Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why I don't use Windows

In the world of computers, I've always loved trying new things and looking for better ways of doing things. This has led me down many roads; some better than others. I've learned that a person needs the right tool for the job and that the right tool for one may not be the right tool for another. This is especially true when it comes to computers.

I started getting involved with computers at a very young age (thanks Dad!) and, to this day, their uses and potential uses fascinate me. I remember when I was in high school and playing Wizardry on our old IBM PC with the green screen. I remember buying DOS 4.0 when it first came out. I remember purchasing my first computer, an IBM XT with a 10 MB hard drive and an EGA video card (that's means it could display 16 different colors!). That beast served me well my first year of college. It ran WordPerfect 5.1 and Civilization; what more could a college student want? Up until my second year or college, I think I was a pretty average computer user. To me, comptuers were for games and writing papers. Then I learned about OS/2...

OS/2 came out in the early 90s and basically blew Windows 3.1 out of the water in terms of power, configurability, and stability. IBM marketed it as a better DOS than DOS and a better Windows than Windows. In addition to running native OS/2 software, it could run DOS and Windows programs. It was new, shiny, and oh so cool! I fell in love immediately. Unfortunately, as a poor college student, I had neither the income, nor the hardware to allow me the privilege of getting OS/2. That did not stop me from researching it, telling all my friends about it, and as soon a possible (it took a couple of years), buying it.

I really liked OS/2 and wanted it to succeed. I even convinced my brother to try it on his new computer (which caused his computer to crash due to a BIOS incompatibility and I had to reinstall Windows on it for him). I stuck with it as long as I could but it never got the application support it needed and with the advent of Windows95, you couldn't run the new Windows applications on it either. I had my computer set to dual boot Windows and OS/2 but found myself using OS/2 less and less while using Windows more and more. Eventually, I stopped using OS/2 altogether. Although a commercial failure, OS/2 taught me that a computer is more than just a tool, it is an infinite set of possibilities. True, I didn't realize it at the time, but it opened my mind just the same.

My first contact with Linux came during my last couple of years of college (1999 to 2000). One of my lab partners was a Linux fan and liked talking about how cool Linux was. I personally thought that having your computer spend an entire night compiling your kernel was a bit excessive. It seemed to me that it was just slapped together and didn't have near the polish of Windows98 or OS/2 (which I still held in very high regard). Top that off with the fact that my lab partner was kind of annoying and you see why my first impression of Linux was not all that good. It would take years for me to get over that.

The next operating system (OS) that caught my fancy was Solaris 7. Sun was giving away free copies of Solaris 7 for x86 (intel) processors so I decided to get one. I was intrigued with the possibility of getting a real Unix (similar to the HP UX workstations that I used for my computer engineering assignments). I liked the CDE desktop but didn't know much more than how to run programs that had already been installed. Well, Solaris didn't have any software that I was interested in so it didn't last long (although I kept the CDs around for a while).

Up until I graduated from college, I mostly thought of alternative OSes as toys that were fun to play around with but not very useful. The exception being the HP UX workstations in the engineering labs. They were very powerful but only had very specialized software. For day to day use, Windows was my preference. I had even tried out Mac OS 7 and 8 but found it limited and frustrating (however, my experience was mostly limited to fixing broken Macs as part of my computer support job). Definitely not for me.

My first job out of college was as a software engineer doing database programming for a web hosting company. On my first day of work, they gave me a computer and FreeBSD install disks and told me to get myself set up. For the next week I spent my time learning the ins and outs of FreeBSD, setting it up, and configuring it. I think using FreeBSD every day for a year and a half changed my perceptions. I got used to doing work as well as email and surfing the web on FreeBSD (using the WindowMaker desktop for those that are interested in such things). I really enjoyed the whole OS setup for FreeBSD. It was stable, well designed, extremely configurable, and, thanks to ports, really easy to get software for. It was almost as good as OS/2 (what can I say, OS/2 was my first love in the software world). However, I still was quite happy using Windows at home. In fact, at the time, I never really considered using anything else at home.

Well times change and so do jobs. When the dot com bubble burst, I ended up a victim. For about 9 months of 2001 and 2002, I spent my time looking for work. I finally found a job as an Oracle DBA. This was when things started changing. First of all, it felt wierd to use Windows at work. I was so used to FreeBSD that Windows seemed awkward and unfriendly. I spent about a year trying to get it the way I wanted before I finally gave up and asked if I could use Linux. My manager approved and so I went on the hunt for the perfect Linux distribution. Why Linux when I had such a bad opinion of it? One word: Oracle. Oracle shipped a Linux client but not a FreeBSD client. I'm a DBA so Oracle support is everything, so Linux it was.

Around this time, things began changing at home too. It started with an email virus. I've never been much of an IE fan but my wife liked it and also used Outlook Express for email. Nothing wrong with that, it's what she was used to. However, that changed when Outlook Express decided to open and email and install a virus with any user intervention. This was my first virus and my wife and I were upset. We cleaned the virus off of the computer, went out and bought a virus scanner, and I installed the Mozilla Suite for web and email. From that point on, IE and Outlook were not used in our home and since then, we haven't had any virus problems.

Back at work I was researching various Linux distributions and found one that I thought would do the job. It was Xandros. Here was a Linux distribution that was easy to install, easy to configure, easy to hook into a Windows network, and easy to use. I was sold. My manager was nice enough to authorize the purchase price and I've been on Linux at work ever since. I liked it so much that, after a few months, I installed it on all of our computers at home as well (with the exception of my wife's laptop).

My decision to move to Linux was influence by many factors. Not only was I used to working with it, but I was very comfortable on it as well. I also have issues with Microsoft's politics and how they've leveraged their monopoly to dominate other markets as well. They've put out of business or severly crippled applications that I once loved such as OS/2, Netscape, WordPerfect, etc. The icing on the cake was how much better Linux is at working with Solaris (where our databases run). This made it an easy choice for work.

At home my political opinions weren't enough. My wife uses the home computer 90% of the time and she's not really swayed by political arguments. The real selling argument was that Linux is stable, secure, and cheaper (free). As a family that doesn't even have cable, paying subscriptions for security software is really annoying and a waste of good money. With Linux, I don't pay for any of that. The OS is free, the software is free (I use Opera and Firefox for web, Thunderbird for email, and OpenOffice.org for documents, spreadsheets and presentations).

I went down a road less traveled and have enjoyed myself immensely but that doesn't make it the right road for everyone. In my many years as an IT professional, I learned that everybody has different needs. Linux has the price/performance package that works for me. For others a Mac may work better and, since OS X has come out, I've changed my opinion on Macs and would love to get one (if I could afford it). Windows PCs can also work very well as long you have the right security software on them. Remember, pick the right tool for the job and what's right for me may not be right for you.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Satellite Radio

I am a technology junky. I admit it. I bought my first DVD player two months after they came out in the US (and spent about a year hoping I didn't buy a $600 CD player). I build computers for fun and I try to follow the new technologies coming out in that arena. However, for all of that, I also hate paying subscription fees. I canceled my cable because I thought paying for TV that I didn't really watch was a waste (my "rabbit ears" work just fine), I used a free dial-up account for internet because broadband was too expensive, I love the Tivo concept but can't bring myself to pay the subscription price. So it was quite a surprise to quite a few people when they found out that I do subscribe to satellite radio.

My road to satellite radio started out like any new technology, I saw an article about it and thought, "this is really cool!", followed by "if only it wasn't so expensive!". That's the way things stayed for a few years. Every now and then I'd check up on it to see how it was doing but it always ended in "if only it wasn't so expensive!". Then some things changed.

The first change was my growing frustration with regular radio. I have about a half hour commute each way (give or take 10 minutes, depending on traffic) and, in the entire Phoenix metro area, I only found one station that I liked. It seems that 80s music isn't as popular as I had hoped (I also found a classical music station but it suffered from poor reception so I didn't listen to it very often). As time went on, however, the stations mix included less and less of the 80s music in their lineup as well as longer and longer commercial breaks. I was not happy spending half my commute listening to ads and the other half with music that was less and less of what I wanted to hear. It was frustrating.

The other change came when I shared my frustration with a coworker who suggested, rather enthusiastically, that I try satellite radio. He was a long time subscriber and he couldn't say enough about how cool it was. He touted the specialized channels and the commercial free music. That got me really, really interested. I found out that both of the major satellite radio providers, Sirius and XM, have free trial periods so I tried them both out. I spent a couple of evenings listening to internet broadcasts from both and decided that I liked Sirius better, that commercial free music was awesome, and that having a station that only played 80s music was really cool. I was hooked.

Then my lovely wife stepped in and decided it would make a great Christmas present. So she hooked me up with a car reciever and a subscription to Sirius. Since then I have been a very happy listener. I get content that I would never get on regular radio, including an all 80s station, 3 classical music stations (with good reception), a kids music station, news stations from cnn, fox news, npr, etc., and even a station dedicated to the classic radio shows of yesteryear. I've found that, whatever my mood, there's almost always something on the radio to complement it. For example, from now until Christmas there are three stations playing different types of Christmas music 24/7 (classic stuff, pop, and country). There's always something on and, when it's music, there are no commercials (unless you count the 30 second or so ads for other Sirius stations that come up occasionally).

So yes, I do pay for satellite radio. However, for my money I get many stations that I actually like, commercial free music, and the same lineup no matter where I am in the US. For me, it's worth the money.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Political Issues: Healthcare

Healthcare has been a big issue for a while. It's frightening to see how much healthcare costs nowadays. I don't have some super plan to fix everything but I have a few ideas that may help.

1) Court reform for malpractice suits - Malpractice insurance pays out millions, if not billions, for punitive damages and I fear that many people think of it as winning the lottery. So, in order to make it more just, less prone to abuse, and less of a burden on all doctors (who have to pay the awards out of their malpractice insurance premiums), I would make a few changes.
A) Forbid punitive damages from being paid for by insurance. The whole point of punitive damages is to punish the perpetrator and is it really a punishment if insurance pays for it? This would have the effect of lowering insurance rates for doctors as well as making punitive damages an actual punishment.
B) Make punitive damages payable to the state and not the victim. This may not seem fair at first but the victim and/or the victim's family is already getting paid for legal fees, all of the medical treatment, and lost wages (past and future depending on the nature of the lawsuit). They shouldn't be pursuing punitive damages as a way to get lots of extra money. If the doctor really deserves the punishment, then it should be pursued but not for selfish reasons.

2) Real Medical Savings Accounts - I think Medical Savings Accounts should be available to everybody. If you allowed them as tax free payroll deductions and then partnered with a major credit card company so that your MSA could be used by a doctor's office, hospital, pharmacy, etc. as easily as a credit card. This would be both convenient and very helpful. I would also make sure that the money never expired. It would sit in your account until used. I think this is an idea that would save people and the medical industry a lot of money in the long run.

3) Create pricing rules for medical services - Have you even recieved an insurance statement that give a charge amount of $150.00 and an allowed amount of $42.70 or something like that? That means the uninsured are getting charged three times more that the insured. That's just wrong. I would create some regulations that would have the uninsured and/or those not using insurance charged and the lowest allowed amount (the lowest price any insurance company would have to pay). Medical services should cut the most slack to the uninsured, not the least.

4) Create a unified medical records system - I think this is already being done to some extent but a lot of money could be saved if all medical services used the same computerized format for medical records. They could be sent and recieved without the office staff having to manually enter information, billing would be simplified, and records would be more consistent. This would reduce overhead saving offices money which, in turn, would save patients money.

5) A universal health insurance system? - I'm not sure about this one but I do see the benefits of making sure all citizens of the US at least have catastrophic insurance coverage (have a $2000 or so deductable that could be paid with a medical savings account - heck you could even have an private insurance policy that covers the deductable for you). If this were the case, those who need intensive medical care can get it without hospitals have to raise fees in order to pay for what their patients can't afford. I think if this were implemented well, it could be a very good thing, if implemented poorly, I think it could be disaterous. So, while it's a good thought, the jury's still out on whether it is practical and/or workable. I guess that's what feasibility studies are for...

Well there's my overhaul of the medical system. Some of the changes would have a fairly quick effect while other may take years to see the benefits. I don't know if my ideas would do enough to help with medical expenses but I think it would put us on the right track.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Political Issues: Iraq

Let me start by saying that I'm not a general and so speculating on strategy and deployment changes that would improve the situation in Iraq aren't going to be useful. However, I do have some suggestions for things that may help our troops on the ground.

The first thing I would do is have every soldier who is or may end up serving in Iraq start learning Arabic and Iraqi culture. Our troops' main mission is to keep the peace in Iraq. If they all had a better understanding of Iraqi culture as well as the ability to understand and communicate with Iraqis, I believe our troops would be better accepted, less likely to be attacked, and would be able to better deal with their day to day duties.

I would also try to do something economically. I heard that Iraq has around 60% unemployment. People who can't find jobs tend to get depressed and frustrated and depressed and frustrated people are easier for militias and terrorists to influence. Hard-working, happy people tend to be supportive of their government and not tolerant of anti-government forces. We need the people of Iraq to be gainfully employed and supporting their families. I believe this would cut down on violence a lot better than just sending in more troops.

How does one go about creating more jobs? The country is in shambles and we're pouring billions into contractors to try to clean up. Well could we use locals? We could hire people to clean up streets, repair buildings, provide more security for markets, perhaps get some manufacturing going, etc. I think there is work enough to do, we just have to organize it and, at first, fund a good deal of it. Will it work? I would hope so and I think it's worth trying.

I think if we stop focusing on killing the bad people and start building up the good people, we'll see most of the problems start to take care of themselves. It's human nature.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Fantasy Congress

I found an interesting new online game the other day. It's called Fantasy Congress. It works like Fantasy Football or any other fantasy sports game. You simply draft a team of legislators (Senators and Congressmen) and you get points when your team submits bills, amends bills, and/or gets their bills signed into law. I tried it out and had a lot of fun.

The game follows the actual sessions of congress (the next one starts in January) so you don't know what's going to happen before it does (unless you call up your team members and ask them). It's fun that it creates a game out of congress but it's also educational in that you can see what really happens with legislation and you start to learn who is authoring it and how far it gets. It's a lot of fun and worth a look for anybody who wants to dabble.

So many things to do online...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Political Issues: Campaign Finance

It's time for businesses to get out of politics. Candidates, political parties, and political action committees should only be able to accept contributions from individuals. This means no corporate sponsorship of candidates, no political ads sponsored by businesses. I would even forbid groups from donating. No unions, church groups, clubs, etc. would be allowed to donate. The individual members should be allowed to freely donate but groups will be forbidden.

There are millions of dollars flowing into DC and who knows what kind of legislation it's buying. I think the Jack Abramoff scandal is the tip of the iceburg. The corruption needs to stop, but it won't until the money dries up. Businesses do not have the best interests of the country in mind. They need to get out of politics.

Update (Nov 2, 2006)

Another way which has been pretty effective in Arizona would be using a clean elections type financing model. The way it works in Arizona is that a candidate running under clean elections must get a certain number of $5 donations from individuals (the number depends on the office they're running for). Once these donations are validated, the candidate gets a certain amount of money (again, dependant on the office) for the primary and a certain amount for the election. If their opponent spends more, the candidate also gets more. This keeps the amount of money spent equal and makes the campaign more about issues than money.

People complain that it favors the incumbent due to name recognition and by not allowing a challenger to outspend their opponent. However, the incumbent is favored anyway and what if a challenger is great at politics but lousy at raising money? Is it fair that the they biggest and/or most effective schmoozer almost always wins? I think clean elections has worked well in Arizona and I would love to see it go national.

Political Issues: Illegal Immigration

I feel that the best way to discourage people from coming to the country illegally is to take away all of the benefits of hopping the border without permission.

1) Deny any government services (social security, medicaid, schools, etc) to non-citizens. If you are here illegally, you should not expect to get any help or support at taxpayer expense.

2) Strict enforcement of laws banning the employ of illegals. If a person is here unlawfully, they should not be able to find a job. There needs to be a quick and efficient way for employers to verify that a potential employee is legal (there is a social security database that employers can use to check social security numbers) so that they can easily prove they did due diligence. After that, the consequences should be pretty steep (large fines, loss of business license, maybe even prison)

On the other hand, I'm not at all against a guest worker policy. If the current illegals that really do want to work can come legally then great. The would be able to demand better salaries, they would have legal recourse if taken advantage of, and they would be paying taxes and helping the economy.

This plan would also free up the border patrol to go after the real criminals and terrorists trying to cross the border instead of having to filter through all of the migrants.

As for what to do with all of the illegals still here? Let them decide for themselves. If they want to get a job they'll need to go home and come back legally. Other than that, I have no issues (however, if arrested they would be deported).

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Political Issues: Education

Education is a hard one to cover. Not being an educator (being a parent doesn't count in this instance), I don't have experience with the day to day things that may make a difference between a good education and a great one. However, on a broader level, I do have some ideas that I think would help.

1) Vouchers: I know that teachers unions, etc have tried to make that a dirty word but I believe that the money from taxpayers should follow the students. Parents should be able to pick any school and get the same funding for their child as they would if their child was in public school. The goes for public schools, private schools, charter schools, parochial schools, and any other schools. If we create a level playing field, then the best schools are going to get the students and the lesser schools will either have to improve or they will lose all of their funding. I think that competition will be a good thing for our kids.

2) Teacher Certifications: I feel that all teachers in the state should have the same base credentials. All teachers, whether for public, private, charter, or other type of school, should be required to have their teacher certification. It's not fair for our kids to have lower standards for teachers if they are teaching outside of public schools.

3) Merit Pay for Teachers: The best teachers should be encouraged to stay in the classroom, not move into administration. Those are two different talents. However, administration currently pays much better. For those teacher whose students consistently score well on standardized tests and have a well run classroom should get better salaries. This will encourage teachers to try harder as well as help keep the better teachers in the classroom where they can do the most good.

4) School Administrator Salary Caps: Administrators shouldn't be making six figure salaries while teachers are so underpaid. I think that administration salaries should be capped at 30% or so higher than the average teacher salary in that school or district (depending on the position). A feasibility study would have to be done to find the most effective level for the cap but a cap should be in place all the same. If combined with merit pay for teachers, this would encourage administrators to hire effective teachers as their salaries could go up if they have more highly paid teachers.

Of course all of these suggestions would have to be carefully studied in order to make sure that we don't get well intentioned policy that is fundamentally flawed. That said, something needs to be done and the status quo isn't helping our children.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Political Issues: Mass Transit

One of the largest causes of pollution in the Phoenix area is the amount of cars on the roads. Although expensive, the solution is REAL mass transit. What I mean is a commuter rail system that is fast and inexpensive. Our current bus system is way too slow. For example, it takes me between 30 and 50 minutes to drive to work (depending on traffic), but I rode the bus, it would take about 2 hours. Even if if was free I wouldn't take the bus. Commuter rail would probably drop the time down to 45 minutes to an hour. That would be worthwhile.

We could have a subway, and elevated train, or use existing track. The trick is for it to have it's own right of way (not have to wait for traffic). You could have a stop every mile or so with the buses fanning out from the rail stops. If the commuter rail hit malls and shopping centers as much as possible you would already have parking and the businesses would get a boost from the commuter traffic.

If we can pull half of the cars off of the road, we would greatly reduce the "brown cloud", make traffic run faster, and make Phoenix more accessable to everyone.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Political Issues: Alternative Energy

I'm a nut for technology so it should be no surprise that I find fuel cells (hydrogen power) and other technologically advanced forms of alternative energy, fascinating. While it may seem a good idea to mandate their use, it's just not feasible right now. However, there are some practical things that can be done. If I were making energy policy for Arizona here are some of the things I would include.

1) Allow any vehicle that gets greater than 40 miles to the gallon (by EPA standards) to use the carpool/HOV lanes. This would encourage those buying cars to commute to get high mileage cars that, while not as stylish, can cut half an hour or more from their commute time.

2) End the policy that lets alternative fuel vehicles that can still run on gasoline use the carpool/HOV lanes. Most AFV cars and trucks that can use gas, do. That negates the environmental benefit and so their perks should be negated as well. I would make an exception for fleets that can prove they do not use gas in their cars.

3) Bring E85 into the state. E85 is a mixture of 15% gasoline and 85% ethanol. Ethanol burns 30% cleaner than gas as well as being produced locally (thus improving the economy while reducing dependence on foreign oil). Ford, GM, Chrysler, and a few others already make cars that are E85 ready (will run on E85 or regular gasoline). This would reduce pollution, add business to the state, and reduce dependence on foriegn oil. There are only four stations in Arizona (all in the Tucson area) that offer E85, I would expand it. I'm still working out the best way to do this but here are a couple of ideas:
A) Mandate that every gas station in the state offer E85 within 5 years. This may not be realistic even if the state offered interest free loans to pay for it but a feasibility study would be worthwhile. The logic is that if E85 were accessible, people would use it (it is currently cheaper than gasoline).
B) Offer tax incentives to stations that offer E85. If the new pumps pay for themselves in a couple of years, then stations will be more willing to install them.
C) Offer incentives to companies that will produce E85 in Arizona. It brings jobs to Arizona and only really costs what we're paying the Middle East for gas (no net loss and probably a nice gain on employment and taxes).
D) Offer HOV use to those people who permanently modify their cars to use E85.

4) Encourage the use of solar power. The more we generate our own power, the less we pollute and the more resilience we have to power fluctuations.
A) Require all commercial and government buildings to use solar panels whenever feasible (ie when the building isn't shaded half the day or doesn't have a roof that wouldn't allow the use of solar panels for some reason).
B) Offer a payment plan for residential homes that would let them put solar panels on their roof and have their payment be the difference between the power bill and what it would have been if they didn't have the solar panels (so their power bill doesn't change until the solar panels are paid off).

If the state could implement these ideas then, in just a few years, we could reduce air pollution and all of its health side-effects, reduce our dependence on foriegn oil, and add jobs to the state (which would increase tax revenues). Is there a downside?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Where I stand on political issues

Lately I've been doing a lot of research on different political candidates and examining where they stand on the issues. It's easy to get confused and mixed up because they all present good arguments to support their cases. So I thought I'd spend some time and outline how I feel about various issues. Some may be more local (to Arizona) while others more of a national concern but I think by writing out where I stand, I can more clearly see if a particular candidate fits with my views. I may also make changes to my position as new information comes out or as I find that my conclusions were not as correct as I may have hoped.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Election Predictions from electoral-vote.com

The web site electoral-vote.com shows its predictions on the upcoming election based on the most recent polls available. It should be interesting to see how the current scandals affect the poll numbers in the next few weeks (as well as the election itself).


Click for www.electoral-vote.com

Click for www.electoral-vote.com

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Autism and the Geek

A little while ago I read a couple of articles on the similarities between the traits associated with Autism, and the traits that people associate with geeks. As I was reading the article, I started thinking about the perceived relationship between geeks and those that have Autism. Ultimately I decided to write about it in the hope that I can help to increase awareness of what Autism really is and how it affects people.

If you are not familiar with Autism, the Autism Society of America has some good resources that explain what Autism is and what causes it.

In short, Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the way a person perceives the world around them and the way they interact with others. It is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

For simplicity's sake, when I refer to Autism, I am including Asperger Syndrome which is commonly defined as a less severe, or higher functioning, form of Autism.

Some claim that geekiness is simply a hidden form of Autism. Others disagree, and say that there's only an indirect correlation. So which group is right? In my opinion, based on my experience with geeks and people with Autism, while most geeks may seem to have some Autistic traits (such as hyper-focusing on certain topics and/or lack some social skills), as a whole, they do not meet the definition of Autism.

I know some geeks are Autistic, and that many geeks have traits that are superficially similar those of people with Autism. However, the actual "geek with Autism" is a relatively rare phenomenon in my experience.

I'm a database administrator by trade and have a degree in computer engineering. I love computers and playing with new technology. I've written reviews on different operating systems and love trying out new ways of doing things. Not only do I consider myself a geek but my sometimes exasperated wife wholeheartedly agrees that I'm hopelessly geeky. This gives me some authority, though I do not claim to be an expert, to comment on the behaviors and personalities of geeks.

I not only have an inside view on geeks, but my wife and I have been blessed with three wonderful children, two of which have been diagnosed with Autism. This has given me an insider's view on what Autism is, and what it's really like for those diagnosed. Since my oldest is only four, my perspective on Autism is mostly coming from what children with Autism are like and what I've learned interacting with others in the Autism community.

This has taught me that, although some of the traits seen in geeks seem similar to the traits that define Autism, the wholesale labeling of geeks as Autistic is a best an oversimplification and at worst, just plain wrong. While some of the traits of geeks may make them stick out in "regular society," the traits of Autism are severe enough to limit, if not prevent, a person from functioning in society at all.

Autism is a spectrum disorder. In other words, a specific group of traits or symptoms define what Autism is. When a person has six of the 19 identified traits, they are said to be "on the spectrum," or Autistic.

Although 19 specific traits are identified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) that relate to Autism, I'm going to focus on two of the traits and how they relate to stereotypical geek traits.

Hyperfocus

The first trait can be described as hyperfocus, or the tendency that many geeks have to get so focused on their computers that they leave the rest of the world behind. When working on a program or solving a complex problem, this trait can be quite an advantage. However, it also feeds the stereotype that geeks spend all of their time at the computer.

For Autism, the trait of hyperfocus relates to the trait described by the DSM-IV as: "encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus". In other words, being abnormally focused on just one thing.

In children with Autism, this can be seen by them spending hours lining up their toy cars or watching a ceiling fan spin. So is this the same as being able to program for hours and hours at a time? I'd say it's similar but not the same.

The difference is that geeks can shift their focus away from programming without much of an issue, and that programming involves being creative in coming up with new ways to solve problems.

A person with Autism may not be able to shift focus and would sit for hours without stopping. At this point the behavior becomes a disadvantage. When you have a person that cannot independently break away from an activity, interact with coworkers, family, or friends, or even really take care of themselves, then the "ability" is really a hindrance that diminishes quality of life.

When the trait interferes with a person's quality of life, it ceases to be geeky and becomes Autistic. This may sound similar to a workaholic but with Autism, it's not necessarily work-related (it could be something as simple as staring at a ceiling fan) and it's only one of several traits required to be diagnosed with Autism.

Antisocial Behavior

The second trait is a blending of many specific traits into a generalization. Many people think of geeks as antisocial, and some make fun of geeks as the ones who sit in labs all day and program or surf the Web or whatever.

Geeks are mocked as the ones who never get out, don't socialize well, don't know how to interact with "normal" people. However, I've found the antisocial stereotype to be the exception, not the rule.

Yes, many geeks enjoy spending a lot of time programming, Web surfing, and so on. But, they also like to hang out with friends and enjoy social activities, even if it's LAN parties instead of watching football. Sure, a geek may not fit in well at a cocktail party but how well would the so-called socialite fit in at a Linux Users Group event?

How does this differ from Autism? Well, geeks have their own social order and tend to be quite active in it. People with Autism can range from not acknowledging anyone around them to being overwhelmed to the point of a panic-attack type of reaction by groups as small as one or two of people.

One of the classic symptoms of Autism is a lack of eye-contact, coupled with a lack of social interaction. Many people with Autism will not even acknowledge somebody else, even a parent, in the same room with them. They simply have no ability to interact with people. In fact, there are people with very severe Autism who go through their whole life and never even learn to speak. This goes beyond antisocial to non-social, or even to fear of socialization.

Although geeks may not always socialize the same way the rest of society does, they do socialize in their own geeky way, which actually makes them very non-Autistic.

Conclusion

Although I've only scratched the surface both on what it means to be a geek and what it means to have Autism, I wanted to give a general understanding that, in my opinion, the vast majority of geeks are not Autistic. Yes, there are some shared traits but they usually are not severe enough to constitute Autism.

Of course, exceptions do exist. Many people with Autism are able to live more or less ordinary lives, but I believe the wholesale stereotyping of geeks as being Autistic is wrong.

If you study Autism and/or spend time around people on the Autism Spectrum as well as spending time around geeks you will definitely start to see similarities in some of the traits and quirks of each of the groups.

You will also notice that everybody has little quirks or eccentric behaviors that are similar to Autistic traits. Most of the traits of Autism are simply severe forms of the many traits that make each of us unique. It's when these eccentricities and quirks are so severe that they impede your ability to live life that the line is crossed from geeky to Autistic.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My Review of Syllable on NewsForge

I've been published again. My recent review of Syllable OS 0.6.1 was just published on newsforge.com. You can check it out here.

Enjoy!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Still Frustrated with the AZ Republican Party

I'm not sure if I feel better or more frustrated. I while ago I ranted that the Arizona Republican Party created an immigration law with an employer enforcement section that was a joke. Well, I spoke with both of my state representatives (who I like and respect) about what happened with that bill. I was informed that what started out as a good bill was amended into its worthless state in order for it to get passed at all. They also let me know that the main proponent of gutting the effectiveness out of the employer enforcement section was the chamber of commerce (I don't remember if it was the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, local chambers of commerce, or some combination).

I had always heard about the power of special interests but to see it first hand was kind of a shock. What is going on here? Where do the loyalties of our politicians lie? What is their stand on illegal immigration? They claim to be against it but will gut legislation aimed at stopping it because the chamber of commerce told them to. Sure it's bad for business. Any business dependant on illegal labor would suffer. The question is: Is that a bad thing? What will hurt the state of Arizona more: a huge drop in the supply of low-wage labor (coupled with a huge drop in crime, strain on ERs and other medical services, less crowding at some of our public schools, less strain on our charities and social services, etc.) or the statu quo?

Well, we know what it's like with them here; what would it be like with them gone? Then comes the real question: Where do our elected representatives really stand?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Kidney Stones are Bad - Part 2

So I thought I would be fine in a couple of days, however, 5 days later, I'm still not fine. The percocet is taking away the pain but it also wipes me out and makes me pretty useless. So I went to my doctor who renewed my percocet prescription and referred me to an expert.

So I went to see the expert. He explained to me how kidney stones work and had me get X-rayed and come back. So I got the X-ray and came back and they scheduled me to get the stone zapped the next week.

By this time I was having good and bad days. It seems that while the kidney stone is moving, it causes immense pain. However, when it stops moving, the pain goes away. So I had a few days where I felt almost normal. By almost, I mean I felt normal except that I was toting around my percocet just in case the pain came back. I felt like a drug addict or something. The other thing was that I was afraid to go to work still. If the pain came back, I would have to take the percocet and if I did that I wouldn't be able to drive. So I stayed home up until the day before my procedure. By then I had two good days in a row and I felt up to risking it. The day went fine and I still felt fine (and hopeful that the stone was gone) when I went in for the procedure.

Well, once checked into the hospital, they took an X-ray and the doctor told me he found it. Unfortunately it was too low for lithotripsy (where they shoot it with sound waves, it shatters into tiny pieces, and passes normally) and they would have to go in with a scope and a laser and zap it that way. Fortunately, I was unconscious for the whole procedure.

I woke up sore but kidney stone free. However, the doctor had inserted a stent (tube) from my kidney to my bladder that would have to be removed later. They said I could go back to work the next day but, due to some of the side effects of the procedure, I decided it would be best to work from home for the rest of the week (I'm lucky to have a job where that's an option).

About a week later, I went in to the doctor's office and he pulled the tube out. Basically, he stuck a scope up into my bladder, found the tube, and pulled it out. Not a very comfortable procedure (on many levels). However, within a half hour or so, I felt almost fine.

So now life is almost back to normal. I have to go in for a couple of tests to try to determine what caused the kidney stone so I can avoid getting them in the future (I'm very supportive of this), but other than that, I'm all done.

Once again, do NOT get a kidney stone. It's a cloud with no silver lining.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Kidney Stones are Bad

My advice to all that read this: Don't get a kidney stone! I have recently recovered from one and will freely admit that it was one of the most painful experiences of my life.

It started on a Monday with what I thought was some pretty intense back pain that lasted a couple of hours and then stopped. Well, I've got an office chair that doesn't offer much back support so I thought that was the problem. I tried switching chairs the next day and thought I was doing well until about noon when it hit me again.

This time it wasn't going away so I went to my wife's chiropracter to see if he could fix it. The pain was so bad that as I was driving to the chiropracter's office, I almost had to pull over on the freeway to throw up. However, I was able to make it to there and, after sitting in a massage chair for about 20 minutes and then having my back adjusted, I felt pretty good. So I figured I was all fixed up.

Wednesday was the day I probably won't ever be able to forget. The pain started up again about noon and, once again, was just too much for me to bear. I called my wife to come pick me up (I had car-pooled that day) and take me to the chiropracter. I spent most of the time waiting for my wife (about half an hour) lying on the floor in my office as that was the position that caused the least amount of pain. Of course by "least amount", I mean pure agony as opposed to blinding agony.

When my wife picked me up, I simply curled up on the seat with my head on the dashboard (still seeking to avoid the blinding agony) and counted the seconds until we got to the chiropracter. This time, however, the adjustments didn't help at all and the best the chiropracter could do was to have me go home and put ice on it. Well I tried that couple with some tylenol (which brought the pain down from pure agony to merely intense pain) which lasted for about an hour. Since it was too early to take more, I tried some ibuprofin. That didn't seem to affect it at all. At that point and on the advice of my wife and my brother, I went to the ER.

The city I live in had just finished a new hospital and ER and I had read an article a couple of days earlier that said the wait times there were less than half an hour. Well, that was a lot better than any other ER or urgent care in the Phoenix area so we (my wife and I) went there. It was great. We were seeing a doctor within 5 or 10 minutes of arriving there. He asked a few questions like how bad the pain was (10!! most definitely a 10!) and a few other things and told me I had a kidney stone.

So they got me into a room and gave me some percocet. While I was waiting for that to kick in, they also took some blood. Now I have an aversion to needles. For whatever reason, the creep me out. However, this time I didn't even care. It hurt so bad that I don't think an epidural would have bothered me. Finally (about 8 hours after the pain started) the percocet started kicking in and the pain was reduced to a sharp kind of ache. At that point they did a CT scan which confirmed it was a kidney stone and said it was pretty small (4 mm) and that I should pass it in a few days. In the mean time, they gave me more percocet (which I asked for) and by the time I left I was pain free, feeling great, and had a perscription for more percocet.

I figured that my worries were over and that I'd be back to normal in a few days. Little did I know that when they said that kidney stones usually pass in a few day, they didn't mean me.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Frustrated with AZ Republican Party

Just so you know, I'm an Arizona Republican so this is a rant against my own party.

Recently the legislature passed a "comprehensive immigration reform" bill (HB2577). Governor Napolitano vetoed it. Of course the party faithful lined up to say how horrible and evil the governor is because she vetoed such a wonderful cure-all bill. Well, I got a little curious and actually went and read the governor's letter explaining why she vetoed the bill. While I disagreed with most of the reasons she gave, one of the reasons surprised me and actually got me to read the bill itself. What I found disturbed me.

As I've previously mentioned in my blogs about immigration, we are in a supply and demand cycle of illegal immigration. That is, as long as there is a demand for illegal workers, the supply will come. That's how capitalism works. Well, while HB2577 had a lot of good provisions for combating the supply of illegal immigrants, it actually seemed to protect the demand. In my opinion, this is counter productive.

This provision for employers went a little like this:

1) The employer KNOWINGLY hires an illegal immigrant and then gets caught (knowingly seems to be defined as paying less than minimum wage and/or accepting a foriegn consulate card as ID).
2) The employer has 10 days to fire the illegal immigrant and notify immigration
3) If the employer decides to appeal or contest the order, it is suspended until the appeal is heard in court.
4) Upon losing the appeal, the employer has another 10 days to comply with the order.
5) If the employer still doesn't comply, the court may levy a fine of up to $5,000 and/or revoke the employer's business license for 2 years.

Is it just me or is this telling businesses that it's OK to hire illegal immigrants as long as you fire them if you get caught? What if you unknowingly hire an illegal immigrant? Are there any penalties or requirements? Are there any punishments for repeat offenders? Well the answer to that is no. No matter how many times you're caught, you still have 10 days to fire the illegal.

It's possible that I misunderstood the law but, barring that, if I were governor, I'd veto it as well. If a business KNOWINGLY hires an illegal, they should be immediately fined and possibly have their business license revoked. The illegal immigrant should be immediately turned over to immigration. This is common sense. If businesses are afraid to hire illegals, they won't. If they don't, illegals won't be able to find work. If they can't find work, they won't come over the border. It's pretty simple logic. Why is it that the Arizona Republican Congress doesn't get it? It's frustrating.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Microsoft and nonprofits

I've always had a dim view of Microsoft. While I think their software is pretty good (for desktops not servers), I don't like their politics. They have a long history of "ethically challenged" business decisions. They seem to have far more aptitude for dealing with competition by leveraging their monopoly on the PC or suing or buying out their competitors than by actually creating better products. This kind of business leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

They finally, with Windows XP SP 2, created an operating system that's stable and reasonably secure (if you take a lot of precautions) but it's taken a lot of pressure from Linux and Mac OS to get them to do anything. They are finally taking the web seriously but that's only because Firefox is eating their lunch. Even with all that, they are slow to respond, slow to innovate, and they seem more interested in locking in their customers than actually meeting their needs. On top of that, their software is expensive!

Well, my wife is starting up a nonprofit company. She and her partners (which includes me since I do the technical stuff) have been going around giving presentations to raise interest and money. My wife and I have been using Openoffice.org for our word processing and presentations but one of our partners is using MS Office and has been lamenting that PowerPoint has more/better features than Openoffice Impress. OK, I try to keep an open mind and I do feel that one should use the best tool for the job. MS products have been easy to ignore because they're expensive and bloated (meaning they have more features that anybody could ever use, they take up huge amounts of space on your computer, and they run significantly slower than they could). Openoffice.org has always been plenty for me but now I'm hearing that it's not up to the task for what our business needs. Then I find out that MS only charges nonprofits $20 for MS Office Pro. That's right, $20 instead of the $499 they charge businesses. Um, that's almost free. Turns out, if you're a nonprofit, MS will practically give their software to you (Windows XP Pro is $8 by the way).

So now I'm kind of in a quandry. On the one hand, I want to stay away from MS products. I don't want to be locked in to using only MS Office for documents and only Windows for an OS. I personally prefer Linux and Mac OS due to their increased security and reliability. However, for $20 to get my wife the tools she needs; how do I say no to that?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Immigration Issue: part 2

So how do we solve these problems? Well there are two schools of thought: Get all of the illegals out or make them legal. Most solutions boil down to one or the other or both. So which one is correct? Here are my thoughts on getting all of the illegals out:

Deport All Illegal Immigrants

This is the idea that the US House of Representatives seems to be favoring. The simplest plan is to build a wall at the border, get more border patrol agents, and pretty much seal off the border. Then, as a complimentary tactic, strictly enforce current laws about employing non-citizens.

Having a larger presence at the border and building a wall will slow down much of the border crossing but, by itself, it can't stop it. It's almost like sticking a band-aid on a corpse. People will find a way. The Berlin Wall had guards with machine guns, razor wire, and land mines but people still got over (granted not very many). This is why the real problem would need to be dealt with: demand.

In my previous post, I stated that it's all about supply and demand. No matter how high you build a wall, if there is demand, supply will come. Conversely though, even with no wall at all, if there's no demand, supply will dry up. If illegals couldn't find jobs here (no demand), they wouldn't come (no supply). That's why the second tactic of enforcing the laws against hiring non-citizens is crucial.

If the US were to increase funding and personnel to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and task them with busting every business that hires illegals, things would start changing in a hurry. As companies are increasingly fined and/or shut down for illegal hiring practices, the amount of work for illegals would drop dramatically and, as word got out that there are not jobs, the amount of illegal immigration would drop dramatically as well.

This would have the happy effect of allowing our border patrol to focus on drug smugglers and terrorists at the border instead of migrants. It would basically get our border back under control.

So is there a downside? Well, maybe. Illegals tend to work at lower wages. This makes services that they support cheaper. If there were no more illegals, there's a good chance that wages would go up. That's good. But this also means that prices will go up as well. That's bad. Services like restaurants, hotels, construction, landscaping, etc. would probably have to raise there rates. Some would probably have to scale back or go out of business altogether. The real question is would it just be a little bump in the economy or could it cause a full blown recession? Nobody seems to know. However, raising wages high enough so that it is possible to survive working in these low-wage jobs could eliminate a lot of welfare and unemployment issues and raise the standard of living for the working poor.

So, is this a good solution, a bad solution, or no solution at all? I don't know. There is a lot of good that could come of it but there is also a lot of bad. Someone smarter than me will have to figure out if the benefits outweigh the risks.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Immigration Issue: part 1

The immigration issue is big news, especially here in Arizona. Everybody has their ideas and opinions on what needs to be done. Some say we should build a wall while others think a guest worker policy will fix the problem. I think that we need to really understand the problem before we can fix it. This article will focus on exploring the problem. I'll attempt to offer some solutions in subsequent posts. Bear in mind that I'm not an expert but this is what my "common sense" has come up with.

Supply and Demand

The very heart of a capitalist society is the law of supply and demand. Simply put, where there is a demand, there will be a supply. In the US there is a demand for low wage labor. Whether it's on farms, in restaurants, in construction, in retail, in travel, or anywhere else, employers are looking to cut costs. This is not evil but business. If I can do business cheaper than company B down the street, more people will come to me and I'll make more money. Just look at Walmart. They cut every possible cost they can and that's given them low prices and high profits. What company doesn't want that?

The problem is the supply of workers. Americans have become very proud, especially in the more affluent parts of the country. How many people would rather be unemployed than work for McDonalds? How many people are willing to work the long hours of physically demanding labor that farm or construction work requires? It's not a popular choice when we can go to college and get real high-paying jobs in computers or accounting or medicine or some other white collar job. Not only that, but the low wages can make it extremely difficult, if not immpossible, to live on the income from these jobs. At this point it's not a matter of arrogance but survival. Can a person really live on $7 an hour? how about $10 an hour?

So what happens? When employers can't find people to fill these jobs locally, they broaden their search. Unfortunately, our neighbor to the south isn't nearly as prosperous as we are. There are thousands of people willing to work in these low wage and low prestige jobs. Many of them are doing it to support their families and give there children a shot at a better life. The wages that we turn our noses up at are more than generous for some of the impoverished areas of Mexico and other Central and South American countries. So they come here and take the jobs.

Is this bad? Well yes it is. Why? It's illegal. Maybe that seems like a little thing but lets look at something similar: prohibition. Is drinking bad? Some say yes and some say no but, during prohibition, it was illegal. What happenned? An entire criminal industry grew up around the smuggling alcohol. They usually had more people and better weapons than law enforcement and they created a level of corruption that seemed to permeate through everything. Despite the best efforts of government, this continued until prohibition was repealed. With illegal immigration we have some of the same thing. We have coyotes that are smuggling people across the border and charging a few thousand dollars each. We have drug cartels using illegal immigrants to smuggle drugs across the border (the drug trade being another supply and demand issue that I won't be going into here). There are cases of bribes going to police and border patrol in order to keep things going. There are areas of the border that are avoided by the border patrol because they know they'll get shot at if they go there. In my opinion, the illegal immigration isn't nearly as bad as the criminal organizations that have sprung up to support it.

That's not to say that illegal immigration isn't bad. Sure the illegal immigrants are just looking for a better life and I don't think they should villified individually, however, collectively there are some real issues. Let's go back to supply and demand. What happens when there's a demand but no supply? If there are jobs but nobody to fill them? One of two things happen, either the job is withdrawn (the company figures out how to function without the job being filled or the company goes out of business) or the salary is increased. What happens when salaries go up? The poor get richer and the rich run the risk of getting poorer (or at least not getting richer as quickly).

So what is the economic impact? If the poor are getting richer, they will improve their standard of living. They wouldn't be so desparate for the necessities of life. We would probably (remember, this is just my opinion) have reduced crime, reduced animosity between the lower, middle, and upper classes, more people satified with their lives, etc. There's a lot of good that can come from it. Would there be any bad? Yes, I think there is a downside as well.

If Walmart, which pays under $10 per hour on average, couldn't find anybody to work for those wages, what would they do? They'd raise their salaries. They would also probably raise their prices to cover for the loss. For smaller businesses it may be more extreme. If landscaping companies had to increase their wages and hence their prices, how many customers would they lose? How many would go out of business? Food prices would probably go up, luxury prices (restaurants, hotels, etc) would probably go up, housing prices would probably go up, etc. A lot of small companies would probably go out of business and a lot of large companies would have much smaller profits (and some could go out of business as well).

Businesses are very powerful in government (like it or not) and will fight anything that they see as detrimental to their bottom line. In a lot of ways, illegal immigration is good for business. Cheap labor means bigger profits and illegal immigrants don't complain about poor treatment, lousy wages, lack of healthcare, etc. After all, if they did, they might get deported. Unfortunately, the crime and suffering caused by our current immigration policies have gotten to the point that the people are upset and demanding the problem be fixed. So now, business lobby or no business lobby, something has to be done.

Which brings us to the real question. What do we do?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Changing from Xandros 3.02 to Suse 9.3 - My Linux Odyssey

Some people hop from one operating system to the next, always interested and excited about the next new thing. Others like to experiment for a while but, after finding the “right” OS, tend to stop looking around. Others won't change at all. In fact, they will fight change even if their current operating system locks up all the time, is difficult to use, and never seems to work right (OK, not all Windows systems are like that but you get my point). I am in the second group. Once I decided to try Linux, I spent a month or so trying out different flavors until I found the one I liked. So, for the last year or so, I have been a happy Xandros Linux user.

Then it happened. A few months ago, I was approved to replace my computer. Since HP is a supplier for work, I was able to get a nice Athlon 64 box without any hassle (very nice!). Not only that, but I was able to get it with Linux. Granted my only choice was Suse Linux 9.3 but it was nice not to pay the Windows tax and it did seem to make the machine cheaper (HP doesn't allow you to make a direct comparison but it was a $100 or so cheaper than the closest box I could spec with Windows). All in all, a very nice box and, although I am a big Xandros fan, I thought it would be interesting to try Suse out. After all, if I didn't like it, I could just format the hard drive and put Xandros on it.

When the computer came in, I found an interesting thing. Although it shipped with Suse 9.3, it didn't come pre-installed with it. They simply shipped the CDs with the box. So, instead of trying a new version of Linux, I was now picking which distribution I wanted to install. Although I do like to experiment, I decided that since this is my work computer, I should go with what I already know works well for me. So I decided to install Xandros. With the Xandros installer being the easiest installer I've ever seen, it should be super easy. Well, it wasn't.

Did I mention that I got an SATA hard drive on my new computer? Well, I did. It seemed like a good idea and, since IDE wasn't available, it was my only option. The only problem is that the Xandros installer couldn't detect the hard drive. I looked in the forums and everywhere else I could find but couldn't find any advice that actually helped. After a while, installing Suse started to get very tempting. “Well,” I thought, “although I'm accustomed to Xandros, Suse has a very good reputation and would probably make just as good a desktop”. So I decided to give it a try.

The install was pretty easy. Not as simple as Xandros but very straightforward. You do install a lot more software (4 CDs for Suse instead of 1 CD for Xandros) but I didn't have any issues. In about half an hour I had my Suse instance booting up. Easy as pie. The setup after that was a bit more complex. The network setup defaulted to DHCP but the firewall seemed to block the DHCP by default. I stumbled across this by pure accident but, once I opened the DHCP port, everything worked fine. Then I applied all the patches/security updates and I was ready to go. Well, sort of...

My next issue was file sharing. In Xandros I had my Active Directory shares mounted (like a hard drive or CD ROM). This was childishly easy to set up in the Xandros File Manager but gave me problems every now and then because it would lose the connection and hang trying to find them. I would have to manually unmount and remount them. With Suse, I found you could simply bookmark a link to the share and, although you have to log in more often, I haven't had it hang trying to access a disconnected mount point. The only problems I had were opening remote documents caused OpenOffice to freeze. No problem, just copy the document first and then open it. I have to say I like Suse's way better. Of course, I found out later that I could have done the same thing on Xandros but Suse makes it much easier.

Setting up printing was a nightmare. Our printers are also on an Active Directory network. In Xandros, all I had to do was tell it the print server and the printer. In Suse, it wasn't nearly as straightforward. I told it the printer server and the printer, played with a bunch of samba settings in 3 or 4 configuration panels, and finally rebooted. Rebooting seems to have done it though I don't know why it was necessary. Then the printing worked for a while until, while trying to print, it just put the job in the print queue and nothing happened. Kind of frustrating. Sure, I don't print very often and Xandros isn't perfect at printing either, but come on! However, I ended up feeling really stupid when I remembered that I had changed my AD password but hadn't updated my printer configuration. Printing works fine now.

Then there's rebooting. When I went to the shutdown menu and picked reboot, nothing happened. I tried again a couple more times with the same result. Finally I went into a console, changed to root and typed “reboot”. That worked just fine. So why doesn't the menu work? Really odd...

Then there was the issue of mounting my flash drive. I figured it would be the same as on Xandros. I stuck my flash drive into the usb port and ... nothing. So after an hour of poring over forums and help pages, I found that I wasn't the only one with issues. I did get the drive to mount though, and thought I had solved my problem. Well, a couple days ago, I tried it again. Once again, nothing. So now I'm pretty frustrated, but I search again. After a few hours I find another possible solution (something about disabling USB 2.0 support so USB 1.1 compatible drives work) that did the trick at first but after a couple of days it stopped working again. If I reboot, it works again for a while, then stops. Odd...

As for look and feel, I found that I like Suse better. Both Suse and Xandros are KDE based, but the Suse implementation is, in my opinion, a little bit better. It seems more polished or professional or something. I can't quite put my finger on it. I suppose it could be going from a 15 inch monitor to a 19 inch monitor and from a pentium 4 1.7 GHz to an AMD 3200+, but I simply liked it more. Konqueror (the file manager) is also set up differently. It's set to open files/directories on a single click. This took some getting used to but now I like it. The KDE control center is similar in look and feel but, with YAST integration, everything is in a different place. This isn't necessarily good or bad, just different. After a week or so of getting used to things, there weren't any issues other than the ones previously mentioned.

Although I miss Xandros, switching distributions was not as big a thing as I thought it would be. There were some surpises, but overall Xandros and Suse are not all that dissimilar. The issues I faced are not recurring problems but one-time setup headaches (except for the flash drive thing); frustrating at first but soon forgotten. Both distributions do their jobs well and, once again, I'm not really paying attention to my OS any more. I'm just working.

For me, it comes down to personal preference. I started with Xandos and still prefer it; I just use it at home now. However, if I had started with Suse, then it may very well have won my heart. Over all, I have to say that both distributions are quite good. I like the look and feel of Suse better but Xandros seems to have better hardware and network support out of the box (except for the SATA support) as well as a much more simplified setup and configuration. I guess my conclusion is that I like Suse but I miss Xandros. You can't use a distribution for a year and not become attached to it. Perhaps, after a few more months of using Suse, I'll get more attached to it. Who knows, I may actually end up liking it more.

Review of Xandros Linux

This review was originally published by NewsForge. Here's my original.

About a year ago I installed Linux on my desktop at work. I am a database administrator for a PeopleSoft and Oracle shop and I spend a lot of my time remotely logged in to our servers. I decided to try Linux because I had become frustrated with Windows not being able to things like multiple desktops, forwarding the display of a remote server onto your box to run apps remotely, and connecting with SSH. Fortunately, my management is far more interested in having happy, productive employees than what operating system people use so they were willing to let me experiment. Today, with Xandros, I have a good solid desktop, and I don't worry about viruses, spyware, and adware.

I wanted an easy-to-use Linux distribution, something that "just works." I didn't want to spend my time tinkering or figuring out how to make my system work.

At work we have been migrating our Web servers and some of our other database servers to Red Hat, so that seemed a good first choice. However, Red Hat is expensive and, in my opinion (from a usability point of view), better suited as a server. I could have gone for the free and more updated Fedora Core but I didn't want something that was labeled "experimental."

My next thought was Ubuntu. You have to search pretty hard to find negative comments about Ubuntu. I loaded up Warty Warthog on a spare computer and played with it for a while. I liked the clean interface but was bothered by the things missing. I had to hand-edit my X.org config file to set the refresh rate (which wasn't properly detected), I could not get printing to work over our Active Directory network, and I had a difficult time setting up connections to our file server (also Active Directory). After a few days without the ability to print I decided to move on.

My next try was Xandros. Although not free, Xandros has a free (for non-commercial use) version which I downloaded. I was extremely impressed with the simple install routine and the ease of setting everything up. I set up mappings to our Active Directory file server in minutes with no problems, but the real selling point was that I set up printing in less than 10 minutes. I was hooked.

I didn't want to jump into anything without some thorough testing, so I took a couple of months before hitting up my boss for funds to purchase it. One by one, I moved my applications over. It wasn't hard since I was already using Opera for Web browsing and Thunderbird for email. My word processing and spreadsheet needs were pretty basic, so OpenOffice.org replaced Microsoft Office quite easily. I use a few Windows-only applications, but since I don't use them often, I just left them on a spare Windows box.

I decided to do my "conversion" cold turkey. I immediately went to Linux full-time and only used my Windows box when I absolutely had to. Xandros handled everything I threw at it. I love how you can install local standalone Debian and RPM packages as well as repository-based packages from Xandros Networks. I even came to love the Xandros File Manager (which I didn't like at first) for its power and versatility. It still amuses me that Windows takes three or four mouse clicks to unmount a flash drive and Xandros does it in one. The best part of all is that it just worked. I wasn't spending time fiddling with config files or fighting with OS issues. I just did my job and was happy.

After two or three months of using Xandros, I went to my boss and told him that I had been using Linux for the past few months and explained why I felt it was a better OS for me. I asked for funds to purchase Xandros Deluxe version 3 (which had been released while I was still doing my evaluation). The funds were approved, and within a few days, I had a shiny new copy of Xandros Linux.

The migration from the Xandros 2 installation that I had to version 3 was painless. I just backed up all my files and moved them over to the new computer (I upgraded my computer at the same time). Apart from installing some programs, that was about it. The look and feel was the same. The big changes were in the underlying architecture (moving from the 2.4 to the 2.6 kernel, upgrading KDE, etc.). The most noticeable change was the inclusion of Crossover Office (which I use only to test Web pages in Internet Explorer). After just a couple of days I was done tinkering and back to work.

Of course I had some minor issues. Setting the default Web browser to Opera involved some Internet searching and command line configuration. Printing gave me grief every now and then (which turned out to be an Opera issue) but I got that solved. In order to install the Oracle client, I had to trick the installer into thinking that Xandros was actually Red Hat. The only recurring problem came from Samba. I set up my network shares by mounting them off of my home directory, but every now and then (maybe once a month) I would lose my connections and the file manager would freeze for about five minutes trying to access the shares. To fix this I had to wait for the file manager to time out, manually unmount the shares, and remount them. Apart from that, Xandros was solid as a rock and so easy to use that I rarely thought about what OS I was using at all.

I've been using Xandros for over a year now and no longer consider it a grand experiment; it's just my desktop. Some say that Linux is not ready for the desktop and, for them, it may not be. However, for me, it's not only ready but it's the perfect OS for my job.

I love my car!

I finally got it. Ever since the PT Cruiser came out in 2001ish, I've wanted to get one. Of course new cars aren't cheap (even though the PT Cruiser IS relatively inexpensive, it's still not cheap) and I had a car that ran pretty well so it was hard to justify spending that much money because it "looks cool". However, I had decided that when my current vehicle, a 1991 Acura Integra, finally wore itself out, the PT Cruiser would be at the top of my list. However, with only 150,000 miles on it and it being an Acura, I figured I had a few years to prepare. I was wrong.

Starting last summer, my car started having issues. Little things would wear out/break that would be annoying to fix and, at least twice, required towing the car to our mechanic. It was bad enough that I enrolled in AAA which, at the rate I seemed to be going, would pay for itself rather quickly. Well it did and, as an aside, I was so impressed with AAA's service that I recommend them to anyone who asks.

Anyways, the car ran OK for the next 6 months or so but then, at the end of January, the car died. My wife was driving it back from somewhere and the engine just conked out right at an intersection. I called AAA and they had a tow truck there in half an hour and towed it to the shop we use. The mechanics looked it over and pronounced the engine pretty much dead and quoted us 3 or 4 thousand dollars to get it fixed. For a car that was starting to break a lot, paying twice what it's worth to get a new one didn't seem very wise. So we went shopping.

I did some internet research and found that PT Cruisers seem to have very good resale value and that it wasn't that much more expensive to buy brand new. Buying new also allowed me to get the options I wanted while not paying for the ones I didn't. So I did some homework and, on the last day of January, my wife and I went to a dealer.

We took a test drive and I was sold. I told the dealer exactly what I wanted (base model with AC) and what color and they were able to come up with one. It did have one extra feature but it was satellite radio (which I actually wanted anyway) but I did get them to cut the price in half. So after some negotiation we finally got everything ironed out and I left hoping that I'd never have to buy another car for a long, long time. I love the car but the whole experience was awful.

So, I've had my cruiser for about two and a half months and I still love it. It's fun to drive, it looks great, and it has lots of room. My kids call it "Daddy's blue car" and get really excited whenever I take them for rides. It has a smooth ride, a fairly quiet interior, easy to read dashboard, and for such a small car, it puts you about a head above most other small cars which gives you nice visibility. I got the manual transmission which works well although the clutch is a little stiff (which is really noticable in Phoenix rush hour traffic).

The car has so many cool little things on it. Not only does it have the standard A and B trip odometers, but it also shows you the outside temperature (which I think is really cool). The dome light doesn't just turn off when you shut the door but it fades to dark. It's got a very nice sounding stereo system with easy controls. Plus it has cup holders! OK, you wouldn't think cup holders would be a big deal but my old Integra didn't have them. I also love the retro-styled interior. It has all the conveniences I want but with the 50s look to them.

Is it perfect? Well, no. It has power door locks but they can only be controled from the front doors. This means that when I get the kids out of the back, I have to go back to one of the front doors to lock the car. I'm also still getting used to have the window controls in the middle of the dashboard instead of on the doors. The only other thing I can think of is that the gas cap is on the passenger side and I keep parking on the wrong side of gas pumps. Other than that it's a great little car and if I can get 150,000 miles on it before needing to get a new one, I'll be happy as a clam.