Category: technology

Rasmussen Does An Anti-Net Neutrality Push Poll

Rasmussen Question: “Should the Federal Communications Commission regulate the Internet like it does radio and television?”

I’m in favor of Net Neutrality, but I would answer “NO!!” to the above question. Frankly, I think anyone who understood the issue would likely say “No” to the above question, because the regulations placed on radio and TV bear absolutely no resemblance to the ideals of Net Neutrality (which is why the EFF opposes all FCC regulation). But most importantly, I think anyone who didn’t understand the issue, would be lead astray by that question. They would be lead to believe that the above question is somehow relevant to current issues, and it simply isn’t. Net Neutrality is not about censoring porn or “bad” language. For those in doubt, I might suggest looking up the definition of the word “neutrality”.

I might have let this question slide, if Rasmussen hadn’t associated it with Net Neutrality (given it’s lack of practical relevance to the issue). But, far from distancing this question from Net Neutrality, they titled the page for this question with “Questions – Net Neutrality – December 23, 2010”. So, either Rasmussen simply doesn’t understand what Net Neutrality is, or they are blatantly misrepresenting it in an attempt to get the type of results they want. One might think Frank Luntz had a hand in this somewhere…

Net Neutrality is about non-discrimination of internet content. The discrimination of content violates Net Neutrality regardless of where that discrimination comes from; whether it be from the Internet provider, or government regulation. Rasmussen asked a question about the violation of Net Neutrality, and framed it as the definition of Net Neutrality. They might have just as fairly asked “Should freedom of speech be protected by criminalizing dissent?”

I don’t like opinion polls in general, but I really hate opinion polls that blatantly misrepresent the issues.

CR-48 Speed

Google’s CR-48 is running on a single core Atom processor, and so it’s not quite as snappy as some people might be used to.  Here are a couple ways to improve performance on the CR-48.

1. Prevent your browser from loading flash automatically.  Flash is a notorious recourse hog, and that fact is made exponentially worse under Linux (Chrome OS runs on Linux), because Adobe tends to treat Linux development as a low priority.  Supposedly, Adobe is working on this problem, but for now, you might want to do this:

Go into Chrome OS settings (click on the wrench, then click on settings).
Click on “Under the Hood”.
In the privacy section, click on “Content settings…”.
Click on the “Plug-ins” tab.
Change the setting to either “Click to play” or “Block all” (I use “Click to play”, but you may have trouble with that option syncing to your desktop Chrome browser at this point).

2. Prevent your browser from loading javascript automatically.  I don’t use this option anymore, because it can get rather annoying to manually allow javascript on every website where I want it, and given that I want it on almost all the websites I go to anyway, this option became effectively useless to me.  However, it will improve the speed your websites load, so if you want to give it a try, here is how:

Same first 3 steps as #1 (go to settings, then “Under the Hood”, then “Content settings…”).
Click on the “JavaScript” tab
Change the setting to “Do not allow any site to run JavaScript”.

Both of these options will show you a small icon in the address bar when something is blocked, and when you click on that icon, it gives you some options about what you want to do regarding the blocked content on that page.

Neither of these options will turn the CR-48 into a speed demon, but the plug-in blocking in particular is likely to improve your browsing experience tremendously.

Google’s CR-48

I just received Google’s CR-48 Chrome OS notebook, and I’m ecstatic.  I didn’t actually believe I’d get one.  It’s far too soon to give a full review, but here are some of my preliminary impressions. 

It’s a little slower than I was expecting.  It’s not bad, but I was expecting something a little snappier, given all Google’s talk about speed.  This particular notebook runs on an Atom N455, which is a single core 1.66GHz processor.  Honestly, I think a lot of the speed issues would be alleviated by running a muti-core processor, given how modular Chrome is (just open a task manager in Linux while running Chrome/Chromium, and you’ll see what I mean).  From what I’ve heard, the commercial products being made by Acer and Samsung will use multi-core Atom chips, so I’m not worried about speed issues when this product actually comes to market.

Google tried to emulate the modern Macbook trackpad, and it works okay.  It’s a little more persnickety than my Macbook’s trackpad under OS X, but no worse than when I’m in Linux.  That’s not too surprising, given Chrome OS’s Linux core.  Much like modern Macbooks, you can also click simply by pushing in on the trackpad, but it takes a lot of force to do, so I don’t use that feature much.

Everything else about the machine seems fantastic so far.  The keyboard is easy to type on (I’m typing on it now, in fact),  The OS syncs with your desktop Chrome browser, so everything I had on Chrome/Chromium automatically showed up on my laptop when I signed in.  And best of all, there is no branding on this thing at all.  No Intel sticker, no manufacturer logo, no nothing.  It just is.  I love that.

I do have one odd side note, though: There’s no Ethernet port on here.  I don’t see that as a bad thing, as much as it’s a statement by Google about how they think laptops and netbooks should be used.  I get the impression that they see a very sharp contrast between stationary and portable computing, and a massive OS running on a laptop plugged into the Internet via Ethernet just goes against the idea of portability that a laptop is supposed to represent.

I’m going to spend some time trying to live almost exclusively on this laptop, and we’ll see how that idea of portability actually holds up.  Now, if only I could find a way to get Diablo II installed on this thing…

Chrome OS

Recently, Google made some major announcements about the Chrome web browser, and Chrome OS.  I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of Chrome OS.  That concept being that users only really use their web browsers anyway, so why load a desktop OS in the background, if all you’re going to use it for is to run the web browser.  That idea falls short on Desktop computers, but makes a lot of sense to me for laptops and netbooks.

As I see it, desktops and laptops are designed for different things.  Desktops are good for stationary tasks, while laptops are good for portable tasks.  Chrome OS is meant to make the portable tasks that much more portable, thus making the laptop that much better at doing what it was designed to do in the first place.  A machine running Chrome OS would be a great web browser, chat, and e-mail device.  It would make a horrid media server, but then again, so would most laptops (unless you never took it anywhere; in which case, why did you get a laptop?).

It’s obvious by now that I love experimenting with new Operating Systems.  I played with the Windows 7 Beta all the way up to its official release, and I’ve been playing with Linux distros for many years (Arch has officially become my favorite, by the way).  For that reason, I applied for Google’s Chrome OS pilot program.  Truth be told, I don’t expect to be selected for it, if only because I’m one dude in a city of 1.37 million, and even if Google were to distribute their pilot program by location, my chances of getting in aren’t very good.  That being said, if I do get selected you can bet I’ll do a review here.  Otherwise, I’ll eventually have to find a version of Chromium OS that I can install on my Macbook, because I don’t think it would be fair to review Chrome/Chromium OS in a Virtual Machine.  It’d be too like running Chrome/Chromium the browser.  I also don’t want to just build the developer version from source, because I don’t think that would be a proper user level experience either.


Rolling Release Linux Distributions

I’ve been experimenting with Linux distributions that have a rolling release model.  These distros don’t have a 6 month release cycle with major updates each release, like Ubuntu; ideally they just update themselves little by little as you normally update your system.  In theory, if you’re always up to date with your updates, then you always have the most modern version of the OS.  This concept appeals to my lazy nature, as well as my desire to always have the most recent version of whatever OS I’m running (which is why I don’t just use a Long Term Service version of Ubuntu).

First, I replaced my Ubuntu installation with Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) because I’d seen some good reviews of it, and the rolling release model appealed to me.  Thus far, I think it’s a fantastic OS.  It’s not quite as user-friendly as Ubuntu for a few reasons, but I actually like it more than Ubuntu.  Everything seems to run snappier under LMDE, and I prefer the default Mint panel, menu, and themes.  I originally worried about potential stability issues involved with the rolling updates (sort of like the stability problems I’ve had with in-place upgrades in Ubuntu), but I haven’t experienced any problems so far (though I haven’t used it for long).

Next, I decided to set up VirtualBox so I could try out other rolling release distros.  So far, I’ve tried Sabayon, Aptosid, Arch Linux, and Chakra.  While I respect Sabayon for trying to make Gentoo more user-friendly, it broke after the first update, so that was an instant fail.  Aptosid was stable, and I really like the fact that there’s a default KDE version, but it sticks very strictly to “Debian’s Free Software guidelines”, which are draconian for a desktop OS (they don’t allow Firefox in the repository, to say nothing about Flash, and heaven forbid an Nvidia driver).

Arch Linux was an interesting mixed bag.  After the instillation, you’re left with a basic command prompt and almost nothing else.  I only managed to get GNOME set up by following a Youtube tutorial.  But after that, everything seemed to run extremely well, and the bleeding edge versions of nearly everything I wanted were already in the default repositories. I started to like Arch’s minimalist ideal, and debated about putting it on a new HDD partition. However, the installation and setup was still pretty intimidating to me, so I looked into Arch based distros and came across Chakra.

I thought Chakra was simply a version of Arch Linux that automated the instillation and setup.  I was wrong.  Chakra is actually in the early stages of becoming its own stand alone OS, and as such it has moved farther away from Arch than I had originally thought.  While Chakra did automate the setup, it also took Arch’s minimalist idea, and applied it to the repositories.  They’ve purged their default repositories of all GTK apps.  They have special standalone “bundles” that you can download and install separately, but they don’t have very many, and this sort of application segregation seemed very strange and stifling to me.  I’m a fan of KDE, but there are some GTK apps that I like, and not all of them were in the prepackaged “bundles”.  Also, since Chakra is not Arch anymore, it’s currently in an Alpha stage of development, and I experienced some minor bugs as a result.

Thus, I went back to Arch Linux, and decided to install that on my HDD instead.  I resigned myself to the need for a laptop next to my desktop, so that I could look things up if I ran into trouble.  There were certainly some speed bumps where the laptop proved to be essential, but I eventually got the desktop up and running smoothly.  This time, I installed a minimal KDE desktop instead of GNOME, and I’ve been very happy with the result so far.  The OS is very snappy, and I love the fact that the more you use it, the more the OS starts to reflect its user.  Because Arch doesn’t come with anything preinstalled, the only applications on your computer are the ones you put there.  Because Arch doesn’t automatically configure or automate anything, the only things that your computer does are the things you tell it to do.  In a PC world dominated by Microsoft Windows, Arch Linux is a breath of fresh air in that respect.

Unfortunately, I don’t personally know anyone to whom I could recommend Arch.  As much as I’ve fallen in love with Arch’s command-line software management tool (Pacman), there are people out there who weren’t even comfortable with Synaptic in Ubuntu, to say nothing about cracking open a terminal and installing things via apt-get.  Arch is not for people who are new to Linux.  If you hate the command line, and manually editing config files scares you, then avoid Arch.  But if you already have a lot of experience with Linux, Arch could turn out to be a wonderful OS for you.

In conclusion, Ubuntu is still probably the best distro for novice Linux users, if only because everything made for Desktop Linux is made primarily with Ubuntu in mind (in that respect, Ubuntu is to Linux what Windows is to the PC), but Linux Mint Debian Edition is shaping up to be an excellent alternative.  If the rolling release of LMDE turns out to be stable in the long term, I expect its popularity to escalate rapidly.  In contrast, Arch Linux will never be popular with Linux users who are switching from Windows, but it’s also an exceptional OS, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite distributions.

Voice Recognition

Voice Recognition is not ready for prime time, IMO.  A little automation around the edges is fine, but given that my Google Voicemail has translated my mom saying “playin’ Monopoly” as “plan that I’ll kill you”, I don’t think it should be used in any important setting.

Cheap Geek: Game Prices

I promised myself that I would never spend $60 on a video game ever again.

When Final Fantasy 13 came out, I got it on launch day from Target. They were offering a $10 gift card with the purchase of the game, thus offsetting the price slightly, even if I still had to hand over that $60 up front. Overall, I liked the game; the combat was great, but the storytelling wasn’t very good (the foundations of a good story were there, but the execution sucked).

Months later, I purchased Mass Effect 2 on sale for $24 on Steam. I loved it. Mass Effect 2 is one of the best Video Games I have ever played. What’s more, simply by waiting 6 months before purchasing it, I spent less than half what I did on Final Fantasy 13. This experience of spending less money on a game, and liking it more than the $60 game I bought previously has happened to me many times before. Mass Effect 2 was the last straw. I promised myself I’d never spend $60 on a game again. Given that nearly all video games drop in price over time, there’s no reason to spend $60 on one as long as I’m willing to wait for a better price.

However, that also means I’m not going to play StarCraft II for a while. I have loved every game Blizzard has made for the past decade and a half, and while I have no doubt that StarCraft II is a phenomenal game, I refuse to pay $60 for it. That’s just over my limit.

In the meantime, I installed the original StarCraft on my Ubuntu partition under Wine. It runs flawlessly, and even after all these years it’s still a good game. More importantly, playing the old game also helps to quell my desire for the new game. I highly recommend the old StarCraft if you can’t play the new one for whatever reason.