Saturday, December 12, 2009

Happy Hanukkah

To all my Jewish readers (and anyone else who celebrates the holiday), I'd like to wish you a Happy Hanukkah. Hag Sameach!

Oh, and don't eat too many latkes :)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Legitimate Limitations On Freedom Of Speech

Based on some of the comments I've received in response to last week's post about what defines freedom of speech, both ones I've posted and and the handful I rejected, I've decided a follow-up is in order. Many talk about freedom of speech as if it is an absolute right (it isn't) and as if it is always good and desirable (it's not). Let me explain.

In the United States courts have long upheld limitations on free speech that most of us find to be quite reasonable. The most famous example is that falsely shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater is not protected free speech. The reason is obvious. Such speech could cause people to be trampled, resulting in injury or death. The United States Declaration of Independence only enumerated three rights as "inalienable": "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Notice that life comes first and since being trampled to death denies someone their life it is perfect reasonable for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule the way it did in 1919. Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. laid out the reason why speech can be limited:
"The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent."

Other examples of where free speech is limited in free societies falls into the category of where allowing an absolute right of free speech would deny others of rights which take precedence. In the United States there are laws against incitement to riot and incitement to violence. Defamation of character, including libel and slander, is also not protected speech precisely because of the harm done to the target of such speech.

Laws against sedition are certainly more controversial but the principle is the same: the harm done to citizens of the country could conceivable deny them of their life or liberty. In the United States the Smith Act is still the law of the land. The same justification is used for laws against treason and espionage, as well as prohibitions against some news reporting in war zones. Many Americans will remember that Geraldo Rivera of Fox News was expelled from Iraq for revealing the location of U.S. troops, an act which could put those troops in danger.

OK, up until now I am talking about broad principles and governments. The reason I went off in that direction is to make the point that most reasonable people in free countries do understand, accept and support reasonable limitations on free speech. By the strictest definition of the word these examples are all forms of censorship. Censorship, in and of itself, is not evil. What is evil, or at the very least damaging to a free society, is the indiscriminate or unjustified use of censorship. This brings us back to last week's post. What about individuals, blogs and websites?

Let me reiterate the basic premise of what I wrote last week. You have a right to your ideas and opinions about pretty much anything at all. You have a right to express them. That is the essence of freedom of speech and expression. You do not have the right to publish your ideas wherever you want without the approval of the owner of the media where you want to publish. You do not have the right to order a website or a blogger to publish your comments whether they want to or not. That isn't freedom of speech. That's dictating what speech will be published. It is the antithesis of free speech which is being misrepresented as free speech.

Let's go back to the example of and their Terms Of Service (TOS). There was a period some months back where it seemed to a number of the regulars in the forum, including myself, that a few individuals were effectively hijacking the site, turning the forum into a soapbox for a particular political agenda. They would dominate threads and post long diatribes anytime someone would disagree with their views. I visit to read news about Linux and FOSS (Free and Open Source Software), not to debate politics. Yes, the agenda in question was one with which I disagree but that really is irrelevant. I don't go to Linux news sites to read about politics of any stripe. A number of us complained to the editors and the Terms Of Service are now being enforced. I was sharply criticized and personal attacks were leveled at myself and others because we wanted a Linux site to be a Linux site.

I made the point last week that many websites and blogs are designed to express a particular viewpoint or opinion. That is no different from other forms of media. Fox News is known for expressing a conservative Republican political agenda in the United States. As I pointed out last week I cannot demand they air my decidedly more liberal views. In the case of a blog or website, particularly one that expresses unpopular minority opinions as I often do, without comment moderation it is entirely possible for the message to be lost in all the noise. Another possibility, particularly when a site has a an agenda, is that the other side of the debate tries to effectively take over and weaken the message. Moderation, even though some define it as "arbitrary" or "capricious" is an absolute necessity in these cases. Why? Without moderation the ability to express the viewpoint the author or editor wants to express can be diluted or lost. In effect, those who insist on their "freedom of speech" in the form of unlimited, unmoderated comments are denying those same freedoms to those they disagree with.

I received a perfect example in a comment I rejected today which concluded with the commenter telling me he want me to "shut up and get lost." I will do neither. It's funny how those who cry "censorship!" and claim a denial of "free speech" the most vociferously are willing to deny that speech to someone they disagree with. They demand the right to dictate what I or anyone else will or will not publish but would deny me the right to say something they don't like. As I said last week: some people have very strange ideas about freedom of speech.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Strange Ideas About Freedom Of Speech

As many of you have undoubtedly noticed I do moderate comments on my blog. If you've read the comments you know that I almost always publish what people have to say even if they strongly disagree with me. On rare occasions I hold a comment to check something before publishing or to compose a thoughtful response. However, if someone is abusive or offensive I do reject comments. A person who wrote such a comment then accused me of having a "strange idea of free speech" and censorship. It's actually nothing of the sort.

If you write something is the New York Times obligated to publish it? Must the Washington Post run a sharply worded op-ed? Can I compel Fox News to give voice to my liberal opinions? The answer to all these questions is an unequivocal no. Private media is permitted editorial control of their content. Websites and blogs are no different. They are simply a newer, different form of private media.

O'Reilly Media editors have deleted comments to things I've written once in a while: comments I would have accepted. It's their website, they own it, so it's their choice. Thomas Holbrook II recently complained about the Terms of Service on in a post on his The Nixed Report blog. He finds their prohibition on political discussion "ridiculous". I happen to disagree but I certainly recognize Mr. Holbrook's right to express his opinion on his website. He, too, discussed this prohibition in terms of "freedom of thought and expression" and it is no more a limitation on his freedom than a refusal from a local paper to publish something. The owners and editors of have a right to manage their site as they see fit.

I'm not preventing anyone from voicing an opinion or expressing themselves. I am merely exercising my right to editorial control on my blog and websites. If someone wants to post something I won't publish they have every right to do so... on their own blog or website. Everyone has a right to setup their own proverbial soapbox and voice their opinion. Nobody has a right to take my soapbox and appropriate it for their own use. Those who argue otherwise are the ones who have strange ideas about freedom of speech.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Too everyone who is reading this and is here in the United States... Have a very Happy Thanksgiving holiday!

Oh, and don´t go too crazy with black Friday shopping tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Some People Don't Know When To Leave Well Enough Alone

I've had enough of the hatred spewed at me from the Puppy Linux forums and Puppy Linux users everywhere. I am hounded, week in and week out, including three comments on DistroWatch this week, about my "refusal" to run Puppy Linux and my "crazy review". It never stops, it continues in e-mail and on every Linux forum where I write. Why are the Puppy Linux community members so obsessed with me? Here is the only reason I can think of:

A couple of years back I wrote a very short piece for the old O'Reilly Linux DevCenter blogs stating that Puppy Linux 2.17 (the current version at the time) wouldn't boot on my systems except for one ancient desktop and that made it impossible for me to give it a fair review. The Puppy Linux community got all bent out of shape and it escalated from there, into intimidation and threats, including what many interpreted as a death threat in the comments section of DistroWatch Weekly. Puppy Linux community members also tried to get my writing pulled from O'Reilly. My editor at the time saw the post in question as threatening and backed me up.

I have no clue whether Puppy Linux is good, bad or in between nowadays. I won't look at the code because of the community which keeps after me incessantly. There are different parts of the Linux community which are everything from very good to truly awful. The Puppy community is the worst of the lot when it comes to absolute fanaticism. No dissent or criticism is tolerated.

Meanwhile truly nasty personal attacks on me continue unabated two years later. Heck, they've even got Notorik, a user who insists on DistroWatch that information security is "poppycock", telling everyone there I'm "unbalanced" because I believe security is important. (I wonder if people there still agree after the Puppy Linux website was defaced recently.) The threat, which many others saw exactly as I saw it, is a "demented fantasy". I can do no right and the Puppy Linux community is perfect. Sure, that's it.

I've received e-mail and seen comments from others who have had bad experiences and/or feel the same way. No, sorry, it's not just some delusion on my part.

Don't you people know when to leave well enough alone? I would NEVER, EVER mention Puppy Linux in any context if you'd just let well enough be. That's a message they can't seem to get in what I see as the deepest, darkest, nastiest corner of the Linux community.

The Problem With The Linux Community

The following appears on the O'Reilly Community website. I don't usually crosspost between there and here but I will be writing a follow-up which will appear on this blog only. The reason: it will be decidedly controversial in a way which I don't want to bring to O'Reilly. So... in order for that post to make sense here is part 1:


I wrote a less than stellar review of openSUSE 11.2 this week for DistroWatch. Why? Well.. because this particular release really has issues: the installer choosing the wrong driver causing it to hang, serious instability in KDE on my two month old netbook in a release that touted itself for netbooks, and numerous smaller issues. It's a shame because, in general, I've always liked openSUSE. It was never my true favorite, but that was because of some personal preferences, not because of faults in the distro.

First, I must compliment the openSUSE developers. I've had great correspondence from Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier and Will Thompson, a developer in the KDE team in Nuremberg, which were truly first rate. These are Linux professionals who clearly are much more interested in solving problems and putting out a quality product than anything else. I'll be filing bug reports by tomorrow to try and help them resolve the issues that I found.

While I'm very positive about the openSUSE team I must say that I am a lot less sanguine about some in their community. Some fans (or really fanatics) came out in force ready to attack the reviewer (me), to question my skills and even my sanity, to attack Ladislav Bodnar for posting the review, to blame the hardware, anything at all but the distro code which is, according to some, "the best release ever". Fine, whatever, I'm used to it. Writing honest reviews will never win friends or make me popular in the Linux community. Some folks (way too many) only want fawning fan reviews and distro commercials.

Here are three response comments that I found especially clueful and pretty much spot on:
There is too much fanaticism in the world, people getting all exited over nothing - over stuff which is meaningless. The really important and relevant stuff is ignored.

But the reason is clear - the real issues are ignored because what is most important to me? ME.

So, forget the real issues - you better watch what you say about MY distro (religion, team, car etc., etc.) because what you are saying, you say about ME.
Remember, this is MY distro (religion, team, car etc., etc. ) I have chosen it. Therefore, if it is less than perfect then I am less than perfect......and THAT I can't bear.
--Antony, DistroWatch comments section, post #291

I love Linux, but I sometimes hate the community. I think often the community is Linux's worst enemy. Let me clarify that: I do love the development community, where the focus is on collaboration and making things better and sharing those improvements for the benefit of all. But I can't stand the "user community", at least the vocal part that have nothing better to do that going around with "mine is better than yours" nonsense.


Why can't this positive development spirit be extended to the user community? Why do some in the user community need to "defend" their distro? Why do some, as Antony brought out, take criticism to "their" distro personally?
--Patrick, DistroWatch comments section, post #295

Patrick, I agree that in many cases the Linux community is its own worst enemy. I say that with myself being a big (Linux) free software open source community fan. Unfortunately in many of the comments, from both sides in discussing the reviews in this distrowatch weekly, there have been comments which are only part of the technical, and appear to have been posted either out of ignorance, or posted only designed to hurt.
--oldcpu, DistroWatch comments section, post #297

The three comments above illustrate, that this is not a problem with just the openSUSE community. It plagues large parts of the wider Linux community. I'll have more about perhaps the worst example of this I know, and some people who just can't leave well enough alone, in my next post.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

U.S. House Pases Heath Care Bill; One Republican Votes "Yea"

I was watching live on CSPAN just a few minutes ago when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the heathcare reform bill, HR 3962. The Affordable Healthcare for America bill passed by a vote of 220-215. Only one Republican, Rep. Joseph Cao of Louisiana was willing to put ordinary Americans ahead of the big insurance companies and their lobbyists. Rep. Cao is a freshman Comgressman and he is to be congratulated for standing up to his own party and voting his conscious. 39 Democrats voted against the bill.

The bill, as passed, is far from perfect but it is definitely a step in the right direction. It does not provide universal health insurance but does make insurance obtainable and/or more affordable for millions of Americans. It ends the ability of insurance companies to deny coverage for "preexisting conditions", which has been grossly abused up until now. It does have a public option but it is very weak in that it does not resemble Medicare but rather forces the government to negotiate rates with health providers. Still, it is a huge step forward.

I'll have more on healthcare later, particularly as the Senate debate moves forward.

Friday, October 23, 2009

An Amazing Coincidence or Something More Sinister?

Yesterday, as anyone involved in computing knows, Windows 7 was released by Microsoft with much marketing hype and fanfare. Apple responded with some new clever commercials basically saying that Windows 7 comes with all the security problems and other issues that previous Windows versions have had. Maybe so.

Canonical chose the day to announce the release candidate of their upcoming Ubuntu Linux 9.10 (Karmic Koala), scheduled for final release next week. I'm running Karmic on the HP Mini 110 in a dual boot configuration with HP Mi, a customized Ubuntu 8.04 LTS for netbooks. So far this release is extremely promising and may be their best since Edgy Eft. I certainly haven't found any show stopping bugs.

Hewlett-Packard also did something yesterday, albeit very quietly. HP removed Linux entirely from the part of their website where they sell netbooks. The day Windows 7 became available the HP Mi interface appears to have died a quiet death. A visit to the HP Mini pages reveals that HP is only offering "genuine" Windows 7 and "genuine" Windows XP. I also noticed that the HP Mini 110 also sports a new, higher starting price, a full US $25 more than when I ordered mine earlier this month. I have to assume the Windows license is part of the higher price.

The timing of the apparent death of Mi may be an amazing coincidence. I have no inside knowledge of the decision making process at HP. However, there is substantial history of Microsoft playing hardball with hardware vendors. There is also significant evidence of increased interest and demand for Linux, with Acer unveiling a new Linux (Android) netbook offering after having previously dropped from the Open Source operating system.

The Asus story is particularly striking example of how Microsoft is widely believed to have forced a hardware vendor out of the Linux market. The company which started the netbook revolution with their EeePC running Linux in 2007 launched an "It's better with Windows" campaign early this year which drew the ire of many in the Linux community. Then in June at Computex in Taiwan Asus proudly displayed an EeePC with a Qualcomm Snapdragon (ARM) processor running Android. The following day Asus' chairman Jonney Shih found himself sharing a stage with Microsoft corporate VP, OEM Division, Steven Guggenheimer. Shih apologized for showing the Android EeePC, a move which resulted in many angry columns about Microsoft strong-arm tactics.

Around the same time Asus executives were doing all they could to throw Linux under the proverbial bus. Asus Australia consumer market product manager Gordon Kerr stated in late May that Linux was likely to be completely phased out by Asus on netbooks. At the time he said:
"People bought the original seven- and eight-inch Eee PCs for a computer to give to the kids. If you want the full functionality of a notebook you are going to go with Windows.”
Never mind that the relatively poor performance of Windows on netbooks when compared to Linux didn't exactly help create satisfied customers as I reported back in June. The response from many previously satisfied Asus EeePC owners was typified by blogger James Sparenberg in a post titled "We don't need you either Asus."

As I reported in my survery of Linux netbooks currently on the market published just yesterday it turns out Asus never did fully leave the Linux market. Toys 'R' Us still sells Linux based EeePC, albeit older models, both online and in its stores. Asus also continues to offer Linux on their Eee Box nettop PCs. However, when Betanews questioned Josh Norem, a senior technical marketing specialist at Asus, about the possibility of a new Linux offering last month he replied "Not at this time." This from a company that had touted its Linux offerings and high Linux sales early this year.

Some may also remember testimony by Garry Norris of IBM when the U.S. Department of Justice went after Microsoft a decade ago. He detailed how Microsoft effectively killed OS/2, IBM's technically superior operating system, and how Microsoft effectively controlled IBM's PC business at the time.

There is little doubt that Hewlett-Packard devoted considerable development effort to the Mi interface. I'm not one who believes much in conspiracy theories but in light of Microsoft's historical dealings with it's vendors it sure would be one amazing coincidence if HP decided to kill Mi on precisely the day Windows 7 launched without any undue influence from Redmond.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

American Brand Name, Chinese Computer

10 days ago I wrote an article for O'Reilly about the premature failure of my Sylvania netbook. I ended up deciding to buy an HP Mini 110 Mi Edition (more on my choices soon) and ordered it custom built to my specs directly from Hewlett-Packard. It was competitively priced (and slightly less expensive than what's on HP's website now) and I was promised that the netbook would ship within six days. The turnaround time was much better than what Dell offered. I've read mainly positive reviews of this particular netbook, including one by Ladislav Bodnar on DistroWatch Weekly. As many of you probably know I write fairly regularly for Ladislav and I definitely to respect the man and his opinions. The netbook did, in fact, ship on the sixth day: from Shangai, China.

I knew that most if not all the netbooks, laptops, and notebooks sold today are built in a handful of factories located either in mainland China or Taiwan. I was under no illusion that buying an American brand name meant an American product. What surprised me is that HP apparantly doesn't even have stock of this netbook in the U.S. and doesn't even do simple customizations here.

In recent weeks Dell announced it was closing a Winston-Salem, North Carolina manufacturing plant and giving the work to "third parties" in Mexico and other countries. Despite President Obama's campaign rehtoric about keeping American manufacturing jobs in the United States companies keep outsourcing the work offshore or moving their own facilities to other countries with less expensive labor costs, poor or no environmental regulations, and little or no protections for workers. Meanwhile unemployment in the United States continues to rise. Here in North Carolina our unemployment rate is well above the national average.

I see this continuing loss of American manufacturing capacity, which is already a small fraction of what it once was, as a long term disaster for this country. Anyone who knows their history knows that when the U.S. entered World War II it rapidly converted the then unmatched manufacturing facilities to wartime production very quickly. If a major world conflict started today or in the near future I fear that we have no ability to do the same thing again. A pretty smart guy named Albert Einstein, who was a pacifist prior to the Second World War, held much more pragmatic views after the rise of Nazism. He famously said, "So long as there are men there will be wars." Sadly I believe he was right. That makes it the height of foolishness to leave the United States in a position where it cannot be ready for war quicky no matter how much we value peace.

I've come to believe a little protectionism would go a long way, particularly when it comes to industries vital to our economy, our defense, or both. I am mindful of history and the last thing I'd want Congress and the President to do is pass something like the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act during a deep recession or what, I believe in retrospect, we will call a depression. The last thing I want to do is severely curtail international trade. Having said all of that I am no longer the believer in free trade that I once was. I do feel trade will need to be a little less free and a bit more regulated to insure both American jobs and American defense capability.

The kind of severely under-regulated free trade we now have has meant lower prices for consumers. The fact that my new computer is made in China is one of the reasons it is so inexpensive. I would gladly pay more for one made in the United States. I can remember when this country was the leading manufacturer of personal computers. Today, to even recapture a small share of PC manufactuing in the U.S. would require government intervention.

Every President we've had since Ronald Reagan, Republicans and Democrats alike, have repeated the mantra of free trade over and over again. I wonder how Republicans who claim to be so concerned about national defense can justify promoting the wholesale export of manufacturing which has happened over the past 30 years. Similarly, I wonder how Democrats who claim to be so deeply concerned about the environment and workers' rights can do precisely the same when many of the countries which have succesfully imported manufacturing capacity and jobs have no such concerns. Any claim of concern about human rights by either party, by liberals or conservatives, rings hollow when we export our jobs and manufacturing capacity to countries that have abominable human rights records. It seems corporate profits and corporate lobbyists trump any and all other concerns. Greed remains the real G-d of early 21st century America.

It's way past time we examine the real costs of "free trade" instead of just parroting well worn lines about the benefits. I think if we do an honest cost-benefit analysis of free trade we will find that it is anything but free and, indeed, may do more harm than good as it is structured today.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Boycott Britain

Anyone who knows me knows I like tea. I drink a lot of it. I always buy loose leaf tea of all sorts. One of the least expensive brands of loose leaf tea, and one that sells excellent English and Irish Breakfast Tea blends, is Twinings, a British company. Today I went shopping and walked right past the Twinings tea. I am buying tea from American companies, imported Chinese tea, anything but British. Today I started my personal boycott of all things British and I urge everyone who supports Israel to join me.

In case you haven't following the news the British are increasingly boycotting Israeli goods and services. Major British trade unions have been boycotting Israel since 2007. AISH has published an alarming report about the rise of anti-Semitism, not just anti-Zionism, in the UK and how it is no longer taboo to express hate and loatihing for the Jewish people in Britain. Even the BBC, which has repeatedly stoked the flames of anti-Semitism with its strong anti-Israel bias, reported a record rise in UK anti-Semitism in the first half of this year. In the spring of last year Hebrew University historian Robert S. Wistrich, who was himself educated at Cambridge Univesity stated, ”Britain has become the center for the meeting of anti-Semitic trends in Europe.” The sharp rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic attacks in Britain has been reported every year since 2005.

So.. if the British hate me and my family just because we are Jewish why should I support them, their businesses and their economy? If the British hate Israel, where much of my family lives, with a passion, why on earth would I want to send my hard earned money to that dispicable country? I'd rather buy American or Israeli products. When it comes to products that aren't made or grown in the U.S. Or Israel, like tea, then I'll support almost anybody else before I'll support the UK. I'm enjoying a wonderful cup of Blooming apricot flavored black tea from China right now.

Please follow the links I've provided and read up on this for yourself. If you're Jewish, a supporter of Israel, or just plain think that anti-Semitism is as disgusting as any other form of ethnic or religious intolerance or racism, please join me in this boycott.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shana Tovah! Happy New Year!

For those of you who happen to be Jewish:

Shana Tovah! May you have a happy, healthy and sweet new year.

Actually, the good wishes apply to everyone.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 - Eight Years Later

On 9/11/2001 I was in the RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer) fast track class on the Red Hat campus. They had a TV in the room that morning and we watched the events unfold rather than have class early on. Class resumed later that day. Clearly what we were seeing on the TV was more important than the workings of a Linux operating system that morning, even one we had all paid good money to learn.

In 2005 I was working as a consultant for Red Hat and I was in New York for them. Here is what I wrote in the old version of this blog on August 20, 2005:
World Trade Center Station

I just finished a two day trip to New York City. I stayed at the Hyatt Regency in Jersey City so I took the PATH tube into lower Manhattan. The World Trade Center station was rebuilt where it always was, which was under the Twin Towers. Now the train goes into the hole where the Towers once stood and that station is in the bottom of the hole. I hadn't been back to New York since 9/11 and this was an eerie way to see the results up close. It's absolutely chilling.

I can remember watching the World Trade Center go up. Lower Manhattan looks wrong to me. I always navigated by the Towers. I'm not sure I can describe all the feelings that went through my head when I saw the hole my train was traversing or as I walked around it up on Church Street. A sense of loss, sadness, and definitely anger were all part of it. Everyone should take the PATH to World Trade Center station at least once, just to see what's left of the site from the inside.

You know what bothers me most today? They people who did this, the ones who masterminded and paid for the 9/11 attacks, are mostly still out there. They still hate us with a passion and sooner or later they will strike again. The country has all but forgotten the resolve and has certainly abandoned the unity of purpose we had in the days after 9/11. Neither President Bush nor President Obama ever put this country on a wartime footing and neither has been successful at truly going after those responsible.

Today we fight among ourselves. We had the spectacle of a member of the U.S. House of Representatives heckling the President and calling him a liar during a joint session of Congress. What ever happened to respect for the office of the President? What ever happened to realizing that we are all in this together and our enemies really don't care if we're liberals, moderates or conservatives. They hate all of us regardless of our ideology or affiliation.

It's time we wake up as a nation and realize what 9/11 really meant, both then and now. We Americans like to think of ourselves as the greatest nation on earth. A great nation would have rebuilt the Twin Towers already.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Amazing and Twisted Right Wing Smear Campaign Against President Obama

This is from an e-mail circulating around the Internet which someone in my family received:
HB 1388 PASSED !!

You just spent $20,000,000 to move members/supporters of Hamas, a terrorist organization, to the United States ; They get housing, food, the whole enchilada.


Whether you are an Obama fan, or not, EVERYONE IN THE U. S. needs to know.....

Something happened.... H.R. 1388 was passed, behind our backs. You may want to read about it.. It wasn ' t mentioned on the news... just went by on the ticker tape at the bottom of the CNN screen.
Obama funds $20M in tax payer dollars to immigrate Hamas Refugees to the USA . This is the news that didn ' t make the headlines...

By executive order, President Barack Obama has ordered the expenditure of $20.3 million in "migration assistance" to the Palestinian refugees and "conflict victims" in Gaza . (...including by contributions to international, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations...") The "presidential determination", which allows hundreds of thousands of Palestinians with ties to Hamas to resettle in the United States , was signed and appears in the Federal Register.
It sounds really sinister, doesn't it? Thankfully it's all a pack of lies designed to mislead the ignorant.

If it's a House Resolution (H.R) it passed in the House of Representatives and is not an Executive Order. It would also have to pass the Senate and be signed by the President to become law. This person is mixing apples and oranges. Whatever they are concerned about can be either an Executive Order or a bill that passed Congress, not both. For someone who knows anything about how the American legislative process works that should be the first obvious clue that something is very wrong with this e-mail.

So, let's take a look at H.R. 1388 and see what it's all about. The title of the bill is: "The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, an Act to reauthorize and reform the national service laws." It's an extension and expansion of the National and Community Service Act of 1990, first signed by President George H.W. Bush. In 1993 this was expanded with the founding of AmeriCorps, created by by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, signed by President Clinton and expanded by 50% by President George W. Bush. H.R. 1388, which was signed into law back in May, is about Americans doing national service: public service work for the country. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with the Middle East or Palestinians or Hamas. After repeatedly mentioning H.R. 1388 the e-mail has no specifics and completely misrepresents the bill.

OK, maybe the author got his or her numbers wrong and really wants us to look at an Executive Order. He or she was even kind enough to provide a link to the Federal Register, so naturally I followed the link to see what it's all about. I assume the author was hoping that either nobody would actually follow the link or that they simply wouldn't bother to read the details. The Presidential determination in question, which I do remember well, spent funds already allocated for refugee assistance. It is dated January, a full eight months ago, and has nothing to do with any bill currently before Congress or which passed Congress recently. Second, the idea, as I read it, was to help people flee Hamas, not help Hamas. These are refugees from Hamas, not Hamas supporters. If you followed the news at the time you know that Hamas used the conflict with Israel as cover for arrests, torture, and murder of Fatah members in Gaza and any remaining non-Muslim Palestinians (mainly Christians) in the territory. The idea of helping these people did have support from members of Congress of both parties: the same members of Congress who voted unanimously to support Israeli defensive actions in Gaza just three weeks earlier.

The author goes on to list a bunch of other horrible things that President Obama has done, from closing Guantanamo (which hasn't actually happened) to federally funding abortions (which also actually hasn't happened). It ends with the ominous line: "We are losing this country at a rapid pace." Actually, the far right and the know-nothings among the conservative movement haven't figured out that they lost the 2006 and 2008 elections. They already lost the country as the American people have rejected their agenda.

What is so galling about this is that it's all lies. Nothing new has passed Congress, President Obama hasn't signed any new laws or issued any new executive orders regarding Hamas or the Palestinians. If he had I'd be the first to write about it. If this President supported Hamas in any way, shape, or form I'd be up in arms about it. Here's reality: it never happened. It's just part of the right wing smear campaign, the hatred directed at President Obama, which goes on each and every day in this country. It absolutely disgusts me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Circling The Wagons

As anyone who reads my blog regularly knows by now I do a fair amount of writing about Linux and Linux distributions for a number of websites. Over the past year I've been paid to do so, moving me out of the "just another blogger" category and into the tech journalist category. Once upon a time when someone called me a "journalist" I would dispute the label but writing professionally has changed that.

Writing honestly about Linux distributions is not a way to become popular or make friends. When a given distribution, any distribution, has problems and a reporter writes about it there are always fans who will circle the wagons and/or go on the attack. I am very used to that by now. It's no surprise at all that has happened with a few CentOS loyalists. What is surprising is that it is continuing more than two weeks after I last wrote about the subject. Ken Leyba's post on the Cooking With Linux blog gets things seriously wrong on a number of levels.

A netbook is nothing more than a small notebook. Mr. Leyba is completely off base when he claims otherwise. Machines like this have been used in business for about forever. I remember the CEO and other senior execs of a company I supported when I contracted to IBM Global Services using the itty bitty Toshiba Libretto with a 7" screen for travel back in 1999. Nothing has changed all that much other than the fact that you no longer pay a premium for tiny and that has helped make small machines popular. Linux makes them more productive.

Enterprise Linux is marketed for the desktop. To claim that CentOS, an EL clone, is only for servers and that my experiment was somehow invalid because it was done on a desktop/notebook/netbook is patently ridiculous. When I was consulting for Red Hat in 2004-2005 I visited a number of companies that were and undoubtedly still are using Red Hat Enterprise Linux on desktops, workstations, and yes, on laptops. Those enterprise customers would have considered a failure to deliver a Firefox patch that closed a number of critical security vulnerabilities to be a serious problem. The idea that a Firefox patch is irrelevant on an enterprise distribution as some have claimed is simply preposterous.

CentOS has to prove they can get patches out on a timely basis to be taken seriously as an enterprise product. Their track record in that area over the past year has been atrocious. It wasn't one Firefox package. It was a year of things arriving late, sometimes months late.

The response from CentOS developers to the security issue in the comments of my business-centric article for O'Reilly Broadcast on the subject was actually spot on:
"Your point about the security updates is well founded, we try a lot harder to make sure we get things right and we have a much more involved process to establish when the 'right' is. An easy way to work through this would be if Red Hat were to share more info with us. Not sure if that is likely to happen and what the timeframe for that would be, but over the course of the next few months we hope to have a more transparent process in place that lets users track exactly what is going on, where and how."
When patches are a few days late it can, indeed, have something to do with the upstream vendor. When they are two months late that seems entirely unlikely. The fact that a member of the CentOS development team is owning the problem making a commitment to "get things right" in the future is a very positive step.

My complaints about the dependency on third party repositories and the lack of packages in general is an issue that is hardly unique to CentOS. I raised the same issue when I reviewed Slackeare 12.1 last year. It's a significant issue for any desktop/laptop user, not just on netbooks. The need to go to third parties for packages to adequately support newer hardware isn't netbook specific either.

I also feel that the issues around the open letter to Lance Davis called into question how that distro is being managed. Yes, it was blown way out of proportion by the tech media and I said as much in my O'Reilly Broadcast article. That one issue may well have been solved and I certainly bear the CentOS devs no ill will. That doesn't change the fact that Scientific Linux has done a better job with getting patches out on a timely basis. It is not dependent on a few volunteers and has the backing of and funding from major laboratories and universities all over the world. From a business perspective that makes Scientific Linux a safer choice for an Enterprise Linux clone.

The attempt to replicate my business environment on my netbook was a valid experiment. I thought other Linux users, those who think highly of Red Hat Enterprise Linux as I do, might want to do the same. The original DistroWatch Weekly feature article documented the difficulties in doing so. The post here which Mr. Leyba responded to was the fourth of five if you include the original DistroWatch piece and the business-centric O'Reilly piece. Considering that I linked back to the preceding articles should be a very clear message that the one post shouldn't be taken out of context but as part of a larger whole. In any case it wasn't a "rant" against CentOS as Mr. Leyba claims, but rather it tied the proverbial ribbons on the end of my experiment and explained why I decided the whole thing was more trouble than it was worth.

I did make a mistake in putting issues regarding servers and desktop-specific issues in one blog post. While many of the issues involved impact both areas the fact that I did not make a clear enough delineation between the two almost certainly generated misunderstanding. In that sense I did fail to communicate clearly. Mea culpa.

It's important to note that the experiment really wasn't a total failure. In the end I did get the netbook hardware to be 100% functional running CentOS. I also managed to improve performance significantly. What I also did was document the difficulties involved. I don't think there was anything wrong with doing so.

Mr. Leyba has shown integrity by allowing me to respond to him and to his readers directly on the Cooking With Linux blog. I do appreciate that and I will certainly afford him the same opportunity if he wishes to comment.

I thought I had put this issue to bed and moved on a couple of weeks ago. Clearly some people had other ideas. That's perfectly fine. In the final analysis nothing has really changed. I stand by all the pieces I wrote on the subject of CentOS. I'm using Scientific Linux instead and that will continue to be my recommendation for anyone who wants a no cost, no support Enterprise Linux clone either in the server room or on the desktop.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Perfect Illustration of Why I Now Choose Scientific Linux Over CentOS

The following comment was posted in response to my business oriented article about the CentOS situation for O'Reilly Broadcast. It perfectly illustrates why I have made the decision I did:

I've been running CentOS as a file/intranet server since 5.0 was released. I started becoming concerned during the protracted period that it took to get 5.3 out. Not about the "lateness" in getting 5.3 out, but the complete lack of security updates in the interim for my 5.2 system. This "No updates available" went on for over a month. My version of Firefox trailed behind Red Hat's by two versions.

We can go back and forth about how many developers CentOS has vs. Scientific Linux. To me, that is academic if the Scientific Linux developers get their distro out several weeks in advance of CentOS, and more importantly, provide more timely security patches. If I'm not mistaken, Scientific Linux also supports older "dot" releases, such as 5.1, 5.2, etc., while CentOS does not. Not an issue for me, but it does indicate a little more thoroughness on the part of the Scientific Linux developers, few in number as they may be.

This wasn't a hasty decision. It wasn't made in a vacuum. Firefox wasn't the reason I talked about late patches, only the most recent example.

I wish the CentOS project and its developers well. Maybe in the future the CentOS developers can correct the issues that I've raised and I will reconsider the distro. They would not only need to get security patches out on a timely bases but they would also need some sort of institutional backing to insure their future before I will consider recommending them again.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The End of the CentOS Netbook Experiment

I no longer have CentOS running on my netbook. It won't be back. At the moment I am not recommending CentOS for anything, not even servers. On my netbook and on desktops in general it has very little to do with the overhyped and exaggerated claims that miscommunication between the developers would lead to the death of CentOS. I have a story I'm writing forO'Reilly Broadcast about that CentOS misadventure, a combination of self-inflicted pain when the developers aired their dirty laundry in public and some in the tech press sensationalizing a story. On servers that story actually does play a significant part in my decision making. Before the CentOS fans out there get all angry at me and start with the inevitable flames let me explain my decisions.

I've decided that RHEL/CentOS just isn't for the typical desktop. The repositories are sparse compared to other distros and I would have had to compile quite a number of apps and dependencies for things I use every day. It was just plain too much work. Yes, I am aware of and tried RPMForge and EPEL and Odiecolon Repo and CentOS Extras. ELRepo proved tremendously useful for firmware and drivers. All of these repos provided useful packages. I tried using yum-priorities to keep all the repos from conflicting with one another and for a time that even seemed to work. With all of those third party repos I still was missing way too many things I use all the time.

I also abhor depending on third party repositories of variable quality. Yes, most of the packages I ended up using were quite good. Some had issues. The fact is that I just do NOT want to rely on multiple sources of packages which I may or may not truly trust. I want the distributor to provide a decent selection of software which they maintain with a decent level of quality assurance. CentOS just doesn't provide that for desktop applications. This was one of my main complaints when I reviewed Slackware 12.1. As much as Slackware fans berated me for this complaint I still don't trust that multiple repos will always play nicely together. They don't. I also do not want to have to build my own packages all the time. I write reviews and write about Linux professionally nowadays. I have to try new things all the time. CentOS is just not well suited for that.

Speaking of new things, I had to go to a third party repo and to compile a webcam app (as there is none worth having in any of the repos) just to make all of my netbook hardware work. My choice of apps was further complicated by the old libraries and tools included with CentOS. Older code makes perfect sense for a stable server environment which, after all, is what CentOS and the upstream Enterprise Linux are designed for. If I want to compile a newer desktop app which depends on newer libraries it may simply mean that the app isn't going to build.

Next comes the performance issue, or more correctly the lack of performance issue. After much tweaking and shutting off of unnecessary services I still found CentOS to be slower than any other distro on the netbook. (This also applies to my aging Toshiba laptop which has hardware fully supported by CentOS.) Even allegedly bloated distros running KDE 4 were faster than CentOS running Xfce. CentOS was and is the only distro I've tried on the netbook that was sluggish at all. Might I have found more stuff to rip out and more performance tuning to do? Sure! I probably could have made it better. The big question is this: Why bother? Was I really getting that much advantage running a business environment on my netbook? I decided the answer was no.

So, between lack of apps, multiple sources and old code CentOS was pretty well doomed on my netbook anyway. The coup de grace came with my last update. After rebooting the system would hang when the ACPI module was loaded. Sure, I could go into single user mode and troubleshoot and fix the problem. I have no doubt about that. I just decided I couldn't be bothered.

OK, so CentOS isn't for netboooks or desktops. You've undoubtedly noted that I said I'm not recommending it on servers either. None of the above really applies to servers, of course. The issue, of late, is the speed, or should I say slowness, of CentOS security patches. This is of vital concern to business and organizational users. When Mozilla released Firefox 3.0.12, a security patch which closed five vulnerabilities identified as "critical", Red Hat had an updated package the very same day. That's what a professional enterprise distro has to do. Downstream Sceintific Linux had a package ready the next day. It took CentOS over a week. This isn't the first such case, either. CentOS has been erratic at best about getting security patches out. The Firefox package was simply the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back.

The net result is that I am now recommending Scientific Linux for people who need a RHEL clone for their business or organization. The story about Lance Davis, the developer that went missing for a time, while overhyped and exaggerated in terms of the impact on the future of CentOS, is relevant here. Scientific Linux is backed by Fermilab, CERN and other major labs and universities. As a result it has a level of funding and stability that an independent project like CentOS does not have. One of the reasons Red Hat does such a good job selling their Enterprise Linux offerings is the support they offer and the strength of the company behind the distro. Scientific Linux may not offer the support or charge for the subscriptions, but the organizational backing insures its future and makes it a stronger choice than CentOS. The recent news forced me to take a long, hard look at Scientific Linux and I decided it was a better choice.

So, for me, CentOS is gone. I do wish the project well. I just hope they find a way to reassure their user community that they can be stable and reliable. The recent bad press has hurt them in that regard.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Ongoing "CentOS 5.3 On A Netbook" Saga

Last week I wrote a feature for DistroWatch Weekly on the trials and tribulations of installing CentOS 5.3 on my Sylvania g Netbook Meso. I was very pleased when Dag Wieërs, a CentOS developer and long time packager and maintainer of an excellent repository of additional packages for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, posted in the comments section with some useful suggestions and a request that I document how to get the netbook completely functional in the CentOS wiki. That's a project I'll take on when I have everything working to my satisfaction. In the meanwhile I thought it might be useful to report my progress here. That's the kind of thing blogs are for, right?

Anyway, following Dag's suggestion I ripped out the wireless driver I compiled from source and tried to use what CentOS provides. As before that simply didn't work. Then I installed the rt73usb-firmware package from ELRepo. This worked after a fashion. CentOS did recognize my wireless card and, three passwords later (for the keyring and twice for my own WPA2 protected network) I actually was able to connect. I did have one instance since yesterday when NetworkManager locked up, something I used to see in Ubuntu all the time. That, plus the relatively slow performance and all the GNOME dependencies are just a few of the reasons why I tend to truly hate NetworkManager. Unfortunately nobody has a wicd package for CentOS. If I stick with CentOS I will definitely have to package wicd and write a how-to documenting replacing NetworkManager with it.

I also followed Dag's suggestion for installing the kmod-video4linux package from ELRepo in the hope that it may contain drivers for my webcam. No distro supports the webcam out of the box so far as I can tell. Only the factory preinstalled Ubuntu Netbook Remix 8.04 worked without significant effort. Testing with the video conferencing software is a royal pain and possibly not a fair test so I decided to install either wxcam or cheese or both. Guess what? None of the CentOS repos have packages for those either. Grrr!

I did install Xfce 4.4.2 from the CentOS Extras repository and, as expected, it's a bit faster and less resource intensive than GNOME. I'd have liked a somewhat newer version but I'm happy with the results.

I also received an e-mail from Radu-Cristian Fotescu, who writes the Planète Béranger blog, asking me to test his recently rebuilt Odiecolon repository for RHEL/CentOS 5. He has some more up-to-date multimedia packages than other repos so I decided to give it a go. His repo is also known to conflict with the much larger and definitely necessary RPMForge repository. In order to avoid "rpm hell" I am trying to keep things in order with yum priorities. So far it's doing a good job of excluding conflicting packages.

If all this sounds overly complex, well... it is. Back when I wrote my somewhat controversial review of Slackware 12.1 one of the things I complained about was the dependency on third party repositories of variable quality. RHEL/CentOS as a desktop distribution definitely suffers from the same shortcoming. Getting all the repos to play nicely together, even with yum-priorities, appears to be an arcane art. Only time will tell whether or not I've mastered it. I will also need to compile a bunch of apps from source and will probably end up building and contributing significant numbers of packages if I intend to stick with CentOS.

I should also add the performance is still nowhere near as good as my favorite desktop distro, VectorLinux or even as good as Ubuntu Netbook Remix. With further tweaking and streamlining I'm fairly certain I can improve things enough to be reasonably happy.

If it weren't for the fact that Red Hat Enterprise Linux is the absolutely dominant business distribution I honestly wouldn't bother with all of this. The main reason for the effort is to be able to use the netbook for business related demonstrations and to have a fairly uniform operating environment for my systems. Check back for further progress reports.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hotel WiFi Disservice

Last weekend my housemate went to Atlanta for an event she wanted to attend. She stayed at what is generally considered a moderately priced hotel chain which caters mainly to business travelers. After a nearly nine hour drive she wanted to unwind on Friday night and, being very much the geek, chose to go online. The hotel, like most major chains, offers free WiFi service. Perhaps more relevant to my point, they advertise free WiFi service.

Well, she could connect to their wireless network but couldn't get to the internet or connect to any websites. The hotel staff was neither helpful nor knowledgable when she reported the problem. She could ping their router so she suspected a DNS issue. She called me and I gave her the IP addresses for the OpenDNS nameservers. That solved the problem. It turns out the hotel did have free WiFi provided you are technically competent enough to troubleshoot a DNS problem and have alternate nameserver IP addresses on hand for DNS resolution. I somehow think that for most of their guests WiFi was effectively down.

A few years ago I traveled extensively for business. I found that hotels which had wired internet service were generally reliable. Hotels which offered WiFi services had problems far too often. I can't expect a hotel clerk or even a hotel manager to know how to solve wireless networking issues. I can expect them to care if the service is down as much as they would care if telephone service or TV was down throughout the hotel. In my experience they just don't.

In one place without working WiFi I was told they hoped to have the service provider in to check the system the following week. I had reservations for four nights. I checked out after one night and went to a different hotel. My work depends on my remaining connected. That is one hotel, a fairly expensive one at that, where I would never stay again. I would think, in this day and age, hotels would begin to realize just how important connectivity is to their guests. Sadly it often isn't the case.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Deceptive Pricing At CompUSA

On Friday my housemate and I went down to what used to be the Tiger Direct retail store in Raleigh. It turns out that Tiger Direct bought out what was left of CompUSA and has renamed their stores. I guess the CompUSA name is better known as a brick and mortar retail computer store.

The main reasons for the visit were for my housemate to upgrade the RAM in her Dell laptop from 1GB to 2GB and for me to buy an SD card to use in my Sylvania netbook. Some of you may have already noticed that I am now writing regularly for DistroWatch Weekly which means I am trying out different Linux distributions on a regular basis. It might be nice (not to mention less risky and somewhat easier) to install to the SD card rather than my hard drive when first checking things out. Anyway, Tiger Direct has always had very good prices on such things.

The good news is that my housemate did find the memory she wanted for the very nice price of $14. She also pointed me to an 8GB SD card priced at $9.99. Just what the doctor ordered! I also picked up a spindle of LightScribe CDrs which were way less expensive than anywhere else. I went to the register where the SD card rang up for $29.99. It turns out that the $9.99 price is after a rebate.

Here's the issue: the only way you'd know there was a rebate was to read some microscopic print on the price tag. I mean really, really tiny print. This is in the "bring your magnifying glass" category of tiny. I kid you not. There are price tags all over the store that have rebates. Most have the words "Final Price" in big, bold, red letters so that you know there is a rebate involved. This one didn't. It also wasn't the only tag like this.

My housemate immediately called this "deceptive pricing". I have to agree. So do some of our state legislators. A few years back some tried to pass a bill to ban this sort of pricing. I guess it never passed because the practice continues.

Look, I would have had no complaint if the price tag made it clear that a rebate was involved. As it is I decided I didn't want to lay out over $30 with tax and wait months for a check in the mail. Since a 4GB SD card is really all I need I decided to choose one of those instead. In that case the price on the tag was all I paid.

Will I still go to CompUSA? Yes, so long as they have really good prices. I'm not organizing a boycott or anything. However, I did voice my displeasure in the store. Maybe if enough of us complain they can be convinced that they'd do better to make it clear what you pay up front and what will be returned in the form of a rebate.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

New Websites For Me and For the Ferrets

Nowadays it seems you can get free web hosting and a free domain without annoying ads. How did I miss out on that up until now? See what I get for not paying attention to such things!

Anyway... my personal website now has its own domain and has been separated from other stuff that isn't me. It still looks archaic, like the 1990s design that it is. The content sorely needs updating as well. All of the will happen as time permits so you can visit now and again and watch me struggle through web design until I get something that's worthwhile :)

The new website is at

I've also decided that my pet ferrets rate their own website. Considering the impact they have on my budget (recent vet bills for Chin Soon, especially) I obviously place a high value on the little weasels. If you aren't a pet owner you probably won't understand and think that this is all insanity. You may be right but it is an insanity that responsible pet owners all share. Our pets become like four legged family members.

The ferrets' website is at

There is a good, sane reason for splitting the site into two or three pieces. More bandwidth. Free hosts have bandwidth limitations. OK, I probably will never reach them but you never know. I also get more gigs of storage I'll probably never use up.

So... feel free to visit.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

President Obama Hosting Passover Seder

NOTE: This is a rare cross post from my Zionism & Aliya blog.

Barack Obama will become the first American President ever to host a Passover seder at the White House.

While the story has received minimal mainstream media coverage here in the U.S. it was much bigger news in the Jewish and Israeli press. The historical significance was not lost on The Jerusalem Post:
'I'm really happy to hear about it,' said Steve Rabinowitz, who once led a staff Seder in the Clinton White House but didn't know of any White House Seder in which the president had personally taken part before now. 'It's been an extremely open White House to all faith communities, certainly including ours.'

William Daroff, who runs the United Jewish Communities' Washington office, recalled that former president Franklin D. Roosevelt snuck out the back door of the White House in 1943 to avoid seeing rabbis marching out front to demand US action to save European Jews from the Nazis.

'Sixty-six years later the President of the United States is spending Thursday evening with his friends and family celebrating the liberation and survival of the Jewish people,' Daroff noted, calling the event 'a testament to how far we have come as a Jewish people in America.'

In a bit of irony former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) chose today to declare that the Obama administration is "anti-religious". He was referring to the appointment of Harry Knox, a former Methodist minister and an outspoken gay rights advocate to the White House advisory council on faith-based initiatives. Apparently Mr. Gingrich believes anything other than right-wing evangelical Christianity isn't worthy of consideration as a religion. There are any number of liberal and tolerant Christian denominations. Reform Judaism is openly supportive of gay rights as are many in the Conservative (Masorti) movement.

I'm often asked why Jews tend to vote Democratic by conservative friends who see liberals as insufficiently supportive of Israel. While many European leaders were issuing warnings and thinly veiled threats to the new Israeli government even before Prime Minister Netanyahu officially took office President Obama chose that day to declare America's "unwavering support" for Israel. Support for Israel among Democratic leaders is not lacking.

Many right-wing Republicans, on the other hand, are very tied to Christian fundamentalism. Mr. Gingrich also accused President Obama of being "intensely secular". As a Jewish woman and a member of a religious minority in this country I am more comfortable with a secular government than an intolerant fundamentalist Christian one. My mainstream Jewish values are very different than those of the American Christian religious right.

I, for one, am grateful to President Obama's support for Israel even if I have some reservations about specific elements of his foreign policy. I think Mr. Gingrich's comments on the day before the President is taking part in a truly historic Jewish religious observance illustrate very well why I can't support his views.

To President Obama, and to all my readers:

Hag Sameach! Happy Passover!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg's Testimony Doesn't Pass The Smell Test

There's an odor that's more than a little rotten around former AIG CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg's congressional testimony. Mr. Greenberg stated that his leadership team had "nothing to do" with the company's failures. He added, "When I left the company, it was a healthy company.” Really?

In the fall of 2004 I interviewed for a position with American Financial Group. Here is what Mr. Greenberg has to say about AFG at the time and what the MSNBC article has to say about their business:
“AIG’s business model did not fail; its management did,” Greenberg said. He went on to criticize their handling of the financial products division, which he said “functioned quite well” under his leadership.

That division wrote the notorious credit-default swaps that have forced the company to pay more than $50 billion to U.S. and foreign banks.

AFG was the division now blamed for the catastrophic losses and near failure of the company that led to the huge government bailouts. According to Mr.Greenberg all was well in March, 2005 when he left and all the problems came later. Funny, that isn't what I remember.

The AFG position required me to move to Cincinnati, something I had doubts about doing particularly for a contract position. The job was a 90 day contract-to-hire position and the interviewers did all they could to reassure me that the permanent position was mine so long as I did a good job for them. I was repeatedly told that AIG has never had any layoffs during the company's 176 year history. That was a major selling point and it helped crystallize my decision to join AFG.

Fast forward three months after I moved to Cincinnati and started on the job. My manager informed me that my contract was going to be extended. Bringing me on board permanently was delayed, I was told, by internal politics. They wanted to keep me as a contractor until the issues could be resolved and then I could be hired permanently. I had all the normal benefits including health insurance through the consulting firm I was working for so I had no problem with this and I continued as a contractor.

In March, 2005, the same month Mr. Greenberg left AIG, the first layoffs in the company's history were announced. There were reports of financial troubles and losses even then. Someone from another group which was being closed, an AIG employee, was going to fill my spot as a Linux/UNIX Systems Administrator. I was told I would not be hired after all. This was after I had moved to and lived in Cincinnati for five months. The consulting firm I was working for placed me with Red Hat so things worked out OK for me, but... AIG was strong and profitable in March, 2005 according to Mr. Greenberg. If so, why the layoffs? Why the reported losses and financial problems at the time?

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has his own doubts about Mr. Greenberg's testimony:
"I'm convinced that the systemic problems at AIG go far deeper than mistakes made in the four years since you left the company," Cummings said. "What you failed to mention was that a good portion of those risky (bets) were written" before Greenberg's 2005 departure.

Cummings asked multiple times how many of the credit-default swaps were written while Greenberg was in charge.

"The amount we wrote was for European banks," Greenberg replied. "As far as I know, there was never a loss on any of that."

Hmmm... I certainly had no access to AFG's books or to the particulars about the financial problems that raised alarm bells and forced layoffs in March, 2005 so I can't say if Mr. Greenberg was truthful in his response or not. I, like Rep. Cummings, have my doubts. "As far as I know..." is a hole you can drive a Mack truck through. Those are the kind of weasel words that guarantee that Mr. Greenberg isn't lying or perjuring himself even if his account isn't exactly accurate.

As I've already noted I have and had no access to the company's finances now or then. I do know for a fact that things weren't nearly as rosy as the picture that Mr. Greenberg paints.

Monday, March 2, 2009

March Snow in North Carolina

As of 10:30 this morning we still have a few flurries in the air but otherwise the snow is probably over. We got about 3" (8 cm) of snow in all which is a big deal in North Carolina. Folks further west got quite a bit more than we did. In this area schools are closed, events have been canceled and businesses delayed opening. As I mentioned yesterday people up north find this funny. In New York or Wisconsin 3" of snow is no big deal. Here it dominates the news.

One thing for certain is that it is cold with temperatures likely to stay below freezing today. Right now it's 29°F (-2°C) and it is expected to drop to 13°F (-11°C) tonight. Roads will probably become quite icy in time for the morning commute tomorrow.

The photos were taken by my housemate in the backyard this morning taken around 8:30 this morning. It is pretty around here and the coffee is hot.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Snow Again! (...or a conspiracy to sell more bread and milk)

Back in January we got a little over 5" (13 cm) of snow. The picture above is what my street looked like after a plow came through. Looks pretty, right? My housemate and I thought so and we went out for a walk and she took some pictures. We get a snowstorm like this maybe once every three to five years where I live. They predicted a second big storm last month but all we got was a dusting.

Actually they predict several of these events every year but most never materialize. My housemate claims to believe this is a conspiracy concocted by retailers and meteorologists to sell more bread and milk. As I noted last November supermarkets are jam packed before every would-be snowstorm and they always sell out most all of their bread and milk.

Well... depending on which media outlet or meteorologist you believe we should be getting anywhere from 2" to 8" (8cm to 20cm) of snow tonight and tomorrow. Right now it's just raining but this is supposed to become snow and, by North Carolina standards, lots of it, as in enough to paralyze the area.

Yes, folks who live up north in snowy climes or came from the north like I did find it all very humorous. It's funny until you see the locals try to drive on snow or ice. Then it's not so funny and you want to stay home as much or more than they do.

Anyway, I did go to the market today and yes, they were busy. They still had plenty of bread and milk. I guess there is less panic buying during a depression. (Yes, I still believe our "economic crisis" or "most severe recession in 70 years" is really a depression. More on that in upcoming posts.)

Will it snow? Probably. Will we get lots of snow? Who knows. They're even predicting "thundersnow", a thunderstorm with snow instead of rain. I've never seen that, even when I lived up north.

In the meanwhile here is another pretty picture from January taken a few minutes later during our walk a bit futher up my street:

It wasn't quite as pleasant a walk at this point. We'll see if tonight and tomorrow bring more of the same. If they do I'll try to get some more pictures.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Netbooks Become Ubiquitous and Linux Becomes Mainstream

Last Tuesday I took my ferret Chin Soon to her vet. While I was waiting I pulled my Sylvania g Netbook Meso out of its case to get some writing done. When the vet came in she commented on my "cute little netbook" and asked me if it was an Acer. Hers, it turns out, is an Acer and mine looks quite similar.

I read the reviews last year where people claimed that netbooks looked more like portable DVD players than computers. Well... nobody has mistaken mine for a DVD player. Lots of people recognize it as a netbook. I keep running into more and more people, both in the real world and online who have taken the plunge and bought themselves a little netbook. Many, like my ferrets' vet, are intelligent, professional people but are by no means technology professionals or even particularly technically inclined.

16 million netbooks have sold so far with growth estimated at 60% per year. I expect it could be higher that that. Netbooks are the least expensive new computers on the market in what is now a seriously troubled worldwide economy. Cool new technologies tend to snowball when they catch on. I've found I can do everything with my netbook that I could do with a conventional PC. Others will discover the same. Netbooks probably won't be as ubiquitous as cell phones but they will turn up in more and more places with more and more ordinary, non technical users.

Yes, the vet's Acer runs Windows. While the vast majority of new netbooks will be sold with either Windows XP or Windows 7, a substantial minority will continue to be preloaded with Linux. Millions of people have been introduced to Linux through netbooks and are satisfied with it. Educated consumers who learn that Linux, which requires fewer system resources, will run faster and comes with a wide variety of software preinstalled will choose Linux.

Despite the posts by various so-called tech journalists who always cheerlead for Microsoft claiming that Windows has "kicked Linux to the curb" or "crushed" Linux on netbooks, Microsoft's own estimate places Linux at 30% of current market share. Asustek's Samson Hu, quoted in the same Bloomberg article, places Linux on 30-40% of all EeePCs currently sold and expects Linux to maintain a 30% market share. Acer spokesman Henry Wang expects 20% of his Aspire One models to ship with Linux this year.

There were one million netbooks sold in 2007, all running Linux. There were 15 million sold last year. Assuming that Microsoft has no reason to deflate its own sales figures or inflate Linux numbers then the 30% figure becomes a good, conservative estimate of Linux netbook market share in 2008. That would make 4.2 million more Linux machines sold. Estimates for 2010 are as high as 29 million units. I've seen similar estimates for 2009. Let's assume the total market share for Linux across the industry will fall somewhere between the two leaders, around 25%. That would mean 14.5 million more new preloaded Linux boxes over the next two years, putting the total number since the summer of 2007 at 19.7 million.

I'm sure the Windows cheerleading section will be happy to point out that three times that number will run a Microsoft operating system and this will be touted as another great victory for Windows. Of course, these are the same folks who just a year ago were claiming Linux was insignificant in the consumer market with a less than one percent share of preloaded systems. Tell me again how going from less than 1% to 30% in the fastest growing segment of the consumer PC market is a crushing defeat for Linux and a great victory for Microsoft. Sorry, but I don't see it.

Consumers now are aware they have a choice and Linux has gone mainstream. Oh, and speaking of things snowballing, how many of those 19.7 million Linux netbook users will also choose Linux for a desktop or conventional notebook? How many will show Linux to their friends, family, or neighbors? How many of those friends, family, or neighbors may then make the same Linux choice? The results for an OS that's been "crushed" or "kicked to the curb" might be quite impressive indeed.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Home Computer In 2004 (As Imagined In 1954)

Please click on the image to see this in all its glory and to read the caption. Yep, that teletype interface sure makes it easy to use, doesn't it?

Thanks to WinDoze on the Vector Linux forum for digging up this gem.

Monday, January 12, 2009

More Kudos To J&R Music World

In my last post I wrote about the premature failure of my Sylvania g Netbook. I also noted that the dealer, J&R Music World of New York City, offered an immediate exchange. I called to follow up this morning and I should have my replacement on the way very shortly. I also am being reimbursed for the shipping and insurance charges to return the netbook. In addition the price has dropper by $40 since I ordered mine and I am, in fact, receiving a $40 credit as well. When all is said and done I will have paid $239 for the computer, a price that is still available today.

First, kudos to J&R Music World for their outstanding customer service. Second, if the new computer works as expected I will have gotten a very capable little laptop for a truly minuscule price. $239 for a system with a 1.2GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 30GB hard drive is impossible to beat. Oh, and yes, it runs Linux.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Netbook Experience Is A Little Less Shiny Right Now

During the holidays I received some Hanukkah gelt from family specifically earmarked for buying myself a new computer. The Toshiba laptop I'm writing this on is six years old now, it's slow by today's standards and it has developed a highly intermittent harware problem. Sometimes, out of the blue, it will shut itself off for no apparent reason. Since having a reliable and portable computer is vital for me to make a living right now a replacement was the best gift I could possibly get. A netbook seemed like the perfect solution to me and I ordered the one that seemed to give me the most power for the least money in a very small and lightweight case: a Sylvania g Netbook.

For the first couple of weeks I was thrilled with the little laptop. I was less than pleased with the stock gOS Linux implementation but once I replaced it with a Linux distribution that actually had the proper support and drivers for the hardware I was really, really happy. I used the little Sylvania for everything. Then, like the Toshiba, it started having an intermittent problem. It would lock up for no apparent reason. I went back to the stock gOS configuration and it still locked hard at random times.

I bought the netbook from J&R Music World in New York City via Kudos to J&R for immediately authorizing an exchange and promising that they would ship a replacement within 24-48 hours of receiving my defective unit. J&R is a long established brick and mortar store that I shopped at when I lived in New York. They have an excellent reputation for customer service and it seems to be well earned so far. They also had some of the best prices on netbooks when I shopped for mine. So... the replacement should be here next week some time.

In the meanwhile I'm back on my old computer. Having worked on the Sylvania for two weeks this one really does seem slow now despite only a small difference in the processor (1.2GHz Via C-7M ULV in the netbook vs. 1GHz Intel Celeron in this one). Of course the fact that the netbook had twice the memory (1 GB vs. 512MB RAM) is probably a big part of the performance difference.

Back in the 1980s I did work for a major electronic manufacturer. I learned back then that 90% of electronic failures happen in the first 5% of service life. What happened with my netbook is just plain bad luck. It could have happened with a Dell or an HP or an Asus netbook. In any case it would have been handled promptly under warranty. I certainly don't blame Sylvania at this point. I really have nothing to complain about. OTOH, it's always frustrating to have something new fail like this. For me, temporarily, the shine is off the netbook experience.

I have written a detailed review of the Sylvania g Netbook for O'Reilly Broadcast but for the moment I'm not publishing it. I want to make sure the replacement works as it should before I publish my opinions on a large public tech forum. I expect the review will go out pretty much unchanged but... Yeah, things just aren't shiny right now.