The rantings of a beautiful mind

On life, society, and computer technology.

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I live in the Fortress of Solitude. I drive the Silver Beast. My obsession is justice. I used to be a Windows software developer. I retired in 2000 when my stock options helped me achieve financial security.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

It ALWAYS Comes Down to Money!

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.
- Theodore Roosevelt

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

I still think the Iraq War was all about OIL and GREED. What Bush did was neither honourable nor noble, and does not in any sense follow the creed of Theodore Roosevelt. He LIED to the world to justify his war over petroleum (there were no WMD in Iraq; there was no link between Saddam and al Qaeda).

And he further LIED to the American people that they are now safer as a result of the Iraq War. There is no evidence, and no reason to believe, that the United States are safer from terrorism today. For the born-again Bush, it is merely an article of faith.

In any moment of decision, you must act on the basis of moral rectitude, not out of greed for wealth and oil. Bush deserves as much respect as a rutting pig.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Workstation Smarts


You are the head of a national laboratory and you are looking for a powerful workstation to model genetic research or drug interactions or criminal forensics. You don’t have an unlimited budget so you want to avoid spending tens of thousands of dollars on a RISC workstation from the likes of HP and IBM. So you look at the following alternatives (in Canada, as of January 15, 2006)...

Dell Precision 670 XP64 Edition
Two Dual-core 2.8 GHz Xeon processors
800 MHz Frontside bus
4 GB ECC memory (400 MHz)
250 GB hard disk
16x DVD burner
256 MB NVIDIA Quadro FX 3450 graphics
3 year warranty

(With a 512 MB NVIDIA Quadro FX 4500, the price is $10,008 - Ouch!)

HP xw9300
Two 2.6 GHz Opteron processors
800 MHz Frontside bus
4 GB ECC memory (400 MHz)
73 GB SCSI hard disk
16x DVD burner
256 MB NVIDIA Quadro FX 3400 graphics
3 year warranty

Sun Java Workstation W2100z
Two 2.6 GHz Opteron processors
800 MHz Frontside bus
4 GB ECC memory (400 MHz)
73 GB SCSI hard disk
CD-RW/DVD drive
256 MB NVIDIA Quadro FX 4000 graphics
1 year warranty

Apple Power Mac G5 Quad 2.5 GHz
Two Dual-core 2.5 GHz PowerPC G5 processors
1.25 GHz Frontside bus
4 GB ECC memory (533 MHz)
250 GB hard disk
16x DVD burner
256 MB NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GT (terrific graphics!!)
3 year warranty

(With a 512 MB NVIDIA Quadro FX 4500, the price is $7,598 - still a bargain!)


(1) According to this website:

  • The HP and Sun workstations are terribly underpowered compared to the Power Mac.
  • The Dell workstation is equal to the Power Mac.

(2) The Power Mac has a much faster Frontside bus which, with a 2-to-1 CPU-to-bus ratio, significantly improves performance.

As you can see, the Apple Power Mac is absolutely a BARGAIN compared to the closest equivalents from Dell, HP, and Sun!! And the Power Mac is extremely stylish to boot! (The other machines are visual embarrassments.)

No wonder, as the head of a national laboratory, you choose the Power Mac! You are a smart leader.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Portable Mac Computing

Apple’s approach to the mobile market is pure and elegant: Make it as small and lightweight as possible, make it as clean and simple as possible, and make it really stylish. This is true of the iPod and it is also true of their portable computers. The iBook and PowerBook series are remarkably thin and light, hence the reason for their higher premiums. This is clearly illustrated by the following comparos...

Apple 17” PowerBook G4
ATI Radeon 9700
1 GB memory
100 GB disk drive 7200 rpm
Height: 1”
Weight: 6.9 lbs

Dell Inspiron XPS M170
17” TrueLife LCD
1 GB memory
100 GB disk drive 7200 rpm
Height: 1.67”
Weight: 8.6 lbs
Windows XP Professional Edition

Dell Inspiron 9300
17” TrueLife LCD
1 GB memory
100 GB disk drive 7200 rpm
Height: 1.6”
Weight: 7.9 lbs
Windows XP Professional Edition

The XPS M170 is Dell’s Top-of-the-Line notebook and is priced pretty closely to the PowerBook. The Inspiron 9300 is much cheaper and I really don’t understand why – why would you choose the M170 over the 9300???

At any rate, the Inspiron notebooks are boat anchors compared to the PowerBook (1.67” and 8.6 lbs compared to 1” and 6.9 lbs).

At the “low end”...

Apple 14” iBook G4
ATI Radeon 9550
512 MB memory
60 GB hard disk
Height: 1.35”
Weight: 5.9 lbs

Dell Inspiron 630m
14” TrueLife LCD
Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900
1 GB memory
100 GB hard disk
Height: 1.5”
Weight: 5.5 lbs
Windows XP Professional Edition

The iBook is slightly more compact than the 630m. (The cheaper Inspiron 6000 weighs 6.7 lbs.) I have to say, though, that the value proposition for the iBook is not as impressive as for the iMac or Mac mini. Even though the iBook costs $50 more than the 630m, it has less memory and a smaller hard drive. But one knock against the 630m is that its Graphics Media Accelerator is much slower than the Radeon 9550 (it also takes away up to 128 MB from your system memory!).

For smaller, lighter, affordable models from Apple and Dell, we have:

Apple 12” iBook G4
ATI Radeon 9550
512 MB memory
100 GB hard disk
CD-RW/DVD drive
Height: 1.35”
Weight: 4.9 lbs

Dell Inspiron 710m
12" TrueLife LCD
Intel Extreme Graphics
512 MB memory
100 GB hard disk
DVD burner
NO Bluetooth available
Height: 1.5”
Weight: 4.2 lbs
Windows XP Professional Edition

The iBook costs $140 less than the 710m, but it doesn't have a DVD burner and it weighs slightly more. On the other hand, the 710m doesn't have Bluetooth and it comes with the much inferior Intel graphics. On the basis of price, then, I give the nod to Apple.

(See the "comments" section for a discussion on ultra-portables...)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Origin of Feces

I was just looking at my personal website from five years ago when I had retired. (I had backed up the website to my print server.) It’s amusing to see what I wrote then – some of it was kinda retarded, some of it was prescient, and some of it is still true today! Here’s something I wrote then:

The Origin of Feces

This is the tale of one man’s journey through chronic depression, a world of helplessness and of hopelessness. A world composed of grays and bland flavours, of music without melody. It is despair founded upon self-delusions. It is regret born of failed ambitions.

Our story takes us back to his university days. There, he was a geeky kid entering college, following in the footsteps of a childhood friend in physics whom he revered. Fresh from a high school degree distinguished by soaring grades in his last two years, he had high hopes of conquering the scholastic world, of becoming a great scientist or engineer.

But this boy, not yet a man (and never to become one), suffered from two enormous afflictions. First, he was addicted to television, a mental narcotic if ever there was one. It consumed a great deal of time, a resource that was crucial to meeting his ambition.

Second, he was by nature as lazy as one can imagine. Lacking in self-discipline - and believing he had resolve where there was none - he suffered a humiliating defeat in his first year of university. This shattered his illusion of scholastic invincibility. He realized that he had coasted through high school and that his impressive grades had come only from his native abilities, which can only take you so far in the much more demanding environs of a world-class school.

As he struggled through his physics curriculum, his grades continued to slip year after year. In his fourth year, it finally sunk in that he had no hope of entering Graduate School; nothing could be done to turn things around.

So invested was he in the notion of becoming a scientist, he saw no other course for his life. He viewed himself as an enormous failure, and thinking that he had no alternative options available, on a cold wintry evening he contemplated suicide.

Few people could understand the depth of the low that he experienced. It was as if a dark veil had dropped over his world, hiding all that existed outside of his academic dream. It was worse than any nightmare. It was emptier than any void. It was the end of all things.

In a sliver of time that was almost too short to measure, two decisions were made. First, he decided to take his own life. It is frightening to think how easy it is to cross that threshold between light and dark; this highlights the fragility of life in no other way you can know.

And, then, an instant later, he decided not to throw his life away. Somehow, something somewhere within his spirit found purchase and he gained enough courage to step back from the brink.

Moments later, he felt a wave of fear wash over him. It had been too close. It had been perilously easy. And he vowed that he would never allow himself to become so vulnerable again.

He had given no thought to his family, to how they would deal with his demise. Suicide is a purely selfish act, the ultimate manifestation of ego. He was so relieved not to have created this alternative timeline. For the sake of his family and friends.

He learned several things from his experience. From now on, he would always have some empathy with, and understanding of, desperate people seeking final relief. He also learned one of the key reasons for suicide: the inability to find one’s direction in life. Without purpose or destination, life is but an interminable hunger. The emptiness one feels becomes increasingly unbearable, if you haven’t found the strength to steel yourself against it.

And this marked the beginning of his decades-long depression. To always hold back the emptiness drained him of so much life energy that life became colourless and apathetic.

As the years rolled on, another demon raised its ugly head: the need for intimate companionship. Because he lacked social skills, as well as self-confidence, he was never able to connect with women. This was further compounded by a mental disconnect between what was realistic and attainable, and what was fantasy. He regarded women, first and foremost, as sex objects and this limited his choice. A long string of failed attempts to contact all kinds of extraordinary women ultimately destroyed his motivation and drive.

This was an attitude that remained unassailable for all of his life thus far and it explained his depression for most of the last two decades. As the end of the millennium approached, he sought therapy for his depression. While it helped, another development surfaced that ultimately provided the solution to his decade-long funk: he became financially independent.

No one is suggesting that money can buy you happiness, but having been freed from the travails of earning a living, he acquired enough time to mount a campaign to change his life around. Recognizing that his physical health had become of paramount importance to having a tolerable retirement, he focussed on improving his physical fitness. He took up karate training and (miracle of miracles!) was able to maintain a strict regimen. This was all the more remarkable because all previous attempts to get into shape over the years had failed due to lack of self-discipline.

The difference this time, however, was two-fold. First, he found a remarkably good martial arts school that was highly conducive to regular training. And, second, he used ‘imagery’ to reinforce his motivation.

This imagery was based on the legend of the Batman, the Dark Knight. It sounds silly, but it worked! By picturing himself as a Batman figure, he had something to work towards, something to aim for. The imagery was very powerful and more than sufficient to motivate him over his usual lethargy.

Today he no longer suffers from chronic depression. He has found his way out of his despondency. While he still doesn’t have a direction in life, he is now optimistic that he will eventually find his way. As for intimate companionship, well, he at least continues to harbour hope…which means he should be able to work towards it. He may never find it, but that is not nearly as important as trying. The first step in what he expects to be a fairly long journey is to build up his self-confidence. And who knows what will follow then?

Small moves. Combined with hope and optimism, this is the first time he can say he is actually living. This is as close as he has ever come to achieving ‘happiness,’ for you can hear him humming tunes all day long as he goes through his daily routine. (How many of you hum tunes throughout the day?)

Small moves. Reduced to its basic simplicity, life is pretty good. And, so, the journey continues.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

When Opportunity Meets Preparation

Wise (and very successful) people have told me that there is no such thing as luck. “Luck,” they say, “is when Opportunity meets Preparation.”

Bill Gates was not “lucky.” The DR-DOS and IBM opportunity came at the right time and he was Prepared for it, having created Microsoft and working hard on small computers and BASIC.

I was not lucky, either. The ATI opportunity came at the right time and I had been Preparing for this day, having made all the right career choices from 1980 to 1993. (I had been trying to get into ATI for years.)

As the New Year 2006 approaches, I am, once again, Prepared for more Opportunities. The hard work that I put into my therapy these past three years will hopefully pay off. Will I finally find the love of my life? Will I finally get into archery and Tai Chi? Will I create my first commercial website using Ruby on Rails? Will I find a new career doing Macromedia Flash development? Or will it be something entirely different that I haven’t even imagined yet?! The world is my oyster...

Preparation + Opportunity => Luck

The best of luck and prosperity to all of you in the New Year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Alternative to Windows: Staying with Windows!

For God's sake, if you insist on using Windows, at least take some serious precautions:

1. DO NOT use Microsoft's Internet Explorer. This web browser is a security hazard! I recommend an alternative browser such as Mozilla Firefox.

2. DO NOT use Microsoft's Outlook email client. This, too, is a security hazard. I recommend using the Mozilla Thunderbird email client.

3. Make a full system backup of your pristine computer after you've configured it to your liking and before you start using it on a daily basis (including installing applications). That way, if you encounter any weirdness with your computer, you can simply restore the system from your backup CDs/DVD. Remember, your Windows environment is not to be trusted, especially over a long period of time.

4. Install and use an Antivirus program. You can purchase Norton AntiVirus or McAfee, but you can also get away with one of these free antivirus programs: avast! Home Edition from ALWIL, or AVG Free Edition from Grisoft, or AntiVir. I personally use avast! on my Windows machines.

(If you must BUY an antivirus program, I recommend BitDefender. It's much better than Norton, and better than McAfee.)

It's a good idea to install anti-spyware programs, too. On the free side, I recommend both Spybot Search & Destroy and Ad-Aware - you can't have too many anti-spyware programs!

I recently purchased Spy Sweeper, the BEST anti-spyware program available! Highly recommended.

5. Use a cable/DSL router. A router provides a hardware firewall which I highly recommend. A software firewall, such as the one built into Windows, is fine, but you want the added security of a hardware firewall - trust me.

If you use a wireless router, do enable WEP/WPA security.

6. Avoid the very costly Microsoft Office suite of applications. It is far too expensive. An excellent alternative is the Open Source suite known as OpenOffice (yes, it runs on Windows!). Its word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation applications are just as powerful as their Microsoft counterparts. It even has a database program similar to Microsoft Access, which is not available in the Standard Edition of Microsoft Office. And here's the kicker: OpenOffice is entirely free!

Microsoft Office also poses a security hazard because of things like ActiveX, VBA and macros. OpenOffice avoids all that.

And be prepared to restore your computer from backup about once every year or two. (Read about "Windows Rot" here.) It will mean having to save all your critical data files to CD/DVD first. I know it's a hassle, but that's the price you pay for Windows computing...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Hybrid Home Computing Environment

For those who are on a budget, Apple does offer a low-cost entry into the world of Mac computing. It's called the Mac mini and it is simply a stripped down Mac computer (say, the iBook portable) without a display, keyboard or mouse. You can attach a display, keyboard or mouse from your old Windows PC if you have one, or buy these peripherals separately if you don't. In this respect, the Mac mini is a great way to **add** Mac computing to your home Windows environment, making it, in effect, a "hybrid" environment. Why would you want to do this?

Well, you would benefit from the security and easy, fun-to-use aspect of Mac computing without giving up that one special Windows application that you can't duplicate on the Mac. This is a convenient, painless way to transition over to the Mac.

Did I mention that the Mac mini is awfully cute? Measuring 6.5" by 6.5" square by 2" in height, this little unit is a masterpiece of industrial design by Apple. You can tuck it away anywhere and it looks great with any decor. For this reason, it is not cheap, but it **is** affordable. As of December 25, 2005...

Mac mini
512 MB memory
80 GB hard disk
CD-RW/DVD drive
ATI Radeon 9200 graphics
Wireless networking, including Bluetooth
Operating System: OS X

Dell Dimension 1100
512 MB memory
80 GB hard disk
CD-RW/DVD drive
Intel Extreme Graphics (a video solution inferior to ATI)
Wireless networking (NO Bluetooth available)
Operating System: Windows XP Professional Edition

The Dell box costs $121 less than the Mac mini. However, the Dell box is just that: a big, ugly box showing the company's lack of design skills. And, of course, you also have to put up with all the ugliness of Windows computing.

One more thing: The Dell box uses a 2.53 GHz Celeron D processor. This is the lowest performance chip in the Intel arsenal, used only in the cheapest computers. Typical PCs use the Pentium 4.

The Mac mini, on the other hand, uses a 1.42 GHz PowerPC G4 processor. This is the same processor used in the iBook portable. It is also the same chip (at 1.25 GHz) used in the previous generation iMac G4. This is no dumbed down processor!

If you're an iPod user, you have another incentive to migrate over to the Mac mini: they look, and work, great together! (The iPod and Windows are an awkward match.)

There is an even cheaper entry to Mac computing: for $629, the Mac mini is available with a slightly slower 1.25 GHz PowerPC G4 processor and a smaller 40 GB hard drive (wireless networking is optional). For many people, this is more than good enough and is a fabulous deal...

Alternative to Windows: Apple Mac

For those of you who don't mind spending some money to get out-of-this-world quality, the Apple Mac is an excellent Windows alternative. Apple is renown for their fabulous industrial designs exemplified by such products as the iPod audio player and the gorgeous flat-panel Cinema Displays. Their computer products, including the majestic Power Mac workstations, the awfully cute Mac mini, the PowerBook portables and the stunning iMac, are no exceptions.

Apple hardware exhibits extraordinary fit and finish, whereas Dell hardware feels cheap by comparison. And Apple software is incredibly easy and fun to use! This website tells no lies...

Although you may think you have to pay an arm and a leg for such luxurious computing, a comparison of the fully decked out iMac with an equivalent model Windows PC from Dell shows that the price difference is neglibile. In Canada, as of December 25, 2005...

Apple iMac G5
20" Widescreen LCD display (great for movies!)
1 GB memory
250 GB hard disk
DVD burner
ATI X600 graphics (great for gaming!)
Wireless networking, including Bluetooth (Look, Ma, no wires!)
Built-in iSight webcam (great for videoconferencing!)
Operating System: OS X

Dell Dimension 5150
20" Widescreen LCD display
1 GB memory
250 GB hard disk
DVD burner
ATI X600 graphics
Wireless networking (NO Bluetooth available)
Logitech Fusion webcam
Operating System: Windows XP Professional Edition

As you can see, there is practically no difference in price, but the iMac is a far more attractive product. The iMac is sleek, streamlined and compact with a very small footprint.

In exploring the Apple Mac as a Windows alternative, we have to look at the advantages of the OS X Operating System. First, OS X is a very safe and secure platform. OS X is based on the near-mythical BSD Unix Operating System. For those who aren't familiar with Unix, it is a venerable platform that has been at the heart of nearly all high-end workstations. Unix has also been the foundation for server computers since, well, forever it seems. In other words, Unix is an industrial strength Operating System!

For the same reason that Linux is safe from viruses, Unix users have little to worry about securitywise. Windows is a far more attractive target for hackers and virus writers. Also, Unix and Linux (which is a Unix-lookalike) are inherently more difficult to breach than Windows.

Second, OS X has arguably the best-looking desktop interface in the world. It is easy to use and powerfully simple. Anything you want to do with the Mac, you can do with no fuss and no complicated series of steps - things "just work."

Third, the best Windows applications are usually available for the Mac, too. If yours isn't, there is almost certainly a perfectly good alternative. Thousands of applications are available for OS X.

Microsoft Office is a case in point! (Who would've thunk that the Microsoft overlords would support the Apple Mac computer?!) Some people believe that the Mac version of Office is actually better than the Windows version!

The Apple Mac and OS X are a wonderful alternative to Windows. I became a Mac convert last year when I purchased a 20" iMac G5. One year later, I am still supremely happy with it!

Friday, December 16, 2005

There can be only one

Unlike Windows, which comes in a variety of "editions," each one with a different feature set, Linux comes in only one flavour: the full-blown Operating System with all the trimmings.

With this in mind, Linux is most directly comparable to the "Professional" version of Windows. In the case of Windows XP, that's the Professional Edition. When Windows Vista comes out sometime in 2006, there will be nine editions! I think Linux will be most directly comparable to the "Professional Edition" or even the "Ultimate Edition" of Vista.

I dislike the marketing games that Microsoft plays with these various editions. It is so much simpler for the consumer to just choose the one best edition that has all the bells and whistles. That's why when you're comparing the cost of Linux versus the cost of Windows, you should be comparing to the best Windows edition that Microsoft sells.

For example, Windows XP Home Edition costs $250 at retail and about $100 when preloaded on a new computer. Remember that the Home Edition is the "neutered" version of Windows.

Assuming that you were considering the purchase of the "commercial" version of SUSE Linux for US$60, the question that has to be asked is: Why would you want to pay at least as much money for a less-endowed edition of Windows?

As far as I'm concerned, there should be only one version of an Operating System for sale: the best version!

Alternative to Windows: Open Source

Open Source is the free software movement that is taking the world by storm. It is altruism, pure and simple. Under Open Source, software is freely available in source code form so that **anyone** can use it, modify it, give it away or make money from it by way of ancillary services.

Two of the most prominent examples of Open Source are the Linux Operating System and the OpenOffice suite of productivity applications (including word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, and database). These two represent a fine alternative to the Windows platform.

Linux is available in what are called "distributions" (this is fancy lingo meaning "a kind of packaging"). There are dozens and dozens of distributions, many of which have short longevity. Therefore, I recommend choosing from the "distros" that are likely to be around ten years from now. In my opinion, these are: Fedora, Mandriva, SUSE, and Ubuntu. You may also wish to consider Linspire and Xandros. My personal favourite is SUSE Linux (from Novell).

Unlike Windows, Linux is quite secure and safe to use. While it is not entirely immune to viruses, for example, I have only heard of one or two incidents of virus attacks on Linux machines in the past ten years. Compare that with Windows, which has hundreds of virus attacks every year!

The reason Windows has experienced so many attacks is because it is so ubiquitous. There are far more Windows machines (and, hence, far more inviting targets) than there are Linux machines. As long as this remains true, Linux will always be comparatively safer.

Linux is also far cheaper than Windows. You can't beat free! While there are commercial Linux distributions that go for less than $100, that's still much cheaper than the equivalent Windows edition. Commercial distros provide you with some official telephone/email support, printed documentation, and some additional software that you may or may not use.

The OpenOffice suite is also far cheaper than Microsoft Office. OpenOffice is free. The commercial version known as StarOffice costs $70. For the vast majority of Office users, OpenOffice has all the power and features that they will ever use.

Since Linux is Open Source, there are no copy protection issues.

Linux is very solid and stable. I have never heard of Linux suffering from the system degradation problems that plague Windows. Once Linux is properly installed and configured, it will continue to run well forever. Like the Energizer Bunny, it just keeps going and going and going...

Because Linux and OpenOffice are Open Source, bug fixes are more timely. Typically, if you report a significant bug to the Open Source folks, it will be fixed in the next software update. The beauty of this is that updates come very frequently. The Open Source update cycle is typically about six months.

Microsoft's update cycle, on the other hand, is about two to three years. That's how often they release Windows "Service Packs," which contain mostly bug fixes.

People often mistakenly complain that Linux is more difficult to use than Windows. However, recent developments have made Linux far more approachable than in the past. For example, Linux has two desktop interfaces that present a much friendlier face to the average computer user. One is called KDE and the other is called GNOME. GNOME is simpler and more elegant, but I feel it is less powerful and not as helpful. I much prefer KDE.

KDE is rather "Windows-like," so if you're coming from the Windows world, this may be the better interface for you.

And, finally, supporting Open Source now ensures that you will be liberated from the tyranny of Microsoft Windows and Office a few years down the road. Let's do all we can to break the Microsoft monopoly!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Shopping for a PC

When shopping for a PC, avoid the big retailers such as Dell, Future Shop and Best Buy. You will do much better at a small computer shop. For example, I buy all my PCs from Union Computer at Yonge & Eglinton in Toronto. It's a small two-person operation, but they provide much better prices and much better service than any of the major retailers. It's easier to have a personal relationship with a small store and over the years Union Computer has done right by me, bending over backwards to resolve all of my computer problems. (It's a bit like having a personal relationship with your local butcher or fish monger who will give you the very best cuts of meat.)

Union will customize a machine for me exactly the way I want it. For example, I have asked them not to include an Operating System so that I can install the OS of my choice at home. This saves me about $100 because this is what Microsoft charges OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) for preloading Windows on every new PC sold. Note that Dell, for example, will NOT sell you a PC without preloading Windows, thanks to the exclusive contract they have with Microsoft.

One other note: The Windows that major retailers will preload on your new PC is Windows XP Home Edition. This is a castrated version of Windows XP Professional Edition, which I regard as the "full" Operating System. In other words, the Professional Edition is "industrial strength" and the Home Edition is "neutered." I don't know about you, but on my computers I want ALL the capabilities present, whether I need them or not.

Alternatives to Windows

Windows may be the world's most popular desktop Operating System, but are there good reasons to switch to an alternative platform? The answer is a resounding Yes!

First, Windows is extremely vulnerable to security problems such as viruses, spyware, break-ins and hacker-controlled "zombies." Because Windows is so ubiquitous, hackers and virus writers always target Windows as their first, and usually only, destination.

Second, Windows can be terribly expensive if you wish to remain to legal. While many people use illegal copies of Windows software (including Microsoft Office), for those who are more ethically minded the costs can rapidly mount up. For example, in Canada,

Windows XP Professional costs $400.
Upgrading to Windows XP Professional costs $250.
Microsoft Office 2003 Standard Edition costs $490.
Upgrading to Microsoft Office 2003 Standard Edition costs $290.


And since Microsoft releases updated versions of their software about once every three years, resulting in major new feature additions, bug fixes and substantial changes to the core software (including file formats), if you choose to upgrade, the continuing costs over a long period of time can be prohibitive.

Third, Microsoft's antipiracy and copy protection scheme is a tremendous nuisance. In particular, if you want to install your software on more than one PC in your home (I have three PCs in my home), you can't do it, not without having a separate license for each PC (which, again, can be prohibitively expensive). Copy protection is also very inconvenient, sometimes creating usability problems.

Fourth, in my experience Windows suffers from issues of system degradation. For reasons that I cannot identify, Windows performance becomes erratic as time wears on, exhibiting odd behaviours and mysterious slowdowns. And this has nothing to do with viruses and malware! Read this blog article for more information.

I find that every couple of years I have to wipe the hard disk clean and reinstall Windows from scratch. I've done this on two of my three PCs, and I've done this on a friend's computer on two occasions.

(Microsoft may argue that these machines have been infected with viruses. Even assuming that it is true, it only points to my first major reason for avoiding Windows!)

Fifth, because Windows and Office are proprietary software and they're only updated about once every three years, if there are any bugs that you want fixed, you have to wait until the next update (and pay for it!). That's assuming the bugs will be fixed - there are no guarantees. And three years can be a LONG time.

As you can see, Windows has many downsides. While it does have upsides as well, such as familiarity, breadth of available applications, and support for the latest, bleeding edge hardware, for most people these are not worth the headaches that I've listed above. For example, most people use only a very limited selection of applications. This includes email, websurfing, office suite, and multimedia. Such applications are readily available on other platforms.

The only exception that I'd mention is in the area of video games. If you are heavily into PC video games, than Windows is really your only platform.

Next time, we'll discuss available alternatives to using Windows...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

I believe I’ve discovered where I got “stuck” in my childhood development. The following is such a close match that there can really be no doubt about it...

In the CONCERN phase of childhood:


Some children fail to make friends and are thwarted in their attempts to be included in the group. Such setbacks produce an adaptation that I call the “lonely child.” There are usually three possible explanations for this. Often his parents, overprotective and overrestrictive, fear the loss of the child. They are quick to voice disapproval of his friends, criticizing them and the child’s social behavior. Failure may also be due to the lack of social skills in his home; his parents are unable to guide him in his new task of developing friendships and resolving conflicts. Now that the child is out in the world, and subject to its judgments, he may also be ostracized because he is different – too smart or not smart enough – too tomboyish or too effeminate. His religion, nationality, race, or economic background may isolate him. Although he may have one close chum, probably a loner like himself, he has few other friends. Rejected, socially inept, he turns his energy back on himself, becoming self-preoccupied and immersed in a self-constructed fantasy world of relationships that are closed off to him in real life. Though he looks independent, and denies that he needs or wants friends, he is acutely lonely.

[I am a **textbook** example of the above description!]


The lonely child becomes a Loner in adulthood, a rigid Minimizer, a private person who has a hard time sharing his feelings. At the core of his being is a void, for he has failed to satisfy his needs for healthy dependency and interdependency. He is filled with intense, often painful, feelings, including the powerful belief that he is unlovable. This may have positive value as the source of creative output, but he is also vulnerable to addiction – to drugs, alcohol, work. To make up for what he lacks, he is attracted to someone gregarious, intrusive, and self-sacrificing, someone who will spearhead the making and keeping of friends and draw him, kicking and screaming, out of his privacy, while at the same time he does his best to exclude the partner from his inner life.

Again, textbook. I am beginning to realize that my wound was not so much a result of poor nurturing as it was a result of poor socialization.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

In the Attachment phase, I was a Detached Child and I grew up to become an Avoider...


Other caretakers are consistently emotionally cold and inconsistently available physically. For them it is not that the child’s needs are a burden, but the child himself is felt to be one. Such caretakers give rise to the detached child. Unlike the clinging child, the detached child fears the attachment he so desperately needs, because all attempts to attach result in emotional pain. Unlike his clinging counterpart, for whom not having contact is frightening, it is contact itself that is painful. Therefore, his defense is to “not approach” his mother, because if she is present at all, she is routinely depressed, disinterested, and emotionally distant. Terrified of the responsibility of a child, somehow caught up in her own problems and personal priorities, she is emotionally rejecting. Because contact results not in the pleasure of acceptance or satisfaction of needs but in emotional pain, the infant makes a fateful decision: avoid contact at all costs. “I am bad, the object (the caretaker) is bad, my needs are bad,” he reasons, thus etching on the template of his Imago the impression of the caretaker as bad, and on the other side, where the image of the self is recorded, an impression of the-self-having-needs as bad. This reasoning leads to a primitive but effective defense: “I don’t have needs.” His caretaker has rejected him, so he rejects the caretaker, and finally he rejects his life force. He doesn’t cry; he seems content to be fed whenever food arrives; he doesn’t seem to care one way or another whether he is held or talked to. But while the needs are banished from consciousness, the old brain remains in a constant state of alarm, because the denied needs are essential for survival. To muffle the alarm, the detached child numbs his body and voids his feelings, vastly constricting – minimizing – his life energy. To contain it totally, he constructs a false self, which looks independent, but is actually counterdependent. The world admires his independence, but he lives virtually alone in his fortress, determined to avoid the pain of being vulnerable to rejection.


As with the compulsively dependent child, if these patterns are not corrected in later childhood or adolescence (as they are unlikely to be, since the caretakers have usually not evolved), they will show up in adult intimate relationships. He becomes what I call an Avoider. Will, engaged to Clinger Alma, described above, is a good example. As I mentioned, Avoiders tend to hook up with Clingers, for predictable reasons. It is not that Avoiders have no needs; rather, they gave up on gettng their needs met long ago and lost contact with their desires. Large chunks of themselves are buried, especially their sensitive, feeling side and their capacity for emotional joy and body pleasure. Their hidden needs for contact influence their selection of partners with excessive contact needs, which provides Avoiders with the contact they consciously deny they want. Consequently, they never have to approach their partners, because the partners’ intense needs to be in contact fulfills the Avoiders’ denied needs to be in contact. But contact is still painful. As is apparent in Will’s case, Alma’s needs for closeness both attracted him and made him feel desperate to escape.

I'm starting to identify my childhood wounds while reading Harville Hendrix's Keeping the Love You Find. In looking at one's psychosocial history, there are six indentifiable phases of childhood:

ATTACHMENT (emotional security – 0-18 months)
  • The Clinging Child: Fear of Abandonment --> The Adult: A Clinger
  • The Detached Child: Fear of Rejection --> The Adult: An Avoider

EXPLORATION (differentiation and intact curiosity – 18 months-3 years)
  • The Distancing Child: Fear of Absorption --> The Adult: An Isolator
  • The Ambivalent Child: Fear of Loss --> The Adult: A Pursuer

IDENTITY (secure sense of self – 3-4 years)
  • The Rigid Child: Fear of Being Shamed --> The Adult: A Rigid Controller
  • The Invisible Child: Fear of Being a Self --> The Adult: A Compliant Diffuser

COMPETENCE (sense of personal power to achieve – 4-7 years)
  • The Competitive Child: Fear of Failure/Disapproval --> The Adult: A Compulsive Competitor
  • The Helpless/Manipulative Child: Fear of Aggressiveness/Success --> The Adult: A Manipulative Compromiser

CONCERN (concern for others – 7-13 years)
  • The Lonely Child: Fear of Others/Ostracism --> The Adult: A Loner
  • The Gregarious Child: Fear of Neediness/Being Alone --> The Adult: A Sacrificing Caretaker

INTIMACY (intact sexuality; ability to love – 13-19 years)
  • The Rebellious Child: Fear of Being Controlled --> The Adult: A Rebel
  • The Model Child: Fear of Being Different --> The Adult: A Conformist

In each of these childhood phases, the child may assume either a MINIMIZER or a MAXIMIZER response – that is to say, the child adapts to deficit nurturing by either diminishing his affect on the world, or exaggerating his responses.

Now we will examine each stage of development. As I describe how each stage looks, how our caretakers behave and how we respond, and how the repercussions manifest themselves in the form of so-called adult behavior, you will see clearly how we develop adaptive defenses, and what the potential for damage is. You will be able to pinpoint the stage at which you got "stuck" and be able to use this information as a model, a predictor of what goes wrong in your relationships, and as a basis for behavior change.

The City and the Stars

Like a glowing jewel, the city lay upon the breast of the desert. Once it had known change and alteration, but now Time passed it by. Night and day fled across the desert’s face, but in the streets of Diaspar it was always afternoon, and darkness never came. The long winter nights might dust the desert with frost, as the last moisture in the thin air of Earth congealed – but the city knew neither heat nor cold. It had no contact with the outer world; it was a universe itself.

Men had built cities before, but never a city such as this. Some had lasted for centuries, some for millenniums, before Time had swept away even their names. Diaspar alone had challenged Eternity, defending itself and all it sheltered against the slow attrition of the ages, the ravages of decay, and the corruption of rust.

Since the city was built, the oceans of Earth had passed away and the desert had encompassed all the globe. The last mountains had been ground to dust by the winds and the rain, and the world was too weary to bring forth more. The city did not care; Earth itself could crumble and Diaspar would still protect the children of its makers, bearing them and their treasures safely down the stream of time.

They had forgotten much, but they did not know it. They were as perfectly fitted to their environment as it was to them – for both had been designed together. What was beyond the walls of the city was no concern of theirs; it was something that had been shut out of their minds. Diaspar was all that existed, all that they needed, all that they could imagine. It mattered nothing to them that Man had once possessed the stars.

Yet sometimes the ancient myths rose up to haunt them, and they stirred uneasily as they remembered the legends of the Empire, when Diaspar was young and drew its lifeblood from the commerce of many suns. They did not wish to bring back the old days, for they were content in their eternal autumn. The glories of the Empire belonged to the past, and could remain there – for they remembered how the Empire had met its end, and at the thought of the Invaders the chill of space itself came seeping into their bones.

Then they would turn once more to the life and warmth of the city, to the long golden age whose beginning was already lost and whose end was yet more distant. Other men had dreamed of such an age, but they alone had achieved it.

They had lived in the same city, had walked the same miraculously unchanging streets, while more than a billion years had worn away.

And thus begins the first book I ever read that truly inspired me to want to write. The City and the Stars is one of my favourite books of all time. It was the book that impressed me the most with Arthur C. Clarke’s exquisite writing style...elegant, polished, poetic, harmonious. This first page alone sent my imagination soaring through the cosmos and moved my heart in a way that I had never known before! For the first time in my life, I understood the power of the written word...

I found the book while cleaning up the basement. I’ve had it for more than 30 years! And when I opened it up again and read the first page, a tear welled up in my eye.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Father Knows Best II

From The New Male Sexuality:

Therapist Terrance O’Conner relates this story:

I was struggling in my first year of high school. My father had just given me holy hell for the scores I had received on a standardized test. I felt terrible. In my room, I went over the results again and again... Suddenly I realized that the numbers were raw scores. They needed to be converted. I was astonished. In percentiles, my scores were in the nineties. Vastly relieved, I rushed out to show my father. “Then why in hell don’t you get better grades?” he yelled. It was a dagger in my heart. Never a word of love. Never a word of praise.

This is not to blame our fathers, who were only doing what was done to them. Nonetheless, the wounds opened by this lack of care run deep and are rarely healed. If you want to see grown men cry, give them a safe setting and get them talking about their fathers. That’s all it takes.

Because the boy is wrenched away from his first real intimate relationship, does not get to experience one with his father, and is taught a body of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are not conducive to intimacy, he will arrive at adulthood quite unprepared for the requirements of a mature relationship. The point is simple and frightening: The socialization of males provides very little that is of value in the formation and maintenance of intimate relationships.

Remember what I said about bad parenting being the cause of so many of society’s ills? This is an excellent illustration of my point. Screwed up kids growing up to become screwed up adults who, in turn, have screwed up kids.

I think I’ve identified one of my childhood wounds, or at least the proximal cause. If I can work with this further, I may be able to break this down into finer details.

It’s funny how some men, who go through similar experiences, are able to turn things around and become good fathers themselves, are able to have quality intimate relationships. Examples can be found on this rant line, I’m sure. Will I be one of them?

Father Knows Best

When I was about ten years old, my father came down with Parkinson’s. From that point on, I had an “absent” father. After suffering through hell for a number of years, he died when I turned seventeen.

So I didn’t have a male role model growing up. I didn’t realize what effect that had on me until I read this passage from The New Male Sexuality, by Bernie Zilbergeld, this morning...

Early on the boy gets the idea that he can’t be like the person who means the most to him, his mother. No longer is it acceptable to bask in her warmth and nurturance, except occasionally, and no longer is it possible to think that he, as she did, will someday give birth to babies. She’s a woman, and he can’t be like her or any other woman. In effect, he’s wrenched away from the closest relationship he’s had and may ever have. In most primitive societies, boys were also wrenched away from Mom, but they were entrusted to the care of one or more men who guided their development. In our society, there is no such arrangement.

There is only Dad, or whoever is playing that role for the boy. It is from him that the boy will learn his most important lessons about masculinity. Unfortunately, that relationship is rarely nurturing or positive in our society. Fathers are often not physically present and when they are, often are not emotionally present. Physical affection, emotional sharing, expression of approval and love – these are the human experiences that very few boys get from their dads. It is a tragedy of the greatest magnitude for men not to have been respected, nurtured, loved, and guided by their fathers.

Martial arts expert Richard Heckler recalls what happened when he was a child and his sailor father returned from a year-long cruise:

I felt proud of him, proud that he was my father, proud that after not seeing him for a year and not even sure what he looked like, I still had a father. He came up to me and extended his hand in his stiff, formal way. “Hello son. Have you been taking care of your mother and sister while I was away?” I was nine years old and I wanted him to hold me and have him say that he loved me. But he didn’t then or ever.

After I read this, I had another epiphany: the television became my father. It became my role model. All that I am, as a man, and as a human being, came from that glassy tube of electron beams.

I’m writing this and it’s all I can do to keep from crying (the first time in decades).

No wonder I can’t share my emotions with women. And the worst thing is, I’m not sure that any amount of therapy can repair the damage...

I can’t give up my father.

Feeling Alive

I’ve said on many occasions that, in the depths of my depression, I sought the meaning of life. But unable to discover it, I continued my sad existence.

Boy, was I confused! It wasn’t the meaning of life that I was looking for! It was a sense of aliveness...

Joseph Campbell defined for me what it is we so intensely strive for when he said that while it has always been believed that the fundamental search of human beings is for the meaning of life, what we are actually searching for, yearning for, is a feeling of aliveness. It was one of those ideas that catalyzed my own musings and intuitions.

Every child, before self-consciousness sets in, acts spontaneously, with total abandon and full involvement. If you spend any time around children, you know this. Everything interests them, they whirl around until they’re dizzy, run until they fall, paint wildly, sing unselfconsciously. We all felt like that once: we felt alive, we expressed it. But then life’s realities inevitably intruded: our parents didn’t always respond to our cry; the bottle was too hot or cold; we fell out of bed; there was screaming; there weren’t enough hugs; a new little sister came along too soon; we were laughed at. We became afraid, and we lost our sense of being fully alive, which we can only feel when we’re safe, not when we’re scared, vulnerable, threatened, defensive, inadequate. And we carried these feelings, and our ways of coping with them, to our relationships.

A feeling of aliveness is what we’re after with our cars and condos and boats and gourmet food, our designer clothes and recreational sex and skin flicks and skydiving, our deafening music and jogging and walks on the beach and TV and movies. Materialism, hedonism, greed, self-centeredness – all the hallmarks of the American way – are getting a bad name these days. Well, heaven knows it’s nothing to brag about, but I can only have sympathy for what all this compulsive activity really represents, which is that we live in a world, and in relationships, that don’t allow us to feel truly alive. And if we don’t feel alive, we feel like we’re going to die. So we do something, buy something, binge on something, take drugs, drink, run twenty miles, get laid, turn up the music.

- Keeping the Love You Find

Yes, that’s me! I became afraid of life. I lost that sense of aliveness that young children have. (Dear Lord, what happened to me in my childhood?!) I feel inadequate, insecure, defensive. Ensconced in the Fortress like a cocoon, my home is a gilded cage.

I’ve tried to feel alive by buying my way to it, with material goods, by watching movies, by riding my bike. And, still, I don’t feel alive. It’s literally driving me crazy!

Ayn Rand was Wrong

Ayn Rand believed that the well-being of the individual is the ultimate end in itself. Objectivism is a philosophy based entirely on reason. What I’ve learned about human psychology lately has shown me that Ayn Rand was wrong...

It is just plain stupid to think that we can conduct ourselves in life and society predominantly through reason. The human brain consists of the “new brain” cerebral cortex and the “old brain” limbic system and brain stem (the so-called “reptilian” brain). The old brain is at least as influential as the new brain, so any philosophy of life must incorporate the old brain behaviours that dominate our lives.

I’ve also learned that the human psyche is not entirely “selfish.” So for Ayn Rand to base a philosophy of life on “enlightened self-interest” is to deny the parts of ourselves that are not selfish. A philosophy of life MUST consider all aspects of human psychology and bring them into balance. Objectivism fails in this regard.

Harville Hendrix said it best:

In order to feel fully alive and to recapture our joyfulness, we have to reintegrate the unconscious, instinctual, associational old brain with our clever new brain. But we cannot think our way to aliveness. We cannot recapture joyfulness through our cerebral cortex, smart as it is; the old brain is not altered by the cognitive process. It is altered only by concrete experience. We must restore the split-off and denied parts of ourselves that we lost in childhood, and heal the numbness and pain and perceived threats to survival that dampen our feeling of aliveness and filter out our awareness of our connection to others and to the cosmos. The most effective way I know of to accomplish that is through our love relationships.

People disappointed in love don’t want to hear that they need a relationship to heal. They want to feel that they can be autonomous, and restore their spiritual wholeness on their own, if their caretakers, or their mates, aren’t up to the task. But this is a delusion. While there is much you can accomplish on your own, especially with regard to modifying your character defenses, you can’t go the whole way to healing without a partner.

The idea that we need the help of others for our fulfillment is unpopular because it challenges the primacy of the individual. The sovereignty of the individual is, rightly, a cornerstone of democracy. The tension between the individual and the collective, the individual and the dyad, the family and society, produces the chemistry of the evolutionary process, in terms of growth as well as in the development of new social and political systems.

It’s too bad that people like Ayn Rand and her Objectivist followers never studied nor understood human psychology. I’ve long underestimated this area of academia – I used to sneer at it, showing little respect – but today I am engrossed by it. The study of psychology informs me so that I may look at the world more realistically. Ayn Rand’s followers live in an intellectual fantasy world.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Bleeding Hearts

I swear, by my life and love of it, that I will never live for the
sake of another man nor ask another man to live for mine.
-- Galt's oath, from Atlas Shrugged

What does it mean to be a “bleeding heart?” Does it mean to feel compassion for our fellow man and thus act to help “lift” him up when he is in need?

Ayn Rand says that every individual is responsible for his own happiness and that you should not live for the sake of another. This I agree 100%. Bleeding hearts do not live for the sake of others – they merely share their bounty so that the less fortunate can be helped. I do not see that this is contrary to Ayn Rand’s philosophy.

Ayn Rand railed against Communism. Communism believes that we should all pool our resources and distribute them evenly to everyone. This I do not agree with.

In Canada, we believe that in a just society we should help those in need. Since it is impossible to do this successfully on a voluntary, individual basis, we need to enact social policies that allow government to implement the help on our behalf. I do not understand the “right wing” philosophical objection to this.

(Speaking from a practical perspective, “social justice” can be abused – for example, we have many welfare “bums” that simply leech off society. But ANY practical social system is subject to abuse and corruption. This is not an argument against the principle and value of “liberal” policies...)

Harville Hendrix elegantly convinced me that we have a responsibility to take care of our fellow man...

Psychologist Carl Jung adds clues to the nature of our connectedness with his theory that we all share a collective unconscious. In this view, our cumulative human experiences coalesce over time around certain archetypes, or repeated patterns of human striving and behavior. The archetypes are the stuff of myth by which we live – hero and villain, earth mother and seductress. As much a part of what we inherit as our animal instincts and our hair color, these universal archetypes are an unconscious influence on our behavior and responses, even as our own thoughts and actions influence their mutation and add to their collective force.

What it all boils down to is that our inchoate longing for connectedness, and those moments when we pierce the veil of our everyday evidence, stem from a hazy memory that at one time we were not separate, but connected to everything, and particularly to all other humans, in a way that felt safe and supporting. And our fundamental yearning is to transcend the barriers that now separate us from our awareness of this connection.

There is something in the psyche that knows that things are not as they should be. We don’t hope or long for something imaginary. That buried intimation of a pan-existent human essence, when we contact it, feels absolutely normal and objectively real. We yearn for our original wholeness, for that dimly remembered state of relaxed joyfulness, because we did experience it, if only briefly, in the womb. We just can’t identify its source. Theologian Martin Buber expressed it well when he said that “birth is the moment when we begin to forget.”

I don’t understand why Objectivists think that we don’t have this responsibility.