Stop ACTA Now!

I’m not one to spam my friends with a lot of email for a cause so I will blog about it instead. The large content holders such as the movie industry and the music industry don’t seem to care for the Internet much. They know some of their material is being stolen and even where they are making money it’s not the type of controlled channel they are used to. Instead of shelling out for a whole CD or album to get the one or two good tracks, people can buy a single track for $1.99 or so. Instead of spending upwards of $7 a ticket to see a movie, we can rent it through iTunes or even pay Netflix a monthly subscription and watch as we want.

They’ve lost control and they don’t like it. They would like this whole Internet thing to go away. For the past few years there have been repeated attempts to get legislation created that would allow them to remove Internet access for anyone accused of downloading copyrighted material illegally. That’s accused, not found guilty. No due process, just an accusation. Shades of witch trials in the middle ages!

Most the arguments are couched in terms of how the poor content creators are being harmed by pirating. Really, the people losing the most money (if indeed it really is that much) are the content holders. By that I mean the recording and film industry. The content creators don’t make most of the profits from music or film sales. So this is largely a smokescreen argument. They quote losses based on the number of downloads. This assumes that everyone who downloads would have bought a copy otherwise or that they didn’t later go and buy a copy.

The real way to battle piracy is to make content available easily, such as iTunes, Amazon or Netflix, and at a good price. Those methods have been proven to work. There are existing laws and means to deal with cases of continuing piracy. Witness the recent arrest and charging of the owners of the site Megaupload. Even in that case, not all of the material on the site was copyrighted, people were storing and exchanging their own personal data which they have now lost.

So what can you do? Glad you asked. You can start by going to the OpenMedia site and adding your name to the email petition. Let our politicians know that we don’t support these measures.

The IT Assembly Line: Steve I hardly Knew Ye

(or How I Came To Be An Apple Fan Boy)

I first wrote this right after Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO (or iCEO) of Apple. After I wrote this Steve Jobs passed away on October 5th, so the title I chose is especially poignant.

As a fairly new Apple customer, feel like I came late to the party and I hope it’s not ending. I resisted Apple products for many years for a number of reasons.

I’ve been mucking about with computers since I bough my first TI-994A home computer in 1983. After Texas Instruments bailed on the home computer industry (much for the same reasons HP is bailing on the PC industry); I bailed on TI and bought an Atari 600XL, followed by an Atari 130XE a couple years later.
At the time I wasn’t that impressed with the Apple ][ since I thought my Atari had better sound and graphics and the Apple was overpriced. When the Mac came out I was impressed by it’s design but was turned off by it’s lack of colour, small screen and the fact that, it too, was overpriced. I bought my first IBM-compatible PC in 1988, A Tandy 1000 (which actually was a PC-Jr compatible).

At the time I bought it the cutting edge thing in computers was Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) or to put it more simply, windows. However for price reasons I bought the Tandy. Even though it was a DOS machine, it wasn’t radically different from the other command-line-based computers I had used before. I was initially excited by Windows 3.1 which came with the 386 PC I bought in 1992. I thought, here is a real multi-tasking, 32 bit Operating System that will take full advantage of my 386 CPU’s power. I was soon to discover that this wasn’t really the case. The next few computers I owned all ran various Microsoft OS from Windows 3.1, Windows 95, the various Windows 98s, NT Workstation, Windows 2000 professional to Windows XP.

I had battled the viruses, suffered through the service packs, been frightened by the vulnerabilities (now that I had a full-time Internet connection) but I hung in there. Then XP, apparently randomly, started to lose network connectivity. I had a home server by this time and every so often I could no longer access my file shares, or the Internet. After trying various repairs the only thing that seemed to fix it was a compete re-installation of Windows XP. I was getting fatigued by now. My job often entailed battling various Windows viruses and so coming home to continue Windows support was getting old.

In early 2003, I started checking out Linux. I had been following its development but up until the early 2000s hadn’t seen anything that was a mature as Windows. I downloaded a copy of SUSE 8.0 (which was free) and found I could run it right from the CD. So I tried it and quite liked it. It was different, it ran fast, even had free office suites available. The next time XP crapped out (I never did find out what was causing that), I went for it. I converted both my networked PCs to Linux.

My kids were initially reluctant until hey found out they could still do MS chat and most of what they were already doing on the Internet. My oldest son still wanted a dual boot for gaming and soon bought his own PC, running XP. For the next 5 years we were, mostly, a Linux household. While many trembled in fear from nimda, Code Red and several other big virus outbreaks, we were immune. It was nice. The only problems were things like; availability of new software programs (like Google Earth) which were always developed for Linux last, if ever; hardware drivers for printers and wireless devices required a lot of under-the-hood configuration. On one hand Linux was a very customizable system with an advanced graphical desktop but there was still a lot of do-it-yourself involved. Again I was fatiguing. I thought, isn’t there a system which is powerful but easy to use?

Then the light finally went on…the Mac! You see by now the Mac was running on Intel hardware (like the PCs), had wonderful colour displays and (like Linux), was from the UNIX family tree. (The Mac OSX is based on a free version of UNIX called FreeBSD). It was like Apple and I travelled different paths that converged at this point. So in 2007 I bought my first iMac. Before long I had an iPod, a MacBook Pro for my daughter and even a 13 inch unibody MacBook for me. This last spring I bought an iPhone. I still have all these machines (my daughters MacBook screen is on the way out but it was used when she bought it). I even converted my mom over to a Mac Mini a couple of years back to cut down on the long-distance support calls.

My current workstation with my Macbook and external monitor (no not an Apple) and keyboard

The point is that I feeling like my party in Apple-town is getting started. My hope is that Tim Cook, his successor, can keep the vision and energy alive better than Steve Balmer has over at Microsoft after Bill Gates’ departure.

– 30 –

The IT Assembly Line: ITIL Wrecked The Business

Okay, I’ll admit I’m being a bit provocative here but I essentially stand by my statement. We geeks and nerds are now shackled, muzzled and managed. The other thing I should explain is just what ITIL is, for those who may not know. ITIL stands for Information Technology Infrastructure Library which originated in the UK. It is essentially a series of books describing best practices for Information Technology (IT). (There’s a lot more to it than that for more reading check out this Wiki page). What it means is the taming of the IT business, its domestication, if you will. Every part of IT becomes a process; tested, checked, signed off and scheduled. Gone are the days of, ‘I’ll just reboot this server and users will just have to understand’ (*Really* gone are the days of the Bastard Operator From Hell). I understand that this needed to happen for IT to move forward and take its place in the corporate world alongside age-old disciplines like engineering and accounting but gosh darn it they’ve taken all the fun out it!

For those of us who came into the business from the wild and woolly world of PCs it is, in a word, boring. We’ve gone from performing tasks from end-to-end to single, highly-defined, highly controlled, tasks and specialties. For example, in the past, I have unboxed servers and even done some assembly of components, installed the Operating System, set up the security and file systems, created backups, configured the networking, added external storage, etc. Each of these steps is now a specialty often performed by different people or even different departments, under change-managed conditions. in short one doesn’t touch a mouse or keyboard unless it is an approved, scheduled change.

The analogy I draw is that of the automobile business from the turn of the last century. Originally, trained craftsmen (machinists, sheet metal smiths, coach-builders, etc.) worked as a small team to build a single car from the ground up and create a beautifully crafted, and very expensive, automobile. Along comes Henry Ford and soon we have low-skilled workers, each performing a single operation, to build cars, cheaply, on an assembly line.

That’s where IT is going and indeed has already gone. The other effect ITIL has had is on the make-up of IT staff. In the recent past IT was comprised almost exclusively of technical or semi-technical people, including management. In other words your manager could probably do your job because they probably used to do something very like it. Now we have management types that are strictly BAs and staff who are in ‘process’ positions that, beyond email, know little about the underlying technology. It feels like an invasion, like the preppies taking over the chess club in high school. It was the last refuge of the nerd, a place where we could be ourselves and work alongside (and be managed by) like minded individuals.

So what’s a geek to do? Quit? Go work for a technical consulting firm? Rant about it in a blog? For the moment I have chosen the third option but down the road? Who knows maybe it’s time to find another career. I hear mobile platforms are pretty cutting edge…


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