Sunday, January 30, 2011

Here, We Are Never Truly Gone

I was unsure as to whether I should post this here or on "The Robblog". I chose here, because of what I feel is an aspect of the Internet that seems new and wonderful and not unusual at all.
Early in January, my friend Janice Carder passed away after a near seven year battle with cancer. She was a good hearted person, but those final years were not easy for her, or for that matter anyone suffering from the likes of it.
Yet somehow, she managed to stay in contact with friends and loved ones through social networking, primarily through Facebook and one of her favorite pastimes there, Farmville. She didn't really neglect anyone.
For many of us, there is a tendency to dismiss the Internet as the perfect tool for shut-ins to avoid social contact and interaction. To a degree, I suppose that's true. In Janice's case, however, it allowed her to expand her social circles even while she was unable to leave her room. This was not a choice she wanted; this was circumstance. But she did it, and developed new friends, and plenty of them.
We could be dismissive of these "friends", asking how good a friend can we be with someone who we've never seen or spoken with in person. Perhaps that's a bad measure of friendship. In the most basic definition, a friend is someone with whom we find pleasure and who shares of themselves.
In that sense, we all have friends, now everywhere.
All of this possible by the global connections afforded us via the Internet. For me, that is the most important thing that the Internet provides us.
As I write these words, we have witnessed, in the past two weeks, one government brought down, another one teetering, all due to social networks. No guns nor tanks nor bombs; the people Tweeted their way to revolution. So powerful is this notion, so powerful that the government of Egypt felt compelled to shut it down. Even here in the United States, there are people who fear the Internet enough that they would like the same ability. Like a wildfire, though, doing so will only serve to strengthen the change it has wrought.
This is the power of communication.
Which brings me back to my dear friend Janice. Her husband, Chris, held an online memorial for her on Farmville the night of January 29th, allowing those who could not attend her physical memorial a chance to remember Janice. Sadly, I was unable to attend that, but I am sure that many did. Through means digital, Janice was and is. She is not truly gone. She lives on in her friends, and her memory has left traces across this digital medium. Indeed, many others have left similar traces. But, for me, hers is the most personal to date.
See you on the Internet.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Limits of Older Tech

I am a real fanatic when it comes to older technology; this goes without saying, considering the name of this blog. However, and I need to stress this here, I am more interested in practical applications for older technology than just a hobbyist approach.

In other words, making actual use of them.

The trouble is that older tech is prone to problems that simply cannot be addressed easily. Nowhere was this more apparent than in my attempts to update a 1993 era ThinkPad 500 to twenty first century standards. It just couldn't be done, and I have to admit a bit of heartbreak there, because it is such a nice, sturdy old machine. Recently, I managed to get a good, proper install of Windows 98SE onto my ThinkPad 760XD, only to glitch it. Sadly, this was even after installing WiFi and a fairly modern browser. But at 64MB RAM and a 166mHz CPU, there is only so much that can be done with it by modern standards.

That's not to say that the machine is doomed. It certainly isn't, as options still exist. But, with a RAM limit of 96MB, it is going to be a challenge.

Truth be told, they do reach a point where they simply cannot be modernized any further. They are victims of age. My ThinkPad 500 runs Windows 95 beautifully, and the 760XD does the same with 98SE. There are Linux and other open source distros out there that could aid both machines, but even they have limits, and in many cases development has simply ceased on them. You may end up with a more modernized operating system, but in the end, they get left behind by the steady march of technology.

At least surplus technology is moving ahead as well. In 1999, a typical surplus laptop might have been a 386 or even a 486 equipped machine (or, in Mac parlance, a 68030 class). Today, Pentium III's and Celerons are frequently found, as are G3's and 4's. They are far newer than the two aforementioned ThinkPads, and subsequently more usable.

The notion, however, that older machines should simply be neglected bothers me. Perhaps in the end, you reach a limit, and once you run into that wall, you simply cannot go any further.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

This Is Important

I'm typing this on my newest laptop, an IBM ThinkPad X41, a lightweight model that is pretty solid and a reliable machine. It is the latest of many portable computers that I have owned (and a number I do still).
It is what the personal computer was supposed to have been.
When Alan Kay came up with the idea for the Dynabook in 1969, his idea was always for a computer that was portable, that could be carried easily. It was the genesis.
Kay's ideas, however simple it appears, was never really achieved by modern computers. In the concept's simplicity lay the very root reason it has never been achieved; the software systems proposed were the very foundations of the modern operating system and subsequent applications. Within its simplicity was the future.
But that was never the goal.
The environment, eventually known as SmallTalk, would lead to the GUI. But in its inception, it was simply a way of creating the tools needed to make the Dynabook work.
You see, the idea behind the Dynabook was primarily educational; Alan Kay wanted to make a "personal computer for children of all ages". It was about play, of learning. Entertainment was always a feature of this, but not to the extent that home computing experiences today. It was about expanding one's horizons.
I agree with Alan Kay in that it has not met the original goal. But we're closer than we have ever been.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

They Seem To Be Missing The Point...

While I am not a big fan of Microsoft, I do like a couple of their products and have to use their Windows platform quite a bit. My IBM ThinkPad X41, for instance, uses Windows XP, and while I grumble frequently about how bloated an OS it can be, the version that is installed on the machine (apparently the For Legacy Products version) is pretty nimble and somewhat thinner. My older ThinkPad, the 760XD, runs Windows 98SE, mainly to be a backup for my Jornada.
Which brings me to my main point. The Jornada uses Windows CE, as does my little subnotebook. The version found on the subnote is 6.0, the latest. Windows CE is an interesting product. For one, it is light, no doubt due to its primary mission of being used on "gadgets"; PDA's, smart phones and portable computers. It is almost always ROM based, and always boots very quickly.
It is almost a forgotten product, or at best the target of abuse.
Yet, it was the operating system that was chosen for these subnotebooks that are flooding the market at usually less than $150 a unit. As I write these words, they are beginning to develop a small, cult-like following. These computers are selling.
But for some reason, the rest of the world hasn't noticed, it seems.
It no doubt has to do with price. These computers are viewed as cheap, after all. The one I own, however, works flawlessly.
What they need are applications. Note; I say "applications", not apps. They could also use slightly better support, but again, for the price, that may be a long shot. Based upon what I've read, developing Windows CE applications is not that hard, and I may yet give it a shot.
The open source community has also noticed these computers. The Android OS is already an alternative operating system for them (in some places, apparently, you can buy them with Android already installed). Debian has also been ported; how long will it be before Ubuntu develops a gadget version, I wonder.
But the thing is, there is room for development here. These little machines have plenty of potential. Their distributors seem to be missing the point and a real opportunity.