I’m a programmer by trade. I read a lot of tech-related and programming sites, both for the good tips and the horror stories. We’ve all heard about the IT guy who forgot to backup the production server (oops!) or the janitor who unplugged the AC in the server room (ouch!). All kinds of fun in the world of corporate IT.
We’ve even heard about some commercial software with heinous errors. Games with no sound. Security software that steals your resources. Sony installing rootkits. Microsoft software.
Eve Online, however, has just gone one step beyond. If you installed their new expansion, Trinity, on opening day, it deleted your boot.ini file. You can no longer boot Windows.
Even a rootkit leaves your computer working for a little while.
In case you haven’t heard of it, Eve Online is a space combat MMORPG. There are somewhere around 300,000 subscribers, and 30,000 people online on an average night. Tens of thousands of potential victims.
Of course, there was no warning that this would happen. They did not send out any kind of alert until a day later – today at 5:45pm EST. If you happened to reboot or shut down your system in that time, and you’re not running Linux (my saving grace), you’d be greeted with a unusable computer.
This is simply inexcusable. CCP, the developer of Eve, and whose slogan is “We Care More, We Work Harder,” is a professional software development firm. They should have tested what they’re putting on your computer. My God, you’d think making a computer inoperable would make one of their QA people say “Hmmm… that can’t be right.” There is no conceivable reason for the game installer to even touch the boot.ini file, forget about deleting it.
Over the years, a few pieces of software have really impressed me. They’re not just refined, they go a step beyond their competitors to produce a more elegant experience. Here is my short list.
Zsh – Bash’s big brother. Better completion, more customizable, great builtins, just as fast.
Linux kernel – If you ask me, this Unix clone has surpassed its master. A free, stable, modular kernel with a huge support base, what more could you ask for?
Gentoo Linux – A remarkable way to package an OS. Gentoo gives you the flexibility and power to turn the Linux kernel into a full, beautiful environment without the worries of many other distributions.
Amarok – I keep discovering more thoughtful features of this music player. It can move audio files to your collection with any naming format you choose. It has great dynamic playlisting, podcasting, and net radio support. I couldn’t begin to list everything, but it still doesn’t feel bloated.
Firefox – No other browser to this day has given developers such a good platform for improving the client-side web experience. Since the web might actually move us towards the “thin client” dreams of old, this is increasingly important. Specific addons I couldn’t live without – Adblock, Noscript, Firebug. And then there’s Greasemonkey, a platform on a platform for a platform. You could call it web3.
All free software.
Today’s review will cover an “interesting” article from Businessweek on the so-called Wal-Mart Effect. The author’s journalistic skill will be shamelessly torn down and mocked. Enjoy.
Essentially, he says that Wal-Mart’s pricing on a single flat-panel TV in the Christmas season has fundamentally and permanently changed the landscape of the electronics market as a whole. A no-name TV, specifically a 42″ Viore, was priced at $988. A similar Panasonic was priced at $1294. Other retailers couldn’t match these prices – or didn’t want to – as their prices had been nearly double that for some time.
Cleary, this was an evil act. I mean, come on, retailers are going out of business.
The fallout is evident: After closing 70 stores in February, Circuit City Stores on Mar. 28 laid off 3,400 employees and put its 800 Canadian stores on the block. Tweeter Home Entertainment Group, the high-end home entertainment store, is shuttering 49 of its 153 stores and dismissed 650 workers. Dallas-based CompUSA is closing 126 of its 229 stores, and regional retailer Rex Stores is boarding up dozens of outlets, as well as selling 94 of its 211 stores. […] Circuit City shares have fallen 24%, to $18.76, since the end of November, when the price war started. In the same period, Tweeter’s shares declined 32%, to $1.72, near a 52-week low, and Best Buy’s stock is down 9%, to $48.73. Shares of Rex Stores have been flat, down 0.7%, to $16.98. […] The carnage has one phrase written all over it: the “Wal-Mart effect.”
The world is going wireless. We’ve been seeing the trend for 20 years, and it’s really gained momentum in the last five. Not only do all new laptops have wifi built in, but many new desktop computers do as well. It’s getting difficult to find someone who doesn’t own a cell phone. Portable music players, such as the Zune, are getting interesting wireless capabilities. Home entertainment equipment is going wireless to prevent the mess of cables pictured over on the right. All new cars have wireless key fobs for easier entry. I could go on all day.
Not all wireless devices are a commercial success, of course. Remember the portable TVs of the 90’s? They were in every electronics store and usually had a 2″ screen. You never see one anymore. It’s because of the popularity of cable and satellite TV, and the unwillingness to settle for three channels. It is not because of the screen, I might note – geeks go crazy for tiny screens for the portability. I predict that we’ll see a resurgence of portable televisions, though in a different form. We’ll have television streamed onto portable media players through wifi or cellular broadband. And this brings us to the topic of this post.
Cellular broadband is the only commercially viable method of sending data wirelessly to the entire country. Public wifi networks only exist in a few major cities. Satellite is available, but not feasible due to cost and receiver size. Cellular networks such as EVDO and HSDPA are virtually nationwide, the new standards are coming soon, and the older EDGE and 1xRTT standards are available as fallbacks.
Think of what we could do with the cellular data networks in an ideal world. First of all, no cables. Your computers wouldn’t need network cables, your TV wouldn’t need a cable line, your online-capable video game systems wouldn’t even need a wireless router. Your cell phone or portable media player could be fully internet capable, not crippled like most current devices. Your car, house, and appliances could send you maintenance reports. You’d never lose a device again, because they’d all have GPS-like capabilities. You’d worry a lot less about stolen goods for the same reason. And these are just the basics.
So why isn’t cellular data more widespread? Because the cellular companies like their profits. Huge profits. Text messages are marked up 7314% from the data charge, and the data charge itself is marked up by an even larger percentage. The most basic data plan for a PDA from Cingular is $19.99/month for five megabytes. For comparison, I can download five megabytes at home in about five seconds, for a cost per megabyte of 0.007 cents. The first unlimited plan, not including any text or media messaging, is $44.99/month.
Quite frankly, it’s absurd, and I think it’s holding back technological progress. It seems to be another case of short-term thinking on the part of the business, and consumers lacking the information they need to make better decisions.
Maybe if more of the consumers knew they were paying a 285,571% markup for mobile data, they would have a word with their cell phone provider.
When I need a new computer, I rely on my wife. She’s the expert.
wife: what about from Falcon?
wife: I’m totally going to check their site and price out a spectacular computer for you
wife: you’ll be totally amazed at my computer prowess
wife: MACH 5!
wife: the best of the best
wife: and it involves silicon
wife: which is like big boobies
wife: so obviously this is the one you want to get
wife: and I’m going to configure it for you as well
wife: I clicked on the “Bragging Rights” computer
wife: which costs slightly less than your car did.
wife: ok how about the middle one?
wife: it’s like $5k
wife: that’s chump change!
wife: for donald trump.
wife: i selected the chassis with teh FLAMES
wife: what’s a computer chassis?
wife: I don’t know
wife: but this one has FLAMES