Wed - January 25, 2006

Geekback - Breaking Blackberry News II

People are now firmly divided into two camps on the RIM/NTP patent thing: Those with strong and often wildly-divergent opinions as to what it all means, and those who are completely confused. It should be pointed out, of course, that these two groups have pretty much the exact same amount of concrete information - it's only how they choose to deal with it that is different.

And - speaking of choosing and dealing ... the way that RIM chose to deal with this is the root cause of a huge chunk of their current problems. For reasons that probably make sense to them - and only them - they have elected to lower the Cone Of Silence in an attempt to turn Waterloo into some sort of latter-day Fortress Of Solitude. Instead of being forthright and open about all of this from the word go, they have positioned themselves as a wanna-be Microsoft with Jim Balsillie playing the role of a ghetto Bill Gates. The upshot? As you pick through the flood of speculation-charged "news" today, you can't help but notice that RIM comes off as the bad guys, a shadowy-yet-evil empire trying to crush the plucky little inventor who is gallantly defending his patents ... not particularly the image you want to project in a war that will be fought on the treacherous battleground of public opinion.

Is that really the case? No, of course not - both sides have some valid points, both sides have some dodgy stances. RIM, however, needed to take the high road early. Any sort of cursory examination of the patents in question or the history of NTP leads to the fairly obvious realization that Thomas Campana's patents are valid, they were filed long before RIM came onto the scene, and that NTP has every right to them - this is not a case of patenting a widespread technology after the fact. RIM's position was tenuous from the word go, and they needed to be the white knights in this endeavour, transparent to the media and making a big fucking noise about gallantly fighting for their beloved user base. Sadly, this is not the course that RIM has elected to follow, and the public and media perception that they have created by this tactic is definitely not working in their favour.

Now - nobody wants the Blackberry service gone or halted. The potential injunction that NTP keeps waving around is their "nuclear bomb" ... a threat, but one that they hope they never have to use. NTP wants to get their share of the sweet Blackberry pie, not to toss the whole damn thing out the window. The latest development here is the offer of a 30-day "grace period" ... something that makes NTP seem (once again) like the good guys, with user needs in mind, but is really an extra-heavy tactic ... it lets them pull the trigger and prove that they are not bluffing, but puts the onus back on RIM to find a way to dodge the bullet. Very clever, and very manipulative.

RIM, of course, is still championing the "software workaround" that they claim will save the day. However, their above-discussed refusal to actually talk about any of this - including the details of the workaround - gives everyone the idea that whatever it is, it will suck large. Rumours are rampant (mostly due to people who participated in focus groups stateside) that it will involve manually having to "check" your mail the way you do on any other handheld or desktop device. Is this true? Maybe, maybe not, but who the hell knows? If it is true, though, it is a nine-inch nail in the RIM coffin, since the only reason to carry a Blackberry is the instant mail synchronization. As a PIM, the Blackberry sucks ninety-seven kinds of wang (and still has wang lined up around the corner waiting for a turn) and for those functions you would be further ahead to carry a Treo or PocketPC or (when you get right down to it) a pad of fucking paper. Not coincidentally, some of the news feeds today are starting to mention the alternatives - something that they did not do in the early going here - and supposedly factual reporting of the goings-on is starting to be tainted by outright recommendations to get a Treo.

Is this the start of the avalanche? Maybe. Is it too late? No, of course not - RIM could stem the sudden surge of user and public resentment simply but opening up and honestly talking about what is going on. Will they? Don't hold your breath ... there seem to be some delusions of tech royalty up Waterloo way, and lowering themselves to chat with the peasants doesn't appear to be anywhere on the agenda.

Posted at 09:31 AM     Read More  

Mon - January 23, 2006

Geekback - Disenfranchised

The question that readers have been pestering me with today is, of course, "who ya gonna vote for?" Can't blame them for asking, I made a public issue of my attempt to email my candidates, so anyone following along now has a vested (or at least passing) interest in what happens. Since I don't particularly mind standing publicly behind my choice, I will humour everyone and spill the beans. But first, the inevitable recap:

I emailed each of the four main candidates in my riding (sorry, but I wasn't going to waste bandwidth on the Christian Heritage Party or any of the other nutjob organizations) with a couple of questions. I let them know in no uncertain terms that their answers would be the deciding factor for my vote, as I had no party allegiance and found all of the party leaders to be generally horrid. The results where as follows:

Don Graves, Conservative Party of Canada: The candidate personally emailed me back in about 2 days. His answers to the four questions I posed to him ranged from trite (for "Why is your party offering tax cuts instead of being fiscally responsible and paying down the debt?") to downright dangerous (for "What is your stance on the nonwithstanding clause?") but at least he answered.

Bill Kelly, Liberal Party of Canada: Never heard a word. One lousy question, and no one bothered to write back. Not Bill (who is actually a friend, which cheeses me off even more), not a campaign flack, no one. Nada. I can only assume that he was too busy taking kickbacks and stuff (being Liberal and all) to sit down and type. Worse, the email address wasn't actually on his campaign web page and I had to waste 10 minutes hunting for it.

Susan Wadsworth, Green Party: I got a reply to my single question for her almost immediately ... because the email address on her campaign web page was invalid and the damn thing bounced back. Against my better judgement (mostly because I wanted to vote for her) I emailed the webmaster listed at the party's national page and asked what was going on. The reply? "Sorry we're so incompetent!" What? What the fuck is that? Why not just stamp "Loser" on the forehead of each candidate? Jeezus.

Chris Charlton, New Democratic Party of Canada: It took a while, but I got a reply ... one that started with the words "Dear Fellow Working Canadian". That's right ... a fucking form letter. And not even an auto-reply - apparently technical ineptitude is as important as stomping on worker rights in the NDP camp, and the canned response was obviously copied and pasted into the reply by some hapless drone. I never got to the second line of the reply ... I'm not wasting time reading pre-fab drivel from someone who obviously doesn't care for my vote.

The conundrum, of course, is that the one person who bothered to reply is a member of a party that is headed up by a truly terrible person - a slimy little bastard who worships at the foot of G.W. Bush, has demonstrated himself time and time again to be one of the stupidest people in the history of Canadian politics, and who would probably sell his own children into slavery if it weren't so annoyingly illegal. I mulled this all weekend, and eventually had to turn to the last refuge of the desperate voter in Canada: Parliamentary Tradition. By definition, we do not vote for the party or the leader, we vote for the local candidate. So that is what I will do. Despite the fact that his answers kind of sucked, I will vote for the Tory because no one else gave a rat's ass about my ballot. My only comfort here is that never in the history of Canadian politics has a riding been decided by a single vote, and I don't expect that to change tonight ... it is the aggregate that counts. My one ballot will not win or lose a seat for the Tories, and will therefore not be the difference between Stephen Harper being either Prime Minister or a sad little footnote in the annals of election history. But it will make me feel better to cast it for the only candidate that made a fucking effort.

See you at the polls.

Posted at 04:06 PM     Read More  

Geekback - Breaking Blackberry News

The gang in Waterloo was quick to get out a press release regarding this morning's U.S. Supreme Court decision ... carefully trying to spin the result so as not to completely panic their shareholders and (as apparently an afterthough) placate their user base. Big thanks to the most awesome Sockmonkey for the tip.

You really have to pack some grains of salt when you try and parse this bit of PR legerdemain, though, and carefully read between the lines. There is a fair amount of deliberate confounding going on there ... but to be fair I can guarantee you that NTP's inevitable press release will be every bit as biased and possibly loaded with even more blatant misdirection.

So what is really going on? Confusion, mostly. It would help if RIM were a little more transparent and forthcoming - the brick wall they have built around themselves since the start of this whole mess is more than a tad off-putting - but for now, this is about the best analysis of of the situation that I have found at this particular point in time.

Posted at 02:36 PM     Read More  

Thu - January 19, 2006

Geekback - Disenfranchised

The NDP candidate in my riding checked in late last night with a fucking form letter. Unbelievable. Worse, it was a form letter and it came two and a half days after I sent my query. The obvious inference is that:

A) the socialist candidate is such a techno-feeb that she can't work an email client to actually send a reply, and

B) her staff is so inept that they can't even figure out how to set an auto-reply and they have some poor drone copying and pasting the canned response into manual replies.

Un-fucking-believable. I mean, Stephen Harper is a racist, homophobic, demonstrably stupid lunatic. He is probably the single most disgusting and unlikable political figure in the last 30 years (and yes, I am including both Brian Mulroney and Slobodan Milosevic in that list) and voting for the possibility that he may become Prime Minister is about appealing as cutting off your own fingers one by one with a very rusty steak knife ... but the monkeys from the other parties aren't really giving me a choice here.

Jeezus, people, get with the program. Try and win my goddamn vote!

Posted at 10:26 AM     Read More  

Wed - January 18, 2006

Geekback - Disenfranchised

Whaddya know, somebody wrote back. My local Tory took the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer my questions. I can't say that I agree with him on some of the answers, but actually taking the time to make me feel like my vote counts goes a long way in my books.

The other mopes still have a few days, but I am not holding out hope ...

Posted at 04:10 PM     Read More  

Tue - January 17, 2006

Geekback - Disenfranchised

It has now been more than 24 hours since I emailed each of the four main candidates in my riding with questions regarding their opinions and policies. And, with the exception of confirmation that the Green Party is well and truly inept, there has been zero acknowledgment or communication. Do these fenderheads not want my vote? Do they not get the whole concept of "campaigning"?

Six days left to wait, I guess ...

Posted at 11:14 AM     Read More  

Mon - January 16, 2006

Geekback - Disenfranchised

More than eight hours - one full business day - after I wrote to my local candidates, I have only received one "reply", and it wasn't one that is going to early my precious vote. The Girts, Tories, and NDP are still maintaining radio silence but I found this in my mailbox, courtesy of Susan Wadsworth (Green Party, Hamilton Mountain):

This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification

Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:

Technical details of permanent failure:
PERM_FAILURE: SMTP Error (state 9): 550 5.1.1 <>... User unknown

Nice. There is no excuse for that. Period. I don't care what your policies or who you are, if you cant make your fucking email link work from your own campaign web site, then you don't get my vote. Jeezus. The question I lobbed her way was a real softball, too - but she never made it to the plate.

Thanks for coming out.

Posted at 07:55 PM     Read More  

Fri - January 13, 2006

Geekback - Lost?

Speaking of Google and Blackberries, there are reports that there will be an official Talk Google client for the 'berry Real Soon Now. This is pretty funny, because when Talk Google was announced, I heard that folks at RIM were forbidden to even mention it.

There is no word yet on when the client will see the light of day, or how you will get it, but the sooner the better. This is a seriously welcome development - the legions of Blackberry users out there now running around with hacked or badly-ported versions of other Java-based Jabber clients are probably getting sick of resetting their SIM card 8 times a day after catastrophic crashes. And yes, I'm guilty as charged.

Posted at 04:28 AM     Read More  

Wed - January 11, 2006

Geekback - Kodesex / Something Useful

OFA wrote to point out the startling similarity of the Epos logo (makers of the previously noted USB flash memory tracking pen) and the icons on the also-previously-noted Kodesex apparel and accessories. Is there something that the gang at Epos isn't telling us here?

Hmmmm ...

Posted at 10:26 AM     Read More  

Fri - January 6, 2006

Geekback - Rumour Mill Rundown 3

So there was a brief change to the Apple web site this morning - the GarageBand page was briefly changed to talk about how GarageBand features built-in Podcasting support and how the 'casts can be easily published to the world with either iTunes or something called iWeb. There was also a link to the mysterious "iWeb" application (highlighted below) which led to nowhere.

The upshot? GarageBand currently doesn't offer these functions, and there is currently no component in iLife called "iWeb". This means that either Steve Jobs is playing with everyone's heads (not totally unheard of) or that the rumoured integration of an existing blogging package (iBlog?) will be revealed at MacWorld. If this is the case, look for it to be an integrated package that works with iPhoto, iMovie, and Garageband to provide one-step publishing of blogs, pictures, and both audio and video podcasts. I up the odds on this to a solid 80% now.

As always, stay tuned ...

Posted at 12:56 PM     Read More  

Geekback - Rumour Mill Rundown 2

So Google has spoken, and the flat-out deny the possibility or development of any supposed "Google PC". And yet they cheerfully admit that they are in negotiations with Wal-Mart for ... something.

So the question now burns ... what the hell is the "something"?

Posted at 12:39 PM     Read More  

Wed - January 4, 2006

Geekback - Rumour Mill Rundown

It looks like I am not the only one musing on the possibilities for next week's MacWorld conference. Ziff-Davis is giving odds on the possible offerings that the esteemed Mr. Jobs will have for us, and they seem to agree with my 1GB nano suggestion, bringing it in at 3:2.

The more interesting prediction, though, is the possibility of an upgraded iLife package being teamed with the wildly popular Mac Mini to be an all-in-one media centre with Apple-branded PVR software. The media stuff is a nice idea, but I think that the real grabber would be the bundling of front-end podcasting and blogging software - something that has a read "hey hey, look at me" kind of cachet that the windoze crowd still longs for.

BTW: iBlog is the package that I use to organize this mess, and it is both very useful and very kludgy, making it a prime candidate for the Cupertino crowd to clean up and give to the masses. Stay tuned ...

Posted at 02:12 PM     Read More  

Thu - December 22, 2005

Geekback - Smartie 0161

For the incredulous masses who complained about this figure, yes, it is billions. The media world is changing as fast as your head can spin, and the Googlekids just happen to grok what's going on better than most. For those that care to peruse, there is a full and fairly thorough discussion on AdWeek today.

Posted at 06:09 AM     Read More  

Tue - December 20, 2005

Geekback - The View From Above

A fortnight of so ago on These Very Pages there was a link to the semi-mysterious and not-exactly-official Google Earth application for OSX. The link is still there, but you should be aware that the programs is Tiger-specific, and will not run on versions of X that predate 10.4.x.

Posted at 02:07 PM     Read More  

Wed - December 14, 2005

Geekback - Random Animal Crossing Letter #1

For those who asked, that letter was written to me by one of the AI characters who populate my village. The mopes in town write a lot of letters - both to each other and to anyone playing the game.

Posted at 06:37 AM     Read More  

Mon - December 5, 2005

Geekback - Blackberry Compote

I stand corrected. When I wrote about the various bits of RIMformation that are making the rounds, I said that the 7290 was not sold in North America. This is outdated information. You can get one through Rogers Wireless in Canada, and Cingular will have them in January for users south of the border. Beyond that, I think that O2 in Britain is the only other provider that is offering them up right now.

And just to clear up any misconceptions, it's not Bluetooth if you can't move files. Period.

Posted at 09:08 PM     Read More  

Geekback - Animal Crossing Countdown - T minus 3

There are certain people south of the border who have taken the day off work just to purchase and play AC:WW. Those people can fall down a hole and die. For the rest of us who are north of the border and have to wait until Wednesday, the new AC:WW website is our only solace. Thus there was a bit of panic this morning when the site seemed to have disappeared ... that panic has now been averted with the realization that the site has simply moved to a new home.

Posted at 04:09 PM     Read More  

Fri - December 2, 2005

Geekback - Fill 'Er Up

After seeing my candid snap of a gas pump that needed a bit of a reboot, a number of you chimed in with your favourite examples of public Windoze failures. I thought I would stir the pot a little bit and add my own personal documented fave, snapped at Pearson airport in 2000 when I was on my way home after taking a turn at manning the Calgary Herald's "24-hour Press Club".

Airports are not the place that you want to find out that Windoze is running something vaguely important:

The best non-documented instance I have seen to date was on a huge electronic billboard at the corner of Dundas and Yonge in Toronto. It sat there on a glorious Blue Screen Of Death as a sort of a mute three-story testament to the general uselessness of Windoze, but I did not have my camera with me, and the moment was lost. Damn.

Posted at 02:28 PM     Read More  

Wed - November 30, 2005

Geekback - Fill 'Er Up

Someone wrote to me to complain about something I said about one of our political leaders in These Very Pages. You are 100% percent right - what I said was mean and unfair.

I should have never said that Steven Harper was less odious than Josef Mengele.


Posted at 01:15 PM     Read More  

Tue - November 29, 2005

Geekback - Business 101

Some clever types wanted to know what would happen in the caste system at Google if a geek wore a suit. Short answer: Nothing. Long answer: In this case, the clothes do not make the man. A "suit" will remain a corporate drone, slavishly kowtowing to the principles of the latest best-selling management book, even if they were somehow forced into a pair of cargo pants and a "RTFM" t-shirt. A geek, on the other paw, will still be Generally Awesome even if they decide to wear a rather stunning suit to the office - we are talking "states of being" here, and the gift wrapping is immaterial. A useful analogy at this point is Windoze - you can slap all the ME and XP and whatever else shells on the thing to pretty it up, but at it's dismal core it is still DOS and still useless for anything beyond playing solitaire.

Odd note: When geeks do don the finery, they usually wear much nicer suits than the "suits" do. Which is apropos, somehow ...

Posted at 06:32 AM     Read More  

Thu - November 24, 2005

Geekback - Videogame Musings

The "shortage" of Xbox 360 units is bringing all of the "I have more money than brains" morons out of the woodwork. The first auctions are closing on Ebay, and the best price fetched so far is $3,350 (U.S.). Of course, this is the "premium system" ... no doubt the "core" unit would have fetched less, seeing as how it doesn't, you know, actually play any games.

I would pay good money to see the looks on the faces of these desperate fenderheads when there are suddenly enough units for everyone on December 12th. Oh, ha ha.

Meanwhile, from the "You Can't Make This Shit Up" file, a lot of the lucky owners are finding out that the Xbox 360 doesn't quite work as expected. Tragic and angst-ridden postings from Xbox fanboys on sites here and here reveal that the new box usually crashes within the first half-hour of play, and some of the boxen actually crash on boot. Good times, to be sure. Better, the worst crashes seem to happen in the flagship title Project Gotham Racing 3, where the first lap is usually the last lap. Period.

Seeing is believing, so be sure to check out the photos. I would feel sorry for these mopes if I wasn't actually laughing so hard. I mean, really, this just make my whole week.

UPDATE: It seems like all sorts of people realize that the "core" system is worse than useless.

Posted at 09:17 AM     Read More  

Wed - November 23, 2005

Geekback - Videogame Musings

The best story about the Xbox 360 "shortages" comes from San Francisco, where over 150 people lined up overnight at the Best Buy downtown. At 10:00 pm on Monday night, at store closing time, the staff appeared and addressed the huddled mob. They would only have twenty Xboxen for sale the next day, and - regardless of the fact that more than 20 people had already put down a deposit on a pre-order - anyone who was waiting in line and was willing to pay in full immediately would have one of those twenty waiting and reserved for them on Tuesday morning.

The catch? The precious twenty Xbox 360s would only be sold as part of a "deluxe package" including a whack of accessories and a few games, for $999.99 U.S. Plunk down your thousand bucks now, suckers, or no new toy for you.

And yes, to nobody's surprise, 20 morons stepped up and dropped a cool grand on the spot. Why? No fucking idea. The mind, as they say, boggles.

Posted at 05:07 AM     Read More  

Tue - November 15, 2005

Geekback - The Worst Sort Of Evil

The tale of Sony's evil attempts to control "music piracy" by installing a rootkit were chronicled in These Very Pages last week. Sony's response went from "it wasn't us, we didn't do anything" to "well, there's no real harm here" to "it's not like we didn't tell the users, sorta" to "really, we didn't do anything wrong but out of the goodness of our saintly hearts, we will stop doing this, at least for now, maybe".

Whether or not Sony broke the law (they did) and whether or not they misled consumers (the did that, too) is for other people to debate. Today's more interesting fact is that the Sony rootkit contains code from an open-source MP3 encoder - a product that is protected under the terms of the Gnu Public License. That wouldn't be a problem, except that Sony didn't hold up their end of the GPL by including the source code or by crediting the original work. Distill that down, and you get music weasels breaking a rights agreement to try and force consumers into a rights agreement of their own. You go, guys.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media checks in on this, a week or so late as usual.

NOTE: If your Dutch is a little rusty, a translation of the original story is here. Just in case.

LATE BREAKING NEWS: We originally pointed out that these things simply wouldn't play on a Mac. However, Sony added something new to their already-noxious brew on one of the last CDs manufactured under this process. The album, Speak for Yourself by Imogen Heap, adds an OSX startup app to the data folder, and when you put the CD into your Mac it tries to install a pair of kernel extensions (PhoenixNub1.kext and PhoenixNub2.kext). There is no info yet on what these kernel hooks actually do, since at this point no one has actually installed them - unlike Windoze, OSX warns the user that the attempted installs will modify and possibly harm their computer and requires an administrator password to complete the process. This is (if possible) even worse than the rootkit model inflicted on the Windoze crowd, since this is an actual corruption and violation of the core of the operating system. These guys are lower than scum.

Posted at 11:45 AM     Read More  

Fri - November 11, 2005

Geekback - Geekback

Astute readers may have noticed some odd behaviour over the last couple of days. Slow updates, blank screens, and an oddly out-of-date calendar over there on the right.

Blame the geek - I was tossing the database I use to generate all this stuff, and it went a little kerflooie. Most everything looks to be back in place now, with the lone exception of the "Geekback" category. Posting in that folder today reset the message count to zero, and deleted all of the previous entries. I may try to bring those posts back from an archive volume, but at this point I am leaning towards "not".

At this point, most everything appears fixed - but if anyone notices wacky posts or screens, be a geekpal and let me know.

Posted at 04:14 PM     Read More  

Geekback - Xpod

Last week in These Very Pages there was a bit about the Xbox 360 recognizing and (for the most part) playing happily with USB-based iPods. However, it now appears that Apple is now working feverishly to turn that link off from the iPod side. The integration with the Xbox represents a possible breach in the Digital Rights Management package - something that Apple promised the record labels in order to get that particular pack or weasels on board. Those weasels, though, are now looking for any excuse to pull the plug on iTunes, and Apple needs to cut out the Xbox interoperability to try and save iTunes. In a nutshell, they will sacrifice the Xbox mopes for the sake of the greater good.

Can't say that i disagree with that strategy.

Posted at 10:14 AM     Read More