Category Archives: news

google dropping app support; molly has PPC angst

A decision I made over five years ago has ended up making me quite unlucky these days.

iBook G4 photo

I intentionally bought a PowerPC Mac, the iBook G4, when my iBook G3 succumbed to the infamous logic board defect a year or so after Apple stopped fixing it for free. My first winter semester at Michigan had just started, so I was stuck: I needed the data from my G3’s hard drive even more than I needed a computer, and I knew that Apple would soon drop PowerPC in favor of Intel. Like the idealist I can be, I went for the PowerPC instead of waiting a while for the new hardware, because after taking some computer architecture courses and having done a little assembly programming, I had come to the conclusion that RISC architecture is superior to CISC – meaning that I favored PowerPC over Intel.

Little did I know how ghettoized the PowerPC is out there in the real world. Naive, I had no idea that most operating systems and software are not ported to PowerPC – not even Linux.** In the first few years this wasn’t a problem and wasn’t anything I noticed beyond having a matte screen instead of a shiny one. I still love my G4, with its plucky reliability and long battery life.

Starting about last year, however, more and more software makers dropped PowerPC completely, as OS X only went up to version 10.4.x on PowerPC and many required 10.5, which is Intel-only. Even the software that is still released for 10.4 stopped supporting my laptop, including OpenOffice.***

I resigned myself to having a laptop that is circa 2009 in terms of what it runs. I am okay with running a Japanese version of OpenOffice 3 that will open .docx files for me, and running Adobe CS3 and Word 2004. Honestly, I don’t need the newer versions of these programs for a base model iBook that only has 40GB of hard drive space. What I need is the reliability, toughness, and 5 hour battery life (with the ability to buy new batteries) that my 5 year old friend provides. I have a desktop for everything else!

I have a sinking feeling about it now, though. We have a problem. Google is going to gradually drop support for older browsers, which includes pretty much every browser that I can download for my PPC Mac. While I applaud their strict use of HTML5 (I use it too!) and refusal to cater to legacy browsers that don’t understand it, I realize that I am basically screwed. And how much I rely on Google, frankly.

Here are things I would like to use a laptop for: Web browsing, Gmail, Google Docs, a little word processing, PDF reading and editing, writing, and possibly a little Photoshop. And some Twitter. If I suddenly can’t access or use Gmail or Google Docs, that is a huge blow to using my laptop to be productive – it’s the point of carrying something around that will let me access my files remotely to begin with!

“Get a MacBook,” a voice pleads in my head. They are so shiny, fast, small, and nice. They’re still only 13″ but have a wide screen that makes it seem so much bigger than the 12″ iBook. They have long battery life. I’m kind of in love with them despite myself. Admittedly, I resent the non-removable battery that will allegedly last for the average life of a laptop. But if I wasn’t suddenly losing all software support for my peculiar architecture, I wouldn’t even consider a new laptop.

I just bought the laptop a new battery. It has 5 hours of battery life, does everything I need it to, and is very hardy. It’s relatively small, light, and convenient. It has some very expensive software on it. Most importantly, it simply still works fine and has nothing wrong with it. I abhor wasting things. I am fond of this laptop. If it weren’t for the uncertain nature of old hard drives and impossibility of replacing that without breaking the case, I’d argue that it probably has many years of good life left in it. It’s the Volvo of laptops.

So even if I bought a new laptop (which I can’t exactly afford now), I’d want to keep using the iBook for as long as I can. Why waste it? But why have two laptops, one running Linux?^ (Seriously, I already have a netbook running Linux.) They’re the same size. It makes no sense to keep the iBook around for anything other than preserving my installation of many pieces of CS3. And because I heart the damn thing.

I’m at a crossroads: my PPC laptop is soon not going to just be dated, but unsupported. I don’t want to waste a perfectly wonderful laptop that has seen me through an entire PhD program. I have good software on it. Why buy a laptop the exact same size and type? Because it will save me from Google no longer supporting my laptop, and Web browsers that are actually implementing new W3C standards from not running on it.

Lesson learned: Even though I want superior architecture and don’t jump at trends (like oh, x86?) that I think are not worth it, I have to just go with the crowd, because sooner or later it will leave me behind. I am still not getting an iPad though. How long do you think I can scorn touch screens before I become officially old?

* (Yes, that is how old the G3 was. About three and a half years. Not bad for a laptop with a manufacturing defect that I was very hard on.)
** There are a number of PPC Linux distributions, but specific software may or may not be ported. Usually not.
*** Weirdly, there are a few local language versions of OpenOffice that do still support PowerPC architecture. Since one of those is the Japanese-language version, I now happily use a Japanese word processor and try to keep my language skills current, at least in terms of menu choices.
^ If I could get it to run for the newest AmigaOS I would run to it without hesitation, but I have only gotten reports of it running on a Mac Mini. Don’t think I haven’t considered getting a Mac Mini solely for this purpose. The lack of a monitor is mostly what’s stopping me.

A Creative Endeavor

… or How I Will Drive Myself Slowly Over the Edge

So people talk about there being some kind of nuanced difference between nerd, geek, and dork. I’ve been sucked into it myself, sadly, and as a result I get a little defensive when I am called anything other than a nerd. By any criteria, I really am, and was way before it became ironic-cool to wear thick plastic glasses. (Just check out my fourth grade yearbook.)

I think my own personal nuance is the difference between dork (no social skills), geek (geeking out over things, becoming obsessed with things), and nerd (likes learning for its own sake and often enjoys academics as a hobby, leading to social ostracism and a joy of doing homework). Well, of course all of these things overlap in any person, but the traits of the last manifest quite clearly in me, for better or worse.

Case in point?

This summer I’m working at an internship in Lincoln, Nebraska, and had to pack one car and go (with all of my cat’s things too, so I lost some space). No bringing my ever-expanding book collection with me. I got a Kindle to read Gutenberg.org books on, but still, it would be nice to have some kind of summer project that isn’t a work assignment. A dual degree will do that to you: any kind of scheduled free time becomes exciting and a chance to either take on something with a limited deadline and feel satisfied, or lay around and do a lot of nothing. I try to do both.

So here is my project. I picked up a copy of Seven Languages in Seven Weeks and decided to work through it in the evenings after work. Yes. I am giving myself seven weeks of programming assignments. I’m going to be learning entirely new languages, some I have heard of and some I haven’t. I get a little cheating on one because I am semi-comfortable in Lisp. Still. I will learn a little of each: Ruby, Io, Prolog, Scala, Erlang, Haskell, and Clojure. I am excited about the prospect and not only do I want to learn because it’s fun and programming is fun for the brain (when it’s not hurting your brain, and when you’re not banging your head on the desk) – but also because I think it will be good for my creativity.

After all, creativity is not limited to one domain. Practicing writing helps me think more freely about photography, keeping a journal helps every aspect of my life, keeping daily notes about my dissertation inspires me to reexamine my artistic life (it helps that I write about authors and practices of writing). And there is something about exercising the brain with logic and problem-solving that is refreshing and at least interesting, and often rewarding, after you (I) spend almost all of my work life reading, and writing about stuff I read. Making art is one kind of problem-solving; programming is another.

Both are all about creativity and stretching the brain a little bit further.

But yes, it is seven weeks of daily programming in a set of languages I haven’t used before. I just taught myself Java in three days and then wrote a non-trivial application in it for a class project, and I’m somewhat exhausted. For my internship, my life is going to be all about getting better with XML and TEI, and then learning how to fit XSLT and XPath into the picture, while working with a servlet, which I have never even had to consider before. Good god, I am all about the computer this summer. It’s great.

I’ll have to stop the extracurricular programming if I feel a nervous breakdown coming on. Until then, onward to Prolog!

states I’ve visited/driven in

I haven’t updated my state map in a while, but my drive to Nebraska this week to start my internship at CDRH inspired me to make a new one. Here I thought all this driving would add up to new states but I realized after I started making it that I just spent a really long time in Iowa. I’ve now driven through many more than half of the 50 states, yet because the un-visited are big, my map doesn’t quite satisfy my impression of having been to most of the country now. Clearly lacking are the mountain states and New England. I hope my time in Nebraska this summer lets me at least put Kansas and South Dakota on my map. Wouldn’t those be nice to see since I’m out here anyway? I think I’ll keep skipping Oklahoma, as their politics scare me more than any other state at the moment.

Only a few count as just visited (Oregon, California, Utah, Connecticut, Texas, and Florida – I flew to these states and someone else drove me around or I took public transit only). The reason I make this distinction is that as someone who has done enough long distance driving to qualify as an amateur trucker, I like to count “driven in/through” as really experiencing a place. I am such an American, aren’t I?


I have visited 32 states (64%).
Create your own visited map of The United States

I was going to make a map of provinces I’ve visited but realized that British Columbia and Ontario are going to make a pretty sad map, despite my large number of hours driven in Canada. (Ontario is really big.)

Countries visited, despite going out of the country a lot, has also not enlarged since I first made one 5 years ago. Because I am visiting Ireland this summer and, I hope, Sweden as a graduation present to myself, I’ll have to make one next year. If I go to China the map will look very impressive. Big countries, big states, they make it look like I’ve left so much out.

using a cable too difficult for reporter

This one is going to be quite off the topic of research – well, maybe it links in with digital humanities. The digital part. The part that uses computer hardware.

But seriously? Writing a whole article about your own incompetence (and ignorance) when it comes to hooking your laptop’s headphone jack up to your stereo? With one cable? When what you should be talking about is the new Thunderbolt connection in MacBook Pros?

Spare us! Please!

But since you won’t, at least indulge me in a response.
Continue reading using a cable too difficult for reporter

some questions for the media

…to which I already know the answers. So don’t worry, I’m not looking for an explanation of the obvious.

I’d simply like to juxtapose some stories to think about.

First up – a kid is arrested in an FBI sting for attempting to detonate a car bomb in Portland, OR. (Note: I am on the side of the FBI in this one. From everything I’ve heard about the story, it seems about as far from entrapment as you can get and still be running a sting.) It’s front page news. Obviously. It should be.

So what isn’t front page news? What did I just have to spend over five minutes digging through CBSnews.com to find, under the “front page news” of the Unabomber’s Montana property going up for sale, and “how to feel sexy while aging” (answer: have lots of sex. not making that up.)?

Guy attempts to set mosque on fire in Corvallis, OR, days after the kid is arrested. Guy is arrested for doing so. He’s in jail. This isn’t even second-page news. This is comb-through-the-site-for-a-few-minutes news. Conduct-a-few-searches-because-I-can’t-find-it (even though it was sent to my cell phone via Google News a few minutes before) kind of news.

Should it be? I think you can guess what my answer would be to that question. I dare not even ask if it should be covered as “domestic terrorism” in the same way that say, the same action undertaken by a brown person with an accent. If I went and asked that, I’d have to keep asking about our shifting use of “terrorism” and why it never seems to apply to our most bountiful domestic terrorists, white power and violent anti-abortion groups.

Regardless of your views on any of this, wouldn’t it be nice for this kind of article to be a little closer to the top of the page? As opposed to, say, the media’s freak-out about new TSA screening procedures when it turned out that, as reported in the media, absolutely no freak-out actually occurred in reality despite their predictions? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a front-page story about something that happened, in addition to all that stuff that didn’t happen?

Oh well. Let’s move on.

Second story of the day is the continued “deliberation” over whether to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). There has been a Pentagon study. General McMullen has repeatedly called for its repeal. Then the heads of the various military units call for it not to be “while we’re fighting.” (Conveniently for them, it doesn’t look like this will ever not be the case, so they’re kind of off the hook.) Sen. McCain goes into increasingly complex contortions to get out of admitting that there has been a large-scale study done that overwhelmingly concludes that the policy should be repealed. Other senators waffle. It is endless.

The question that comes up again and again is how active-duty personnel, especially in combat, think it would affect their ability to do their jobs. How will it impact the unit? How will it impact their own effectiveness? Morale?

So here’s a question I would like to hear asked, just once. Even once would be enough.

How do currently serving gay and lesbian personnel feel their effectiveness and morale is influenced by DADT? How would its repeal impact their ability to do their jobs, in combat, where they are already serving? How do the people directly impacted by DADT feel about it currently and how would they feel if it was done away with?

The questions that will never be asked. I’m allowed to dream, aren’t I?

cat in the car!

On a light note…

I came out of the restaurant where some friends and I play trivia last night, to find…

a cat in my car!

A CAT IN MY CAR.

This is possibly the best thing that has ever happened to me. It made my year, anyway.

(It’s not quite as mysterious as it seems: it turns out a stray cat wandered in through my open sunroof and then couldn’t get back out. But still. Not exactly the first thing you expect to find in your car.)

a new kind of autonomy

As I was driving home tonight, I was idly listening to The World on my local NPR station and passively taking in their news tidbits (maybe a topic for another post, but something I find a truly bizarre development – possibly fueled by methods of discourse on the internet itself?). One in particular made me metaphorically stop in my tracks – I had an initial reaction of “hah,” but then my thought process kept going.

The tidbit in question was a minor dispute among brothers that stand to succeed a leader who recently died in the United Arab Emirates. (Forgive me for forgetting the name, but in this case it’s more or less immaterial.) The one, younger brother was apparently already chosen to succeed his father. However, the older, half-brother had thrown his hat into the ring by declaring that he was the successor – via “an internet video.”

Amazing how naturalized this has become for us already: that YouTube, etc., have become a norm for communication between not just those of us dancing, doing ridiculous stunts, or taking videos of our cats. No, it’s also the medium of choice for leaders ranging from Osama bin Laden to Barack Obama. (I wince at putting them in the same sentence given our political climate, but mean no association by it other than their tremendous use of new media in the form of internet addresses to the public at large.)

We have already passed a point, it seems, where we have – in general – taken the internet as a place where we can exercise some autonomy, where we can address, potentially, the world.
Continue reading a new kind of autonomy

congratulations to chile

I am so happy about the miners’ safe escape in Chile that I started crying when I heard the news. (Or rather, started to read it late last night, checked it first thing in the morning, and couldn’t believe how happy and relieved I am. The tears came when I saw they’d been rescued by the time I woke up.)

What an amazing effort, on the part of a whole nation, international collaboration, an unbelievable group underground, and general rooting for them worldwide. What a relief not only for their safety but for the fact that we, humankind, can still pull off something that requires so much careful coordination, unity, perseverance, and optimism. Is this what made me cry?

This isn’t to say I’m not disturbed by the fact that this situation could have happened in the first place, or that it’s in any way acceptable that it took an event of this magnitude to force Chile’s president to address mine safety and regulations in a forceful way. As someone whose ancestors are from central and Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, this hits close to home, and I couldn’t help thinking of the tragedies that we still see in the United States in this area of the country. We should take this to heart and keep the focus on safety for our mines and miners – not simply mourning periodic “tragedies” (as though they have no causes) and maintaining attitudes that it could happen any time, that it comes with the territory, that we must be resigned to half-expecting miners to not come home on any given day. It’s unacceptable. (And I’m talking not just about political or national attitudes, but those that are prevalent within local communities. I know it’s entrenched and has persisted since there was a mining industry in the United States, but that doesn’t make it any more okay.)

At the end of the day, I’m overjoyed at this success and the truly unbelievable strength and optimism of these 33 men, but I’m afraid that the celebratory fever will free us to let ourselves off the hook in expecting accountability, now and in the future.

killing time at the bookstore – not the library

A quick observation – while reading a New York Times article on the closing of Barnes & Noble stores, I was immediately struck by their first interviewee’s comment: I kill time at the bookstore.

The theme of the article is that bookstores are used in non book purchasing ways just as often, and that the demise of a brick and mortar store is saddening those who don’t buy anything on top of both employees and those who do enjoy purchasing while they browse.

Or just browsing, in general. Amazon does a fairly good job of this but it’s far from the real thing.

I couldn’t help thinking about this situation in terms of libraries: because that’s what libraries are for. I think rather than talking about libraries attempting to simulate the bookstore experience – comfortable furniture, events, coffee – we could think of this from the perspective of the large chain bookstore taking over the library’s role in the community.

When it’s far more convenient to get to a Borders or Barnes & Noble (and there are more of them, making it easier to just pop in wherever you are), why bother funding libraries? If they let you hang out and read as much as you want (again, the interviewee talks about reading a book a chapter at a time when he comes in with time to kill), what need are libraries fulfilling, other than letting you check the books out without paying something on top of your taxes?

Why not rethink this upsetting situation in which bookstores are closing as an opportunity for libraries to make their case as the original entities fulfilling this role, and as an essential part of the community?

It seems to me that “community” spaces are more and more private, commercial spaces in the US. The bookstore, the coffee shop, the gym. I can’t remember ever going to a community center in my entire life. And my local library in Ypsilanti is very isolated, a drive away from where I live downtown, and is not even on public transit (which I use most of the time rather than driving). It’s easier for me to wander into the Barnes & Noble or Borders (or three) that are on my local errand runs – and that are on multiple bus lines – than to take a trip out of my way to the library.

Instead of focusing on single focal points, why not a distributed form of libraries – small storefronts, if you will? I can’t think of anything that could serve a community better than more spread-out, accessible, convenient service that promotes itself clearly and loudly as an antidote to disappearing bookstores – and as an irreplaceable part of the private-but-public fabric of the community.

quick note: digital reading coverage in Eureka 8/10

Eureka, a monthly poetry and criticism publication in Japanese, has a theme of “reading digital materials” for the August 2010 issue. If you’re in a position to do so, I recommend picking it up. There are a lot of interesting perspectives in here. Not least is the fact that it specifies “reading materials,” not “books,” and that kind of take on digital reading vs. print reading isn’t something I see enough of in English-language coverage.

Not to mention that Japan is living proof that the magazine industry is not only not dead, but will never die – at least not here. I had to wade through literally hundreds of different magazines in a corner bookstore in Ueno station to find my copy of this one.

The info in Japanese is ユリイカ2010年8月号・特集「電子書籍を読む!」 (“let’s read digital stuff!”) If anyone has a more eloquent translation for 書籍 please leave it in the comments. I am coming up empty at the moment.