Friday, August 04, 2006

Random thoughts and stuff...

Today, I've decided to switch it up a little bit from all the heavy hardcore news. Frankly, It's just too damn hot to get serious about world affairs. There are blogs out there that EXIST to cover the news of the world, and this ain't one of them.

When I first started the Moonlight Scribbler, I decided that it would not be a hyperactive news blog like a Wonkette or Daily Kos that has tons of people getting their Pulitzer on, and equal numbers of posters responding. The Scribbler is just lil' ol' me sitting in a third floor attic-cum-apartment-cum hovel in the middle of a scorching heat wave without A/C trying to keep my three year old computer from melting down while I rant about stuff that truthfully I don't know a damn thing about. Some people use their blogs to try and discover their inner Murrow or Cronkite, some just want to blog about their cat's hairballs and why their significant other doesn't call them enough. I'm still trying to figure out what exactly the hell the Scribbler is supposed to be about. Sometimes I tackle local issues. Sometimes, I'll hit the world stuff, sometimes I just want to hold forth about something that's been bugging me for time immemorial. And maybe that is what the Scribbler is meant to be. Just whatever wanders into my head and sits there long enough that I have to say something about it in order for it to go away.

Not that there's a lack of things to blog about. The fighting in the Middle East is very much front and center on the world stage. I'll state my opinion on this, but not for long. I want to just bounce around from the serious to the bizarre. My feelings on what is going on in the Middle East are simple. I support Israel to the hilt. We in America cannot possibly understand the situation Israel finds itself in. We sit in judgement of Israel from a very secure location. We have thousands of miles of ocean on both coasts, and are between two countries that may not always agree with what we do and why we do it, but they are long time friends and allies and when push comes to shove, Canada and Mexico will back us up. We have nothing to fear from either of those nations.

Compare that to the simmering cauldron that is the Middle East. Israel is surrounded on three sides by countries that have stated in no uncertain terms, to anyone that will stand still long enough to listen that they want to wipe Israel into the Mediterranean Sea. These countries do not just dislike Israel, they DESPISE them. It's like a black family in a neighborhood where the neighbors to either side of them are KKK and Aryan Nation, the house across the street contains members of the National Alliance, the house behind them is home for the local Christian Identity movement, and their mail is delivered by a guy who is the local president of White Aryan Resistance. Does this make any sense? These people are hellbent on Israel's destruction. They don't even like each other all that much, but they will put that aside long enough to see to Israel's destruction. Of course, because the US gives financial and moral support to Israel, we are hated by association. The lefties are so quick to denounce Israel for the heavy handed approach they are taking. They cry about the large numbers of civilians that are being caught in the crossfire. But Israel is dealing with an enemy who will build their bases in areas with large civilian populations. They will use human shields. This enemy will entice impressionable young men and women into becoming suicide bombers with tales of Paradise and 73 virgins. Death means nothing to these folks. In their eyes, they are going to Paradise. They welcome death. So how is Israel supposed to deal with Jihadists and Islamists? Talk does not seem to work, they don't understand talk, they understand violence, and their intentions are painfully clear. So Israel has to do what it needs to do to defend itself as a sovereign nation. Were we in that same situation, with the existence of our nation at stake, I would like to think that we'd do likewise. Although sometimes, I wonder...

Well let's jump to that which is really important, especially to us folks in the City of Three Rivers.

our Five Time, Five Time, Five Time (with apologies to Booker T of the WWE) Super Bowl Champeens Pittsburgh Steelers opened training camp in the hills of Latrobe last friday, and the Pittsburgh Pirates 14th consecutive losing season has officially just been made irrelevant!! Steeler Nation has transitioned from a short, but very active off-season that was punctuated by: White House visits; the Super Bowl ring ceremony; international visits to South Korea and Switzerland for Hines Ward and Ben Roethilsberger; respectively, and enough TV commercial and endorsement ads to burn out your remote.

Now the Nation is getting geared up for the Defense of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and hopefully the first Super Bowl ring for the other hand. Jerome Bettis bid a fond farewell from the Black and Gold to take a gig in the broadcast booth for NBC, but he will always been remembered in Pittsburgh as one of this towns immortal sports legends, along with Roberto Clemente, Franco Harris, Mario Lemieux, Terry Bradshaw, Willie Stargell, and so many others that have worn the Black and Gold of the City of Pittsburgh. The Steelers will have replace the Bus as well as the Swiss Army Knife of wide receivers, Antwaan Randle El who went to the Washington Redskins, and also the Hawaiian ManMountain that anchored the defensive line, Kimo Von Oelhoffen who is now playing for the New York Jets.

However, the Steelers still have their core players including Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward as well as Big Ben and Fast Willie Parker in the backfield. Their schedule will not be an easy one, with tough road games at Carolina and Jacksonville and challenging homes geaturing Denver, Kansas City, and Tampa Bay. The division schedule will not be easy either with Cincinnati and Baltimore looking to keep the Steelers from winning a division title, but hell, the Steelers have 16 of them. The Ravens and the Bengals can have division crowns...we'll settle for the big hardware.

One intangible that is worthy of discussing is whether or not the Steelers will be hungry enough to win another Super Bowl. Think about it, last season, the Steelers were the only team in NFL history to win all three playoff games against the top three seeds, on the road and also win the Super Bowl. They had to win their last four regular season games in order to make the playoffs. That made their Super Bowl ring one very valuable hunk of metal. Their run last season was one of the most improbable moments in NFL history, one that won't duplicated anytime soon. But now that the Steelers are the Kings of the NFL mountain, will they be able to summon that desire again to repeat as Super Bowl Champs. The NFL is known for its parity. Pete Rozelle, former commissioner of the NFL wanted the league to be such that on any given Sunday, any one team could defeat another. And he has pretty much got his wish. It's damn hard to repeat in the NFL of the 21st century, and every team the Black and Gold take on this season will be coming with their best game. I don't think the Steelers will repeat. The Indy Colts, the Bengals, and Patriots will be just as tough, and the AFC is loaded this year. I see the Steelers making the playoffs with an 11-5 record, but if they win two games in the post season, that's pretty much where I expect them to end up. but this is the time of year that your's truly lives for. Not only am I expecting big things from the Steelers, I'm hoping that my alma mater's team, the Robert Morris Colonials will bounce back from a horrible 2-8 season. Also I love to follow the high school game, and for the last three years, the Dragons of Allderdice have had decent seasons, but they haven't been able to beat the top teams in the Pitsburgh City League. Hopefully, this is the year that the Green and White can make some serious progress.

I never thought I'd see the day that I'd buy an iPod. First off, let me state for the record that I am not an Apple fan. I will acknowledge that the Mac OS is a much better operating system than Windows. It is more secure, more efficient, more elegant, and frankly more sexy. But it's easy to be all that when you control the hardware and the software. The only computers that can run the Mac OS are computers made by the company that makes the OS...Apple. Windows runs on computers made by dozens of computer companies that build the machines to all sorts of different specifications for all sorts of functions. You'd need a CRAYII supercomputer cluster just to calculate all the possible combinations of hardware and software combinations Windows machines come in. Apple has five computer models in their lineup, a relatively limited supply of software, and only 6% of the personal computer market. Another thing Apple has is an intensely loyal user base, that would sell their family into white slavery rather than run a PC. These are folks who build shrines to their Macs, who will spend thousands of dollars for third party accessories for their iPods, and are just utterly annoying with their smug, I'm just so damn hip, I scare myself attitude. They will buttonhole total strangers and expound with almost religious fervor, how great the Mac and its OS are. The Cult of Mac are an interesting bunch, and while I admire their brand loyalty, they can stow the attitude.

Now Microsoft isn't the most innovative company on the planet when it comes to its operating system. Much of Windows' features were copied from Apple and other companies that Micorsoft acquired over the years. The only reason Windows enjoys the massive market share that it does is because Microsoft makes it very diffcult to compete with them. They bind major computer manufacturers to exclusivity contracts that require them to install Windows on every computer they make. They buy up companies that that have make cool tech and promptly rebadge it with the Windows logo. Their marketing department are masters at putting lipstick on the pig that is Windows and making it look like Marilyn Monroe. The Windows operating system is bloated, impossibly buggy, and is filled with all sorts of cutesy eye candy that suck up RAM and CPU cycles to execute, and functions and features that the majority of users will rarely if ever use. It's also a hacker's playground with thousands of exploits and security holes being discovered every day. It's a testament to the coders and design people at Microsoft that the damn thing works at all. The newest version of Windows, Vista, is five years in the making and depending on who you talk to may ship in early 2007 or 2008. Like all Microsoft OS's, it's filled with all sorts of shiny polished visual effects, boxes that jump and skip around, swirling menus, doolollies, gadgets, gizmos and whatchamacallits, and like its predecessors, the Microsoft PR flacks will crow that it's the most secure OS in Windows hsitory. We'll see how long that lasts. Hackers are already beating on the public betas trying to find holes in the OS. And I have no doubt that they will find more than a few.

I personally have resisted the urge to upgrade to XP. I'm the kind of tech geek that tends to stay away from the bleeding edge because I don't like getting cut. I'll upgrade to XP when Vista ships. I like to stay a generation behind the crowd partly because I prefer to use mature technology that has been tested and passed muster. I'm still running an old copy of Windows 2000 Professional that I bought for $40 from a friend. I think that Win2K is the last good OS Microsoft made. It's clean, stable, pretty secure as long as it's updated regularly, and if I decided to make major changes to my hardware, I don't have to call Microsoft tech support to re-activate the OS. I don't need to have a photo editor, or antivirus/antispyware/firewall software, or a browser, or even games to ship with my OS. I can get that stuff anywhere. I would rather have a simple, locked down OS that doesn't require high-end hardware to run. I don't need cutesy graphics and stuff dancing on my desktop. Put all that effort into an OS that is strong, stable and secure and I can add the rest.

And truthfully, the competition in the battle for the desktop isn't all that great. Outside of Windows and Mac OS, you have Linux, which is an offshoot of the ancient mainframe Unix OS that's been banging around in one form or another for almost 40 years. Linux is governed by a model called open source which means that ANY person who has the programming skill and expertise can edit and change the main source code of the OS to suit their needs or to fix a bug. Linux has a effective programming base in the millions of users, all of which are constantly tweaking and massaging the code. Which is a good thing. One of the benefits of this approach is that updates come out fast, the code is always being vetted to insure that it is solid and efficient, there is little bloat, Linux is very good at using available system resources, and it is very secure. The problem is that from a user interface point of view, Linux is not quite ready for prime time. It is much easier to install today than it was even a couple years ago, the main graphics user interface is similar enough to Windows that most Windows vets should not have problems adjusting, but the astute observer can see where Linux still lets its geek heritage take over. The help pages are very techie oriented, driver support for some hardware is still spotty, some of the most important functions in Linux still require the entry of obscure and rarely intuitive commands on a command line a la DOS, and if a new user goes online into the average Linux chat room or forum and poses a question, the response from the community can be quite off-putting. Geeks tend not to suffer newbies gladly. Responses of "Read The F****** Manual!!! A*****e!!!" are common, and that's the tamer of the usual responses. The rest...well, this is a family blog. My test about the usability of an operating system is whether I can take a non-tech savvy user, plop them in front of a computer and see if they can understand what's going on with a minimum of instruction. Linux isn't quite there yet. When a grandmother can sit in front of a Linux box and email her grandkids without help, then Linux has arrived.

But back to my iPod. The iPod is hands down the king of digital music players. It's sexy, easy to use, dependable and is joined at the hip to the best software/online music store on the Net. iTunes is easily the most intuitive system for purchasing and managing music available. One app controls music, video, podcasts, any and all multimedia needs. I bought an iPod shuffle off eBay a few months ago, and I have to admit that I like its simplicity and minimalist design. It doesn't have a screen to see what songs are playing, but its small size and very good sound are plusses for me. I have somewhere in the neighborhood of about 3GB of music on my computer, and I like the autoplay function in iTunes that can drop a random assortment of songs onto the shuffle. I am thinking about getting another iPod so i can drop the whole mess of my music collection on it, and true to my nature of being a late adopter, I think I'm going to get a mini. I know, I know, Apple doesn't make Minis anymore, but they can still be bought on their website. I really don't want to spend the $300 or so dollars for the big video iPod. I just want something I can listen to music and podcasts on and the Mini looks like it'll fit the deal.

I guess I've prattled on enough.