Windows XP Nits, Microsoft Peeves, Flips and Flaps

Okay, we interrupt the exploration of Ubuntu (which is going very well) to list a few "issues" that I have with Windows XP:
  1. Drop to DOS: The very useful ability to "drop to DOS" is not a TweakUI thing, it is a Power Tool thing, as described and accessed here at This is something I like to install on my Windows machines as it gives you quick DOS-style access to the directory of your choice (e.g. when you want to rename a bunch of files at once, or use XCOPY). But I tend to forget when you get this tool and in my Google searches seem to find numerous places where this feature is erroneously ascribed to the TweakUI tool. Oh well, for future reference, the link above is where it's at.
  2. Control-Tab: Should switch documents in Microsoft Word. Refusing to change this is just churlish. In just about every other Windows app you can press Ctrl-Tab to switch between multiple documents/windows. But not in Word because it does a special tab function. Get over it Redmond and instead of messing about everyone but Word users, let them learn one new keystroke.
  3. Indicate Save: Would it kill Microsoft to gray out the Save command on the File menu when a Word or Excel document is already saved? Without it you don't know which version of the doc is saved--the one you think you just saved or a changed version.
  4. Impossible Dream: There is probably no chance of this happening but the Save command, IMHO, should never complete without a confirmation. So much work gets lost because people hit Save and overwrite what they want to keep with what is on the screen right now. Could well be more than viruses and brownouts combined. Back in the day, those crusty but trusty apps like Lotus 1-2-3 would ask first before saving. that;s the way it should be.

Higher education could be a lot higher than it is

How do I know higher education could be a lot higher than it is? Because there was a time when it was.

Ubuntu Here We Come: The OS du jour is served

I may be the last person on the planet to have heard the word "ubuntu," but in the next few weeks I am going to try to make up for it. Just in case there is anyone else out there who doesn't know what ubuntu is--apart from being an African word meaning "humanity to others"--it is an incarnation of the Linux operating system, an alternative to Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac OSX.

For me, Ubuntu, capitalized from hereon to indicate a product rather than a word, is also a feeling of deja vu. Over the years I have installed various versions of Linux starting back in about 1995, including Slackware, Red Hat, Debian, Novell, Knoppix, and Sun. But none of these became my OS of choice for daily computing. So time would pass, during which I was not really paying attention to Linux, and then *boom* some new incarnation, of which I had never heard, would be all the rage, leaving me feeling just a little bit "out of the loop."

And so it was with Ubuntu. Suddenly I am seeing it on magazine covers, in blog postings, magazine articles, news stories, etc. And once again I am tempted to test the waters and see if this thing is worth all the hype. Clearly it would seem to be worth the money as it doesn't cost anything. That's right. You don't even have to pay for the bandwidth to download it. The folks at will actually mail you a CD. That's right, an entire operating system and suite of applications sent to your door, free of charge. Could that be why it is "The most popular desktop of Linux today" according to Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols' excellent article in

Next up, I will play "Mr. Average User" to test the claim that Ubuntu is a "Linux for the rest of us."

More About Racial Inequality in Healthcare

I found this Newsweek article interesting for the comments people made. You can see that there are some pretty heartless souls out there, as well as some more mindful and prepared to take the time to try and educate their fellow citizens. One comment points to this very useful set of resources based on the Institute of Medicine's report: Unequal Treatment, Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare. This was published in 2002 and the basic finding was that
a consistent body of research demonstrates significant variation in the rates of medical procedures by race, even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable. This research indicates that U.S. racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive even routine medical procedures and experience a lower quality of health services.
I think there will be several reports in 2007 that ask "How far have we come in five years?"

Keep Google Earth Rocking

I am a fairly recent 'discoverer' of Google Earth but it has quickly become my favorite non-work application. Call me easily amused but I love 'playing' the trip between my house in Florida, my Mum's place in England and my brother's place in Spain.

Now I have started to explore the Google Earth community and the enhancements people are making to the raw data. This is fascinating in a way that goes before mere fun. I have a strong sense that it is not merely educational, but exploratory. We humans are 'learning on the job' when it comes to geo-spatial self-awareness and what it means for the future of our planet. Try it! You'll like it. And the more people try it, the better the data will become.

The Age of the Domesticated Terabyte is Here

Two computer hardware ads hit my in-basket today offering consumer-oriented storage capacity of such an amazing price-to-volume ratio that it may represent a new stage of digital evolution: the domestication of the terabyte. One ad featured a desktop PC with a terabyte of hard drive capacity (via a pair of 500 gigabyte SATA drives) for under $2,000. The other ad featured a one terabyte external USB drive for under $500.

To put this in perspective, I can remember driving out of San Francisco one day in 1986 just to get the unbeatable cash price of $300 on a 30 megabyte hard drive, from the back office of an obscure industrial unit in Sunnyvale. And I thought myself lucky!

No, I won't lapse into a geek's version of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch, but just ponder for a moment the difference between the cost per megabyte then and now. In 1986 it was $10.00 a megabyte. Today, based on the $200 price tag of a half-a-terabyte SATA drive (from Tiger Direct for example) the cost of one megabyte is $0.0004. Heck, if you play the rebate game at right now you can get 1 gigabyte of of postage-stamp size solid state storage for $0.004 per megabyte. Only need half a gigabyte? That's free, all but for the shipping and handling.

But it is the sub-$500 terabyte external hard drive that really tells you the gigabytes have come home to roost by the thousand. Just a year ago one blogger was making fun of LaCie's introduction of the Big Disk 1TB under the heading "LaCie 1 Terabyte USB Porn Drive." I'm not taking issue with Steve for that posting, and I love the site, but what a difference a year makes.

I'm tempted to get one of these thing and no, I won't be using it for porn. After all, there are family values to think of, and it's not unusual to find families today that have one computer each: Mum, Dad, and the 2.5 kids. A terabyte external drive would let each one back up 222 gigabytes. That's about the amount of storage built into an entry-level desktop and just over twice what you get in a new notebook. What are people using it for? Music, photos, and video. Lots of it.

Mobile Blogging from a Treo 650

Checking in from my Treo 650.

Yep, mobile blogging comes to Blogger. At first I thought this would be a big yawn. After all, one has been able to email blog postings to some blog systems for years. But I like Blogger more than other systems and this new feature lets me text a posting to Blogger (with image if I want) in very short order, right from my trusty Treo. When I get a chance I will test the formatting possibilities of this channel, which are obviously limited (I added the title after the fact, via the web). Despite these limitations I think I will be using this channel quite a bit.


Mobile Email from a Cingular Wireless Customer

New Versions of Windows Will Always Be Late

...and seldom worth waiting for. What you want to wait for is the second update to the new version, the 3.11 to the 3.0, the SP2 to the XP, and so on.

I am quite familiar with the problems of inductive reasoning so I won't say it is impossible that a future version of Windows will ship on time. But I would never bet money on the folks at Microsoft giving me what they promised when they first promised it. Indeed, I would humbly suggest that IT managers who take Microsoft timetables at their face value are gambling with their company's profitability.

Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Remember that Windows 1.0 was announced in late 1983, promised for April 1984, only to be delivered in November, 1985. As someone who tried to use Windows 1.0, I can say in all honesty, it was not worth the wait. Arguably, we did not get a really worthwhile version until Windows for Workgroups 3.11 in November of 1993, a decade after the initial brouhaha. The rest, as they say, is history.

Racial inequality in healthcare

Even when enrolled in identical Medicare health plans, black patients have worse health outcomes than white patients, according to a study by researchers from Harvard and Brown universities, who studied data from 431,573 patient visits covered by 151 Medicare managed care plans from 2002 to 2004. The findings appear in the Oct. 25 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (as reported by WebMD).

My Friend the Treo 650

I have said it before and have said it elsewhere, but I will say it again, the Treo 650 is the best hi-tech purchase I have ever made, and the best computer I have ever owned (it does input-output-storage-processing ergo it is a computer).

My Treo 650

What prompts me to say this right now? I dropped it. Again. Getting out of my pickup it fell onto a concrete parking lot. And just like last time it sustained a few scratches but kept on ticking. As an object of visual beauty it is now up there with the dented Leica of a famed photographer, the well-worn axe of a working guitarist. I now use my Treo 650 as twelve tools in one:

1. Alarm clock (playing one of the many great polyphonic tunes this thing can produce).

2. Flashlight (the screen is bright enough to find your way around a hotel room in the dark).

3. Camera (for all sorts of shots, notably evidence and possible shopping decisions--like a shot of a PC on sale at Circuit City, including model number and price--no typing required).

4. My diary/mustdo reminder, handily coordinated with my notebook computer...recently found to be very handy for birthday reminders as I am trying to be better about getting people cards, etc.

5. Casual reading (mainly news from the BBC while standing in line or sitting in a waiting room).

6. Emailing (I like the thumb keyboard and often catch up on email while flying, sending the messages out as soon as we land).

7. Texting (not a medium I love, but Treo handles it just fine when needed, including MMS).

8. Dictation (Palm Dictate works great--can dictate memos while driving and the sound is very acceptable).

9. MP3 playing (I have a collection of SD cards containing different mixes I can switch in and out--great for plane trips--and the same cards will work nicely in my truck once I get a radio with a USB socket).

10. GPS--just got a Bluetooth GPS puck and am learning to use it. Screen display does a great job of rendering maps.

11. Blogging--just getting this set up but should allow me to blog while travelling, etc..

12. As a phone--yes, it is also a phone and has great talk time and standby time. Truly excellent battery life in fact. The ease of adding contacts means it is now my central repository for people, companies, etc.