Tuesday, April 19, 2005

And maybe I was wrong...

Revisiting one of my favorite subjects: desktop Linux. It seems a company out West (RedSeven) is doing Linux (mostly) desktops to a premium market. If you must, you get a dual boot system -- for those people that just can't rid themselves of that last infect-o-matic application. Read more on LXer.com (of course! Where you gonna get the latest in Linux news ;)

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Lawn-Mowers and Free Software

I used to own my own business as a kid, from age 13 or so to 19, I had the cemetery market cornered in my home town of Jamestown Missouri. I needed lawn mowers that could stand up to 8 to 10 hours in the Missouri heat, and in fairly short order, found that the typical off-the-shelf hardware of the day simply couldn't cut it (couldn't resist the pun, sorry). Lawn-boy had the best lawn mowers by far for what I was doing. They were little two-cycle jobbers that after RTFMing, I could take apart (down to the needle bearings, if I had to) and put back together. One thing for sure -- I couldn't wear them out.

And they stood up to the heat and the abuse of my someday computer-science-loving brother Dan. The latter was the main problem in the equation. Dan was kind of rough on the little buggers. It was mainly the lightweight magnesium decks and handles I needed, and lawn-boys of the day were kind of expensive. As a Kid, I didn't have the cash to keep buying new decks all the time. So I did what any decent self-respecting businessman would do: I went to garage sales. After a couple of sub-50 dollar purchases of Lawn-boys, I learned a valuable fact: I could have a couple of year-old used Lawn-boy on the cheap anytime I wanted practically. Why? Because most people that had them didn't read the manual.

They hated mixing the 2-cycle gas too, but that's a side issue. Mainly, they never spent the cash to tune them up. "This thing is warn out, you can have it for nothing." was a typical phrase. I ended the business with a garage full of parts, and I gave away spare lawnmowers to my dad and grandfather. I had processed quite a few of them -- more than I can count, most of them in good working order, for parts such as handles and decks. The main component, the engine, was typically next to new in condition, unless it had been run without oil (surprisingly few were).

The point was this: on almost every occasion, I brought the newly found Lawn-Boy home, changed the plug, points and condenser (this was the 70's, OK!?) and pulled the easy-to-pull (with two fingers, no less) starter rope. Rarely did any find not start on that pull, and run like a champ.

People were simply not tuning them up. They were so easy to pull-start (it was a feature), that people assumed after 50-100 pulls of the string with a bad set of points/plug/condenser that it was never going to start. Maybe yesterday it had started on say, the 49th pull. Today, it was "worn out". They inevitably bought a cheap lawn mower, pushed the "old" Lawn-Boy into the garage, and it became my next years garage sale find.

The cheap common variety lawn mowers came with hard to pull (two arms required) ropes. If after 4 or 5 pulls and a hernia operation, the thing wouldn't start, it was time for a tune-up.

So how in the heck does this relate to open source software? It's very similar, I believe, to the issues around why people have Windows PCs that they won't replace, even though they go through enormous pain on a daily basis attempting to get them to work. They don't believe there is something more elegant that might do the trick. They know this devil, and are more likely to scrap it regularly and purchase a similar model.

I know it sounds like a stretch, but I couldn't resist comparing the two -- the dynamics are far too similar to ignore.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Cat Check!

It's 3:00 AM in the morning -- do you know where all of your Cats are?


I wake up worried. Taking Sammy out last night for his usual pre-bedtime business, I can't remember hearing the kitchen screen door latch behind me (it's like that, I've caught Lenny out the door when we came back one time). Did it do the same thing last night, or not? Maybe (I think), Lenny has gotten out along with one of the other cats for some kind of midnight skulking run. Maybe not. Maybe he's out stealing a car or something.

I know cats don't easily steal cars, but Lenny has been capable of some surprising feats of ingenuity. I clear my head. Now I know I'm losing it. Lenny really isn't capable of such things, he's pretty dumb, even for a cat. Still, maybe he's out under the wheels of a car in the street.

Now there's what I'm worried about. It's time for a 3:00 AM cat-spot-check. Hopefully I can count on my brain being able to count in a groggy fog.

First stop, the kitchen. There's Mister -- stray, God-knows how old. Tenacious. A fighter in a gentleman's smoking jacket. Orange. Tabby. He wouldn't mind if I fed him right now, he let's me know. There are some cans of food on the table there. How he does this without talking escapes me. I skip the urge to feed him -- not just because I'm worried about the other cats. I skip the urge mainly because canned food makes me want to barf. Besides, Mister is in the kitchen, which means he's not out hot-wiring the neighbors Malibu or worse, checking the tread under the right front tire...

One down, 4 more to go. I turn on the kitchen light.

I missed it stepping into the Kitchen -- I walked right over Jet. Jet -- black. Male. Spayed, yet somehow always attempting to hump things like blankets and other male cats in the household. Wild-eyed rat (another description of Jet, although I wouldn't rule rats out of the picture, if they emerge anywhere in this house, they're toast). Jet was sleeping on the step into the kitchen, and I walked right over him.

Two down, 3 more to go. I go back into the dining room. Lenny emerges, groggy, from under one of our covered chairs.

Lenny. Obese. Friendly. Afraid of his own shadow. This is the main reason I worry about him out on midnight car-stealing-or-tire-tread-checking runs. He's one of the few cats in the house with any kind of actual offensive gear. Lenny doesn't tend to claw things, so we left him with the front gear in-tact. He's not likely to claw much given the fact that when the decision if fight or flight, the former is always dropped for the latter.

For a fat guy, he's surprisingly quick -- and always the first one to blow outta the room at the slightest cause or hint of impending catastrophe. You know?, things like loud noises. Unexpected glass breakage. The dog breaking wind -- anything that might signal the end of the world, life as we know it, or impending cat-hair mussing. They all seem to have the same weight in his mind and the same effect on him. "Hey, it's worked so far"!, he seems to say. I suppress the urge to cough. If I cough now, Lenny might shoot out of the room and that would disturb the dogs' sleep.

Three down, 2 to go.

I go upstairs. Maybe one of the cats is in lurk-mode in Tim's old room. I find Squeak sitting in an easy chair.

Squeak. Version 1.0 naming had Squeak pegged for a "Lilly". Since holding her is akin to holding a ball of barbed wire that makes strange little high-pitched grunting noises, the name was dropped in favor of version 2.0 conventions. Squeak was the only thing that fit.

That's 4 out of 5. I go back downstairs when I'm sure Pretty-boy is not up there.

Pretty-boy is sitting groggy in the middle of the Living room floor looking disgusted. What am I doing up at 3 AM? Why must I disturb his sleep like this? Can I give him a back rub, at least? No? What kind of person am I?

Pretty-boy. Gray. Fluffy. The only cat that doesn't eat canned food in the house. Long-haired ... something. Pretty-boy (version 1.0 naming -- Starlight) gets the name from the fact that constant grooming and some kind of attention to detail project the persona of a guy that cannot have his fur mussed. Ever. Pretty-boy comes to me the most for attention in the house. I'm not sure why, but it makes me nervous. He's in the living room, which means he's not outside, which means that they're all present, and accounted for, which means I can get some sleep, finally. I go back to bed.

I dream of the police fishing my neighbors cat-wired Chevy out of a ditch somewhere. Lenny taking mug-shots at the local police station. Paw-prints in ink. The "you're allowed one phone call, pal" quote. The phone rings. It's the heat. My cat is in the slammer.

Okay, I did make that last part up. But the rest of it's true :) I swear.