Archive for the ‘Geekery & Nerdaphernalia’ Category

What’s Wrong With Microsoft’s ‘Mojave Experiment’?

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Mike Elgan has written an excellent article regarding Microsoft’s so-called “Mojave Experiment”.

This is not simple Microsoft-bashing (of which I am not fond). It’s a well-thought out article, and a good discussion of how companies and marketers should relate to customers, and how not to.

Microsoft held a series of videotaped focus groups and told attendees — all non-Vista users — they would be shown a future version of Windows called “Mojave.”

First, they were asked what they thought of Windows Vista, and many comments were negative. A Microsoft representative showed them a variety of specific features of “Mojave,” and comments were positive. Then, Microsoft told them “Mojave” was in fact Vista, and some attendees said the Experiment had changed their thinking about Vista.

Microsoft gathered the most favorable comments and placed them on a site called The Mohave Experiment.

Since Microsoft cast this marketing push as an “Experiment” — i.e., science — I would like to hereby publicly challenge Microsoft to answer the following questions:

? The Mojave Experiment involved 120 people. But the Web site shows 55 people saying nice things about Vista. What did the other 65 people think?

? Most or all Mojave Experiment videos posted to date feature an expert or marketing person showing neato features to someone. If Vista is so great, why didn’t you let people touch the computers?

Go read the whole thing — it’s not that long… 🙂

Facts is Facts

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

I’ve observed over the years that most people don’t quite know the difference between a fact an an opinion. They don’t quite grasp the sometimes-subtle distinction between a fact and a theory. A fact and a meme. A fact and a judgment.

First off, a fact is — by definition — neutral. A fact cannot be mean spirited or rude, nor can it be kind. A fact cannot be racist, nor sexist. A fact cannot be fair, nor can it be unfair. A fact is not influenced by your perceptions, though hopefully the inverse is true. A fact is not truth.

Black people in America, proportionately, commit more violent crime than white people. This is not a racist statement — it cannot be racist; it is a fact. There are hard numbers to back it up, and unlike many statistics, the math is straightforward. If I take that fact and use it as a basis for judging individual blacks about whom I otherwise know nothing, that is racism; but it’s racist theory and opinion — the underlying fact does not change.

If I say a person is ugly (or beautiful), that is an opinion. If I say premeditated murder is illegal, that is a fact. If I say murder is wrong, that is an opinion (albeit a widely held one.)

There are situations wherein one group will claim a fact is a judgment, by claiming that the use of a word is, by definition bad. “Retarded” is a good example — it is a perfectly, factually accurate word to describe the mental state of certain people. The word itself means that something has been held back, or impeded; so “mentally retarded” simply means that in that particular person, normal human mental development has somehow been held back or impeded. It is a factual, neutral term. (To make the point further — anyone can be “mentally challenged”. Einstein was mentally challenged when he came up with relativity.)

You frequently hear statements that purport to be the “truth”. I tend to ignore any such argument. Why? The difficulty there is that “truth” can mean many things — it is a flexible term that can be used to mean just about anything you want it to. Philosophers talk about “truth”. Preachers talk about “truth”. Politicians often talk about “truth”. Many reporters (unfortunately) look for “truth”. “Truth” is what you believe to be true, or what you want to be true. If you look for “truth” you are likely to fall into the trap of coming to a conclusion and then cherry-picking only that which supports the idea. Science looks at facts.

I always liked the bit in the old Dragnet television show where Sgt. Friday wanted “just the facts”. He was good because his thought process wasn’t clouded in his search for “the truth” — he only wanted to talk about facts. Not opinions, not what the person thought about the situation. This point is also stressed in the TV show CSI, in the character Gil Grissom’s mantra, “The evidence never lies”. Witnesses can mislead you with opinions, lies, or simply errors, but the physical evidence is fact. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes puts it:

From a drop of water a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other.”

Logic and facts are a powerful combination. Doyle’s statement is true because, simply put, that drop of water is a fact. If that same hypothetical logician had bad information that he believes to be fact, that same logic could lead him it a completely different place.

There is a place in common discourse for opinions, and judgment, and theory; but if you do not want to be misled, look for that distinction. In news reporting, opinion and theory are frequently reported as news. This is a mistake. “Hard News” reporting should be based on fact, and nothing more. There is room in such outlets for editorial pieces (opinion again), but it must remain distinct. If a politician tells you to believe in something because everybody else already agrees with it, beware. Facts are not dictated by popularity; facts are often decidedly unpopular (just ask Galileo). Besides that, if a politician is trying to convince you that everybody believes something, he wouldn’t be wasting his time unless he knew that a whole lot of people do not believe it — it’s a self-fulfilling falsehood.

Facts are not influenced by belief, nor convenience, nor popularity. They are not warm and fuzzy; they are hard and cold. They are reality — unvarnished, and raw.

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
John Adams
‘Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials’
December 1770

Spam Control plugin for Firefox

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Allan Mertner has put out a cool new Firefox plugin: Spam Control. It allows you to create variable email addresses on the fly so that you can avoid getting spammed when you have to fill in an email address for various sites.

Basically it gives you a toolbar and/or shortcut menu item with various email addresses — your standard personal one, your work address and (here’s the interesting part) addresses customized for the particular site you’re on. It works with various temporary forwarding sites, so you can give an address that will only work for an hour or so, so you can register with a site but not leave a permanent address.

It has a bug or two, being just released, but hopefully those will be squished in due time. I’ve been looking for something just like this — and here it is.

Overall, very neat.

Holy Implausible Plotlines!

Friday, August 15th, 2008

[***Spoiler Alert*** if you haven’t yet seen The Dark Knight]

Brian writes an interesting piece on the newest Batman movie. For the most part I agree with him; but one statement he makes is, to put it mildly, complete batshit:

The watchword of the current series is plausibility. Everything has to make sense. None of the equipment is over-the-top for the sole sake of being over-the-top.

Okay. So… Bruce is not himself a tech guy. That is almost the entire point of Lucius Fox.

Would you please explain to me the “plausibility” of Bruce wiring up EVERY CELL PHONE IN THE WORLD into a bat-sonar device? Without Lucius having any clue??? Did he take a correspondence course in “Comic Book Tech”? (It’s on the list right next to “VCR Repair”.) Did he wire it up during a lull in his copious spare time? All those monitors alone must have taken hours to hook up — and to what purpose but to look cool for the camera?

(As a sidebar, that particular bit of tech was certainly a tip of the hat to, if not a setup for introducing, the character “Oracle” from the comics.)

Having a gimmicked phone in Hong Kong worked, because he made it specifically for the job. Somehow magically making millions of regular off-the-shelf units do the same thing was complete nonsense.

(Oh, and while we’re on the subject of implausible schemes, can somebody please tell me how Joker managed to load hundreds of drums of gasoline onto the two ferries without anybody noticing? For that matter — if they were evacuating the city via ferry, how did it not occur to anybody to maybe put people down in the massive, supposed-to-be-empty hold?)

The worst part of it to me was that it was totally unnecessary to the plot. If the plot simply didn’t work without it, they should have called for rewrite. As it is, it smells as though some studio exec watched a pre-release version and said “this movie just doesn’t have enough bullshit.”

The movie was excellent, but Nolan really tripped over his cape with that bit….

[Update: Brian Responds]

Alas, poor Vista

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Just looking at my site statistics (using the really amazing Woopra, which you should check out if you have a web site), and I noticed the OS breakdown for visitors to my site. Here’s the top four systems:

  • Windows XP: 38.3%
  • Windows Server 2003: 36.9%
  • Mac: 11.7%
  • Windows Vista: 7.47%

Beyond my mild annoyance that they break down every type of Windows, but lump all Mac OSes under one number, I was a bit amused by the fact that Macs outnumber Vista. Two variants of Windows at least five years old collectively outnumber Microsoft’s new flagship product ten to one.

Of course my little slice of the web isn’t going to perfectly reflect worldwide statistics, but it is one more piece of anecdotal sadness for the Regents of Redmond. I saw an article a while back (probably Joel Spolsky) suggesting that if MS sat back and did nothing but bleed money keeping themselves open, it would take then ten years to go out of business. Despite that impressive buffer, they had better get on the ball and try something new — ’cause whatever they’re doing, it’s not working.

My first thought is: get rid of Ballmer — the man’s a bully. Microsoft has used its near-monopoly like a bludgeon, but as time passes they are once again more and more at the mercy of market forces and individual consumers. Clearly he is having a hard time adjusting to that reality.

Or you could just say that Vista is Microsoft’s Copland… but then, I always thought Windows Me was Microsoft’s Copland. Heh. Showoffs.


Thursday, May 8th, 2008

So the other day I decided to upgrade my hard drive. The ol’ 60 gig was getting cramped, and I was tired of removing stuff to make room for other stuff. I wanted my iTunes library back, among other things….

The tricky part is that I’m talking about my laptop, not a tower.

So first things first: If you ever plan on disassembling a laptop computer, go online first and find instructions — hopefully instructions for your specific model of computer. I was dealing with an old Mac Powerbook, and as Macs have some pretty obsessive fans, you can almost certainly find such a guide for any particular model. I did.

Next: before you start, read all of the directions.

No, really. Put the screwdriver down. Yes, you. Read the directions. All of them. Don’t you look at me like that. Read!

Why yes, Step five really does contain the words “This is scary”. Take a deep breath — It’s going to be okay. Yes, that is a lot of screws, and yes, you have to remove them all. Just keep track of what you remove from where. What do you mean you don’t have a screwdriver that small? What kind of geek are you, anyway?

You need a what? What the hell is a T6 torx screwdriver? Oh, those little star-shaped things? People actually use those? Where do you get one? (Answer: Home Depot or, if you’re lucky enough to have one nearby, Microcenter. See? Aren’t you glad you read the directions first?)

Two Words: Don’t sneeze.

It helps to have a good toolkit. For example, if you drop a screw, you’re going to need a skinny tweezers or a nosepicker1.

The really scary part is where you have to crack the two halves of the case apart. Some sections part easily, but others are quite happy where they are, thankyouverymuch. Screws are completely straightforward — prying something apart when you’re not sure what exactly is holding it together can be intimidating. Take your time, it’ll come.

Okay, we’re down to the drive. This is the easy part. Remove the bracket, pull out the plug. Good. Good. New one is in. Oh good, it does fit.

And the last step of course, is: “Now do everything you just did, but backwards (and in high heels)2.”

Finally, when you get everything back together, just plug in your backup drive, boot from that and restore it to the new drive.

Um, you did make a backup, right?

Oh crap.

1: You know, one of those things with the plunger at the end, and when you press it down these three prongs flex out of the tip — for grabbing small objects in tight places

2: Ginger Rogers joke. Sorry.

Stupid Web Tricks

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Go the Google, type “find Chuck Norris” (without the quotes) into the search bar, and click “I’m Feeling Lucky”.

That is all.

Everybody Kills Hitler

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

International Association of Time Travelers: Members' Forum
Subforum: Europe ? Twentieth Century ? Second World War

Page 263

At 14:52:28, FreedomFighter69 wrote:
Reporting my first temporal excursion since joining IATT: have just returned from 1936 Berlin, having taken the place of one of Leni Riefenstahl's cameramen and assassinated Adolf Hitler during the opening of the Olympic Games. Let a free world rejoice!

At 14:57:44, SilverFox316 wrote:
Back from 1936 Berlin; incapacitated FreedomFighter69 before he could pull his little stunt. Freedomfighter69, as you are a new member, please read IATT Bulletin 1147 regarding the killing of Hitler before your next excursion. Failure to do so may result in your expulsion per Bylaw 223.

At 18:06:59, BigChill wrote:
Take it easy on the kid, SilverFox316; everybody kills Hitler on their first trip. I did.

Go read Wikihistory

[Hat Tip: TJICistan]

Update: foxed some link rot. The story was moved to a different site.

¿Que What?

Friday, March 14th, 2008

The wife is planning to make quesadillas one of these days, and it inspired me to write up a quick etymology of this fascinating word.

Quesadilla (pron. kay-suh-dee-uh) of course comes from the Spanish language. As we all know, “Que” is the Spanish word for “What” when posing a question. “Sadilla”, in turn, is a spelling corruption of the French “cedilla“, which is pronounced the same way. A cedilla is a French bit of punctuation — that little squiggle you sometimes see under the letter “ç”. (Ooooh, alliteration!)

So “Que Sadilla” literally translates as “What French?”, or more meaningfully, “I don’t speak French” — which makes sense, as the speaker clearly speaks Spanish. As for how this strange term came to represent a delicious cheese-stuffed food, well, everyone knows that the French are notorious cheese-eaters, so there you go.

Here endeth the lesson.


Northern Gentleman

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

There is a large gaming convention that used to run every year in Milwaukee Wisconsin (now moved to Indianapolis, Indiana), by the name of Gen Con. It started out about 40 years ago in a basement in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, when a bunch of friends got together to play table-top war games.

It has grown a bit since then. Today, something like 30,000 people attend every year — coming together to play role playing games (“RPGs”) such as Dungeons and Dragons and its many, many descendants. In recent years it has expanded to also include a significant science fiction element — with guest celebrities from movies and television, signings, author presentations, memorabilia, and the like. Between playing everything from chess to D&D to “live action” games and miniatures battles, to game companies showing (and selling!) there latest wares, the convention has plenty for all those thousands to do for four days. A significant reason it left its home in Milwaukee is that that town didn’t have enough hotels to house the attendees! Indianapolis, home to the infamous “500” race, has more room.

I went every single year for about 12 years — I had a place to stay about a hour out of town, and did the commute, rather than spend an extra couple hundo for a hotel (I started going when I was 16).

So, one year I’m roaming through the Great Hall at Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Center, and I come across a large booth hawking a new card game. Card games were hot that year, as Magic: The Gathering had appeared on the scene a year or two previously, and given its creators a virtual license to print money. (That company, Wizards of the Coast, now owns Gen Con, literally.)

The new game was called Legend of the Five Rings. (I could date this specifically from that fact if I wanted to, but off the cuff I think it was about ten years ago.) It was modeled on Japanese mythology, and seemed an interesting concept — so I sat in on a demo.

The first thing I noticed was that this game was bigger than Magic. Where Magic involved two opponents facing off, there were about eight or ten people sitting at the table, and we were all going to be playing one big game. I was at a corner of the long table. There was an older man across from me, and a twelve-or-so year old kid to my left (at the end of the table.)

Before things got going I was chatting a bit with the older guy and the kid. I remember the man well — he was grey haired and balding, with a salt & pepper beard and a friendly face. He and the kid clearly knew each other, as the kid was good-humoredly trash talking the man as the game got under way. (I discovered shortly later that the man was his father — it figures, though the age difference did surprise me a bit….)

The way the game worked, you could ally yourself with another player to take on a third (or an opposing alliance, as the case may be). As this was a demo, they were encouraging us to try such maneuvers out to see how they add richness to the game. I was getting a kick out of the kid, so I decided to ally myself with him against his dad. We played along, working out the new rules and enjoying the game, and after a few minutes I started noticing muttering and a few chuckles coming from further down the table. One comment caught my ear — “He’s taking him on!”

Who’s taking who on? What’s the big deal?

Then I looked down. At the convention, your ticket into events and the Great Hall was a badge that hung around your neck. A badge with your name on it. In large capital letters. The man’s badge said, in large staring-me-in-the-face-for-twenty-minutes black print: Gary Gygax.

If you’ve read this far, you are now in one of two categories: people who just cracked a grin (and maybe uttered a “Cool!”), and people who just said to yourself: “Gary Who”?

Gary Gygax is basically the guy who created Dungeons and Dragons. He’s the guy without whom the 30,000 strong convention I was enjoying at that moment would not exist. And here I was quite genially ganging up with his son against him and handing him his ass in a card game.

Normally in these kinds of situations, I end up at a loss for what to say. But I’d been chit-chatting with the guy for about half an hour by this point. We were practically buds. He was a really nice guy, and I’d liked him a lot before I realized who he was beyond “they guy sitting across from me”.

Naturally, I got his autograph. I still have that Gen Con Four-Day Pass, signed by the man himself.

I am saddened to say that that autograph just became a lot more valuable.

Gary passed away yesterday, March 4, 2008, at his home in Lake Geneva. The world has lost a really nice guy — a real gentleman. I’m happy that I had the opportunity to really meet him — far beyond the two second “autograph table” meetings you usually have with celebs at such events.

R.I.P., Gary. We’ll all miss you.