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.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Eros and Ethics

The arena where emptiness – nonerotic living – is most destructive is in the ethical. Every ethical failure comes from the absence of eros. It is their inability to stay in the experience of emptiness that moves people to violate their ethics. All crimes are in some sense crimes of passion. But this is actually a misnomer. What we mean is that all crimes are rooted in the fear of passion’s loss! We cannot imagine what life would be like without the eros that we stand to lose.

Joel finds out that his wife is having an affair. The betrayal opens up the void within. Afraid that if he confronts her she will leave, he slowly becomes a workaholic to dull the pain. Work for Joel has become pseudo eros.

Or take Susan, who was verbally and physically abused by her mother. Never able to claim the dignity of her anger, she became gradually disempowered as a person. As an adult, she is constantly furious at her children, often lashing out brutally at them. She seeks to assure herself that she is alive and powerful. For Susan, her displaced anger at her children is pseudo eros.

Or more mundane examples. We cheat on income taxes because we think that the extra money will paper over some of the fear of life. Money becomes pseudo eros.

Or we exaggerate our accomplishments because we are afraid that our real story is insufficient to fill the void. Self-aggrandizement is pseudo eros.

All of our inappropriate behaviors that violate our values are really us crying out, “Pay attention to me – I exist!” All forms of acting out are pseudo eros.

Life is about walking through the void. Every time we walk through and not around the void we come out stronger. Every time we are seduced by pseudo eros, ethical breakdown is around the corner. There is no ethics without eros.

- The Mystery of Love

I find this view fascinating. The more I read, the more I’m getting into Marc Gafni...

Friday, February 24, 2006

An Answer to my Vexing Question

In a published dialogue between a well-known Buddhist teacher and myself, the teacher challenged me persistently on this issue of desire. “After all,” he said, “if you give up the desire of life, then death will not be horrifying and painful.”

“No,” I responded, “if I give up the desire for life I would already be dead.” Since the debate took place in a kitchen in Jerusalem, I picked up a knife. “If I took this knife and cut my arm, would it bleed?”

“Of course.”

“Now what if I, with the same knife, cut my hair? No blood. Why? Because the cells in my hair are dead. And dead cells do not bleed.” Part of the eros of longing is to experience pain as well as joy. That is why biblical mystics viewed the inability to grieve and weep as a sign of great spiritual illness.

From the day the Temple was destroyed all the gates are closed; the gates of tears are not closed. So reads a fifth-century Hebrew wisdom text. The eros of tears, an inevitable corollary of longing and desire, is the way back to the eros of the Temple, to the inside, and to a full sense of your own aliveness. Nachman of Bratzlav, an erotic master of the inside, writes, “A human being is like an onion: strip away layer after layer and all that remains are the tears.” To reach the inner recesses of a thing one must be willing to weep.

- The Mystery of Love

A Lovely Message

Hannah was a walking prayer, constantly calling out to God. People would see her on the streets, carrying her groceries with a light step, all the while with eyes facing upward, a soundless prayer on her lips. Pass by her window and you would see her by the stove or by the sink, lips lost in prayer, pleading with the heavens for something, for anything, for everything. A neighbor with a jealous eye one day came to her and whispered, “And so why hasn’t God answered all your prayers?” Hannah was shaken. What if this neighbor was right? When will God answer, and why should I wait? And so Hannah abandoned her beseeching. She gave up on yearning. And though the groceries seemed heavier, the stove colder, she refused to pray. Until one night a divine voice called out to Hannah in a dream, “Why have you stopped praying to me?” Hannah retorted, “Well, you never answered, so I stopped asking.” To which the Divine replied, “Don’t you realize, every call of yours IS itself my response? Your great yearning is my greatest gift.” With this, Hannah’s ceaseless prayer came back to her lips. Her burden was again lightened, her stove was ablaze.

Depression is at its core the depression of desire. When we lose touch with our authentic desire, we become listless and apathetic. There is wonderful eros in desire. It is what connects us most powerfully with our own pulsating aliveness.

- The Mystery of Love

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Feeling No Pain, Feeling No Joy, Part 3

My shrink (a world-renown sex and relationship expert) tells me that marriage is like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (he used to say climbing Mount Everest, but he has since changed his mind because it’s not really **that** hard!). In other words, marriage is extremely hard work.

Not only hard, but sometimes very painful.

There’s hard work, and then there’s hard work. I used to work very hard at my job and career, but I never complained because I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment. The hard work was relatively easy to endure.

But the hard work in relationship is not so easy to endure. And I always complain about it because there is no joy to sense of accomplishment. I **hate** working at a relationship – it’s just too much for me to take.

I suppose the end goal is desirable: to have a blissful relationship. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe I can get there. I don’t believe I can achieve a blissful relationship. And therein lies the problem. If I don’t believe it, how can I be expected to endure the pain and hard work?

And who can make me believe? Who can reshape my worldview and cause me to lower my guard? Thus far, no one. I wonder if such a persuader exists...

Feeling No Pain, Feeling No Joy, Part 2

My best friend is going through the most miserable divorce you can possibly imagine. It is his hell on earth.

Even before the final divorce trial, the judge has ordered him out of his house, and that his wife will sell the house from underneath him (HIS house!!), and that he will have limited visitation with his children. And he has done absolutely nothing wrong!!

He has been an exemplary father. In fact, he has been the primary caregiver for his children, NOT his wife! (Holding down a full-time job AND being the primary caregiver – how many men on this planet have taken on this arduous task?!) His two young boys adore him.

He has always treated his wife with respect. And yet she hates his guts (she has psychological problems). Thus the divorce is as vitriolic and destructive as any on record. (Watch Danny DeVito’s “The War of the Roses,” starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner.)

I don’t believe for a second that my best friend’s divorce is atypical. Almost all divorces are agonizing. They tear families apart and cause intense emotional pain. Many divorced fathers are driven to suicide!

To most people, the 40% divorce rate has little significance or meaning. Like teenagers experimenting with sex and drugs in the shadow of STDs and addiction, they believe that divorce will never happen to them, that they can magically beat the odds. Or they believe that the risk/reward is favourable and that they can, and will, survive any divorce. (Hope is the defining quality of the human condition!)

I take a more pragmatic view. The risk/reward analysis – putting aside the hope factor – says it’s nuts to get married (or live together in a committed relationship). You cannot ignore or dismiss 40% likelihood. (Imagine if crossing the street entailed a 40% likelihood of getting hit by a car. You may well survive the collision but you sure wouldn’t take the chance!)

Unfortunately, human beings don’t think this way. They are driven by forces more powerful than logic. They put more stock in their feelings than in statistics. Hence, the human drama.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Feeling No Pain, Feeling No Joy

I’ve been reading Harold Kushner’s “When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough – The Search for a Life that Matters.” He’s the author of the bestseller, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”

This morning I arrived at a very significant chapter, “Feeling No Pain, Feeling No Joy.” Rabbi Kushner writes, “When I protect myself against the danger of loss (by death, divorce, or just having a close friend move away) by teaching myself not to care, not to let anyone get too close to me, I lose part of my soul. To be alive is to feel pain, and to hide from pain is to make yourself less alive.”

He further writes, “Adults hurt, but for the most part they survive intact. If forty percent of marriages end in divorce, eighty percent of divorces end in remarriage, often very stable and satisfying remarriages. And even when both parties may not remarry, they often experience a degree of personal growth, once the hurting is over.

But young children are often more vulnerable, less able to take charge of their own lives and put things back together. Some of the effects of divorce on children are all too familiar to us: the sense of rejection, the guilt that they may have caused the split, the absence of a role model. But from what I have seen, the most damaging effect of divorce on children, and even on their friends who have not experienced a divorce personally but have heard so much about it, goes beyond these. I am afraid that we may be raising a generation of young people who will grow up afraid to love, afraid to give themselves completely to another person, because they will have seen how much it hurts to take the risk of loving and have it not work out. I am afraid that they will grow up looking for intimacy without risk, for pleasure without significant emotional investment. They will be so fearful of the pain of disappointment that they will forgo the possibilities of love and joy.

Gee, that pretty much describes me!

“If we believe that in order for life to be good, we have to avoid pain, the danger is that we will become so good at not feeling pain that we will learn not to feel anything – not joy, not love, not hope, not awe. We will become emotionally anesthetized. We will learn to live out whole lives within a narrow emotional range, accepting the fact that there will be few high spots in our lives in exchange for the guarantee that there will be no low moments either, no pain or sadness, just a perpetual feeling of monotony, one gray day after another. Because of our fear of pain, we will have mastered the art of detachment so well that nothing will be able to reach us emotionally.”

Well, Kushner overstates this. My days aren’t so gray. I am generally a pretty happy fellow now. Maybe my life is somewhat monotonous, but that’s what I’ve always tried to achieve: a life of peace and tranquility.

“Because of our fear of being hurt or being disappointed, we have chosen a life of emotional flatness. We have built for ourselves an emotional floor below which we will not sink, to make sure that nothing ever hurts or depresses us, and an emotional ceiling beyond which we cannot rise, because then the risk of falling would be too great, and we wonder why we feel hemmed in. We inject ourselves with spiritual novocaine so that we can walk through the storms of life and never be hurt, and we wonder why we feel so numb.”

Now Kushner is just getting melodramatic! My life isn’t that bad.

Kushner is so willing to open himself up to the possibility of pain and suffering in exchange for the possibility of joy and ecstacy. Let’s see if the equation still holds should he let me torture him. I can cause him such pain and agony that he will literally beg me to slaughter his children and rape and murder his wife in order to stop his hell on earth. And THEN let’s hear him say that pain is a necessary requisite of life.

Needless to say, I disagree completely with Harold Kushner. No amount of cognitive therapy, no degree of rationalization nor debate will ever persuade me that I must open myself up to the possibility of pain in my life. You cannot avoid pain, but you don’t have to willingly invite it into your life. Pain is something to stave off, to fight valiantly against. If the price of this action is to lose a part of my soul, then I shall gladly pay it. And if the consequence of this action is that I live a life of calm and peace and evenness, then I shall be very happy indeed...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Tibetan Tale

Reports had reached the young Dalai Lama that a certain Master of Kung Fu was roaming the countryside of Tibet, converting young men to the study of violence. Rumors even began circulating that this Master of Kung Fu was an incarnation of Shiva Natarajah, the Hindu god in his aspect of the Lord of the Dance of Destruction. The Dalai Lama decided to invite the Master for a visit.

Pleased with the invitation, some weeks later the Master of Kung Fu strode into the Dalai Lama's ceremonial hall. The Master of Kung Fu was stunning indeed, with thick blue-black hair falling down over the shoulders of his black leather suit. "Your Highness," he began, "have no worries, I wouldn't think of doing you harm."

"Well, when you do want to harm," asked the Dalai Lama, "what kind of harm can you do?"

"Royal Highness, the best way to show you would be for you to stand here in front of me while I do a little dance. Though I can kill a dozen men instantly with this dance, have no fear."

The Dalai Lama stood up and immediately felt as if a wind had blown flower petals across his body. He looked down but saw nothing. "You may proceed," he told the Master of Kung Fu.

"Proceed?" said the other, grinning jovially. "I've already finished. What you felt were my hands flicking across your body. If I had done it in slow motion, extremely slow motion, you would have seen how each touch of my hand would have destroyed the organs of your body one by one."

"Impressive, but I know a master greater than you," said the Dalai Lama.

"Without wishing to offend your Highness, I doubt that very much. Let him challenge me, and if he bests me I shall leave Tibet forever."

"If he bests you, you shall have no need to leave Tibet." The Dalai Lama clapped his hands. "Regent," he said, "summon the Dancing Master."

The Dancing Master entered. He was a wiry little fellow, half the size of the Master of Kung Fu and well past his prime. His legs were knotted with varicose veins, and he was swollen at the elbows from arthritis. Nevertheless, his eyes were glittering merrily and he seemed eager for the challenge.

The Master of Kung Fu did not mock his opponent. "My own guru," he said, "was even smaller and older than you, yet I was unable to best him until last year when I finally caught him on the ear and destroyed him, as I shall destroy you when you finally tire."

The two opponents faced off. The Master of Kung Fu was taking a jaunty, indifferent stance, tempting the other to attack.

The old Dancing Master began to swirl very slowly, his robes wafting around his body. His arms stretched out and his hands fluttered like butterflies toward the eyes of his opponent. His fingers settled gently for a moment upon the Master of Kung Fu's bushy eyebrows.

The Master of Kung Fu drew back in astonishment. He looked around the great hall. Everything was suddenly vibrant with rich hues of singing color. The faces of the monks were radiantly beautiful. It was as if his eyes had been washed clean for the first time.

The fingers of the Dancing Master stroked the nose of the Master of Kung Fu, and suddenly he could smell the pungent barley from a granary in the city far below. He was intoxicated by the aroma of the butter melting in the Dalai Lama's fragrant tea.

A flicking of the Dancing Master's foot at his genitals, and he was throbbing with desire. The sound of a woman singing through an open window filled him with exquisite yearning to draw her into his arms and caress her. He found himself removing his clothes until he stood naked before the Dancing Master, who was now assaulting him with joy at every touch.

His body began to hum like a finely tuned instrument. He opened his mouth and sang like a bird at sunrise. It seemed to him that he was possessed of many arms, legs, and hands, and all wanted to nurture the blossoming of life.

The Master of Kung Fu began the most beautiful dance that had ever been seen in the great ceremonial hall of the Grand Potala. It lasted for three days and three nights, during which time everyone in Tibet feasted and visitors crowded the doorways and galleries to watch. Only when he finally collapsed at the throne of the Dalai Lama did he realize that another body was lying beside him. The old Dancing Master had died of exertion while performing his final and most marvelous dance. But he had died happily, having found the disciple he had always yearned for. The new Dancing Master of Tibet took the frail corpse in his arms and, weeping with love, drew the last of its energy into his body. Never had he felt so strong.

- The Mystery of Love

Cell Phone Distraction

Yesterday, I dropped by Home Despot at Wilson and Dufferin. I arrived at a three-way stop.

This woman in a SUV came barreling through without stopping! I could clearly see she was talking on her cell phone.

Had I not exercised caution, she probably would have rammed into me as I made my left-hand turn. I’m pretty sure she didn’t even notice me at the intersection. I am 100% absolutely certain that she was distracted by her cell phone conversation.

People like her believe that they can multitask on the road and suffer no significant distraction on the cell phone. This belief is based on nothing more than their own ignorance and the fact that they’ve never before caused an accident due to negligence. We have a word for this state of mind: delusion.

I’ll bet there are people on this rant line who have used their cell phones while driving (that includes me, BTW). I try very hard not to, but I’m sure some of you folks don’t try that hard.

So the next time somebody says that cell phones are not a serious distraction on the road, I want you to say, “Baloney!!”

Repeat after me: Ba-lo-ney!



And the next time you hear your cell phone ring, or you feel like making a call, while you’re driving, THINK about what I’ve just told you.

Think real hard...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Mystery of Love

Click here for Amazon description.

I found this book on the remainders table at World’s Biggest Bookstore. I read the introductory chapter and I was hooked, so I bought it. For $3.50, it’s definitely a worthwhile purchase.

Our lives are spent teetering on the edge of the void. You know the void – the big hole you feel inside. Usually it is a dull and throbbing pain, the background noise of most lives. We rush around, doing everything we can to fill the hole. We have a handy word for this rushing about: avoidance. A dance around the void. We develop the most elaborate maneuverings we can imagine, never realizing that it is all a-void-dance. That if we could but taste fullness for a moment, then the vacant dances of consumerism, addiction, empty sex, and violence would be transformed into the erotic dance of Being.

The emptiness is so palpable and overwhelming that we would fill it at virtually any price. We seek immediate gratification – a quick fix – a book, a drug, a relationship, a job – anything to fill the gaping hole in our wholeness. We run desperately looking for the next watering hole that might fill up the yawning chasm we feel so deeply and try so hard to hide.

On the outside our mad dashing about may look like a dance, but we are really gasping for air. Picture the image of a bee in a bottle. Seen from the outside the bee darts from side to side in an ecstatic dance. On the inside, however, there is neither dance nor ecstasy. The bee is slowly dying, suffocating. It was not meant to be this way. Life should not be a pathos-filled scramble for some snatches of authenticity in between empty charades.

The ancient wisdom of the great Hebrew mystics makes one essential promise: There is a better way to live. In the midst of uncertainty and anxiety, joy and meaning remain genuine options. We can choose life and love, or death and fear. To experience the fullness of every moment, to move from isolation to deep connection, is our birthright if we but claim it.

The great invitation of the spirit is to heal our pain, opening us up to the possibility of joy, ecstasy, and love. There is another way to dance: the dance of eros. The dance in which we all have a place. This book is about sharing the dance of eros with you.

As you probably know, most people assume that eros is merely a synonym for sex. It is not. The fact that we so often confuse eros with sex merely reminds us of how distant we are from true erotic engagement.

To dance with eros is to live and love erotically in all the arenas of our lives, beyond the merely sexual. That is what it means to be holy. Just as holiness should not be limited to our houses of worship, eros should not be limited to our bedrooms.

Eros is to be fully present to what is. It is to open your eyes and see for the first time the full beauty and gorgeousness of a friend. To smell the richness of an aroma, to feel the fullness of throbbing desire, and to taste the erotic experience that connects you with every being. It is to feel the palpable love that dissolves the walls of ego, anger, and anxiety.

Eros is the feeling you have when you stop trying to get someplace because you realize with great joy that you are already there. To be erotically engaged is to feel the radical interconnectivity of being as a living reality in your life. For the mystics, eros is the key that provides deep meaning to everything – satisfying work, joyful relationships, effective parenting. Starvation, fundamentalism, greed, war, and the rape of the earth are all the result of lack of eros.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Silent Running

As a budding PC enthusiast/hobbyist, I've decided to assemble my own super-quiet, super-fast PC this summer, just in time to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the IBM Personal Computer (August 11th). I haven't built my own computer since 1993 (I've been a software person, not hardware). This will be an exciting return for me!

The quietness of the computer is crucial. I've owned too many noisy PCs in the past and, frankly, I've been spoiled by my whisper-quiet Apple iMac G5.

And with the recent trend towards dual-core processors, it's time for me to bite the bullet and get a dual-core rig for myself. A dual-core processor will make for much more effective multitasking.

These are the components that I've tentatively identified as offering the most bang for the buck, as of today, February 19th...

Antec P150 Quiet PC Case w/430W P.S.
Hardware-Review of P150
Silent PC review of P150
$180 at PC Village -

AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4200+
$419 at PC Village

ASUS A8N-SLI Premium
$199 at PC Village

2 GB Kingston DDR400
$218 at PC Village

Hard drive
400 GB Western Digital SATA, 7200 rpm, 16MB cache
$237 at PC Metro -

Sapphire Radeon X800 GTO Ultimate w/256MB
Maximum PC review

$239 at PC Village

Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS
$75 at PC Metro

Optical drive
Sony DWQ-30A Dual Layer DVD writer
$48 at PC Metro

Total: $1,615


Poking Fun at Muhammed

Hey, I found these hilarious cartoons in an Egyptian newspaper and I thought I'd share them with you. I imagine, though, that Muslim fundamentalists might get a tad upset over them. Don't be surprised if there's rioting in the streets. Anyway, here they are...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Kill Bill

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

How to Get Started with Linux, Part VII

Some Linux Tips

A View to a Kill
Sometimes, an application program may simply lock up because of a bug - it will not respond to the mouse or keyboard. In such a situation, the only thing you can do is kill the program.

Under Linux, pressing Ctrl-Alt-Esc (that is to say, holding down the Ctrl and Alt keys simultaneously and pressing Esc) will change the mouse pointer to a little skull and crossbones. Move the pointer to the application window that you want to kill and click the mouse. The program dies. Needless to say, you must be VERY CAREFUL with this!

Alternatively, you can press Ctrl-Esc to bring up the Task Manager window, which lists all the running processes on your computer. This is a more arcane method, as you must locate the process associated with your application, select it and press the "Kill" button.

Dressed to Kill
One of the very nice things about the KDE desktop is that it is "themable" - that is to say, you can personalize its appearance. For example, you can change the "window decorations" to satisfy your taste (window decorations include the minimize and maximize buttons, the close button, etc.).

Open the Control Center and click on "Appearance & Themes." Here, you can customize the desktop to your heart's content. One note of caution: If you like the SUSE lizard wallpaper, note that it is only available with the "SUSE_Default" theme. So, if you change themes with the Theme Manager, this particular wallpaper will no longer be available. If you just want to play with window decorations, I recommend doing this individually by clicking on "Window Decorations."

You can also change the power management settings for your monitor by clicking on "Peripherals," and then "Display," and then on the "Power Control" tab. This can be done in conjunction with your Screen Saver settings.

Licence to Kill
Although viruses are not yet a major problem for Linux, you may want to get a head start on virus protection. Download AVG Free for Linux from here and save it, say, to your Home folder. Then from Konqueror, click on the RPM file and click on "Install Package with YaST." The installed program will be found under Utilities->More Programs.

Kill Bill
For those who don't like either Firefox or Konqueror, there is another browser that I find quite interesting. It's called Opera and you can download it from here. Using Konqueror, click on the RPM file and "Install Package with YaST." (Opera is also available for Mac OS X and Windows. I hope this hurts Bill Gates, who's intent on Internet domination with IE.)

Three-month Anniversary!

On this, the 3-month anniversary of my blog, I'd like to review what I've accomplished with it:
  1. I chronicled the journey of my psychotherapy last year. (See the November 2005 archive.)
  2. I raised awareness of some of the most personally influential books I’ve ever come across, one by David Myers and two by Harville Hendrix.
  3. I demolished the philosophy of Objectivism and Ayn Rand.
  4. I exposed the myth that wealth can bring you happiness.
  5. I offered splendid alternatives to Windows computing. (See the December 2005 and January 2006 archives.)
  6. I demonstrated that Mac computing is price-competitive with Windows computing. The value proposition for the Apple Mac computer is strong.
  7. I showed how to get started with Linux as a Windows alternative.
  8. I examined some of modern society’s ills.
All that you need to know about me is in this blog, in my written words. Cyberspace is an extension of my being. Indeed, my soul is merely a stream of digital information forever wandering through the expanse of the Internet.

Here's a tip about my blog: To view a blog entry along with all of its accompanying comments, click on the time field at the bottom of the entry. For example, here's what the bottom line of a blog entry may look like...

posted by Darkest Knight | 9:35 PM | 2 comments

The time field is illustrated in blue. Just click on it to see the entry in its entirety.

I mention this because sometimes I will extend a posted entry into the comments section.

Monday, February 06, 2006

How to Get Started with Linux, Part VI

The version of Firefox in SUSE Linux 10 is 1.0.7, which is known to have a major security vulnerability. You are advised to upgrade to the latest Firefox version (currently at To do this, go to SUSE and download the Firefox package for SUSE Linux 10.0 (MozillaFirefox-

Now, go into YaST (Software Management), search for "firefox" and delete the current Firefox installation by clicking repeatedly on the little icon at the beginning of the "MozillaFirefox" search result until you see a trash can (that's the delete icon). Click Accept and Firefox is gone.

Then open the newly downloaded Firefox package in Konqueror and click on "Install Package with YaST." That's all there is to it!

If you have any previous Firefox icons on your desktop or on the panel at the bottom of the screen, get rid of those and re-create them from the KDE Internet menu (right-click and "Add Item to Desktop").

One more thing: the fonts that come with OpenSUSE are quite minimal. This means that your browsers will not be able to render many important fonts, such as Verdana and Georgia. I recommend that you install Microsoft's TrueType Core Fonts patch. To do this, start YaST's Online Update. Check off the patch for "Microsoft TrueType Core Fonts" and click Accept.

How to Get Started with Linux, Part V

On my iMac, I was surprised to find a pretty good chess program. I was even more surprised to find a chess program under SUSE Linux (KDE). It’s called Knights.

Now I have to confess, I’m a wee bit rusty at chess these days. So Knights actually ran rings around me!! This program would give average chess players a really good workout.

Knights is themable. You can make it look quite attractive, choosing from a dozen different styles of chess pieces and a dozen different board styles.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but with this one Linux game I don’t care that I can’t play FPS games or other Hollywood production games on my Linux box. Chess will always be able to engross me and occupy all of my spare time...if I let it.

While we’re on the subject of Linux, I want to explain the main differentiators among Linux distributions (or distros). There are hundreds of distros out there, with hundreds of rationales for their existence. But in the final analysis, their differences come down to three main areas:

  1. Installation process.
  2. Software package management.
  3. Administrative Setup tool.

How easy is it to install? Is a “live” installation available (running entirely off your optical drive and never touching your hard disk)? Will the installation fit in a USB memory key?

Do you use the RPM-style of package management, or the “apt-get” style found in Debian distributions? (Or the much less popular “ports” method, which is based entirely on compiling from source code? Gentoo Linux has adapted the ports method and renamed it “Portage.”)

How well-stocked are the software repositories? Are the applications kept up-to-date?

And how do you administer your Linux system? SUSE Linux has the much-vaunted YaST (Yet another Setup Tool), which is the main reason why I like SUSE.

Linux distros also vary in the quantity of applications that they bundle “out of the box.” For novices, having a good selection out of the box is very helpful. Ultimately, however, you can install as many of the thousands of free applications available as you want. It just takes time to research them and find the most suitable ones.

Through my demonstration of SUSE Linux, I hoped to show you that Linux is approachable, even for newcomers. Other distros should be pretty much the same in terms of comfort level. Most distros these days are fairly easy to install. (I tried Ubuntu Linux last year and I liked it very much.)

So give it a shot. If you can’t afford an Apple Mac, Linux is not a bad alternative.

Windows Rot,1895,1919007,00.asp

There's something else at work here, too: Jim Allchin has already announced he will retire at the end of this year, after Vista ships.

I take that as a statement, not an either-or. Allchin is enough of a leader—make that well-liked leader—that the troops can be expected to pull out all the stops to ship Vista on Allchin's watch.

This "win one for the Gipper" angle could all by itself be enough to get Vista out the door before year-end.

Yeah, right. Given Micro$oft's history, I find this highly doubtful.

Windows Rot
"Windows Rot" is the name someone gave the process by which a Windows machine becomes progressively slower the longer you use it and the more software you install on it.

He thinks Windows Vista could deteriorate even more quickly than Windows XP. Before I hung up the phone, he said something about "getting one of those Intel-based Macs, just in case."

Indeed, Mac OS, and as far as I can tell all other Unix-based operating systems, suffer nothing like Windows Rot and remain much cleaner well into their useful lives.

Windows, on the other hand, at least if you do very much with it, seems to eventually slow to a point that reinstalling the OS and starting over seems the best course.

I've never seen Microsoft officially admit that Windows Rot exists, perhaps because the people who could fix it have to rebuild their own machines so often for new OS releases and testing that they never actually suffer from it.

But, out in the real world, the syndrome definitely exists.

So there you have it. It's not your imagination. Windows Rot is a REAL phenom. And if you think Vista will fix this problem, DREAM ON.

Folks, it's TIME to give up the ghost on Winblows...

Friday, February 03, 2006

Why I Hate Microsoft

I've been asked why I hate Microsoft and Windows? It's time for me to reveal my innermost feelings on the matter. The short answer is, because Microsoft screwed me over. The long answer can be broken down into several categories...

A Question of Ethical Behaviour
In 1992, IBM released an Operating System product called OS/2 2.0. It was seen as The Great White Hope against Microsoft's Windows. OS/2 promised reliable and nearly crash-proof computing. It offered 32-bit computing for the first time in a mass-market desktop OS. It offered a true Object-Oriented desktop. It offered the imprimatur and business support of a world-class enterprise giant.

But even the mighty IBM could not resist Microsoft's monopoly power. By virtue of Microsoft's absolute dominance in the PC market, they were able to prevent PC vendors (such as Dell and Compaq) from preloading OS/2 in their computer lines. Any vendor who chose to preload OS/2 risked losing the financial incentives (e.g., volume discounts) that Microsoft offered for their Windows and Office products. This is well-documented in the U.S. government's antitrust case against Microsoft.

In effect, Microsoft eliminated competition in the desktop OS market, not on the basis of technical or marketing merit, but through economic bullying and unethical business practices. As a result, the much-superior OS/2 was totally shut out of the PC market and anyone who invested in OS/2 development (like me, for example) was screwed over.

A Decade of Pain and Suffering
Because there was no competition for Windows, for the remainder of the 1990s we had to endure one dreadful version of Windows after another. We had to put up with frequent crashes, which caused us to lose all our work. We had to suffer through numerous bugs and quirky behaviour. We had to accept poor support and costly upgrades. Every new Windows version took money out of our pockets.

Remember Windows 3.0? How about Windows 3.1 and Windows 3.11? Windows 95? Windows 98? Windows 98 SE? How about Windows ME? Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. What were we paying for??? Each successive version of Windows was little more than bug fixes for the previous version, which shouldn't have had those bugs in the first place! We were screwed over.

(Yes, I know, all software have bugs. But the scale of bugs that existed in Windows was monumental, and often catastrophic for end users. Windows represented the worst software ever written in the history of Information Technology.)

It wasn't until Windows 2000 came along that we finally got a decent OS from Microsoft. But, then, with the next version of the Operating System, Windows XP, they inflicted the treacherous and extremely inconvenient Product Activation scheme upon us. (Product Activation is an anti-piracy measure which let's you install Windows on one single machine only.) I have several computers at home that I want to run Windows on - I can only work with one computer at a time, though. Product Activation screwed me over in this scenario, denying my fair use rights.

In short, Microsoft was anti-competitive, a practice they continue today. Microsoft caused much pain for over a decade, and today we still suffer - through a myriad of Windows security holes. Microsoft wrote very bad software and lacked any true innovation, and this still holds true today (just look at their upcoming Windows Vista, which has nothing compelling over Windows XP).

Here's an excellent article on why we should all hate Microsoft and Windows.

How to Get Started with Linux, Part IV

With the popularity of instant messaging and peer-to-peer file sharing, I would be remiss in not showing how to do these things under Linux. First, instant messaging. Under KDE, there is an application called Kopete ("Chat" under the Internet menu). Kopete can be easily configured to use the MSN Messenger protocol. In fact, I've done this in order to talk to my friends over MSN.

(There are other instant messaging programs available for Linux, such as Gaim, but Kopete is available under KDE, so why not use it?)

Peer-to-peer file sharing can be done by installing a program with a very odd name: KMLDonkey. First, go here and download the latest SUSE Linux binary version of KMLDonkey (currently, it's for version 9.2 of SUSE, but it'll work with version 10 as well), then click on the RPM file from within Konqueror and "Install Package with YaST."

KMLDonkey depends on another program called MLDonkey, which can be found here. Download the "Linux" i386 version of the file. This file will need to be "extracted to" a location of your choice.

Now, when you first start KMLDonkey, a Setup Wizard will walk you through the configuration process. You can ignore the Download MLDonkey page. You must select a Work Folder. Then you must Locate the MLDonkey Core file called "mlnet" which is in the extraction location that we mentioned earlier. Finally, it will ask you how you wish to start this core file. Choose either "Start the core when KMLDonkey starts" or "Start the core when you log into KDE." I choose the former because mlnet will only run when KMLDonkey runs; that's more efficient.

Now you can download all the MP3 music you want!

Other file sharing programs exist. A very popular one is LimeWire, which uses the Gnutella network. However, I chose KMLDonkey because it supports a variety of different file sharing networks. In other words, it's more flexible.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Valentine's Day Message...

I Love The Idea Of My Wife

Do I love my wife? It's a complicated question. What is love? Perhaps it is an ineffable aspect of the human condition that can never be fully understood. It's like asking if I love my car or my golf clubs. I love them, but it's not like I love them. I certainly love owning them, and if either should ever be stolen, or somehow ruined, or damaged by someone's incompetence, I'd want to replace them immediately, and press full charges against the perpetrators.

I love the stability of my wife. I like knowing that she's there, sort of like how you feel about a good life-insurance policy or new luxury storm windows in the den. It's like having the high-end weed-whacker in the garage. It's good to see it and know it's there, even if I don't use it more than twice a year. My wife is like that. I love that about her.

It's reassuring to have the whole "wife" aspect of my lifestyle taken care of and done with, and know that it's not going to be disrupted. So in that sense, yes, I love her, but I suppose you could say I love the idea of her, as a concept, mainly, more than her specifically. But it's a good question, to be sure. It makes you think.

I enjoy life. You might even say I love it. And since my wife, or the idea of my wife, anyway, is part of that life, that's not going to change.

On the one hand, of course I love her. Don't get me wrong—we're talking about my wife. This is the mother of my children, the woman I plan to grow old with, the woman for whom I purchased a fine and beautiful home. But then again, if she happened to be some other, similar woman, it probably wouldn't be that much different. We'd still live in the same type of neighborhood, own the same cars, and have the same children. Well, they'd be genetically different children by 50 percent, but they'd probably serve basically the same function in my life.

She'd probably spend about the same amount of my income on largely the same things, and I assume we'd still attend the same parties and go to the same country club. I suppose it's possible we might have different hobbies. But we'd have the same holidays, certainly. I know we'd have the same attorney. She'd definitely have the same hair.

It's an eternal question, this mystery of "What is love, after all?" I can say this much: I can't imagine being without her, or someone like her. She's the person I've shared my life with. I'd really hate to lose her in some sort of a hypothetical divorce or unexpected-death scenario. That would be a living nightmare to deal with. If that counts as love, then yes, I love my wife very deeply.

I've been with my wife for more than 20 years. That's a lot of time to put into a long-term investment.

I've grown used to her. I'm comfortable with her. Frankly, I'd be lost without her. But I guess I'd feel that way about pretty much anybody who was from the same age group, economic tier, and level of education, and who I happened to marry 20-odd years ago, back when it was time to acquire a wife.

If she died, would I miss her? Certainly. Do I appreciate her presence in my home? Without a doubt. Is she the most important person in my life? In a way. But if she were to somehow magically disappear and be replaced one day by a near-duplicate, would that matter all that much to me? I'd have to say no.


How to Get Started with Linux, Part III

One of the nice things about Linux is that you can watch DVD movies on your computer for free! There's no need to purchase commercial DVD player software, as you do under Windows. (However, you do need to bend the law a little bit!)

Now, let's kick this support for DVD movies up a notch. I'm going to show you how to backup your commercial DVD movie, which is typically encrypted to prevent piracy. (In other words, more illegalities! Aren't we having fun?)

We're going to use a Windows program called DVD Shrink to "rip" a movie from a DVD and create an ISO file (an "image" of a DVD) from it. Then the ISO file can be burned to a DVD-R (using the K3B program - "CD/DVD Burning" under Multimedia). The movie will be shrunken to fit a 4.7 GB DVD disk.

Why are we using DVD Shrink, which is a Windows program? Because it's the best software of its kind available - for any platform - and there is no comparable Linux equivalent.

A better question is: How are we going to run DVD Shrink under Linux? Well, we're going to use a Windows emulator program called Wine, which stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator. (The acronym is actually saying: Wine is not a CPU emulator.)

To install Wine, download this file, click on the file from within Konqueror and "Install Package with YaST." Afterwards, you should run winecfg from the command line and set the Windows version to "Windows XP." Now you're ready to run a Windows XP program (which DVD Shrink is) under Linux. [Don't get too excited about Wine, though - it's not mature enough to run many Windows programs well.]

To install DVD Shrink, download this file, unzip it to extract the installation program dvdshrink32setup.exe and run the program by opening it with Wine (click on the file and enter "wine" in the "Open with:" field). This will create a new KDE menu called "Wine" under which you will find your DVD Shrink program.

Here's a tip for using DVD Shrink: in the Preferences, go to the Preview tab and disable "Enable video and audio preview." I found the video and audio preview extremely annoying.

In addition to ripping movies, you can also rip music from your audio CDs using KAudioCreator (a CD ripper you will find under the Multimedia menu - "CD/DVD Tools"). (The LAME encoder should be selected in order to generate MP3 files.)

So, with these tools, you can backup your DVD movies and create MP3 files out of your CDs. Let's stick it to the Man! We want to tell the MPAA and RIAA to shove their DRM (Digital Rights Machination, which takes away our fair use rights) up where the sun don't shine.