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Dell Sucks

I ordered a Dell Mini 9 online on 3 March 2009. I won't bother linking to Dell; don't bother going there.

See, they don't have any.

This didn't stop them from putting a huge "back to school" banner on the Japan website (school starts in April here), complete with a "Hurry! Sale ends tomorrow!" tagline.

Having read a lot about how easy it is to install MacOS on them, I thought it would be nice to have a tiny, low-powered, cheap laptop to carry around campus and take to conferences. Like the MacBook Air, but not a million billion dollars and requiring a dongle for ethernet and a dongle for video out (what good is an ultraportable laptop that requires you to carry a bunch of junk in order to use it???). And, reading that back just now, yeah, that would be cool.

For this reason, I ponied up my $400 or so (fully loaded--the most RAM and the biggest SSD drive) and prepared the materials needed to effect its transformation. The full amount was promptly deducted from my credit card.

Then it turned out that I wouldn't be getting the computer until after moving to my new place here in Kanagawa, so I needed to give them that address for shipping. But no worries. School didn't start until 8 April, and if I hadn't quite gotten all the Hackintosh bugs worked out yet by then, I could just use my MacBook.

Then the ship date was updated to 20 April.

...Ummm... Okay. This is not what I had in mind, but shortly after that is Golden Week, so I will have time to fix it up then and I can really start using it day-to-day after that, when the school year finally gets reallty underway and you don't have a public holiday every week (this sounds nice, but it's awful to try to plan a class like that).

The 20th came and went with no laptop. I checked the website.

15 May was the new date.

Why Obama's High-Speed Rail Idea Won't Work

Recently, Obama presented his idea for a network of high-speed rail in America. This has prompted a lot of discussion in the blogotubes, and I would like to toss my two pennies on the already-towering mountain of copper.

I live in Japan, and enjoy having one of the best high speed passenger rail systems in the world. These trains are amazing. On time every time, fast, and the price is the same no matter where you are in the country.

Send SMS texts via Google chat!!!

Sending SMS texts to friends in the US can really be a hassle if you live abroad. Some countries support it, some carriers support it, many do not. And even if you can do it, it can be expensive.

Google Labs to the rescue!

There is a (new?) feature to Gmail, available in the Labs tab of the Settings, that allows you to send texts to US cellphones via the chat client in Google. Here's what you do:

1) Log into your Gmail account (duh).

2) Click on "Settings" in the upper-right.

3) Click on "Labs" in the dark yellow bar at the top.

The iPhone in Japan, Part 1: Why Academics are Better than Journalists

You may have read this damning piece about Wired's coverage of Japan's "hatred" for the iPhone. If you haven't, go read it now. I'll wait.

(Playing Sol Free on the iPhone... Operating my iTunes library from the iPhone... Checking mail on the iPhone...)

You done?

Good.

Basically, here's the thing: In academia, when we write a claim--any claim--we have to either back that claim up with data we've collected and analyzed, or we have to cite some other available source written by someone who did. This is to ensure that we aren't just pulling things out of our butts and lying to people.

And that, my friend, is why academics are better than journalists.

"Yeah, but, who cares?"--I hear you thinking aloud, "it's just a stupid puff piece about a phone."

Wel, in this case, yeah, it's not the end of the world if it's wrong. It isn't going to get anyone killed, but it could have a negative impact on Apple's stock price, which could mean lost jobs, which could add to the unemployment problem in the US where the company is based, which could add to the overall economic downturn...

Everything is connected, and in the information age, putting out bad information from a position of authority, whether it be deliberate or negligent, is serious business. Wired is supposedly a respected and respectable technology magazine. In this case, a writer abused that reputation to try to get away with just throwing some crap on paper and cashing his paycheck.

And that's not right.

Distrusting Experts...

Here is a nice little piece about when and why to distrust expert opinion.

REPOST: On machine translation

Language is not pure information; it's information shorthand. It assumes a high degree of already-shared knowledge about the world. Some of these assumptions are near-universal; many are not.

REPOST: Linux is a toy.

This is one of the longer posts I've made regarding Linux's viability as a Windows replacement. I've edited it a bit from the original for things that have changed since then:

Linux is a toy. A powerful toy. An-almost-infinitely-customizable toy. But a toy nonetheless. I say this because the people who use it do so because they enjoy fiddling around with config files. Even if they actually like using it--and of course they do--using it requires one to fiddle with config files in ways that one would only know how to do if he enjoyed learning about such things. I'm sorry, but that is a tiny subset of the computer-using public. Most people don't want to fiddle with things to get them to work or use weird, off-brand knockoff software developed by groups of people who do it as a hobby. It is a toy.

Invariably, this comment upsets a lot of people and there's the obligatory "It runs the internet!" and "dont be rediculous i use it for my business!" (sic) replies. But none of that means it's not a toy. OpenOffice or Crossover Office do not a real computer--as most people actually use them--make. Most businesses do more than type and make spreadsheets.

Here is a quick list of software my parents' company, for whom I do IT from time to time, uses. These are industry-standard applications:

PowerClaim [powerclaim.com]

Xactimate [exactimate.com]

Internet Explorer (for dealing with the head office)

Without these, their business does not run.

REPOST: On newbies' ability to set up Linux

Another repost. I have intimated on this site before my thoughts on Linux, and have always wanted to write a monster post that details them more thoroughly, but the time doesn't come. Here is a slightly-edited-for-readability post from elsewhere on non-computer-savvy people's ability to set up and use Ubuntu Linux:

I build my own PCs. I think that's falling-off-a-log easy. But try to get a noob friend of yours into it. No really, try. They'll come up with the goofiest, craziest, hardest questions you've ever heard. I understand on a conceptual, top-down level what is going on when I'm putting a system together and getting drivers, etc. I've been doing it long enough that when I build a new one, it's a simple matter of just learning the changes since last time I did it. Usually I already know about them because I'm a geek and keep up on such things for fun. But, for example, the change from 20-pin to 24-pin ATX connectors caught me completely by surprise and required another trip to the store to get an adapter. It still happens. I know to look up beep codes. I know what to do if it doesn't start up. When all is said and done, I forget these little problems because they are not memorable--they are not salient events because I calmly and quickly solved them. This is not the case to a person who doesn't have that comparatively vast storehouse of latent knowledge.

For someone just starting out, though, that "24-pin ATX connector" confusion happens with every single step of the process. What seems simple to us only seems that way because we've got a massive backlog of understanding that we just take for granted. We only need to make adjustments to it.

REPOST: On the work/time dichotomy

Lately I have been bemoaning the fact that I don't have time to blog as much as I'd like. But then I realized that I actually write a lot, but they are on forums, and are usually only seen on that site by a few people. I am toying with the idea of reposting the longer ones here. Here is the first, which was in response to someone complaining about the hours they worked at their software dev job. Begin:

I'm an academic, and the single biggest reason is that I'm a workaholic and if the place didn't almost shut down for 4 months of the year, I'd work myself to an early grave. As it is now, though, I work my ass off 8 months of the year, and 4 months of the year I'm blessed and cursed to be able to get almost nothing done (well, nothing that requires the organization). It's been very good for my health and mental well-being, if not necessarily for my wallet.

Over the last summer break, I spent about a week staying with my friends who work at a major IT company as developers. I saw their lives, and was envious. They make a lot more money, they come home earlier, and it is virtually impossible for them to work at home, so they don't. "Damn," I thought, "I really did pick the wrong career." But then I noticed something: I was staying at their house in a different country from where I live for a week, and that was just one week out of about 7 or 8 in a row that I didn't have to report to work. I was still getting some things done on the laptop, but that had much more to do with my workaholic nature than necessity. "Damn," I thought, "maybe I picked the right career after all."

The point I'm trying to make is that you are ultimately in control of your time. You are. Really. It's your time. Your life. If you feel that you are losing it to a company, and the money isn't worth it, you need to change gears. It's not their fault. It's your fault for doing it.

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