Where Have All the Segways Gone?

On a couple of recent business trips I saw several groups of Segways, leading me to rethink my notion that this device was something of a flop (and thus not a good omen for other gyroscopically stabilized forms of transportation).

First LA, where the Segway is used on the Universal Studios complex. I stayed a few nights at the large Hilton there and saw staff using the Segway to speed up trips between different parts of the very large property. I also noted that you can rent Segways in Santa Monica.

Then I was in Chicago, again staying at a Hilton, from where I spotted what appeared to be a US Postal Service Segway training class headed down Michigan Avenue. Looked a bit like robotic ducklings following their mother. I tried to capture the scene on my Treo's camera but no luck.

A Blow Against Apathy: High school students raising money for Darfur

This story caught my eye and gave me hope, high schoolers raising money to help Darfur. There is a web site where schools can sign up. I think this is a very good sign.

Ubuntu Progress Continues Here

As promised...this is where the Ubuntu thread continues from the original "Cobbon blog."

Ubuntu is now installed on the 1999 Compaq Presario 305 and the 2000 iMac G3. The trick with older machines that have less than 200 megabytes of RAM is to a. use a lot of patience, b. use the prompted alternate install method, which uses the files located here:


What you want to download are the image files called "alternate" like: ubuntu-6.06.1-alternate-i386.iso

These don't boot a full graphical Ubuntu, but they will lead you through a text-based install that does remarkably well at hardware detection, including the graphics card, sound system, and network interface (a Buffalo WiFi card in the Compaq and the built-in Ethernet on the Mac). The patience is required for the lengthy wait between stages.

You will also need some patience once these installs complete as the default Ubuntu desktop is not the fastest. Next step with these older machines is to change the desktop.

Cobb on Arts & Entertainment? Yes!

Yep, this is what's next. A separate blog for thoughts on arts and entertainment.

And let me start with a shameless plug for the current and very hot novel by my favorite novelist/restaurateur: Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta. Definitely worthy of its National Book Award nomination. If you think you are cool, try this book on for size. I'm sorry it didn't win, but I am sure there are many awards in Dana's future. I know she is working on another novel right now, even as she orchestrates the fine dining experience that is known as The Rose and Kettle, one of the many good reasons to check out the gem of upstate New York: Cherry Valley.

Also, an arts and entertainment posting would not be complete without a recommendation for your listening or viewing pleasure. My thanks to Mark (a poet with colour and World's Best House Painter) for turning us on to Lemon Jelly. All kinds of weird elements merge to make beautiful music. Not really lounge, not really house or trance. Not Tubular Bells but not unrelated. Maybe a pinch of Ogden Nut Flake? Have played the Lost Horizons album over and over, like we used to play LP sides back in the day, with the disc stacking arm off to the side to force a repeat. Here is a video to give you some idea (the band does not preview their tracks on Amazon).

Note: Cobb on A&E is firmly opposed to the pirating of copyrighted material and strongly encourages anyone who wants to play a piece of music or a work of video for their own pleasure to purchase a legitimate copy.

Where is the Action on Darfur?

Why isn't the world doing more to stop the genocide in Darfur? I keep searching for the answer to this question and can't find one. I can find plenty of information, like the Wikipedia page and the BBC News Q&A. But I still can't make sense of the lack of action.

I can find plenty of organizations--like this one--that are trying to raise awareness. But where is the action? How can the trillions of dollars that industrialized nations pour into military spending not contain a few million dollars to kill the Janjaweed. Seriously, what would it take? I think there would be plenty of volunteers ready to go and kill these murdering rapists if there was a way to get them armed and into the country. How about private planes and private arms? Isn't this a fight that good people should fight, like the war against Franco? Isn't it time for another International Brigade? Or has apathy already claimed this century as its own?

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] http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/pool/main/d/debootstrap/ ...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.