A different vision
I had a very different vision of what the internet in the home would look like 14 years ago.
Everyone would have a dedicated IP address, and electronic mail would be delivered right to your server in the wall. (Email would then have the same privacy rights as private mail). Your internal network would be firewalled off from the outside, but you could let advanced services, like telephony and video conferencing in. You'd be able to access your home network from anywhere using a secure, encrypted connection.
Phone lines would go away to be replaced by ethernet jacks. New home and development builders would embed ethernet cable and fiber optic cable in the walls with jacks near nearly every electrical outlet. Where there wasn't cabling there'd be wireless - enough to cover the property and connect to 4 of your physical neighbors in a mesh network. Power through the home would be DC where appropriate, and served up via a central UPS that got power during the night from the electric company (when rates were low - during the week the nightly rates are 1/3 that as day), and powered through the day via solar.
Hard disks would be replaced by solid state memory. Doors would have LCD panels embedded in them with calendars, todo lists, graphic art, etc.
Computers - those square boxy things - would become stylish, incorporated into furniture, directly into monitors, into bookcases, and into lamps.
I thought we'd solve the speech recognition from anywhere in a room problem by now. When will DSP processing catch up to star trek?
Now I'm faced with the reality of an IP shortage, and a 70 year old house.
alright... now I'm really off to run some errands.
My electric is currently running at 80 dollars a month. In the winter it spikes to about 120-130 due to using an electric heater a little too often.
Aha, I remember what really bugs me. Nobody makes a timer that survives power failures. Either you use battery'd clocks or you run around fixing all the clocks in the house every time the power goes out - and there's clocks on the range, the coffee maker, the microwave, timers on the stereo.
Hmm. 802.11 wireless chips are getting cheaper, and so is bluetooth. Why not embed bluetooth into an electrical wall socket to control the power?
I've done this with X10 (got most of the parts around for the old system somewhere - we used to have the lava lamp flash when email arrived! But hooking it to the coffee maker didn't work - it used too much power for the appliance module to take) - doing it with wireless would let you control it from anywhere...
Hmmm.... another solution is to just have reliable power. Once I got a steal on gel batteries that could power a whole building of 60 people for a couple hours, cost about 7k. Another partial solution is to figure out exactly what uses power... hmm... maybe some more blankets on the bed this year - I got the woodstove to where I could run it for 12 hours at a time for about a week last winter - but it barely kept up with feburary...
Note to self - call electric company about variable meter. Also maybe about installing two meters.
Now... I'm really, really, really off to run some errands. with a tape deck in hand.
The camels of the dark side...
The morals of the next to last blog entry are manyfold. The first thing I realized after writing it - was that I was talking about letting camels in your tent. Once I knuckled under and said, OK, I'll use XP again, the applications for it started to multiply. I had to beat them back and remember the purposes I use Linux for - and then start coming up with a more reasonable network and system design that incorporated the best of both worlds, and solved existing problems.
The second point I was making to myself (again, not realizing it until after I wrote it down) was that the knock of the Jehova's witnesses was much like my own attempts at convincing others to run Linux on the desktop. It's religion. It's hard to convince skeptics....
1) That "finish 5 jobs, 400% of the effort" thing is really true. You have to buckle down to finish them to have room in your brain for more stuff. I've been buckling down using newton's law "An object in motion tends to stay in motion". OK, I have a hard time sitting still for a long time or focusing on one task. For the past year I've been working on the sensory deprivation model - getting my life and house so quiet I could hear myself again. I think I'm doing that...
But historically that's not been how I function best. I used to tell time via music - I'd pile up a whole bunch of records and tapes back to back at the beginning of the day, and play them. The passage of each song or record would keep my calm and clued as to the passage of time. Simultaniously the TV would be on - just imagery on repeat - like Philip Glass's film that I can't spell the name of right now. I'd have something like sidekick going for the random thoughts. I used to have a dual monitor system, with 4 virtual desktops, which gave me a place for web/email/work and misc. There'd be a virtual desktop running windows for the windows things....
Now I've got things organised closer to that. There's a workstation for writing, surrounded by writing books (dictionaries/strunk and white/etc). There's a space for programming and diagramming with all my programming books. And there's a machine for fun, not even connected to the net - but connected to the stereo so I can play back music I was working on while I'm working.
The cacaphony of all this stuff going at once gives me an outlet for actually focusing on the things I need to finish - it's getting it all going at once that takes too much time now....
Anyway, I had 5 tough jobs in front of me earlier in the week, and facing any one of them was putting me off. I got 2 of them done yesterday, and hopefully a third today
2) I'm not going to convert my main box to XP. Yet. I may decide to try Win4Lin or vmware again, but for now, the machine is rock stable, and does most of what I need. Better to focus on getting a firewall and web server up (actually, to decide whether or not I want to run web and email services at home first) - and even then, these are indoor activities that I can do best at night. Gotta focus on what I can do via business hours. I do need a working scanner, bad - have to convert all kinds of documentation, and I still can't find the power supply. I found 15 other power supplies.... anyway... off to run some errands.
Google - stranger than Lovecraft?
Sometimes I think google is stranger than Lovecraft. I misspelt Cuthulu
. But how I got that spelt right is a mystery, I wasn't conciously looking for it, I was looking up "Postieror sensory appendages such as the anal cirri of annelid words and the cerci of insects".
Today: I blogged, I worked on cabling for a while, finished a first cut sequence of a song that at least looked good on paper, scratched my head about the boards, emptied the shelves of all the irrelevant books, filled up my todo box by the door, wrote tons of notes on my white board, and scratched my head about moving the washer and dryer.
That shelf needs to come down. Or the weight machine needs to go in the garage.
Nooooo. weight machine must stay. Garage can have w/d, maybe there's room under the old kitchen to put a hole in the floor and run a ladder down. A circus pole. A door that seals after the cat eats. Heh. I need a testbed. I'll turn the doghouse into a cathouse!
I keep thinking about mems. really, really small single chip circuits.
A cat transporter
. With voice recognition. Can a cat be trained to emit a certain meow to enter a house? Given the frequency range of a cat's meow, what is the likelyhood of another animal duplicating it?
Dear Cindi Clawford:
Pay no attention to your master bearing the microphone around. Just act natural. Talk to me. You have a questioning meow, an open the damn door please now meow, an "I'm hungry meow", a hello meow, - don't you? Come on now, talk to me, just don't stare at the !@#! frigging microphone or brush against it... just you... wait, just come back here and emit a single dang sound just so I can think about training a single stupid but cheap chip with the sound and hitching that to the door opener or lift.
Got a lot to do tomorrow. "She who will not be blogged" is coming down for the weekend. I gotta order some firewood, get the chimney cleaned, um... what else had I put off? Oh yea... I...
I found that Lovecraft book... wedged between a pair of 1970s galaxy paperbacks. ha... the story I'd been reminded of was "The shunned house". Damn, only a few days left to Halloween.
"...These persons will not cut off suddenly by any one cause' rather did it seem that their vitality was insidiously sapped, so that each one died the sooner from what tendency to weakness he may have naturally had. And those that didn't die displayed in varying degree a type of anaemia or consumption, or a decline of the mental faculties, which spoke ill for the salubriousness of the building. Neighboring houses, it must be added, seemed entirely free from the noxious quality. " The book is in a collection of stories copyright 1939 and 1943 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrie. And re-copyrighted 1964 by August Derleth. Cthula!
What were the rules again?
The slow seduction of the camels of the Dark Side
Now I'm considering installing Windows XP on my fastest machine. Why?
It all started when a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses stopped by my door to introduce themselves as my neighbors. I had been writing since 3AM – the words flowing out of me like teardrops – and I welcomed the knock on my door as I had missed breakfast and lunch, and the fire in my woodstove had gone out.
I generally fry solicitors for lunch.
One young lady wore braces and spoke not at all, but the one talking was pretty, and articulate. She asked me a couple leading questions, and then read from the Bible about heaven on earth. 'Did I agree?', she said. “Oh, yes” I said, thinking in more graphic detail about heaven on earth – via the Kama Sutra - with someone else.
She read a little more, and kept asking me if I agreed with each statement... and at every point I agreed - (There's plenty as agreeable in the Bible if you look in the right places, like in the eyes of a pretty woman that's at your door). I started planning my next move... what was it going to be?
Invite them in and whip out my copies of the Torah, Koran, and try to engage in a serious discussion of religion in general?
Offer them a glass of water, smile, and tell them that the Church of All Worlds welcomed members of all religions?
Ask her for her phone number and then sign her up (as my own act of charity) for the donotcall phone list?
A million plans like that ran through my head; I must have become a little glassy eyed. Just as I was going to invite them both to the Cthultu virgin sacrifice next week as “my special guests”, she ran out of steam, handed me a copy of the Watchtower, and fled up the street.
You know, ever since I started using the net, I've lacked burnable paper. The 4th class mail I get usually has little plastic windows on it and smells bad when burned... two pages of their pamphlet restarted my woodstove nicely, and I went back to writing.
What the heck does this have to do with a Linux geek installing windows? Well...
Maybe it started with a phone call I got last week from the very first person I ever worked for in the computer industry... Don Fox. He was in Florida, and thought I still lived in Fort Lauderdale. He googled for me, then rang me up. We talked for hours.
Back in the late 70s Don owned the Computer and Software Store in Ocean City, NJ, and I was in high school. I'd come by and play with the VIC-20 (a more powerful machine than the CBM Pet and IBM mini I had access to), writing dinky little programs in basic, and playing games on it, and we got to talking. I was a pretty good customer for a while, and when the Commodore 64 came out (1982?), I got one. I learned everything there was to know about it. Don offered me a job fixing the stream of broken 64s that came into his place (it was a great machine but quality control sucked), and I worked for Don, on and off, for a couple years.
My computer clique grew rapidly as Electronic Arts had a policy then of shipping two free copies of every new computer game to every retailer every month. I remember losing most of a summer to Zork, dreaming about it, scheming with friends to try and find solutions, late night phone calls like “why don't you try... and maybe if you...” Don was just as addicted to computer games as I was and we'd spend hours playing them when we should have been drumming up business. We also hacked a lot - back then it seemed possible to really know everything there was to know about a computer – “burn a new BIOS? No problem” - Don also did Dbase programming on the side, which was more lucrative than retail, and I got sucked into it. First we both got into Dbase III, then he moved to Clipper and I to Foxpro and SQL, and gradually our paths diverged over the mid-80s. I've seen him, oh, maybe five times since the 90s.
So anyway, Don and I talked for hours, reminiscing about the Good Old Days... He told me he'd been programming Access and Visual BASIC for the last 3 years, saying that Access 98 had sucked but Access 2000 was good enough to write real applications in, once you spent time learning the language. I asked him about Clipper - "Dead as a doornail, no demand for it"...
I told him about my Linux work of the last few years, and about some of the products that I've had a hand in... and I also told him I was a mite depressed at not finding work that fit my X11/gtk/embedded background - he interrupted - "GEK, what's that?". "Yea", I said. "Exactly."
He upped my spirits: "Remember when you first showed me the internet, back in 1987? I thought it would never fly. I thought you were nuts to be wasting time with it and that Unix thing. Even in 94 when you were starting that ISP, I didn't get it - what did you get from the Net that you couldn't from a BBS? You may have been wrong about a lot of things, but the Internet? I use it for everything now. I bought my last two cars online. I bank online. I'm online from the time I get up to the time I get to bed. It's changed my life. You showed me all that - you realized the potential early on - and few understood until much later. Your biggest problem is that you've always been way ahead of the curve."
Here I am trying to cure myself of Internet addiction... and all the way across the country I'm thanked for the Net by an old friend. The irony. "OK", I thought - "Maybe there will be a market in 10 years for google rehabiliation centers, that the web will be regulated like ritalin for causing ADD, that there will be a back to pen and paper movement, that digital recording will fade away to tape...."
"Maybe you should ressurect an old skill or two." Don said. "You've done a ton of database work. DBAs are making a pretty penny all over the country, there's a real shortage. You should also maybe give XP a try, most of the reasons why you switched to Unix are addressed by XP...."
After he hung up, I sat and stewed. I've spent a lot of time re-evaluating why I do just about everything I do in life this year, why not think about Linux, XP, and Mac again?
I became convinced of the quality of free software (in terms of the gcc compiler) in 1991-92, and started using it in everyday work. I switched to Linux in 93, but I ran NT on my desk with an Xwindow emulator from 94-96. Why did I do that? For programming, and file/web serving Linux was better - but for project management and document interchange, NT was the way to go. I managed with the best of both worlds for a long time. Then Windows 98 came out, and oh, was it buggy. NT 4.0 had such reliability issues that I made a living for a while swapping out NT servers for samba servers - seeing uptimes go from 3 days to 6 months, typically. Mac? Don't make me laugh.
And here was the little penguin that could. I got convinced that Linux and Open Source would sweep over the world. That was my state of mind from 97-02. I look now at how far the Linux desktop has come since then, and I'm amazed - yet it still isn't far enough.
In 02 I started having doubts. Linux companies were dropping like flies. Netscape lost the browser war, arguably much earlier, but I thought mozilla really would take back market share. PocketPC invaded the niche that PalmOS had been in, and Linux didn't. I kept working harder and harder at my job but it seemed like I was treading water at best. Although I'd been active in open source prior to actually doing it for a living full-time, I'd gradually dropped out of the things that most interested me. I would turn bricks into something that booted and then move on, never actually using a computer for anything useful, just solving other peoples problems with them. I kept thinking of how Mark Twain had dreamed of being a river pilot for years, and when he'd actually become one, all the romance dropped out of it.
Living in a gift culture is draining. I have name recognition now, sure, and food on the table, but that's about it. My interests have changed. I'm mostly interested in things like voice recognition, and sound production, things that Linux doesn't do well (yet!), and I want to be doing these things now, not years from now. That 24 track recorder I just put online has sat idle for a couple years now because I was unwilling to deal with another operating system in the house... and so, I didn't record or play, or even practice much all this time. Dumb. "What's the harm of running one little XP box for that?" - I thought.
I have got this far in my life by over rigorously applying the 80/20 rule. I thought that if I did 5 jobs - 5*(20% effort for 80% of the work) I was accomplishing 400 percent of the work of normal human being - which often was the case. But that last 20% of the work piles up, especially if you are doing 5 jobs at once... and, well, do the math - expending 400% more effort to finish
those 5 jobs is quite overwhelming.
At that point, you really have to sit down and think about what jobs are worth doing.
"For each machine, a purpose..." - I thought. I sat down with a fresh piece of paper, and diagrammed out what I wanted my house network to look like. Something was wrong from the start - why was having a house network important in the first place? I spent years with my mission in life being to hook computers up to the internet - it was even my handle for a time, "Johnny Net" - Johnny Appleseed... but wasn't using at least one computer for something other than the Internet more productive? Haven't I been saying that for months? Hmmm....
OK, that simplified cabling for the synthesiser - in fact, I could put the computer and synth somewhere I couldn't run ethernet... wham - boom - it fit perfectly. And, Joy of Joys, after I installed XP, and a little sneaker-net, I could record 4 tracks and midi in sync, spdif just worked. Worse... I had a ball playing with it... still worse... the interfaces to cakewalk and windows itself came right back to me - I even spent a few days without a mouse forcing myself to relearn the keyboard commands....
I went back to that piece of paper. what else bothered me about my existing computers and network? The pile of tapes, of interviews, ideas, todos and god knows what els in the corner drew my eye. I've been meaning to type them up, but the pile keeps getting bigger and bigger. Right next to the tape, a store-bought copy of dragon-dictate 6... I always dictate first drafts, I used to hire college students to take care of typing in the important ones, but now I can't do that... and so the tapes pile up.
"What do I use computers at home for? I need to be able to write, to outline, to share documents, to publish on the Web, to create e-mail, to create music, and preferably do as much of this stuff flat on my back with my eyes closed because that's how I think best. I don't know what I'm going to use a computer at home for work, for, why worry about it overmuch now? Make your home as productive as possible"
So I made my mini-itx box dual boot, and put dragon dictate on it. A 533 Mhz C3 processor fine for word processing and the web but it is about 5x too slow to do useful dictation to... but almost this entire blog was dictated last night before I went to sleep. I lay in bed this morning wishing the microphone cable would reach. With a really big font in open office I can see what I writing from a prone position.
And so, I started thinking about making my pride, my joy, my 200GB, 1GB RAM, 1.4 Ghz athlon computer dual boot. I've come a heck of a long way since last year. all I have to do is move DNS/DHCP and web service off of it to something else - Maybe an ipaq, maybe that dual ppro - and I can convert the big box... hey, I can upgrade to redhat 9 on one box... and use this other box as a firewall...
I don't know if this is a tactical retreat (I still have 3 dedicated Linux boxen and a Cisco in the house), but it sure is a change.
And so this oddessy back into the M$ world continues. I've lost that old-time religion. Certainly being more OS agnostic will help me find work close by....
Yesterday (remember that I was down about being an X11/Gtk programmer earlier in this blog?) I got a call out of the blue for an X11/gtk job in SF. Sounded like it had a lot of potential.
I still haven't diagrammed out the house net. Or told my realtor in writing to pull the house off the market. Or converted my main box to dual boot. Or finished pulling up the boards to my deck, or ordering firewood, or so many other things - so I'm going to log off now, and stay logged off for a while.
Almost a normal morning
Yes, after several years of running a Windows-Free (tm) household, I've bitten the bullet and installed XP on two systems. On one system I didn't have a choice - boogieman has a 24 track audio card from MOTU that is only supported under Windows, and runs cakewalk and reason, which only work under windows... so, dang it, I'm not going to use one of the new Linux sequencers until I can afford to get at least 8 track capability on a Linux box, which is an investment in hardware I'm not prepared to make for a while.
I've got that machine running quite reliably - I've got cakewalk tracking audio and midi down to 1.5 ms, which is quite nice - the audio playback and the midi playback seem indistinguishable. Reason has trouble keeping up with me playing piano, but I haven't tried the ASIO drivers yet. I really don't want to throw a faster box at this application, as cool as it is... there's an upgrade available too... more things to download... but this is the first machine I've put together in years that I don't want to connect to the net - no distractions - so I'm going to keep sneaker netting it until I get frustrated enough to drill a hole in the floor....
On to machine #2.
Squeezebox is one of my nearly silent mini-itx based PCs. The FPU runs at half the clockspeed of 533 Mhz - Aside from audio processing it's fast enough for browsing, tax prep, and word processing - as well as basic software development. I installed both Redhat 8 and XP on it.
Right away, I was annoyed by IE, so I started trying to make my XP environment as much like my Linux environment as possible. (I know that this is backward from how most reviewers do it!) I installed Mozilla and Openoffice on Squeezebox. I've been able to crash mozilla 1.4 and 1.5 easily with the Cowell's Beach
cam. Aggh, I might have to use IE! OpenOffice so far seems OK. I've still got 2 critical updates to XP to install.
Ahh, the care and feeding of PCs... got a cat on my lap, a cup of decaf, and a few phone calls to make. Almost like a normal day, except that I can go to the beach any time I want. Too bad there's no waves. I guess I'll keep building up my home office to usability. Where's the dang power supply to the scanner?
The winter of my disconnect
I managed nearly a week offline, working at my house, fixing the roof, various other issues... the surf was really rocking, too, I got some more surfing in....
I've been reconnecting everything that I had packed up in the garage. I finally have three reliable machines doing exactly what I want them to do:
Boogieman - 24 tracks of audio, dvd burner, 800 mhz Athlon
Squeezebox - A 533 Mhz via epia motherboard in a nearly silent case - to become my main workstation
Lompico - currently my main workstation and houshold server, with a 1.4 ghz athlon - to be retired temporarily and upgraded into an oracle/mysql server...
Next to ressurect: Lugosi - An ancient (10 year old) dual pentium pro - to run experiments on user mode linux and gentoo and vmware... I have had a long-standing need to install multiple versions of Linux (Suse/Mandrake/Redhat 7.3, 8, 9, AS) for compatability testing, this is probably my best shot at trying to find a stable way to run about 12 OSes at the same time on the same box.
I'm seriously considering using my linux based ipaq as my home dns/web server. It has a lot of features that would be useful in this role - including inherent battery backup, 16MB of spare flash - and totally silent operation. I never use it as a PDA anymore (I've reverted to paper!).