Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy Holidays, and a Very Happy New Year!


OK, I'm a bit late with the "Happy Holidays" part, as Christmas, Hannukah etc have already passed, but better late than never, as they say in the classics.

We put our Christmas lights up when the daylight savings time fall-back happened, and they will stay up till we spring-forward again in the Spring. I can't be bothered to put up lights for just a few days or weeks, so we leave them up all through the dark season, to give us cheer.




Indoor decorations, like the artificial Xmas tree and the Christmas Angel Wreath, will get taken down soon.




The problem with leaving indoor decorations up for too long is, they get dusty, and you'll choke on the dust when you have to take them down and dust them off. Just try leaving your tree up for a couple of months past Christmas; after the dust storm that's generated when you take it down, you'll be unlikely to do it again.


This time of year is dark, cold, damp and bleak; yet even in it's bleakness, I still see a bleak kind of beauty in our farm and it's cold landscape.






In the bleakness the earth rests, in hibernation and sleep, storing it's energy in preparation for rebirth and new life in the Spring. It speaks to me of hope.


It's in that hope for rebirth and renewal that we now enter a new year.


Best Wishes to All People of Goodwill for a
Happy, Healthy, Wealthy & Prosperous New Year for You and Yours!

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Is the TTLB rating system worthless?

OK, I've not been blogging for the past two weeks, because I've had lots of other stuff to do. That happens sometimes, I'm no Michell Malkin or Instapundit.

I have a link to the TTLB at the bottom of my sidebar. I've watched my ranking with them fall from "Large Mammal" all the way down to "Insignificant Microbe".

To me, "Insignificant Microbe" should be for a blog that nobody reads. Yet, during the past two weeks while I have not been blogging, my blog has still been getting lots of visitors, many more hits per day then when I first started blogging. Yet I'm supposed to be just an "Insignificant Microbe" in the TTLB ecosystem, the lowest rating they have?

That doesn't make sense to me. I'm beginning to wonder if the TTLB rating system is actually meaningless, and if I should just delete it from my blog and be done with it. I really can't think of a reason why I SHOULDN'T delete it. Can you?

UPDATE 01-09-08:

It's gone back up to "Large Mammal". But if it keeps jumping around like that, I may just delete it.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Brave New World is here sooner than you think

Can you imagine a world where everyone could talk to everyone, anywhere in the world? Not just adults, but children too?

What would happen if all the 9 year olds all over the planet were able to talk to each other? It's not a rhetorical question; it looks like we may actually find out, thanks to revolutionary new technology like the XO laptop, which is making it literally possible in the here-and-now.

Rory Cellan-Jones, in this article for the BBC News, writes about his experience with the XO laptop. He was given an XO laptop after a recent visit to Nigeria to see how the laptops were being implemented there.

Because the laptop is designed for children, he decided to give it to his 9 year old son to use. He thought the boy, Rufus, would quickly grow bored with it, but the opposite has happened. The kid not only quickly learned the software and capabilities of the computer; he ended up talking to other children with XO laptops around the world. And his dad doesn't quite understand how it is happening! A few excerpts here:

A child's view of the $100 laptop
[...] Enter Rufus Cellan-Jones. He is nine, has far more experience of games consoles than computers, and has strong views on most matters.

"Looks fun," was his only comment when I handed over the small, green and white laptop, explaining that he was the only child in Britain to have one.

But very quickly he was up and running.

All I did was give him the security code for our home wireless network so he could take the XO online.

[...]

But the real surprise came one evening, when Rufus asked me to explain what his friends were telling him on the laptop.

I thought those imaginary childhood friends from years back must have returned.

But I went and had a look - and it was true - he appeared to be chatting online.

So how had he managed that?

"You go on "neighbourhood", then you go to the chat thing.

You go on Nigeria and you chat to them."

But why, if he was online with the children at the Nigerian school I had visited, were they sending messages in Spanish?

I decided he must be linking up with one of the South American schools taking part in the OLPC project but we still aren't sure quite how that is happening.

Still, Rufus is widening his social circle. " I have three friends. It's nice to talk to them. They don't speak much English but I can understand them." The conversation is not exactly sparkling, but Rufus has learned to say "Hola". [...]


The XO laptop uses something called mesh networking, which makes it easy to connect to other computers on the mesh network... even children in other countries using the OX laptop, apparently.

The software is Linux, using a Graphical User Interface (GUI) called "Sugar". The Sugar GUI is designed to make learning the computer easy for children who have never used a computer before. Thus, it's not like a conventional computer desktop.

I considered downloading it to try it out, but as I read about it, I didn't find it appealing. In a story on OLPCnews.com, a man buy's an XO for his wife for Christmas. But as he tries using it himself, he thinks she won't like it; it's not made for adults (although there is potential for an adult version of the XO to be produced).

Below you can see a Youtube video of Rufus using his XO computer, demonstrating some of it's features, and showing how he finds other children around the world on it:



The video is less than 3 minutes long. I recommend reading the rest of the BBC article for more of Rufus's opinions, and details from his dad about how it all unfolded, and what he thinks now of the potential of the OLPC Project.

I'm still wondering about the unforeseen consequences. Some people are worried that child molesters could stalk the mesh network, and lure children into dangerous situations. But that at least is being foreseen, and steps are being taken to secure the network against child predators. What I mean by unforeseen is, what will a completely internet-connected world be like? Where all the 9 year olds on the planet, where just about EVERYONE, can talk to each other?

It's never happened before. But ready or not, it's coming. If the OLPC Project fails, someone else will pick up the ball and run with it. It's inevitable. Are you ready for it? Are any of us ready?

Oh, brave new world, with such people in it.


You can click here to see a page with this and all my other posts about the OLPC Project, and similar devices.
     

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Is the OLPC project Pie in the Sky?

Having failed to attract many large orders form Government purchasers, the OLPC Project is now attempting other methods for sales revenue and distribution, such as the Give One Get One program.

That's fine, as some people will do it for charitable reasons, but I doubt it's a sustainable long term strategy. I think they need to just start selling it to schools in developed nations that already have the infrastructure to support it. Not at double the price, but at a smaller markup. The profit could be used to subsidize purchases for underdeveloped nations, and the increased sales would give them the production VOLUME they desperately need to get the price lowered to the $100 they originally envisioned, making it easier to sell to (and buy for) the poorer nations it was originally designed for.

In fact, just selling it to the general public in the same way, as a long term strategy, would also benefit the project in the same way. I'm hoping they'll do it.

Some people are predicting that the OLPC Project will fail, and question if it's even realistic in it's ambitions and intentions. John Dvorak recently addressed this in an article about the OLPC project:

One Laptop per Child Doesn't Change the World

While I can concede that Dvorak does make some valid points, overall I think he may be too cynical. Yet we do need to heed the dangers and pitfalls he speaks of.

I've noticed there are two views of the OLPC project that tend toward extremes. The first view is that the OLPC Project will somehow magically end world poverty (instead of just enabling a bunch of kids to download porn and "Access Hollywood"). The other view is that if it can't end world poverty, it must be worthless and a waste (If it won't help everyone, then it can't help anyone).

Both views are too extreme, and thereby flawed.

There are communities of impoverished people throughout the world, who barely have enough to eat. They may not be starving, but they are still poor; they are still struggling to improve their lives, and to educate their children. These communities may have schools, but not much in the way of resources. Textbooks are expensive for them, and become outdated and wear out quickly. An OLPC laptop, with internet access, could replace those textbooks, and offer so much more as well. Sure, there are problems with setting that up. But it's not impossible.

Education, used wisely, can help people become more productive and improve their living conditions. The OLPC is not quick fix pill, but used judiciously, it has the potential to help a lot of people worldwide. Remember the old saying: feed a man a fish and you've fed him for a day; teach him how to fish, and you have fed him for the rest of his life. Knowledge can do that, and that can be what a project like OLPC can potentially do.

Much of the criticism that's been aimed at the project can actually be helpful, if it ultimately helps the project to succeed. But expectations have to be kept realistic and not extreme. It won't end world poverty, but it may be able to be developed as a useful tool to promote education, and it's resulting prosperity.
     

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Can Windows XP fit on the OLPC Laptop?

It would be like a fat lady trying to fit into a dress that's two sizes too small. Yet the increasing popularity of inexpensive low-end laptops and internet devices (with small resources) seems to be making a fat lady out of Microsoft, as Linux moves with ease into this market, and Microsoft tries to follow.

From DesktopLinux.com:

Linux is about to take over the low end of PCs

[...] Four trends: user-friendly Linux desktops, useful under-$500 laptops and desktops, near-universal broadband, and business-ready Internet office applications. Put them together and you have a revolution.

For the last two decades, we've been buying expensive desktop operating systems on business PCs running from $1,000 to $2,000. On those systems, we've been putting pricey desktop-centric office suites like Microsoft Office. That's a lot of money, and the convergence of the above trends is about to knock it for a loop.

[...]

Linux desktops run just dandy on low-end, under-$500 PCs. Vista Basic, which comes the closest to being able to run on these systems, is unacceptable since it doesn't support business networking. Office 2007 also won't run worth a darn on these systems. And somehow, I can't see Microsoft optimizing its applications to work with Google Apps instead of Exchange and SharePoint.

Put it all together, and here's what I see happening. In the next few quarters, low-end Linux-based PCs are going to quickly take over the bottom rung of computing. Then, as businesses continue to get comfortable with SAAS (software as a service) and open-source software, the price benefits will start leading them toward switching to the new Linux/SAAS office model.

You'll see this really kick into gear once Vista Service Pack 1 appears and business customers start seriously looking at what it will cost to migrate to Vista. That Tiffany-level price tag will make all but the most Microsoft-centric businesses start considering the Linux/SAAS alternative. [...]

I read in another article that MS is trying desperately to get WinXP to work on the OLPC XO laptop. But they can't, unless the units have double the memory they have now. As a result, they are trying to get the OLPC Project to build in and extra port to add up to double the memory the device currently uses.

Microsoft has wanted to dump XP and promote Vista instead. But now it finds it wants to compete in the low-end market with Linux, and Vista can't go there. It would seem that XP is going to be sticking around for a while, in some form or another, although it may have to go on a crash diet.


But will XP even be good enough (or small enough) to compete effectively with Linux in this arena? Here are some more articles that look at that, links about XP on the OLPC's XO:

A Good Thing About Windows XP on XO: Contrast

No Microsoft Windows XP on OLPC XO

Put GPL Code Windows XP on XO

I think that if MS does somehow manage to SQUEEZE WinXP onto the XO, Linux is still going to look like the better alternative. It will require more memory, which will drive up costs, and it may not be as fast as a Linux alternative on the same hardware. Linux also does not have licensing fees. It will be interesting to see what happens.
     

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Lies, damned lies, and statistics

From Thomas Sowell:

Income Confusion
Anyone who follows the media has probably heard many times that the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and incomes of the population in general are stagnating. Moreover, those who say such things can produce many statistics, including data from the Census Bureau, which seem to indicate that.

On the other hand, income tax data recently released by the Internal Revenue Service seem to show the exact opposite: People in the bottom fifth of income-tax filers in 1996 had their incomes increase by 91 percent by 2005.

The top one percent -- "the rich" who are supposed to be monopolizing the money, according to the left -- saw their incomes decline by a whopping 26 percent.

Meanwhile, the average taxpayers' real income increased by 24 percent between 1996 and 2005.

How can all this be? How can official statistics from different agencies of the same government -- the Census Bureau and the IRS -- lead to such radically different conclusions?

There are wild cards in such data that need to be kept in mind when you hear income statistics thrown around -- especially when they are thrown around by people who are trying to prove something for political purposes. [...]

(bold emphasis mine) Thomas goes on to explain to us just how these statistics are manipulated and taken out of context, and used to support false and misleading conclusions.

The truth is very different from what the MSM is feeding us. With elections coming up, it's more important than ever to have a firm grasp of the FACTS as they really are. Thomas Sowell, as always, explains it clearly and straightens it out for us in short order. A short article, and well worth your time to read.
     

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Open Source Software for Linux & Windows

From CNET:
Open-source software rated: Ten alternatives you need
Open source products comprise the work of many collaborators -- sometimes thousands of them, and often separated by oceans. Each person works on small portions of a project, and anyone is welcome to contribute. The finished product will be available freely for anyone to download and, in most cases, modify.

All very touchy-feely, carey-sharey, but why should you care about open source? You should care because the vast majority of common applications, even complex commercial stuff such as Adobe Photoshop, Windows Media Player and Microsoft Office, have free, open-source alternatives. And this point is worth reiterating: open-source software is free. No cost. Zero. Zilch. [...]

This Cnet site in the UK provides an overview of ten free open-source applications that are available for Linux and Windows. Follow the link to the intro, and you'll find they devote a page to each application. You can check them out and see what they do, and if any of them are right for you.
     

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

How rare in human history our blessings are

And Mark Steyn reminds us, one of the greatest blessings Americans have is our constitution.

Mark Steyn: World should give thanks for America
[...] The New World is one of the oldest settled constitutional democracies on Earth, to a degree the Old World can barely comprehend. Where it counts, Americans are traditionalists.

We know Eastern Europe was a totalitarian prison until the Nineties, but we forget that Mediterranean Europe (Greece, Spain, Portugal) has democratic roots going all the way back until, oh, the mid-Seventies; France and Germany's constitutions date back barely half a century, Italy's only to the 1940s, and Belgium's goes back about 20 minutes, and currently it's not clear whether even that latest rewrite remains operative. The U.S. Constitution is not only older than France's, Germany's, Italy's or Spain's constitution, it's older than all of them put together.

Americans think of Europe as Goethe and Mozart and 12th century castles and 6th century churches, but the Continent's governing mechanisms are no more ancient than the Partridge Family. Aside from the Anglophone democracies, most of the nation-states in the West have been conspicuous failures at sustaining peaceful political evolution from one generation to the next, which is why they're so susceptible to the siren song of Big Ideas – communism, fascism, European Union.

[...]

So Americans should be thankful they have one of the last functioning nation-states. Europeans, because they've been so inept at exercising it, no longer believe in national sovereignty, whereas it would never occur to Americans not to. This profoundly different attitude to the nation-state underpins, in turn, Euro-American attitudes to transnational institutions such as the United Nations. [...]

(bold emphasis mine)We have an enduring constitution that actually means something, even if too many of us now seem willing to throw it away. It's a blessing, and worth protecting and cherishing. There's much more, it's an excellent article. I wanted to post about it on Thanksgiving, but I was too busy with other stuff. Even today, I haven;t much time, there's a storm coming in tomorrow, so I've got a busy day ahead of me.

Pat also did some good excerpts on his blog.


Related Link:

From Soeren Kern at the Brussels Journal:
America Wake Up! Europe Wants to Be a Superpower
[...] So why do Europeans continue to assail American “hard power” as bad for the world, when their own “soft power” consistently fails to make the grade?

Because the American military magnifies the preponderance of US power and influence on the world stage, thereby exposing the fiction behind Europe’s superpower pretensions. Because the United States has set the standard for what it means to be a superpower, European elites seek to de-legitimize one of the main pillars of American might, namely its military hard power. Europeans know they will never achieve hard power parity with America, so they want to change the rules of the international game to make soft power the only acceptable superpower standard.

This is why Americans should care about further European integration: The EU is trying to ensconce a system of international law (based on its own image and on that of the United Nations) that it hopes will make it prohibitively costly in the realm of international public opinion for the United States to use its military in the future. For Europeans, multilateralism is all about neutering American hard power, not about solving international problems. It is about Lilliputians tying down Gulliver.

By bending over backwards to appease European sensibilities on Iran, for example, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has dragged the United States headfirst into a multilateral trap that has been set by pacifist Europeans. Their main desire is to prevent America from acting against Iran, even if it means that Islamic radicals in Tehran end up with a nuclear bomb.

Many Europeans are hoping the next American president will adopt a more postmodern relativist perception of reality. All the more reason, therefore, why Americans should examine if the leading presidential contenders are committed to the “hard power” that plays such a vital role in securing American interests and ideals around the world. Europeans may understand even better than do many Americans just how much is at stake in the upcoming US presidential election.

European elites are pushing the EU in a direction that should be deeply disconcerting to Americans concerned about international security and stability. The Reform Treaty will make Europe more centralized and far less democratic than it already is. In practice, this means that many foreign policy decisions that directly affect the United States, ranging from economics and trade to transatlantic cooperation on Islamic counter-terrorism, increasingly will be made by unelected anti-American bureaucrats in Brussels rather than by national governments. [...]

(bold emphasis mine) The weak don't deserve to survive. That's not my opinion; it's an impartial law of nature. It's reality, the way things are. If the Europeans wish to flout that law at their own peril, they are free to do so, but it seems to me quite obvious that their's is not a model we should try to emulate.

It was difficult to pick just an excerpt from this article, I recommend reading the whole thing.


Here's another good link, from Pat's blog:

The (reluctant) American Empire
This is the definitive answer to all those who whine endlessly about supposed "American Imperialism". Very informative, with many embedded links, too.
     

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