• Brace Yourselves: Vista doesn’t suck that much after SP1, and Windows 7 looks good too

    As most of you know, I’m a Linux/Unix System Administrator for a living. I’m not a Windows guy by any means, but I do run it at home, because mostly what I do is play games and use Word (and recently, Adobe InDesign). Yes, I realize there are free solutions (OpenOffice, others) but to be honest…they suck. When I need Word or InDesign, I don’t want to spend half my time fighting with buggy programs, etc.

    For servers, I just don’t see any reason whatsoever to run Windows, an entirely GUI-based OS, on a system that almost by definition nobody will ever see (or access) the GUI on. Its a waste of resources and just makes bloat. Add to that that Windows services (IIS, Active Directory, MS-SQL) tend to be laughable compared to the industry standard open source versions (Apache, OpenLDAP/MIT Kerberos, and Postgresql/Mysql).

    Desktops, however, are another matter entirely. I’ll be the first to admit that X Windows is a sad comparison to the OS X and Windows GUIs. Consumer grade OSes win here hands down.

    Now, on to Vista: Ugh. I have to say, every time I’ve used it in the past I’ve hated it. Microsoft’s “User Account Control” (UAC) in Vista is just horrible. Its only a slight exaggeration that moving the mouse causes a dialogue asking if its ok that you did that. Now, its easy to turn off but why should I have to? (According to the great geek site Ars Technica, its designed to annoy you). The first Vista Service Pack fixes some of this, but its still not “good.”

    So on to the scene comes Windows 7, referred to by some as “Vista Service Pack 7″…Gina Trapani, the creator of Lifehacker said at her new blog, “Its not as bad as you might think”

    …And its not! I’ve been running the Release Candidate for a while now, which is available free to download and test (at least until tomorrow). Guess what? Its much better than Vista. Major upgrade, less memory usage, better tools, lots of GUI improvements (many “lifted” from OS X and linux desktops) like window previews (see what a program is doing via a nifty popup when you mouse over its icon in the dock).

    Then, just as I was really pleased with Win7, I realized I’d accidentally installed the 32bit version instead of the 64bit version I wanted. I burned the 64bit (which Microsoft mistakenly calls “x64” instead of “x86_64” like everyone else does) and booted…and it doesn’t see my SATA controller. WTF? It looks like the issue is solved in the RTM (“Release to Manufacturing”) version, however, so once I can legally obtain a copy I’ll try it out.

    (Why 64bit versus 32bit? 64bit bit allows more than 4gb of memory, which is becoming common. Its pretty much the only compelling reason to move to 64bit on Desktops, IMHO)

  • Goodbye, my friend

    This weekend the SCA and my family lost a dear and close friend, Larry Baum, known in the SCA as Master Yehudah of Nuremberg. We had dinner Friday night with a number of friends, and he had a heart attack after getting home, and died Saturday morning.

    Words cannot even begin to describe the pain of losing this man, a pillar of the SCA in Atenveldt. He was a friend and mentor for 20 years, and was one of the people who kept me from quitting in disgust before I got my peerage.

    He was the consummate practical joker, up to and including putting a literal wall of haybales in front of my tent in the middle of the night while I slept.

    Godspeed, my friend. You are sorely missed.

    Left to Right: Xoff, Nootka, Raibert, Iain, Larry

  • Two technologies I was late to embrace, and now regret waiting so long to use

    I’m usually one of the first people on the block to try out new tech. Some of it isn’t quite ready for primetime (most of the “hand-held Internet devices” I’d tried before the iPhone, like the Nokia N series, the Sony Clie, etc) and some was fantastic but ahead of the curve when I tried it, but is mainstream now (Tivo, for example).

    Two technologies I never could get working to my satisfaction I now can’t live without: RSS Feeds and IMAP.

    RSS Feeds:

    RSS (“Really Simple Syndication”) is a nifty way to get updates from almost any website. Pretty much all blogs and content-driven sites now offer RSS feeds, and they simply make life a gazillion times easier. I’d tried RSS several times before, but a combination of poor readers and a lack of feeds always made it a mass of fail. Now-a-days, with readers like Google Reader and everyone offering an RSS feed (and with sites like Feedburner that let you make a feed from anyone who doesn’t) RSS is very ready for primetime.

    Put simply, a decent reader and a bunch of RSS feeds let me make a custom “newspaper” that aggregates all my periodic content together in one place. Its especially useful for sites that *occasionally* update (like a piece of software, for example) — I don’t need to remember to regularly check them for updates.

    I also cut about an hour per day out of my “check all my followed sites for updates” routine, easily.

    IMAP:

    IMAP is the “other” common method for checking email on a client, the other being POP. POP is like checking real mail: it takes the mail from the mailbox and into the house (the client). IMAP is like keeping the mail in the box, but I can look at it from anywhere, and anything I do to it (like toss a piece of junk mail) means I don’t have to look at it again.

    When you access mail from multiple places (in my case, my iPhone and a web browser, as I’ve tossed any stand-alone client), its the only way to go. Shortest version: If you use an iPhone or other remote reader to check your email in a supplementary way, use IMAP. It’ll save you time and endless “Oh, did I reply to that?” and “Oh, I downloaded it to my phone!” nightmares.

    (Edit: the title was badly worded. I love RSS/IMAP, and regret waiting so long to embrace)

  • New Lappy

    Just before my Stanford trip, I bought myself a new laptop. I didn’t want a netbook, as much as I love them, because I wanted something I could really work on comfortably. I ended up with what BestBuy called a “Dell Inspiron” (really a Dell Inspiron 1545, I discovered after digging around online): Core 2 Duo 2Ghz, 4gb memory, DVDRW Drive, 320gb HD, 15.6″ screen…and Vista Home Premium.

    I really like it. Its decently fast, has a good amount of memory (and since the OS is 64bit, it actually uses it all), a decent sized screen and hard drive. The touchpad is a hair finicky, but I got an external mouse so I’m comfortable.

    Its of course now been replaced by the “Studio 15″ models. Models of laptops change constantly.

    The kicker is it runs Vista…and XP drivers for newer machines are often simply not available, so I’m kind of stuck with that as a Windows OS. Almost immediately, I deleted Dell’s “recovery partition” (it was a huge 18gb partition!) and installed Ubuntu (a Linux version) so I can dual boot. Now Ubuntu isn’t by any means my favorite version, but it installed flawlessly and everything worked right at install! Laptop components under linux can be hit or miss, because of proprietary drivers (wireless cards are notorious), etc. This is the reason I chose Ubuntu — Dell sells laptops with Ubuntu installed, so I was fairly sure there would be drivers.

    A few NASA and mission stickers later (secret NASA technology in the stickers makes anything they are attached to run 10% faster!) and I’m pretty happy with the setup.

    Next post: Vista…and Windows 7.

  • SLAC Tour

    Today was the last day of the conference, and at about 1pm one of the local guys took us on a tour of SLAC. Formerly called the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, its now just called the SLAC National Accelerator Lab, as they’ve refocused from just the accelerator to doing all sorts of high energy physics stuff.

    While he was only able to give us a tour of the computer facilities (the actual physics stuff is behind higher security and they’re revamping their tours at the moment) it was still very cool. Lots and lots of equipment and room.

    Most amusing part is a sign at the entrance: “Unique Hazards May Exist.”

    Unique Hazards May Exist