I love Ditherati. This is one of the best quotes I've heard from a Microsoft representative in a long time: Our ability to innovate is predicated on our ability to own the platform. Ditherati's joke about how this explains why Microsoft's programmers are incapable of working on non-Windows platforms misses the point. This quote both implies that Microsoft's corporate policy is exactly what we've known it to be for years, but also hits on one of the most important things open source and free software bring to the table, even if the middle manager making that statement didn't realize it: without complete access to a platform, it's tough to do anything truly innovative with it, because you'll always be constrained by the original design of the product.
My laptop battery decided to no longer hold a charge for some reason, which has left me with little to do on the train. So, I dove into the stack of books I've had on my shelf but haven't had an opportunity to read. (The laptop has since been fixed, but now I'm on a roll.)
The first book I went back to was The Cluetrain Manifesto (Locke, Levine, Searls, Weinberger). If you're reading this diary on Advogato, then the contents of this book are pretty old hat to you; in fact, when it came out, their "let the employees speak" approach was pretty standard-issue for a lot of technology companies (Red Hat springs immediately to mind, but there were plenty of others). That being said, I've been spending a lot of time lately on a hobby that has very little to do with computing, and I'm finding more and more that average small businesses are taking their advice, whether they know it or not. A small automotive performance parts company in California produces a low-cost exhaust system for the car I drive, and while it's nothing all that special above what other people offer, they're always present in our little online communities, answering questions, explaining shipping delays, accepting feedback, and speaking authentically to us. Dozens of other, similar vendors are doing the same thing. The community feels as though these folks are "one of them", and in turn, takes their business to them. The vendors, in turn, are required to act ethically with their customers, because bad dealings will be aired in public. I'd seen this kind of thing play out with technology companies before, but I didn't expect to see it so soon in non-technical markets. I guess they were right. :-)
The next book was one I'd really wanted to get to: Geeks (Katz). Say what you will about Jon Katz (and most of Slashdot's readership does), but he did a wonderful job of capturing growing up as a geek through the eyes of Jesse and Eric. There's so much in that book that I can relate to my own experience; from just deciding to pick up and move after discovering that they were imminently hirable, to realizing that the cubicles they moved to weren't exactly what they were looking for, and a lot of little stories in-between. On the other hand, there's a few things that gave me pause; I turn 29 in a couple of months, and I'm spending a lot of time thinking about a major change of career. I've spent 10 years "in the industry", and built up a lifestyle that relies on the resources I have available as a result. I didn't realize within a year of doing this, like Jesse from this book, what a soul-sucking kind of work it can be, if you're living in a cubicle all the time, because I wasn't; I got here gradually, starting off in a high-paced company that I owned. It's like cooking a frog. I find myself envying this fellow, because he had the foresight to see what was ahead of him; I've always played life by ear, and planning seemed to take the fun out of things. My thanks to Jon Katz and Jesse for giving me quite a bit to think about.
Next on the list was a recommendation from my better half: God's Debris (Adams). Scott Adams describes his book as a "thought experiment", and goes on to say that you should read it, and discuss it with a friend over coffee. I'd agree; it's a fairly light read, and just about anyone should be able to grasp it. If you're a philosophy major, you'll be pretty bored; he's really taken a number of concepts that you're introduced to early on in philosophy (the nature of existance, omnipotence and paradox, etc), and puts it together in an easily-digested format. There's a small story on the "outskirts" of the primary discussion, which I found cute; just like his garbageman character from Dilbert, you find that the delivery guy is the next great thinker.
Finally, what I'm currently working on: Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway (Stoll). This was written back in 1995, and I have to keep reminding myself of that as I read it. I loved Stoll's first book, Cuckoo's Egg, which detailed the true story of tracking international hackers and spies in the early days of the Internet, so I grabbed this one when I saw it at the local discount book store. While looking for links for this write-up, I came across a review for the book that hits the nail on the head: Silicon Snake Oil could represent a first attempt to compile a database on every negative aspect that could possibly be attributed to cyberspace. In 1995, I'm sure this book was a reasonable statement of the times; today, nearly all of his underlying presumptions have been proven wrong. Commerce is thriving online today; broadband is nearly ubiquitous, and even the homeless have access to the Internet today; the editorial process has found a way to work in a chaotic publishing environment; computing speeds, capacities, and interfaces have reached the point of real usefulness. I could go on for a long time; his predictions were, at best, off the mark, and at their worst, the rantings of a luddite unable to accept the idea that society's notion of community evolves over time, as a reaction to invention and circumstance. I'll finish the book, but I don't suspect my opinion will change much by the end; I'm pretty disappointed in this one.
The car is still on jackstands. I keep bumping into tools I don't have; in this case, a special tool needed to remove the crank sprocket from the crankshaft. I think I have everything else necessary to complete the balance shaft elimination and get the new timing belt, pulleys, and accessory belts back on the car; hopefully, the weather will hold up so I can make the last autocross of the year with JSCC.
I'm currently trying to get an 802.11g (mmm, 54Mbps) wireless network going at home; while the Netgear WG511 PCMCIA card worked right out of the box on Erica's laptop, getting mine working on my Linux laptop is not nearly so easy (and I haven't even started working on installing the SMC SMC2802W PCI card in what will eventually be my wireless router). Here's a tip, if you're looking at wireless right now: go 802.11b, preferably with the Orinoco chipset, and save yourself a lot of hassles. ;-) At least there are early drivers in development for the ISL38xx-based (Prism) cards; I made the mistake of initially picking up Linksys hardware, and found quickly that Broadcom (makers of the chipset driving that hardware) has no interest whatsoever in releasing specs for their hardware. Oh well, back to the store it went, and an email to Linksys letting them know that I wouldn't be considering their products in the future.
Not much. No hacking at all, except on my car. I've been watching a ton of commits go by for SubWiki, and haven't had a chance to take a look at them yet; gstein has been patching lately like a man possessed. ;-) Work is the usual: cubicles, mind-numbing meetings, a general lack of challenge, and politics on a large scale. I've discovered just how right-wing one of my friends is through his blog, and while I respectfully disagree with the venom he's spitting at various politicos, I love the photography he's been doing lately; very good stuff.
That's about it. Honest, I'll try and update a little more often so I don't have to blat out huge entries like this.