Windows 7 Was My Idea

Posted in Technology on November 20th, 2009 by Tom

windows7Not really. I just needed a title.
And let’s not lie to ourselves, that’s not nearly as good of an ad campaign as Kylie’s ‘Happy Words/Happy Pictures’… and who could forget, the legendary “Bill Gates?!” and Jerry Seinfeld ad:

But really, lets zero in on the point here: I got Windows 7 installed a little less than a month ago (October 30). After building up to my teary, tragicomic goodbye to Windows XP, Vista, petty and tepid bitch that she is, refused to install. So, XP and I sauntered on a little longer. Nonetheless, when Windows 7 showed up on my doorstep (literally, I had it mailed to me), I seized the moment and got to work right away. I’d already had several false-starts with installing Windows Vista, so I was already ready to begin the over-write of my old data (important stuff safely cached away on my external drive).

One thing I’ve had sitting up in my browser forever, was Paul Thurrott’s article which addresses a lot of fairly technical concerns I had about the upgrade process. While it is silly that Microsoft continues to be deficient in answering the questions that Thurrott thankfully covers on his page, I’m more willing to look past it now that I’ve seen how great Windows 7 actually is.

For the curious, the specs of my system,discussed previously, are fairly robust:
CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550, 2.88 GHz
MOBO: Asus P5QPL-VM EPU, 1333 MHz FSB
Memory: 4 GB OCZ DDR2 800
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 9500 GT w/ 512 MB DDR2 memory onboard
HDD: Maxtor 100 GB SATA

It’s not the best machine money can buy, but it’d pretty damned fast, and it runs 7 without skipping a beat. While I do miss the less-than-30-second startup the above hardware could manage with XP, but 7 manages it in just over a minute, which is still pretty awesome. And really, it doesn’t take much to beat the pants off of staring at this for around 3 minutes:

Windows 98
(Those Were The Days)

As I’m typing this, I just realized it’s the first blog post on the new machine! My life got pretty hectic post 7-install, and this is the first chance I’ve had to really reflect on the experience. Maybe that was for the best, because I’ve really had some time to play with it, fiddle with it, and form an educated opinion.

Under the Hood
So here’s as good of place as any for the caveat: I have logged a grand total of about 2 hours on Vista. My PC Desktop ran XP until recently, as does every University machine, so a lot of this is new to me. Explorer has been completely redesigned, which is nice. ‘Recent Places’ doesn’t cause the OS to grind to a halt, which is nice… not that I’ll ever use it: seven years of avoiding the damn thing, and paying the price for any discretion have taught me to live without it. The new feature I really like though is the idea of ‘Libraries’.

Certainly, there is utility in keeping all your music in one place, at least in terms of access. For storage and organization though, sometimes you’re constrained or would prefer to keep stuff in different places. Now, you can easily explain to Windows where all those places are, and it will rout them all into a central location for your browsing convenience!

I also like that the control panel is back to making sense again. I never got over that I could only get to ‘Add/Remove Programs’ from the category view in XP. That drove me nuts. The new configuration makes a lot more sense, and it was nice that they centralized a lot of features which used to be scattered around anywhere (I even found under Administrative Tools > System Configuration > Startup Tab, the old startup list that was the entire purpose I had for downloading Tweak UI, which is now no longer available…).

And the Start Menu! Sadly, this is a misnomer I suppose, but I think it’ll always be the Start Menu in our hearts. It’s grown up now, though. An unobtrusive little Windows Orb sitting in the task bar, you pop it open, and so many useful things spring forth! I pin my word processor other daily-use items at the top, and just let the bottom do whatever it wants. I’ve yet to have this “guess what you use often” think work that well. I actually was pleasantly surprised to find the menu totally customizable, allowing you to choose what appears, where, and how. For me, I trimmed a lot of the fat out in terms of file-access. Use Explorer when I want to find data, and I use the Start Menu for applications and customization settings.

Finally, the search feature! Whether you access it through the Win+F shortcut I’ve been relying on since Windows 98 to just search, or you use the super-snappy live-search in the Start Menu, finding stuff is about 1,000 times easier than it used to be. Whatever indexing Windows does behind the scenes does its job with flying colors, and gone are the days of waiting for the OS to drudge through countless gigantic system files on a fruitless search for whatever you wanted. This is one of those no-brainers that simply having it work saves so much time and frustration that I almost start to think the damn thing is worth the price tag.

User Experience
Microsoft really stepped up their game here, because 7 looks slick as hell. I’ve been doing the full Aero Thing, glass effects and so forth, and I’ve really enjoyed it. The transparency is a nice effect (though not the Earth-shattering ordeal it was built up to be in Vista) and the overall interface looks really polished, particularly the gadgets that are available for the desktop. Which might be why there are so few. I found the gadgets library to be clunky and hard to navigate, but the handful of gadgets I did decide on were really well put together (though, as a whole, the functionality pales in comparison to that of the Firefox add-on community).

My favorite added feature, exclusive to 7, is Snap. This allows you to quickly and conveniently resize and arrange windows in a really intuitive fashion. Drag a window to the top of the screen and release it there, it maximizes. Doing this at either corner auto-fits the window to occupy 50% of the screen. As soon as you ‘break’ it from this place, it returns to the size it was before. Additionally, this can all be accomplished from the keyboard with Win + Left/Right (Corners) or Up (Maximize). Beyond that, the new Win + Tab feature is gorgeous, and useful if you’re working with a lot of easily distinguished windows.

Not Annoying Me
The one thing that I’ve found insufferable about 7 is that the screen blanks (as in the monitor has no signal) momentarily before I’m polled for one of the now-infamous security override questions. Thankfully, the update to the Security Center means this happens far less frequently, but it’s still annoying. That said, the security issues are far less obnoxious, and as a whole, 7 is pleasant to use. A huge component of this is how damn fast it is. I know that part of this is my hardware, but another big component is that the folks at Microsoft didn’t up the system specs from what Vista asked for. So they’re able to deliver a vastly superior user experience with the same resources they had three or four years ago.

I for one, am grateful. Yes, it was stupid that Vista had to be endured for the intervening years after XP, but 7 really delivers on the promise of a next-gen operating system that takes full advantage of current hardware while still ensuring smooth and seamless functionality. Thus far, I’ve had no system hangs, blue screens, or other catastrophic breakdowns as far as the OS is concerned.

I’m pleased as can be with Windows 7. For once, it actually paid off to be on the ground floor of a Windows OS launch!

A Fond Farewell

Posted in Technology on September 12th, 2009 by Tom

xp-logoThis post ends with a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Wow. That is not at all indicative of where this entry is going, though. Apologies in advance for the misdirection. I just recently got a new computer. In this case, it is worth noting that ‘got’ actually means ‘built’, which is why this entry is something of note. With some money saved from my Boston excursion, I decided to sink some serious cash (a few hundred dollars) into some new hardware. Included in this purchase was a a new case, video card, motherboard, processor, and memory. Joining the new components were a few hold-overs from my then-current machine: DVD burner, SATA hard drive, and power supply. These, in addition to a new 24″ display, would become my new machine!

For those interested in raw specs:
CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550, 2.88 GHz
MOBO: Asus P5QPL-VM EPU, 1333 MHz FSB
Memory: 4 GB OCZ DDR2 800
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 9500 GT w/ 512 MB DDR2 memory onboard
HDD: Maxtor 100 GB SATA

All of which has been crammed into a SilverStone microATX form-factor case which looks like a tiny microwave. Getting this thing to work was a bit of an ordeal, though! Since I’m using my old hard drive, I wanted to keep my data on there if possible, and avoid wiping it clean. Problem is, when it was all connected together, the machine refused to boot Windows XP! This really should have come as no surprise, as I’d changed every single major component of the machine; some confusion on its part is to be expected. The way I got around this was through a really fancy trick I stumbled upon that allows you to rebuild your installation of Windows XP. That article saved me!

So I now have my old install of XP running on an all-new hardware set! It moves noticably faster, especially in loading applications and browsing graphics-heavy websites (I am glaring at your, GMail, WordPress) that would normally cause the old machine to falter and occasionally fail! Now it’s no problem. Except I will probably go blind staring at the tiny letters on this humongous screen.

Sitting on my desk in front of me is a copy of Windows Vista Home Premium that I picked up with the promise that they would mail me a free copy of Windows 7 when the release date happens on 22 October! So right now, my machine is running XP; in a day or so I’ll switch over to Vista, bitch about it for a few months, and finally settle on Windows 7. This really gets at an important point that maybe only I am getting too bent out of shape over: Saying ‘good-bye’ to Windows XP is not going to be easy.

desktopXP

My XP Desktop In Its Final Days

Sure, XP and I had our sore spots: We didn’t meet until 2006, when XP was well over 5 years old, and already being pushed off the stage by the flashy-but-faulty Windows Vista. Until then, I’d been using a workhouse of a machine that ran Windows 98. That’s right, friends: I ran Windows 98 through 2005, and I liked it. XP was unfamiliar, with its reorganized control panel items and strange-and-slow search feature with that stupid dog that I hated. When I finally made the switch when I built my machine that was supposed to get me through college during my senior year of high school, I was irked with the damn thing. Glitzy menus and weird color schemes that I didn’t trust, and utilities I was unfamiliar with…

Somehow though, in the intervening 3+ years, while I wasn’t paying attention, I came to love the blasted thing. I made it my own, throwing the taskbar up to the top of the screen (an aesthetic decision I still catch flack for) and using the silver theme (suck on that, Apple-ites with your faux-brushed aluminum: it ALL looks fake, even in 32-bits of color). I know the network setup all too intimately, with Truman’s complex secure wireless login procedure. My beloved Firefox (then, version 1.5!) and I first met during my introductory phase to XP, signaling a whirlwind romance that continues to this day. I logged what must have amounted to hundreds of hours on IM clients, built the BrakBlog.com and Schrödinger’s Blog websites using tools in XP, and even typed my college application essays in Office XP.

And to forsake such a history for what?! To submit myself to maneuver about the bloated feature-creep ridden copy of Vista that sits before me? I’m glad that our engagement will be a short one. Vista never really wowed me. The few positive things one can say about it are outweighed by the cost at which they come. I do look forward to 7 in all its 64-bit glory, however. It’s the first time in my memory that they’ve redesigned the OS with the express intention to run faster than its predecessor, while still using the same hardware; even if it doesn’t totally succeed, having its heart in the right place goes a long way in my book.

What I’m getting at is similar to my point about cellphones: I’m continually amazed how casually people are willing to toss away something that has borne witness to many critical decisions and important discoveries. Sure, maybe I am getting a little carried away with it; it is just an OS after all. But I will miss it. Like someone you used to love, I will soon forget how easily we used to get along, recalling only that we were once privy to each other’s most intimate secrets, but not what they were. Resigned now to uncomfortably negotiate one another in public libraries and professional office settings… Our encounters an awkward imitation of what was once an elegant step performed by knowledgeable partners.

Windows XP, it was a good run;

“Goodnight, sweet prince! And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”

That Should Help

Posted in Music, Technology on September 8th, 2009 by Tom

ie-nickel

As if Microsoft’s Internet Explorer program didn’t have enough of an image problem, they’re trying to lure users in with the promise of a yet-unheard Nickelback tune.

Seriously?

Unless Microsoft is banking on the cornering of the deaf market to save their shrinking user base, I can’t see this working.
If anything, this serves as a deterrent.

Governor Considering Stay of Space Station Execution

Posted in Technology on July 30th, 2009 by Tom

issWhen I read recently that they were decommissioning the ISS around 2015, I was really perplexed. We’ve been building it since something like 1998. So it takes us 11 years to complete and you’re going to get scarcely four years out of it? And even that time won’t be terrifically useful, because upon completion, the shuttle goes out of commission, making it a little more difficult to get people up there. Compound that with the fact that the follow-up ship won’t fly until 2014, and that’s best case scenario…

It just kindof sounds like a mess.

Luckily, Sally Ride thinks we should hang on to it for a little while longer. Which I’m down for. It’s a little weird to look around at the financial crisis, there all being no money anywhere, and to think that in the next few years we’ll be setting the stage to head back to the moon, and then even someday Mars! I’ve heard a few people get a little uppity and say something to the effect of, “We shouldn’t be wasting all that money on stupid ol’ space when regular Earth People could use it better.”

::sigh::
This world, how it taxes me so. The easy retort to that is to ask them if they know how many people are employed by Lockeed Martin, MacDonald Douglas, and Boeing, combined. A hefty chunk of each of those companies is devoted to space contracts. Those people all just lost their jobs because aerospace is a bit of a niche market, especially if your job is to build a spaceship. NASA employs around 300,000 people, and contracts out about 18,000 additional people in industry, which is a good chunk of people. They have an operating budget this year of 17 billion, which might sound like a lot, but lets recall that the War in Iraq costs ballpark 150 billion a year.

I read an article that said NASA costs the American household about 150$ per year. The author went on to ask if that would pass if put to a vote, and felt it wouldn’t. I saw that number and thought it was a steal! I guess it just depends on how you look at it. For example, friend of mine used to ask the question, “NASA, what have you done for me lately?” I was in the JFK Memorial Museum/Library a few weeks ago, and I found the answer to that on a small plaque. It read as follows:

“The following innovations, products, and inventions are just a few of the by-products or spin-offs of the space program:

  • GPS Navigation Systems
  • Kidney Dialysis
  • Satellite TV
  • Interactive Computer Training
  • Virtual Reality Technology
  • Cordless Power Tools
  • Bar Coding
  • Medical Imaging
  • Invisible Dental Braces

So, if you were ever wondering, the estate of John Fitzgerald Kennedy asserts that you owe all of the above to the United States’ space program. No one thing on the list is indispensable, but a handful have saved a good many lives, and the rest have made our lives considerably easier.

It’s exciting to me then that we’re gonna keep the space station up there a while yet. Or at least we’re thinking about it. I know not everybody feels the same way about it as I do, and I can respect that. But we spend a lot of money on a bunch of stupid crap in this nation, and when those people start to bitch about an agency that has some of the most global and altrusitic goals of any in America, I guess I get peeved.

Anyways, rant over.
Yay space station!

AddThis Manually Installed

Posted in Maintenance, Technology on July 19th, 2009 by Tom

I found this little tool somewhere online the other day, and thought it was worth looking into. AddThis is a little button/gizmo that allows a browser of the the site to instantly push content they want to share to any one of some 50-odd social networking sites. Now, if you know me, you know that I really do not care for the ol’ social networking thing. Something about it still strikes me as… oh I don’t even know.

I don’t like it and, largely, I don’t us it.
But other people do! If you are one such person, and you feel so inclined, we now have a “Share this Observation” feature located after the meta info for each entry. Mouse-over for the main options, click it for the whole song and dance. [the notion that I’ve opened the doors to people aggregating my site to bebo is sickening… to say the least.]

That aside, I have a small gripe. Apparently, it is beyond the powers of the great and magnificent AddThis monolith to enable a relatively simple request. If you decide to install the AddThis feature using the WordPress Plugin from AddThis, you can’t pick where you put the damn thing. They let you customize a whole manner of things, colors, features, images, but not WHERE. This struck me as kindof silly. All the AddThis code appears to be is a link to a small javascript hosted at their server; the object itself is about handful of lines of code:

<a href="http://www.addthis.com/bookmark.php?v=250&pub=xa-4a6396e4416cf507"
onmouseover="return addthis_open(this, '', '[URL]', '[TITLE]')"
onmouseout="addthis_close()" onclick="return addthis_sendto()">
<img src="http://s7.addthis.com/static/btn/lg-share-en.gif" width="125" height="16" alt="Bookmark and Share" style="border:0"/></a>
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://s7.addthis.com/js/250/addthis_widget.js?pub=xa-4a6396e4416cf507"></script>

I’d just installed the plugin, and was rather irritated to see it sitting, smugly, to the left, at the end of the entry. As you can see (at the time of writing) all the meta data is clearly on the right-hand side of the page. Such a displeasing destruction of symmetry is inexcusable, even here at the blog-hack-capital of the internet, Schrödinger’s Blog. The above is the code they provide for you to just install it on any ol’ website. I looked at that, and thought, “it really can’t be that hard to get that thing working the way I’d like.”

Turns out, a manual install of AddThis to a WordPress blog is easier than I thought. I don’t know a ton about how this hunk-a-junk works, but I knew that AddThis essentially just calls for a URL and a title for it to pass on to all those other services. I know from programming the template for this site that two such tags exist:

<?php the_permalink() ?> - For the link to the entry
<?php the_title(); ?> - For the entry's name

So… you grab those, stick them in where AddThis supplies [URL] and [TITLE], and game over. It functions just the way it would if you installed the plugin, but now you’re free to stick that little chunk of code wherever you’d like in your template! I slung mine over to the right, and used one of the AddThis images available for download, just to slim down the entire affair. My final code appeared as follows:

<a href="http://www.addthis.com/bookmark.php?v=20"
onmouseover="return addthis_open(this, '', '<?php the_permalink() ?>', '<?php the_title(); ?>')"
onmouseout="addthis_close();"
onclick="return addthis_sendto();">Share the Observation <img src="http://schrodingersblog.com/images/plus.gif" alt="Share This" style="border:0"/></a>

<script type="text/javascript">
var addthis_brand = "Schrödingers Blog";
var addthis_options = 'email, facebook, twitter, delicious, digg, stumbleupon, wordpress, favorites, more';
var addthis_header_color = "#ffffff";
var addthis_header_background = "#000000";
</script>

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://s7.addthis.com/js/250/addthis_widget.js"></script>

So. That was a fun little project. It was something I’d been meaning to play with. I get irritated when projects like that pop up, but it’s a good opportunity for a little spot of problem solving and I always feel pretty badass when I can code my way out of an annoying problem. [Also: Big thanks to Damnit Jim! for the WP_CodeShield plugin]

Finally: My quest continues for a good plugin for “buy” or “purchase” links. I don’t want to scare anyone into thinking I’m trying to mine money off of this godforsaken little blog. I’m just trying to gear it up as a music-blog that I might one day submit to Hype Machine or elbo.ws, and they’re pretty particular about making sure you give readers the opportunity to purchase the artist’s music. I really like what billy’s done over at TWF, but either he did that by hand, or the plugin has a name I can’t think of.