talented artists and photographers. Back then gear was relatively inexpensive in relation to salaries and disposable income. Guys in my dad's group would buy gear, use it for a while, and then trade up or move to something else in photography. Offers to sell the orphans wound up on the group's bulletin board (back when it was cork and covered a large section of one wall). And this gear was lovingly cared for. Both cameras came to me as if new, with not a mark on them. And then there was the added bonus that if anything went wrong, my dad knew who the seller was; it was a tight community and nobody wanted to sell another member a lemon. It was a great place to buy useful gear, especially on a budget.

Unfortunately for me those times have long since passed. I have yet to find a similar market I can trust the way I trusted my dad's group nearly forty years ago. I've been told there are similar markets for used gear out there, but I'm not willing to take the risk. Used gear is expensive enough that I would rather buy new from the manufacturer in order to (1) get the complete warranty, and (2) avoid the possible risk that some internal component's life span has been shortened because it's used, thus increasing the risk that the camera will stop working for me. Regardless of whether I pay to fix it or it's still under warranty, gear that is in repair is gear I'm not using. When you buy new gear you are paying for, in part, the ability to use it for as long as possible. And statistically speaking, for most gear, new gear will work longer than used before requiring servicing or repair.

So we've established a range and a type of gear to purchase. Within that range is a tremendous selection of bodies, lenses, flashes, and other equipment. The next question is "how much?" The answer will vary from person to person, but it basically comes down to how little you need to invest in gear to achieve the greatest amount of enjoyment. Or to put it another way; the best gear to use is the gear you can afford (a variation on the best camera is the one you have with you).

And this is where the M.Zuiko 17mm f/2.8 comes into this story. The M.Zuiko is a reasonably inexpensive pancake prime (MSRP $300; I paid $250 discounted for mine) that is at least a half-stop faster than the M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom. When attached to the E-P2 it makes the camera's physical size quite diminutive. The only problem with this lens according to its critics is that it isn't as good as the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7; it's not as sharp wide open, it has too much chromatic aberration in the corners, and it's at least a stop-and-a-half slower than the Panasonic. The problem is that the Panasonic is at least a good $100 more expensive than the the Olympus.

And then there's the issue of perceived image quality. First and foremost, it is indeed a slower lens. For the photographer who shoots in low light, that difference can be split in one of two ways; adjust the ISO higher to support a fast-enough shutter and shoot as wide open as possible, or keep the ISO as low as possible and adjust the shutter speed to very slow speeds. In one instance you get a better chance for a sharper but noisier image and the ability to minimize motion blur, while in the other direction you get images with less noise, and in some cases, a lot less noise, but you run the risk of motion blur ruining the shot. Only experience can help you decide.

I can't argue with the lens speed. I certainly could use the speed if I were shooting predominately low-light with the E-P2. But that's not where I'm at right now with my use of the E-P2. I live in Florida, which has lots of sun, even when it's cloudy. I'm not into visiting dark bars (having left that scene over 30 years ago) or other areas that are lighting challenged. When it gets that dark I usually reach for my trusty FL-50R and E-3. Otherwise the 17mm is more than capable of producing excellent shots, depending on the talent of the photographer (me in this case).

Pipes and DialsIn this example (as in all the others) the 17mm was wide open at f/2.8. I wanted to see just what the lens was capable of producing with the E-P2. All images were post-processed in Adobe's Lightroom 3. With the exception of scaling for Flickr (which is where these are all hosted) the image is straight out of the camera.

I'm pleased with the level of detail as well as the subtlety of color that was captured with the entire system.

I was on the way into a local drugstore when I happened to pass by this UPS delivery truck. The driver was inside making a delivery, so I quickly composed and captured this simple image.

There's the subtlety of detailed texture in the seat and seat belt, while the rest of the image grows gently out of focus the further back you look; this adds a sense of three dimensionality.

If you click on the image and look at the largest size you'll see CA around the outer edges of the image, especially at the top where the light contrast is greatest. I could have removed this in Lightroom 3, but I choose not to. Why? Because it didn't really matter.

UPS Cockpit

Finally, here's one for fun. Lucy is lying on the top of the sofa which sits behind and next to the side-board. She just loves to prop her head on the board and watch everyone move through the house.

Once again, 17mm wide open. Although I wasn't aiming for this, the bokeh is quite pleasing and more than enough for my tastes. Besides, you should be looking at the cute kitty, not the out-of-focus areas behind her head.

One Chillin' Kitty

I really enjoy the 17mm. Rather than agonizing over the technical details and spending time arguing the pixel-peeped merits, I find it far more enjoyable just using the lens as it was intended with the E-P2. I'm not the first, and I certainly won't be the last, person to tell the rest of the world to "chill out." I'm reminded of a review I once read on Luminous Landscape about the Sony 828, all the way back in 2003. One paragraph in particular sticks in my mind:
Unfortunately there are some folks who see a bit of noise texture in a 100% crop and somehow jump to the conclusion that the image is crap. It shouldn't be necessary to point this out, but if the entire image were shown it would be equivalent to an on-screen image almost 3 feet high by 4 feet wide. Of course you're going to see some noise and other artifacts. But the important thing to keep in mind is how does it look in a typical sized print — say up to 11X17" image size on paper? (Look at 42" Plasma HD TV from 6 inches away and you'll see dots. Watch the football game from 9 feet away and you'll enjoy the show).
The same holds true today as it did seven years ago for the Sony. Only the details have changed. Print these images on 11x17" (or 16x20") paper, then stand back and look at them the way the images were intended to be viewed. Appreciate what you see, and judge on the content, not the technical details.

When it comes to gear, purchase what you can easily and comfortably afford, and you'll find that your enjoyment will be enhanced by not worrying how much you spent; enjoyment that will add considerably to your ability to produce quality images every time. That's the measure of how much gear should cost.

Equipment Used
Olympus E-3 with Zuiko Digital 50mm 1:2 Macro for the top photo, Olympus E-P2, M.Zuiko 17mm 1:2.8 for everything else

Steve Jobs - Revenge of the Fallen

When I read about the crazy antics involved in getting applications into the App Store, or how the end-user license was literally re-written for iOS 4 to keep Adobe CS5 off the platform, or lately, how Apple is removing any mention of Consumer Reports "can't recommend" recommendation of the iPhone 4, because of the fundamental flaw in the iPhone 4's antenna... I have to wonder how much longer we'll have to put up with the little Jobs monster. Whatever respect and admiration I had for Steve Jobs and Apple is now completely gone, burned away by his vengeful antics against the system that forced him out of Apple in the later 1980's.

Hailed as the savior of Apple when he returned to, and took over Apple again in 1998, Jobs was going to return Apple back to greatness and give us all cool new digital toys to play with. This was back when the anti-Microsoft sentiment (the trial started on May 18, 1998) was peaking. Jobs wasn't just seen as the savior of Apple, but of personal computing in some quarters. And I admit I was one of those fervent boosters. If only I'd known then what I know now.

What a difference twelve years makes. Jobs did indeed return Apple to former glory, and then well beyond that historical mark. But he did it with typical Jobsian iron-fisted rule; among many of the his first acts, which included killing the Newton, were his changes to the licensing of Apple firmware and software, making it impossible for third-party computer makers to make clones of the Mac. Some apologize for Jobs, saying he had to do that to make Apple more tightly focused, to avoid having to compete against the cloners who were supposedly riding on the coat-tails of Apple's development efforts. No, Jobs did all this to the cloners because Jobs has never cared about open systems and open standards unless it was highly controlled in Apple's favor. After all, the Mac Classic was completely closed to the point where I had to buy expensive Torx screwdrivers at the time to fatten my Mac with more memory.

Over the years since Jobs returned, I have promoted and purchased Apple products for my personal use as well as for the use of my family. But after watching the App Store debacle unfold over the past two years, and especially the changes wrought in the iOS 4 terms of agreement, I have decided to take my money and my business elsewhere. I helped put Jobs and his ego where it is today by willingly spending thousands of dollars with Apple, along with millions of others who've spent multiple billions with Apple over the years. I have no delusion that my refusal to buy from Apple will halt what Jobs and Co. are doing, which is removing the basic freedom to do with the device as I wish. And I don't mean logging into the besotted App Store with its "curated computing" so I can download mostly useless applications. I mean the ability to create whatever I wish without permission of any kind from Apple Central.

Like I said, if I'd only known then what I know now. We have traded the tyranny of Microsoft for the shinier, prettier, but no less destructive tyranny of Apple. We have learned nothing.

Monday, July 12, 2010

And it just keeps getting grimer

Empty and locked up
14 Trillion Dollars — or about $47,000 for every man, woman, and child living in the US. That's how much we'll owe next year at the current rate of spending coupled with the current rate of revenue decline due our crippled and nearly-bankrupt economy.

We can no longer find a given politician or political party to hang this on. This profligate spending has been going on for so long that we're all responsible for the current economic collapse. We don't have the ability to spend out way out of this mess, because we've been borrowing so heavily against the future for so long we've run out of time - the future is now. We've spent it all, and then some.

It's not just the national debt we have to worry about, but the large overhanging personal debt we've wracked up since the 1980's, when we first elected Ronald Reagan and we learned that greed was good.

You continue to see the results of the ongoing Great Recession in spite of the tepid "recovery", a "recovery" that is in danger of becoming a double-dip recession. Buildings have lain empty since January of 2009 (the one above since I first photographed it, right across from Universal Orlando, since February 2009). If businesses do crash, then the follow-ons have a pretty good chance of crashing as well. As I drive through the neighborhoods around where I work as well as where I live, I see houses with for-sale signs that have been up for 18 months or longer. The jobs, where they're available, are part time. Shopping malls are still showing large vacancies, and what is open have fairly thin crowds.

I have no idea when this will end. But with the insane level of debt we have accumulated and the way human nature is right now, it will be decades before this issue is resolved, if ever. I wonder if I'll live long enough to see the economy return to the levels I grew up with, let alone something I can be proud to leave my girls.

Equipment Used
Olympus E-3, Zuiko Digital 9-18mm 1:4-5.6

A change of design

Yes, it looks - strange. I got really tired of the years-old hacked-up design.When I went looking for ways to tweak what I had, Blogger didn't even have it listed anymore. So I went tramping through most of what they had, and tried to find something that would give me most of what I had with the old and busted.

Oh. That's 'bokeh' on the side. I'm sure that someone will come along and tell me how bad it is; but since I didn't take it, I don't really care.

I'm not sure if this will stay or if I'll try something new. But you never know until you try. If you feel this can be improved, please leave a (polite) comment.


Well, I think I'm going to like this style. It's open and less complicated than the former mess I called a style. What's more, Blogger added a feature I had to add by hand; the category cloud is now a built-in to Blogger.

Monday, July 05, 2010

To My Personal Asian Blog Comment Spammer

Bugger off. I don't know when I picked up your sorry self, but I wish you'd just fall back off. You've been persistently attempting to add comment spam to my blog for over a month now, and every time you add a comment, it gets deleted before it ever shows up in the comments. Don't you get it? Or are you that stupid?

Yes, I think you're that stupid.

In the mean time I've got simple filters set up to kick your sorry trash to the digital curb of the information super highway (now there's a cringe-worthy phrase I bet you haven't heard in quite a while).

Edit 8 July

Hit a nerve, did I?

Ruby Comes Home

Posing with Ruby
We traveled up to Gainesville this past Saturday (3 July) to pick Ruby up from the Small Animal Hospital. She'd been there since Judy dropped her off Monday.

Although it was a Saturday, the day started off early and tense; we had to check Ruby out by 9:30am at the hospital, so I had to be on the road no later than 7:30am in Orlando. Which meant getting up around 6:45am, like a regular work day. What made it more complicated than a regular work day is that my wife and oldest daughter wanted to ride along as well. I could certainly understand that, as it was the two of them that delivered Ruby to Gainesville the prior Monday.

I drove the whole way non-stop. This was also a bit unusual, as Judy likes to stop at various rest areas on a road trip to get out and stretch. But nothing was said about stopping, although we certainly talked a bit on the way up just to keep me alert.

The trip up I-75 was quick and uneventful; no traffic accidents in Ocala as there are wont to be, especially on a holiday weekend. We left I-75 at the SW Archer Rd exit, and made good time to the Small Animal Hospital on SW 16th Ave. When we arrived and parked, we rang in at the front entrance and then waited for security to let us in. Saturday was not a regular working day (Monday through Friday is), but they still had a minimal staff on duty. It wasn't more than five minutes after announcing our arrival at the locked front door than we were in the waiting room to see Ruby.

Going over Ruby's Stats
We were met in the waiting room by Misha Dunlap, a University of Florida Veterinary School student. She'd been Ruby's little buddy almost from the start. It was Misha who called Judy at least one a day to give us all an update on how Ruby was doing. And it was Misha who had an important part in Ruby's recovery. While I absolutely believe in the power of veterinary medicine, Misha's love and attention to Ruby was just as important as her medical skills. I'm sure she had other patients to tend to in the hospital. I'm also quite certain Misha's boundless caring was more than enough to go around to everyone.

I want to take a moment to underscore how important it is to have such a good "bedside" manner. Misha's sensitivity to the concerns of Ruby's owners (us) as well as Ruby herself is every bit as vital as her knowledge of medicine, especially when an animal's very life hangs in the balance. Make no mistake; we didn't know what was wrong with Ruby or what really triggered the incident (and we still don't), but we expected to lose Ruby and were resigned to this fact up until mid-Thursday. I can't help but believe that Misha's excellent medical knowledge and positive personal interactions will make her a superb vet when she graduates.

The Doctor
Misha had help, in this case Dr. Andrew Specht, a full veterinary doctor. Although our time with Dr. Specht was brief, he never-the-less came across as easy going and caring. He took a lot of time patiently answering questions I had about Ruby's condition, what to feed her going forward, and what to expect once we got Ruby home. Dr. Specht reinforced my positive experiences with Misha while adding a dimension of polish and experience.

Misha and Dr. Specht spent a bit of time talking about Ruby. We never felt rushed, even though we knew they'd worked the night shift, and were needing to go home and sleep. When we left with Ruby, we left with a feeling that everything had been answered to our satisfaction and that we had more than enough information to continue to care for Ruby and help her finish her convalescence.

Why Gainesville?

The answer to this is multi-faceted. First and foremost, that this isn't the first time we've had to call on the services of the University of Florida Veterinary School. In 1986, just two years after Judy and I had married and moved to Orlando, her first yellow Lab Rhett was sick, almost deathly ill. He was listless, with poor appetite, and was showing blood in his urine. He'd been in that condition for months. Our vet at the time didn't seem to have a real clue as to what was going on, except to say Rhett had an infection. So he would prescribe one antibiotic after another, hopeful that he might get lucky. Judy was frustrated beyond words.

Judy's sister, who was alive at the time, and also a Lab breeder, suggested we take Rhett up to Gainesville. So Judy followed that advice. It should be noted that Judy did this 10 days after giving birth to our first child. We had her mother with us at the time and I was close to home, so the baby was covered. But Judy was desperate to find out what was wrong with Rhett, and so she made that first fateful trip to Gainesville, just her and Rhett.

It took Gainesville several days to diagnose the problem, which turned out to be some sort of proteus infection. Gainesville had an antibiotic flown up from Miami, which when administered to Rhett had it knocked out in no time. Rhett came back to normal in short order. Rhett was six at the time; he lived for another ten full years.

Ruby marks the second time we've gone to Gainesville. It was a series of serendipitous circumstances that led us to Gainesville. It was Dr. Prather, and his assistant Elizabeth that recognized what was really happening and gave Ruby her first bag of saline. He sent us on to the Veterinary Emergency Clinic were we met another excellent vet, Dr. Dietz. Dr. Dietz and the staff kept Ruby alive over the weekend until Monday. By then, Judy and I had already decided to drive Ruby up to Gainesville. The fact that Ruby is back home and on the road to recovery reinforces our belief that we made the right decision.

Picking Ruby
But It's More Complicated Than That

Ruby might be four-footed and fuzzy, but she's as much a member of the family as any of us. Ruby is special; she's Judy's first real dog since Rhett (the rest being more like full family dogs), in that we found a breeder and Judy picked Ruby (or, more to the point, Ruby picked Judy).

Ruby was important for another reason; she was a replacement for another beloved Lab we called Babe. Babe died Christmas 2007, a year that was already tumultuous and was leading into an even more fractious 2008. Even though Babe was 13 1/2 when she died, her death hit us pretty hard because we were not expecting it. In the past, when Rhett (and later his companion, Katy) died, they were "full of years". Rhett died when he was sixteen, and he was ready to go. But Babe was still full of energy (even at 13) and when she went, she went so fast it was a shock, especially at Christmas.

So there was a lot of emotional baggage tied to that little yellow Lab we named Ruby, perhaps too much. Add to that the fact she wasn't even two years old yet, and you had a situation where I wasn't going to give up on Ruby without a fight.

And finally, to top it all off, was the fact I was in some way responsible for putting her in the state she wound up in. I was the one who took them both out for walks that fateful morning, and it was right after the walk when Ruby became ill. Regardless of the fact that Max showed no illness whatsoever (and he's nearly ten years old); I. Was. Responsible.

I had a responsibility to Judy, and to her overall happiness. Ruby was part of that. And I had a responsibility to the girls; they had both become very involved with Ruby, in part because they knew how important Ruby was to their mom. And I had a responsibility to little Ruby, who was in the state she was in through no fault of her own.

And then there's the philosophical side of why I reacted to such a situation. I have spent nearly half my life living with and raising a family, which has included Labs. I have lived with the fundamental rule that I would always be there for my family, that I wouldn't leave anyone behind. And that attitude has been extended to the Labs we've kept through all those years as well. I'm well aware there are those who would have weighed Ruby's life against the money required to help her heal, and made the "pragmatic" decision to just let her die (or put her to sleep). If I had made that decision it would have called into question the strength of my convictions. It's one thing to not have the money, and I certainly understand that. But it's a callous decision to let a creature die because you place more value on material possessions (and money) over the life of another living creature, especially a life that hangs in the balance.

Equipment Used
Olympus E-P2, M.Zuiko 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6