Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Voting blues

So now both California and Florida have certified electronic voting machines -- as being crap. Even World Nut Daily (R-Nuttsville) has expressed alarm, mostly because they're concerned that those nasty Demon-craps are gonna hack an election (they don't figure Republicans are smart enough to hack an election apparently), but still, it seems that the general consensus everywhere outside of local bribed elections official's offices and the offices of ES&S/Diebold/etc. is that electronic voting machines are crap.

So how did we get into this situation? Well, the deal is that local elections officers really aren't very knowledgeable about fundamental accounting principles. By and large they got their jobs by being elected or appointed based on political leanings, not on whether they knew how to account for money or for votes. As a result, when the voting machine companies came around with these new electronic voting machines, they had not the foggiest notion that they were supposed to demand that the same standards used to account for money also be used to account for votes. Audit trails, paper trails, none of those things were on their priority lists because they just plain didn't understand that those things are important in order to have any confidence in any accounting system, whether for votes or for money. Furthermore, none of these people are technologists. So what you had was people ignorant of technology, ignorant of fundamental accounting systems, who were charged with purchasing multi-million dollar amounts of voting machines. You had people who had no idea that a voting machine written in Visual BASIC on Windows with no paper audit trail was inherently a Bad Idea(tm) making the decision as to what machines to buy.

The results... well, we know the results. The machines don't work worth a shit. But boy, they sure look cool! And man, those presentations! And hey, wasn't that conference that ES&S flew us to in Hawaii great? What? Diebold wants to fly us to Bermuda for a conference there? Whoa! Uhm, do the machines work? Who the fuck knows, so we'll just buy the coolest looking machine whose maker flys us to the neatest places!

So how do we get out of this situation? Well, first we need national standards. Real national standards, that require voting machines to meet the same accounting standards when accounting for votes that their business counterparts are required to meet when accounting for dollars. I don't care if the dimwit Registrar of Voters in Palm Beach County makes the decision to buy a particular machine, as long as the machine is guaranteed to work properly via some national body that has full authority to audit the thing. Secondly, we need to educate local voter registrars that just because it's a computer doesn't make it great. You'd think that anybody who had regularly experienced the Blue Screen of Death under Windows would have been cured of the notion that technology is necessarily a good thing, but a lot of these people still think technology is magic, not a bunch of cranky machines that humans programmed and often mis-programmed that do stupid things like, say, crash and lose votes, which is why you need that paper trail. And finally we need more folks like in Florida and California who are willing to stand up to powerful forces and say "We aren't gonna buy stuff that doesn't meet our standards, and if your stuff doesn't meet our standards, you either fix it or you're out of here."

Is it going to happen? Well, given that World Nut Daily (the voice of the right-wingnut ranks) is as worried as the civil libertarians and lefties... maybe. But we're up against big money here. We'll see. We'll see.

Monday, July 30, 2007

How to reduce # of food quality problems

Putrid seafood. Lead-tainted candy. E. coli tainted spinach. You've probably heard about the rash of food quality problems that have occurred recently. There's been a lot of mention of them in the press and all that. But never fear, the Bush Administration has a sure-fired plan to solve the problem of reports of bad food quality, a sure-fired plan sure to reduce the # of food quality problems: Shut down labs testing for food quality problems.

This is typical response action for the Busheviks and their ilk, of course. It's sort of like their ranting about the "liberal media" reporting on the chaos that is Iraq. The problem there isn't that jihadis are blowing up car bombs all over the place, Shia militias are drilling holes in the heads of Sunni women and children, etc. Nope, the problem is that the nasty ole' "liberal media" is reporting on all that. Why, if we didn't know it was happening, it wouldn't be happening! And similarly, if we don't know that our food supply is tainted and putrid, why, it wouldn't happen!

"That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." Talk about channeling O'Brien talking to Winston Smith in the basement of the Ministry of Love...

Of course, that's not how the world really works. Those of us in the reality-based community know that the jihadis will continue blowing the shit out of Shia whether it's reported or not, and that food will continue to be putrid whether a lab detects it or not. But then, we're not POTUS and thus us knowing this reality is irrelevant...

-- Badtux the Reality-based Penguin

Fightin' them over there so we don't gotta fight'em over here

Yeah, that's what the tighty righties always say about Iraq, as they cower under their bedsheets in terror of Teh Brown. Thing is, I remember yet another time when we had to "fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here". Except the place was Vietnam. And we really did have terror cells "over here", Communist front groups devoted to "bringing on the revolution." And yeah, they managed to blow up a little shit here and there too.

So how did we defeat "them" (actually, us) over here, even though we didn't defeat "them" (actually, the Vietnamese people) over there? Simple. The FBI infiltrated these groups so heavily that if four radical activists got together to plan an action, three of them were probably FBI informants. The CIA was in on the action too, reporter Walter Pincus of the Washington Post got his start as a CIA operative by infiltrating student groups for example (probably he still is a CIA operative, he tends to break the CIA side of any story in Washington, but what the hey that's how it works in Soviet America). In other words, law enforcement. Duh. And it worked, mostly, until the terrorism started coming from the right-wing (Unibomber, Oklahoma City, abortion clinics, Osama) rather than the left wing. Official Washington was a bit in denial about the possibility of right-wing violence, after so many decades of fighting "the commie threat"=, and did not devote law enforcement resources to infiltrating and neutralizing such groups, instead preferring to go after ill people and people who like viewing videos of kinky sex.

So anyhow, I've heard the latest tighty rightie rhetoric before. Iraq-Nam. Like Viet-Nam, except in urban jungles rather than rural jungles. And you know something? Once we left Vietnam, guess what the VIetnamese people did -- did they follow us over here? Uhm, no. They settled down to rebuilding their country after the many decades of war. Which is exactly what the Iraqi people will do once we leave. But hey, that's drawing on the lessons of history, and tighty righties neither know history, nor care about history. All they care about is their fear of Teh Brown and whatever their political commissars on talk radio and Faux News tell them. Alrighty, then!

-- Badtux the History Penguin

Sunday, July 29, 2007

CRASH! Thunk!

So I just put together one of those white bookshelves from Ikea, and turned around and started clearing a spot for it. Then I hear a CRASH! I turn around and... The Mighty Fang had launched himself off the top of the kitchen counter (one of those wrap-around bar type counters) to jump on top of the new bookshelf unit to investigate, and of course since there were no books in it to stabilize it, it smashed right over into the stereo speaker and lamp on the "entertainment center". The Mighty Fang was clinging for dear life to the top shelf of the thing with his front paws, his back paws were dangling over thin air, and as I watched he slid down and went "thunk!" onto the carpet.

Total damage: I had to nail the back panels back on, they popped out when they smashed into the stereo speaker. The lamp was fine when I retrieved it from behind the stereo. A chunk of the sawdust-board was knocked out of one of the side panels, but you can barely see it from the outside, and I'll put that up against the wall in the corner to make it harder to see. All in all, the biggest damage was to The Mighty Fang's dignity. He sulked off and went to sleep on my bed.

-- Badtux the Cat-watching Penguin

Fun reads

I don't read a lot of dark serious books nowdays. After all, if I want to read dark serious stuff, all I have to do is read the news. So yesterday I grabbed a couple of Janet Evanovich novels off the to-read shelf. The woman has a formula, and she pretty much sticks with it. Okay, so it ain't the Great American Novel (what is, other than Mark Twain?). But it's more entertaining than watching American Idiot oops Idol anyhow.

Twelve Sharp -- yet more in the series about the world's most inept bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. This series has gotten darker over time and this one is no exception, but there's still plenty of laugh-out loud scenes and she still keeps to her formula -- you know that her heros might get scuffed up, maybe even creased with bullets or something, but none of the characters you care about will die or anything. Though Stephanie's car might get blown up or something (running gag in the series).

Metro Girl. Okay, so the McGuffin isn't convincing (really, a chemical warhead at the bottom of the ocean that still is good decades later?). Who cares? It romps along quite nicely, thank you. Just remember that some bleach blond dye jobs wearing pink poodle skirts have brown belts, once raced stock cars, and can fix engines, and you'll be fine. Hopefully she'll write more in this series, she's done setup for it anyhow. While not as funny as Stephanie Plum, it's still lots of fun.

So, what's your recommendations for some fun reading?

-- Badtux the Entertained Penguin

Do tax cuts really put more money in your pocket?

Okay, back to Econ 101 again. As you may recall from my earlier posting on gold, the value of money is what you can buy with it. Gold was lousy as money because you can't buy shit with gold. Try it. Go down to your local store. Pick up a bag of potatoes and a bag of turnips, and go to the checkout counter. Give them gold. See them stare at it in amazement, then tell you, "I want real money." I.e., the green pieces of toilet paper with pictures of dead Presidents.

The value of any money, whether it's the green toilet paper or not, rests solely in what people will give you in exchange for it. Remember, the basis of an economy is the amount of goods and services in circulation, not the amount of green toilet paper in circulation. The wealth of a nation is the amount of goods and services in circulation, not the amount of green toilet paper in circulation. You want the amount of green toilet paper in circulation to pretty much match up with the amount of goods and services in circulation, otherwise you get deflation (good for rich people, bad for working people) or inflation (good for working people with no savings, bad for everybody else), other than that the amount of green toilet paper in circulation is irrelevant.

Okay, so Bush "gives" you a tax cut (actually, just pushes a tax hike into the future, since the money for the "cut" was borrowed). Are you really better off now? Well, you have more green toilet paper in your wallet. So the next question is, are there more goods and services in the economy for you to buy? Are you actually any better off?

The answer to that last question is "no." The amount of money in your pocket will buy exactly the same share of that goods and services as it did previously. You are no better off than you were before the tax cut because the money in your pocket will buy you the same amount of "stuff" as before the tax cut. All that happened was that inflation happened -- more money chasing the same amount of goods available for purchase means that the goods get more expensive, and you're no better off.

Now, if the government was actually cutting its spending on destructive activities -- taking fewer goods and services out of circulation and literally blowing them up and shooting them out of the barrel of a gun -- then there would be more goods and services in circulation in the economy, and a tax cut would be warranted so that the amount of money in circulation would match the amount of goods and services in circulation. But as we all know now, the Bush Administration has been spending like a drunken sailor, and mostly doing that spending in none-productive ways that do not provide goods and services to our economy (i.e. that do not create roads, bridges, provide police services, etc.), and so the government is actually taking more goods and services out of the economy and using them to blow up some god-forsaken desert that nobody gives a shit about anymore (except the people who live in that god-forsaken desert, of course, who are somewhat pissed and doing their best to get us to spend ourselves to economic exhaustion so that we'll quit blowing up their god-forsaken desert and go do something more productive). More green toilet paper, fewer goods and services, is it any wonder that the prices of food, housing, and fuel have been going through the roof?

Now, the next question is, "do tax hikes really take money out of the economy?"

Well, it depends on two things: 1) the extent of the tax hike, and 2) whether the tax hike is being used for some purpose that adds to the economy. For example, right now 15% of the U.S. economy is going to medical care. By imposing a 7.5% Medicare tax upon all payrolls and extending Medicare to all Americans, that percentage of the economy could be reduced to 10%, and the remaining 5% no longer going to insurance companies for non-productive purposes would then be additional goods and services available to the economy. So you'd actually be able to buy more "stuff" with the amount of money remaining in your pocketbook.

If the tax hike was gigantic enough to reduce the incentive to work (but we're nowhere near that -- the amount of our GDP going to taxes is under 30%, and you have to get above 50% before people start losing incentive to work for a living), or if the taxes were going to non-productive purposes such as being shot out of a gun or blown up, on the other hand, you'd be out the money but there would be no more (or fewer) goods and services in the economy. So you'd be worse off. So the answer is "it depends". But as long as you keep your eye on the ball -- the goods and services circulating in the economy, not the green pieces of toilet paper -- you're well positioned to be able to judge for yourself whether a particular tax cut or tax hike actually puts buying power in your pocket. And in the case of extending Medicare to all Americans via a Medicare payroll tax, it most definitely does put money in your pocket, because you get more services for the money taken out as taxes for half the price of buying it on the open market (where you don't have the economies of scale that the government has).

-- Badtux the Tax Penguin

Saturday, July 28, 2007

More late night techie blogging

At first glance there does not seem to be any way to hook a keyboard and mouse and monitor to a Macbook and use just that keyboard and monitor and mouse. The little picture of a monitor in the menu bar will just let you either mirror the two monitors, or extend your desktop across the two monitors. But there is. Set the "wake on Bluetooth" preference to "Yes", plug the external monitor in and pair the Macbook with your keyboard and mouse (if they aren't already paired and are Bluetooth rather than USB), shut the lid, and the screen goes blank as the Macbook goes asleep. Click the mouse and/or press a key on the keyboard, it wakes back up -- but it appears only on the external monitor. At this point you can put the Macbook aside (leaving it plugged into the monitor of course!) and treat it as a weirdly shaped Mac Mini.

Now, in the interests of balance after the glowing review I gave it earlier, here's the list of things I do not like about the Macbook:

  1. Few games. And the games there are don't work well on the Macbook due to its use of on-board Intel graphics that are 2d not 3d oriented, and due to stupidity on the part of games makers. I had to download a crack from the Internets to run the Mac version of Civilization IV on my Macbook, for example, because the out-of-box copy decided my Macbook didn't have enough graphics memory. (Which is true, but the crack, which removed the graphics card limitation as well as the need to stick the DVD in every time, ran just fine).
  2. No multiple virtual desktops. Linux has virtual desktops. Windows XP has virtual desktops (via the PowerToys add-in). MacOS 10.4 Tiger, on the other hand... nope. To be fair, that's coming in MacOS 10.5 Leopard, due in October, but everybody else has had it for years and while the Expose' feature helps, that's not how I usually work -- I usually have my programming stuff open on desktop #1, web on desktop #3, email on desktop #4, that way I don't have to fight through programming windows to get to web windows and so on.
  3. Remember that I said that the Macbook sucked air in around the keys in the keyboard rather than the bottom? Well, heat from the CPU and power supply gets trapped between the case bottom and the motherboard, because there's no ventilation under the motherboard. The CPU never overheats (I tested this with 200% CPU load, i.e., maxing out both CPU's, plus full disk load, and nothing got anywhere near overheating), but the rear left of the little beasty gets really toasty. The CPU doesn't care that it's around 130F, but your leg might.
  4. When you crank up the CPU usage, the fan comes on and really howls. To be fair, the fan almost never comes on when I'm just Internet'ing, web browsing, and word processing. It's when I'm playing games or videos or something that it gets a bit noisy.
  5. The power supply is small and cute and attractive, a piece of computer sculpture like everything else Apple. It also is only barely capable of supplying sufficient power for the Macbook when you crank up the CPU usage by, say, playing a game. If you'd previously run down the battery and are trying to charge it, it'll take hours to re-charge, and get very hot too. Not dangerously hot, but definitely toasty. If you play a game for hours it'll also get very hot.
  6. Apple's patented "MagSafe" connector for the power supply is cool because if you trip over the power cord it'll just unplug rather than yank the computer off the coffee table, and also has much less and tear on the computer plug when plugging and unplugging than a normal banana type plug, but because it's patented by Apple there are no third-party power supplies for the Macbook. Not a big deal, except Apple doesn't have a car power supply, so you'll need to use an inverter if you want to blog on the go using EVDO.
  7. Because of the lack of sufficient USB ports for both keyboard/mouse and computer music gear, if you want to go with external keyboard/mouse while at home base you'll need to go Bluetooth. I found only one Bluetooth keyboard that was reasonable to use with a Mac -- Apple's own wireless keyboard, which isn't actually a bad keyboard (at least it's slim and has decent feel) but is rather wide (doesn't fit well on my keyboard tray). I found only two Bluetooth mice that are big enough to use for regular use (the others I found were tiny little mice for use with PDA's that would be painful to use). One is an ugly gun-metal grey Logitech two-button wheel mouse that is now several years old. I find that it doesn't have very good resolution (it's an older LED-based mouse) and the wheel is very "clicky" (not very fine resolution). It does, however, fit my hand well. The other is Apple's own Wireless Mighty Mouse. This is a laser mouse and good resolution, it also has a scroll trackball rather than a scroll wheel (allows scrolling side to side as well as up and down) and a pair of squeeze sensors on the side to serve as a 4th button (pressing down the scrollball is a 3rd button). The squeeze sensors are usually programmed to trigger Expose'. This mouse is a thing of beauty, but is pill-shaped and does not fit my hand as comfortably as the Logitech mouse. The 4th button is handy given the lack of virtual desktops so I live with it. This mouse has a poor durability record, it quits about 6 months in because the mouse trackball on the top eventually gets gunked up with normal hand oils and stuff and quits working. Keep your receipt, you'll need to exercise the 1 year warranty, and treat it as a consumable item (i.e. figure you'll need to buy a new one every year).
  8. The dock is annoying. While you can click on a picture of an application to bring it back to the front (if it's already running), you can't choose which window of the application to bring back to the front. You have to use Expose' for that. Combining the taskbar and application starter into one dock may have seemed a good idea, and I must admit it's cool eye candy, but it is annoying.
  9. The on-board speakers point *backwards*. Now, granted, to a certain extent this is necessary because if they pointed upwards they'd give feedback to the microphone (which is at the top of the screen next to the iSight camera so you can do video conferencing while looking at the camera and have the microphone pick up what you're saying). But it means that any sound you do hear from the on-board speakers is even more muffled than usual for the lot that is pathetic laptop speakers.
  10. Parallels, the system for running Windows applications while MacOS is still running, won't run many games even with the new DirectX 9 support. In particular, it won't run my fave, Civilization IV Warlords (sob!). Basically if a game is not listed on the Parallels website as working with Parallels, it ain't gonna work. You'll need to dual-boot using Boot Camp to run those games.
  11. Windows Activation will throw a fit when you dual-boot using Boot Camp *plus* run Parallels. This isn't Apple's fault. This is entirely Microsoft's fault. But it's still annoying.
  12. Under heavy use (as in, 200% CPU use plus thrashing the disk drive), the battery life is approximately 1 hour 20 minutes, at which point the Macbook shuts down into sleep mode until you plug it in. Figure you'll get a little over 2 hours with all the radios (WiFi and Bluetooth) on, and approximately 3 hours with the radios off. My old HP had an extended battery that I could regularly get 4 hours on. Yeah, the extended battery stuck out of the bottom and back of the laptop and made it somewhat heavy but it was nice to be able to take a long flight across country and not worry (much) about power.
Now, does that mean I'm having buyer's remorse? No. For what I'm using it for (basically a combination Unix programming workstation and a music workstation), the Macbook is an amazing value. With its fast dual core processor and with the 2gb of RAM and 250GB hard drive that I replaced the originals with, it's fast as snot (well, at everything except real-time 3d video processing) and MacOS makes Windows look like the primitive garbage that it is. Despite the fact that it is Unix, it boots considerably faster than Windows XP, logging in happens considerably faster than XP, and its sleep mode works 100% reliably (with XP it was always a crapshoot as to whether it'd come out of sleep mode correctly -- not entirely XP's fault, it was 3rd party drivers that sometimes would mess up, but still annoying). The above annoyances have work-arounds and don't significantly impair how I use my Macbook. I just list them in the interests of balance.

Friday, July 27, 2007

What's important in life

Nothing beats full-body palm-on-fur action for making a kitty happy...

-- Badtux the Joy-producing Penguin

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Gold Standard

As some of you know, I've placed myself on a few of the right-wingnut mailing lists just for the entertainment value. While the results have been entertaining in a way, I haven't posted much about it. That's because while entertaining, they're also rather sad or pathetic.

Case in point: "Dr." Michael Savage (Ph.D.-Mail Order) sent me an email extolling gold as an investment.

Now, first of all let's dispense with a common myth that somehow gold has some sorta inherent value. It doesn't. It's just this shiny metal stuff. You can't eat gold. You can't wear gold. Gold doesn't keep rain off your head or heat your home in the winter. Frankly, as a useful commodity, gold pretty much sucks, meaning that its only value is whatever you can trade it for.

And if you're going to trade a useless commodity for something, well, gold kinda sucks there too. You can't go down to your local grocery store and pay in gold. Unlike that green toilet paper stuff with pictures of dead Presidents on it, you can't buy a burger with gold. You gotta trade it for that green toilet paper first, which is cumbersome to do and involves fees and such.

And finally, gold isn't portable. It's heavy.

All in all, this means gold really isn't very useful as a money. Maybe back in Roman times, when every farmer and shop keeper accepted gold as payment for stuff, but not nowdays. Nowdays it's just this shiny metal that for some reason has this mythos built around it that it's something special, instead of just another metal like lead or iron or copper or whatever.

So why do Republicans rattle on about the "gold standard" as if it were something desirable? Well, it's because gold has one attribute that paper money doesn't: the government can't create more of it. The amount of gold in the world is pretty much fixed, and isn't growing very fast because all of the easily-mined gold was plucked up long ago.

Now, at first glance that might seem desirable. But the deal is, it's only desirable if the amount of goods and services in your economy are fixed and the number of people in your economy are fixed. If the number of people grow and correspondingly create more "stuff" (assuming that per-capita productivity at least holds constant), what you end up with is more "stuff", but not more money. That means deflation -- i.e., if it took $5 to buy some "stuff", now it only takes $4 to buy some "stuff."

You might say, "what's so bad about that?". Well, if you're a millionaire, nothing. You have lots of money, and now that money is going to go further. But if you work for a living, your own services are "stuff". If you're a farmer, the food you grow is "stuff". So you get paid less too. So you don't come out ahead. Only the rich guy does. And if you owe any debts -- if you owe a mortgage on your house, or on your farm -- you now are getting paid less (in admittedly more valuable dollars), but you have to pay back this loan that was taken out in cheaper dollars. In essence, your wealth is getting transferred to the wealthy -- they loaned you $1000 that would be worth $800 in today's money, but you have to pay them back the full $1000.

A perfect example is the deflationary spiral at the start of the Great Depression. Herbert Hoover refused to turn on the printing presses to keep the supply of money at least steady, and as banks collapsed, the money supply collapsed -- there were fewer dollars in the economy chasing the goods and services in the economy. This deflationary spiral resulted in huge numbers of small businesses and farms collapsing as they could no longer pay their debts because the debts were not re-calculated into the now-more-valuable dollars, thus creating windfalls for the big businesses and wealthy agri-businesses that took over their assets and farms and customers. It was the biggest transfer of wealth from the working class to the wealthy class ever in American history, and a perfect example of why Republicans are always rattling on about the gold standard -- or anything else that could cause a deflationary spiral, for that matter.

So anyhow, back to "Dr." Michael Savage (PhD-Mail Order) and his gold scam. It is a scam, you know. You never actually get the gold he's "selling". It is supposedly being held in a warehouse for you that's more "secure" and besides, gold is heavy, y'know, you really don't want to be lugging around all that heavy metal do you? Reality is that you are being sold "shares" in a gold-purchasing consortium. Some of the money you're putting into this consortium may be used to purchase gold. But most of it is going to "expenses". Like the expense of paying "Dr." Michael Savage hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to tout the scam on his radio show.

So anyhow, that's the low-down on gold and right-wing scam artists. Gold. You can't eat it, y'know?

-- Badtux the Economics Penguin

Windows XP Activation sucks

Have to run it in Parallels on the Macbook to run the VPN tunnel to work (only runs on Windows, GRRR!). So I changed my Parallels setup and re-installed and it decided it no longer wanted to be activated. So I went through the robot and the robot told me I stole my copy of Windows that I paid good money for blah blah, so I called again and punched keys until I got a customer service representative, at which point I got the thing activated again, but gah!

This is a perfect example of yet another piece of stupidity from technology companies. The pirates and hackers cracked Windows Activation years ago. The only people this thing impacts are people like me who build our own computers with our own legal copies of Windows who don't want to put some probably-virus-laden hacked/cracked shit onto computers that we use for work purposes. The script kiddies and such? Fuck, they don't give a shit anyhow about how many zombies are running on their PC, as long as they can play their pirated games on their pirated Windows without the zombies slowing it down too much.

Microsoft... Sony... all those goons who put this bullshit into their products that only affects legit users, not software pirates... well, I ain't gonna say what I want to have happen to them, except that it ain't nice. They're hiding behind the laws that they bought and paid for right now. But if the Republicans get their way and destroy the government as a functioning entity...


If we are just animals, just meat around bone stuffed into a skin sack like a sausage, does that make our lives futile and worthless?

Mencken would like to strongly disagree. His life has purpose. He eats, he sleeps, he gets palm-on-fur action from his alpha cat (me). He brings furry warmth to the nightly bed. He is kind to his apartment-mates, though he is not afraid to give them a warning whack with the paw if they're starting to irritate him by, like, grooming him when all he wants to do is sleep (yeah, The Mighty Fang is so mean with that biz of always wanting to groom Mencken). What more is there, in the end?

Seems to me that the deranged hairless monkeys with delusions of grandeur who call themselves "human" have a lot to learn from Mencken and his ilk. If these "humans" behaved like animals, rather than like lunatics, this would would be a lot nicer place to live methinks. Humans should be proud to be told "you're acting just like an animal!", rather than viewing it as an insult. After all, what animal (other than the hairless monkey ones) has ever started a war based upon lies, or killed another animal based on what he thinks some imaginary sky demon whispered in his ear? Hmm?

-- Badtux the Animal Penguin

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Nightmare #25927

One of the issues the Republican crime syndicate faces is that they lose their magic Get Out Of Jail Free Card on January 20, 2009, when George W. Bush hands over the keys of his office to Hillary Clinton and a Democratic congress can then throw the whole lot of them in jail without them getting pardoned by Gee Dubya.

Which brings up the odd habit that Democratic candidates have of dying in suspicious plane crashes. Now, as we all know, George W. Bush is actually just the front man for the crime family currently running the United States. The "face", so to speak, of the con worked against the American people. Dick Cheney wears the pants in that family. So replacing him with another "face" in 2008 who is capable of working that Get Out Of Jail Free thingy would be just fine with them. Right now, it looks like that actor dude with the 20-year-younger wife who likes displaying her melons, since the other candidates are flaming out (they just don't have the right acting credits to be the face for the con). But really, it doesn't matter. Whoever it is, the crime syndicate will be working his levers.

Problem is, he's going to lose the election. Unless... unless Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Bill Richardson, die in yet another of the suspicious plane crashes that have killed or simply "disappeared"so many Democratic candidates over the decades.

Then the question becomes: what happens if the Democratic candidates die between getting the nomination, and election day? Does that mean we get the kind of election that Saddam Hussein liked to hold, where there was only one real candidate on the ballot -- Saddam? Except in this case, we get Fred Thompson or Julie Annie as our one and only candidate?

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination, I suggest that they don't fly after the nominating convention. Or drive, if driving in anything less than an armored infantry fighting vehicle with their own private security to protect the candidate from the Secret Service. Because the Rethuglicans really are starting to get worried about losing their Get Out Of Jail Free card... and one way the Party in corrupt thugocracies have always dealt with their political opponents is to see their opponents die in suspicious "accidents".

-- Badtux the Worried Penguin

No lack of self esteem

Every cat believes that he or she is master of the universe. And who are we to tell them differently?

-- Badtux the Cat-owned Penguin
Yeah, needed a soft fluffy kitty mental health break...

The United States is not Nazi Germany

For one thing, we don't have concentration camps where prisoners are interned for political crimes and forced to do manual labor. We don't have gas chambers (gas chambers are so, like, yesterday, everybody knows that giving an injection of a lethal poison is the way to go!), and the fact that we have 25% of the world's population of prisoners despite having only 5% of the world's population doesn't make us like Nazi Germany at all, uh uh! We don't have policemen demanding your papers please and we have no watch list of potential dissidents who are not allowed to move freely around the country. And we don't invade other nations under false pretenses either. And yes, we have 2.03 million Americans in our work camps, but Stalin had 6 million people in his, so there! We're #2! We're #2! WOOT!

Now, we haven't started exterminating people wholesale yet, but then, neither did Nazi Germany until Eichmann's mission to find some nation, anywhere, that would take Germany's unwanted Jews proved futile because no other nation would accept those Jews (including that bastion of Jewish sympathy the United States, which gave a great "NEIN!" to the whole concept of accepted Germany's Jews). It wasn't until 1942 that the gas chambers started up -- roughly ten years after the Nazis took power. So we can feel good about the fact that seven years after the Busheviks took power, we don't have execution chambers (yet) for all those nasty Islamafascistwhatchamacallits who, like, wear them funny head-dresses and stuff. USA! USA! USA!

And look, we have free speech in America. You're free to say anything you like, as long as you get a license from the government first, purchase thousands of dollars of liability insurance and pay thousands of dollars to the city and don't do it in public where you might disturb people. Why, you're perfectly free to say anything you want as long as you do it somewhere that only people who agree with you can hear! That's what free speech is all about, citizen, being able to freely talk to the walls of your apartment. It's right there in the 1st Amendment!

There's nothing to see here, citizen. Anybody who says different is a deranged moonbat and don't you worry, citizen, the brave souls of the Department of Homeland Security shall remove him from your presence shortly so that you do not have to worry your self about that silly "history" stuff he keeps bringing up. Everybody knows the United States is not Nazi Germany. Americans speak English and Germans speak German. Duh!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Checking out Macbook battery life

I earlier said that a Macbook will go about 2 hours on a battery charge. I'm going to test that. I turned off wireless and Bluetooth to save battery life, and will see how long I can go on that while doing typical "work" stuff such as browsing the Internet, editing text, playing with GarageBand (turns out it *will* do the kind of dynamics processing that I ranted it couldn't do, I just need to read the freakin' documentation, funny how that works, heh?), and otherwise doing stuff like I'd be doing on an airplane or train. Not watching a DVD or streaming mp3's, though. Those would probably use more juice.

GarageBand turns out to be able to do more than I thought yesterday. What can I say, I'm new to this Mac and Garageband thingy. Looks like it'll probably do everything I need to do for my own use, including clean up my crappy vocals (heh!). Running the guitar effects is pretty interesting. Hey, I can make my acoustic guitar sound like a Strat, whoa! If I were a pro I'd go for something like Logic Pro that allows lots of things like, for example, "stretching out" vocals phrasing to match an instrumental track (or vice-versa) without making it sound like crap, but for me, my guitar, and my MIDI keyboard for adding things like drums and such, GarageBand *might* do the trick. It's not as if I'm corresponding with myself across country (see: The Postal Service).

Discovered all the AU plugins for GarageBand (and Logic) over at MacMusic. Hmm. So it appears my frustration yesterday was just because I was using a new software app that I didn't know how to use, not because it won't do what I need it to do...

Hmm, currently at 78%, 41 minutes in. That implies that in light use in transit with all the radios turned off doing word processing and such I can get about 3 hours use out of the battery. Turn the radios all on, and battery usage is much higher, I know from experience...

Well, 'nuff techno-geekery for now. Your snark supply shall resume shortly.

-- Badtux the Geek Penguin

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Minstrel Boy

Written by Thomas Moore sometime in the early 1800's, supposedly as a commemoration of the 1798 Irish rebellion against British rule.

The minstrel boy to the war is gone
In the ranks of death you will find him
His father's sword he hath girded on
And his wild harp's slung behind him.

"Land of Song!" said the warrior bard
"Though all the world betrays thee.
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!"

The Minstrel fell! But the foeman's chain
Could not bring that proud soul under.
The harp he lov'd ne'er spoke again
For he tore its chords asunder.

And said "No chains shall sully thee
Thou soul of love and bravery!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery!"

I fired up the new sound gear and checked it out, and did my best Irish imitation. Which is not very good, because the first time I ever even *heard* this song was tonight, so you'll notice my voice searching for the right pitch in various locations (and an occasional hesitant chord change) because I simply forgot what the song sounded like, and I sound Irish only via rough approximation. However, the process did allow me to test out all my gear. Here is what I found:

The Lexicon Lambda does well with a high-output condenser mike, but lousy with a low-output condenser mike or a dynamic mike. Because it is USB bus powered, it just doesn't have the juice to hike those up. I ended up plugging a patch cord to my old mixer to get the guitar mike, the Lexicon handled the output from the mixer just fine.

Dynamics are lousy altogether because I turned the guitar input down to get rid of the hum from the mixer, then had to turn the vocals down to match. I think I'll just leave the guitar input up next time, the hum isn't audible over the sound of the guitar.

The best mike for miking my boomy acoustic guitar is still a hoary old dynamic mike like a SM58C, though maybe an open capsule condenser mike might do the trick. A closed capsule condenser mike booms like the little Boehringers that I got for cheap whoofs too bad. Not restricted to those mikes, BTW, my Oktava does the same thing.

I couldn't adjust the volume in post-processing because GarageBand won't do that beyond a certain point. GarageBand's limitations are pretty serious. So next I'll install the Cubase LE software that came with the Lexicon to see what happens. I hate the thought of spending serious money on music software given how cheap the music hardware is nowdays, I'll have to see whether Audacity runs on MacOS if Cubase LE doesn't do the job. Oh what am I saying, you know I'm going to be buying Logic Express...

Gotta go. Time to install software.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin


Yesterday at around 10:30AM I clicked the "Buy" button on that home studio gear that I wanted for my Macbook. About 30 minutes ago I heard a knock on my door and went to take a look. The UPS guy looked up as he was going down the stairs and waved and pointed at a big box.

Big box? But I haven't ordered anything lately except that stuff from Zzounds, and Zzounds is in New Jersey, so the stuff I bought from them yesterday couldn't be here, on the opposite coast, on the next day. And the UPS guy had done a dump'n'run, which they do only on ground shipments, so they couldn't have accidently sent it overnight (they won't release overnight shipments without a signature and besides those arrive before 1pm). So I picked up the big box, convinced that the UPS guy had done a dump'n'run on the wrong doorstep and... uhm... yeah, it was from Zzounds.

Either Zzounds has invented time travel, or they have a fulfillment house in this area. I'm betting on the latter :-). Now the bummer is that I can't check it out until I get my day's quota of work done. Telecommuting is great and all, but sometimes can be distracting, especially since I'm using my Macbook to do my real paying work and my Macbook is what I would want to plug all this new stuff into...

-- Badtux the Distracted Penguin

Review: Apple Macbook

Well, I've had this guy for a month now, so I figure that it's time to give you a straight-up evaluation of the hardware and software, based on my decades of experience in the computer business.

The Apple Macbook comes in three flavors. There's the bottom feeder model without a DVD-R writer put out to meet a price point, a white model with a DVD-R writer in the middle, then a black model with a DVD-R writer and bigger hard drive on top. I have the middle model.

The first impression you get just looking at the Macbook is that it's just so darned pretty. Most computers look like they were designed by ex-Soviet tank designers -- i.e., ugly, functional, with exposed rivets even. The Macbook, on the other hand, looks like a small sculpture or something. It's art. Okay, so maybe that makes this penguin a bird-brain, that he likes pretty things. But that's what you see when you first take the thing out of the box.

Once you get it out of the box, what you get is a laptop that is minimalist but has the necessary things. First, I suppose I should start with what's missing. There is no Cardbus slot. There is no multi-function card reader. There are only two USB ports.

Now for what it has: It comes with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, either 2.0ghz or 2.16ghz. This is two processors in one package, basically, with Intel's virtualization technology and 64-bit extensions (MacOS currently does not use the 64-bit extensions, but Parallels uses the virtualization features). Memory is 1GB of DDR2-677 memory as two 512M DIMM's. The DIMM's live behind a shield in the battery compartment and you can replace them with two 1GB DIMM's to raise the total memory to 2GB. There is no need to do this unless you are going to run Parallels for running Windows software, as with all virtualization technology Parallels is a memory hog.

The stock drive on my MacBook is a 120gb SATA hard drive. This is more than sufficient -- I currently have the data from my old Windows laptop, the data from my old Linux laptop, and a bunch of Mac applications and files on my hard drive and am using 82 gigabytes of space. That's roughly ten years worth of data on there. But if you want more space, the hard drive lives behind the same shield in the battery compartment as the DIMM's and is easily replaced using the directions on Apple's support website. I put a 250gb Western Digital SATA laptop drive there (model WD2500BVS) from NewEgg there. Note you'll need a Torx #6 screwdriver to take the carrier off the old drive and put it onto the new drive, also note that it must be a SATA drive.

Screen and keyboard: It's a 13.3" widescreen. This is a pretty small screen, but it is sharp and clear. I wanted a smaller laptop than my 15.4" widescreen, which I discovered the hard way does not fit well on airline meal trays or in trains, and unfortunately a smaller screen is the price you pay for that. That said it has proven good enough even for these feeble bird-brained eyes. The keyboard is somewhat unique in its construction. Most laptops have a keyboard that consists of a plastic plate, a circuit board mounted on the plastic plate, and keys mounted to the circuit board. The case has a hole in it the size of the keyboard, and the plastic plate is snapped into that hole after the ribbon cable from the keyboard is plugged into the motherboard. The Macbook does it different in order to reduce the parts count and make the laptop thinner. The circuit board is mounted to the underside of the top half of the case, and the top of the case has individual holes for the individual keys to come through. It looks like the infamously horrible "chicklet" keyboards of the 1980's, but it isn't -- it's just a regular old keyboard, constructed slightly differently. It has very good feel and you do not feel like you're typing on some sort of deranged mini-keyboard. This also has the advantage that the keyboard doesn't flex like with the plastic keyboards, since it is firmly mounted at multiple places to the underside of the top case half rather than snapped into an opening with tabs like typical laptop keyboards. The keyboard also serves as the air intake for the CPU fan -- unlike other laptops, there are no air intake slots on the bottom of the Macbook to suck in dirt and cat hair and be blocked by your clothes when you, like, actually have it on your laptop. While the left back of the bottom gets rather warm in operation, the temperature monitor software that I installed shows that nothing ever gets anywhere near actually overheating (the CPU is rated at 100C, the drive is rated at 60C, the hottest I've seen the CPU is 79C and the hottest I've ever seen the drive is 43C).

Touch pad -- the touch pad is larger than typical for laptops. There is no "scroll" area on the touch pad. Instead, you hold two fingers on the pad and move your fingers around. You can then scroll a window up, down, left, right as desired. There is only one button, but you can set the button to "right-click" if you hold two fingers on the pad and hit the button. Still, I do wish Apple would get off this one-button thing and give folks two buttons on their touchpad, they already did on their Mighty Mouse (yes, it has two buttons though it looks like it only has one), so why not on their laptop touchpad?

If you dock at home, there is a mini-DVI port on the side and you can buy cables to plug into it to drive either a DVI-based widescreen monitor or a standard-size XVGA monitor, MacOS will automatically extend your desktop to the new monitor and you can set it to automatically switch to the new monitor as your desktop if you so desire.

On the right side is the slot-loading DVD drive. On the left side is the MagPower plug (uses a magnet to hold the contacts together -- less wear, and if you trip over the power cord you just pull the magnet out rather than pulling your laptop off the desk), a mini-DVI video output (can drive either a DVI monitor or a SXVGA monitor to extend your desktop), a standard-sized Firewire-400 plug (the standard 6-wire plug, *not* the little 4-wire mini-plug that some laptops ship with), two USB-2 ports, and audio in/audio out ports. The audio in/audio out ports are the dual type that can do either optical in/out or analog in/out depending on what kind of plug you place into them. On the front of the laptop is a small black window for the media control remote that comes with the Macbook (looks sorta like an iPod Shuffle, but it controls your iTunes or iDvd instead so that you can skip tunes even if you're not at your computer), and an oblong light that's used to denote whether your computer is suspended or asleep. There is no latch. Instead, a magnet holds the clamshell closed when you close it up. When you close it up, the system automatically goes asleep. This, unfortunately, is not configurable -- something which is annoying for those of us who want to close up our laptop to keep cats off of the keyboard while some long-running task runs to completion. However, if you have a monitor plugged in as well as external mouse and keyboard then you can close the clamshell and utilize the "wake on keypress" function to wake the computer back up and continue processing on the external monitor.

The Macbook comes with an Atheros Wireless-N chip that can either run on the old Wireless-G frequencies or the old Wireless-A frequencies (which are *far* less crowded and thus likely to be faster). Unfortunately most of the Wireless-N hardware out there will only run at the old Wireless-G frequencies. The exception is Apple's own Airport Extreme access point, which, however, has the disadvantage that it only has 100mbit/sec Ethernet ports despite the fact that Wireless-N is theoretically capable of 120mbit/sec throughput.

The Macbook also comes with a Bluetooth interface. I have successfully used two different Bluetooth mice, a Bluetooth cable, and used it to sync my Treo 700p (Palm smart-phone) via Bluetooth. I also have used Bluetooth DUN (Dial Up Networking) with my Treo to access the Internet while on the road.

MacOS... that's a different post. You can run both MacOS and Windows XP on this thing, and I'll examine your choices there later. Obviously it's optimized for MacOS.

Battery life: Sort of a joke. If you are just reading EMAIL and browsing the Internet, it'll last a little over two hours. Once you fire up anything CPU-intensive that gets the CPU temperature up and the fan howling at its full speed (it's a multi-speed fan), you'll be lucky to get an hour of use out of the laptop before running out of juice. If you need more battery life, carry a spare. That said, the problem isn't that the Macbook uses a lot of juice, the problem is that the battery is fairly small in order to fit into the slim formfactor, while the bits and pieces that Apple uses (the CPU, the Intel chipset, etc.) are the same ones you'd find in a full-size laptop with a full-size battery. One of the reason why Apple left off the Cardbus, SDcard reader, and extra USB ports was to save power, but you can save only so much when the CPU and chipset are sucking down 23 watts and 18 watts apiece, respectively.


The Macbook is a well-designed little laptop that, incidentally, also happens to be the lowest-cost 13.3" laptop on the U.S. market right now (only the Japanese manufacturers sell laptops in this formfactor in the U.S. market at the moment, and they ain't cheap). It is a perfect example of why "more is better" is false. In the case of the Macbook, "more" would simply use more power and make the laptop thicker and clumsier to use on a train or airplane. The Macbook does everything you need to do, and leaves off everything you won't normally use. My old HP laptop, for example, has a Cardbus slot. I don't have anything that goes into it. I don't know of any user of a recent-model laptop who has anything in that slot. So Apple deleted it. Same deal with the jillion USB ports of some laptops. With Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, there just is no need for so many USB ports. So to save power and space, Apple deleted them. And while the multi-card reader thingy in my HP laptop gets used occasionally, I bought an SD card reader for $10 for my Macbook that plugs into the USB port and is tiny enough to carry in my camera bag, so it goes with my camera bag so that I can transfer my photos on demand to the Macbook, and otherwise isn't sucking power or cluttering my Macbook with hardware to read card formats that I have no interest in reading. But it has all the important stuff, the stuff you really use. In the end, the Macbook is simply a sweet little machine, and it's no wonder that Apple is selling them like hotcakes.

-- Badtux the Technology Penguin

Monday, July 23, 2007

The common ground

What do Santa Claus, Israel, Iraq, the United States, Jews, Muslims, Palestinians, Christians, Tuxologists, the Great Penguin, Jehovah, Allah, and the Easter Bunny all have in common?

I'll give you a hint. I point a human being out to you. Can you show me the "Jew" or "Christian" in him? Can you point it out to me, hold it up to me so I can see what it looks like? If I fire up Google Earth and show you a piece of ground, do you see any lines drawn on that ground that say one side is somehow different from the other?

I guess the first and last items should have made it clear what I'm up to. It's all imaginary. Made up. Just the overheated delusions of jumped up monkeys with delusions of grandeur. There's the world, there's us, there's the stuff in the world, that's it. All this religion and nationality and ethnicity and shit is just made up bullshit. There ain't one single bit of genetic difference between the monkeys who call themselves "Palestinians" and the monkeys who call themselves "Jews", for example. They just made up that silliness and use it as an excuse to kill each other. There is no such thing as some invisible sky demon called "Jehovah" or "Allah" or "The Great Penguin" who strikes down evildoers with lightning bolts or fire from the sky or rains of herring. There's just a bunch of monkeys who try to avoid the knowledge that they're just monkeys by making up invisible sky demons to make themselves feel bigger than other people.

I've been called "anti-Semitic", "anti-Muslim", "un-patriotic" anti-lots of things. But what I really am is anti-bullshit. If you can't smell it, touch it, sniff it, measure it, or otherwise interact with it on a real life basis, it's just made-up imaginary bullshit. And if you come around flogging made-up bullshit, then you deserve the flamethrower you'll get.

The reason you'll get the flamethrower is that bullshit has consequences. "America" may be made-up bullshit, but the guns being carried by monkeys who believe in that made-up bullshit kill just as well as if there was a such a thing as "America" that could be smelled, touched, sniffed, measured. But I can't go and pick up something and show it to someone and say "this is America". I can show people a piece of dirt, but that's dirt. I can show people a building, but that's brick and stone and steel. I can show people a piece of paper with some blotches of ink on it, but that piece of paper isn't "Islam". There really isn't a such a thing as "America" or "Islam" or whatever that you can see and touch. It's just made up bullshit by monkeys with too much imagination and delusions of grandeur.

What we are, friends and mammals, are animals. We are just animals. Animals with big brains and a propensity to spout imaginary bullshit, but animals all the same. We are born, we eat, we defecate, we grow up (can't really say "mature"), we fornicate and reproduce, we grow old, we die. Just like every other animal on this planet. We're unique amongst animals in that we've figured out ways to communicate stuff between us, and figured out ways to build impressive crap, and figured out impressive ways to kill each other and other animals. But in the end, we're just meat. Meat stuffed into sausage skin and wrapped around bone. Meat that has a bad tendency to flap its meat at each other and slice open each other's sausage wrappers to let the meat fall out, but meat all the same.

As for all that other stuff.... it's just bullshit. Made up. Imaginary. Ladies and germs, the Easter Bunny is not real. Neither is "Mexican". Neither is "Jew" or "Muslim". It's all just made up silliness by monkeys that have lost their bearings and lost track of what is true and what is real. What is true and real is that, in the end, we are all just monkeys (well, except those of us who are penguins!), and all the rest of that stuff is just bullshit that we ought to just ignore while we get along with living our little monkey lives in peace. Sadly, though, deluded fools who think made-up bullshit is, like, actually real, keep using those psychotic delusions to give them excuses to kill other monkeys. Pathetic. Simply pathetic. If you're going to kill someone, at least do it for a reason that's real, not for some made-up imaginary nonsense like "race" or "religion" or whatever....

-- Badtux the Bullshit-spottin' Penguin

Pot calls kettle greedy

Sony Records CEO calls Steve Jobs greedy.

Let's see, this is the same guy who regularly rips off music artists by claiming he can't send them their royalties because he can't "find" them, has laid off 1/3rd of his recording artists over the past six years while getting record salaries and bonuses for himself, runs a multi-national conglomerate that conspires with other multi-national conglomerates to keep CD prices artificially and unsustainably high then griping that people won't buy his overpriced wares (hint: ain't *no* way that a 45-minute long CD whose production cost a couple million tops should cost more than a DVD for a 90-minute-long movie that probably cost over fifty million to make, there's a reason why DVD sales are skyrocketing while CD sales are plummeting, and it ain't called "Bittorrent", it's called people maximizing their entertainment value for the money), and otherwise is a pot colored greedy in every single way, and then he has the audacity to call Steve Jobs greedy?

Of course Steve Jobs wants to have all the profits he can get for his company. But Apple doesn't control 40% of the music industry the way Sony does, and people have viable alternatives to Apple if they want to purchase computers, music, or music-playing devices. People buy Apple's stuff because Apple's stuff simply works best, not because of any conspiracy by Steve Jobs to force them to buy Apple stuff, the way that the traditional music labels conspired to force independents out of the distribution chain so that you were forced to buy their product or nothing at all (a plan which of course has backfired on them since the independents now are on the web and taking an increasing chunk of the market from the majors, but the majors' Mafia-type tactics made sense in the 1970's, I suppose)...

Pot, see kettle. Pot, call kettle black. Pot, look like the biggest fucking greedy dumbass hypocrite to ever walk this planet. 'Nuff said!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Vorschau, dammit! Yes, the German lessons at the hands of Tor and Blogger.com continue!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Making music the Macbook way

Now that I have the cute little Macbook, I'm sorta dissatisfied with my recording setup. My old USB sound system works, but is slow and has more lag than modern ones. My mixer sorta works, but I gotta keep remembering to work around some issues it has because at a gig a bass player plugged his amp into the wrong place and let the magic smoke out (and I ain't kidding about the magic smoke bit, it went "Pop!" and smoke started coming out of it, to say that I was sick to my stomach about my mixer's semi-demise is sorta an understatement!). Besides, it's clunky and this is a small apartment. Modern USB sound systems will accept XLR inputs directly from the mikes as well as accepting input from mixers via the traditional plugs, eliminating the need for a separate mixer entirely if you're not going to be recording a whole band at one time. Also, my USB MIDI interface is a separate thingy and my Macbook has only two USB plugs. So if I want to do MIDI instruments via my keyboard at the same time that I'm recording vocals, my Macbook looks like a freakin' wire farm and I have no USB plugs left.

Okay, so I went and did my research and found that a lot of folks like the Lexicon Lambda for $150 for recording with their Macbooks. You can use Garageband or the software which comes with it, Garageband is a lot easier to use though I'll tell you that much and has plenty of its own effects which work just fine. This also has MIDI IN/OUT plugs. So there goes the mixer, the MIDI controller, and one wall wart...

While I was there I went to look for good vocals and instrument mikes for studio use. Last time I was in the mike market, the only low-cost condenser microphone was a Russian small-diaphragm one for around $200 (Oktava mk-012), which had the typical Russian "quality" (you never knew what you were getting when you bought one). However, as with everything else, the Chinese have come into this market with a bang. Lots of people seem to like the Audio Technica AT2020 Studio Microphone for $100 for both vocals and miking a guitar. Other than a little harshness at the top end easily controlled with a teensy bit of EQ, folks rave that it does as good a job as their $500+ studio mikes yet is cheap and durable enough that they can take it out on gigs if desired without shitting a brick at the thought of their expensive studio mike getting smashed. For a low-end instrument mike, folks have been getting the Behringer C2 Chinese mikes, which come as a pair for $60.

So anyhow, I think I'm going to go ahead and order all this, the mikes are better than what I have (which are live performance mikes that emphasize durability over fidelity -- a good thing, since they definitely show some wear and tear on them) and the USB sound system is *way* better than my antique. Hmm. Basically a complete recording studio for $350 (minus the cost of the laptop)? Whoa! While I must admit some qualms about using the product of Chinese slave labor in my home studio, if it's a choice between no home studio and using the product of Chinese slave labor, I guess there just isn't much choice. Besides, my Macbook was made in China too, as was my previous HP laptop, my keyboard, my mixer, ... Sigh :-(.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Friday, July 20, 2007

Cat pile warning!

Oooh... that feels good on this oh so wonderous Friday afternoon...

-- Badtux the Cat-pile Penguin

Say hello to President Cheney

Oh, I know it's supposedly only going to be for three hours, but if I were President George W. Bush, I would be very careful about my health right about now. Because he ain't exactly a popular man, and President Cheney would love to officially have the title...

BTW, first thing I thought about JFK getting assassinated was, "hot damn, that ratbastard LBJ finally offed him!". History, however, shows that LBJ had nothing to do with it despite being a ratbastard -- LBJ apparently was scared shitless when he took the oath of office, repeatedly asking with sweaty brow "are they after me too? Are they after me too?" fearing that it was a decapitation attempt against the entire U.S. government, and after he fucked over Vietnam voluntarily stepped down and did not run for re-election unlike Georgie who fucked over Iraq but ain't going nowhere. So, reluctantly, as much as I think LBJ was a sumbitch, I have to conclude that he isn't the guy who hired Oswald to knock off JFK...

-- Badtux the Conspiracy Penguin

A favor, if you use Haloscan on your blog

Blogger and Haloscan user John Asscroft, the Attorney General of the Untied States of America, has politely requested that the Haloscan Tor user ban be modified so that blog owners can decide for themselves whether they wish to allow Tor users to post on their blog or not. Please log into Haloscan, then go to their feature request forum and say you want that feature too. Please be polite. Can catch more flies with sugar and all that, y'know?

In my experience, anonymous trolls can be discouraged by *temporarily* turning off anonymous user postings. They try to troll a couple of times, get discouraged, go away, and a week or so later you can turn anonymous posting back on. Still, I think we'll get a lot more traction if we do as the Attorney General did and request an anonymous posting setting that blog owners must specifically enable in order for Tor users to post comments to their blog. That way only bloggers specifically impacted by the Tor ban need to do anything, while other bloggers (typically the less technical types who aren't into that whole Electronic Freedom Frontier cyberliberties thing) can continue the status quo in blithe ignorance without worrying about setting some strange setting when they get odd trolls to their blogs.

-- Badtux the Torrible Penguin

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The cyborg threat to national security!

HTML bearbeiten! Verfassen! Vorshau! Yes, my German lessons at the hand of blogger.com continue. And now, drum roll please, the nation's top cop has the scoop on the next big crime threat: Man-machine cyborgs in the employ of organized crime gangs. Yeah, just like in the manga.

It is with a sense of disappointment that I read further and realize that this guy is the top cop of Australia, not of the United States. What, we no longer have the monopoly on moronic coppers here in the old USA? We're no longer #1 in the moronic coppers business? I simply refuse to believe it. After all, a nation where our top copper predicts terror attacks by scrying his stomach growls (and perhaps by how much his corns ache) simply HAS to have a top copper, somewhere, who predicts future threats to the nation equally as fantastical. He just hasn't managed to make it to a microphone yet to utter his screed, that's all!

-- Badtux the "USA! USA! USA!" Penguin
Post veröffentlichen, gosh darn it!

Learning German

For some reason Tor is routing me out a German node, so Blogger is putting all its messages out as German. Good thing I know the Blogger UI by heart :-).

Ozzfest? Someone still goes to these things? My morning commute was a freakin' nightmare. You couldn't get anywhere near the Googleplex in Mountain View because the death metal heads were clogging the roads. Even on my KLR lane-splitting like crazy it was a slow slog. My office mates got in about 20 minutes after I did. Another plus of my motorbike in California!

-- Badtux the Apparently-German(?) Penguin

Thursday blinking

Check out Tor if you're wanting to help out people who need to blog anonymously (such as people who live in totalitarian dictatorships). I set up a Tor server, but discovered that Haloscan won't allow Tor users to connect. Bummer. They must love totalitarian dictatorships, that's all I can figure. So now my always-on Internet connection goes unused when I'm not at home, rather than a bit of it being siphoned off for Tor...

China is such a benevolent country that a guy tried to escape China in the nosewheel of a jet airliner. He died, of course. But the rulers who caused this guy to commit suicide are the guys that Haloscan is helping.

Sprint is building a WiMax network. Cool. Of the Big Four U.S. cellular providers, Sprint is by far the most computer-friendly, with fast data speeds in most markets and a lenient policy for data use. When I was on vacation for two weeks, I used Sprint DUN via Bluetooth to simulate blogging from home.

FBI won't identify country their agent pretended to be from when their FBI agent, pretending to be a representative of a foreign country, offered lots of money to a 67-year-old federal employee to steal nuclear secrets for them. This means the country they were pretending to represent was either China or Israel, since if it was Iran or North Korea you better believe the FBI would be trumpeting it wildly. But China and Israel are our friends (snark!).

Bush Administration refused to buy mine-resistant vehicles for military. In 2004 the Marines requested over a thousand MRAP's. Donald Rumsfeld turned them down because it would not have fit in with the political wing's official line that the insurgency was in its "last throes" (last throes which seem to be awfully long).

Federal judge says that killing U.S. operatives and destroying the career of CIA agents is within the job description of Bush Administration officials, dismisses Plame lawsuit. Alrighty, then!

Bush Administration and Israel love democracy. Except when democracy elects leaders that the Bush Administration and Israel don't like. Gosh, you mean that leaders should not reflect the will of the people who elect them? I thought we had a name for such leaders. It was something like, hmm, "dictator". Or "Bush administration official". Whatever.

And that's the blink as of now...

-- Badtux the Blinking Penguin

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Self Esteem

The notion of "self esteem" is the notion that somehow feeling good about yourself means a damned thing other than that you feel good about yourself.

Back when I was teaching in an inner city school in Houston, the central office sent down one of those damned "self esteem" curriculums. I looked around at my classroom, and threw it in the trash. Because if you wanted those kids to feel good about themselves, what was needed wasn't "self esteem". What was needed was clean, safe housing with enough beds for all the kids so kids didn't have to sleep three to a bed. What was needed was a living wage so that these kids' parents didn't have to work 16 hours a day just to keep a vermin-ridden roof over their head and could, like, actually raise their kids rather than being a distant presence only seen during rare weekend periods when one parent wasn't working. What was needed was competent teachers and adequate schooling rather than newbie teachers right out of teacher colleges who didn't have the foggiest notion how to talk to black kids in the ghetto much less teach them. What they needed was hope for the future, hope that they certainly weren't gonna get from a Texas legislature busily cutting children's health care and raising college tuitions, hope they certainly weren't gonna get from a Republican administration in Washington D.C. that was busily gutting the Pell Grant program for sending poor kids to college. What they saw was a dismal dreary present today and the same dismal, dreary future that their parents had, regardless of what they tried to do with their lives, and justifiably they weren't too happy about that.

But noooo, these kids problems weren't all that. These kids' problems were... low self esteem. So the message we teachers were supposed to impart was: Don't worry, be happy.

Now, the whole notion of "self esteem" is a strange one. I'd say a queer one, but then the gay rights activists would get outraged and stuff, so anyhow. Science is about things that are measurable. But who has ever seen a "self esteem"? So the floggers of the whole "don't worry, be happy" thingy created test instruments full of questions like, "I feel good about myself", and "I feel capable", and then defined "self esteem" as scoring high on that test. The problem then becomes the same damned thing that my professor in Social Sciences Research 501 taught me in grad school: Correlation is not causation.

For example, there is a correlation between umbrellas and rain. If you see a lot of umbrellas, it is likely to either be currently raining, or to start raining shortly. But this doesn't mean that umbrellas cause rain, any more than summer causes drownings. The actual cause of rain is something else entirely.

Similarly, the self esteem gurus with their tests discovered that well-off suburban kids who answered "1" (Agree Strongly)_ on "I feel good about myself" scored higher on academic benchmarks than my inner city kids who answered "5" (Disagree strongly) on that question. Duh. Why the fuck should my inner city kids have felt good about themselves? They were stuck in a horrible mess not of their own making, and every avenue for getting out of that shithole was being systematically taken away from them by Republican assholes whose attitude was "I got mine, and fuck everybody else", why should they have felt good about themselves? But the self esteem gurus then used this test to say, "high self esteem causes better school performance!"

Anyhow, that was the status quo for many years after I left teaching. Teachers were supposed to "foster self esteem" in their students. So finally -- finally --Baumeister et. al. did the research. They actually performed an experiment, as vs. a correlational study. The difference is that an experiment changes something. In this experiment, they taught kids to feel good about themselves (i.e. have high self-esteem). If you teach kids to feel good about themselves ("have high esteem"), do they actually perform better in school? Well, the answer, of course, is NO. In fact, for some kids it actually hurt their performance. After all, if you're already a perfect and wonderful person, what do you need all this schoolwork junk for?

So in the end, science backs up my gut feel from over a decade ago and shows that "self esteem" turns out to be meaningless. Folks feel good about themselves and their lives if they are in a good situation accomplishing things of worth, and feel bad about themselves and their lives if they're in a bad situation accomplishing nothing of worth. Kids who make good grades feel good about themselves because they make good grades, not the other way around. In other words, "self esteem" is effect, not cause. Other than in the special case of "learned helplessness", the whole concept of "self esteem" turns out to have no practical application.

On the other hand, for our rulers, the message "don't worry, be happy!" does make some sense, I suppose. Contented sheep, after all, are easier to fleece. But whether we're talking about low-achieving kids in school or fat people or whatever, "pumping up their self esteem" isn't the path to take in order to get better performance out of them. Rather, taking direct action to provide them better education, better nutritional and exercise choices, etc. while providing incentives to actually engage in those better choices is what needs to be done.

But that's practical advice. And everybody knows that what counts is how happy you are, not whether you are in fact smart or healthy or whatever. Alrighty, then!

-- Badtux the Self Esteem Penguin

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Random blinking

Overweight dude gets tired, falls down and can't get up, requires 40 volunteers to haul his lardy 500+ pound ass out of the river. Probably his ordeal was so horrendous that he just had to go over to McDonalds and eat a few dozen Big Macs to recuperate...

Senator David Vitter is a sexual hypocrite. Duh. He's a Republican. That's like saying "avian waterfowl" or "law-breaking criminal". It sorta goes with the territory, y'know?

Bush Administration VA Secretary hits the road. Something about failing to deal with the rash of brain-injured patients that have hit the VA's doors ever since the insurgents in Iraq figured out that rattling soldiers around with IED's scrambled their brains even worse than Dear Leader's cocaine-befuddled brain. How *dare* those disabled soldiers demand medical care after they come back from Dear Leader's little war for oil!

Harry Reid actually makes the Republicans go through with their filibuster threat in the Senate. Democrats go nap in their offices until the last filibustering Republican falls asleep and the Democrats can come back and call a vote on the legislation being blocked by the Republicans.

Republicans invent another fake Clinton scandal. Gosh, this has to be right up there with losing money in an Arkansas land deal on the bogosity meter of scandals...

Just a typical Tuesday in Bizarro World USA...

-- Badtux the Bizarre Penguin

Give these folks a prize!

It seems that the TSA has uncovered yet another group of people that threatens America: Dead people.

Yes, dead people. As in, deceased. Passed away. Gone to meet their maker. Cremated, no less. The brave and mighty warriors of the TSA have figured out, apparently, that dead people make the best suicide bombers because, like, they're already dead. At least, that's all I can figure from the fact that the TSA cleared out a concourse at Miami International Airport because of a suspicious cremated dead person.

I must applaud the brave folks at the TSA for protecting us from suicidal dead people. Especially cremated ones. These brave TSA employees most certainly deserve a prize for their brilliance in protecting us from those dastardly dead fiends. I doubt, however, that said prize shall be a Nobel Prize. Perhaps an IgNobel...

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Hmm, appears that Dumbka is down at the moment. See the original Miami Herald news byte, which, strangely enough, is not indexed by Google News. Hmm.... is Google part of the vast cremated zombie threat to America?! Curious penguins want to know!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Another one bites the dust

The San Jose Mercury News used to be a decent rag. As the flagship paper of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain they did some great reporting over the years, though they were often reluctant to stand behind it when they came under attack by the powers-that-be for reporting things TPTB did not want reported. Now, after being acquired by Denver-based MediaNews which in turned fired half their reporters and editors, the Murky News is reduced to reporting on cats that steal socks. On the front of section B (Local News), no less.

WTF?! Look, sock-stealing cats are cute and all, but on page B1?! That's the level of reporting I'd expect from the Benton(LA) Argonaut (population 2035), not from a major city daily! Is this what we're reduced to in the 30th largest metropolitan area in America? Stupid cat tricks?!

Crap, I might as well just cancel my subscription and subscribe to the San Francisco Chronic. The Chronic may not cover much San Jose news, but it seems that the Murky isn't going to cover it either, so I might as well subscribe to a real paper rather than what is, apparently, going to be just another small town bird cage liner...

-- Badtux the Newspaper Penguin

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Yes, it really WAS that easy...

So I finally feel well enough to plug in the USB sound system into the Mac. Hmm. Nothing shows up on the screen. Go into sound preferences. Oh, there it is. Turn on the mixer, and adjust the levels so that my guitar mike hits a couple of bars below the top and my vocals mike hits a couple of bars below the top. Fire up Garage Band. Figure out how to make a track from a "natural instrument". Figure out how to add an "effect" to that track, like compression and reverb, but end up choosing effects from the nifty list of effects ("male vocals" for the vocal mike, "clean" for the guitar -- I'll add a little reverb to it later, but my guitar style prefers a clean soundboard). Assign the vocal mike channel to the track. Create a second track, and assign the guitar mike channel to the track. Make sure the little red "record" icons are lit for both tracks. Press "Record". Huh. That's it?

Yep, that's it. It Just Works(tm). No fuss. No muss. No hassles.

Now I just need to write a couple of songs. (Actually have ideas for a couple, one called "Independence Day" and one called "Liberation", just need to flesh them out).

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

Those poor Scandinavians...

I mean, they got that socialist medicine thingy going. They got those high taxes and stuff. They probably live in grey dreary cities, eating mush for supper, in impoverished dreary nations where everybody is poor and stuff, right?

Errr... not so much. Turns out that one in 85 Norwegians is a millionaire, as vs. 1 in 125 Americans. *AND* they get free health care. *AND* they get free university tuition. *AND* they have the world's best infant mortality figures. *AND* they have the world's longest lifespan. And their cities are beautiful. And income inequality is relatively low -- with living wage laws and high taxes, the middle class actually control more of the national income than the upper class, and unlike here in the United States, the middle class is seeing their standard of living improve, not decline. Wow, imagine that, what a remarkable thing that must be!

Crap, if that's what socialized medicine and high taxes do for a people, gimme some of dat!

-- Badtux the neo-Scandinavian Penguin

Warning! Kitty pile ahead!


-- Badtux the Soothed Penguin

The goals of the guerilla

As I pointed out in previous articles in this series, nobody fights a guerilla war if they don't have to. People fight a guerilla war because they lack the strength and weaponry to fight a straight-up war against the oppressing government. They fight with two goals in mind: 1) To render the country ungovernable by eliminating or subverting the mechanisms of civil governance such as city counsellors, tax collectors, etc., and 2) to make it as expensive as possible for the oppressor, i.e., to require the oppressor to maintain large and expensive forces to maintain the occupation.

The thing about a guerilla war is that it comes to a positive outcome for the guerilla only in one of two ways: 1) the guerilla forces become powerful enough to take on the opposition forces in a straight-up military campaign, or 2) the nation which has deployed the opposition forces is drained by the expense of maintaining large military forces in the country and withdraws said forces. Other than that, there has never been a successful guerilla war. Just ask the Biafrans. The ones that the Nigerians didn't starve to death, anyhow.

When we talk about Iraq, #1 is out of the question. No nation, anywhere, will ever have the ability to take on the U.S. military in a straight-up military campaign. Like the Israeli military, the U.S. military has an overwhelming technological advantage and will always be able to bring overwhelming firepower upon any opposing forces. Except... uhm... that's what the Israelis thought about Hezballah in Lebanon, right? That a two-bit guerilla army was never going to be able to take on the IDF in a straight-up fight? And HA fought the IDF to basically a standstill, taking out dozens of tanks and killing hundreds of Israeli soldiers, by fighting a smart defense in depth with a massive advantage in terms of manpower, intelligence, and pre-prepared fortifications. If I were a U.S. general right now, I'd be very worried and starting to look at my evacuation options.

#2 is definitely underway. That's the whole point of all the roadside bombs and the destruction of the bridges via truck bombs -- to make it very expensive to supply and support the troops in Iraq. It seems clear that the shaky U.S. economy simply cannot afford the two million or so boots on the ground that would be needed to completely pacify Iraq. The end result is that we will withdraw -- either that, or our military will collapse and #1 (the complete and utter destruction of our military via opposiing enemy action) will occur.

Anyhow, back to the problem of our own monarchs. Our own monarchs control the atomic bomb. You can bet that if some uppity area of the country -- say, California -- gets tired of monarchical rule, our own monarchs will have no compunctions about using whatever force is necessary to make sure that the monarchy does not fall. And you can bet that the poorly-educated and envious military caste who currently make up the majority of our armed forces and internal police forces will have no compunction about doing all the application of force necessary to bring into line people who, after all, aren't like them. Our rulers, by deliberately creating a poorly educated and violent military caste, have ensured themselves sufficient manpower to maintain control over the vast military machinery that this nation has accumulated over the past sixty years.

Now for the question of whether guerilla warfare against our own monarchs has any chance at all of succeeding. The answer to part 1), outright battle, is outright *no*. The military caste which our monarchs have built up -- a military caste which, BTW, also comprises the majority of our nation's police forces -- views with suspicion anyone outside that military caste, and possesses sufficient weaponry to insure compliance upon the part of the majority of the citizenry.

However, the anti-monarchical forces do have a vulnerability to part 2), making monarchical rule more expensive than the alternative. The deal is, you aren't going to do that via violence. Short of massive oppression on the part of our monarchs, the majority of Americans are not in any way going to be supportive of violence. What you have to do is make it expensive to maintain the monarchy. You can do this by moving as much as possible outside of the tax system, by subverting local instruments of monarchical power in order to isolate the monarchs, and otherwise make it difficult and expensive to maintain monarchical rule. This already happening. Our monarchs are now capable of maintaining their rule only via borrowing vast sums of money from foreign and somewhat hostile powers (or do you not consider the poisonous and dangerous toys, tires, and etc. coming from China tantamount to a declaration of hostility?).

The problem then becomes twofold. Either the monarchs will blink and return sufficient power to We The People to keep us sheep contented and on the farm so that we can be more easily fleeced, or We The People will jump the fence and enough of us will refuse to participate in the travesty of monarchical rule that it will be impossibly expensive to imprison us all, at which point... then what? History is not kind to the "then what?" question. Invariably, "then what?" turns out to be a bloodbath, followed by a violent dictatorship controlled by small and violent men that continues the bloodletting. Let us hope that our monarchs see these same two choices ahead of them, and will make the correct decision. Otherwise... well, let us hope there will be no "otherwise".

-- Badtux the Guerilla Penguin

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The blood of tyrants

Today is Bastille Day in France, a celebration of the overthrow of the French monarchy. Here is a song which celebrates the overthrow of tyrants. It is the French national anthem. Please go read the English translation of the lyrics and come back.





. Okay, you're back. So what do you think? Suitably bloodthirsty? Not exactly your typical national anthem, eh, what with all that bit about bloodthirsty ripping of babes out of wombs and such.

Some say that we need our own Bastille Day to overthrow the tyrants who control our nation (who, I might add, are not our elected officials -- they are, for the most part, puppets of the real rulers of our nation, the wealthy elite that prefers to work behind the scenes). The problem is what happens next. Once a people becomes accustomed to blood, there is no end to the blood. Rule of law is over, and rule of gun is the only rule. The end result, typically, is that the worst amongst us come out on top -- those with the least morals, the most willingness to kill upon the slightest whim, the least consideration for the least amongst us.

For the French, the result of overthrowing the monarchy led inevitably to Napoleon, who killed millions during his quest to conquer Europe, including over a million Frenchmen whose lives he threw away. While it would certainly be satisfying to take the puppet George W. Bush to the gallows and stretch his neck, and past that point take all the rulers of America and stretch their necks -- Richard and Helen DeVos, the Olin family, the Bradley family, the Scaife family, etc. -- then what? That road inevitably leads down the same road that the garroting of the French royal family led down -- blood, misery, and millions of dead.

One of the geniuses of our founding fathers is that, by and large, they did not massacre the supporters of the English monarchy once the pro-monarchy forces lost and American independence was secured. Instead, they exiled those supporters to Canada. There was no bloodbath on American soil outside the blood of soldiers. Perhaps, if we are forced to fight a new war of independence against a new monarchy, that would be a reasonable solution for dealing with our own monarchs. Except instead of sending them to Canada (which undoubtedly would not want them), I have a much better idea. Send them to Iraq. Naked. With no possessions. No servants. No soldiers or guards. Drop them naked and alone into the middle of the Sadr City suburb of Baghdad. Hey, if it was good enough for our founding fathers... oh wait, I forget, our founding fathers didn't ship the supporters of monarchy naked to Canada. They tarred and feathered them first. Hmm... stock tip: buy stock in feather companies.

-- Badtux the History Penguin

Apple Airtunes and wired networks

Contrary to popular belief, you can stream Airtunes over a wired Ethernet to the Apple Airport Express. You have to set up the Airport Express in "bridging" mode and turn on the setting to accept Airtunes over Ethernet, but once you do that, it works fine. I'm currently happily streaming Airtunes from my Macbook to the Netgear Wireless-N router and from thence via Ethernet to the Airport Express.

Right now, my big issue is getting my Windows XP laptop to hook to the Airport Express via Wireless-G. I don't want to hook it to the Netgear Wireless-N router because then it'll slow down everything to Wireless-G speeds. I think I'm having a key conflict here, but how to resolve it is proving difficult. It would sorta suck to have to bring back my D-Link wireless-G router back into the equation when the whole point of this was to simplify my networking setup (which had altogether too many switches, bridges, etc. in the equation).

-- Badtux the Computer Penguin

NetGear WNR854T Wireless-N Router

The full thingy on the box says, "Netgear RangeMax Next Wireless-N Router GIgabit Edition (WNR854T)". It should more properly say, "Pretty Pathetic".

Let's look at the "Pretty" part first. It is pretty. Most wireless routers look like something designed in Communist Russia -- crude, ugly, at best functional. A couple of them look like miniaturized alien spacecraft that just hunkered down for a landing on the shelf above your computer desk. The RangeMax Next, on the other hand, looks like a sleek piece of computer furniture, sorta like the wireless router counterpart of what my Macbook is to computers. It's pretty. It looks great up there above my computer desk.

Also good: All five ports (the four switch ports and the WAN port) are Gigabit Ethernet ports. And the switch ports even work at full speed as just a plain old switch. Tests with my Macbook also show that it is approximately 4.5 times faster than my old D-Link DI-524 Wireless-G router when it comes to retrieving files via the Wifi connection. This is about what you'd expect, because Wireless-N claims to go 240Mbit/sec while Wireless-G claims to go 54Mbit/sec (reality is that neither comes anywhere close to acheiving their claims in the crowded spectrum of my apartment, where I can pick ten WiFI networks out of the air when I go to join my network).

Now for the bad. First of all, let's look at the operating software accessed via the browser interface. It's pretty. It's also pretty pathetic. D-Link has a reputation as bottom feeder Taiwanese junk, but my D-Link is positively brilliant compared to this Netgear POS. My D-Link reboots the router when you change most major settings, but at least the D-Link doesn't take much time to do so. The WNR854T, on the other hand, reboots the router when you change even minor settings, and takes freakin' forever to reboot. Indeed, watching the blinky lights, it appears that many times it reboots twice before it'll finally accept a connection.

Now let's look at that wireless performance. It appears that this router, which uses a Marvell chipset, has problems talking AES to the Atheros chip in my Mac. So using WPA2/AES-PSK does not work with the expected speed. Connections slow to a crawl after the first megabyte or so are transferred. My suspicion is that this is a problem with the key-shifting algorithm used inside the Netgear, which attempts to derive "truly" random numbers using various entropy sources and thus runs out of keys once the entropy pool is exhausted. Whatever it is, I'm back to WPA/PSK, which at least isn't utterly broken like WEP but still isn't as secure as WPA2/AES.

Now, let's look at the "auto" setting for channels. I've set up an alias for the /System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/Apple80211.framework/Versions/Current/Resources/airport utility on my Macbook, so I can type "airport -s" to do a channel scan and see which channels are in use. When I allowed the router to choose its channel, it plunked itself down right in the middle of four other networks! So I moved the Netgear manually to a channel in the middle of three open channels, and it is now operating at the speed I expect.


So anyhow, I thought I was fine, but then I enabled netatalk on my Linux box and tried to copy over a 500gb file (an ISO image) via the wireless to my Macbook. After exactly 13 seconds, the router rebooted. WTF?! So I tried again. After exactly 13 seconds, the router rebooted. GAH! And this is with the latest firmware update too!

This sucker is going *BACK*. Period. I'm going to try a D-Link DIR-655 next, which uses the same Atheros chipset as the Macbook and hopefully will be far more stable at high speeds.

-- Badtux the Networking Penguin