Platform Promiscuity

With my new job, I’m not only neck deep in all that Microsoft has to offer (except for those sweet, sweet MSDN subscriptions), but I’m also finding myself working a lot with Linux, the open-source, community-built Unix-like operating system that does everything Windows and Macs do, except for free. (Usually.) Which means I’m now, by job description, bi.

I mean bi-processorial. I work in two platforms – Windows and Linux. And I plan to bring this form of computing deviance home.

Back in the summer, the old tower reached the end of its useful life span. I’d expected it to be the laptop that would go first, but the tower began wheezing and grunting just trying to load a wireless connection. One day, it started blue-screening on a regular basis, something it had never done in five years. Yes, Windows-bashers, most PC’s don’t blue screen on a regular basis. If they do, you need to look at where you’ve been on the Internet.

The bottom line is it was time to move to Windows 7. How was it? It’s definitely not Windows Vista. For one thing, the User Access Control is nowhere near as annoying as it is in Vista. It took considerably less time to setup than it did to reimage the PC. When it came time to replace the laptop, I took it a step further. I installed Windows 7 Pro on the new machine. The only thing I had to add in terms of drivers was the touchpad. Apparently, left to its own devices, the Dell touchpad will interpret your thumbs being in the same room as the keyboard as a mouse movement and send your cursor flying all over the place. A quick visit to Google revealed the glaringly obvious solution: Use the Dell driver, stupid.

Hey, what can I say? They spoiled me with not having to load drivers for the wireless, the video, the sound, etc.

But what of the old tower?

It is sitting in the corner quietly collecting dust, waiting for its fate. There’s nothing wrong with it, except we ran all the CRT monitors out of the house when I bought my flat screen. Nita uses a laptop. AJ has a flat screen, as do I. What possibly could we want with the old glass boat anchors we had sitting around?

Well, now I need a monitor. Why? I have found use for the old tower, assuming I remember to get some canned air to clear it out. For I now have an Ubuntu disk. So, what, you ask, is an Ubuntu disk and why would I want to use it on a tower?

Ubuntu is a user-friendly version of Linux that works great as an alternative to Windows or Macintosh. Plus, you buy one distribution of Linux, you can pretty much use all of them. And let’s face it, it’s been quite a few years since I seriously got my geek on. Linux is still very much a nerd’s OS.

But I don’t stop there. I have said in the past that I didn’t want a Mac because I can’t jusify what is now an Intel box running BSD Unix (a cousin to Linux) with a pretty interface.

Well, kids, I now have two reasons to want one.

First off, if I’m going to be running a Linux box with all the bells and whistles that make it not all that different from the boxes powered by Windows and OS X, why not go all the way? Why not get a highly-proprietary Intel box running BSD with a pretty interface? Lots of people like the pretty interface. And besides, if you’re going to go with two platforms, why not all three?

Of course, someone out there is probably suggesting I find a way to get an Amiga box. Remember Amigas? Well, dude, that ship sailed a long time ago for the Western Lands, never to return to computing Middle Earth.  Nor do I plan to run Chrome, which is dependent on an Internet connection or SCO Unix, which managed to litigate itself into irrelevance.

But why not go for all three? We have an annoying tendency to get stupidly tribal about things: Our religion, our politics, our cars, even the type of computers we own. One of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard was when someone wanted to lecture me about how ATT was the best wireless provider out there. This, of course, I found humorous because, while ATT claims to cover 97% of America, I apparently live in the other 3%. His rationale? Until a couple weeks ago, you could only have an iPhone on ATT. To him, the Apple trademark was all the reason one needed. To me?

Steve Jobs is a technology CEO. Therefore, Steve needs to earn my respect on an ongoing basis. So does ATT, which it consistently fails to do.

But then I’ve always despised any tribe that would have me.


I had planned to start blogging more frequently earlier this month, beginning with the Valentine’s Day post. Little did I know my tribute to my loving wife of almost three years now would be the last to be written on my venerable Dell laptop. The next day, I went to boot the machine up…

Well, I didn’t boot the thing up. I couldn’t even get a cursor. Was it the hard drive? The video? The display?

The motherboard. I’d boot it, get a quick flash of the screen hinting that it would post (That splash screen you see when you start your computer.) I’d have guessed hard drive or video, but in the days leading up to the laptop’s demise, I’d be working in the morning on battery only to have something inside crack and take the machine down. No “Your battery is dead” warning. No “Windows is shutting down” message. It would just go black.  Never mind that the battery had a full charge.

It was sad. I’d bought the laptop with money from my dad’s estate, which makes this a six-year-old laptop. The only problems I’ve had were a need to reimage after four and a half years and memory. I’d run it with only half a gig of RAM.

But the new term at school would begin in two days. Two of my classes would require me to use a laptop. I scrambled. Thankfully, I just started a new permanent job and could afford a little debt to get a new laptop. I ordered a Dell Inspiron 1545 with the bare bones on it. I already had most of the software I needed and got a Windows 7 Pro license from school.

So how is it? I need more RAM, but the screen is bigger, the laptop is lighter, and Windows 7 is a vast improvement over XP (which ironically was a vast improvement over Vista, which replaced it. Go figure.)

Now I know there are some Mac heads out there wondering why I didn’t take the opportunity to switch platforms. Well, when your career is in the Microsoft realm, owning a Mac is counterproductive. Besides, having had to use a few Macs in recent months, I’ve not seen a compelling reason to pay extra money for what is essentially an Intel box running BSD Unix under a pretty interface.

And let’s be honest, I really don’t like the Mac interface. I used to, back in the Windows 95/98 days. Someday, I want a MacBook, but that’s going to be my reward for some accomplishment, not a machine I have no real use for right away.

One thing I don’t like about the new Dell is the touchpad. While typing, the pad causes the cursor to move to the center of the page. Part of the problem may be the driver. I loaded Windows 7 and had to install no drivers whatsoever, but that may mean I’m using something generic.

Personally, I think every laptop should have both a touchpad and a trackstick, as well as a the option to turn one or both off, requiring a mouse if you do both. Many people like touchpads, but I find them next to useless. Those who like touchpads don’t like the tracksticks.  And everyone I know uses a mouse when they can get away with it.  It’s a problem almost all laptops have, even Macs.

But I do love my new big screen and my four-hour battery life. I also like the faster boot time, which I know will go away after a couple of years.

It’s good to have a laptop again. I’m probably more dependent on one than I’ve ever been.

Delhi Chili

I thought I’d make my first My Town Monday post in forever a chili post. Specifically, Delhi Chili, which I first spotted on my way to a job interview. I got the job, and since I drive by the place every day, I took a lunch hour and tried it out.

Delhi (pronounced Dell-high) Chili is located, appropriately, on Delhi Pike in, of all places, Delhi Township. Delhi is a part of Cincinnati’s West Side, a strange land where all boys go to Elder High School and all girls go to Seton, moving away means moving two blocks over from where you grew up, and going anywhere east of I-75 or west of the I-275 Loop means you’ve left town. Which means I’m a foreigner at work. I digress.

Delhi Chili has more in common with its East Side counterpart, Blue Ash Chili. It’s a family restaurant that serves burgers, double-decker sandwiches, and breakfast. The prices are reasonable, slightly more than other local mom-and-pop places. Since trying the place out, I found out they offer an “eight-way,” but I have no idea what it is. For natives and long-time residents, the standard procedure for walking into a chili place is to order a three-way (chili over spaghetti with cheese), a four-way (a three-way with onions or beans), or a five way (a three-way with onions and beans). Northern Kentucky’s Dixie Chili boasts about its six-way, which adds fresh garlic to the mix.

I always order a four-way onion and a Diet Coke, so I didn’t even look at the menu. Therefore, I can’t tell you what an eight-way is, but I’m sure someone will enlighten us in the comments.

The store itself is a corner stand that could easily have been a Dairy Queen or a Hardee’s in another life. Since this is a family-owned place, Delhi lacks some of the generic corporate trappings of the chains. But then this is the West Side, where chain restaurants mean LaRosa’s Pizza and Skyline Chili, both local eateries. As such, it’s a more comfortable place with a staff that seems familiar even on your first visit.

So how’s the chili?

Delhi has a thinner chili that, like most of the independent chili places in Cincinnati, is heavier on the spices and cinnamon than some of the bigger places. It’s a meaty chili. While it has a similar taste and consistency to Skyline, the meat makes the difference.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

The Obligatory Valentine’s Day Post

If you are one of those who hate Valentine’s Day with a passion, feel free to skip this post. In fact, I’d have to question your sanity if you continued.

Tell you what. The rest of us will wait while you go somewhere a little less depressing for the broken hearted, the lonely, and those just sick of Hallmark holidays. (No, we don’t do Sweetest Day around here, so I feel your pain. Just not today.)

Are they gone yet? Good.

I’m not unsympathetic. Three years ago, last week, as I sat in a Chicago hotel room watching the Superbowl, I was pondering my post-marital life. By the time I returned to Cincinnati, I had decided I would pitch the idea of becoming BigHugeCo’s on-site technician in Chicago. (Here’s irony for you. I now work for the guy who started up one of the stand-alone IT groups for BigHugeCo in Chicagoland.) Valentine’s Day? I’d probably spend it going over my NCAA bracket.

And then I met her. Actually, we’d met during my short career as a standup comedian. During one of those online conversations that often sprout up between people on the old MySpace (Is that even still around?), we started trading humorous barbs. Her name was Juanita, and she was a single mom. I said we ought to meet up for drinks. Nothing serious, just being social. I was so timid about dating that I half-expected to blurt out “Hey, do you know any nice girls?” (To the newly divorced/widowed/back into circulation: Only ask your married friends of the opposite sex that.) The only day we could get together was Valentine’s Day. My reasoning was that I was separated, she was alone, so why not at least have a good Valentine’s Day we’d remember.

How memorable was it?

This is Nita on our wedding day four months later. We fell that hard for each other. So Valentine’s Day will always be special to me because that’s when this woman became my lover, my best friend, and eventually my wife. It’s been an eventful three years, one in which we moved twice, suffered a couple of rough illnesses, sent our boy AJ off to Germany before promptly bringing him back when the school trip went sour, and endured both salary cuts and unemployment together. Much of what has happened to this family is usually enough to fill five or ten years. I don’t mind a bit.

Because, since three years ago today, I’ve never been happier.

I love you, Sweet Rose, with all my heart.


And so today, after the collapse of the Cincinnati Bengals (A hint to Chad and TO: Less VH1, more running your frakking routes when you two finally land somewhere. Amazing how brilliant Carson Palmer looks when your benched!), all of the Queen City becomes Packerland. Well, not everybody. A few brave souls are rooting for the Steelers. Now, I know what you’re thinking, especially if you live in Cleveland. (“Seriously? Do these people stick their tongues in light sockets for fun, too?”)

But I am a Packer fan today. And for more reasons than that team that has plagued me for 40 years – not counting the four years Mike Brown forced me to be a Steeler fan during the Browns’ absence* -in two cities rooting for two different teams. That comes into play, but it’s not the whole story.

We also have Bret Favre, who really would have done the NFL a great service by signing on with Fox, CBS, or ESPN as an analyst or doing play-by-play. I suspect if they based him out of Chicago, the folks in Green Bay would have welcomed him to the broadcast booth with open arms. But no, Bret had to play, like Michael Jordan with the Wizards, one season too many, then cap it off by being a pale imitation of Ben Rothlesberger. No, he didn’t rape anyone, but he does share Big Ben’s inability to keep it in the huddle when he’s out partying.

Favre decided to retire, then go play for the Jets, then come back to the Vikings mainly to spite the Packers. Boomer Esiason once did that in Cincinnati, but Boomer had an excuse not afforded to Bret. Boomer left town after playing for Mike Brown, possibly the worst owner in the NFL. (Yes, I may return to the Dawg Pound next year. How can you miss with Mike Holmgren running the show?)

So now we have Aaron Rodgers, whom many thought would never eclipse Favre. And believe me, my heart went out to the Packers that fateful night in 2008 when Eli Manning and the Giants summoned supernatural forces beyond anyone’s control to snatch the NFC Championship from Green Bay. (And then I sat in a Chicago hotel room watching Eli do the same to the Patriots, whom I picked to have an undefeated season. Man, being wrong was never so much fun to watch!)

The Packers are due. The Packers invented the Superbowl back when it was two words and not even the official name of the game. No, the first two “Super Bowls” were the NFL-AFL Championship, watched less than the Pro Bowl or any attempt by Fox News to imitate The Daily Show. But even with no one watching, Green Bay managed to create football legends. Why do you think they call it the “Vince Lombardi Trophy”? It’s not the Paul Brown Trophy (though it might have been had Super Bowl I been held a year earlier) or the George Hallas Trophy or the Don Shula Trophy. It’s Vince Lombardi, the man who not only coached some of the greatest teams in history, but spawned some of the greatest coaches since then.

The Packers are the NFL, both the old, pre-merger NFL and the new NFC-AFC version.  (Of course, how new can it be after 40 years?)

And are there anymore devoted fans in the NFL? You might make a case for those of the Cleveland Browns, who, after having their team kidnapped by a similarly abused Baltimore, grabbed NFL Commissioner Paul Taglibue by the elastic band of his tightie whities, shoved his head into an RTA station toilet, and kept flushing until he agreed to refield the team as soon as a new stadium could be built.

But Browns fans only have to endure a few Sundays of cold weather. Yes, I know all about the Ice Bowl against the Raiders under Brian Sipe and Bob Golic. I watched it. Packer fans, however, show up for weeks at a time shirtless at Lambeau Field, a place so cold even Ice Road Truckers won’t film there. Cheeseheads are dedicated in a way fans in the 31 other cities in the NFL cannot comprehend. -20 below at the game? Hmm…  Put on a sweater, maybe one extra cup of hot chocolate before switching to beer at half-time.

Packer fans are due. And Aaron Rodgers deserves to win a ring. He’s earned it.

That and anytime you can piss off Ben Rothlesberger and rub Bret Favre’s nose in it, it’s a good thing.

So, for today, just for today, ich bein ein Cheesehead.

*Between the death of Paul Brown and the dawn of the Marvin Lewis era, Bengals wins were spoken of much like some people talk of John F. Kennedy, Prohibition, and the Peliponesian War: In the long, long ago, in the Before Time

The Future Of Publishing – An Unqualified Opinion

Part of the problem I have with the argument over ebooks vs. print is the absolutism that runs through it. You get more reasoned, even-handed arguments over abortion and gun control.

One of the reasons I distrust pretty much every prediction about the future of publishing is that ebooks gained their traction during a really bad recession.  As a result, everyone seems to assume either the growth in ebooks will continue on a steady slope, or it’s just a fad. Here’s a fact no one seems to consider: Every technology that experiences sudden explosive growth plateaus and settles into more realistic growth rates. Go all the way back to the telegraph, which no longer even exists. The telegraph as we know it was invented in the 1830’s, with Morse building the first viable system in the US shortly thereafter. By the Civil War, a mere twenty-five years later, you could dot and dash a message to even the most remote parts of the US and Canada and even England. The railroads, the telephone, automobiles, the computer, television, cable, cell phones, and the Internet all experienced this growth.

Furthermore, every media format with the exception of print has gone through the same thing. So why not print?

Movies required first a projector, then a television, and now a computer file.  Without some powered means of illumination and movement, you don’t get a movie. Same with recorded music. Start with hand-cranked wax cylinders, move to wax disks, the glass 78 rpm record, the vinyl LP and its 45 single companion, cassettes, CD’s, and now MP3’s and the like. Whether it’s a handcrank or your smart phone’s battery, music is dependent on a power source.

Books are not. Which, if you’ve read this space for a while, is not a deterrent to ebooks, but it should temper the idea that no one will buy printed books in the future. Not only do I not have to plug in a printed book, but the book will remain on my shelf until I remove it, unchanged from the day I brought it home.

So, what do I think books will look like in the future?

  • The biggest advantage to ebooks is that you can read them on your smartphone. He who goes the app-based route will win that race vs. device driven formats.  Sorry, Apple, but I want to read the new Micheal Connelly whenever, wherever.
  • What’s killed self-publishing up until the Age of Kindle and iPad has been a piss-poor print-on-demand model. Trade paperbacks, which are the best print format for on-demand printing, cost too much and Ingram, which owns the biggest POD printer, Lightning Source, may be guilty of anti-trust measures. Indies tend to depend on Baker & Taylor and independent book distributors. Ingram, the 800-pound gorilla in book distribution, doesn’t play nice with others. Then there’s iUniverse, which makes more money off authors than off readers. Their books are overpriced compared to the average traditional press’s books. Never mind PublishAmerica and Authorhouse, which refuse to admit they’re printers, not publishers. (Sorry, but publishers pay the author and do not charge for editing. No exceptions. Ever. Ever. Ever.)
  • That said, I do not believe the only place you will be able to buy books in the future will be Walmart and Kroger. I believe you will buy most of your bestsellers and celebrity “books” there. Who will sell the most books? The independents, believe it or not. The Espresso machine that does on-site print on demand will become a must-have for those selling print books. Authors will not want to pin themselves to a single brick-and-mortar location, which will spell doom for the chains, already in trouble. Indies, on the other hand, will do what they do best: specialize. You will see science fiction bookstores and mystery bookstores and even shops specializing in paranoid wingnut politcal screeds. (Those will not get a dime of my money, but knock yourselves out. Glenn Beck needs that gold scheme money.  Keith Olbermann just needs attention.)
  • The indies that will survive or thrive will have an ebook component to their business. How?
  • The epublisher will rise. Right now, it’s good to self-publish electronically. Done right – good editing, good covers, good promotion – which is now easier than ever, one can make some good money self-publishing. But as this model grows further, it will be a return to the bad old days of POD self-publishing, wherein there’s a lot of garbage out there. An epublisher will be able to cut deals with indie stores, Amazon, and so on. Print authors will be able to offer electronic editions of their print books. More importantly, books will still need to be edited, formatted, given cover art, and so on. New authors generally suck at this. Plus, a writer will need to have someone who can help them stand out above the crowd.
  • Established authors will become their own publishers. The smart established author will go it alone once they’ve built their brand, hiring their own editor, artist, and publicist and leveraging their existing relationships with bookstores. If you can offer a print version by emailing your book to Partners in Crime in New York or any other indie you may know, the Big Six become sort of extraneous.
  • Will it be a brave new world? Sure. It may even become what the 1990’s were to computer nerds. (Hey, that gave me a decent day job career.) But getting there will be ugly. It’s like everything else. We are between booms in this country and in most of the world. Does anyone deny that, right now, it’s pretty ugly? That applies to everything.
  • James Bond will return.

Hmm… Hmm…

Back in November, Nita and I tossed a coin on whether the replace our roof or service the furnace first. State Farm agreed the roof handled Hurricane Ike much better than it did the considerably less intense storms of this past August.  Roof replaced and paid for, we called our usual heating, cooling, and plumbing place. The plumber who’d been to our place before made some pitches for services and products, but nothing surprising. Our usual furnace tech came in, tuned up the ticking time bomb in our basement, and was on his merry way. He’s done this two years in a row, and we’ve been very happy.

This year, after delaying our service call three times – possibly because we were silly, replaced the roof first, and called in December – they sent Ernie.

They’d better not send Ernie again if he doesn’t want to leave in an ambulance.

Ernie had no sooner taken five steps into our house when he voiced his disappointment in our thermostat. No, not that it was ancient. (It is.) He was disappointed that it sat in a spot on the wall that would not fit the new thermostat he wanted to sell us.

“Well,” he said, without having even looked at a single component of the furnace or even asking if we had thermostat trouble, “I was going to suggest a new thermostat, but the new one won’t fit there. Hmm…  Hmm…”

Hmm… was going to become a truly annoying phrase that afternoon, not unlike “It is what it is,” the refrain to “Achy Breaky Heart,” or even the very tune to “The Macarena.” Ernie headed downstairs and proceeded to get to work. No, not on tuning up our furnace. No, he had a hard sell to do, and dammit, he wasn’t leaving the house until we’d not only had our tune-up, but agreed to a ten-year second mortgage to finance a computerized geothermal central air system that also does dishes and makes espresso.

I, on the other hand, was doing contract work at the time, which meant that unemployment was a very real possibility in my near future. That did not deter Ernie. He summoned me downstairs, his expression very grave.

He pointed to the burners in our furnace. “See that? It’s sparking. Your furnace is getting ready to blow. Now, if you’ll just sign here, I can replace the burners today for only $350.”

“That’s funny,” I said. “Your technician was here in the spring and replaced those same burners for $175 as we are members of your maintenance club.”

Ernie didn’t bat an eyelash. “Hmm…  Hmm…”

He opened his mouth to point at the impeller motor when I said, “And I know the impeller motor doesn’t have a cover on it.  I took it off. Apparently, I just bought this furnace another five years.”

“Hmm…  Hmm…”

Upstairs I went, sorely tempted to let the dog back in the house. Gurl doesn’t like maintenance people. Before I came along, Nita had to toss her outside or lock her in the bedroom whenever the Duke Energy guy came around to read the meter. (Duke has since moved us into the 21st century with electronic meters readable from the street.)

Ernie finished up about half an hour later, his face still grave. “That furnace has some major problems. I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t last the month. You definitely won’t get any heat out of it. Here’s your savings if you sign an agreement with me today to have a central air unit installed. I would seriously consider it. Seriously consider.”

I asked him just how expensive he thought that would be since I’d paid the same amount as his discount to replace the central air at the old Rancho Winter. Chateau Nita is a one-story postwar cottage with two bedrooms. Rancho Winter is a three story townhouse with a finished basement. Ernie’s response?

“We have financing plans.”

My response?

“I’ve been laid off since June.” Technically true. I was on contract at the time.

Ernie’s final response?

“Hmm…  Hmm…”

Ernie tooled off to the next would-be sucker.

A couple of weeks later, Nita came downstairs.  It was one of the first really cold days of the season, and Nita asked me to come back upstairs. The living room was hot. We actually had to turn the thermostat down to almost sixty. Never mind that it was ten degrees.

“So the furnace is about to blow,” she said. “Doesn’t feel like it.”

“I would seriously consider paying off our credit cards before we buy a new one,” I said. “Seriously consider.”

“Paying off our debt before taking on more?” said Nita. “Hmm…  Hmm…”