Cobb on Politics? Scary possibilities emerge

Yes, I'm going to blog politics. After decades of keeping my political opinions very separate from my entrepreneurial persona, I figure it is time to come out of the closet (or wherever it is that people are said to be when they hide their true feeling about something in order to get by in this world, stay employed, avoid upsetting the neighbors, etc.). If we cannot, as citizens, speak our minds on politics without fear of retribution, we are, as a nation, screwed.

And speaking of citizens, just for the record, I am one. In fact, I have been a citizen of these United States longer than the current governor of California. So, if the constitution is ever changed so Arnold can run for president, that will also make me eligible to run for the White House. Some of my friends consider that to be a good argument for leaving Article Two of the constitution alone.

Where to Begin? How about some financial perspective?

If there is one word that permeates talk about people and money it is millionaire. If there is one amount of money that is synonymous with "rich" and "wealthy" it is: a million dollars. Well, I have good news and bad news about millionaires and a million dollars. The bad news is that a million dollars is not what it used to be. The people that most Americans think of as rich live in houses that cost at least a million dollars. So for the average working person whose paycheck just about covers expenses and doesn't leave much room for saving--in fact probably has less that three months of mortgage payments in savings--the idea of a million dollars sounds great. If it were to do so then obviously it would be a big boost one's finances. Now you can afford a million dollar house. But can you afford to heat it--or if it's in Florida--can you afford to keep it cool? Maybe not. When you set aside fantasies and lottery tickets, the best way to look at a million dollars is in terms of the income it can earn. Suppose you use the $1 million to buy tax-free municipal bonds that pay 5.00% per year. These are very safe so you have little chance of losing your million. They would earn you $50,000 per year, about the same as your after-tax income if you have a job that pays $30 an hour (and have a few dependents to claim on your taxes). Not bad, but it hardly fits the 'lifestyles of the rich and famous' bill. Indeed, it is slightly below the US median income for a household of four. So the next time you say "I want to make million" try adding a Z at the end, as in "I want to make millionz." And don't fool yourself that even two or three million will sustain a lifetime full of jet-setting and bling.

Here Begins "Cobb on Tech"

So, I decided I need a separate place to keep all my tech-related thoughts (to be honest, I didn't realize I was going to have so many).

Some of them will be migrating here from "Cobb On" and "scobb's non-blog."

If there is something specific in the hi-tech space that you would like me to comment on, let me know.

Could Ubuntu Be Too Cute?

Okay, so I was able to boot my IBM from the Ubuntu 6.10 CD, thus getting an impressive preview of what Ubuntu offers should I decide to install it on the hard drive. But getting to that point was not as easy as I may have made it sound. And my experiences since then have raised a number of issues. In other words, all is not perfect in Ubuntu-land. As with many things in life, it is all about perception v. reality.

Ubuntu has strived to create a warm, fuzzy, "fun-and-easy-to-use" image. Now, even at this early stage of our relationship, I am prepared to accept that it is a warmer, fuzzier, funner, and easier Linux than those I have tried in the past. But...I did have to download two different versions of Ubuntu to find the one that worked nicely, which was 6.10 (the same hardware just stalled when trying to boot from 6.06). And I spent quite a bit of time failing to boot two older machines with either 6.06 or 6.1o (more on that later).

In the process I found you don't have to look far to see the geek beneath the gloss at ubuntu,com. For example, one of the suggestions for those having problems with the install is to use Knoppix. It goes something like: "Grab the latest debootstrap_*.tar.gz from [WWW] ...Save the archive into the /home/knoppix/tmp directory because /tmp is probably too small...Uncompress and extract the archive...then cd into the newly created directory and build the program."

This is very useful technical information and I mean no disrespect to the authors, who are clearly driven by the best of intentions, but it is not warm and fuzzy. I can see your 'average user' giving up at this point. Granted, this advice appears in the "Advanced" section, but the non-advanced section is pretty short on answers to questions like "what to do if you start the install and the machine just sits there churning all night with a blank screen." Recourse to posting in the support forums is quite likely if you run into install issues. The good news there is that answers come pretty quick, as I hope to relate in my next post on Ubuntu.

Now, to briefly address just one of the questions Dave raised in his comment on my last Ubuntu post, my IBM NetVista P4HT booted to the Ubuntu graphical desktop in exactly 2 minutes. Considering that this is booting from a CD, not a hard drive, I think it is impressive. After all, one of the big attractions of Ubuntu is that, if it does boot from the free CD you burned from the download or requested from the web site, you can test drive the OS and the apps on your hardware before doing an install. And I mean really test drive, like surf the web over your internet connection and play your music CDs (if you have a second CD drive). Now that is impressive.

Windows Patches Definitely Ditch Data

I have now confirmed, at my expense, that Windows security updates DO destroy data. I wrote about this before and it happened again.

How? The update process restarts your system without your consent. You come back from a cup of coffee and there is the BIOS login. Your XP machine has rebooted. Word has NOT created backups of your latest edits. The notes you had typed in a Notepad document are NOT saved unless you hit "Save" before you went for coffee.

So, the lesson here is an old one: Save everything before you leave your machine unattended. Sound advice that I should have been heeding. But really? In this day and age shouldn't we be able to trust our OS not to screw with our work?

About the only good news is that the latest version of Firefox DOES remember all of the pages you were looking at before XP closed it down.

Bill Gates says U.S. education system needs work

Read all about it: Bill Gates says U.S. education system needs work! This from the number one public figure to whom those kids who don't want to finish college turn for justification. Would it have hurt him to finish college, just to set a good example?
"Primary and secondary schools are failing to get students ready for college."
No kidding. This from a guy who doesn't send his own kids to public school. What a great example it would be if he did. If there is one aspect of the education debate that really irks me it is people talking about how the "American education system" needs to be better supported, while their own resources are directed at supporting and perpetuating some private school. 

Either we make up our minds that there is one system of education, the tax-payer funded public education system, or we come out and admit that really it is every family for itself, and McDonald's take the hindmost. .

Ubuntu Arrivesl Boots Well and Looks Good

In glorious technicolor on my 19 inch hi-res Princeton monitor, booted from a CD-rom on an IBM NetVista. This was indeed an impressive introduction. Took just moments to boot with no complaints. The picture here is actually a photo of the screen, showing a word processor, spreadsheet, music player and video player, all of which are included in the Ubuntu package. (Click image for slightly larger version.)

Of course, it could never be that easy, right? So in my next post I will document some obstacles to avoid if you want your first experience of Ubuntu to be a smooth one.

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."