Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

If you insist on being an ignorant ass, then you will be consistently rewarded with failure


I was born in 1980. I have never lived in a world in which “hi-tech” meant anything but computer. I shake my head at this, but as a child the lunar landings were not something that had tapered off a mere few years before I was born, but some sort of sepia toned snapshot of history like steam engines and narrow gauge railways. It was what we did “back then”. The moonshot of my childhood was not outerspace, but inner space, the world that existed not between stars but between the transistors of a microchip.

When I was about 12, someone gave me an old Commodore 64. This someone was the only person I ever knew who’s technical opinion I truly respected. (He invented the F.R.E.D. ) He told me that it was an outdated piece of junk, however, the only thing that would make it run was BASIC and the concepts that made it run would help me understand the much more advanced machines of the future. I learned very entry level programing on that piece of crud. I gave up around the time that I wrote a large program to create a set of random numbers from 1 – 6 (a dice roller). The program tanked. My 64K of memory and elementary BASIC interpreter meant I would have to enter the whole program again and taking a hike to the river and throwing rocks at carp, frankly, seemed like a better use of my professional time.

Eventually someone gave me an IBM XT. I was very excited. I mean an IBM was real computer, the Commodore was junk. (I knew it was junk because the Commodore plugged into a TV instead of monitor and had an Atari compatible slot in the back. No real computer had that stuff.) Besides IBMs were manly brawny machines! Anybody could use the sissy “Macintosh” computers at the library. They were named after fruit, and had a little bar of soap with a wire attached called a “mouse”. Real men didn’t suggest that a computer did things with a little mouse. They COMMANDED. Thats why it was called a “command line” for crying out loud!

So I used my IBM XT and read every magazine I could get my hands out about computers.

The XT used 80186. Mom wouldn’t buy one. Then the 286 came out. Again no computer. Then the 386, the 486, the Pentium 75. The 133. Finally, the MMX series came out dropping the price of the straight 200’s to the point that my mom could be guilted into getting me one for “educational” purposes.

It had Windows 95 on it, which was still a big deal at the time. I think like every wired teen boy out there with relatively smart parents my first real education in computing came when I found out that all the websites (with the adventurous women) stayed locked into the computer in non-intuitive files. I would learn to navigate the file system in a constant search for anything that might tell my parents what I was looking at.

When I left home I got another Pentium 200 with monitor and printer for the princely sum of $25. I would continue to use that piece for years until it was more an anachronism today than my Commodore 64 was when I was kid. It wasn’t until I had to get an more advanced computer to handle things from work that I got a new one.

And what a computer it was! 3.8 GB processor, 64 bit architecture, DVD RW, 1 GB of RAM up-gradable to 4 GB. That 4GB of RAM in particular amazed me. My old computer had a 2GB hard rive. My RAM was now twice the size of my old hard drive. I would rock the internet! I could play all those games that had been big news since high school (and they would only be $4.99, now)

The computer may have been quantifiablely faster than the old 200, but, ah… see, I didn’t run Windows95 on my new one. I ran Windows XP. Windows95 took up 50 Megs of that 2Gig hardrive or about 2.3%. Windows XP says it takes 3.3 gigs. The reality is that it takes closer to 30GB after all of its “stuff” is done installing, or about 12% of my 250GB hardrive. So when I ran 95 it took up about 3% of my hard drive. My new super duper amazo-puter: 4 times more. Well I figured that was OK, I would get 4 times more computing out of it.

But I didn’t get 4 times more out of it. I could play new games. One I was really excited about was Civ4. It was supposed to be so much better than Civ 2 which I had been playing for about 10 years by then. Of course, it wasn’t 4 times better. Over 10 years I had a lot of time to think about what would take Civilization from a great game to a truly perfect game. And almost none of the ideas made it into Civ 4. In fact all the things that made Civ 2 really fun to play were missing. What was new was ton of complicated and rich graphics that didn’t actually add anything to the fun of the game. Everything seemed to be like that. More bells and whistles, but no real increases in functionality.

The internet wasn’t really that much faster. Connection speed and lack of spyware has a lot more to do with perceived speed than other considerations. My 64-bit computer did not run twice as fast as 32- bit model. It ran -1% to 7% faster (yes on some functions 64-bits are slower). When I happily sat down to Microsoft office to write a blog for the first time, imagine my surprise! I hadn’t payed for it??? Microsoft, it turned out had not sold me a full office utility, they had loaned me one for 60 days and if I wanted to buy it, I could. Having just paid a large amount of money for my new and amazing computer (and included operating system) this was very frustrating.

But I kept with it. Its funny, I never understood free software. I mean, I knew it was out there, but “ya get what you pay for” right? Why would I download some buggy crap onto my computer. I had paid my admission price to the information age, and I still had my ticket stub. It said Microsoft in pretty gold script. Microsoft was power to the people. No one could afford Macs when I was kid. If you wanted a cheap computer you bought an IBM compatible. The 2 people who had owned it before you put windows 3.11 on it or maybe if you were really lucky even Win95. 386’s and 486’s were cheap and easy to get to know and understand.

Fast forward to the present. My computer is running slower and slower. I don’t know why, I am very careful to keep spyware off it. But it just keeps getting worse. Applications don’t seem to want to run. At one point in the past, my MediaPlayer quit working when I installed an Explore update, so I figure it is Explore again. I strip all the add ons off of Explore. Next day, they’re back! Now, I am sure I have some malware. Deleted programs that come back are always a sure sign. I go through my files manually looking for anything that shoudn’t be. I’m not a computer geek. I just like to know whats going on. But there is nothing there that is not supposed to be there. My excellent programs can’t find spyware.

Well, I never use Explore anyway (I started using Firefox not long after my “free” 60 days on MSOffice ran out and I switched to OpenOffice). Why not junk it all together? Well, I can’t. It won’t let me. Some research reveals that this because Microsoft wrapped the whole operating systems around Explore. If you take out Explore, the whole OS withers and dies a shaking death. Now that disturbs me. Explore has long been known to be the weak link in Windows, so why wrap an the WHOLE OS up in it? Further I am disturbed by the fact that the one part of the whole software suite that relates to the internet is the part that the whole system is based on.

Being an adventurous sort I decide to delete some Explore related files and see what happens. Dire warnings are projected on the monitor. But nothing happens. I delete more. Nothing. So I get a program from friend of mine who walks a line between geek and hacker. This program shows me all the hidden files. I never deleted those programs. Microsoft will let you push whichever icons you want. Microsoft decides what gets deleted and what stays. Microsoft doesn’t want Explore to not have those files. After all the warnings, I deleted them anyway. So the systems moves them to a file I can’t see without a special software tool, and tells me I’ve deleted them.

This does more than disturb me. This makes me pretty mad. I bought and paid for this software, if I want to cut pieces out of it, that is my business. But it turns out it’s not. A careful reading of the “end use agreement” (that rediculously long document that eveyone says they read but hasn’t) says I am not the owner of this software. Microsoft is the owner of this software. I am but a licensee. It is as if I ran a factory that made a patented product on license from the developing firm. I can’t just change the licensed product and continue to sell it. Of course, the difference is. I am not running a factory. I am not going to strip windows down and sell it to other people in my new modified version, I am going to sit with it at home. If the owner of a factory wanted to modify a licensed product for his personal use no one could complain.

Microsoft seemed to be acting more and more like malware. Didn’t delete when it said it did, did things non-transparently, hid folders etc. So I do some more research. Microsoft is maleware.

Microsoft “was expanded to include a system that made contact with Microsoft’s servers to help the company identify people who may be using pirated versions of its market-leading operating system” Microsoft is being sued because it has violated the state of California’s anti-spyware laws. WindowsXP checks your whole system and sends Microsoft an email report on it. Indetify people??? What are they? The NSA’s bitch???.

A computer program can only do what a computer program can do. Did you ever wonder why computer virus scares never amount to much? Oh sure it gets on the news and numbers are thrown around but did you ever actually here of it really causing a problem other than short lived inconvenience? You know why? Because computer programs don’t “like” being viruses. Computer programming languages don’t even have the vocabulary to make a virus really do what it is supposed to do. Most (99%) attempted virus fail. The code isn’t built to do that and it doesn’t do it well.

But spyware seems to work great. Why? Because spyware is doing exactly what it was coded to do. It doesn’t have to fight the computer, it just has to convince the computer it is Windows. Just to be really clear here. The cause of spyware is Windows. If Windows was not made with the built-in ability for files to hide from you, non-Windows files could not be hidden from you. If Windows wasn’t made with built-in ability to show files as being deleted when they really haven’t been, nothing running on a windows system could either.

Have you noticed that even though you don’t hear much about viruses you hear a lot about security problems? That’s because Windows concept of security is this: If no one but us knows what the heck we are doing then everyone who uses our product will be safe. Windows relies on the fact that no one can read the source code to keep you safe. If people could read the source code, says Microsoft, then they could hack it.

THATS THE POINT! If everybody has the source code weakness in the code are seen instantly. The included problem with security by obfuscation is that it is intrinsically reactive. Since no one is supposed to “get” Windows code, when someone does get it and uses it with ill intent, it will be the first time Microsoft hears about it. Further, you know how Prohibition helped create organized crime? Similarly, since no one is supposed to understand Window’s code, if someone does, that limited information is worth a large amount. On the other hand, if the source code was known, then the incentive to crack it goes down, and the chance and incentive to use it with ill intent is reduced.

Like I said, I never really got “free software” until I read one thing. Its not free as in “free beer” its free as in “free speech”. Open source software isn’t free because it’s given away, you can sell it if you want. Open source software is free because the code is freely accessible. I said goodbye to Microsoft last week. I run a straight Linux system now. Its 99% just as “easy” as windows. Yes, it is somewhat more technical at times. And, no, I don’t know what the heck I am doing. I make mistakes, and mess things up and have to fix my stuff again. But that’s the point: Its mine. I am free to do whatever I want with any part of any of the software on my computer. I’ll take freedom to act over security from needing to act any day. (BTW, it is also blinding quick and other than that 1% intuitive and easy to use. It is also better at everything you actually need to do.)

Always, I didn’t want to know what happened in my computer. I just wanted it to do what it was supposed to do. What’s funny is that I have derided people like that my whole life. People who have no idea how a car works and don’t want to know. They seem to get stranded a lot. When I tell them (as I fix it) what is wrong with their car they get mad! “I don’t care how it works, I just want it to work!” they pout. And I always say “You are this car’s caretaker. If you can’t be bothered to understand how it works, then you won’t understand how to take care of it. If you don’t take care of it, it will not take care of you.”

If I am feeling particularly shrill I will go on: “You have no right to decide what the performance of something you do not understand should be. Period. If you insist on being an ignorant ass, then you will be consistently rewarded with failure. The universe does not work a certain way because you wish it to be so, thank God. Reality has certain way that it works and the sooner you accept that easy your life will be

How painful to be given my own advice about my favorite technology. Wait for more updates on how this newfound but ironically, painfully obvious, truth strikes my view of other matters that I relate too.


January 12, 2008 - Posted by | Linux, Software | , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. So your Dad and Mom sit together in the living room and read this entire blog…. well OK, I skipped over most of the technical stuff about the Chevy Volt. Or Dodge Elektron, Or Ford Proton or whatever.

    A number of different thoughts come to mind…

    1. God is Truth.
    2. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, which means that it’s a sin to hurt it, even to “let the pain out”.
    3. Anti-depressants DO help bring a body back into chemical balance, but they do nothing for the causative issues.
    4. What you’re talking in a lot of this is, of course… philosophy. Great, we all need a little more contact with metaphysical explanations of the mundane. Whatever. But I’ve known a lot of philosophers and they seem to have a few things in common. One is a desire to set aside the Reality and Claims and Commandments of God, by attempting to analyze God… Reality… Claims… Commandments… etc.
    5. So the big fact is…. : There IS a God. It is NOT me. From this everything follows. As Dr. Hamm says “If God is in the lineage of man, we must answer to Him. If an ape is our ancestor, we need only answer to ourselves. Way too often I’ve seen those who want to examine the concept of God live in such a way that what they are examining is how to do whatever they darn please without guilt.
    6. Next fact. We will all some day give an account for every thought, word, and deed. No amount of speculation about which religion is right, whose concept of God is right, what Truth is, what Reality is, etc. will make any more change in that accounting than a condemned prisoner’s speculation about the reality of the effects of pottasium clorhide will change what happens when the bolus hits his heart.
    7. You would die to protect your daughter from physical attack. How far are you willing to go to protect her immortal soul? She will likely grow up to believe what she sees you believe, doubt what she sees you doubt.
    8. Dad said all the above… Mom says”I’m sorry you grew up depressed and lonely. It’s not what I wanted for you.” “I was four years old and wanted to die. My motive not to die was the pain it would cause my mother. I struggled with depression all my life. When you kids were born, my motive changed to being there for you.” Then I got cancer and realized how badly I did NOT want to die.. how much I wanted to see my children grow up.” But life inside of my head was still not easy. I don’t understand many many things about God and the Bible. I worry that I’ve given you those doubts. But I cannot even begin to imagine life without God. It’s the most frightening thing I can think of. Life without God, for me, is an impossibility.” Living life as a parent, not knowing my child’s eternal destination is just as scarey; I know, because that’s the way I worried until each of my children accepted Christ as their Personal Savior. Israel… Heather led you to faith in Christ when you were 2/ 1/2. That was a gift from God to me. Now I could relax. Israel, I know there were many more times you made decisions for Christ. I didn’t care. I felt each time you had a better comprehension of Him and Salvation. I was fine with that. I don’t care if you even do so again now.” Just don’t turn your back on Him. He’s bigger and smarter than you are.” Love… Mom.
    9. You can tell how much nicer your mom is than I

    Comment by Dad And Mom Walker | January 20, 2008 | Reply

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