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Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Curse of Blackboard  §

I've just spent over an hour making a single post on Blackboard. No other piece of software so casually throws one's work away. No other piece of software is so determined to thwart even the most basic of attempts to communicate, even simple things like saying:

Dear class,

Hello!

Such things are virtually impossible on Blackboard. Notice the lovely space between the first and the second lines of text! Notice the wanton use of italics, the similarity of the typeface used in all three words!

Just try to achieve this with Blackboard! JUST FSCKING TRY. Only be sure to set aside an entire afternoon for your attempt. Much more than that if you actually have a message you'd like to get across.

Leaving Linux after 17 years + iPhone 4 battery cases  §

After using Linux exclusively as my daily computing environment since 1993, writing six Linux books, and editing countless others, I am leaving Linux for one simple reason: the social and political communities surrounding Linux now have their heads collectively stuck up their fan exhaust ports.

I've moved to Mac OS X and have purchased the Snow Leopard Box Set (OS X 10.6.3 + iWork + iLife), Adobe Creative Suite 5 Design Standard, Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac, and Aperture 3. Yes, a two-decade free software advocate is leaving free software behind.

Why?

The latest difficulty I'm having in leaving Linux illustrates the problem perfectly.

Chapter 1: Data Corruption Thanks to Linux Politics

Mac OS X can't efficiently access Linux files, so I'm switching all of my USB drives to Windows NTFS format, which it can efficiently access. Linux claims to offer stable NTFS support with the ntfs-3g filesystem driver, so it should be simple matter to copy all of my Linux files over to the new drives, right?

Nope. Howcome? Because Linux uses filename characters like ~ : < > on NTFS drives even though Windows explicitly disallows them. Try to copy files across and then check the drive outside of Linux and you'll get mass file erasing and file corruption due to invalid file names. In short, All Your Data Lost on that drive.

It has taken me a day of experimentation and data loss to figure this out. It's not the first thing you think of when your files start disappearing.

Why in the name of hades would Linux do this? Because NTFS is technically capable of doing it, and the developers say that the data loss in question is Windows' fault because it's Windows that doesn't support these characters in filenames, nevermind that this is supposed to be the Windows format in the first place. They seem to think that all of this makes Bill Gates (rather than, say, them) look bad.

They also don't feel the need document the likelihood of data loss should you as a mere user fail to realize this beforehand.

Chapter 2: We Won't Let You Fix It (More Politics)

Once you've figured this out on your own, it's a simple matter to make the adjustment by hand to correct this behavior:

  1. Start a command line.
  2. Access the superuser account.
  3. Type mount -o remount,windows_names /media/NameofDisk

After you "remount" the filesystem with the special "windows_names" option, all names of created files will adhere to Windows' own rules for the NTFS format. Great!

Only you will have to do this every single time you connect a drive and copy over files in Linux. If you don't remember to do this… Voila! Corruption and data loss.

Until 2008 or so, once you managed to discover this problem you could simply tell Linux that you always wanted to use the "windows_names" rule when connecting drives in the future, thereby at least solving the problem going forward.

But around 2008, the developers actually removed the ability for you to make that choice. Why?

Because they don't want you to. It's really that simple. Reading thread after thread in Bugzilla resulting from users' bug reports about precisely this issue makes this clear enough. Developers simply tell people that "just because this behavior was offered in the past doesn't mean we have to offer it in the future," and suggest that the need or desire to tell Linux to connect drives in non-default ways is "not that interesting" to them.

The fact is that these kinds of decisions are political ones, not technical or use-oriented ones. Linux developers in this case (and increasingly in many others) want to create an incompatibility with Windows to drive home the moral differences between Linux and Windows. They'll claim that it's about technical superiority, but any reasonable person beyond the programmer community can understand fairly easily that the ability to include a colon (:) or a vertical bar (|) in a filename is does not go such a very long way toward establishing technological superiority.

What they miss is that in so doing, they remove precisely the moral advantages that Linux has always had, not to mention the very technological superiority (that of rock solid flexibility and configurability) that led so many of us to embrace Linux nearly twenty years ago.

Despite Torvalds' supervision, Linux has finally become a much more purely ideological community than a technical one. Time for those of us that just want working technology… to go somewhere else.

Epilogue on Linux vs. Mac vs. Windows

A month of dedicated Mac OS X use has driven home just how much Linux has regressed with developments like the one above, not to mention how much it is about to regress with GNOME 3 / KDE 4 becoming the only Linux desktop environments for all future Linux releases.

They've been pronouncing the arrival of Linux on the desktop for years, and in 2005-2007 we were right on the threshold.

Now, Linux is leaving the desktop for good, before having ever arrived, and after twenty years and half a dozen books, I am leaving Linux.

No doubt their response to this post would be "Good riddance to a commercial software user!"

And Some Grumpy Notes on iPhone 4 Battery Cases

Looking for an iPhone 4 battery case and considering ExoGear Exolife or Mophie Juice Pack Air?

Keep looking.

ExoGear Exolife: There is absolutely zero reason for you to buy this device. Why? Because it turns itself off automatically when the internal iPhone 4 battery is charged rather than letting the iPhone 4 operate in "wall power" mode. It does this, says the Exolife manual, to extend the life of the Exolife battery. Of course in doing this it radically shortens the life of the internal iPhone 4 battery, which costs much more than the Exolife does… not to mention requiring continuous user intervention any time you want to top up.

Every other iPhone 4 battery case has better sense than this, and gives you a switch to decide between "power on" and "power off" mode. This means that by connecting any external battery, you can use it as main power, only charging the iPhone if you manage to run out of external battery power over the course of the day, dramatically extending the iPhone's life over the long term.

Exolife would rather protect itself. You can always get another phone, after all, but there's only one Exolife! (Or something like that.)

Bonus crap factor offered by the extremely slippery exterior of the Exolife (much moreso than the bare phone) that virtually guarantees many, many drops.

Oops.

Mophie Juice Pack Air: Great idea, but as usual for Mophie, the quality sucks ass. Got mine and put it on and the two pieces fell right off again. They're only held on by friction and there's barely any friction to hold them on. Don't swing your hand around too much with your iPhone 4 in the Juice Pack Air or pieces of your pack (or even, indeed, your phone) may simply slide off and go flying around the room. Extremely sloppy tolerances and fit.

Even better, the silver trim is just a strip of plastic with peel-it adhesive on the back, and on mine the strip arrived, well… glued on about a millimeter outside it's groove, making it look as though the thing was made by chimps. I pried it up and pressed it back down again where it was clearly intended to go, making the sides line up visually. Hopefully the peel-it adhesive sticks and the silver trim doesn't start to peel off in coming weeks.

Best of all, once again the micro-USB cable that Mophie shipped is suspect, only engaging about half the time. My two 3Gs juice packs had to have replacement cables from Mophie before working right, and this one looks to be no different. And once again, the micro-USB connector in the case is just sort of… floating there. It appears, as before, to be attached with nothing but the solder on the circuit board inside the case, meaning that it will probably fall off (as happened on my first 3Gs juice pack air) at some point.

In short: Two craptastic products that will no doubt get great press for the amazing iPhone 4 that somehow got horrible press.

Some days tech just makes you grumpy.